In a Vase on Monday, for Dorris

I was responding to comments on IAVOM last Monday when an email popped into my inbox, alerting me to a new post on Dig With Dorris; entitled ‘In Memory of Rebecca Barker’, fear gripped my heart, as without reading further I knew what this meant. Sadly, blogging friend Rebecca, known to us as Dorris, had passed away at home before Christmas.

I have known Dorris through our blogs since early 2014 shortly, I think, after she began blogging, and have not only exchanged many comments and ripostes since then, but personal emails too, and was fortunate to meet her twice, once at halfway meeting point Broughton Grange Gardens to pass on plant material, but also at her own home when we supported her in opening her garden for the NGS. The friendship may have developed through our blogs and a shared love of plants and gardening, but I like to think it was as genuine a friendship as any developed wholly in person, and her death has left a Dorris-shaped void that is hard to take in.

Like all garden bloggers she was generous in sharing comments, knowledge and plant material, but was modest in her own achievements, the depth and extent of her experience only coming to light in her family’s own tribute. Such sad news, and I am grateful to her family for informing us of her death; they knew just how much the blog meant to her and it was a thoughtful gesture to inform us of her passing.

I know there will be many in our community who feel the same way, and it seemed wrong not to mark the occasion and present a small tribute to Dorris, recognising the shock and loss that we share. Dorris often contributed to IAVOM herself, and ideally this tribute would have been a vase crammed with the brightest of dahlias or the very best of summer annuals, reflecting her love of plants. However, it is mid-January and we have instead the simplest of vases: three white hellebore blooms (Harvington Double White) floating in a Caithness Glass bonbon dish, accompanied by a candle to remind us that our memories will still burn brightly, and a sprig of rosemary, also for remembrance. Farewell, dear Dorris.

If you are able to find material from your garden or foraged nearby to pop in a vase or jamjar and would like to share it with us, as a tribute of your own or ‘just because’, then please leave the usual links.

Posted in Gardening, Gardens, In a Vase on Monday | Tagged , | 17 Comments

Six on Saturday: Jail Break!

Our neighbour on the hedge side, who died two or three years ago, had a habit of using random items to fill gaps in the hedge in a bid to stop his dog getting out – he was particularly fond of using broken asbestos roofing sheets, but over the years we have subtly also removed a gate, fridge shelves and other assorted rubbish, replacing them where necessary with more attractive barriers. This bin, however, appeared when we thinned the hedge and created a second path through the woodland (‘the path less travelled’), and had clearly been there for a long time, probably longer than we had.

The base of the heavy duty wire mesh was buried in years of leaf litter and tangled holly and ivy, so there was no way of lifting it to access the bin, and I originally planned to disguise it by placing some as yet unidentified ‘art work’ in front of it. After walking past it every day over the few months since the path was created, on the spur of the moment I decided today to arrange a jail break instead; armed with wire cutters I cut through the minimum number of strands required and quickly guided the bin to freedom. I don’t think there will be a search party…

Also breaking free but this time from the confines of our fridge was the last of my bargain Aldi hippeastrum (amaryllis). I try to stagger the planting times of them, keeping the later ones in the fridge until planting time, but have managed not to record planting dates this time round. This one was more than ready to be planted, but hopefully it will soon realise that the only way is up; I will keep it inside till the flower stem appears and then move it to the Coop to prolong the flowering period.

Also breaking through but already in the Coop are pots of early narcissi, planted in mid October:

Also hyacinths and Iris reticulata:

The hyacinths spent more than a couple of months inside in the dark and sadly not all the spikes are showing flower buds yet, always a potential issue when forcing more than one hyacinth in a pot.

In the Coop corner it was finally time to trim the leaves from Hellebores ‘Double Aubergine’ and ‘Winter Moonbeam’; unlike all my other hellebores whose tatty leaves were cut off before Christmas, these both still sport copious amounts of healthy and unsullied foliage, covering close on a square metre each. No other hellebore has produced foliage like this and I have been reluctant to trim them because they make such attractive clumps, but to see the blooms it was a job that had to be done:

Underneath the shelter of their foliage, the blooms are probably more advanced than all the other hellebores, so it makes up for losing their leafy blankets. The reason for Winter Moonbeam’s impending floriferousness is largely due to the way the buds develop in profusion along the stem, a trait possibly unique to these H ericsmithii hybrids; I have read, however, that they can be shortlived, which would a shame, but time will tell.

Finally, for the sixth of my Six on Saturday contribution to Jon the Propagator’s weekly meme, some facts about my witch hazel Hamamelis ‘Jelena’, which has been absolutely glorious this year:

I have asked if it has been more floriferous than before and yes, here it was in January 2020:

And how long ago was it planted? More recently than I thought, and recent enough to be recorded in this blog – March 2013, planted as a replacement for an earlier one which was not happy in its allocated spot…not much more than a twig. Incidentally, H ‘Diane’, another stick in the bottom left corner, is perhaps now barely half the size of Jelena, although as a general rule most of my witch hazels which began their life as ‘nobbut a stick’ seem to put on a growth spurt after about 5 years, presumably having decided they are happy and going to stick around for a while. Whatever their size, they are joy to have in the garden and as well as winter blooms tend to offer a fiery autumn display too.

Posted in bulbs, corms and tubers, Gardening, Gardens, greenhouse, Six on Saturday | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: On Fire!

Posted in Gardening, Gardens, shrubs, Winter, Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , | 17 Comments

In a Vase on Monday: Les Parfumiers

With minimal blooms available to fill a January vase, it was not a difficult choice to cut three of the seasons most scented blooms to grace us with the presence on IAVOM today. The Hamamelis x intermedia witch hazels generally do not have a strong fragrance, but on a mild day or in a warm room there is neverthless a distinct sweetness to them, so I am hopeful that this sprig of ‘Jelena’ will pull her weight alongside the stronger and more noticeable fragrances of winter flowering honeysuckle Lonicera purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ and Sarcococca humilis when their buds open, to create a delectable perfume from Le Jardin Parfumerie: ‘Janvier’ (January).

Finished off with a green note from useful Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’, a small gingerjar style vase from Ainsley China’s Pembroke series holds the fragrant stems, the unidentified bird  and its tiggy persch nicely reflecting the style of  the two Chinese perfume bottles that accompany it.

Sweetness making up for its lack of stature, my simple vase highlights some of the pleasures to be found in a winter garden – perhaps there will be pleasures to be found in your gardens too, even if only a leaf or a shapely twig. If you would like to share your finds with the rest of the IAVOM community, please leave the usual links to and from this post.


Posted in Gardens, In a Vase on Monday, Winter | Tagged | 42 Comments


We were able to open our garden for the National Garden Scheme in February last year but our June openings were cancelled and there was inevitably doubt over our 2021 planned dates, particularly the February one. We were contacted in November and told all visits would have to be pre-booked online, which was the case for gardens that opened later last season and so to be expected. With Covid restrictions tightening as the weeks went by and the likelihood of garden-opening vanishinging, I did toy with thoughts of cancelling back then, particularly as so many of our winter delights were beginning to appear unusually early, but decided to stick with it just in case, because the NGS has lost so much of its charitable income  already.

When our county, along with many others, moved into Tier 4 immediately after Christmas I was sure in my own mind that there would be no opening in February, even more so when England came under full lockdown a few days later.  Out of curiousity, I checked on the NGS website to see if anyone had actually booked to visit our garden – they hadn’t, but I was shocked to find a statement to the effect that gardens would still be able to open to local visitors, subject to social distancing… To me, this went against the ‘stay at home’ ruling and certainly did not constitute meeting just one other person for exercise in a public place; not only this, garden openings on a domestic scale rely on an interaction between garden owners and visitors and as such would put everyone at risk, something we were not prepared to do. Partial clarification came out by email the next day, and of course larger gardens could perhaps open more safely, but we had no qualms about cancelling and were relieved that our decision had finally beeen made.

As it happens, despite an early start for snowdrops, hellebores, witch hazels and many other winter bloomers, the colder spell of the last few weeks has put their development on hold, bringing them into line with a more typical flowering period. From having the common snowdrops pushing through before the end of November, along with more than two thirds of the named snowdrops, there are only three or four specials in bloom, the remainder still either green shoots or firmly closed buds like the diminuitive ‘Ailywn’ with her chubby buds and ‘Percy Picton’,  belying his potential taller stature:

Some witch hazels are not yet any showing colour at all, or just have one or two blooms like H ‘Pallida’, or only just opened, like H ‘Magic Fire’ and H ‘Harry’:

Most hellebores have been in bud for a number of weeks, but only one or two are actually in bloom – and I am greatly pleased to see ‘Penny’s Pink’ is in bud, having not flowered last year:

And of course I am thrilled to have a handful of buds on Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’, new to me last year and promising a fragrant treat in due course albeit, like all our winter specials, for the benefit of just the Golfer and myself this year:


Posted in Gardening, Gardens, open gardens, Winter | Tagged | 15 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: a Glimpse of Winter Sunshine

Posted in Gardening, Gardens, Winter, Wordless Wednesday | Tagged | 3 Comments

In a Vase on Monday: of the Orient

I am fairly sure I have used this combination or something similar before, but being about to prune ‘Parkdirektor Riggers’ from which the rosehips came, I couldn’t resist. So we have three rosehips with their crown-like sepals in three mini test tubes, accompanied by three kings, the three wise men of the East. The regal gentlemen came as part of a set of cake directions, and they hot-footed it from our Christmas cake to act as props for IAVOM, although in truth they didn’t spend long on the cake because it was so crowded they were evicted before the first slice was made.

When they have done their second duty of the season and are allowed to stand down they will return to their box for another year, as will the other wise men who are still making their way slowly round our living room ready to join the rest of the nativity scene on Twefth Night, just in time to go back inside their box (the stable). On recent Grannie days, three year old The Tinker (who started nursery in September) has been exercising her new found knowledge of the Christmas Story and has repeatedly tried to put them away as they ‘weren’t there yet’. No doubt by the time they come out of their box again next year, after a term of ‘big school’, she will be an expert!

Waking up yesterday and finding not only the previous day’s snow had disappeared, but also the remnants of that from earlier in the way, heralded a subtle change in the weather – it may only have been a couple of degrees warmer, but it felt different and the light was different too, somehow softer. Strange though it may seem, there usually comes a point in January when this is the case, albeit less than a month since the winter solstice. There was certainly no excuse for not being in the garden, so pruning ‘Parkdirektor Riggers’ and its abundant hips was my first priority:

For those able to venture out into their gardens too, perhaps you too can cut something to pop in a vase or handy test tube, or forage something on a local walk to share with us all on IAVOM…

Posted in Christmas, Gardening, Gardens, In a Vase on Monday, pruning, roses | Tagged | 22 Comments

Six on Saturday: Glowing in the Arctic

It has been pretty chilly here for over a week, with temperatures barely rising above 2ºC; we had a little snow on Tuesday but it is snowing again now, with heavy snow showers forecast for much of the evening. Not Arctic weather, by any stretch of the imagination but, in the circumstances, the prolonged flowering of Echinops ‘Arctic Glow’ (above) seems to suggest a resilience to the cold rather than the whiteness of the bloom. In truth, the plant had been cut back in late summer but had produced new shoots and about three blooms a couple of months later, which seems pretty remarkable – and needs to be added to my Boxing Day total. Their only response to the cold was a certain drooping of the stems, unlike the preserved-in-ice appearance of  this stray Japanese anemone:

More applicable to the season is the appearance of blooms on more of my witch hazels – after the coppery cloured varieties, the reds are my next favourite, and this is Hamamelis ‘Diane’:

A seasonal surprise on my rambles today was the hint of colour on this Cyclamen coum

…and a seasonal task is the planting out of the Winter Sunshine sweet peas in the greenhouse:

To finish my Six on Saturday contribution, which I will link to our host Jon the Propagator’s blog, I would like to share these optimistic autumn fruiting raspberries, one of a number of stems of very slowly ripening fruits…whether they will ripen before they rot is anyone’s guess!

Posted in Gardening, Gardens, greenhouse, Six on Saturday | Tagged | 26 Comments

Hello 2021- What Have You Got in Store for the Garden?

Rather than wish anyone reading this a ‘happy new year’, which may sound  trite after the unforeseen eventualities of the previous year and the ongoing uncertainties of 2021, I shall wish you instead the very best year possible and thank you for continuing to read and comment on my blog. As I said yesterday, the garden has been oblivious to whatever was happening out there in the big wide world in 2020 and, likewise, our garden blogging community has generally continued in its usual vein too, any restrictions beyond the garden gate mostly just hinted at,  concealing any difficult personal circumstances that many have experienced. My thoughts and best wishes go out to all of you, in the hope that you will find joy and peace both in and out of the garden in this coming year.

Contrary to the maelstrom outside, the garden has had a great year, starting with our first February opening for the NGS (National Garden Scheme). I have no doubts about the joys to be found in the garden in winter, having progressively planned and planted to provide winter colour and fragrance in the last few years, and our February opening was designed to share these joys with our visitors and encourage them to think of adding seasonal interest in their own. February proved to be the wettest month of the year with Storm Dennis arriving the weekend we opened and flooding local roads – but we still had visitors, who still enjoyed their cold and damp visit, thus fulfilling the brief.  The most rewarding part, however, came a few days later when I happened to bump into one of a pair of ladies who have visited each year the garden has been open, who told me not just much they enjoyed it, but how she had been trying to explain to another friend that this February visit was every bit as enjoyable as a June one…

Little did we know in mid-February that the year would go into freefall barely a month later and that our June openings and planned group visits would be cancelled. This proved, however, to be a bonus for the garden, essentially giving me a year to enjoy the garden without dates to work towards, an opportunity to observe and monitor and tweak, creating and carrying out projects almost on a whim. Combined with glorious spring and summer sunshine, the garden has done very well out of 2020, thank you very much!

There have been a number of notable and very satisfactory successes, like the outdoor sweet peas – always damp squibs until this year, unlike my early flowering greenhouse variety. This year they were sown at the end of January instead of in the autumn, and planted out into one of the new cutting beds created from reducing the size of the fruit cage, with a ‘proper’ framework of bean poles to clamber on. The result was glorious:

The cutting beds were possibly even better than ever before too, and definitely benefitted from adding horizontal netting for support:

Some things did really well with no help from me, like Magnolia ‘Susan’:

And roses and clematis throughout the garden:

The weeks and months without rain encouraged us to make the effort and install a water supply to the bottom of the garden and intervening points in between – I say ‘us’, but I only sourced the materials and it was the Golfer who did the donkey work:

Reassessing the garden and its content not only saw the removal of a number of plants that no longer sufficiently served their purpose, but also a rehashing of the layout of some of the borders, particularly the main herbaceous beds which were realigned to allow a path to pass through them. In the course of this, more than half the contents were removed and not all replaced, so it will take till next season to see how well the new layout and planting works:

There were several other ‘mini-projects’ throughout the year, mostly tweaking things to make them more user or visual-friendly, inspired by closer and more regular observation. However, around the same time as my building work on the revamped beds, the Golfer was progressively removing the overgrown oak tree that cast avoidable shade on parts of the garden, to the fascination and admiration of neighbours on all sides – a great achievement!

The increased neighbourliness fostered by the Covid pandemic inadvertently boosted my garden record-keeping by introducing me to a villager who was a professional photographer in possession of  a drone, fulfilling my desire to have new aerial photographs of the garden to update those we had taken in 2002. I plan to have a set of 4 seasonal views, and now only await photographs from March. The latest view, taken in December, is below and the June and September views can be seen by clicking The Garden tab above.

Finally, an innovation introduced this year was the addition of a video to the end of month posts, as you may have seen yesterday. After months of wrestling with technology I have reached what may be an acceptable compromise and, for the first time ever, yesterday’s video was uploaded with no hitches whatsoever, albeit without any fancy subtitles, but serving the basic purpose of a video tour of the garden. Not everyone may choose to view the tour, but there have been positive comments from those that do, especially during full lockdown when the monthly tours were eagerly awaited by some, unable to visit gardens in the flesh for much of the spring and summer.

None of us know yet what 2021 has in store, but all being well I shall still be enjoying rambling in the garden and writing about it on this blog. Thank you all for your continued friendship, support, and generous sharing of knowledge, plants and seeds.

Posted in End of Month View, garden structure, Gardening, Gardens, projects | 33 Comments

Goodbye to 2020: End of Month View, December

2020 has been a year like no other, and it’s inevitable that most people will be glad to see the back of it. The garden, however, has its own agenda and is little affected by the goings-on of the wider world, so 2020 on this blog ends with the usual look round the garden. We had a light falling of snow a couple of days ago, partially washed away by the gentle showers that followed it, but the rest has remained, courtesy of barely above freezing temperatures, giving a pleasing scrunch when walked on. Blackbirds have increasingly been enjoying the pretty crabs on Malus ‘Evereste’, but there are still plenty of fruits on the tree, shining nearly as brightly as the red berry Christmas lights that are still strung across the paved area above.

Below is the steamside and shrub border, with witch hazel Hamamelis ‘Jelena’ and a trio of Cornus glowing in the winter afternoon:

Scrunching our way through the woodland we can climb the steps at the back of the bothy and look out over the main borders and beyond to the clematis collonade, followed by a different view from ground level:

As we head through the woodland edge border, the hellebores and emerging snowdrops are not yet readily evident:

The three bold borders, sporting remains of their herbaceous content:

Through the gate, the nursery beds house overwintering perennials, building them up for planting out or selling next year, but the cuttings beds are virtually empty apart from a couple of overwintering scabious:

The blue & white border and rose garden are similarly at rest, the path through the latter having to be quickly rescued from a pile of prunings (a severe cutting back of enthusiatic climbet Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’) prior to photographs and video being taken:

We walk under the clematis colonnade and through the updated main borders before heading back toward the house, passing the special snowdrop border (with its sprinkling of both snow and snowdrops) on the way:

Walking towards the left side of the house we can pop into the Coop and take in the last droopy blooms on the fantasy chrysanthemums, a sprinkling of blooms on potted cyclamen and emerging spikes of early spring bulbs. Venturing down the side, we reach the Coop Corner, with several hellebores in generous bud and the floriferous Clematis armandii preparing for an abundant show of flowers.

This is just a pictorial record of the garden; tomorrow I hope to look back at the year as a whole and identify the highlights, the things that have brought me the greatest pleasure in a year where gardens have proved to be of greater value than many might ever have imagined. In the meantime, you can view the garden from a different perspective by watching the end of month video

Posted in End of Month View, Gardening, Gardens | 19 Comments