A froth of white dresses the fields and roadsides in Hertfordshire. What do you call this wildflower -- Queen's Anne's Lace, wild carrot or something else entirely?

A Change of (Ad)dress

 

The weather at this time of year does strange things to the mind — and to the wardrobe. One day is cold, the next is hot. Changing locations makes the uncertainties even worse. What do I pack? Summer dresses or winter woolies?

I arrived in England a few days ago on a chilly morning that felt much like the mornings I’d left behind in Canada. But looking out at the countryside, it was obvious that summer was now dressing the fields.

 

A froth of white dresses the fields and roadsides in Hertfordshire. What do you call this wildflower -- Queen's Anne's Lace, wild carrot or something else entirely?
A froth of white dresses the fields and roadsides in Hertfordshire. What do you call this wildflower — Queen’s Anne’s Lace, wild carrot or something else entirely?

 

Not so at Glen Villa, my home garden in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. In the weeks before I left, the garden didn’t know what to wear.

Jeffersonia, or twin leaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) decided to put on its party dress and bloom earlier than usual. While farther south it is common, in Quebec it is rare, almost non-existent. And since it reminds me of my home state of Virginia and of Thomas Jefferson, after whom it was named, it has a special place in my heart.

 

 

Jeffersonia diphylla is one of my favourite flowers. It is marginally hardy in Quebec and I am fortunate that it is beginning to seed itself.
Jeffersonia is marginally hardy in Quebec and I am fortunate that it is beginning to seed around.

 

It was the same story on the berm by the Skating Pond. There, hundreds of daffodils were decked out in frills of yellow and white, daffodilling for all they were worth.

 

Over the years, we've planted thousands of daffodils on the berm.
It’s a party on the berm, with daffodils of all sorts hanging out together. Over the years, we’ve planted several thousand of them  — and there’s lots of room for more!

 

(A side not: A year or two ago, I noticed that the daffodils were arranged in rows like soldiers lined up for inspection instead of mingling willy-nilly like friends at a party. To relax the effect, I began to move clumps while the daffodils were still in bloom, so I could immediately see the effect. That was two or three years ago. This year I can see that, bit by bit, my plan is working.)

 

I am happy with this section of the hillside. Other sections are still too regular.
I am happy with this section of the hillside and love the mix of colours and varieites.

 

Over the first two weeks of May, temperatures fluctuated wildly, going from summertime highs to wintertime lows. I watched as buds promised to flower, only to shrink back inside their winter clothes. At the end of April, the buds on the magnolia trees in the Lower Garden were closed as tightly as they had been all winter.

 

Another photo from April 30, 2016 shows the magnolia bud tightly closed.
This photo from April 30, 2016 shows the magnolia bud tightly closed.

 

In sunnier and more sheltered spots they were beginning to open.

 

This bud looks as if she is shrugging off a heavy winter coat.
This bud looks as if she is shrugging off a heavy winter coat.

 

A day or two of sunshine tricked them into showing their colours…

 

The overcoat is almost gone.
The overcoat is almost gone.

 

despite night time temperatures that were still dipping to 2C or 3C degrees.

 

The overcoat has turned into a fur neck warmer.
The overcoat has turned into a fur neck warmer — as necessary for flowers as for people on cold nights.

 

And then, only days before I left for England, the trees burst into bloom.

 

Magnolia stellata 'Susan' in full bloom in the Lower Garden is a cloud of sweet delight.
Magnolia stellata ‘Susan’ in full bloom in the Lower Garden is a clichéd cloud of pink that would be perfect for a little girl’s dress-up box.

 

Under the linden tree, grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) that were still coming into bloom decided to spread their blue skirts across the grass.

 

Another few days of warm weather will bring these bulbs into full bloom.
Those posts in the background hold up deer fencing. It is necessary, unfortunately, to stop the deer from eating the foliage.

 

And then it snowed.

 

The snow cover here may not rival winter depths but even a light snowfall is too much in mid May Spring green and snow white: not a colour combo I want to repeat.
The snow cover here may not rival winter depths but even a light snowfall is too much in mid May.

 

Spring green and snow white is not a colour combination I want my garden to wear. Nor do I want to see it dressed that way.

 

By the time I was up and outside, much of the snow had gone.
By the time I was up and outside, much of the snow had gone.

 

In England, only the memory of the cold and the unwelcome snow remains. Yesterday was warm and sunny, such a perfect day that I spent all of it at Kew Gardens.

 

A scene from the pinetum area at Kew Gardens shows a mix of foliage colours and a bright blue sky.
A scene from the pinetum at Kew Gardens shows a mix of foliage colours and textures, along with a bright blue sky.

 

The white that clothed the ground there wasn’t snow, it was a swath of little daisies.

 

Little daisies turn the grass white.
Little daisies (Bellis perennis) turn grass into a picnic table covered with a fresh white cloth.

 

The Azaleas were flouncing around in dresses as gaudy as any you’d want to see.

 

A touch of colour is a grand thing but I find the mix of colours overwhelming. The signage describing the different types of azaleas was quite informative.
A touch of colour is a grand thing but I find the mix of colours overwhelming. The signage describing the different types of azaleas was quite informative, however, and with planes flying past every few minutes, you could never forget how close you were to Heathrow airport.

 

This being England, by the end of the day, as rain threatened, winter seemed to be on its way back.

 

The Tuscan-style tower originally was the chimney on the building that heated the Palm House nearby.
The Tuscan-style tower originally was the chimney on the building that heated the Palm House nearby. I could have done with some of that warmth.

 

Today again is sunny and I’m hoping that the weather will be warm on Wednesday when I visit the Chelsea Flower Show and will remain warm throughout the next two weeks, as I visit gardens, old and new, in the counties that surround London. But whatever the weather holds, I think my (overstuffed) suitcase has something that suits.

 

I can't grow many magnolias but two have survived and thrived in my garden. This is M. X loebneri 'Leonard Messel.'
I can’t grow many magnolias at Glen Villa but two have survived and thrived — Susan and this one,  M. X loebneri ‘Leonard Messel.’

 

How’s the weather in your part of the world?

 

 

  • Pam/Digging

    Hot here in Austin. But then again it’s May, when summer starts in the South. We won’t see cool temps again until October. So it’s quite refreshing, from my point of view, to see the chilly scenes from your garden, even snow! Even so, I much prefer your daffodil hillside, which is simply lovely. It must be hard to leave your garden in the full flush of springtime, although England is, no doubt, a wonderful consolation. Pam/Digging: penick.net

    • siteandinsight

      I do miss being home, especially this weekend when my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughters are there. England is a consolation and Kew the jackpot!

  • Peonies coming along just fine and assembling the search party for Lady Byng!

    • siteandinsight

      She’s good at hiding herself.

  • The buds on my Magnolia stellata (all 3 of them–a start from a neighbor) were blasted by winter’s last stand. I am going to search out Leonard Messel and Susan. Sounds like they are better at coping. Also lost all my lilac buds. It seems like we scarcely had spring and now we’re getting summer temps this week. Waah. My tulips are finally blooming and now they will be fried.

    • siteandinsight

      My two magnolias are in a slightly sheltered setting. I’d fear wind damage more than cold. Both types have thrived since being planted about 15 years ago. They don’t live for too long, though — I’ve been told they were bred to have a short life span. I don’t know what is happening with my lilacs although I hear it has been like summer since I left last week. As for tulips, I stopped planting them — it’s too frustrating and too expensive a way to feed the squirrels.

  • Jason

    Extremely erratic. We had cold and wet, then hot and dry, and now thunderstorms. The garden seems to be surviving, though. I LOVE those masses of Muscari growing in your lawn/meadow. And the daffodils on the berm definitely look like they are having a party – actually, it looks to me like a Woodstock for Narcissus.

    • siteandinsight

      Somehow my earlier response has been lost, Jason. Not sure why. But so glad you liked the Muscari… so do the deer, unfortunately , not the flowers but the foliage. Woodstock on the berm sounds like a party I want to go to!

  • Judy

    Well, you can see Jason and I are a good match, I was just heading to the comments to say how much I admired the grape hyacinth and the daffodils, and I see he beat me to it, although he’s half way across the state. Your pond is just entrancing, I’d like to be there every day to see how things develop. (As to the weather in Chicago, it was 80 today, and we’re having a thunderstorm. I hope it cools things down a bit.)

    • siteandinsight

      It’s so rewarding to read the comments from you and Jason, Judy. Yes, you are a good match! The daffodils are improving annually which isn’t the case for the muscari. I hope that protecting the foliage against the deer will give the strength to start multiplying the way I thought they would. They pretty spectacular — and quite odd — with snow on the ground.

  • Brian Bixley

    Hello Pat, Jeffersonia diphylla has a fugitive charm and we are happy to have it it in the garden. But it seems odd to identify Jeffersonia with diphylla when its Asiatic kin, J. dubia, has several advantages as a garden plant: the maroon-colored early foliage, the lavender flowers in profusion, its longer flowering period and the possibility of finding a white form ( illustrated in a recent posting in Tony Spencer’s The New Perennialist blog). Both are hardy in southern Ontario. Frank Cabot grew it at Les Quatre Vents.
    Brian

    • siteandinsight

      I found J. dubia once, from a source that no longer exists. I agree that its virtues make it more desirable. But since J. diphylla grows wild in the woods of Virginia, it keeps my allegiance. Maybe silly, but there it is, and there I think it will stay.

  • Jean Potuchek

    My first ever visit to Kew was in late May, and it was a magical experience.
    In Maine, we had exceptionally warm weather in March and it looked as though spring would come early. Then we had an exceptionally cold April, including snow in late April. I am surprised to find many plants in my garden blooming a bit later than they did after last year’s harsh winter.

    • siteandinsight

      Was your visit this year, Jean? Whenever it was, though, I’m glad it was magical. So was mine, many years ago.

      Our weather sounds much like yours — topsy turvy, ups and downs that make my head spin. Apparently it has been hot while I’ve been in England so I have no idea what to expect when I get home.