Sunday, 28 January 2018

Harbingers of spring

January is almost over and I tell myself that spring is almost here. But realism and experience also tell me that winter is far from done and it could yet deliver a nasty bite. Nevertheless a brilliant morning sun drew me into the garden and showed me a few early treasures.
A small clump of Cretan Crocus, Crocus sieberi, has been in bud for a few days but today it finally burst open, Ishtar-like, to flaunt its naughty bits.
In our front garden on Daventry's Stefen Hill, Crocus sieberi has plucked up
courage to bloom. 28 January, 2018

Not to be outdone, a few paces away a little patch of Crocus chrysanthus, was also in bloom. Both it and C. sieberi have quite a wide range in the Balkans, Turkey and Greece but only the latter makes if as far as Crete, where apparently it can be very common.
Not to be outdone, Crocus chrysanthus has followed suit...

Occupying a similar range, but going further north-east into Russia, is Iris reticulata. It has no common name but is sometimes referred to as the 'Netted Iris'. Certainly the fibrous sheath covering the bulbs is reticulate (netted) but this delightful plant really deserves a more attractive name.

...and Iris reticulata joins the show. Our front garden at Stefen Hill, Daventry.
28 January, 201
Oddly enough crocuses are members of the Iris Family, Iridaceae, so clearly the three plants featured are, despite considerable differences in outward appearance, closely related.
Quite unrelated are Heartsease pansies. These pop up in the rock garden in considerable numbers and, although I have to weed many of them out, they are very welcome. A few, battered by biting winter winds are in flower but the chances of an insect visitor are remote although bumble bees may, later in the year, pay a visit.
Heartsease pansies are blooming too, here pushing through a patch of
 Sea Heath, Frankenia laevis

In fact pollination is unnecessary for violets and pansies also bear cleistogamous flowers. These are non-opening, self-pollinating flowers. This is an advantageous strategy in unfavourable conditions for neither petals nor nectar need to be produced and only a small amount of pollen will suffice - a saving of some importance.

Heartsease. Viola tricolor, is a native British species but is very rare as a genuinely wild plant in Northants although it may, of course, occur as an escape from gardens on waste ground. It has a host of common names from the simple Herb Trinity to Kiss-me-at-the-garden-gate plus at least half a dozen more. The herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, recommended it for the treatment of 'venereal heart disease' but the name Heartsease generally has more romantic connotations.

It is one of the parents of our common garden pansies. 

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