April 6, 2019 By Penny Devries In Garden Plants
The jasmine should have the flower-bearing shoots cut hard back once the petals fall. The duo offered little interest for the rest of the year until a creamy-yellow, variegated ivy grew in to cover the bare wall behind them.
How or why the deservedly popular Hamamelis mollis gained the common name of witch hazel is a mystery. One suggestion is that it derives from the fact that early American settlers used the twigs for water divining in much the same way as hazel twigs back home in England.
Even the generic name ‘Hama’ together with ‘melis’, ’the apple’ makes little sense except to a botanist. Such complexities apart, Hamamelis mollis, when the bare twigs are wreathed with large sweetly scented, spiderlike flowers in January and February, makes a picture to rejoice eye and heart. Finding the right soil is the first problem; ideally this should be a free draining yet moisture-retentive acid loam, for the roots must never dry out at any time. The second problem is finding the right companion plants.
For those who boast a white-stemmed birch in the garden, or better still a grove of them, plant Hamamelis mollis ‘Pallida’ so that the yellow flowers are glimpsed between the white birch stems. Failing that, grow witch hazel planted around with that best of all winter flowering, Erica herbacea (syn. earned) ‘Myreton Ruby’. The dusky, ruby red of the heather spikes do not always oblige when the witch hazel shows its yellow; when they do, sublime is the word.
Why one of the most reliable winter blooming shrubs should be so ugly for the half of the year when not in flower must mean that the Almighty like Homer, occasionally nods. For Viburnum x bodnantense rejoices for long months of winter with a continuous succession of clustered, sweetly fragrant, rose-pink flowers. A 6ft (1.8m) high bush in full bloom, given a warm day, fills the eye and refreshes the nostrils, for the smell is richly all-pervading. Out of bloom, however, the shrub makes Quasimodo look like the Laughing Cavalier.
A pink-flowered hybrid musk shrub rose ‘Felicia’ with Iris sibirica ‘Heavenly Blue’ will disguise one side. Viburnum davidii, male and female, so that there are turquoise berries, makes a front piece. The cinquefoil flowers, a shade of primrose yellow, open in succession from May to October.
There are plants so particular in their requirements that finding congenial companions of a similar temperament is not easy. Iris unguicularis is just such a one. That a native of Algeria needs to be exposed to all the sunshine afforded by what passes for summer in these islands is understandable, and there are a number of plants which share this need of being cooked to a crisp. Few require a soil so arid and devoid of nutriment that it would cause anorexia in a cactus. The iris forms a grassy tuft of foliage 2ft (61cm) high; then when suited by soil and situation, during mild spells throughout winter and early spring comes a succession of dowers.
There is an exquisite loveliness and delicacy to the finely veined lilac flowers, which is compounded by the season at which they choose to show themselves. They emit a fragrance of such a refined quality that it can only be fully appreciated when the flowers are cut for arranging indoors. Planted in a soil made even freer draining by a liberal admixture of oyster shell, against a south-facing wall and left undisturbed, the iris will reward patience with flowers.
After numerous experiments with sun-loving shrubs, all of them failures, Euonymus fortunei ‘Coloratus’, with glossy green leaves which are purple tinted throughout the winter, spread across and up the wall behind. A moss-covered stone figure of a rather battered cupid and a multi-colored carpet of thyme completed the ensemble. After that, as one great put it, ‘the only manure this iris needs to make it flower is patience’. As the last iris petals darken with age, so the ardent, passionate of birds ushers in long awaited spring flowers.
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