For me, the arrival of spring is marked by the smell of cut-grass drifting across the neighbour’s fence – a timely reminder to dust off the mower, just as the monochrome-white of the snowdrops gives way to a kaleidoscopic palette of daffodils, primroses, brunneras and much else.
Hepaticas – the flowering liverworts – are very much part of the early spring season, and are gaining a growing following of devotees here in Britain. For those yet to become acquainted with this small and delightful genus, these are diminutive anemone relatives, with distinctive three-lobed leaves (hence, apparently, the name liverwort, though quite whose liver is anyone’s guess), and simple six to eight-petalled flowers the size of smallish coins, in pastel shades of soft, baby-ribbon whites, pinks and blues. You might at this point ponder quite why a grown man is doing writing about these ineffably twee flowers, but I adore them, and have a greenhouse full of them here at Flete, the walled garden I am restoring in Devon. Indeed, as I write this, I am half way through the application process to have our collection of Japanese cultivars recognised as a National Collection by Plant Heritage.
The genus is scattered through the deciduous forest band of the temperate northern hemisphere in Europe and Asia, reappearing in North America, growing in the same lightly-cloaked, deciduous woodland in which we find primroses or wood anemones here in Britain. Some folk love the wild types of hepatica best, unadulterated by selection or hybridisation, but if you are into all-bells-and-whistles plants, the Japanese forms of Hepatica nobilis var. japonica are perhaps for you.
Back in the Edo period in Japan, 200 years or so ago, gardeners started to select and grow double and smartly coloured forms from the local woodlands, and they gained something of a cult, florists’-flower following in Japan at the time, before interests waned. Then during the 1970s, sorties into Japan’s wildwoods rediscovered hepaticas – both singles and doubles – in a diversity previously unseen. Talk, perhaps apocryphal, hinted that radiation from wartime bombing has caused the liverworts to mutate into myriad forms, many of quite exceptional beauty. From those rekindled beginnings, a Japanese obsession akin to tulip mania or our very own “white fever” centred on snowdrops has burgeoned. Today, nurseryman and enthusiasts breed countless seedlings, and thousands of the very best varieties now bear names. These are displayed at a series of early spring shows in Niigata and Tokyo, and the newest and most exotic exchange hands for the equivalent of thousands of pounds.
The variability in colour in part explains the vast array of varieties now available. Japanese hepaticas come in most colours, from white and yellow, through pinks and near reds, to blues, purples and near blacks. Persimmon and wine coloured forms, the colour of cooked trout and Cadbury’s chocolate wrapper-purple respectively, are particularly sought after, as are some of the clearest cobalt blues, rich buttery yellows, and greens. Some coloured flowers have brilliant white stars or bands in their centres, whilst pale pinks and whites occasionally boast richly coloured picotee margins or a fine tracery of veins.
However, it is in their flower form that they reach utter perfection. The variety is mind-boggling, and can only occur because the central boss of carpels, encircled by the stamens, have become petaloid or foliose to varying degrees. The International Hepatica Society recognises nine distinctive flower forms. Perhaps best loved are the senne or senju varieties, typically full and perfect doubles – their name literally means thousand-layered – while in others the centre of the flower is filled with green, seemingly foliose petals (so-called sandan-zaki types). Yet others – the nidan-zaki types, just the anthers have become petaloid, and are often spatula-shaped – like the card matches in complimentary hotel match-books, according to bulb grower and nurseryman Paul Christian.
Like some forbidden fruit, news of these fantastic forms has dribbled out to plant enthusiasts in the west over the past decades, but only in the last 20 years have named varieties reached the European mainland and British shores. Today, across Europe perhaps as many as 1,000 cultivars are being grown and propagated, and they are increasingly becoming available through a few specialist nurseries. Indeed, as the price of snowdrops soar, the price of these Japanese beauties is gently dropping, making them ever more available to wider audiences.
Whatever you read to the contrary, hepaticas are actually perfectly easy to grow, provided that a few simple rules are followed. In Japan, they are known as yukiwariso – literally the flower that breaks through the snow, doing most of their growth in spring before the trees leaf up, so it pays to keep them reasonably dry in winter and summer, but wet in spring and autumn when most root growth takes place. They can survive a good deal of light in early spring, but like to be shaded from late March onwards. At Flete, we grow ours in deep 1 or 1.5 litre pots, in a mixture of equal parts coir, medium potting bark, John Innes compost and coarse perlite, with slow-release fertiliser added – it should drain instantly when watered, and they seem to thrive on this diet. Conversely, they abhor claggy, sodden compost that has lost its airy structure, so aim to repot every other year, at roughly the March or September equinoxes, at which time they can be divided providing material for swapping or giving to friends.
A final thought. Until now they have been too rare or too expensive to try out of doors, but I have heard of growers succeeding with them in shady garden spots as far apart as southern England and Eastern Scotland. So let’s hope that as prices fall and they become increasingly available, more enthusiasts will try them in the open garden. If you are interested in trying your hand at these miniature gems, then Edrom Nurseries and Ashwood Nurseries are good sources of these plants at the present moment. As for recommended varieties to choose: I would merely decide your budget and buy whatever takes your fancy, for there really is no such thing as a ugly hepatica. But beware, you will most probably become addicted.
• Andy Byfield has a passion for all things botanical, together with the gardened and natural worlds that they inhabit. He is a founder of the wild plant charity Plantlife, is writing a book on plants and landscape, and tussles with two acres of walled garden in south Devon.
Well the kids will both soon be off to A levels and University. Due to illness and redundancy – I’m thinking of downsizing from this big house I am rattling around in and becoming mortgage free. My plan is to do so in about two years time, although I keep looking at suitable houses now ! All I think about is not having a mortgage or any debts ( mine are small – just a car loan ) but I do have a big mortgage.
My outgoings will reduce by 66% and means I’m just paying out for cheaper utility bills and food. It feels like a huge freedom awaits !
I’m 50 this year. I used to be a very high earner – now I earn about 10% of my previous income – but am very happy. Im lucky that I’ve had the support of some tax credits and disability benefits – but it’s like living on a knife edge worrying they will change so I’d rather be free.
This has been the kids house for 14 years but now they are becoming more independent they have got used to the fact we are downsizing. We can still get a nice modern 3 bed semi with a garage. We are in greater London but I want to move a few more miles out.
Any tips and thoughts would be great it feels good to have made the decision
on the subject of proms, I just can’t find a prom dress for my almost 18YO anywhere. I expected to see loads in Debenhams – nada. Quiz was the only shop in Dundee who had anything but they were all either blue or pink. Her chum have mentioned a few websites but they get terrible reviews – items nothing like the photos, cheap and nasty, items not arriving at all etc etc. Plus all these websites use stock photos by the looks of things so I don’t trust that what I’m looking at even exists.
Having followed the template listed, I received this response below. Shall I just follow the POLA appeal instructions as listed, additionally they have not sent any letters to me so likely DVLA details have not been paid for. The costs they indicated are surely business costs and not their losses for me parking in a permit car park?
Thank you for your email. Please find attached our response to your appeal and a photo of your vehicle. A copy of this email will be sent to your workplace so that they are (your words) Aware of the ‘shoddy’ way we treat consumers. (Definition of the word Consumers – A person who purchases goods and services for personal use).
Many thanks for your cooperation.
Thank you for your letter of appeal with regards to Parking Charge Notice ******, issued by us on *****. After much deliberation and having carefully considered the evidence provided by you, Llawnroc Parking Services Ltd has decided NOT to cancel this Parking Charge Notice and therefore have rejected your appeal for the following reasons:
Your appeal has clearly been downloaded from a forum as the appeal is identical almost to the word of other appeals previously sent to us. A certain amount of the information in your email is obsolete or incorrect.
Your request for Genuine Pre estimate of loss which is now known as Proportionate and Commercially Justifiable Charges (as per the BPA Code of Practice para 34.6) are set out below.
You claim that signs were not seen, yet a sign was within 4 feet from your vehicle and is clearly seen in the photograph taken of your vehicle (attached) therefore we cannot accept that the keeper/driver did not see the sign. If by the slightest of chances the signs were not seen how would you know if the wording on the signage were ambiguous if you did not see the signs?
You claim that our notice fails to comply with the POFA 2012? Not once has POFA 2012 been mentioned within the parking charge notice therefore we cannot be in breach of the Act. We will however use the Act should it become necessary to do so.
The signage does state that a permit must be displayed and your vehicle has failed to display a permit and was therefore in breach of the terms and conditions of parking.
Please also see below as requested the costs to Llawnroc Parking Services and the landlord.
Calculations for a Proportionate and Commercially Justifiable Charges set out below refers to costs that we estimate, at the time of issuing the PCN, would be incurred in this case;
The amount sought as the parking charge notice is a term of the contract as stated on the signage, the signs make this very clear that “by entering this parking area or car park you are contractually agreeing to the terms and conditions” rather than a breach of it, therefore reference to the signage should be sufficient, the Proportionate and Commercially Justifiable Charges should therefore be irrelevant.
The signage does NOT indicate that the amount sought is for damages, if it did then the Proportionate and Commercially Justifiable Charges would apply
However the Proportionate and Commercially Justifiable Charges set out below refers to costs that we estimated at the time of issuing the PCN:
DVLA Fees/processing costs for this appeal £8.00
Admin expenses for this appeal £3.00
Attendants and appeal staff wages for this appeal:
Attendants (PCN recording and issuing) for this appeal £3.00
Appeal staff 1 hour (appeals writing) £9.00
Management at 3 hours (quality control/evidence gathering and appeal writing) for this appeal £61.50
Legal accounting and IT advice for this appeal £1.50
Total loss £87.50
You now have a number of options:
1. Pay the Parking Charge Notice at the prevailing price of £30 within 14 days. Please note that after this time the Parking Charge Notice will rise to £60
2. Make an appeal to POPLA – The Independent Appeal Service by completing the appeals form online at www.popla.org.uk . If you wish to use this service we have supplied you with a unique 10 digit verification code number which is ******, the appeals service will not process your appeal without it. You should complete the form within 28 days of receiving the Notice of Rejection from us. Further instructions in filling out the form and how the service works is attached to the enclosed form. Please be advised that if you opt for the independent arbitration, you will lose the right to pay the charge at the discounted rate of £30 and should POPLA’s decision NOT go in your favour you will be required to pay the full amount of £60. If you opt to pay the parking charge you will be unable to appeal to POPLA.
3. If you choose to do nothing we will seek to recover the monies owed to us via our dept recovery procedures where extra charges will be added and may proceed with court action against you.
Payment can be made by cheque, postal order (made out to Llawnroc Parking Services Ltd) or Cash. Please quote the parking charge notice number on the reverse of the cheque and send to the address at the top of the page, or log onto www.llawnroceparking.co.uk or telephone the 24 hour payment line on 0844 304 0102 in order to pay by debit or credit card.
A few years ago I was pottering in my mum’s garden when I heard the low buzz of hundreds of bees. It was early spring, so it couldn’t have been an established nest I was hearing (bumblebee colonies are started in spring and take several weeks to build up sufficient numbers to make such a noise), and there were no honeybee hives in neighbouring gardens. There wasn’t much going on among the crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths on the ground, but it still took a while for me to think to look skywards – for immediately above my head was a huge willow tree shimmering in the sunshine, with bees of all species, shapes and sizes sifting among its catkins.
It was a glorious moment, and one I recounted repeatedly to my mother in an attempt to persuade her not to cut down the tree, which was blocking light to her south-facing border. I lost the battle, but vowed to replace the tree with something smaller, and make up for the loss further by growing willows in every garden I would ever own.
Britain is home to several species of willow, most of which grow in wet ground on or near rivers and streams. Some of these are among our largest native trees. They’re steeped in history and folklore – the crack willow (Salix fragilis) is so named after the loud cracking sound its branches make when they drop from its boughs (usually into flowing water where they will be taken downstream to propagate a new tree – willows root incredibly easily), while all species are associated with sadness and mourning. They’re fantastic trees for wildlife – as my epiphany demonstrates – providing food not just for bees, but also for moth caterpillars, and as shelter for bats, small mammals and birds.
The willow in my mum’s garden had oval-shaped leaves rather than the long and thin ones typically associated with the species. It was probably a goat willow (S. caprea, also known as pussy willow or great sallow) or the closely related grey willow, or a hybrid of the two.
Goat willow grows to 10m. Male and female catkins grow on separate trees – male catkins are grey, ripening to yellow, while female catkins are longer and green. The tree in mum’s garden was enormous and, although I hate to admit it, did look out of place. I replaced it with Salix capreapendula ‘Kilmarnock’, a weeping goat willow grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock, which grows to a maximum height of only 2.5m. You can even grow it in a pot, as long as it gets plenty of water.
Replacing the enormous willow in mum’s garden with a scrap of a thing growing on a dwarfing rootstock felt a bit inadequate, but the tree thickened over the seasons and eventually produced a good crop of catkins, which the bees dutifully visited. I haven’t since heard such an orchestra of buzzing as I did from the huge tree on that spring morning, but at least this source of food hasn’t been removed completely.
I’ve just bought a new flat, complete with a tiny back garden and room for a few pots at the front. The Kilmarnock willow is on my list of trees to plant – maybe in the front and back. It will do for now – one day I’ll grow a huge tree that gets all the bees.