After referring to Thomas Hood and his ‘November’ poem – ‘No sun – no moon!’ etc – a few weeks ago I find myself wondering what he would have thought of December, and this December in particular. We may have had the gales that hurtled across the country on Thursday, causing damage particularly down the east coast but in other inland and coastal areas too (and not forgetting the north west extremities where they are a regular occurrence in winter) but much of the UK enjoyed sunshine and mild days both prior and since this. The clear skies which accompanied these pleasantries presented us not only with sharp views of a sliver of the moon at night, but fascinating cloud formations and beautiful colours at sunrise and sunset – the above view was captured on my way home at about 4.15 this afternoon. However we feel about snow and icy mornings it perhaps does not seem quite the done thing to be experiencing days like this in the lead up to Christmas!
Other than my morning ramble I have not been able to spend time in the garden today, but I did observe what I hope was not a very hungry caterpillar on Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and also a few brown buds – were they affected by frost? or wind? There are a number of other buds showing a hint of pink, but as the plant arrived here early this year there has not yet been a full show of flower; it is planted in a very large pot and as far as I know the compost has never dried out or got waterlogged, so I trust it is still in full health.
Having completed the snowdrop plan yesterday and collected up several bags of leaves, I was able to spend an hour or two this afternoon trimming and cutting back in the various borders. Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ was first in line for a chop, revealing just how much the clump has grown since it was first planted. Undoubtedly he was one of the stars of 2013 and it will be interesting to see if he performs as well next year.
On a whim I decided to take out some of the Luzula sylvatica ‘Marginata’ that has been nicely filling one of the main herbaceous borders. When these borders were revamped I was able to dig the clump out of its original home and plonk it in its new one where it looked as if it had always been, so it proved to be a real stalwart as the changes took hold but I felt I could rein it in a bit now to make room for other things.
With the leaves blown or collected off the borders and the half-hearted growth cut back, the garden was really beginning to look as if it was closing itself down for the winter and tidier than it has been for some time. Some parts will off course get an early alarm call when the hellebores and snowdrops take off and there were still be things to catch the eye, like the changing colours on the foliage of this phlox, and the odd remaining flower here and there. Whilst trimming, I cast my eyes around the garden for contenders for Monday’s vase selection, but it looks like slim pickings…..
Having got back home on Wednesday evening we were fortunate not to have been travelling in yesterday’s wind, which seemed to hit all the UK in varying degrees. Our garden is fairly sheltered and although we had very strong gusts during the morning the wind’s strength will have been nothing like that seen in many other parts of the country and which caused disruption, damage and flooding. It did, however, strip all the beautiful leaves from next door’s beech tree and most of the flimsy field maple leaves and those on the wild plums – and the parottia too, before any real colour change could take hold. The direction of the wind very much affected where the leaves ended up – from the house we could see a thick layer of mixed leaves spread over the Tai Chi grass, the paved area and the species snowdrop border (below, top), whilst that part of the garden on a north-south axis looked neat and tidy, with leaves swept neatly into the corners (below, bottom):
Before we left for our Anglesey trip I had pencilled a reminder for our return – to make a ‘map’ of the species snowdrop border so it would be easier to observe what was coming up and where. Having drawn a plan roughly to scale I began to brush the leaves off the border (in front of the white picket fence above) and plot the snowdrops’ positions, eventually having to refer to the list of what there should be. In the end I removed as many of the leaves as possible but still it was hard to find them all; fortunately they are all planted in ‘pond planter’ baskets so even if they have lost a label there is now other evidence. There are some ‘unknowns’ from when this wasn’t the case which hopefully can be identified when they flower and may be ones presumed lost and since replaced. Barely half the snowdrops flowered this year (and those that did flower did so poorly), some because they were too new and some because they had been disturbed the previous year, so I am hoping for better things in 2014 and knowing exactly where to find them all I feel better prepared!
Perhaps it also makes it clearer to see where there is a space for any new ones……
For those with birthday, anniversary or other potential (non-Christmas) celebrations in December or other winter extremes of the year and who choose to go out for the day or away like we have just done will generally accept that the weather may not be brilliant, that some places may not be open, and that gardens will not be at their most colourful. We were lucky, therefore, to have had blue skies, sunshine and mild 10° days for our Anglesey visit and easily filled our time with enjoyable pursuits. As well as our visit to Janet and a walk along her local coastline we added to the Golfer’s scorecard collection (hurrah!), enjoyed that woodland walk with the sculptures, took in some of the numerous ancient burial chambers and of course managed to find gardens that were still open.
Over the years we seem to have visited many gardens out of season and been able to appreciate their structure and potential, and of course there are always trees, shrubs and other evergreens to admire as well as random late or early flowering beauties. On this visit we took in Bodnant Gardens on the mainland and Plas Newydd on Anglesey, both National Trust properties, and spent a pleasant hour or so at both – hopefully we will revisit them at another time of year, particularly for the rhododendrons at Bodnant. Our hotel had grounds to explore too, and included several sculptures which were stunningly illuminated at night, like yesterday’s bench and the two shown above.
I am sure there are hidden gems in most places, so when you are visiting somewhere new it is helpful to have a recommendation from a local resident – in our case the local resident was Janet of Plantaliscious who, when she heard we were having a couple of days in Anglesey kindly invited us to call in for a cup of tea while we were there. It was a surreal experience seeing a garden I had got to know through a blog – and meeting the blogger! Thank you, Janet, for your hospitality – it was a pleasure to meet you.
Janet also recommended some places to visit on our short stay, including The Dingle, a nature reserve at Llangefni, a 10 hectare (25 acre) wooded valley, rich in wildlife and history. As well as the December pleasures of woodland trees and crunchy leaves underfoot, the sight of banks of bluebells promising spectacular blooms next spring, and the potential sighting of red squirrels (none sighted), the reserve was home to numerous sculptures, from cones and seedpods to leaves and dragonflies, and an entrance of split oak timbers revealing work by a local poet and a range of circular castings featuring the wildlife that can be found in the reserve. A short walk, discretely hidden from the bustle of the town, but a little gem.
A bit of a cheat inasmuch as the vase contains the recycled stems of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’, the rose hips, and seedpods of Rudbeckia fulgens and crocosmia from last week, together with pickings made yesterday as we are not at home for a couple of days. I have used a slightly bigger stoneware pot this week and included ivy, the scalloped leaves of Hart’s tongue fern and black spears of ophiophagus, giving a fresh and earthy update to the vase. If we had been at home I would have taken advantage of the flowers on the ‘Pink Perpetué’ that brightens up the approach to our front door, but didn’t like to think of them sitting all alone while we were away; hopefully next Monday I shall be including flowers again as well as foliage.
If you would like to find things in your garden or elsewhere and place them in a vase or similar on a Monday and post a picture on your blog, then feel free to also post a link in a comment on this post, so we too can see what you have found. I am enjoying the challenge myself!