Six on Saturday – Freckles, blushes and other floral markings


It feels like the kind of day that could do with a bit of energy injected into it by joining Jonathon’s Six on Saturday. There are rules of course, but they’re a breeze and it’s great fun to browse through the links to other Sixes to see what’s going on with similar-minded plant/garden obsessives.

Here are my six:

1) Orchids – One person’s off-casts, another’s treasure

My orchid collection is growing and it’s not really my fault. First off, I discovered that the ones sat by the till were being chucked out (well honestly, what would you have done?), then I was given some miniature orchids by my sister who works in turf (! I didn’t ask) and then a gardening friend handed me a plant that looked like canes, but was apparently an orchid, which didn’t ‘do’ in her house. Well, I went to water that last one this week and found it covered in flowers, white with a hint of blush at the edge. So I finally looked it up and now believe that I have a Dendrobium nobilis. Luckily, so far it seems to be as stoic as the moth orchids.


2) Hellebores – A good place for freckles

I have lots of seedling hellebores in the front garden, mostly they are in shades of pink, having crossed from plain parents. However, over the last couple of years I’ve tried to purchase a few more interesting varieties with speckles or double petals, so that I can do the floating flower bowl thing. It may take a couple more years though, because they are being a bit slow to bulk up. Happily, Hellebore ‘Harvington Speckled Yellow’ is looking pretty strong this year and absolutely beautiful.


Hellebore ‘Harvington Speckled Yellow’

3) Spider Amaryllis

This is a rather glorious Hippeastrum ‘Bogota’, one of the so-called Spider Group. Last year I tried ‘Sumatra’, which I loved, but that hasn’t restarted quite yet. More to look forward to though.


Hippeastrum ‘Bogota’

4) Ginger – Turns out to be ridiculously easy to grow from seed

Last year I had a fairly young Hedychium densiflorum in a terracotta pot behind the glasshouse and it managed to put up three or four flower spikes. When I decided to move the rhizomes into the garage for winter I discovered that it had set a few seeds. Nine to be precise. So I soaked them for 24hrs and placed them on damp tissue in a sealed bag in the airing cupboard. 48hrs later I could see signs of life, so I potted them up and put them on a windowsill (still inside a plastic bag). This is them 3 weeks later. Not bad!


Hedychium densiflorum seedlings

5) Arum’s marvellous marbling

It is cheering at this time of year to see any signs of new growth in the garden and one plant that is putting on an elegant show is Arum italicum subsp. italicum ‘Marmoratum’. The leaves can be used in flower arrangements, but perhaps best is to just use one leaf as a sheaf around a few single snowdrops for a stunning little posey.


Arum italicum subsp. italicum ‘Marmoratum’

6) Winter heliotrope – de trop?

This Winter heliotrope, Petasites fragrans, isn’t growing in my garden fortunately (it’s a bit of a thug), but is growing in a huge swathe under the hedge by the local bus stop. I love to pick a couple of flower spikes at this time of year to enjoy their scent. It is strong though and can be quite overwhelming, but who can resist the smell of cherry pie?


Winter heliotrope, Petasites fragrans

That’s all folks … Have a good weekend!

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Wordless Wednesday – ‘Ah’ moments at Anglesey Abbey


Take a deep breath of sweet, sweet viburnum


A stunning view of burnished cherry bark and fiery cornus, but I can’t help thinking of Pippi Longstocking


I love the iteration between the background euonymus and lichen on the witch hazels


A glorious example of pollarded Salix alba var. vitellina


Wintersweet, glowing and perfuming the air.


This landscape of bright willows and dogwoods has a strange cactus-like feel to it that I love


The birch grove annex (about 5yrs old now) is beginning to show its colours (OK white)


Duckweed on the dark waters make the poplar reflections seem to be part of a night sky


Snowdrops – of course, these are what we all come for at this time of year after all


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Wordless Wednesday – Three birds at my winter table


Common chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs, whose lovely soft muted colours still manage to brighten winter days

long-tailed tit

Long-tailed tits, Aegithalos caudatus, whirl around the patio like sundae spoons caught up in a blizzard


Coal tits, Periparus ater, have become regular visitors, although I often miss them in the hopping crowds of blue and great tits on the feeders

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Wordless Wednesday – Transitioning from Chinese Lantern to Winter Cherry?

botanics chinese lantern

Physalis alkekengi has a long list of common names including both ‘Chinese Lanterns’ and ‘Winter Cherry’. This plant is growing in the ‘earliest’ section (pre-Roman -> 1550) of the Chronological Beds at Cambridge Botanics. The border is laid out, in a linear sequence, to display plant introductions to Britain.

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“A thousand dead elephants rotting in the sun” … and other scents

Wanting a bit of an outing this morning, but tired of muddy trails and the inevitable cleanup operation, we decided instead to visit the Winter Garden at our local botanical garden (@CUBotanicGarden). I was pretty certain I’d seen a recent post from them showing flowering daphne, witchhazel, viburnum and snowdrops, so I was more than happy to visit. Off we went and had a lovely revitalizing walk around the gardens, but I think that they used stock photos in their post, ‘cos the Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is still in bud, not full flower. I’d give it a couple of weeks more before going for a sniff.


Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ in the Winter Garden is on the point of opening (04/01/2020)

Nevertheless, we had plenty to enjoy and we even caught a bit of sunshine. In fact, the Winter Garden is always worth a visit as CUBG work very hard to keep it in tip-top condition. Maintenance in the area is tight, for instance, there is plenty of fine, dark mulch atop weed-free soil which provides a great, black backdrop for the beautiful barks, snowdrops and hellebores. Plus the pruning is a masterclass in what to do to optimise young colourful wood on the dogwoods, rubus and willows for a winter show. Here are a couple of classic views along this garden (you can just see one of the daphne in the shade on the right):


Winter garden (western entrance)

And this is the middle view (beyond the golden Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Winston Churchill’ in the first photo), looking east. The Mahonia × media ‘Winter Sun’ on the left is really living up to its name just now.


The wiggly middle of the Winter Garden

Happily, both of my favourite shrubs are already in flower:


Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’



Chimonanthus praecox

There is also a bark path round the north of the garden, which for the most part is a between the yew hedge and dense, established shrubs/trees. It is secluded and a little dull in comparison to the rest of the planting. However, there are a couple of views across the area that are worth a pause, but the main reward along this trail are the scents, which are wonderful as you work your way under arching Chimonanthus praecox (above) and viburnums.


Looking across the WG from the south

Some of the best views of the clever plant associations in the garden are seen from outside, from the south. I love the repeated chocolate, pinks and silvers in this vignette (above) under the (nicely fresh pruned) arching viburnum.

And this view a little further along shows off a range of complementary shapes and colours possible with plants we probably all grow. (LOL. Why doesn’t my garden look like this then??!!)


A glorious mix of stem and leaf colour, seedheads, flowers and berries.

But perhaps my favourite combination (for this visit at least) was the red dogwood against Muehlenbeckia astonii, with background of fluffy miscanthus and sculptural teasel:


Dogwood against the puzzle bush that is Muehlenbeckia astonii

Of course, it is still early days in the winter cycle of the garden. The show will crescendo as bulbs emerge, hellebores unfurl, willows bud up and the cherries flower.

OK, so on to the plant that led to the post title. In the Tropical Wetland Glasshouse just currently, there is an orchid in flower called Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis. It is native to Papua New Guinea and it is unusual to see it in flower in Britain. It is a rare orchid, even in the wild, and this is one of the reasons for its cultivation at the Botanics. The orchid is normally pollinated by flies, so at peak flowering time it positively stinks to attract them. The smell has been described as various kinds of rotting flesh or exceptionally dirty socks etc. and the flowers as looking like decaying bodies.

Well, I went to find it this morning and, with some relief, can report that, while it is still in flower, it has passed its peak and no longer smells! It does, however, look fascinating. The flowers are certainly very ‘wrinkly’. They appear to be covered in a strange strawberries-and-cream coloured lichen. I am glad I missed the smell though!


Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis

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Six on Saturday – All Change


So, this is the last Six-on-Saturday for 2019. Many thanks to Jonathon, The Propagator, for hosting such a fun and inclusive meme throughout the year.

Here are my six today:

1) Mahonia – Borrowed glory

OK, this is in my next door neighbour’s garden, but I (and the crazy bumblebees out now) am enjoying it immensely.

bumble 2

Mahonia japonica and a foraging bumblebee

2) A second year of no tulips … I give up

I am having trouble with tulips, both at home and at work. It doesn’t matter whether the bulbs are in the ground or in pots, protected or exposed. Something is eating them with conscientious regularity and I am almost 100% certain that it is voles. They get through  tiny holes (I’ve tried 1 or 2 layers of chicken wire or plastic netting as here). So I am going to shift my attention to other spring bulbs: narcissis and anything else that gets left alone (sadly not crocuses or scilla), although I am trying to confuse the blighters by crushing garlic and tossing it around the plantings. Any other recommendations will be gratefully received.


bye bye tulips 😦

3) Christmas roses – chewed but still a pure white

Perhaps not the most glamorous hellebore to have in the garden, as it nearly always bears damage from slimy gastropods, but the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is a cheerful indicator of the year’s end and whisperings of new beginnings. As an added bonus they love my heavy, alkaline clay soil.


A slightly tatty Helleborus niger in the garden

4) Oca – An amazing recovery

These were a new kind of vegetable tuber I tried this year. Originally from South America, they are considered to be one of the ‘lost crops’ of the Incas. You can treat them pretty much like potatoes. I bought five tubers in a sale and they turned out to be very sorry, woe-begotten examples. Nevertheless after chucking one, I planted the rest in the veg. patch, after the frosts and watched their foliage emerge from the ground … and slowly expand across the bed. They are a frost tender crop and are typically lifted a week or two after frosts hit them, giving them enough time to suck back all the goodness into the tubers (which are growing rapidly in that time). Well, this is the return from a single root and, although I haven’t tasted them yet, they look lovely don’t they? Beautiful colours!


Oca tubers

5) Winter honeysuckle

Picked to scent the room for our Christmas meal. What a wonderful shrub!


Lonicera fragrantissima … yes it has a delightful scent

6) A new challenge – Growing ironwood from seed

At some point in the last few months I obviously picked the seed pods of an Persian ironwood tree at work and put them in my pocket. Recently, since I’ve been getting through a lot of tissues (!) I managed to pull these cases back out of the depths of those pockets and I discovered that shiny, tooth-like seeds had fallen out. Now I absolutely have to get them to grow! Wish me luck.


Parrotia persica ‘Vanessa’ seeds

Also, over the last few days seed catalogues for next year have started to pop through the door. Are you ready?

Best Wishes for 2020!


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Wishing you Peace and Happiness!


“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

All the Chrismases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged, fish-freezing waves …”

Dylan Thomas – Extract from ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’

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