There is no light meter more sensitive than a leaf. Barely two weeks since the shortest day, a mere twelve minutes between sunrise and sunset, and there are plants sitting up in their sleeping bags rubbing their eyes. Primroses always seem most alert; their leaves spring to attention as soon as any warmth confirms the change of season. And today, after a frosty night, the air has balm in it and the primroses are opening flowers.
Even if there is proper winter in the forecast a new year with moderate temperatures gives us a head start. Once the aconites have surfaced, the primroses started, the hellebores
pushed up their flower-stalks and the snowdrops their spearheads they won’t go back. Catkins are lengthening all around – most specacularly on Garrya elliptica and the proud pyramid of the Turkish hazel, where the first are already nine inches long.
We were given a new version of Daphne bholua when we went with the I.D.S. to Lake Maggiore three years ago; a form simply labelled ‘d’Aman’ (which is where it comes from). Planted from its tiny pot in the shelter of the big walnut tree on the kitchen lawn it has already reached seven feet, with short branches held close to its trunk – an arborescent look that promises heaven knows what eventual height. It started to flower with the first hellebores. They say you must be gentle with daphnes, and not cut them too enthusiastically. Otherwise we would have a big vase of its ravishing pink flowers in a bower of its shiny green leaves perfuming the house.