forgotten plants

In the mid 90s a lady called Nell commandeered a strip of ground on my parents’ nursery. She’d been a customer of theirs for years, and the community garden she shared with her neighbours was being reclaimed by the local council.

Nell was a quietly tenacious woman in her late seventies. Unfazed by the council’s decision she uprooted her entire garden and replanted it alongside one of my parents’ glasshouses. Once the job was done, she kept coming back. She walked the four mile round trip from her flat to her new garden almost every day until she died in 2001. Old Nell, as we fondly called her, became part of the family. And her coffee and walnut cakes became the stuff of legend.

forgotten plants, cottage garden, gardening blog

For more than ten years Nell’s garden has been left to its own devices. But when we visited my parents on Mother’s Day, Mum sent me out there, spade in hand, to see what I could find.

It turns out many of Nell’s perennials are still thriving – they’re just long overdue a lift and divide. So I enlisted my Dad and Steve to help and we came away with quite a haul.

hellebore, cottage garden, gardening blog

There was a wonderful collection of hellebores right at the back of the garden. They are healthy and vigorous with masses of flowers. We only took two for now as I’m not quite sure where I’m going to put them.

hellebore, cottage garden, gardening blog

I think this one is ‘white lady’…


…and this could be ‘pink spotted lady’

Several dense clumps of snowdrops were just going over. Actually, dense is an understatement. One clump filled an entire crate once it was separated out. While I was digging I was half afraid I’d unearth a skeleton; Nell was known for picking up run-over cats and burying them with a handful of bulbs.

snowdrops in the green, cottage garden, gardening blog

snowdrops in the green – seems greedy to keep all these, I’ll see if I can find good homes for a few

We found some more bulbs behind the hellebores. They have snowdrop-like leaves and the buds have a pinkish tinge. No idea what they are, but they look pretty. I’ll try to identify them once they open.

cottage garden, gardening blog

mystery bulbs – if you know what they are, please leave a comment…

Dad knows I have a thing for peonies and found this beastie for me:

peony crown, cottage garden, gardening blog

I’m going to need a saw to divide this one

It really needs to be divided and, according to the RHS, this is best done in the autumn. I’m going to give it a go, but I doubt it will forgive me on time to flower this year.

We also have armfuls of cowslips and sedums. And Steve couldn’t resist a patch of monstrous rudbeckia. Judging by last year’s stems they’ll grow to a good seven foot. Who knows where they’ll go, perhaps they can plug a few gaps in the hedge.

Old Nell was quite a character and I remember her with much affection. I think she’d be glad to see her plants being given a new lease of life.


snowdrop fever

When I lived in Japan, one of my favourite customs was hanami.

snowdrop, gardening blog, cottage garden

Its literal translation is ‘flower viewing’. But the true definition should be ‘cherry blossom fever’. Daily forecasts in the media track a blossom-wave that spreads from south to north. And there is intense excitement as people try to predict the optimum date for picnics and parties under the flowering trees.

I’ve only recently noticed that we have our own version of hanami here, albeit quieter and slightly more British.

Snowdrop tours seem to be quite the thing in February. Maybe it’s because there are so few flowers around at this time of year, or perhaps people appreciate their apparent fragility combined with steely resilience. Whatever the reason, it’s good to get outside for a couple of hours and persuade ourselves that spring isn’t too far away.

in the green 

I’m no galanthophile, but I do like snowdrops. There were some in the garden when we moved here, but there’s always room for a few more. Apparently it’s best to plant them ‘in the green’ – that is, when the bulbs still have leaves rather than when they’re dry and dormant. It’s more expensive to buy them this way, but I was lucky enough to cadge some growing in my parents’ field last time I visited.

snow drops in the green, gardening blog, cottage garden

snowdrops in the green, courtesy of mum & dad (I didn’t even have to dig them up…)

I planted them out between showers on Sunday. A few went by the back door so we can see them as we come and go. But I also chose some spots across the garden that we can see from the house. Although they are small, the bright white flowers make quite an impact even from a distance.

snow drop witch hazel

I planted a few clumps around this witch hazel, my hope is that they will multiply and form drifts in time.

As with most things I do in the garden, I only thought to look for advice once they were planted. It seems it may have been better to wait until the foliage was dying down rather than transplanting them in full flower. I’m not sure they went in deep enough either. But I have faith in the little bulbs and I’m quite sure they will come back next year.

I’m now feeling tempted by some of these rarer varieties from Easton Walled Gardens. Perhaps I will turn into a galanthophile in my middle age.

outside in: January (8/12)

Last spring we planted yellow roses either side of an arch that leads to M’s Wendy house and swings. It’s supposed to be a summer-autumn variety, but it’s still flowering away in this mild winter weather. I picked three buds last week.

yellow rose buds, gardening blog, cottage garden, golden showers

They fade to a paler primrose as they open.

yellow rose, gardening blog, cottage garden, golden showers

Whenever I look at them, I remember a good friend of mine who loved yellow roses. She died very suddenly when we were in our 20s, but I am quite sure she would have enjoyed their name, Golden Showers.

I had hoped to pick some hellebores for the house this month, but sadly all of their flowers are being devoured by some unknown pest just as they begin to open.

So I consoled myself with a small posy of snowdrops. It wasn’t until I brought them inside that I realised they have the sweetest honey-like scent.

Next time you see a snowdrop, crouch down and have a sniff.

snowdrops sunlight, gardening blog, cottage garden

freshly picked, and still splashed with mud

Outside-in charts my attempts to bring the garden into the house with haphazard English Freestyle flower arranging.