The sun finally made a return appearance on Saturday, though the air was still bitterly cold.


The beginning of each weekend finds me eager to discover how the garden has changed, particularly at this time of year when new life surging through the garden can show striking progress. This week the changes revealed were more subtle; the pale apricot buds of another hellebore have at last begun to open to reveal more magenta-speckled ivory flowers.

Salix gracilistyla 'Melanostachys'

The sultry black catkins of Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys‘ continue to emerge, as shoots appear further down the stems, which are losing their red colouring slightly now. Once this plant has settled in, I plan to coppice it regularly to ensure a display of vivid red stems each year, as well as keeping it compact.

Rhubarb crown

At last we brought home our rhubarb, from its ‘temporary’ home of the past four years in the garden of a relative. A little late, as the plant has already started back into growth, but hopefully it will find its feet this year. The crown split neatly, with a little assistance, into two pieces; each of which had several lovely salmon pink shoots pushing up alongside the first small leaves.Β  We planted them both with room to spread alongside our young blackcurrant bushes; we shall resist the temptation to pick any stems this year as the plants settle, and hopefully next year will bring welcome rhubarb harvests again.

Crocus 'Zwanzenburg Bronze'

Despite the sub-arctic temperatures, the crocus finally unfurled once more this weekend in the sun which has been so scant all week. A day of sunshine also coaxed this carpet of aubretia into bloom on a neighbour’s fine set of stone steps nearby; each year this sight heralds the advent of spring and puts a smile on my face. (I rather love the stonework too).

Aubretia flowering on stone steps

Our own aubretia has fallen victim to my latest tidy-up, however. I raised many plants from seed two years ago and used them along the front of the narrow bed along the side of our house.Β  Basking in the sun all day, and within easy reach of the side door, I designated this a herb bed and added a range of herbs throughout the strip of stony ground; lavender, sages, thymes, hyssop, oregano, rosemary and lemon verbena have since filled out the bed to varying degrees.

Herb bed in February, swamped with aubretia

Even in February, though, with the scruffiness of winter still dominant and the new season’s growth yet to start, the bed already looked oversubscribed with both herbs and aubretia wrestling for space. With a slightly heavy heart I set to pulling them out a couple of weeks ago, determined to remove them before they leapt into bloom and weakened my resolve.

Aubretia and sage in herb bed

Stretches of bare soil have now been exposed along the front of the herb bed, which I hope to fill back up with less vigorous (and more edible) flowering herbs; I already have seeds for heartsease and chives, which will be more in keeping here, and hopefully the hyssops will continue to give more restrained splashes of purple along here. Some aubretia plants still line the edge of our driveway, so we will not be entirely without their colour around the garden, but part of me will miss their lovely range of purple hues along this bed in the spring.

April Aubretia flowering in shades of purple

I had originally planted two Centranthus ruber plants at the end of this bed, too; one white and one pink. Their location was also something of a placeholder while I decided where to make their final home, and along with the row of Aubretia led to these lovely scenes from March to May last year, not to mention a flurry of seedlings through the bed – as expected from such gregarious plants. Sadly seen as a weed by some, I am very fond of these valerians, but they are also earmarked to move this year to the ornamental beds.

The herb bed in May with aubretia and centranthus

I still haven’t quite pinned down where each shall go, though I am thinking of keeping the two colours separate.


22 thoughts on “Sprawl

  1. Lots going on! The Aubretia looks wonderful as does the stone! Soon it will be light enough for you to see the garden in the evenings. Christina

    • I’d love to have such lovely aubretia-clad stone steps, aren’t they fine? I shall miss our romping aubretia down the side path (but the herbs will be relieved).

  2. Yes, the aubretia is stunning against the stonework. I planted valerian in a previous garden, but I am afraid it self-seeded too much for a relatively small garden so I took it out – I do like the pink/red version but don’t want to risk it again. Will you pull out the seedlings? Why did your rhubarb have a 4 year long holiday at a relatives? It must be very special rhubarb πŸ™‚

    • I must pull the valerian seedlings out of the herb bed when I relocate the parent plants, and then continue to pull out those that are unwanted.
      Our rhubarb *is* very special – a piece from my late grandfather’s Yorkshire garden that has moved around the country with me for years, putting up with all sorts of manhandling in the process. When we bought this house and started work on it, we couldn’t move in for several months until we had made a couple of rooms liveable again, so all our plants (and worldly possessions) went to relatives for safekeeping. We brought most back over once the building work was complete, and gradually incorporated them into the garden as we cleared it, but the rhubarb was enjoying being in the ground at last, and it has taken us a while to decide where to put it here.

      • That’s the sort of heirloom I like – I have a geranium and a pulmonaria like that πŸ™‚ I know you will plant it with love.

  3. I’ve never grown aubretia and I don’t know why because it can look so very lovely. It used to be an awful plant to prepare for sale at the alpine nursery – too finicky and delicate and never looked that great in a small pot. But on top of a wall (or on those steps) – stunning. Dave

    • It’s one of my childhood association plants, so I always try to find space for some. Definitely at its best when given freedom to roam though – or cascade down steps or walls. Sadly we don’t have any opportunities like that for it here… *muses*…

  4. Ireally like the Valerians, especially dark red ones. They look really good growing on well-weathered stone too. Lots of people treat them as weeds, but I think that under-estimates them.

    • Me too, and the white ones look good intermixed with them too. I wish we had a narrow strip of soil near a wall where I could just let them grow unhindered, I’m still a tiny bit reluctant to let them loose in the main borders. Still pondering…

  5. That aubretia looks amazing being allowed to sprawl like that. Butterflies love Valerian so definitely worth finding a place for them. So nice to see things starting to come out.

    • Thank you :). This is the first year of flowering for our first hellebores – and I was given more at Christmas so next year should see a few more again. They are lovely plants aren’t they?

  6. WOW to that aubretia – I would love to create that sort of effect. I wouldn’t mind the stone steps, either…

    I’m very impressed by your rhubarb and am going out to threaten mine immediately. It appears to be dead.

    • Me too. I can’t think of anywhere we could reproduce that – or slip a set of stone steps in, alas. Shall just have to continue enjoying these from a distance.
      Hope your rhubarb is just having a nice long lie in, waiting for better weather.

  7. Love the aubretia trailing down those steps. I’m a big fan of valerian. It’s such a good doer and seems to cope with everything. Rhubarb is so tough it won’t be long before it’s established. πŸ™‚

    • I’m definitely a fan of valerian too, I’m still contemplating leaving the main plants where they are at the end of the herb bed, and just pulling up the seedlings to pot and possibly relocate once I’ve seen them flower…

  8. I always think of my family home when I see aubretia, as it grows in the stone walls around the garden there. It’s one of those things that I don’t grow, but whenever I see it, I wonder why not? It adds such a lovely splash fo colour, especially against your stones. Bethx

    • It is a glorious plant when in bloom, and solid ground-cover for the rest of the year. I wish I had space to fit more in, just for the spring show!

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