From the Chairman/editor                                John Hudson

This will be my final contribution as Chairman of the Rutland Group. Many good things have happened in the last three years through the efforts of your committee. If I thank particularly Mark Bird and John Dyson, that is not to denigrate the contributions of the others. Mark has arranged the programme, securing the services of an excellent and varied selection of speakers. John has not only managed the website but used his IT expertise in facilitating communication with our members when the programme had to change.

Both Mark and John were much involved in solving the problems created by our forced change of venue. First, the school told us, at a very late stage, that our meeting room was not available for the Christmas meeting in December. Mark investigated alternatives, and we settled on the Methodist Church in Uppingham, which proved a popular choice. It then emerged that the school were unwilling to host us beyond the February meeting, so for March we went to the Methodist Church again, and there we are likely to meet in the future.

But let us not dwell on problems. We have had much to enjoy, and much to look forward to. Brian Taylor returns invigorated to take the Chair for a second time: for one year only.. You will be in good hands.

From Jo Porter
May I use our Newsletter to say thank you to all our Group members for the beautiful bunch of flowers you sent me following my accident. It was a wonderful surprise and it brought me a lot of pleasure.

Work in Progress
                        Jo Porter
The creation of a new and possible one's last garden is a huge challenge. To downsize to a plot this size is possibly foolish. But the chance to garden light alkaline sandy soil on a southerly aspect could not be ignored. In Bisbrooke at the start of the twentieth century there were many market gardens. It became well known for the production of fruit both soft and hard, even cherries. So much so that carts loads would be taken to Leicester market. So there really is something special about this village!

The small piece of land that we had bought had a few old apple trees (nothing very special) and half of it was covered in a tangle of plum rootstocks which had suckered everywhere. The early plum root stocks used to be Mussel or Brompton but I couldn't identify them. What we have is similar to Prunus cerasifera but they have different fruit - not worth picking!

We would like to turn this part into proper woodland, but it would be hugely expensive so we decided to leave it to nature.

The first two years were busy improving the house and garage, clearing trees, propagating and collecting. I also made several nursery beds for the special plants I had moved. How lucky to have so much space to plant and the opportunity to try new things. Then in the spring of 2012, we had to decide where to put everything. We had made a large collection of evergreens to give privacy on both north and south borders. We found many Ilex and Viburnum that were new to us. We hope that in our life time they will achieve their purpose. 2012 must have been one of the best tree and shrub growing years - we hardly had to water!

In the autumn we had a large area near the house cleared of the plum suckers. This was planted with a mixture of trees and shrubs and has been interplanted with hydrangeas and roses - perhaps one day it will be quite pretty. We have had to protect everything against rabbits and muntjac. I hope they grow rapidly beyond their reach.

So, we have made a huge change to this old orchard. We are trialling lots of exciting things -having spent hours researching through books and the internet. Let us hope that we will be happy with what we have planted and that nothing is in the wrong place. If it is perhaps it won't be our problem.

A Walk Round the Garden                              Jane Skipp
On February 1st, the snow had disappeared at last, the sun was shining and the ground did not look too waterlogged, so I thought I would wrap up warmly and venture forth to see what was happening in the garden.

I always think the most miraculous time in the garden is when the new growth pushes up through the soil. This growth always seems special; the colours of the new shoots seem so vibrant and luxurious, full of promise of things to come, and not yet spoilt by the ravages of greedy slugs and snails. I was not disappointed with what I found. Our three peony plants were pushing through like the noses of torpedoes, showing a deep purplish red. I have a "common " red plant ('Rubra Plena') and two plants from the one which was in the garden when we bought the house, which I bravely split several years ago
The hellebores were doing their stuff too. A white one was already in flower, and the various self-seeded pink ones were showing lots of bud, including my special one, which arrived from nowhere some years ago, and which I have had to move on several occasions. This plant flowers several weeks after the others and is a deep pink completely covered with tiny pinpricks of purple. I have given a root of this to a green-fingered friend as an insurance policy, but all is well this year, I'm happy to see.

A couple of years ago we made a new bed under our dining room window (for easy appreciation!). In the Autumn, I went to Parker's in Anwick near Spalding to buy some bulbs to go between the perennials. I planted two lots of Iris reticulate, both of which had come up, but one group was blind, even though I planted them deeply, as recommended by one of our Speakers some years ago. She did say if they were planted deep, they should not disappear, as is their wont, so hopefully next year both lots will flower. The Alpine Aquilegias I bought for a pound each both had wonderful curly growth round last year's stalks, and, I'm pleased to report the two self seeded cerinthes had survived the ravages of the snow, as had the Penstemon "Sour Grapes" I brought back from Northumberland last summer. Also looking good (and also from Northumberland ) were two Geums and a selection of Helenium and two small pink Lathyrus.

Snowdrops were of course doing what they do best, as were my two little groups of Winter Aconites, given to me by a dear friend when I told her I could never get them to "work". Cyclamen coum was looking a bit bedraggled, but there were many wonderful Cyclamen hederifolium leaves looking green, silver and exotic. It was a bit early for the Corydalis solida to have appeared, but I was amazed at the profusion of bloom on the primulas, which had been covered by a generous six inches of snow. What troopers they are! and how welcome in the dark days of winter.

Daffodils and tulips (we have the indestructible red ones which came with the house a quarter of a century ago) were pushing through for another year's display and my blue clematis from my cousin in Oxfordshire's garden had juicy red shoots, and was begging to be cut back in a few weeks' time. Needless to say there were weeds in abundance, giving me another task to look forward to when it warms up a bit.

There is always something to look forward to in a garden, and perhaps the promise of new growth and regeneration at this time of year is the most satisfying. I went in to enjoy a cup of tea in good spirits and looking forward to the coming season.

Winter Hellebores                                   John Hudson
Here we are on February 23rd, well over half way from the solstice to the equinox, and still the sky is brownish grey and the temperature barely above freezing. Particularly after a week in sunny Mallorca, England shows a grim face. True, aconites have come and nearly gone, and snowdrops are everywhere, if late. The "Lenten Roses" (Helleborus. x hybridus) are reluctant to get going in the cold weather (just as well we are not trying to decorate a Celebrity Lecture). The plants that have done most to cheer up my winter scene have been different hellebores.

They are those that I grow in pots or tubs on the steps in front of the sun (!) room, a spot sheltered from all but the severest frosts and north winds, though they can also be grown in the open ground. These are hybrids, mostly with the "Christmas Rose" (H. niger) in their ancestry. These hybrids have been developed enormously in recent years. They are variable, as the parent species are. We saw some good ones on our annual pilgrimage to Ashwood's Nursery. Selected forms are now grown by micro-propagation, rather than by the seed-breeding programme used by Ashwood's for their colourful Garden Hybrids. Some have originated in Japan.

If you dislike the flurry of botanical names that follows, I suggest just noticing those in bold type, and the cultivar names.

I have previously mentioned the hybrids that have been known for some time (newsletter, summer 2011): H. x sternii (H. lividus x H. argutifolius), H. nigercors (H. niger x H. argutifolius), H. ballardiae (H. niger x H. lividus) and H. ericsmithi (H. niger x H. stemii). It is interesting that the names commemorate hellebore pioneers, Sir Frederick Stern, Helen Ballard, and Eric Smith. I was lucky enough to meet the last two, many years ago.

Of these my favourite is H. x ballardiae, (above right) 
with abundant white flowers, tinged pink on the reverse that fade after several weeks to an interesting pinkish-buff colour. It also has attractive marled foliage. H. x sternii is extremely variable, and more widely available. Some forms have strongly toothed grey or marbled foliage, though these do not always look as good in the open as they do on the nursery bench. It is worth selecting your own.

Presumably because its parent is so variable, H. x ericsmithi is variable too. Many of the new named forms probably belong to this group, though that is not always apparent from the labels. I have a couple of "traditional" ericsmithi, but some of the new ones are outstanding, especially "Winter Moonbeam". (below left)
It has beautifully marked foliage and flowers a little pinker than ballardiae. I also fell for one in a local garden centre called "Pirouette".

"Snow White" is a cross between H. niger and a white form of H. orientalis. It is a little taller than the others, with outward-facing pure white flowers that are pointed at the tips. I have it in the corner of a flower bed near the house, where it has been flowering since January.

A couple of outstanding hellebores have been raised over many years by Rodney Davey in Devon, and now propagated in thousands by micro-techniques in Holland, where contact was made by Ashwoods. There I bought "Anna's Red", (below right) with tall outward-facing deep red flowers and marbled foliage. Apparently it is the first deep-flowered hellebore of this type. (The full story is told by Anna Pavord, for whom it is named, in an article from The Independent of February 2012: (google for Rodney Davey nursery). There is also "Penny's Pink", coloured deep smoky pink and named for Penelope Hobhouse.

It seems certain that these hellebores will become common sights in the near future, rather as the hybridus forms have done over the last decade or so. They have every virtue: beautiful. Long-lasting flowers, decorative evergreen foliage, toughness and durability. And they flower in the darkest of days.

One should never forget those stalwarts H. foetidus, of the dark green divided leaves, and H. argutifolius (below right) a big plant with jagged-edged mid-green leaves and bigger flowers. Both thrive with minimal attention and sow themselves enthusiastically. You just move, or remove, those that appear in the wrong place. H. foetidus, especially, has been flowering for weeks, even in dark corners. (below left)