Monday, 19 January 2009


Jasminum nudiflorum on my house wall –  the one winter-flowering plant I would not be without.

What a difference a day makes!  Well, a couple of days, actually but you know what I mean. 36 hours of mild, westerly weather – after the frost and misery – and Kerpow!!! Whooppeeeee!! Zapparroooodle!!! Up pop two winter aconites.  That was 8 days ago.  Now we have a respectable smattering of the little yellow darlings, joined by clumps of snowdrops and Crocus imperati sbsp imperati 'De Jager.'  

It ain't spring, yet, not by a long chalk, but our resident 'darkling thrush' is reviving Hardy's poem every afternoon; the cock blackbirds are fighting each other, instead of chucking all my neatly spread compost off the borders and onto the paths.  And to top it all, yesterday afternoon, I actually took off my woolly hat and felt the kiss of the sun on my slap head.  Well, not exactly kiss - more like the prune-mouthed 'mwah!' of a frigid cryptolesbian starlet - but still an almost discernible sense of uncoldness.

Ahem, now then, now then!   Look lively!  Gardening stuff coming up!
I've been squirming with indecision over the winter jasmine.  It's a plant I wouldn't be without, especially at this time of year.  The cheery yellow blossoms begin in November and plod on until the end of winter.  Lovely!  But it's also an untidy bastard thing.  Wherever a down-hanging shoot touches soil, it roots and a new child leaps into action, adding more and more stolons until pruning the resulting tangle is almost impossible.  The summer foliage hasn't much to boast about, either, and the bottle green stems can be sombre and depressing.  

With that in mind, I was trying to analyse the failure that is my tiny front garden and conclude that a big reason for its dishevelled, frowzy appearance is the huge jasmine which scales the wall.  But have I the heart - or the guts - to remove such a splendidly healthy and floriferous thing?  We'll see.  Fan trained Chaenomeles might be better.

At my last house, I grew winter jasmine through a boring laurel hedge, to excellent effect.  And there's a tempting little gap in my west boundary hedge, here, so I might try a stolon or two in that.  Once they're established, a front garden make-over will be in order.

The RHS has got butterflies at large, in the great Glasshouse.  I gather there are Wood Nymphs, enormous, electric blue Morphos, Owl Butterflies and species of Heliconius.  But what's this I see on the web page?  It looks like a Common Blue Polyomattus icarus which you can also find illustrated  here! Hmmm!  Not exactly tropical, and about the size of a 10p piece.  Next to a monster morpho, this tiny – but staggeringly beautiful – little chap would look distinctly puny. What's more, it wouldn't be on the wing in January, I suspect, and is unlikely to be spotted in a glasshouse.  Do they think that because it isn' t plants, we won't spot the deception?  

Here's a male common blue I photographed yonks ago, one summer, in Norfolk:

A male Common Blue, Polyomattus icarus, resting on a flowering plantain.

Unlike winter Jasmine, a climbing rose responds superbly to discipline.  Also in the front garden, a few feet south of the scruffy but lovely jasmine, I planted the intensely fragrant, sumptuously red, red rose 'Climbing Alec's Red'   Pruning these things is a breeze, as long as you don't object to punctured fingers and scratched wrists.  You get the odd crossed or rubbing stem which can be perplexing but in general, once you've removed superannuated leads, and all the weak or diseased rubbish, the remaining branches almost put themselves into place.  

With all climbing roses, it's important to strain the stems downwards towards the horizontal.  That encourages flowering and also enables one to distribute them evenly - well, sort of evenly - over the surface.  The text books say all crossing stems should go, but I've left one on. It should have been removed but was so young and healthy that I just couldn't bring myself to give it the chop. 

Rosa 'Climbing Alec's Red' before pruning.

The same thing, after its annual haircut and shampoo. Note the crossing stem.

This week's film was Fitzcarraldo, starring the scarily manic Klaus Kinski and directed by the equally off the wall Werner Herzog.  Kinski, a 'Remittance Man' of Irish descent decides to carry a ship over a mountain, deep into the jungle, so that he can build an opera house good enough to entice the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso.  Bonkeroonies or what???

I'm listening to Bill Evans, playing solo Jazz Piano.

This day last year, I was cutting perennials back in our autumn border.  That's when I discovered that my son had used my NEW CHRISTMAS FELCO SECATEURS to cut wire.  Aaaaagghhhhhh!!!!!!!!!


  1. Rest assuredly that it's way more springy there than in many other places. :)

  2. Blimey, Nigel.
    Meteorology, ornithology, horticulture, ethnomethodology, poetry, lepidopterology, phytology, significs, filmography and musicology.
    All in one post.

  3. I really enjoyed this post - all very informative. I like the idea of growing Jasmine through Laurel. I have a young Laurel hedge so i might try this.

  4. I take it that you have thrown your son in the dungeon for using your brandnew secateurs to cut wire? The punishment should fit the crime, wouldn't you say? ;-)

    Winter jasmin is indeed a pain and a joy. I prune mine back hard (crewcut) once it has finished flowering and that makes it look almost neat and trim.

    We have a whiff of spring here too with snowdrops about to flower, a few aconites already in flower and of course the Hamamelis are in full throttle already and flowering their little hearts out with gay abandon.

    I was looking for either a red or deep pink climbing rose and yours sounds just the ticket as it is scented as well. Must check out if they sell it over here (Netherlands) too.

  5. Hi Nigel, I've just come across your blog and it made me smile! I spent last Sunday trimming - okay,severely hacking back a winter jasmine that had got so overgrown and tangled that it only had about a dozen flowers and shoots way, way up high and scrotty pale brown nothingness everywhere else. It'd better get its act together or else...!

  6. Yolanda Elizabet - You need to make sure you are buying the climbing variety which was a sport of the original which is a hybrid tea (bush) rose.

    It's an old variety, not easy to find but you'll get help from the RHS Plantfinder. Log onto and click on Plantfinder.

  7. Yes, winter jasmine is a double-edged treasure. So welcome in its early sunshine colouring yet such a difficult plant to keep looking elegant and keep where you want it. Perhaps the way to go is to take advantage of that about which you complain, Nigel.

    It roots whenever it touches the soil - so perhaps using these newly rooted plants and consigning the old and haggard parents to the compost heap is the way to go - keep them fresh and renewed by moving the youngsters to new places (tumbling down over a retaining wall, perhaps) and, when they're established, ripping out the old plants and replacing them with something else.

    And don't think about attempting to add to their appeal in your garden by planting the variegated form ('Mystique') or the yellow-leaved form (Aureum') - both are singularly unimpressive.