FEBRUARY AT CLUNY

It has been another open winter with very little snow although as last year, we appear to be going into a colder spell for the early part of February. Hopefully the plants which are ahead for the time of year will not be damaged by frost or snow.

BULBS

Early spring is snowdrop and snowflake time. Leucojum vernum, the spring snowflake, is a native of central Europe growing in woods and shady hillsides and it begins flowering when the snow melts. At Cluny, snowflakes are gradually naturalising particularly at the far end of the lawn at No.4, around the second Sequoiadendron giganteum and again near the end of the walk before No 33. They are different from snowdrops in being taller, with glossy strap-like leaves and have green tipped white bell shaped flowers.

There are several species and varieties of snowdrops within the garden, Galanthus nivalis, being the most common. A favourite is one of the very early species, Galanthus ikariae, with its bright green glossy leaves and green inner petals but there are many different types some with only very subtle differences. Cluny doesn’t have huge banks of snowdrops but instead pockets of white dotted around.

In contrast to the white snowdrops are the bright yellows of Eranthis or winter Aconites which grow naturally in woods and rocky places in Central Europe. The flowers open in sunshine and here they are often the first food the honey bees find after a long winter. Varying shades of purple/pink Cyclamen coum are found throughout the garden. Although they grow in woodlands in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, in Scotland they prefer sun or light shade in a leafy soil. The large stalks of last year’s seed heads of Cardiocrinum giganteum, the Giant Himalayan Lily, can still be seen in last season’s flowering position. They look very much like Venus fly-traps and provide year long interest.


The first miniature daffodils Narcissus minor appear in February (Nos 3 to 4). In many ways their delicate nature and the fact that they flower for many weeks perhaps makes them one of the most delightful of daffodils. How well early flowering crocus flower will depend on the number of mice and voles there are around!

HELLEBORES & CARDAMINE

Helleborus foetidus the Stinking hellebore or Dungwort, flowers throughout the top of the garden from December to March. It has very finely lobed leaves which smell strongly when crushed and has bell-shaped green flowers with purple margins, sometimes scented. If there is a frost during the time the plants are in flower, they always look very sad, as if someone had put them in a freezer for many days, but when the temperature warms up, they recover very quickly. 

 The first Helleborus orientalis or Lenten Rose, also flower in February. They have strong flower stems up to 45cm which hold pendant or almost outward-facing saucer shaped flowers in white or green and often spotted. There are various hybrids within the garden as well as other similar species such as H lividus and H purpurascens all providing a variety of colours for a good number of weeks in early spring. Dotted throughout the garden are clumps of white/cream Cardamine enneaphylla (nine leaved toothwort) which are just beginning to peak through the ground. 

TREES & SHRUBS

Cluny’s most famous tree the Giant Sequoia or Sequoiadendron giganteum at No 5 with a girth of 11 metres is not to be missed! There is an information panel at the tree which should answer all your questions about it. Please treat this gentle giant with great care. The barks of deciduous trees stand out during the winter months particularly those of the Tibetan cherry Prunus serrula but also a number of acers and birches especially those encrusted with colourful lichens. Lichen is an epiphyte, a plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) non-parasitically and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and sometimes from debris accumulating around it. Lichen is believed to be a sign of good air quality. When lichen drops off the trees it helps enrich the soil naturally by releasing nitrogen.

Some shrubs flower from January onwards including various types of Hamamelis or Witch Hazel with their spidery shaped frost resistant and scented flowers. Viburnum x bodnantense is another worthwhile scented shrub with a flowering season stretching from November through to March. Winter Box Sarcococca, is an evergreen shrub with insignificant creamy flowers but wow the scent from the plants is wonderful! Another strongly scented evergreen is the yellow flowered Mahonia.

WILDLIFE

The Red Squirrels have come through the winter successfully no doubt as a result of being well fed on peanuts, cob nuts and pine nuts. The best places to view the Squirrels are around the car park feeders and also on the feeders at the Sequoiadendron giganteum at No 5 but they can easily be seen while going around the garden normally racing up the nearest available tree. 

On good days some of the garden birds burst into song including great tits, coal tits, robins, mistle and song thushes, dunnocks and the wood pigeons (did they ever stop?). Great-spotted woodpeckers began drumming in early January and there seem to be 2 territorial males, one at each end of the garden. Bullfinches and long-tailed tits are present each day while jays and ravens could easily visit but are more often heard than seen. There is at least one resident brown hare usually discovered sleeping in sunny spots at the bottom of trees. You may even walk past them without realising! 

JOBS

We are generally carrying out the late winter/early spring tidying up of beds and adding a layer of leaf mould where necessary. Paths require tidying up and repairing and we still have fresh bark and stones to spread on a number of paths and recently fallen wood to transport to the top of the garden. On cold days cutting back and cutting out of dead branches continues. All the seed has been sown and soon we will begin the major task of potting on.



Snowflake
Leucojum
Snowdrop bank
Hellebore
Hellebore in snow