Sunday, January 29, 2012

The second-month itch

Grrrrr! I'm feeling grumpy today. There's nothing annoys me more than the prospect of a cold spell in February - just when one is itching to get on with some pre-spring activity such as creating new beds, or moving things around, or (ahem) planting the polyanthus I bought the other week.
Those poor polyanthus. No sooner did I buy them - during what I thought was going to continue to be a long mild spell - than we had a hard frost. It got mild again. I thought: "I must plant those polyanthus". No sooner did I poke my nose outside than the temperatures plummeted. It's not so much that the ground is too hard to plant, but I can't walk across the grass when it's frosty - it makes black footmarks on the lawn.
This week, it's going to get colder and colder in London, with temperatures drifting towards -4C(25F) overnight. That might not seem much if you live in northern Canada or Siberia, but a sustained blast of that over three or four nights may wreak havoc with some of the more tender plants I thought might get through the winter unscathed.
The polyanthus are Primula elatior 'Castillian', whose flowers come in cheerful shades of bronze, orange, terracotta and yellow, bunched on the typical sturdy stem of P. elatior hybrids. (Elatior is the clue that their great-grandparents were oxlips, rather than primroses.) Best of all, 'Castillian' is slightly scented.
They look fantastically cheerful alongside yellow-leaved grasses such as Acorus gramineus 'Ogon' and the blue-grey emerging foliage of Sedum spectabile. This year, I'm going to try them with Heuchera 'Electra', which is one of my favourites. It seems to keep its leaves in better shape over winter.
I'm going for colour this February. On the recommendation of James Alexander-Sinclair, writing in this month's issue of Gardeners' World magazine, I've invested in a couple of Prunus mume 'Beni-Chidori', the Japanese apricot, which has brilliant magenta flowers.
I normally like a combination of white and green in spring, but in a couple of weeks' time, I'm off to Miami with my daughter for a week's holiday and I know that when I get back, I will find England in late February something of an anticlimax compared to floriferous Florida.
So it's colour all the way. Hey, even the thought of it is starting to cheer me up!