I reckon spring to be arriving when a profusion of small yellow buttons bespeckles the naked twigs of Cornus mas. This is not to say that winter has packed its bag the monster can return without much notice and smack us in the face at any time up to and, sometimes beyond, Easter. But the Cornus is bespeckled. The sap is rising. Spring is on its way.
Cornus mas, the cornelian cherry (so named for its edible small red fruits), has two seasons. Because it lies pretty well unnoticed after its generously long flowering season, I wouldn’t give it a prime position in the garden, but it peaks again in October, when its foliage adopts fiery hues. I grow several in the arboretum, where they have no need to call attention to themselves. There are half a dozen variants, including the slow-growing Aureoelegantissima, which needs some shade to save its leaves from scorching, and Variegata, a good form (if you like variegation) with white-margined leaves. None grows beyond the convenient dimensions of a small tree.
A friend has triggered a new passion, by making a present of some lofty bamboos. I’ve long flirted with these plants, made distant and sometimes near passes at them, but not until a week or so ago did I go so far as to ‘bring one back to my place’. I think I’m on the brink of a passionate and, most likely, costly, affair. Marion, a plantaholic whose acquisitiveness is curbed only by the boundaries of her small town garden, rang to say that her ‘boos’ were wandering, marching into the lawn, and did I want the ones she was digging up. She hadn’t cut the culms or canes which were 10ft high or more, topped with graceful, almost glaucous, foliage. I, too, was reluctant to use the secateurs, so after teasing them apart, I planted individual stems, making sure they were well staked to prevent wind-rock as they make new roots. Equally, I could have cut the culms to ground level and let them start afresh from dormant sub-terranean shoots.
I take my generous gift to be Phyllostachys aurea (a member of ‘the most important genus for gardens’, says Paul Whittaker of PW Plants at Kenninghall in Norfolk in his book, Hardy Bamboos: Taming the Dragon, from Timber Press). When grown in an open and sunny position, its green juvenile culms eventually turn an amber gold. It will be interesting to see if I can accommodate bamboos in the arboretum without giving it too much of a jungle, or alien, appearance.
It was a good time to move the bamboos. Similarly, there is now little time left to re-site any shrubs or young trees. There are two important things to remember: water the transplants well (even if it rains ceaselessly), and stake anything that looks as if it might move in the wind. Roots cannot develop or take hold if they’re dry or being tugged to and fro from above.
Seed catalogues are also much on my mind. What veg to grow this year; what flowers to satisfy my capricious and sometimes all too often fickle mind? For those of us unhappy with the tonnage of paper coming through the letter box, the internet is the answer. All the major and, indeed, many of the minor seed suppliers have a website, and by typing something as vague as ‘seed merchants’ into a search engine, you will be directed to countless online seedsmen.In the kitchen garden, I adhere to two principles: grow that which is best eaten when freshly harvested (salads and herbs, especially); and grow that which cannot be found in our local town’s only green-grocers.
From Thompson & Morgan’s 60 varieties of tomato, I have chosen Black Cherry and Gold Nugget, which ought to provide an abundance of ripe fruits throughout the summer in my part of the world. However, be warned, the descriptions are mouth watering, so it might be wise to decide exactly how many kinds you want before scrolling through the selection. Otherwise, you’ll be in the chutney business up to Christmas and may never want to look a tomato in the face again.