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Several years ago, I conducted a nationwide New Year’s Day flower count through the pages of Hortus, which resulted in surprising tallies that included many out-of-season subjects-roses, especially. This year, I decided to ask the owners of several celebrated gardens to tell me what they found to be flowering on the first day of 2013. I apologise in advance that most of what follows comprises a long list of plant names, but that is the point of a flower count, so here we go!

Near Wolverhampton in the West Midlands-about as far from the sea as you can get in England-John Massey of Ashwood Nurseries counted 18 plants in flower on New Year’s Day in his private canalside garden. They included six different Hamamelis, five kinds of hellebore, two snowdrops (Galanthus reginae-olgae and G. elwesii Mrs Macnamara) and the dwarf, shrubby Daphne jezoensis. Knoll Gardens, near Wimborne in Dorset, scored 27 New Year’s Day bloomers, including Abutilon Janet (protected by the eaves of owner Neil Lucas’s house), Ceanothus Owlswood Blue, Rosa Mary Rose, two southern-hemisphere grevilleas and three different camellias. Across the Irish Sea, in Helen Dillon’s Dublin garden, it was summer-flowering herbaceous plants that surprisingly featured.

There were several alstroemerias, Calendula, Eryngium pandanifolium, Erysimum Bowles’s Mauve and E. Dawn Breaker, Dianthus Chomley Farran, Melianthus major Antonow’s Blue (from Monrovia), two herbaceous salvias (Blue Enigma and Indigo Spires) as well as climbers Cobaea scandens and Jasminum nudiflorum. Mrs Dillon mentions also Florence Mary Morse, and reminded me that it was Christopher Lloyd’s mother’s favourite rose. So, next stop: Great Dixter in Sussex, where Fergus Garrett listed some 30 plants flowering on the first day of January.

In addition to many hellebores (‘unusually early for Dixter,’ says Fergus), there were double flowered Ulex europaeus, several heavenly scented sarcococcas, Cyclamen coum, Geranium pyrenaicum Isparta, an achillea and Clematis cirrhosa Freckles. Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox, is on Fergus’s list aswell as those of many others, but Dixter alone could boast Magnolia grandiflora, bearing one magnificent bloom.

On the Thames, near Hammersmith Bridge, Diana Everett lives on a barge moored midstream. Secured alongside is a second vessel, converted into a floating garden, and here, on New Year’s Day, she noted Schizostylis coccinea, primulas, pansies, snowdrops, roses, Chaenomeles – and Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis. No doubt scanning riverside gardens through binoculars, she spotted Choisya ternate, Viburnum tinus Eve Price, Lonicera fragrantissima, a clematis (covered in small, downturned bells) and Garrya elliptica in full catkin-all to be seen among trailing blue lobelia (in a very sheltered doorway), felicia, valerian, asters, daffodils and what might well have been a blue Siberian iris.

In bulb-grower Christine Skelmersdale’s semi-woodland garden near Taunton, Somerset, she noted the miniature Iris George, Leucojum aestivum and Muscari armeniacum; also early lamiums beside autumn ‘leftovers’ Liriope muscari , penstemons and Alstroemeria Mars. Friends of the Skelmersdales, at Littlecourt on the edge of the Quantocks (‘one of the best gardens I know,’ says Christine) had a list that included such unlikely candidates as Alcalthaea suffrutescens, Ceanothus Trewithen Blue, Euphorbia Blackbird, Fuchsia Lottie Hobby and Hebe × andersonii Andersonii
Variegata.

In addition, there were several roses, a couple of rhododendrons, Sternbergia lutea, Viola labradorica, Symphytum grandiflorum and Prunus × subhirtella Autumnalis. Iris unguicularis, from North Africa (which, surprisingly, no one else recorded), was as punctual as ever. No one familiar with the eclectic range of plants grown at Crûg Farm in North Wales will be surprised that the top award of my little survey goes to Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones.

Even in what has been a tricky season, their list exceeds 40 plants, among them nine different sarcococcas, a Schima and a Sinopanax, five different viburnums and the rare Rubus rolfei, which, if its flowers give way to fruit, will look like bright orange blackberries. Bravo!

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