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!