Back to Abriachan today for the first time since mid-December. This winter has been exceptionally cold – a heavy fall of snow just before Christmas was followed by a blocking high which kept temperatures at a record low for several weeks. Most of the snow has melted now but the ground is still very hard. There has been some damage to branches and shrubs from frost and through the weight of the snow – requiring staking and some quite hard pruning. A large Photonia has been quite badly affected by frost and a bushy Lonicera has been pruned right back in the hope it will regrow without completely blocking the path. Curiously, a dwarf palm whose leaves must have been completely grounded seems to have bounced right back. Plants and cuttings in the polytunnels seem mostly to have escaped death by frost but everything is behind. We need a sustained rise in temperatures to persuade little plants, cuttings, bulbs and corms that they really do want to grow.

But the snowdrops have arrived and there are some lovely little specimens to behold. Apparently there are about 19 species of Galanthus recognised in the world (by the RHS). The most common of these is G. nivalis which grows readily around here – apart from on Skye where the most common snowdrop is G. plicatus, which hails from the Black Sea area (Ukraine, Turkey, Romania) and was apparently brought back to the island in the pockets of soldiers returning from the Crimea. May or may not be true but it’s a good story! So is the superstition that a single snowdrop is unlucky but a bunch is fine (something to do with the resemblance to a shroud). That’s a pity because there is something quite exquisite about the shape and form of a single snowdrop – the beauty and variety of colour, shape and texture of the petals and tepals, the different shaped leaves, green and yellow markings, double heads, and the scent of some varieties (eg G. ‘S. Arnott’). Snowdrops are relatively slow to establish which is reflected in their retail cost.

Colour in the garden in early March, despite the ravages of the ‘coldest winter on record’:

Iris coming through (I. ‘George’ is deep purple and gorgeous)

Hamamelis is flowering bright yellow fronds

Winter aconites, Celandines (Ranunculaceae)

Some Hellebores are still showing flower

Winter-flowering heathers in the heather patch provide early food for the first forages of the bees.

More hints and information on plant recognition in winter – look for differences in buds in relation to:

  • Position (lateral or terminal – axillary or apical)
  • Single or in clusters (Quercus buds are terminal hairy clusters)
  • Colour (Acer buds are tiny and red)
  • Shape (rounded or spear-like)
  • Sheath (bud scales)

Also remember to see the obvious – hazels (Corylus spp.) have catkins, alder (Alnus glutinosa) has pronounced horizontal lenticels on even the smallest branches. I’m also admiring the regular pruning that’s been taking place over several years to train and shape the Abriachan trees.

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