More in flower.

Walk by a bed of these briefly flowering native Primulas and the air is filled with the sweetest fragrance reminiscent of confectionery. Before over picking there were carpets of these on woodland floors, taking the opportunity of no leaf canopy to flower and pollinate in the warming spring sun. They easily set seed and spread with plantlets. They have a panacea of herbal properties and the leaves and flowers are edible. As with all plants allergies and misidentification can lead to serious ill health. Further interesting facts can be found here. http://wightdruids.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=109&Itemid=126

The lesser periwinkle, flowers prolifically along our hedgerows now and throughout the year. It’s blue violet flowers last for ages and it can be left to it’s own devices, for more on periwinkle  go to our plant index.

Forsythia, is always first to put on a show in the spring garden

Don’t forget to prune after flowering as it flowers on last year’s growth. Bring in a few branches in a vase to light up the room.

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What’s in flower now?

In our UK 100 year old garden there is a surprising number of plants in bloom at this time of year, however very few insects to pollinate them, so sometimes you need to help the plants along, like this early  plum. Use a very soft brush or downy feather, it will improve cropping. I also do it with my peaches in the poly-tunnel, although leaving the doors open this time of year (if temp is not freezing) can help. My favourite flowering tree of all is this magical Umeboshi plum Prunus Ume.

This is actually more related to the apricot, and has a most heavenly scent. The fruit it produces can be preserved and have many health benefits.

It is pickled, salted or dried,

Their health benefits from recent studies include; Inhibition of H. Pylori bacteria which are implicated in gastritis and ulcers, dental disease and prevention of tooth decay and tests with rats show it has a remarkable effect on endurance exercising of skeletal muscle, so could help athletes!

It can be made into syrup just jar equal weight of sugar to plum and leave for 100 days.  Seeping the plums in vodka or rice liquor, produces a smooth fortified plum wine.  It makes a delicious plum sauce, cooked with sugar, vinegar, spices including ginger, great with poultry dishes.

It’s Mystical and cultural significance in Asia is second to none. Being depicted in ancient art and poetry for centuries. It’s flowering even in snow gives it a surreal and heavenly quality, and its fragrance seems to pervade the whole garden on the coldest of days. It has long represented endurance, perseverance and hope.

In Japan it is often referred to in Haiku poetry and a symbol of protection against evil, planted facing north east, the direction from which it comes.

Nothing is more representative of late winter than the Snowdrop Galanthus nivalis, which has naturalized itself in our garden thankfully avoiding disturbance over the many years.

The plant produces a chemical Galantamine, which is used in Alzheimer’s disease to slow progression.

Ferns

Hiding in the shadows where would we be without them? For they are mostly responsible for our fossil fuels. Dominating the plant kingdom 350 million years ago, their decay on the forest floor piled up many miles thick and super compressed over millions of years storing their captured carbon which now wreaks havoc on our climate.pollution-87683_1920

Ferns are widespread throughout many habitats, from tropical rainforest to arctic alpine situations, desert scrub lands to coastal niches, they like a shady moist spot, and are prized for their architectural foliage adding an exotic jungle feel to any garden.palm-fern-1367904_1920

They also vary in size, from tiny 1-2mm plants to giant tree ferns over 30 metres in height, there are over 9000 species, most are found in the tropics. Some are edible appetite-1239161_1920

And many have medicinal properties, their generic names reflecting the area of the body they acted on i.e. Asplenium the spleen, Maidenhair for baldness. Therapeutic properties range from antiworming-vermifuge, antiarthritic, cough remedies and topically such as an ointment made from the fronds of Harts tongue fern for burns and scalds, always consult a medical herbalist to try any of these.fern-195876

Ash derived from burning bracken is a very rich source of potash, although avoid inhaling the spores by using a fire bin to first dry the green fronds which are the richest source and avoiding introducing it into your garden. This abundant resource could be commercially harvested and processed, thereby controlling this rampant weed.

water-1697311_1920I think no garden should be without one of our 45 native species, creating a great backdrop for herbaceous plants such as Solomon’s seal or bleeding hearts. bleeding-hearts-1391321_1920

Glory Bush, Tibouchina

Any one who sees this exotic from Brazil in bloom will instantly adore it, the delicate vivid purple flowers always impress, they are usually abundant from late summer onwards in the U.K. as  light levels fall, and attract many butterflies. The leaves are soft and velvity, tinged with red on the edges.

flower-940250_1920It has a vine like growth pattern and can be trained up a trellis on a sunny wall, it can grow to about 5 metres, but can also be pruned into a more compact shape.  Water freely in spring sparingly in winter, but don’t let it stand in water, and it needs frost protection.

Treat as a House plant in colder climates and if it does die back due to cold or drought do not despair just water and usually new tiny shoots appear on the cinnamon coloured stems. It loves a rich fertile soil but will tolerate most soil types. It is an essential for the Tropical or subtropical garden.4273094211_c8a3ae2812_b

The wonderful world of Cacti

Most cacti are native to the Americas, and have highly evolved to tolerate hot and dry conditions, even the Atacama desert where some parts have not seen rain for more than 20 years! Their leaves have been replaced by spines in many cases, which helps conserve water and protects against predators, water is stored in the thick fleshy trunk of the plant, which also serves as the area for photosynthesis.

The only native cactus also found outside the Americas is the Mistletoe cactus which may have been carried by Ancient traders or birds to Africa and Sri Lanka.

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Rhipsalis baccifera

Cacti range in size from over 20 metres to just over 1 cm, and many offer a spectacular display of flowers, to attract birds and insects in the brief periods of pollination usually after heavy rains. They absorb a great deal of water during these times into their fluted stems and store it for dry spells. A large Saguaro cactus can store over  200 gallons in one go!

The ground dwelling types usually have superficial  roots that stay near the surface to absorb the brief downpours, before the water quickly evaporates in the hot desert, the very tall columnar varieties produce very deep tap roots to stop it falling over. Cacti can be easily propagated by seed or cuttings in species such as epiphytes

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Epiphyte cactus flowering

Cacti like a 50/50 mix of loam and grit and fed with a dilute organic seaweed fertilizer during the growing season every 2 weeks with rain water if possible. cactus-58415_1280Some cactus fruits are edible, the prickly pear is one example, some can be fermented into alcoholic drinks as with the syrup from the enormous Saguaro. Some species have long been known to be psychoactive containing the chemical Mescaline such as the North American Peyote and South American san pedro cactus

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Peyote cactus.

more about these psychoactive plants will be revealed on our Plant Magic pages soon.