Like Buses

I was just thinking yesterday that as yet there had been no requests for group visits to the garden when all of a sudden two, like buses, came along at the same time: one was from a local WI group, one member of which had visited last year, and one was an advance request from the group I went to give a talk to last night, but for next year (2020), when I shall be opening in February for the first time.

I don’t think I have mentioned other than in some comments that we plant to open for the NGS for snowdrops and witch hazels (and the rest!) from next year – as with the June openings, it just felt a shame to keep all that pleasure to ourselves. Having opened in the summer for two years, we now have a reasonable understanding of our potential visitor numbers, but a February opening is a Big Unknown… Having been starved of NGS garden openings for several months and with little competition from other openings this could bring out a larger number of people, aided and abetted by the almost unique magnetism of snowdrops, but our location may still be a disadvantage. There is just no way of guessing of course – nor of gauging the weather which could bring complete disaster in terms of visitor numbers and even the garden itself.

Having made the decision in summer to add a winter opening, these last few months have proved useful in establishing what seasonal tasks would need to be completed to ensure a reasonably tidy garden in February and, more importantly, what we can expect to be flowering at this time of year. The snowdrops were always going to be there, both native and specials (especially with some sunshine to perk them up), but I couldn’t remember when the crocus began blooming – perfect timing too, it seems, although the above photo doesn’t do them justice, nor the glorious witch hazel Hamamelis ‘Spanish Spider’ which has never looked as glorious as this with its multi-legged spidery amber coloured blooms:

In total, six of the witch hazels are still flowering although there are still remnants of blooms on the others. The crocus have multiplied over the years and will continue to do so, but I can see where there are gaps and had been planning on buying more to plant this autumn but in the meantime decided to have a go at splitting some of the clumps; this proved to be harder than I thought as those in the shrub border were buried quite deeply, the border originally having been grassed before the turf was removed and additional soil added. Sadly, this resulted in several trowelfuls of bulb-less blooms but there were at least a few new clumps.

Enjoying the clumps of hellebore in my own garden and those shown on other blogs or in bloggers’ vases, I suddenly felt the ‘need’ to add more here. In the early days I quickly built up a collection of them, but haven’t bought any for years so had no qualms about splashing out. Buying fairly cheaply from eBay, some of the plants were quite small but will build up nicely in a couple of years, and I am going to freshen up the woodland edge border by removing some of the ivy which creeps and crawls over everything and thinning out some of the Geraniums phaeum and sylvaticum, before adding some compost and bonemeal. The hellebores deserve a bit of TLC to help them settle in.

Away from these parts of the garden, I am thrilled to see that one of the additions to the new shady border at the side of the house has begun to flower – Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’. I have tried this form of early flowering clematis more than once without success, so am thrilled to see it thriving against the fence here. There must certainly have been an advantage in a new and relatively empty bed such as this, with little competition, as I suspect I just ‘shoved’ its predecessors in a hole near the hedge where chances of survival were inevitably slim. I am awaiting its promised fragrance, hopefully evident as more blooms open.

Another attraction for visitors to a 2020 February garden opening will be the Coop, which is currently a fragrant delight with hyacinths and narcissus assaulting the senses; by next year, as my experience of plants to grow in a cool greenhouse expands, I am hoping for a greenhouse crammed with scent and colour. Currently, though with no discernible fragrance but giving joy from their vivid splashes of colour are Tecophilaea cyanocrocus ‘Violacea’ and the saying-it-as-it-is Hardenbergia violacea ‘Happy Wanderer’ with its tiny antirrhinum style blooms:

The latter could grow up to 2m and doesn’t look anywhere near as impressive yet as the photo from the website I bought it from suggests, but it is merely an infant still and has a lot of growing to do; hopefully it will be happy in its wanderings. Meanwhile, the Tecophilaea look rather floppy and I perhaps need to check out their growing requirements to see if I am missing something. Even so, it is a joy to slide open the door of the Coop as I make my way round the garden on my rambles, immersing myself in the fragrance of the other bulbs and the distinctive ‘green’ smell that arrives in our greenhouses at this time of year and lingers well into the autumn…lovely!

Ah yes, then there was The Talk.

I was invited by one of the gardening groups that visited last year to give a talk at one of their monthly meetings, something I have never done before. It is a small group, and this month they were meeting in a member’s house as their usual venue is appropriated for a pantomime at this time of year. Rather than talk about my own garden, because the meeting was in February, often a lean month for gardeners, I gave my talk the tongue-in-cheek title ‘How to Enjoy Your Garden’. I hoped, of course, to enhance their presumably existing enjoyment further, and focussed on four main themes:

*Get to Know Your Garden
*Embrace the Season
*Make Your Life Easier
*Expand Your Horizons

I was asked to talk for about 45 minutes and just used the briefest of notes to prompt me, but in the informal and friendly group and through interactions with members I easily ran out of time and hope the end result wasn’t rushed and garbled. In the absence of the usual technology I had to pass photos around which wasn’t ideal but seemed to generate discussion between members so must have been helpful in at least some small way. Hoping that everyone took away just one idea from the evening, interest seemed to be generated most by the idea of plants for winter interest, a regular vase (in the style of IAVOM), and getting to know their own gardens more intimately. Indeed, the organiser emailed me the next day with a long list of what she had found in bloom when she had walked round her own garden this afternoon, which was good to read.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, I believe I did (and surprisingly found myself looking forward to doing it). Would I do it again? I would happily do this talk again, as I am passionate about all the points I was making, but I would need to feel similarly inspired for a different topic. I am certainly not going to publicise any willingness to speak at similar groups but if contacted I would definitely consider it (I like the odd challenge!). Small groups like this really struggle to find speakers they can afford and I was shocked when the organiser informed me of the typical fee that speakers requested; we were both happy with the sum I suggested…and I have a provisional visit from them booked for February 2020!

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31 Responses to Like Buses

  1. bcparkison says:

    I’m glad you did the talk. Surprised they have a payout. Here it is usually a gift of some sort. But I could be totally off base since I’m not innvolved anymore. We once had a friendship club but now with all of the older ones gone there are only three or four of us left. Getting old takes some getting used to. lol Mother is 95 and all of her church friends have already passed so life can be rather lonely.

  2. Suji Wong says:

    It’s delightful to read about your winter/spring garden in bloom. Absolutely nothing outdoors here in southwestern Ontario & nothing for awhile yet! However spring will come! Love how each season unfolds!
    Cheers,
    Suji

    • Cathy says:

      Yes, there is plenty to anticipate, even in a bare garden. We can always be sure that spring will come again. albeit later in some parts of the world

  3. Pauline says:

    Well, you have been busy, good for you! I’ve given a few talks in my time about the gardening year here and woodcarving. Nerve wracking to start with but you soon get used to it. I admire you for opening for the NGS in February as you are so dependant on the weather, you will certainly have a lot for them to see and smell! I tend to just do private visits in Feb as then they can easily be cancelled if it decides to snow!

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Pauline – I don’t suppose I will be doing much of it, but I would certainly accept if asked again, even though it must not be such an ‘easy ride’ as it was this time! It is a shame to keep the garden to ourselves at this time of year (as in the summer) so we will see how it goes this time. The weather will always remain an unknown

  4. Chloris says:

    I am glad the talk went off well. I always find it nerve wracking but you have stronger nerves than me. I love Spanish Spider, a new one to me. A winter garden opening is a great idea, let’s hope next February will be as wonderful as this one.

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Chloris – it was a good informal one to ‘start’ with, if I was ever asked to do more that is! The Spanish Spider came from Bluebell Arboretum in 2014 as little more than a twig, or double twig, perhaps, but it is the denseness of the flowers as much as its stature that has astonished me this year – absolutely gorgeous!

  5. jenhumm116 says:

    Well done for all of this Cathy – you’re truly rambling forth in many ways! I think rising to a challenge is good for us 😊

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Jen – I wouldn’t have gone out and searched for the opportunity but I have to say it didn’t take much arm twisting. In truth she had sort of asked me earlier in the year for a 2018 talk when she booked a group visit, but she didn’t pursue it and I was happy to let it go. I do agree about the challenge though – although there are some challenges I would not rise to (like rollercoasters and the like!)

  6. Yes, well done! There certainly is more than one way to ramble forth.

  7. AlisonC says:

    I’m sure you’re garden always has something of interest to look at but it’s good to know what you can expect to be flowering. Well done for doing the talk, I’m sure it was interesting and the pictures too. Looking at your clematis made me wonder what had happened to mine then I remembered – it died! I don’t think I put it in a good place.

    • Cathy says:

      Yes, and it’s so easy to think you know when things flowe – and of course they do vary, as hellebores can be a few weeks later than they are this year, for example. I have rather belatedly decided to paint the fence that this clematis is trained against so that should be a fun experience!!

  8. Cathy, I am very happy that the talk was very good and that you want to give more. The idea of opening the garden in February has already had a bus and the reserve for 2020 of the listeners of your talk. You will enjoy visiting your garden with that witch hazel jewel Hamamelis “Spanish Spider” that I love as the Clematis armandii “Snowdrift” and the collection of snowdrops. The Coop is a real wonder with the flowers it has. Good luck for the opening of this year and next year. Good weekend. Greetings from Margarita.

  9. Congratulations on your debut talk. Your enthusiasm will surely have come across to your audience. My husband and I went on a hellebore tour at Alleoods Nurseryin the Midlands yesterday. The guest speaker/expert was a gentleman called Howard Drury. A fount of expert knowledge. Highly recommended!

    • Cathy says:

      Aw, thanks Catherine. I am guessing there was a typo in your comments and it was meant to say ‘Ashwood’ nursery…?;) We have visited the nursery but not for a hellebore tour – I really want to visit John the owner’s garden sometime though. The nursery is the other side of the conurbation from us and is such a trek to get there although it would be worth it of course

  10. Heyjude says:

    It is lovely to walk around the garden and see where there are gaps that can be filled at this time of year. For me the crocus is the star as they seem to last the longest, but you have the most delightful witches in your garden. I would visit just to see those alone! I bought a Clematis armandii a couple of years ago (and it was very expensive) but it died. Probably, like you, I just stuck it in the ground without sufficient preparation, but given how big it grows maybe it is as well it died as it was probably not suited to the location!

    • Cathy says:

      And the crocuses creep up on you if they grown in grass, as some of ours are. Witch hazels may not be cheap to buy, although in fact most of mine started out quite small and were fairly reasonably priced, but the value they bring is worth it in the long run. I suppose that’s true for most perennial plants/shrubs, the thinking ahead (and not planting things in the wrong place like we have done with our C armandii in the past!)

  11. That clematis looks as if it might be planted in a nice warm and cosy corner. The blues in the greenhouse are fabulous Cathy – both plants I don’t know so will have to look them up. The talk sounds as if went down well. Not an easy thing to do but a receptive audience certainly helps 🙂

    • Cathy says:

      The new shady bed gets more sun than I thought it would, when the sun comes between the house and the extension, which I am sure will help. The clematis was only planted in March/April last year and is spreading well – it’s in the corner and has been trained in both directions. Yes they were a friendly group and there was a fair bit of interaction during the talk, which may be why I easily overran

  12. I forgot to say that the ‘Spanish Spider’ looks most floriferous and for once I find myself warming to a spider!

  13. tonytomeo says:

    Opening to visitors is too much work for some of us. My colleague down south uses his home garden to demonstrate particular plants and materials (such as artificial turf). He is a landscape designer though. We just grow the plants that nurseries and landscapers use, so have not need to be open. We just did it because so many wanted to see it, and it really did seem like a waste that there was not one there to enjoy the bloom.

  14. Brian Skeys says:

    Your Hamamelis should look wonderful for your spring opening Cathy. I have given talks to garden clubs etc for some time now, it can be rewarding if not a little nerve racking when the technology plays up.(I show digital slides) I think your way of handing round pictures for a small group is a good low tec idea,

    • Cathy says:

      I had no option but show photographs this time, which took a bit more preparation – but as you say, no risk of technology hitches! Good to hear you are an old pro at garden group talks! The hamamelis are so reliable although this year have had a more spread out season with some having finished and some barely started, This week the snowdrops have just begun to turn, quite suddenly

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