Feeling fortunate for Forsythia

Forsythia blossom

Yellow and optimistic Forsythia blossom

Until this dismal spring of 2018, I really wasn’t a fan of Forsythia.  I have just one in my garden, and whilst I never loved it, it filled a gap and it remained largely because I never got round to thinking about what I’d rather plant there.

This week it has come alive and I am so grateful for its cheerful yellow glow.  Of course the daffodils offer the same yellow optimism but a week of rain left many of them battered and barely vertical.

Not so the Forsythia which has remained stoic and smothered in flowers.  If I ever eye it up for replacement I must remember the dreary spring of 2018 and how it cheered me on many a gloomy morning.

The Spring Show

Show bench daffodils

A hard spring led to a smaller number of entries than usual

Thursday night saw the Spring Show at one of the two horticultural societies of which I’m a member.

This year I decided I would enter. I spent the week dodging the showers, inspecting my daffodils and deciding which of the classes they would fall into; trumpet, small cup, large cup, multi-headed, double or miniature

Narcissus 'Sacajawea'

Narcissus ‘Sacajawea’ blooming in time for the Spring Show

Helpfully the club sent out pictures to help with classification.  No-one wants a disqualification.

On the morning I was lucky to find a bud on a stem of my favourite ‘Sacajawea’ daffodil.  The rain had battered many down and most had bent or twisted stems but this one was long and poker straight. Sheer luck of course but I brought it indoors, placed it in an upright vase and it opened fully just in time for the show.

Entering a show is nerve-wracking but my local society is very friendly. Any competitiveness is tempered with a genuine feeling that we can learn from one another and celebrate each-other’s success. The judge told me that this was one of his favourite clubs to judge at as he knew he could leave without being lynched.


Vintage trophy from the 1930s

I was delighted to win a few firsts, including a lovely dainty silver cup from the 1930s.  The dismal spring led to much fewer entries than normal which obviously helped my cause.

My top tips for showing daffs are:

  1. Look for stems that are straight, flowers that are fully open and at right-angles to the stem
  2. Use floral foam to hold the stems upright – it will make life easy for the judge
  3. Choose a vase proportionate to the flower – tall flower, tall vase
  4. Don’t transport your flowers in a cardboard box, the vases will tip and you will have a useless soggy box and several trips back and forth to the car – top tip that!

A simply gorgeous Pleione flower

Pleione flower

Charming and diminutive Pleione Formosana – the Windowsill Orchid.

I had high hopes for this lovely little flower in the ‘Pot Plant in flower’ class at Thursday’s show but it didn’t last long enough. It’s shame as there was only one entry – which was ineligible as it wasn’t a pot plant.

It’s my first ever Pleione, picked off the bargain shelf in my local nursery reduced to a pound.  I potted it up, not really knowing what it was or how charming it would be.

Last summer it had only leaves and I left it dormant over the winter on my dining room windowsill.

I say I left it dormant but honestly I thought that as the leaves had died back it was probably dead. It was consigned to the area of the windowsill known as ‘resus’ – meaning I think it’s in need of resuscitation, or maybe it’s already dead, or if I continue to neglect it it will definitely die and I will know for sure.

I’ve since found out that the Pleione’s other name is the ‘Windowsill Orchid’ so unwittingly I’d given it the perfect north facing windowsill environment, together with a period of winter dry dormancy.

I’ve always said you learn gardening by doing, or in this case – not doing.

The incredible shrinking Camellia

Pink camellia in bloom

My Camellia in full bloom Spring 2017

I love love love Camellias and I’m lucky that they generally thrive in my garden. Four years ago I treated myself to a glorious, large, shocking pink camellia to put in a newly created bed at the top of the drive.  Pride of place, kerb appeal, and cheerful to return home to.

Snow damaged Camellia

Top half missing – December 2017

The plant is now half the size it was then, due in part to careless decorators, scaffolding erectors, children and most devastatingly of all, the cruel British weather.

At the beginning of December there was a huge snowstorm in the Chilterns.  Unlike the recent March snows which were light and drifting, the December storm sent heavy flakes of wet wet snow for 20 hours.

Camellia posy

Camellia posy – I can’t resist cutting a few

The next morning I discovered the top half of my beloved Camellia had snapped off.  It was smothered in lovely buds and I almost cried.

This week, the remaining buds started to open, fortunately hardly any were damaged from recent frosts and were looking lovely as ever.

I can’t resist Camellia in a vase so it is now further reduced by my secateurs.

But oh what a lovely posy!


 A growing alpine addiction

Sedum lydium

A lovely new Sedum lydium

Last week I reported on the roof of my daughter’s bird table design complete with lovely succulents.  This is all part of an increasing interest in all things alpine in my household.   This week I added to my collection in two ways.

Firstly, I bought a series of new plants and terracotta pans for my terrace wall and potted them up to dot around my existing trough – the one which houses the teeny tiny iris I described last week.

Belfast sink covered in hypertufa

Belfast sink covered in hypertufa

Secondly I made a home for future purchases by making an artificial stone trough by covering a belfast sink in Hypertufa.  This is a well known method popularised by the late great Geoff Hamilton on Gardener’s World in the early 90s and also the Alpine Garden Society.

I’m really please with how my trough turned out and can recommend the method as quick, easy and fun to do.

Who doesn’t love playing with mud pies?

Seedling crisis

Recycled plastic cold frame

Recycled plastic cold frame – first wave of seedlings for hardening off

I am really struggling to get motivated with seed sowing.  The weather does not help and neither does the fact that I am still adjusting to my lack of greenhouse. There is no point in sowing lots of things indoors too early, if I haven’t got anywhere for them to go for hardening off – and the weather is still too unpredicatable to plant straight out.

This week, with a glut of sweet pea seedlings, I pressed this old cold frame into action.  It’s a marvellous bit of kit.  Made by a company called Green Frog Designs from recycled plastic it has been heavily used and trouble free for 8 years.  The seedlings are now loving their south facing condo on my patio.

Soon the sweet peas will be out and I’ll be able to sow some more seeds without fear of making them homeless.  It’ll see wave after wave of seedlings and whilst I’m looking forward to the swanky glass and aluminium cold-frames that will accompany my new greenhouse I will keep these stalwarts.  They’ve served me well.


Six on Saturday is a weekly meme – take a look at the comments at the base of host The Propagator to see more ‘sixes’ from other keen gardeners from all over the world.