Sunday, 18 February 2018

It's snowdrop time at Thenford

In truth snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, have been in bloom since the end of January but early to mid-February sees them at their peak. But to imply that only G. nivalis is involved would be to over-simplify the situation for botanical recorders have confirmed that five species and three hybrids are present in Britain - and probably none is a native.

Snowdrops in Bell Lane, Byfield, Northants.
8 February, 2018

Galanthus nivalis is overwhelmingly the most common species and can be regarded as a denizen (see my blog for 8th February). Mention should be made of Queen Olga's Snowdrop, Galanthus reginae-olgae, as it blooms in early December and is probably responsible for many reports in the press of 'early-blooming snowdrops'. It is a native of the Peloponesse in southern Greece and although Chris and I were in that area about four years ago we were far too late - or early - to see it.
Snowdrops have been with us since the late 16th Century and suspicions that it is native are perfectly understandable given how it flourishes in our woodlands. But for at least three weeks snowdrops locally have been flowering in vain. The chance of a visit from early bees has been vanishingly small and this almost absurdly early flowering is another reason for doubting its native status and most early flowerers prove to be aliens: crocuses, mezereon, winter heliotrope, lungworts, periwinkles and so on.  
The snowdrop has a multitude of common names but the old Swedish name was snodroppe so what we appear to have is an anglicised form of that. To the French it was pierce-neige: even I, by no means Francophonic, can work out that the term means 'snow piercer'. 
Anyway, what is this leading up to?
Today, Chris and I went with our friend Lynda to visit Michael Heseltine's house and rather grand gardens at Thenford. Ostensibly it was a 'Snowdrop Day' but I was on the look out for other plants.
There were eye-catching specimens of Helloborus x hybridus drawing the admiration of visitors. Helleborus argutifolius, H. lividus and H. niger may all be involved in the genetic make-up of these plants with other species such as H. thibetanus occasionally involved. I am told that the plants sometimes receive insect visitors but I have not witnesses this.
Purple-maroon flowers of hellebores are real crowd pleasers.
Thenford, Northants. 18 February, 2018
Several south-facing walls are available at Thenford and I was pleased to see a couple of loquats being grown. The Loquat, Eriobotrya japonica is native to the hills of China but apparently, despite its Latin name, not Japan.
Loquat plants appreciated the shelter of a warm wall.
Thenford, Northants. 18 February, 2018
It is widely cultivated in warmer regions and I have sampled its fruits in Mediterranean countries but have found them to be rather unexciting. The plants rarely fruit in Britain anyway. The plant has handsome foliage and its flowers remind me of large hawthorn blossoms - unsurprising perhaps as both are members of the same family, the Rosaceae.
One attractive feature of the Loquat is the foliage.
Thenford. 18 February, 2018
In mid-February I wasn't expecting to see much in flower and it was other features which caught the attention. A magnificent tree exposed its moss-covered roots and was creating much comment. The tree was unnamed but it was almost certainly an ash. Not our native Fraxinus excelsior but the shape and form of its buds convinced me that it was one of its many relatives. My best guess is Fraxinus americana.
Fraxinus americana? Certainly a lovely tree.
Thenford. 28 February, 2018
I have often felt that here in Britain we make insufficient use of conifers. There were several handsome species to be seen at Thenford and I was particularly impressed by a beautiful specimen of the Colorado Spruce, Picea pungens, native to Colorado and adjacent states in the Rockies.
It has lovely glaucous foliage and the form being grown, 'Hoopsii', is particularly fine. It is sometimes used as a 'Christmas Tree' but why don't we see it more often as a garden specimen? Incidentally the specific name 'pungens' does not refer to a pungent smell but in this sense means 'sharply pointed' and describes the leaves.
There are several lovely forms of Picea pungens. This is 'Hoopsii'.
Thenford. 18 February, 2018
A majestic tree had fallen just beyond the gardens. Too often these giants are taken off to a sawmill for timber but the aesthetic appeal of this specimen had been recognised and, following a little judicious trimming, was left in clear view for us to enjoy.

This fallen giant has been trimmed to make a rather impressive feature.
Thenford, Northants. 18 February, 2018
We briefly visited the nearby church of St Mary the Virgin, a very plain church with no ostentatious features that could have raised the ire of Oliver Cromwell. I was surprised to later find that it had Grade I status, listed for features of its architecture that meant little to me. For me the interest was in the churchyard, where leaves of celandines had been mined by Phytomyza ranunculi, a very widespread but tiny fly.
Leaf of celandine mined by Phytomyza ranunculi.
Thenford, 28 February, 2018
There was enjoyment elsewhere within the gardens: sculptures, lichen-encrusted trunks, lakes and other water features, an aviary and a wonderfully fragrant shrub of Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill'. What a pity I couldn't catch the delicious perfume with a camera!
Oh, and there were rather nice cakes too.

Not a bad day.

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