Just to warn you, this is a picture heavy blog post, I wasn’t sure what I would take from it on a personal level, I thought I was just doing a step by step monthly review, I’ve been surprised. Surprised at what I’d forgotten, surprised at how many emotions which I haven’t talked about either here or on social media I’ve been through. Going through pictures for me is often cathartic, I take pictures every day, its almost my way of diarising my life. I hope you enjoy my year in review and tell me your highlights from yours!
The year started clear and cold, the pre Christmas snow had melted and my orchids were putting on a show indoors. Outside I got my first lesson in using a chainsaw, which was amazingly fun!
Halfway through January I popped up to see the wonderful Pat Havers, Head Gardener at Waterperrys. Pat is incredibly generous with her time and as been so supportive of me over the years ive known her. She might not realise it but it was because of her I didn’t give up on my career in Horticulture, she gave me the confidence in myself to carry on at a time that I really needed it. Seeing her is always a joy, her love of the garden she grew up in shines through and spending time with her always recharges my batteries. We walked round the garden at a time id not seen it before, searching for snowdrops, of which there are many! Waterperrys collection takes some beating!
The chill of winter still in the air, February is probably the grimmest of months to me. If there is going to be snow its usually in this month and lets face it last winter brought that in abundance!
However there were bright sunny days!
I managed to give the crab apples a serious prune in the kitchen garden at the start of the month.
It was at this point I realised my poor phones camera had reached the end of its life, the picture quality had gone beyond anything usable and it was so frustrating!
There was also an unexpected complication for our choice of Apple pruning venue! With only days to spare Nick Black and I found ourselves in the position of having a fully booked course and nowhere to hold it, the horror!
Luckily Beryl Randall was able to offer up her allotment and despite the facilities not being as illustrious as our original choice we were very grateful and the course went forward.
From there on in February got busy!
I was very honoured to be invited to stay at Hodsock Priory to see their snowdrops, wonderful garden, woodland and of course the building itself, what a fantastic experience. You can read all about it in the link above.
At work we continued with rose pruning,
I visited my old workplace Hole Park to catch up with friends, see more snowdrops and of course the gardens…
This was swiftly followed by another blast of snow and epically cold temperatures, I was forced to cower in the potting shed and glasshouses doing what I could, cleaning labels, oiling tools etc.
The garden starts to burst into life with the last of the snow finally gone, what a relief! Little were we to know what a topsy turvey year we had in store though.
I planted the Salix on the far side of the pond, its beautiful fuzzy red buds highlighted beautifully with the water as their backdrop.
And a moment of great personal pride as my photo of Tom and Suzi was used in an article in The English Garden magazine on their auricula nursery! I had visited them in the previous year and since then they have come on in leaps and bounds, gaining their certificate from Plant Heritage for the National Collection of doubles and extending their range most recently by over 900 auricula varieties available for sale. If you would like to read more about them here’s the article I wrote on Pop’s plants 2
Meanwhile Philippa had been busy sowing seeds ready for the coming year and the glasshouse was filling up fast.
I love April, it’s the time I finally start feeling my sap rise metaphorically speaking. The days seem filled with birdsong, everywhere you look growth is fresh and verdant. The days are warm enough to shrug off your heavy coat and this year we seemed to avoid the April showers.
I made the annual pilgrimage to Great Dixter to catch up with plant friends and to grab some new auriculas, sadly I was to be disappointed as Barnhaven did not attend this years event but there were plenty of other wonderful nurseries for me to spend my pennies at and as always there was room for cake!
Working in the garden was wonderful as the weather turned sunny and warm, it was easy to forget how only a few weeks previously we had struggled around under layers of clothes. Blossom clothed the apple trees, the hum of bees filled the air and sunlight bathed us fooling us into believing summer had arrived…
With only days to go till our Spring opening for NGS it was all hands on deck, even dad got roped in to do some last minute preparations, which he thoroughly enjoyed! Not to be completely overshadowed by the tulips the auriculas timed their performance beautifully!
The tulips are of course the stars of the show in the spring garden here at Ulting wick, by the start of may and our 2nd opening the garden was a rainbow of colour!
Philippa became a TV star, not for the first time, and was filmed in the old farmyard for Charlie Dimmocks series whilst I hid under the table and tweeted. I wasn’t meant to be hiding but they changed position unexpectedly so I scooted down. Having seen the segment now I can confirm if you look closely my hiding skills need more work… oops!
The rest of the garden was vying with the tulips for attention to, its easy to forget how many beautiful things we have here so its good to look back and remind myself.
I was invited along to Birmingham Botanical Gardens by a friend, who was involved in cataloguing the UKs Rhododendron and Camellias for the RHS a few years back, to assist in identifying some of the Rhodies they have there. The botanical gardens are very familiar to me, having volunteered there for a short while many years ago and it was good to return and see it again and meet the team who I speak to on twitter. Stephen Harding has an amazing memory for Rhodies and is also very keen on Hebes (which im sure I’ll mention again at some point in the coming year) and armed with pen, paper, labels and tape measure we set out into the grove which holds the main collection, most of which are nearly a 100 years old!
Birmingham Botanical Gardens are well worth a visit if you ever get the chance, it has loads of historical plants and the current team members are so enthusiastic, constantly updating the collections they hold.
Closer to home we visited the Plant Fairs Roadshow, a collection of nurseries that visits various locations over the course of the year offering the finest of plants from independent growers, at Layer Marney Tower. The building at Layer Marney is the tallest Tudor tower in the country I believe and certainly rivals Hampton Court yet is relatively unknown! It’s now privately owned by a lovely family who open it for events throughout the year to fund its upkeep and restoration. Having survived the Essex Earthquake intact its well worth a visit! Have a check on its website here for open days.
By the end of May the tulips over for another year preparations for the summer display had commenced, that oddly sad yet happy moment where everything is in flux.
June is often a gentle month, the summers heat gradually climbing but this year the heat had already started down south so it was quite a shock for me as I headed north to see RHS Chatsworth for the first time. The day starting out overcast and pleasantly cool.
I had such a lovely time there, the atmosphere and location were lovely and well worth the journey!
Meanwhile at Ulting wick the Dahlias were flowering, a wonderful crop of gooseberries were ripening and everything had a fresh, luxuriant feel to it.
I had started to clip the box hedges but this was soon to change as the weather began to put demands on us and the plants we could never have predicted! The relentless heat had begun, I called a halt to clipping as the risk of scorch was just too much. Something I have never done before! Scorch is rare and is usually caused by using hedge trimmers rather than sun in the UK but this year was to prove to be different on so many levels!
I also got a call from Phil Johnson to go and see his growing out area for his Sweet Pea seeds, this was a blog post of epic proportions that took a year to complete! You can read about it here if you missed it. Seeing over a 100 varieties of Sweet Pea all together was mindblowing and the scent from the glasshouses was heavenly!
And every day at Ulting Wick the pelargoniums in Philippas collection were treating us with new flowers to admire.
By the beginning of July despite our best efforts everything had started to look a touch… crispy!
As I sat under the shade of the ash tree one breaktime I saw the worlds biggest grass snake scoot across the main lawn from the path bed to the pond, it was amazing and beautiful!
I headed off to RHS Hampton Court and sweltered in the heat, admired the flowers and enjoyed wonderful company once again. Seeing people you know at these shows is half the fun! I enjoyed it so much I was inspired to write 2 blog posts on it, the second here concentrates on the plants.
Despite the heat, at home in Ulting Wick, the tropical display was loving it…. the grass not so much
However, by half way through the month I was beginning to wilt! If you have ever read ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ by CS Lewis there is a description of the dying world Charn where the evil queen comes from. Our beautiful part of Essex was beginning to feel shockingly like this as the sun beat down mercilessly day after day, not even a morning dew to nourish the ground.
I am just a little too young to remember the drought of ’76 clearly but ive never known anything like this before. I was drinking like it was going out of fashion, trying to find what little shade I could and coming home to collapse… thinking of starting the hedges seemed unimaginable!
In July I also popped up to see Cambridge Botanical Gardens, always pleasant.
And had a lovely day with the Thompson & Morgan team at their Floral Fantasia Garden at Hyde Hall
Thankfully Philippa made a very sensible and thoughtful suggestion of starting the hedges as early in the morning as possible which I grabbed with both hands as by 2 in the afternoon it was just too hot to continue cutting! And so began…
I’m not going to go on about the heat again, we were all there, however between hedge cutting and running around with sprinklers I don’t remember much of August. I’m aware it happened, we had an open day! I went visiting friends gardens twice, we won 2nd place in the SE category of Garden News 100 best gardens! The garden looked lovely, I only know this as I took pictures. I literally remember nothing! I was running on auto pilot, the lights were on but no one was home! I can’t ever remember being so absent mentally speaking and its a very odd feeling to look back through the pictures and see what I did but don’t actually remember!
I honestly don’t even remember our August opening, it’s quite an unnerving feeling to look back and realise you entirely lost about 6 weeks of your life so completely. I probably had heatstroke despite taking all the precautions I could.
If the last few weeks of August were spent in a heatstroked daze I think the first week of September was spent in shock. it was bound to happen. I had been getting up at 4, pushing myself and not sleeping as much as I ought, im just lucky it wasn’t more serious I guess but…
I did something STUPID! Really STUPID!!
I decided it would be a great idea to remove a branch that was in the way of the large marquee we were having erected on the main lawn.
I forgot to put my gloves on.
Silky saws are sharp.
It took seconds! Actually not even that long, I knew id done myself good and proper. Worst injury I’ve ever had. This is how I ended August and started September.
I’m not going to show you how badly I did my finger, I terrorised Twitter enough at the time but I will say it shook me to the core how close I came to actually removing my finger entirely! It was just sheer blind luck I didn’t do myself any lasting damage!
Anyway, moving on! I do remember getting a chance to catch up with the wonderful Tom Hart Dyke when he came to my local Hardy Plants society to do a talk. I absolutely adore listening to Tom talk about plants, his enthusiasm is infectious! I was lucky enough to meet him just before I left Sissinghurst and we sat on a ‘Gardeners Question Time’ style panel for the Wealden Times fayre. It was great fun!
Then I did a day trip to GLEE in Birmingham to see what was new and exciting in the world of gardening. By this point I was finally starting to feel more human again.
The Old Farmyard had reached its peak, I often wish there was a way of just extending that perfect moment. That short fleeting second of perfection you have strived for, just to hold it, time stretching out forever, but this is both the pleasure and the pain of gardening. That perfection is fleeting, this makes it all the more precious. Like everything in life the phrase ‘This too shall pass’ is very apt.
All too swiftly the September sun moves on, berries gaining colour and leaves taking on a different hue. There is an imperceptible change to the air, the quality to the light, the sounds in the garden change. I can never say exactly when it happens, it just does and for me it is the end of summer. For once I actually welcomed it this year!
We concentrated on repairing the damage done to the small lawns, each of us taking turns to scarify and rake the thatch out, that was the sad remainder of our grass. It was hard, physical going and looked shabby for a few weeks after admittedly. The seed we put down still needed irrigating as we had, had no real rain to speak of still so September still saw us moving irrigation around in a never ending cycle!
The garden still had lots to offer, autumn was gentle coming in on dancers toes, tempting us to hang on, to wait, to leave things as long as possible but I didn’t trust this year. It had acted so differently to any other year id known as a gardener, I half expected a return to freezing conditions in December!
After giving our lawns time to recover Philippa took the brave decision to re-sow the main lawn. It was decided in September but work started on the 10th Oct. The view of it being turned into a ploughed field was… terrifying, quite frankly, but it needed doing!
And in the second week of October came the sad task of starting to break up the Old Farmyard and stowing our precious plants into their safe places for the winter, moving slowly and methodically!
And at the end of October the bulbs arrived!
Remember, remember the 5th of November
Horses galloped across the plot!
I wish I could convey to you in words alone the confusion, the elation, the terror of having 14 odd horses coming at you full pelt across the lawn. Hearing the tattoo of hoofbeats, feeling it through the bones of your feet. The sound of their snorting breath, the scent of hay and sweat, and to me childhood, the smell of horses that have been running hard.
Heard from a distance it was instantly recognisable but so incongruous in this setting it took a moment to register. Horses, running, fast! I stood up and looked towards the woodland from where we were working on the stream bed to see a group rushing towards the meadow.
Now perhaps it was foolish, when have I ever been anything but, I took a few steps forward thinking they would ignore me and called “steady” in what I hoped was a calm voice, putting my arms in the air. Without a break in their stride, like a flock of birds in flight, they wheeled at the sound of my voice and headed straight towards myself and Rachel!
I stood, waving my arms, calling ‘Steady’ as they headed full pelt straight for us and the newly finished lawn. Inside my head I was thinking all the time ‘horses don’t trample people, they will always avoid a person…. unless they cant’. At the last second I pulled my arms in and turned sideways to make a small a target as possible as they parted and flooded round me. They continued full pelt towards the front of the house as we stood stunned, our mouths agape. Moments later, or at least it felt it, they returned still at full speed!
We had started towards the front of the house to lend assistance to Philippa and Bryan but the horses hadn’t quite finished their race. One decided he didn’t want to follow the herd. Initially he considered the bridge, changed his mind, plunged madly across the stream bed headed straight for the narrow channel. Horror is the only description for the scenario that was about to happen, a full grown horse up to his hocks in a channel too narrow for him and there was absolutely nothing I could’ve done to avert it!
At the last moment he spotted his folly and skidded to a halt, plunged right and still trying to lead a herd that wasn’t following charged down to the meadow before realising he was on his own and panicking, headed back towards the group who had returned to Bryan by the shrub border at the front of the property. Phew!
Joining Philippa and Bryan we helped coral them there so they couldn’t get out onto the main road, eventually the owners came to collect them and we all herded them back a mile over gardens, fields and marshland back to the field they had broken out from.
And that was how November started!
We didn’t start planting the tulips till the very end of November, we waited and waited for a real hard frost. All we had was a mild one but we couldn’t delay any longer! The bonus of not having a hard frost was the grass on the main lawn did germinate. Even the bits used as a gold cup racetrack!
Tulip, tulip, tulip just about covers it for December!
I kid, kinda!
Lots of borders got cut back, mulched, holly tree got pruned and shaped but mostly it was tulips.
Overall my recollections of this year have been of a hard one, both physically and mentally. However, it doesn’t detract from how much I love my job and how much I love working at Ulting Wick.
There are many positive things to take from this year. Our new starter Rachel has turned out to be an absolute diamond! I literally could not have wished for a harder worker, level headed, humorous and generally all round lovely person, well worth waiting for!
We made it, above all else just making it to the end of the year intact, with very few, if any losses to the extremes of temperature plant wise and no human losses. I consider that a success!
So here’s to 2018 *raises metaphorical glass* and as granddad would say…. ‘Heres to those that wish you well, and all the rest can go to hell!’
Happy New Year and happy gardening lovely people