Two Big Surprises and No Regrets

IMG_1188There are certainly no regrets about that selective snipping of leaves from Helleborus niger ‘Christmas Carol’, as she has responded by singing a completely different song, her pure white flowers lifting to the sky and belting out their new melody. The leaves were only trimmed a week ago and this post from the end of December shows how crowded they were before this, when I lifted the plant slightly to see if that made any difference. I am all but convinced now that the plant had retained every leaf she ever produced and that this density of healthy foliage made it harder for the flowers to do their thing. She has reached instant superstar status!

The not so pleasant big surprise was when I realised how much electricity we had used in the last month. Since we had our solar panels nearly 3 years ago I have kept a monthly record not only of our electricity production from the panels but also of our monthly usage of gas and electricity. December’s consumption was way above a seasonal average, and including night units it seems highly likely that the culprit is the new greenhouse heater. Although it uses only 180w of power, if it is heating continuously then that tots up – clearly I hadn’t set the thermostat low enough to keep the greenhouse only just frost free. It seems ironic that the powerful 2.8kw one I have just sold on eBay was sensitive enough to switch off at temperatures more than just a degree or two. Another lesson learned, and having tinkered with the setting this afternoon I will check our electricity consumption in the morning.

The second big surprise was a pleasant one, very much so, towards being on a par with finding the first flower bud on the wisteria which reduced me to tears. This surprise, though, produced cries of excitement and wonder. I was inspecting the snowdrop border on my first ramble of the day, pleased that this morning’s sunshine and blue sky were encouraging the little darlings to open up a little more and deciding that it was nearly time to introduce a few more of them on this blog. One such emerging beauty is a snowdrop that appeared label-less two years ago but which I decided on the evidence at the time was Galanthus gracilis and labelled it as such. She didn’t flower that year or last, so I was pleased to see a bud appearing in 2014 – and even more pleased this morning when she spread her wings a little and without even close inspection showed a hint of inner yellow frill …..

The advantage of keeping a record of all the special snowdrops purchased is that if they lose their label I know what the options are (and having a snowdrop map is now a further safety measure), so I know exactly what to try and match any ‘unknowns to – and exactly what this snowdrop was….. ‘Lady Elphinstone’, the first special snowdrop I ever bought, along with ‘Pusey Green Tip’, from a local open garden in 2005 – where has she been hiding all this time…?! Ironically, I bought a replacement last year, but nevertheless the original has made a welcome and triumphant return – Hurrah for Lady Elphinstone, the instigator of this seasonal obsession!

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15 Responses to Two Big Surprises and No Regrets

  1. Chloris says:

    I think Hellebores always look better with their leaves cut off. I never quite know what to do about the ones with pretty leaves like Ericsmithii though.
    Lady Elphinstone indeed, isn’t she beautiful? Mine is not out yet. She has alarmed me in the past by having green flowers but then she has gone back to yellow the following year. Perhaps this is what yours did?

    • Cathy says:

      Freda Cox’s book has that warning about Lady E – she sometimes reverts to green after transplanting or disturbance but settles down again. I don’t remember seeing mine for a very long time but work must have got in the way of snowdrop obsession as I didn’t buy any snowdrops after 2006 until 2012!!

  2. Christina says:

    You might be wise to buy a separate thermostat that you plug your heater into. Ikea do some that are cheap and work well.

  3. rusty duck says:

    She is quite lovely. Our greenhouse heater in hungry too, but you can make quite a bit of difference tweaking the thermostat. I put a max/min thermometer in there as well so I could check.

    • Cathy says:

      I shall be following up Christina’s suggestion of a separate plug-in thermostat – I have checked several times during the day to find the indicator light is on when the temperature didn’t merit it, so tweaking is definitely required

  4. Annette says:

    What exactly do you keep in the greenhouse that needs such cosy warm feet, Cathy? So far I just had to heat ours 1-2 nights and then decided to stop it all together. Now it’s so mild again that I don’t have to worry. It’s a bit tricky until you get it right with thermostat and all. Your new snowdrop looks very promising – please show it again when it’s open 🙂 Enjoy your sunday!

    • Cathy says:

      I have several trays of the aquilegia seedlings that I planted in the Autumn and some sweet peas, but I shall be moving trays from the house to the greenhouse on a regular basis once I start sowing in earnest. It really only needs to be just frost free and in fact we haven’t had a huge number of days when it has been below – so an accurate thermostat would make a big difference. A few more sunny days and there will another snowdrop feature, I am sure! Enjoy your own w/e too, Annette

  5. Liz says:

    Hi Cathy,

    I’ve been clearing around my Hellebores today; removing a few damaged leaves to allow more light to the blooms – and of course the tattered leaves are less than pretty. On my travels trimming, I found a new Hellebore which I had assumed died and thought the leaves were just leaves from ‘niger’ but no. these buds are pinky spotty, so perhaps picotee but I’ll have to see once they’re fully open – my nice surprise of the day, along with Anemones emerging in the border.

    Lovely snowdrop discovery! How nice, looking for more photos to come 🙂

    • Cathy says:

      How lovely to discover a hellebore which you thought you had lost! I have a very prettily plain pink one that is gradually being hidden under a large fern, so moving it to somewhere more prominent is a job for tomorrow. I very rarely take leaves from them, but with Christmas Carol it was clearly the right thing to do.

  6. Anna says:

    Yes those flowers are really the stars Cathy now that their faces are not covered up. I unplug my heater in the day and plug it back in at night in an effort to keep the bill down. Like you I just want to keep the greenhouse frost free. You must be so excited to see the original Lady E come to life.

  7. You make me gald that I don’t need to keep out greenhouse frost free, what an unpleasant surprise. I can’t remember, have you insulated it? Your hellebore is truly beautiful, my plain niger still has no buds, and given that last year she flowered profusely for months, I think she needs moving to richer soil. I love the idea of you having a snowdrop map! Very sensible, though applying “sensible” to a snowdrop addiction is a tad crazy 😉 Enjoy!

    • Cathy says:

      Yup – I did add bubble wrap, but then had a condensation issue until I added some heat. I turned the thermostat down yesterday and checked electricity consumption first thing this morning and it seems a lot better – but I have learned from the experience and will either put it on a timer or get a plug in thermostat. A timely lesson, particularly as it hasn’t actually been cold as winters go! It seems strange that your niger still has no buds after last year’s profusion – I know they don’t like to be waterlogged, so what’s your drainage like?

      • Drainage is really good Cathy, in fact I have been wondering if perhaps the soil isn’t rich enough, that or the exposure. I seem to be losing a lot of plants in that more exposed corner, hardy ferns with very crispy leaves, Tellima grandiflora, lost two out of three and third hasn’t really put on any growth, epimediums hated it… The area needs a rethink before it bancrupts me!

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