It feels like some sort of pivot, or landmark, in the slow process of winter – and no, it’s not a snowdrop. Not even the precocious giant Galanthus elwesii is up and doing here. But I looked through the pale pink blossom on my favourite tree this morning and saw the first blooms on the camellia that matches it almost exactly, the veteran ‘Top Hat’ that we inherited with the garden. At the distance they are both pink as powder-puffs.
Between, just coming into flower, is a flowering currant that demands maximum patience and tolerance, the funny little Ribes laurifolium. Its greeny-white racemes are just emerging among its leathery evergreen leaves. The trouble is it squats. I’ve had it in a generous pot for years, but nothing persuades it to get off its haunches.
Prune it to an upwards-facing bud and a downwards one will take over. It could easily hide among the hellebores – their leaves and general deportment match it well.
What is the most positive green in the garden in this grey damp? Of all things, a fern. Ferns and formality don’t seem to go together, but another inheritance, with the camellia, was the unusual arrangement of a fern at each corner of our biggest bed, which is square, central and significant. The four stand like guards around a catafalque, bursts of fresh green, their fronds knee-high. Their new growth in spring is pale copper, a colour that complements the green, lingers all summer, and sets off the bulbs and pulmonarias, hostas and geraniums and salvias that follow.
There are a dozen different ferns in pots on the deeply shady pavement outside the kitchen window. The prizes go to this coppery one, Dryopteris erythrosora, the little maidenhead , and the royal fern slowly building up its eventual majesty in the biggest pot we have.