End of Month View: What a Difference a Grey Makes

It was only a reference to EOMV by Jen of Duver Diary that reminded me that February has been and gone and I hadn’t posted an End of Month View! Not that it matters to anybody else but me, but it is a useful record of what the garden is up throughout the year and from one year to the next – this month’s post, therefore, is five days overdue…

Following the route of my usual ramble around the garden, let’s start with the view I see from the kitchen windows – there is a map of the garden under The Garden tab above which will help to guide you if need be. After a few weeks of making a new framework for the fruit cage on the paved area here (the only available space for such a task) the Golfer has completed that and it is looking rather tidier than it has done. You can clearly see the pansies in the pots in the foreground and tulip shoots in the others. Below is the streamside area to the right of the above view and I am sure you will agree that painting the fence dark grey (Cuprinol Shades ‘Urban Slate’) was a good decision, as it really sets off the planting in the shrub border:

I hadn’t originally planned to paint this section (and it involved clambering behind the shrubs which included several prickly roses), just the newer section down the side of the Coop, but having thoughtlessly tried a tester pot on part of the older section I really didn’t have any choice, but I am glad that I did and am thrilled with the result. The photos of the Coop and the semi-shady border beyond show the other sections, which look equally effective. Just inside the door of the Coop you might notice a lemon hanging about – this year I managed to buy a healthy lemon plant from Aldi, last year’s plan having been thwarted by The Beast from the East destroying their stock of citrus plants almost as soon as they went on display. It smells heavenly in there with several narcissi and hyacinth now in bloom

The semi-shady border, created just under 12 months ago, is doing OK but needs more planting. Hellebore ‘Anna’s Red’ against the back fence has been magnificent, and the Clematis armandii was barely more than a stick when it was first planted in the corner.

Turning back and walking down between the streamside grass and shrub border, we have our usual view towards the house from the other end:

As we continue our ramble, we head through the woodland, with primroses clumping up again and new foliage of bluebells and wild garlic appearing thick and fast. Not as obvious are the delicate leaves of Fritillaria meleagris, nor the first shoots of hundreds of wood anemones:

From the bothy at the far end we can look down over the main herbaceous borders and the revamped clematis colonnade with its underplanting of roses, before viewing them from ground level. I am pleased to see that, like the paved area, they are beginning to look much tidier! All the borders and new roses are sporting fresh and healthy new growth, a wonderful sight to see.

We now head through the woodland edge border, the snowdrops having suddenly shrugged their shoulders and decided they had had enough, but the hellebores are doing their bit instead, still at their peak. I have added some small new hellebores over the last couple of weeks, and found two or three more I had forgotten about, hidden (along with some pulmonaria) under mounds of ivy which I have been removing. Once finished clearing ivy, I will give the whole border a good feed.

The three bold borders are coming into life but with flowering still some time off, other than some species tulips which should be with us in a month or so. I worked hard on these borders in late summer last year, trying to bulk up the planting, so look forward to seeing how successful I have been – they certainly don’t look much at the moment:

Popping through the gate for a quick look at the working greenhouse, you might find that it is pretty full already, with ‘Winter Sunshine’ sweet peas planted in the bed on the right, pots of cuttings and potted up dahlia tubers on the staging on the left, and lots of seedlings in the section at the bottom end. Once I am confident that we have seen the last of the frost, I shall move the cuttings outside to make room for the exponentially growing trays of seedlings.

It is not easy to photograph the blue and white border because it is in two different sections, one of which is curved, so I have taken photos from two different positions this time. Like the other borders they are full of luxuriant new growth, reminding us how quickly some plants clump up again each year – aquilegia, aconitum and geranium are particularly good at this. And of course allium bulbs are always in a hurry at this time of year too.

Pressing myself against the fence I could nearly get all the rose garden into this photograph, both the original rose beds and the new terraced ones either side of the bus shelter.

Passing through the colonnade and past the main herbaceous beds we retrace our steps past the woodland towards the house and reach the snowdrop border. Like the native snowdrops these ‘specials’ suddenly declined to shine any longer, not helped by some exceptionally warm February days, but there are still a handful of later varieties bringing pleasure – and some lovely hellebores in the same border which can be enjoyed from the kitchen windows as well as in passing. Witch hazel Hamamelis ‘Strawberries and Cream’ is in the far right of the border, just visible in the right of the picture.

So that’s it for February, a time of speedy transition on the cusp of spring. Keeping a monthly pictorial record is a useful tool and I often refer back to it for all sorts of reasons; at this time of year, however, others may not find it especially interesting. Helen the Patient Gardener intermittently hosts the EOMV meme so you may find links to other EOMV posts on her blog

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Posted in End of Month View, Gardening, Gardens | 29 Comments

Ina Vase on Monday: Strawberries and Cream on a Sunny Day, a Gentle Breeze Blowing

My, how my mind flitted as I pondered what to put in my vase this week! Should I, for the first time this year, cut a bunch of hellebores as they really are at their best now and Alison of A Blog About Compost has given me a different tip (making a slit in the stem with a scalpel) on how to extend their vase life which an experiment has shown to be moderately successful? Or should I cut some of the teeny-tinies that are just coming into bloom, like violets and Anemone blanda? As is often the case, it was a spur of the moment decision following a flash of inspiration that brought us to this lengthily-titled vase today.

Strawberries and Cream is one of my newer and pricier witch hazel additions, and although in flower last year was neither especially impressive nor very different – in fact, a little (quietly) disappointing. This year, however, she has made up for it and is resplendent in her creamy pale yellow blooms with their red core, vaguely resembling strawberries and cream if you have a good imagination. Joining the single twig are three stems of scented Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ (big golden sun), from The Coop, and dangly catkins of twisted hazel Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ which shiver with the slightest air movement. The stems are held in place in the sky blue dish with a metal frog, discreetly hidden with moss plucked from a wall outside the back door.

For those expecting something a little different, the title is a bit of a misnomer as there are no real strawberries, (writing this on Sunday) it is a grey and damp and mizzly day and Storm Freya is threatening mighty gusts rather than gentle breezes. Even the delightfully handpainted miniature teaset serving as a prop for this cream tea will sadly not be serving up miniature cups of tea…in fact, this vase is a total fraud!

I am sure none of you will have a fraudulent vase to share today but whatever form your vase does take please do share it with us by leaving the usual links to and from this post.

Posted in Gardening, Gardens, In a Vase on Monday | Tagged , , , , , | 48 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: Heavenly Harvington Hellebores

Posted in Gardens, Spring, Wordless Wednesday | Tagged | 16 Comments

In a Vase on Monday: It Had to be You

It had to be you, it had to be you
I wandered around and finally found, that somebody who…

I didn’t need to wander around to choose the blooms for today’s vase because as soon as the first one opened on Thursday, encouraged by those lovely sunny February days we have been having, I knew that it just had to be them. Surprisingly, these Tête-à-Tête narcissi were not the first of the cheery daffs to open, beaten by a whisker by some random full size daffodils that came to me in a pot as a Mothers’ Day gift some years ago before being planted out in the garden.

I had forgotten just how petite these perky little beauties are and must have downsized through about six different receptacles before I found something small enough to suit them, a simple stoneware inkwell. I will readily admit that I am not a huge fan of yellow daffodils, but am not immune to the instant effect that these have when they come into bloom – not just on the garden but in the hearts of those who see them, a sure sign that spring is coming. For that reason they appear on their own, just as they are and with no bells and whistles.

There are certainly no bells and whistles as far as the Golfer and I are concerned, we are what we are, like the proverbial Chalk and Cheese. We may seem an unlikely couple to some but nevertheless we make a good team, achieving more together than we would do apart and tolerating each other’s very different interests, like Golf and Gardens. I don’t show personal faces on this blog, but it seemed appropriate to include this small homage as my prop for today…the Golfer won’t know as he never reads the blog!*

* but he does of course see the vase (and the prop)!

Posted in bulbs, corms and tubers, Gardening, Gardens, In a Vase on Monday | Tagged , | 75 Comments

Snowdrops and Carrots

Realising after our Ireland visit year just how little we had used the campervan as a campervan last year, we decided to aim for at least a one night away most months. Over the winter that just didn’t happen, not because of the weather but because Life got in the way as it has a habit of doing. Even trying to find two ’empty’ days together is difficult at times, but we found a gap at the end of January and booked a campsite just outside Cambridge. As rumours of snow began circulating I kept an eye on the weather forecast and when heavy snow was forecast here on the day of our departure reluctantly cancelling became the sensible option. As it happened it didn’t snow here at all but it did in Cambridge and beyond, so it was a wise move.

Fortunately we were able to rebook about a fortnight later and headed off with an almost exclusively garden related itinerary (the Golfer is very amenable). Our first stop was Anglesey Abbey, and those of you have been there yourself will recognise those iconic birches shown above. Last time we went they had just planted a copse of new birches, in anticipation of the future demise of these beauties which have an expected life of about 25 years. We arrived early, soon after opening, but the place was already heaving and the car park was almost full – a combination of sunshine, Sunday, half term and, of course, snowdrops! Surprisingly neither the gardens nor the house seemed crowded once we were on site, but cars were queuing to get in when we left later in the day so it was as well we got there when we did.

Anglesey Abbey is a Jacobean-style house with gardens and a working watermill, owned by the National Trust, but it is famed for its winter gardens and especially its snowdrops. Galanthus ‘Anglesey Abbey’ is just one of many snowdrops that originated here, a beautiful often all-white poculiform variety, where both inner and outer perianth segments tend to be of equal length.

There are more than 300 different varieties of snowdrops here, but most of the named varieties can only be seen on a specialist guided tour as, sadly, it would be too risky to allow the general public loose amongst them. These tours are only available on weekdays so we had to content ourselves with the rest of the winter garden and the snowdrops on general view. With a mild and extraordinarily sunny day it was a most pleasurable experience to wander round the gardens, admiring the swathes of snowdrops and exclaiming over the winter shrubs.

I was amused by this tactful and prominent sign which accompanied all the Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ shrubs within the garden:

With its glorious scent and usually eyewatering price tag, the National Trust has clearly suffered from plant theft as thoughtless visitors try to bag themselves a bargain by snipping or breaking off Jacqueline’s limbs; hopefully potential thieves will now take note and not waste their time attempting to propagate it from cuttings.

Jacqueline’s fragrance was just one of many that assailed our senses, with various viburnum, sarcococca and daphne and Chimonanthus praecox adding to the olfactory cacophany, with foliage highlights of cornus and salix and evergreen grasses and the delicate colours of hellebores and striking ghostly white rubus punctuating the white of the snowdrops. All very lovely.

The Abbey was on the north side of Cambridge and headed south of the city after lunch to the Cambridge Botanical Gardens, also famed for its winter gardens. The pleasure here was more spread out, with swathes of grass between the different parts, as one would expect. What struck me here, even more so perhaps than at Anglesey Abbey, was how inclusive it was, with visitors of all ages, nationalities and abilities; many no doubt with no real interest in plants but enjoying the February sunshine and the relative peace away from the bustling city. People were here for picnics, relaxing, meeting friends and family, all within this calm oasis; even children playing and running and hiding did not detract from the mellowness. Perhaps even a half-conscious awareness of being surrounded by plants might have a lasting effect on the wellbeing of every visitor…

The winter garden contained many of the plants seen at Anglesey, but by concentring them in one area the effect was more marked. I was especially impressed with the combination of a very shapely Hamamalis ‘Jelena’, underplanted with the winter aconite eranthis and glowing leaves of libertia in the foreground. The witch hazel had finished flowering but one could easily visualise the whole montage glowing like hot coals, especially when the sun was shining as it was when we visited:

I was intrigued by the sign which gave visitors weather information, especially to learn that the ground temperature was only 1.7°C…food for thought. I do think, though, that the decimal point in the annual rainfall figuremust be in the wrong place!

A visit to the glasshouses was a must, and I enjoyed the immersive nature of many of the tropical zones:

I also took a lot of photos in the alpine house, picking up ideas for what might grow well in the Coop. I was especially intrigued by mounded plants of saxifraga which I don’t seem to have taken any photos of.

Worn out, we retired to our campsite for the rest of the day and had a good night’s sleep in preparation for the next exciting leg of our journey: visiting good blogging friend Chloris, about an hour’s journey further on in Suffolk.

I have visited Chloris before and after a further 4 years of online blogging acquaintance know each other even better, and I was SO excited to be meeting up again. For anyone who has never met any of their blogging friends in person I can highly recommend it, so do take advantage of any opportunity you get to do so. I think I must have met about 15+ blogging friends over the years and each time we have chatted amicably as if we have known each other for years, which of course in most cases we have, albeit online.

As well as meeting Chloris and Mr Chloris The Pianist again, it was a delight to see not only her very own winter garden, brimming with seasonal goodies, but aso to see for real all the changes she has wrought since we last visited. I did take a few photos of them in their winter guise (the changes, not Chloris and The Pianist) but she would not thank me for sharing them! Even in their seasonal decay (again, the changes..), it was still pleasing to see the scale and structure – especially her astonishing Exotic Garden, which I would love to see in its full glory in September. The vision required for its creation is to be greatly admired…

I can’t even show you a photo of her chocabloc greenhouse, crammed to the gunwales with winter colour, as that would spoil the post she has promised to write – so that’s that then…garden admired and enthused over, snowdrops swapped, yummy carrot cake eaten (yes, snowdrops and carrots), lots of pleasantries and information exchanged, it was time for a parting of the ways, one half to a literary afternoon, another to a four and a half hour journey to a more familiar garden. What a lot one can cram into a night away, and we saved the best till last…thank you Chloris and The Pianist.

Posted in garden blogs, garden structure, Gardening, Gardens, greenhouse, Visiting gardens & days out, Winter | 19 Comments

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!

Posted in bulbs, corms and tubers, Gardening, Gardens, greenhouse, open gardens | Tagged , , , , | 31 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: Hocus Crocus

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