How is witch hazel pollinated?

Rusty Duck’s bloomers of 2015 includes a Hamamelis. I’m only just discovering these plants, and find their blossoms really startling to look at.

From their shape, and the time of year when they flower, I wondered if they might be some evolutionary oddity, maybe wind-pollinated like willow, but with purely coincidental or vestigial flowers, despite their attractiveness.

Turns out that, even in a cold early winter, Hamamelis can be pollinated by specific moths. Shivering, snow-covered moths: who knew?


Housebound for Christmas

This Christmas both the Welsh rose and I have been unwell. We’ve also been tied to our new house by a number of inescapable commitments: the most important is Fishbreath McFattersons herself, who needs her daily dose of fishy biscuits; but we’ve also had urgent repairs to the house, right up to December 21; even now there’s scaffolding out the back (as I previously promised, more on that later.)

We’ve therefore been close to our road and its surrounding estates for at least a week, which means that I’ve not been near any particularly exciting gardens, garden centres or indeed plants for a while. But neighbours’ gardens usually fascinate me, and I spotted this particular gem on a side street near here:


Vinca comes from the Latin verb meaning “to bind”, and it was certainly pretty well established in that garden. We’re not yet so well bedded into our new home, but we’ve already put down one or two tentative roots. Here’s hoping that will continue in 2015.

Giving the buddleia the old one/two

I’ve a soft spot for buddleias. They’re amazing for bees, a tremendous supplement to our rather meagre native flora following the last ice age. And their tenacity means they’ll grow in the least likely of locations; here’s one I spotted in the brickwork above shops on Frideswide Square, Oxford:

Buddleia in full bloom

But, while they’re not what I’d necessarily call an out-and-out thug, they do build on each year’s strength, the old growth turning woody each year. At the same time, they’ll happily recover from a hard pruning. So this is what I decided to do.

At the start of November, I surveyed much of my new garden including the buddleia up by the compost bins:


As you might be able to see it was around 2.5—3m tall, with sturdy branches but dead flowers. I wanted to experiment with a two-stage pruning, whereby it’s reduced to 1–2m in height for the windier autumn and winter months:


It seemed quite happy with this, and so recently (possibly slightly earlier than I need to, given the advice on that link above and elsewhere I finally took it down to a stump:


Even then, you can see a shoot or two off the trunk, and I’ve been led to believe others will follow in April and May. I can’t imagine I’ve killed it, but then as they’re so easy to come by I’m happy to experiment for now.

First snowdrops nibbled! but crocus and iris arrive

I spoke too soon! Those new snowdrop buds have been nibbled on, and I dread to think by what:


There are cats other than ours around, that tend to take an interest in anything at cat-head height (which this pot was) but my money’s probably on slugs: I’ve distributed a very sparse handful of semi-organic pellets around the garden, which has helped; but it’s been such a mild winter so far. Looking back, there was nibble damage back on the 15th, but it just looked like dry tips to the leaves.

On a more positive note, the Iris “Blue Note” is starting to appear:




As have the Crocus “Spring Beauty”, which we only planted three weeks ago, at night:


So mixed blessings, and I’m told that it’s not unheard of for early Elwesii snowdrops to be nibbled (although this is a Greatorex variety), and that they can recover from such a trauma. May we all recover from midwinter disasters so easily!

Planting garlic in containers

The last planting we’d planned to overwinter was three bulbs of Solent Wight garlic. As with everything else in the garden, we’re avoiding digging for the first season, to see what comes up; this means the garlic had to be planted in containers.

The Organic Gardening Catalogue suggested 15cm between bulblets, which seemed a bit close to me, but I thought I’d give it a go. This meant I was able to squeeze quite a lot into the containers you can see: 7, 5 and four lots of 3 bulblets.


We’ll see how it manages in these slightly more cramped conditions than I’ve tried before. Even then, we’ve still got an entire bulb (a dozen or so bulblets) left over. Anyone want any garlic?

First trip to the Sheffield Hardy Plant Society

Today I joined the Hardy Plant Society’s South Pennine Group.

The HPS has a number of regional groups, but the inaccessibility of the “Bucks and Oxon” Group for anyone living in West Oxfordshire and not keen on driving all over the place had always put me off. It’s a marvellous contrast to be able to attend a group meeting within the same city (although closer public transport would be nice!)

The talk was by John Page, a tour of the flora and landscapes of the Dolomites. The photos of plants, and the way he drew them all together, was spellbinding. We had the shining Potentilla nitida, the calcium-loving, scaly Rhododendron hirsutum, and along with your usual-ish Myosotis the gorgeous, myosotis-like Eritrichium nanum. And we all cooed over the Soldanella species, looking like hats for tiny fairies or—more outlandishly—almost like fungi at times. I hope at a later date to link to a longer blogpost about this very talk: watch this space!

Afterwards we had Christmas nibbles and soft drinks, and a chance to chat to other members. Although I had to leave early, I felt very welcomed and really enjoyed the event. I’ll definitely be going back!