Abriachan in Winter

Cold but clear morning, temperature in Lewiston -1, in Abriachan +4. Don took me on a quick tour of the garden to see what’s going on at this time of year. Some hard pruning has been done, including lopping a spectacular Berberis (B. x ottawensis f. purpurea) right down to a stump (next year it will grow a meter or so, the following year it will be back to its splendid purple-fronded bushy best). The beech hedge on the northern edge of the garden has been reduced to about 2 meters. New views and vistas have been opened both by the pruning and lopping, and the final fall of nearly all the leaves (oak being the last to go).

Abriachan has many different hollies and they all come into their own in December. The variegated Ilex aquifolium trees have produced loads of berries which are being used to make seasonal wreaths (going down a storm in the local farmers’ markets apparently). There’s quite a lot of variation in the size and shape of the leaves, and in the amount of ‘spininess’ (some holly leaves are almost entirely smooth, with just a few spines at the tip).

I. aquifolium ‘Scotica’ should have been a best-seller in the nursery on account of patriotic plant-buying trends, but its leaves are almost folded in on themselves so healthy plants look as if the leaves are suffering from lack of water or nutrients.

I. ‘Americana’ (not sure about this name, can’t find it in the books) was in flower – a male apparently since the flowers only had stamens (anther + filament) and no style with stigma at the top (female reproductive parts). So that helps me to understand that Ilex is one of around 10% of plants which are dioecious – plants produce either male or female flowers. This is as opposed to monoecious plants (eg mistletoe, or Curcubita, or Betula) which have separate male and female plants.

Many different species of rhododendron are also starting to make themselves seen as other plants and trees die back.

There was news of a harsh lesson for some of the more tender plants – several New Zealand species did not survive the hard frosts we had here last winter. And an important tip for dealing with frost in the nursery/sales area – plants will cope better on the ground than they will up on the tables.

This is the time of year for potting bulbs and corms for sale in the Spring – customers will come asking for plants they see flowering at that time, and will be disappointed to go away with a handful of wizened bulbs to plant in the promise of colourful blooms in a year’s time. Abriachan keeps a sale stock of more interesting growing bulbs such as anemones, fritillaries etc.

After the walk I did some work – potted up 60 wee pots of Anemone blanda (three bulbs to a pot), then divided and potted a load of Sedum ‘Munstead Red’. The medium was a mix of peat, John Innes and composted leaf mould.

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