Looking ahead

And here we are back in January with the year ahead of us. I have no idea what it will bring and I make no predictions. I can only say that I may be able to make one or two horticultural ones. Even those are weather dependent, although things invariably catch up if they have been held back by cold weather.

I remember in spring 2011, our Primula denticulata – Drumstick primula, so called because it has a very long tall stem – in the gravel garden had absolutely no stem. It flowered against the rosette of leaves at the base, I’d never seen anything like it. Eventually the stem grew as the weather warmed, but it was an unusual sight, brought on by a month of night temperatures of 10 below.

I would say that all things being equal, the Laburnum Arch will be in flower at the end of May and should coincide with the Iris Border in full bloom. The Rose Arch will be doing its stuff in July and the Hot Border will be firing on all cylinders in August. All true but it hardly makes me Mystic Meg.

Part of the joy of horticulture is that it often throws you a curve ball just when you least expect it. Sometimes they are strange but not a problem.

Something like Fasciation sends the growing tip haywire and results in random, crazy growth. You might see long flattened stems or multiple flower heads. It’s caused by damage to the growing tip of a plant. It can be random genetic mutation, or a virus, or damage caused by frost, or animals or tools (such accidentally smacking the plant with a hoe. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen).

You may well have seen a variation of this in trees when out walking. Witches broom is caused by a virus and results in those crazy tangles of shoots on branches all over the tree. They don’t do any harm but some people remove them because they don’t like the look.

Tulip Breaking Virus (TBV) is another curve ball which is viewed as disaster by some gardeners but as a spectacular show by others.

TBV causes the main colour to ‘break’ down, creating streaks of a different colour. It played an important part in Tulipmania the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. It’s unpredictable and so the breaks made by the virus became highly prized. Over time the bulbs become weaker and – in the main – eventually cease to flower. Breeders have developed stable genetic mutations that are vigorous and flower reliably. English Florist’s tulips are the exception as their breaks still occur from TBV but are incredibly stable.  They’re not often available but you will find them in spring bulb catalogues and still commanding a good price. Fortunately, and unlike 17th century Netherlanders, you won’t have to sell your house to afford them. At the height of Tulipmania, single bulbs could change hands for unbelievable sums, and as is the way with these things the bubble eventually burst leaving a lot of people with tulip bulbs and no actual money.

Don’t get me wrong, I love tulips and the bulb catalogues are a menace to my bank balance but the price of a house for one bulb? I don’t think so. Having said that I will have a wonderful tulip display next spring in my own garden as somehow, I went a bit mad when I ordered and well you don’t need to know quite how mad. Just that it will look fabulous.

Enjoy this quiet time in your garden and remember to look for witches brooms when you’re out and about.

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