Tuesday, 9 February 2010

February in the Garden

Bullfinches (pyrrhula pyrrhula) return to the garden in February and, although timid half 
the year, are now fearless and persevering. The bullfinches’ usual habitat is woodlands, hedgerows and orchards, where they will feed voraciously on the flower buds of fruit trees in spring. In spite of their bright beauty and sad and mournful call, fruit farmers still see a flock of bullfinches appear with some trepidation.

 Photo RSPB

One of the most popular February-flowering shrubs is Daphne Mezereum. Stiff, upright stems are clothed with purplish-red flowers in February and March. The variety Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata’ grows to 4ft x 5ft, has evergreen leaves prettily edged with a thin gold margin and smells divine, hence its full name. The starry flowers are followed by poisonous berries. Beware! The harsh winter here in Shropshire has caused the leaves to turn slightly dryish-brown, but the plant will soon recover when the days are warmer.

Another early flowerer is Lonicera fragrantissima; it has fragrant creamy-white flowers throughout winter, often on bare stems. This Lonicera is a variety of shrubby honeysuckle; I have planted mine in a slightly sheltered spot by the back door. On sunny days the gorgeous smell meets me every time I leave the house.

The Plant Directory UK

If you have a large space, then Hamamelis, the Witch Hazel, is the shrub you want at this time of year. The showy, spidery flowers appear on the leafless branches for many weeks in winter and the sweet fragrance is a bonus; you can cut a branch or two and bring them indoors. Although rather unexciting in summer, in autumn the leaves take on attractive tints. Mine grows in a space under trees, in summer I can use the shrub as a backdrop for hostas and ferns.

Annette Hoeggemeier
Ruhr Universitaet Bochum

The one harbinger of spring that no garden should be without, is the humble snowdrop. Ubiquitous they may be, easy to grow, and slow to die;  but I would no more wish to be without them at this time of year than I would wish to forego the birds and the bees. There has a clump of them growing somewhere in my garden since Christmas and this particular spot of snowdrops amongst the leaves of heuchera is my favourite.

For those of you who are still in the merciless grip of deep winter, here is a bit of advice:

Avoid travelling by Night in Snowy Weather.

For she was all froze in with frost
Eight days and nights, poor soul
But when they gave her up for lost
They found her down the hole.

On this day in 1799 a passing farmer, noticing a handkerchief hanging on a bush, rescued Elizabeth Woodcock of Impington in Cambridgeshire from the snow hole in which she had taken refuge from a blizzard on the night of February the second. Drifting snow had subsequently covered her to a depth of six feet, and she had become too weak to climb out. During her confinement her only sustenance was two pinches of snuff.  (Snuff = tobacco for sniffing).

Walk fast in snow
In frost walk slow
When frost and snow are both together
Sit by the fire and save shoe leather.



  1. I love this post Friko. I think I could spend the rest of my life looking at and breathing in the fragrance of some flowers. Winter does seem to have subsided a little here and today I noticed a wee blue primrose bud starting to poke through in the sandstone trough outside my back door.

  2. Thank you for a beautiful preview to spring. This winter has gone on too long...

  3. we have bullfinches a plenty and their waistcoats are startling red this year against the bleak landscape. No flowers yet just mud alas!

  4. Thanks for the beautiful pictures. I do love nature, but can no longer garden so it's nice to see the results of the labor of others.

  5. stuck down a hole in the snow with nothing but snuff?!! hmmmmm. i'm in!!! steven

  6. Hi Friko

    it must be wonderful to see the emergence of spring after that cold snowy winter. Your photos are poignant for me, coming as I did from the cooler climes of CHCH, in NZ, where your vegetation was familiar.

    Happy warmer days

  7. The fragrance of Daphne hanging in the morning air is delightful. I always smell it before I see it. I loved the reminder of the finches too.

  8. You are a born teacher, Friko. I write this because you always help to see something, some place, some person that I cannot see for myself. Thank you for being so generous.

    The end of your post with the tale of Elizabeth taking shelter in a snow hole is such an example. I am reading this while the television weather forecaster tells me that we are in for a blizzard that will being after midnight.

    I am fortunate to be sheltering in an overheated New York apartment, but will think of Elizabeth and her rescue as the snow falls tonight and tomorrow.


  9. What handsome birds! And now I feel in such need of daphne and snow drops. Neither are common where I live -- I shall have to find out if they'll thrive.

  10. Those bullfinches are beeeeeautiful! I liked the advice in the last snow poem, too. Very sage.

  11. Those early flowers are beautiful and so welcome at this time of year which can be so bleak.

    How lucky you are to have bullfinches - although I suppose they are a nuisance in some respects if you have fruit trees. But are they not the most handsome birds?

  12. We saw a male bullfinch at Wipso's on Monday - such a glorious coral chest!

  13. mollygolver - I keep looking for signs of spring everywhere too, but there's not a lot to see yet.

    Shattered - I've had enough of it too, but it'll be with us for a while yet.

    her at home - some of the other finches are getting very bright too; the birds are getting ready.

    Darlene - it's so sad when that happens. I am not looking forward to the time when I have to stop gardening.

    steven - not so sure about that, it might be a touch chilly.

    Delwyn - where or what is CHCH ? Christchurch?

    English Rider - scents and sights of home? I am sure you can grow pretty much anything in California.

    Frances - a teacher, me? I'm not patient enough. Keep cosy.

    Vicki Lane - snowdrops will grow anywhere, Daphne likes shelter.

    Deborah - They knew what's what in the olden days.

    Twiglet - There should be quite a few about soon, it's mating season coming up.

  14. The snowdrops are beautiful! We have no spring teasings here; in fact, another blizzard today! We are planting sunflower seeds and castor beans in peat cups and letting them sprout indoors.

  15. Margaret Pangert - Lovely to hear from you again. Yes, We hear about your snow too, it's just been on the news. Keep cosy.

  16. HI Friko

    Yes I lived in Christchurch, New Zealand until we moved to the North Island before jumping the Tasman to live in Au - see my reply to you in my comments today on the walk to Little Cove post...

  17. It's so lovely to see your photographs of flowers. Here is the desert of Arizona we're not sure what spring will bring. We need winter rains to bring the spring flowers but this winter they were erratic and late so we'll just have to wait and see. Some years are magnificent and some years quite flowerless. I used to live where there was lots of snow and ice and think the anon advice very wise.

  18. A very nice post. All of it is so interesting. It looks like spring starts earlier in your part of the globe. Although sometime we get forsythia and snowdrops this time of year. (Not this winter though.)


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