January Blooms and Thoughts of Compost

gbbd-jan17The value of winter blooms cannot be overestimated, although this year there are no waifs and strays to join them from milder days as there often is. The witch hazels continue to form the mainstay of colour in January, with all Wordless Wednesday‘s still in bloom but joined spellnow by a few additional blooms on H Spanish Spider (bizarrely in full flower in September) and the first to appear on H Arnold Promise, the one variety of mine which does have  a definite fragrance. Clockwise from top left are: Hamamelis ‘Arnold Promise’, Hellebore ‘Ellen Picotee’, native primrose, Hellebore foetidus, Hamamelis ‘Spanish Spider’, Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, Clemati cirrhosa ‘Freckles’, Hellebore ‘Harvington Double White’ and Lonicera standishii ‘Budapest’ in the centre.

None of this is very different from a month ago, and as you can see only a few hellebores are in bud and the viburnum blooms are still largely closed – but at least ONE bud of this winter flowering honeysuckle has finally opened and I anticipate its fragrance which will soon join the strong and distinctive perfume of Sarcococca humilis which is now very noticeable:

img_8734White buds are continuing to pop up alongside the foliage of snowdrops in my specials bed, but they still lack the few degrees extra warmth needed to push their way up further out of the ground and open up to nod sagely at the world:

img_8735After assessing my special snowdrops a few days ago I have now taken the decision to keep new acquisitions in pots for their first couple of years or so. Closer inspection of purchasing records has shown that a number of bulbs bought to replace previous failures have also failed and the bulk of  failures seem to be from purchases made early in 2015. I had a big problem with compost in 2014 with young plants failing to thrive and although I had moved on to an alternative by 2015 I do wonder if the compost might have contributed to the demise of such a number of bulbs. I would have repotted some clumps at the same time too which could explain other random losses.

My compost experience in 2014 demonstrated just how important compost choice can be and as a subscriber to Which? Gardening I avidly check out their annual reports, as they test each year and the most successful brands do vary. What reports showed around 2014/15 was that the quality of some brands varied from batch to batch, particularly where green waste was included, and they pressed manufacturers to list green waste percentages and to date stamp bags, as old compost tended to deteriorate. They test separately for the suitability of composts for seed sowing and raising young plants as this too can vary widely. This year, taking availability into account  whilst avoiding having two separate types of compost I have gone for a brand that has scored highly for both, Wyevale’s own multipurpose with added John Innes. It still needed a 20 mile round trip but with a promotional multibuy it should be worth it to ensure a good start for my seeds and plants – and any new snowdrops!

img_8750Linking this monthly Blooms Day round up with Carol of May Dreams Gardens who kindly hosts this meme

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23 Responses to January Blooms and Thoughts of Compost

  1. Sorry to hear about your snowdrops Cathy. I hope the new compost does the job!

  2. Ian Lumsden says:

    I too have had unexplained losses of specimen snowdrops. I planted three purchases at a time of very low temperatures and that might have done for me because I lost the lot. I also lost two “Green Bush” in separate pots about which I blogged two years ago when they were both vigorous and flourishing. Last year the pots were totally empty. I am unable to explain it. Slugs can take out the shoots but not the whole bulb and they certainly did not rot through too much water. I wonder whether I overfed them. Anyway I eased off feeding last year and one or two have simply not increased so that s not the answer. It makes one think when handing over lots of cash for the special varieties.

    • Cathy says:

      It certainly seems to be pot luck in many cases, but it must be galling to lose a really vigorous clump. The first year after retirement I got carried away after buying some snowdrops on eBay by selling some myself but disturbing my clumps didn’t do them any good – so that was a double lesson learned! The compost connection may be slightly tenuous but after my experience with seedlings and dodgy compost in 2014 there is some logic in it. Last year I consciously fed and watered mine after flowering, the first time I had done so

  3. johnvic8 says:

    I’m glad you have so much color in your garden at this time of year.
    I would easily go twenty miles…even more…to get the right product/plant at the right price.

    • Cathy says:

      There are other garden centres much nearer, one especially good for out of seasonbargains and another with a far better range of plants, but this was an own brand compost and I knew I couldn’t get it anywhere else – don’t think I would normally buy anything else from there though. But yes, I would travel a certain distance for a specific plant if need be. The witch hazels are great for colour at this time of year John -and last year there were many hellebores in bloom at this time too

  4. I don’t trust the compost in bags. I have never heard of an agency that tests compost in bags here in the US. I use the compost that I make. It is never enough but at least I know what goes into it. Your blooms look lovely. My Witch hazel isn’t ready to bloom yet.

    • Cathy says:

      That’s why the reports are so interesting – the best composts have a score rating of over 80 or 90% but some of those tested scored in the 20-30% range so if you bought that compost without knowing it you could easily think you yourself were at fault when things didn’t grow

  5. annincumbria says:

    Is that compost peat free please

    • Cathy says:

      No, this one is 57% peat; the peat free version did not do well but is being reformulated. The best peat free one (which did exceedingly well, especially for seeds) is Melcourt SylvaGrow but it is not widely available

  6. Brian Skeys says:

    It is interesting about the compost. Do you know how that one did last year, previously I believe B&Qs own brand of MP did very well. The problem is they probably change the formula from time to time.

    • Cathy says:

      Wyevale’s own is new on the market for this year and B&Q’s own was the one that was Best Buy in 2014 but was very variable and at the root of a lot of complaints. For this year, B&Q’s Verve Multipurpose is again a Best Buy for raising young plants and reasonable for seeds although not a Best Buy. Let me know if you want me to email a copy of the overall results

  7. rickii says:

    If White can be considered a color, we have plenty of it.

  8. rusty duck says:

    Your post has cheered me up no end, well apart from the compost story. I haven’t seen my garden for a little while but we’re less than an hour away now.. what will I find? I hope that witch hazels and hellebores will serve to gladden an otherwise heavy heart.

    • Cathy says:

      Oh Jessica, I wonder where you have been and why your heart is so heavy: my thoughts are with you, and I hope that seeing your garden does indeed lift your heart at least a little, with or without witch hazels and hellebores.

  9. Christina says:

    The Witch Hazels certainly play a wonderful part in your January garden; they are fascinating plants. As you may remember I had similar problems with my compost last year. It is quite difficult to know which brand to buy as nothing like Which is available here. The compost I have now seems good but has a lot of un-composted wood pieces of wood in it so I don’t think it is as good as the replacement one I bought after the problem one; it is from the same nursery and I think it is the same brand. If I notice any problems I’ll act immediately to get rid of it. I’m sorry about your special snowdrops, it does sound as if they are more difficult than the usual ones so keeping them in a pot for a couple of years can’t do any harm.

    • Cathy says:

      I don’t suppose the UK brands are available in Italy otherwise I could send you a copy of the report. It’s such an essential factor in our sowing and planting regime and we need to be able to trust the quality of it, which sadly isn’t always obvious

  10. Alison C says:

    You have lovely things in flower and each one precious. I have very little and, like you, things which flowered their way through last winter are not doing so again. I’m interested in what you say about compost. I find it very difficult to get anything good an often wonder if it is responsible for unexplained failures. I will see if I can locate some of this.

  11. Steve says:

    Do not assume that all the Wyevale compost is any good. I used some of their John Innes compost last year and it was very poor..

    • Cathy says:

      I agree Steve, as it is a natural product – but at least I know Which? has comprehensively tested several batches from different parts of the country

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