Working in the winter Garden

What happened to our winter?  Where are those cold nights and crisp mornings when we wear so many layers of warm clothes we can barely move?  Those morning when, after moving, pulling little trees, ivy, honeysuckle and other woodland pests, we remove layer after layer?  Hydrangeas have begun to expand their buds, the later flowering narcissus are in bloom, and snowdrops droop ready to return to the slightly cooler earth. We even saw the first bloodroots in flower this past Friday.  The appearance of these long-awaited plants and flowers excites us but we worry about their survival.  Will there be a devastating cold snap to destroy the ever-swelling buds on trees and shrubs?  We don’t know. We work outside almost all day every day, even in the winter. 

This winter at Montrose we concentrated on our collection of hellebore species, and hand pollinated our favorites hoping to offer seedlings in a few years.  We divided many clumps of narcissus, which were growing so tightly together they couldn’t bloom.  We dug them, then divided and replanted each one into the area where we have other spring flowering bulbs at the edge of the field.  We spend many happy days in the woods, where we cleared weeds and saplings and planted another terrace with snowdrops.  This new area is about 100 yards long and Bruce, our fantastic volunteer’s husband, estimated that this ridge now contains about 4600 bulbs all divided from the snowdrop woods this winter.  We will start seeds soon for plants to put into the garden when we believe the warmth is here to stay.  We divide and replant perennials for sale in fresh soil, and we take cuttings of suitable plants that we expect will root at this season.  We don’t stop to smell the roses yet but we do stand near Tony Avent’s great introduction, Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Snow Cream’, and rejoice that we are able to grow such a treasure.

  Edgeworthia chrysantha  'Snow Cream' in bloom

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Snow Cream' in bloom

The images below illustrate the process of pollinating the Hellebore, Helleborus purpurascens. This species is pollinated so that we will be able to collect ripe seed in mid March, the seed will then be sown, and grown on.

 Here, you can see the ripe pollen on the stamens of  H. purpurascens . At this stage in the flowers life the stigma is no longer receptive.

Here, you can see the ripe pollen on the stamens of H. purpurascens. At this stage in the flowers life the stigma is no longer receptive.

 Here, you can see the stigma of an  H. purpurascens  flower that are ready to be pollinated, notice that on this flower the stamens are not yet forming pollen.

Here, you can see the stigma of an H. purpurascens flower that are ready to be pollinated, notice that on this flower the stamens are not yet forming pollen.

 Here, the pollen from the first flower shown is being used to pollinate the stigma of the second flower shown. The flower that will produce seed is marked with a red string so that it can be watched for ripe seed.

Here, the pollen from the first flower shown is being used to pollinate the stigma of the second flower shown. The flower that will produce seed is marked with a red string so that it can be watched for ripe seed.

Janet Crowther