Hi everyone, its been ages since I posted! Apologies for that, since January of this year life has felt relentless and I just haven’t had the energy to write. I have tried, I have 3 unfinished posts in my drafts which I may or may not come back to at some point but I figured if I wasn’t finding it fun to write others may not find it fun to read!
So whats been happening at work? Those of you who follow Team Ulting Wicks twitter accounts of Phillipa, Rachel and Myself will perhaps be up to date on some of the more momentous things that have occurred but lets think back to January when we were still fully into the pruning and the tulips hadn’t even showed their faces!
Floral fantasia at RHS Hyde Hall with Thompson and Morgan
Set in the old vegetable garden T&M have created a wonderfully colourful display of some of their bedding plants available from seed and plug plants
Heres just a few of them on show!
Imagine an entire garden just dedicated to bedding plants, a riot of colour and scent! Literally every way you turn there is an extravaganza of shapes and forms, they tumble from towers, explode from baskets, scramble up spires, drip from containers and carpet the beds.
Well imagine no more! You can see this vision for real at RHS Hyde Hall from the 4th June to 30th September. Thompson & Morgan have created a breathtaking display using every available bedding plant you can think of and some you’ve possibly never heard of.
Its rare these days to see displays of this magnitude. Growing up I remember public spaces, such as parks, would often have such bedding schemes that were incredibly complicated. The skill, the time and the effort that would be put into designing and growing the plants for this are phenomenal. Sadly for this reason most public spaces are given over to low maintenance programmes now and if I’m honest I miss this. Yes, it can be garish and overstated. Yes, they are loud, cheerful and brightly coloured… but honestly, is that really so bad?
No, its not chic, its not thought of in polite gardening circles as stylish or understated. For me that is the joy of it though. Its fairgrounds and seaside, its sheer vivacity is uplifting! Its joyful, it shouts, its summer and ice creams and maybe its time we had more of this in our life?
Ok, maybe you don’t have to fill your garden with every colour or variety imaginable, you could just choose one or two of these gems to bedazzle your friends and neighbours. Often less is more but there is a return in interest to some of the more old fashioned flowers in the gardens around the country. Take the meteoric rise in Dahlias popularity in the last few years.
I’d like to share Some of the plants that caught my eye as I wandered round and hopefully you will see something that inspires you but Id really recommend visiting yourself as this is just a fraction of whats there.
Osteospermum ‘Blue eyed beauty’
I adore Osteospermums, they just keep going! They don’t mind drought conditions which means less watering, and come in almost every colour. My very first was a variety called ‘Whirligig’ which had an odd mutant petal shape. This one has the most glorious colour combination of a butter yellow and a deep amethyst centre with just a hint of orange on the anthers, very Christopher Lloyd!
Osteospermum ‘Berry white’
This Osteospermum is so new on the market its still protected by trademark! Part of a new range of double Osteospermums which cope well in low light conditions and unlike its single flowered relations the flowers stay open at nightfall. Its petals have a gentle magenta flush and the centre is a deep raspberry.
Calceolaria ‘calynopsis series- Orange’
For sheer oddness and prolific flowering the award has to go to the recently introduced Calynopsis series. As a child I chose a Calceolaria as ‘my plant’ and I still remember it fondly. It lasted, despite my irregular ministrations and possible abuse for what seemed like forever. My mum called it a ‘poor mans orchid’ but they go by many common names, most often slipper or pouch flower. She would carefully deadhead it on my behalf and I suspect its success was down to her care more than mine. Seeing this plant brought back many happy memories. I’ve always thought they look a bit like cheerful muppet faces but regardless of all these associations there’s no denying their impact!
Grown from seed they are a biennial but the Calynopsis series are currently only available as plug plants.
Celosia argentea ‘Kelos Fire Purple’
Another great new introduction, this member of the Amaranth family would normally be very dependent on day length to trigger flowering but extensive breeding has made this particular variety day length neutral, reaching up to 14 inches tall they make a real statement either in pots or in the border. Attractive foliage with feather like plumes held erect in great numbers, whats not to love!
Ageratum ‘High tide’
Ageratum is one of the first bedding plants I sowed and grew for myself, at the time it wasn’t often seen, the heyday of its popularity had been as a summer carpet bedding plant. Breeding has given us a taller more floriferous plant which can in fact be used as a cut flower! Much taller than its predecessor it holds up well as a border plant rather than just a bedder.
Thompson and Morgan are also putting a lot of time and effort into breeding new plants and I felt very honoured to be shown some of their new introductions both in bedding plants and vegetables!
Alstromerias have seen a massive rise in popularity and not only have they bred an extra tall variety which can hold up to the British winter but they’ve also got a new one they’ll be releasing for sale which can grow and flower to 3ft from seed in one season!
Also Begonia fragrant falls series
And last but by no means least! ‘Sunbelievable’ a sunflower with good sized heads that can produce over a 1000 blooms over a summer!! And the bees absolutely love it!
So if youre looking for this summers ‘must haves’ in bedding plants head over to RHS Hyde Hall for your inspiration!
Every season brings me a reminder of a plant that gives me amazing joy, late winter its Snowdrops but come early spring I’m all about the Auriculas!
I know I’ve covered this subject in depth before regarding the history and the show rules so I wont go back over old ground. I even had the most amazing chance to talk to the new owners of Pops Plants late last year, holders of the National collection of double Auriculas. You may have seen a feature on them in The English Garden magazine this April.
Today though I was all about Woottens, I’ve been promising myself a visit to their new base in the romantically named Iris fields, the nursery itself has had a fascinating history for what is a relatively young name in Horticulture. Before going I’d had the pleasure of reading Barbara Segall’s interview with its owners, I highly recommend reading it Barbara has a wonderful way of connecting with people and bringing them to life with her words, you can find her work here. It’s also worth noting it includes a full description of their open days and some beautiful pictures of the Iris fields in bloom… The Garden Post
Id also been one of a million people who had lurked around their stall at Hyde Hall’s plant fair last Saturday. I’m not sure dad had the same enthusiasm for the 4 exquisite little gems I came away clutching but gave me that wonderfully patient and slightly bemused look he gives me when I get a bit overexcited at a tiny plant. Given their stall had already been raided by discerning plant lovers already I was all the more determined to see the full glory of their collection… I was not to be disappointed!
I woke up late, for me, on Saturday. Phil cat had already attempted to tell me it was well past breakfast time and what kind of a human servant did I think I was! He managed to get me to look at him blurrily for about 30 seconds, get one stroke on the head and I was back out cold for another half an hour! In my defence we have had an exciting week with near on 2000 visitors through the door with NGS openings and private groups and Friday had been so cold in comparison to the previous days. I eventually struggled out of bed around 8ish, lurched round the house like a zombie with Phil shouting about food and being let out. Nursing a super strong coffee I pondered on the weather… it was vile… grey and mizzley (neither mist nor drizzle but a bit of both) I figured I would just have to make the best of it so eventually got myself moving.
However as I drove along the Essex lanes heading towards Colchester my spirits rose, the stong honey scent of the fields of oilseed rape in full bloom and its undeniable cheerful, zesty colour were turning a veritable spotlight on in my head. Suddenly the mizzle didn’t seem so gloomy and I was glad I’d ignored my grumpiness and forced myself out.
East Anglia is an area of England I’m still learning about, I have a very vague grasp of where things are. I know the Norfolk broads a bit, Ipswich too, from my childhood but I certainly can’t say I know a great deal about it so this really was an adventure. Suffolk as a county is pretty much an unknown quantity to me, my mental map has fanciful creatures and the legend “Here be Dragons!” emblazoned across it. On the map Whenhaston doesn’t look that far but driving there felt like it took longer as the A12/A14 wended its way alternately from wide dual carriageways flanked by brutalist architecture of the BT offices back to tiny hamlets with quaint thatched cottages and signs for “Table top sale held today”. I also passed tempting brown signs promising historic mills, market towns, various gardens and most oddly (I thought) a swimming pool!
The journey however did give my brain time to unwind, seeing the lush fresh growth of the trees and hedgerows was pleasant even despite the grey weather. Eventually though my sat nav warned me I needed the next turning and suddenly I found myself on a single track lane which wended its way between high hedges, left onto a very slightly wider lane then in a blink a large set of metal gates with a sign announcing Woottens. I was here!
I parked up, faffed around changing shoes, slurping coffee and grabbed my camera then followed the signs which directed me towards 3 large polytunnels, past a line of young fruit trees. Ahead of me I could see business was already thriving. People were leaving clutching their treasures and more were arriving behind me!
The first structure you reach had obviously taken some damage in the winter storms, I was later to learn this was where the Auriculas had been housed over the winter!
How heartbreaking this must have been I can only imagine but on first impression you would never know as the main body of the stock plants had been saved and held safely alongside the Pelargonium collection next door… and what a collection!
The plants in the tunnels though are not for sale, very sensibly, 7 plants of each variety are kept aside as “mother stock”. Each year after flowering auriculas produce offsets around their base. These “pups” are gently teased away from the mother plant with a small amount of root attached and then very carefully potted on. 6 months later it will have developed a reliable root system of its own and be ready for sale. The main reason for propagating vegetatively is it keeps the variety true, the pups are clones of the mother, absolutely identical in every way.
Auriculas can be grown from seed of course and if you don’t really care about being able to show and give them a name, only plants that have won a first at an official auricula show can be named, you can come up with some absolutely amazing results!
I admit im a bit of a purist when it comes to auriculas but I have succumbed to at least 2 of Woottens unofficially named plants just purely because I loved their colouration so much!
These would never make it to show standard mainly as they are Pin eyed (where the stamen, looks like a pin head, is clearly visible above the anthers) but they can be used as a valuable gene pool for breeding. After all breeder Ray Downard raised Arundel stripe from a pin–eyed seedling and ‘Rajah’ cross.
I was particularly after some more Self’s on this visit so headed down to where the sale benches were set out beside the cutest little red summer house matched at the far end by a red marquee.
There were nearly 2 benches of doubles, half of alpines, one of borders and the other of stripes and fancies. I gravitated straight to the stripes and spotted one that both myself and Philippa had liked when we’d seen it posted on Twitter earlier in the week. Called ‘Warpaint’ its the most gorgeous dusty red with delicate yellow thin stripes and a white farina center.
She was swiftly joined by ‘Violet surprise’ a yellow throated variety with a distinct farina collar, beautifully bold distinct stripes in cream and violet.
Then ‘Regency emperor’ a pale yellow narrow throat with a white background streaked amethyst purple and lemon yellow.
One more in the lilac shades ‘Orwell tiger’ such a delicate tiny flower but held in profusion above a sturdy looking plant. Hints of pale yellow ring its white collar whilst the stripes hold a tint of raspberry.
Next I moved onto the gold centered Alpines the vibrant colours of this class really catch my magpie eye. Shaded from dark to light they really are a show stopper.
This one is ‘Cuddles’ which brings to my mind that puppet from the 80’s, if you’re old enough to remember that? A ridiculous orange orangutan animated by Keith Harris… I wonder if that’s what the breeder had in mind when naming it? She has far more class than the puppet though but is equally as cheeky!
Next up is ‘Sirbol’ such a cheerful colour she shone in the overcast conditions, hints of deep rose overlay a dusky orange that fades to yellow at the far edges.
The last of my gold centered alpines, but certainly not least, is ‘Pixie’ a fine name for this ethereal beauty. A romantic rose-pink with hints of raspberry fading to dusky at the edges. The gold center is wonderfully pinked at its edges
Whilst choosing these beauties I was chatting to fellow enthusiasts, comparing my basket to theirs and vice versa. One lovely chap was looking for a particular variety which he said was his first love, something I myself can really relate to, my firsts were a double called ‘Sibsey’ and a white centered alpine ‘Kevin Keegan’. Even after a ridiculous number of years I can still vividly remember the joy these gave me. I kept ‘Sibsey’ for many years, almost 20 I think but lost her in a terrible mowing accident along with all my others. I am delighted to report she is now back in the collection and about to flower thanks to Tom and Suzi of Pops Plants… I digress!
I couldn’t see many if any self’s on the benches so I asked about their whereabouts, this is when I learned the terrible tale of the polytunnel disaster! Of all the collection the self’s had taken the worst of the battering. I can’t imagine how devastating this must have felt, to lose hundreds of your babies in one fell swoop to the vagaries of a cruel winter… but very generously I was allowed to view the survivors in the small A&E tunnels off to one side. Some of the stock plants numbers had been decimated to just one or 2.
I did however spot one or 2 to put on our “must have” list!
‘Bright ginger’ will be a very welcome addition when stock levels have risen sufficiently for her to go back on sale, light levels in the tunnel made it difficult to capture her true colour but as the name suggests she is the most gorgeous shade of ginger with a pure white collar.
Another was ‘Golden fleece’ another aptly named variety. These will join ‘Lucy Lockett’ and ‘Morello’ amongst our Self’s.
Below are some of our beauties that are already in flower at Ulting Wick, taking pictures on wet, windy days is difficult so I apologise for the quality of some of the pics but it gives you an idea.
Dont forget to check out Wootens website as they have a few Open days throughout the year worth going to, most notably their Pelargoniums which are a collection of choice, rare and species pellies and their Iris day coming up soon! Imagine a massive field full of beautiful bearded Iris all in flower, gorgeous heritage varieties. It’s an amazing sight to behold and I will most certainly be going back to see it!
Its hard to believe its been a year since I saw Ulting Wick in the flesh for the first time, having admired it in many garden publications in the past. I came to view it not just because its an excellent garden but also to see how I would feel about taking on the job as Head Gardener so I came with my professional head on to assess how I would fit in. I fell in love with it. Over the last year Ive seen it grow and change in an amazing way. My initial viewing seems so long ago now!
After what has been its safe to say, and has been much discussed, one of the hardest winters we have experienced in a long time and one of the slowest springs its fingers crossed for a more average April. Everything is still running at least 2 weeks behind as I write this but the sun is shining outside and I’m feeling hopeful.
The last 2 weeks it feels like it hasn’t stopped raining, I’m sure it has, in fact I know it has as shortly after the bank holiday I managed to get out of the house for a short walk. The wind was cold but the sky was blue, I however was pathetically weak. You see at the start of the bank holiday weekend I started to develop septicemia, thankfully I recognised the symptoms. I think this is my fourth bout? It’s easy to overlook, in my case it manifests much like the onset of a flu or a bad cold but it’s subtely different. It’s certainly one which needs dealing with quickly and I was lucky enough to get through to an out of hours doctor… anyway! I got my antibiotics, 2 sets, which I finished yesterday and I’ve been back to work all week… albeit in a much limited sense but my enforced week off had given the garden a chance to leap into action!
I last wrote about Ulting wick just before the beast hit, it feels like that was ages ago! In fact it feels like its been cold since forever but we carried on hammering through the various jobs on our list in the vague hope that spring would soon be on us.
In late January I headed up to Waterperry to see the wonderful Pat Havers, Head Gardener and hero of mine. She was kind enough to indulge my love of Snowdrops and give me a tour of some of Waterperrys extensive collection. I also picked up some bare roots fruit trees, Apples for the fruit pruning course I had coming up and Pears … I ended up getting the wrong ones like a numpty but more on that later!
Nick Black who ran the Fruit pruning course with me also gave me my first lesson in using a chainsaw. At present I don’t hold my ticket so can’t use one as a paid employee but it could be an incredible asset to a gardener to be trained and qualified so im looking into getting myself the proper certification.
Wendy’s gold was one of the first special snowdrops to show her face, despite the horrendous weather she showed up in mid January
Another grim job but well worth doing was cleaning and weeding the paths, this involves many hours with a path weeding knife groveling on the floor. Our brick paths and surrounding borders are way too delicate to be jet washed so this is the best method, even if a horrible one
Above is the before, below the after!
February, for me, was a good month in retrospect.
The malus trees got pruned, this is done in exactly the same way as you would an apple tree. The reason for doing this is to keep them loaded with blossom and fruit every year, otherwise they will have a tendency to go biennial. Fruiting heavily one year and not the next.
Despite being bitterly cold as you’d expect for February it stayed relatively dry and allowed us to carry on working. I also had a few treats!
I popped down to one of my old workplaces in Kent, Hole Park, partly to see friends and the beautiful garden which is expertly maintained by my old Head Gardener Quentin Stark and his team and partly to see the first Plant fairs Roadshow of the year.
Although Hole park is famous for its bluebells I can highly recommend a visit pretty much any time of the year and if you love snowdrops you wont be disappointed!
I also decided that I had, had my shoddy phone camera up to the back teeth (im pretty sure so had everyone else) since I dropped it in the pond this time last year it had never been quite the same and had in recent months been getting worse and worse. Id come to terms with the fact no amount of filters would make up for it and carrying round the Nikon just wasnt practical, so new phone it was!
I’m still a bit impressed by it!
Anyway, once id had my jollys at hodsock priory and been prevented from joining the Garden Press event by ANOTHER dose of snow it was back to the garden!
Mainly rose pruning, we started on ‘Breath of life’ and truth be told Philippa stormed through most of them without me. I didn’t duck out entirely… honest! I think in reality though I only got involved in about 6 though.
At the end of Feb I managed to get Salix ‘Mount Aso’ planted, the ground was like dairylea! It looks amazing reflected in the water and in the coming years it will only get better.
It feels like the end of Feb was the last time we had a serious dry spell, I took a bit of time to clean and rearrange the conservatory out in readiness for the Dahlia tubers. they’ve been stored in the barns throughout the winter, now growing strongly in the heat and light, there may even be a select few available on our plant stall on our open days!
Whilst moving everything around I caught this Aeonium leaf in the rain, it was so beautiful I had to share it with you
March started like a lion! Another dump of snow seemed destined to bury us, my heart sank. By now I was so sick of the cold I can’t even tell you! It didn’t last long but when it left us everything was soggy! Just soggy! Low light levels and still cold, everything sat and sulked… including me. Frustration abounded, it felt like all plans were continually scuppered.
I had a much welcome visitor though! Ben Jones (@thehortdoctor) came to work and together we tackled the Ballerina bed. His enthusiasm is infectious it’s hard not to have a smile on your face when he’s around and he was an absolute machine, we weeded, dug and replanted the border in record time. leaving me feeling buoyant and positive for the coming month!
In the glasshouses plants were waking up, this fuchsia, a particularly welcome sight and a myriad hyacinths in the border…
A short break from the rain meant I could set up the wires, finally, for our new espaliers! I’m hoping these trees will be a feature for many years to come so getting the structure right to support and train them is incredibly important. We have 2 new pears and an apple to grow on the outside of the swimming pool wall. Im hoping that in coming years they will time their blossom perfectly for our open days in spring, giving our visitors a wonderful display as they drive in and in the autumn provide us with gorgeous fruit. I’m trying out a new method, to me, of espaliering in the round rather than the traditional flat arms. I’ve seen it done with pears before and the seem to take to it incredibly well.
Some more lovely Muscari added to the colour that was starting to fill the garden…
and Philippa has been sowing like crazy, the glasshouses starting to fill up. This of course means we start shuffling plants around on almost a daily basis, the great plant jenga game has begun!
So we reached the end of March, the clocks had changed and gradually the light levels improved, despite the rains seemingly endless supply we did get the odd sunny moment.
As March drifted into April I sadly took ill, squandering not only my bank holiday weekend in patheticness (I’ve decided this is a real word) but also the following sunny week! My guilt at not being fit combined with my very real inability to do more than walk from the bed to the bathroom and back again made me feel worse. I hate being ill, im the worst patient in the world! Anyway by the next weekend I had started to feel well enough to drive and ventured down to Great Dixter for its spring fair. In retrospect I was a bit ambitious as I spent most of my time sat down either eating cake and chatting or pestering Graeme from Plantbase Nursery for his chair. After a few hours I gave up and came home but it was lovely to see familiar faces and meet a few in real life for the first time, have a chat with real people and buy a few more Auriculas!
The first Auricula has also opened at Ulting Wick! This is a new unamed seedling from Pops Plants which I’m growing on for them. She wont get a name till she’s won on the show bench and as its her first year she still has a while before she settles into her true form but early signs are she could well be succesful… either way I love her delicate colour.
Coming back to work after a week had given so many lovely things a chance to poke their heads up, there was still a few challenges regarding squishy lawns and beds but work on planting out the veg garden could continue apace… I say apace I appeared to have only one gear and that was ultra slow! By Tuesday afternoon I was utterly wiped and it must’ve showed, Philippa took one look at me and told me to come in late on Wednesday for which I will be eternally grateful!
I did however improve over the course of the week!
With the kitchen garden coming on nicely a quick look round the garden shows us that so many lovely things will be in store for you if you come and see us on our opening days this month!
Looking at the weather for the next week with temperatures rising consistently im feeling more confident that the 10,000 tulips we planted over the autumn and winter will catch up quickly with the already magnificent display of wallflowers and we already have some early arrivals!
If you are free next Sunday 22nd we’d love you to come and see us, Philippa has baked an amazing amount of cakes (trust me her baking is sublime) and the tulips are going to be incredible! Another amazing reason to join us is we have a very special guest, Barbara Segall will join us to sign copies of her wonderful book ‘The Secret Gardens of East Anglia’ which of course feature the beautiful pictures of the late Marcus Harper
For all the details check in with the NGS website for this and further openings
One fine day in May I set off for a truly wonderful set of NGS gardens I hadn’t seen in about 2 years. I last visited when I lived relatively locally and I remember the day was freezing. It was the 31st May but I had a coat & jumper on, so different to this visit!
This time I was in shorts and it was still too hot, I say too hot, I’m lying, there’s no such thing! I did worry that the heat would have sent the Irises I remembered so fondly over though, I needn’t have worried…. I’m getting ahead of myself though!
I met Philip Oostenbrink just before he took over as Canterbury’s Head Gardener, he has an incredibly dry wit and an easy smile. His love of plants shines through and working at Canterbury has allowed that passion to grow, his love of the Cathedrals grounds and the team he’s built up is easy to see. So I was keen to not only catch up and have a natter but also to see how the gardens had grown in the intervening 2 years.
We met just before his talk and he’s a mine of information now on the grounds history, of which there’s a lot!
One of the things I found interesting was the challenge of removing the Ivy from the stonemasonry around the grounds. It’s not just a case of pulling it from the walls as it can do so much damage to the old flintknapped buildings, pulling the mortar out from between stones, the work has to be scheduled to fit with the Cathedrals stonemasons… imagine gardening in that way!
Also it has been recently recognised there are some very special magnolia trees within the grounds. Bred by a now long gone local nursery its hoped the cathedrals collection can be studied more by the Magnolia society.
The Cathedral hold in its library one of the original prints of ‘Geralds Herbal’, those of you who have read some of my older blog posts will have head me talk about this amazing and sometimes hilarious book. Written in 1597 it has some very curious ideas about plants and often refers to the ‘Doctrine of signatures’. This was a method of divining what uses the plants had medically, it was thought a clue would be left by God somewhere in its makeup. Hence Spleenwort which resembles a spleen (if you have a good imagination) is used to cleanse the spleen. The wort part of the name signifies its beneficial. If you come across the word bane however avoid it as it is harmful. Hence wolfsbane (bad for wolves) and hensbane (bad for chickens). You can book an appointment to view this amazing book with the Cathedrals library!
The reason I mention this though is with relevance to the Cathedrals relatively new addition of a medieval style herb garden. Located where the monks dormitories once stood until a 2nd WW bomb flattened all but a few column bases and very near where the infirmary would have been. It has a snazzy little smart app where you can hold your phone near the label and view a page from the Herbal! I have absolutely no clue how this works so I suggest finding a small child and asking them!
After the talk I headed straight across to the plant stall, of course! I know Phillip has a love of unusual plants and was hoping to find something exotic. His staff didnt fail me, I was tipped off that the herb stall had a few coffee plants (possibly Coffea canephora?) and tea plants (Camellia sinensis) for sale so I hotfooted it over there before they sold out! By this time the gardens were well populated and the various stalls were doing a brisk trade My avarice satisfied I then returned to the gardens, with the plants snuggled in my camera bag, to No1 on the list, which confusingly is named No15!
There are 2 sections effectively to this garden a beautiful, quaint highly terraced backyard full of colour and very much on a domestic scale. Then through a lovely rose arbour into the main part of the garden.
The front of the house is festooned by a gorgeous climbing rose, pure white & highly scented. Absolutely covered in blooms!
Stretching away from the house and terraced up to the city walls is a fabulous herbaceous border with hidden paths. I loved this border on my first visit and it did not disappoint!
Next on the tour is the Memorial garden, a place of quiet contemplation which I think is open to the public at all times. at the furthest point to the entrance gate is a small doorway, down here you can find the entrance to the Deacons walk. Now gated and somewhat unused there is an attractive sprinkling of wildflowers giving it a secretive and wild feel.
The friends garden just outside the memorial garden is a lovely little space edged with borders containing a lovely array of plants, I was very taken with the oriental poppy’s. I think this one is Royal wedding but I could be wrong… either way its lovely!
Following the map past the ruins of stonework, which I believe are the infirmary ruins, into shady cloisters that surround north side of the cathedral you catch glimpses of the herbaceous borders that crowd up to the ancient walls. You continue through past the chapter house, above you beautiful ornate ceilings and in front the most exquisite stained glass frames the view of a large green. Secluded completely from the hustle and bustle of a city which surrounds you. It’s easy to forget how close the vibrant city of Canterbury is when you’re here!
This leads you to the entrance of the 4th garden on your tour, the Archdeaconry. The huge yew tree which dominates the garden also lends itself to the style of the circular way the grass is cut. It resembles when viewed from above a stone dropped into a pool, the ripples spreading outwards forever.
Everywhere you look are ancient walls, blocks of carved stone reminding you that this area is one of the oldest sites of worship in England. The history that is contained within these precincts is incredible. Princes, Kings & Queens of England have all sheltered beneath its roof’s, some of the most momentous moments in our fair land have taken place in this now peaceful oasis. Walking here you are walking on the same paths they have trodden and its hard not to think of these things whilst strolling and admiring these beautifully kept grounds.
Here also is the mythical Mulberry tree, supposedly the site where Thomas Becket’s murderers hid their swords before their heinous crime. This is of course a myth, the tree itself although hugely old can be no older than perhaps a 100 years at best, certainly not a 1000… but it could of course be a cutting taken and grown from the original Mulberry … lets say it’s that for the sake of romantic fiction!
The tree is in a little side garden to the main Archdeaconry, the garden itself is built in older ruins, the remains of flintknapped walls and columns are sympathetically clothed in plants. I lingered for a while admiring a large unusual Callistemon with lovely large pale yellow flowers, possibly Callistemon pallidus. In the process of writing this I’ve discovered another plant name change! Apparently Callistemons are now Melaleuca and the specific epithet pallida refers to the pale colour of the flowers. This drew the attention of many visitors and I found I was being something of an impromptu tour guide myself!
As you leave the Archdeaconry there is a display of classic cars and an excellent, and very popular, Tea/cakes pavilion with ample seating. It’s a good point in your tour of the gardens to take a break and reflect on the wonderful historical architecture and plants you’ve just seen.
I brought my Dad to Canterbury a few years back to see the Cathedral for his birthday, I pointed out some of the graffiti that adorns the walls. I love that there is so much! He could not be convinced of its legitimacy as some are dated back over 400 years, granted it is hard to believe that you’re looking at a mark left by a random person but in some small way they, notable for no other reason than the time they spent carving their initials and a date into the wall, have achieved a weird sort of immortality just by this very act.
Fully revictualled and refreshed your map directs you onwards to the last few gardens, next on the list is the Deanery. Its kind of mind blowing when you consider that a garden in the middle of Canterbury, which if you walk the streets outside of the Cathedrals grounds are a higgle piggle of houses and shops built atop each other, could possibly measure an acre! The building itself, in parts, dates back to the early 1500’s and the garden has a very naturalistic theme with a wildflower meadow and chickens wandering around.
It’s really worth taking a moment to appreciate the wealth of roses here, the deadheading must take hours! The scent though is incredible!
Having now thoroughly lost my way regarding where I was on the map I followed other wandering visitors and found the exit / entrance to the rear of the deaconry once more. I took a moment to appreciate the tiny corridor which, absolutely stuffed with plants, must be a marvellous place to spend a summers eve. The warmth of the day’s sun reflected back from the stone walls, the scent of the plants concentrated in this warm, still environment. It would be easy to imagine relaxing with a glass of wine and good company here.
It’s definately worth giving yourself a good few hours, possibly even a full day, to really appreciate the gardens here. Especially given that they’re not normally accessible to the general public. There are lots of little secret hidden portions which I shall allow you to discover yourself!
I shall however leave you with a few pics from around the grounds…
Just in case you hadn’t noticed its Snowdrop season!
And every year I go on the trail hunting Snowdrops, its my way of reminding myself winter doesn’t last forever.
Much like Tulips did in the 1700’s, Snowdrops seem to be increasing in popularity. Some of the rarer ones, like ‘Midas’ are selling for incredible prices per bulb but for the true Galanthophile it’s not about the money. The obsession is akin to being a railway enthusiast in some ways. You might travel miles to stand in the freezing cold just to catch a glimpse of a particular Snowdrop… but unlike trains there’s a chance you could end up carrying one home with you!
I will always remember my very first unusual Snowdrop, it was around 15 years ago. I’d been aware of them don’t get me wrong but they were on my peripheral vision. Small, white flower, unassuming, harbinger of spring, blah, blah, blah. They just hadn’t caught my imagination. Sadly for some, they never will… but when you get it, it’s like someone turned on a lightbulb in a darkened room. All except it’s a Snowdrop and that room is spring!
My first Snowdrop was ‘Flora pleno’ my amazement as I stared at this flower was unmeasured! In my ignorance I genuinely thought I might have uncovered something unheard of! I look back on this moment and smile at my overexcited self now. Yes it is a special Snowdrop but nowhere near as ‘rare’ as id envisioned it being.
The next time I got a real education on Snowdrops was whilst I worked at Hole Park, Quentin tried to teach me everything he knew. Given he seems to have an eidetic memory that’s quite a lot. I still count myself very much as a novice despite his best efforts but listening to someone who has a real love and enthusiasm for Snowdrops is utterly transforming. Suddenly they’re not just little white flowers, suddenly there’s a million different variations to look out for. Some subtle, easy for a novice to overlook. I would be hard pressed, in the field, to spot the differences between the flowers of Galanthus plicatus ‘Amy Doncaster’ & Galanthus elwesii ‘Selbourne green tips’ but I could spot the difference between the leaves and growth habit. I would definitely be able to tell that both are different to Galanthus nivalis, which is the one most of us think of when we think of snowdrops.
So it was with great excitement I received an invite to go and see the Snowdrops at Hodsock Priory from George & Katharine Buchanan & their team. Hodsock priory has a long and illustrious heritage which the Buchanan family very generously share, their gardens are open starting from the 10th of Feb to the 4th March 2018 for Snowdrops with the added bonus of outdoor theatre (16th to 18th Feb) included in the price of your ticket on the Sat & Sun.
If you wish to soak up the history of Hodsock priory, learn about the kings that have stayed there (Edward I & Henry VIII are just two of the list!) the architecture and its involvement with the ‘Land girls’ during the second world war, George and his enthusiastic team give a daily talk on its history and tours of the garden. Check the blackboard by the Woodland Café when you visit for details of times.
The gardens were laid out in the 1820s, Hodsock priory itself received a facelift by the architect George Devey in 1873, and developed by the then Head Gardener Arthur Ford and his team of 5. Arthur was a well respected gardener of his time often writing for various garden journals. It was during his time that the Italianate terraces were laid out and flower beds introduced to the fan garden. He also introduced many fruit trees. Arthurs team continued there till 1930 when the womens Land Army turned the estate into food production to help with the war effort. It wasn’t till 1967 though that the Lady Buchanan decided to fill the gardens with snowdrops a benefit that we 40 years later can really appreciate.
The garden has many winter beauties to appreciate, not just snowdrops, You can find Hellebores in abundance, carpets of Cyclamens and Aconites. The scent of Sarcoccoca, Chimonanthus & winter flowering Honeysuckle fill the air and delight the senses and the beautiful vibrant colours of Cornus and Willow stems can be appreciated in all their glory…. But! Back to Snowdrops!
Hodsock boasts quite a collection, listed below are some that can be seen growing there…
Galanthus Sam Arnott
Galanthus Lady Beatrix Stanley- Sir Andrew’s Grandmother
Galanthus Barbara’s Double -Sir Andrew’s mother
Galanthus Bill Bishop
Galanthus Brenda Troyle
Galanthus Hill Poe
Galanthus Robin Hood
Galanthus Nivalis double
Galanthus Nivalis single
A fantastic little thing, 2 snowdrops in their collection are named for George’s ancestors, I need to find out the story behind this!
Now at this point it might be worth looking a bit closer at the Galanthus genus
Disclaimer: I do NOT claim to be an expert but I’ll do my best to point out relevant features.
The one we all know is Nivalis but it is not as you’d be forgiven for thinking a British native. It’s thought it was introduced possibly by the Romans… they introduced a lot of things we should be thankful for, they also introduced Rabbits which I haven’t forgiven them for.. yet! There is a school of thought though that says it wasn’t introduced until the 16th century. Irregardless of this G.nivalis is the most widespread and easily available of all the species, there are others though!
Approximately 20 in the Galanthus genus, I know 20, bit of a shocker right!
What’s even more surprising is more are still being identified as new species, even as recently as 2001 G. trojanus was identified & in 2012 G. panjutinii, followed closely by G. samothracicus in 2014!
Galanthus species are split into 7 main ‘Clades’ or groups
Woronowii clade (Caucasus, E. and NE Turkey, N. Iran)
Alpinus clade (Caucasus, NE Turkey, N.Iran)
Even if you’re keen on Snowdrops it’s a challenge to keep all this in your head but some of the names will be familiar. There are some that are worth noting specifically other than nivalis.
Galanthus plicatus, the specific epithet referring to the fact its leaves have a slight pleat to them, is sometimes called the Crimean Snowdrop. It was given this name because soldiers returning from the Crimean war supposedly brought them back with them.
Galanthus elwesii is exported in huge numbers, 7 million bulbs a year, from Turkey. Of all the snowdrop species it sports the largest flower. It also has more distinctive green markings than other species.
worononowii is an even bigger export at 15 million bulbs per year, its leaves are wider than most of the other species and a shiny light to medium green.
Then we come to the cultivars!
Generations of horticulturists have spent decades creating ‘new’ snowdrops. Heyrick Greatorex is just one example, an eccentric character to say the least. He named his snowdrops after Shakespearian characters. Sadly he was an awful record keeper! He would take the pollen from the only double flowered variety available at the time nivalis ‘flore pleno’ and crossed it with G. plicatus. The resulting hybrids became the basis for many modern doubles. One in particular which captures my fancy is ‘Hippolyta’
Yellow snowdrops often cause a stir, oddly most of these variations seem to stem from a small wild group of nivalis in Northumberland. These are now classified under the umbrella title of Sandersii Group. There are other species that lack the pigmentation that gives rise to the distinctive yellow hue in place of green. One of the best known is G. plicatus ‘Wendys Gold’ native of Cambridge it was almost lost to cultivation in the 1980’s. It’s still not easy to get hold of but when it is it’s always cheaper than ‘Midas’ thought to be a naturally occurring cross between ‘Blonde Inge’ & ‘Trym’ obtaining it yellow colouration from the former.
elwesii has given rise to one of my absolute favourite cultivars though! Imagine a flower that has the cutest little face staring back at you! This would be ‘Grumpy’. Only discovered in 1990 in Cambridge it’s still selling at a price I’m not sure I could justify to myself even if I saw it for sale but I do so love that scowling little face!
I succumbed and bought myself Magnet & Atkinsii recently on a trip to see Waterperrys Snowdrops, I would be seriously hard pressed not to buy Hippolyta if I saw it. My list of ‘wants’ is becoming longer each year for what is essentially a plant that flowers for just a couple of weeks & I will never have enough to create the full effect of the magnificence that a large swathe of these tiny nodding miracles, promises of warmer days coming.
That’s why I need places like Hodsock, they’ve got that in spades! … you see what I did there right?
A few years back now myself and a few others went to Kew one weekend to see behind the scenes of their amazing tropical Glasshouse. Kew opens the doors once a year, one weekend in September, and you really have to keep your eyes peeled for this fabulous opportunity!
I happen to follow several of Kew’s Botanists on Twitter and with only hours to go I spotted a tweet saying it would be happening that weekend. So much excitement!
Unlike the Orchid festival in February where I was given my Wonderful Zygopetlum this is much more about the nuts and bolts of how Kew not only cares for some of its rare specimens but also, perhaps more importantly, how they are saving them and reintroducing them to the wild.
On hand to give you all the information about the exhibits and massive glasshouses, not normally open to public view, are an army of helpful, knowledgable volunteers and staff alike.
The different zones are climate controlled giving the plants as close to possible the perfect environment and growing conditions needed to keep them in tip-top conditions for seed production.
Some of the plants on display are very familiar to us now, the bromeliads over the last 10 or 20 years in particular have become almost ‘throwaway’ houseplants. Sold en masse in a certain swedish furniture shop with the most feeble of care instructions they often die at the end of their flowering season but they need not! I kept a bromeliad overwinter in a cool domestic greenhouse once for 3 years and not only did it rebloom but also had pups…. weird turn of phrase I know, but the process of a plant having pups refers to the babies it produces vegetatively around its base after flowering. They are of course complete clones of itself and many plants do this. Agave’s, Aloe’s and Bromeliads being just a few…
Bromeliad is a wide term that includes 3475 known species ranging from the humble pineapple through to the more exotic looking Tillandsia or Guzmania. Some are epiphytes, growing on the bark of trees for example. Others are classed as terrestrial, their roots firmly in the soil.
They often have intensely coloured bracts, modified leaves, to highlight their tiny flowers. This of course is one of the reasons their popularity has risen in home decoration. The colour on these can last for many months.
Another set of plants whose popularity is rising are of course the Orchids although not all orchids are what you would consider suitable as houseplants. Most people will have seen a Phalenopsis, sometimes dyed hideous colours, at their local supermarket. Very few would associate the flavouring Vanilla with an Orchid though! The Vanilla Orchid is a beautiful twining, climbing epiphyte whose seed pods have become synonymous around the world with ice cream, imagine a world without Vanilla, another good reason to save endangered habitats!
Not all orchids have showy flowers either, they are as diverse as we are…
But lets face it… most do
It’s not just orchids and bromeliads on show though!
and the incredibly rare Ramosmania rodriguesi, which they have helped save from extinction.
In fact there are so many amazing examples of plants to view I couldn’t pick just one to concentrate on for a short post! So I’ll leave you with a few of their loveliest/weirdest and urge you to keep your eyes peeled next September for news of when the glasshouses will be open again… and the Herbarium! Another on my “To do” list!
Finally, one last reason to visit Kew in the autumn…. the leaves!