A new year in Ulting Wick

A new year in Ulting Wick my thoughts on the last 6 months & the future

 

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The year has gone by in a blink and what a year it’s been. As I sit here, nursing a glass of sherry in the twilight zone between xmas & new years, and reflect on everything I’ve done, the places I’ve been and the wonderful people I’ve met im quite amazed. If you had told me at the start of the year I would probably have laughed and asked you when I was supposed to take a break!

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Phil, the master of the relaxed pose

And the plants! Oh my, the plants!

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Now I realise that it’s almost impossible for one person to see, let alone remember every plant it’s possible to grow in the UK but I’m afraid I had become somewhat smug and complacent in recent years, something I’m not ashamed to admit. This year has been a wonderful and humbling reminder that although I have a good knowledge, and this is something I will happily say, I don’t know everything.

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Nicotiana glauca, one of the plants that reminded me I dont know everything

I have my skills, things which I count myself as very competent in, others which I have a working knowledge of, an interest in… but an acceptance, a willingness to learn is paramount to who I believe I am. It keeps me enthusiastic…. And what a learning curve its been!

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When I first saw Ulting Wick I fell in love with it, I could see the beauty which has been created here and mentally I compiled a list of things I felt could augment it. Thankfully Philippa is wonderfully open to ideas, obviously she knows her garden well & often has already tried some of the things I’ve suggested but equally she has been willing to either let me retry those ideas or given me permission to go ahead and change things altogether. In my experience this is the hallmark not just of a good boss but of a good person. She also has a vast plant knowledge and introduced me to many ‘new’ plants. Ones that I have seen grown nowhere else in the UK, which is incredibly exciting! Her enthusiasm for experimentation is infectious and has led me to search out plants which I think will compliment her vision. Since joining here I’ve come across some lovely new plants to me and reacquainted myself with a few others …

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We’ve also gone through some vast changes here in the last 6 months, over and above the normal change from tulips to tropical and back again. Over the course of the summer some of our background structure, mainly trees, has altered significantly. Some of it has been planned work but a few have caught us unawares. I’ll be honest, I’ve come to dread the sound of snapping wood, first to succumb was the giant remains of ‘pooh tree’ a huge willow stump which had guarded the entrance to the pond and Philippa had fond memories of her children climbing on. We viewed it sadly listing and the decision was taken to remove it entirely, a sensible one as it was almost entirely rotten through despite having some regrowth. This did of course open up a huge area for replanting which is of course incredibly exciting. I literally cant wait to see the results of this!

A section of hawthorn which had died was removed at the other end of the pond in the Spring bed, this was a huge education to me personally as to the soil type that is peculiar to Ulting Wick, where the ground hasn’t been worked or improved in the last 20 or so years the soil type is…. Stone…. Just stone

Honestly I’ve never come across anything like it in my life!

More suited to a mattock than a fork and spade, its ridiculous, and a testament to Philippa and her gardeners through the years. I now understand why there is a huge pile of stones in the meadow… which in its own way has turned out to be quite handy for repairing the track in preparation for our visitors in the spring… so, swings and roundabouts!

We also had an enormous poplar removed, planned work this time, around 80ft high it had been planted originally as part of a fast growing shelter belt, its presence now though was starting to cause all the other trees nearby to suffer and struggle for light including the beautiful tulip tree very close to its base. Full props to the Arb guys who took it down, given its height and proximity to more precious trees they did so little damage it was untrue!

With this work out of the way I breathed a sigh of relief thinking that surely this was the last of the tree work that would be occurring for the year… well, the big stuff, I had my eye on some jobs for the winter and into 2018 but nothing me and my trusty silky saw couldn’t cope with… or so I thought!

On the neighbouring land and a beautiful part of our borrowed landscape stands a coppiced oak, well most of it still stands… a huge branch, 1/3 of its canopy sheared off whilst in full leaf! The oak is anywhere between 500 and 800 years old. It’s difficult to tell due to the effect of coppicing and although damaged it will carry on for probably another 300 years easily, gradually and gracefully declining.

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The Oak prior to losing the branch on the right

As I sat admiring the sunrise one morning I heard the sound I now dread!

I leapt up, peering across the pond trying to work out what had gone, I was still hoping it was a large branch, it had gone down slowly whatever it was but I was dammed if I could spot it!

With this, I decided it couldn’t possibly have been a full tree so went inside to get dressed and then investigate… I quickly realised on investigation that the reason I hadn’t seen what it was, was because it had been hidden by one of our magnificent willow trees… it had been a full tree, kind of, another poplar! It was a large 60ft plus, multi-stemmed one. The last of the really big ones. One of its stems had broken off right at the base exposing quite significant heart rot, leaving 2 other large uprights which were now doubly unsafe. The falling trunk had in the process taken out 3 other smaller trees and had got itself neatly hung up in a nearby willow, nightmare!

The Arb guys were once again called out and once again impressive work, the hung up trunk, damaged branches and the other 3 trees were quickly despatched, leaving the 2 uprights… I spoke to the climber after and he said if hed known how badly the base was rotted through he would’ve thought twice about climbing it and fair play. They lowered the large trunk section by section, very carefully as it stood right above a prostrate yew (very unusual) and of course the precious tulip tree! The last large upright was felled in one section and this I was incredibly impressed by! They managed to get it so it fell in exactly the right spot, awy from the precious trees and straight into a 1ft gap between 2 other boundary trees, hardly breaking a branch in the process!

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The prostrate Yew with the now gone Poplar (back, right)

The entire base was rotten through, that’s the thing with heart rot, it’s almost impossible to spot and is totally unpreventable sadly… but on a positive note we will now have lots of lovely light flooding in which will help our remaining trees to grow straight and healthy!

We have lost a few more branches since in the snow and winds but fingers crossed no more like that!

I have been enchanted too by the amount of wildlife I’ve seen in the last 6 months, its felt at times like I’ve been transported to a Narnia type world. I’ve seen Muntjacs chasing pheasants. Cormorants, herons, moorhens and ducks. On my very first day here I saw a hare race across the lawn, there’s a resident stoat that gambols on the lawn, water rats swim in the pond, a fox even wanders past me some mornings. At night Tawny owls serenade each other and the occasional barn owl screeches its presence, I’m pretty sure I’ve even heard a little owl. Twice I’ve seen the amazing sight of a kingfisher, its high pitched pip, pip, pip call giving its presence away. The second time I stood gaping, open mouthed as it hovered in the waving fronds of the willow searching for a place it could fish in the frozen pond. It’s the clearest view ive ever had of this fast moving reclusive bird, magical! For a few short weeks in the summer we also gained 2 swans on the pond, incredible!

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Someone else who has been appreciating the wildlife, maybe not in quite the same way as me, is Phil. He has settled in ridiculously well & his territory encompasses the entire garden and he’s encroaching on neighbouring lands! That’s approx 11 acres! A ridiculous amount of space for one cat who doesn’t like to share… hes really antisocial regarding anything other than people! When we find a place of our own I’m expecting him to be somewhat resentful..

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Now as the wheel of the year turns, we start to consider the coming season, this is both thrilling and terrifying in equal parts. I’m still relying heavily on philippa’s & my assistant Kwab’s knowledge of the garden. To do anything else would be arrogant madness! You can read all the books you like, study and educate yourself but familiarity of the area is something that only comes with time, experience of how plants react to a locality can only be learnt through experience and what may work in one area might not work in another. We will also be welcoming a new member to the team! We will be welcoming our WRAG trainee, so exciting! WRAG’s is a fantastic way of learning, an apprenticeship open to people from all walks of life and any age group… and despite the acronym is open to both men & women!

I’ll leave you with a few pics of Ulting Wick from throughout the year & I’d like to say thank you to you all for reading my musings and adding your thoughts. Also a big thank you to everyone who has helped make this year very special, I hope you all have a marvellous 2018 and life gives you everything you need…. sometimes that’s better than what you want…

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Apple Tree Pruning course

Always wanted to learn how to prune your fruit trees?
Want to feel more confident about it?
Heres your chance to get some great training

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Some of you may remember I held my first training day last year for winter pruning. It was such a resounding success with great feedback I’ve decided to do it again, only this time bigger!
So what can you expect?

The Venue

This year we will be holding our first event at a private house with a large walled garden in Buckinghamshire on the 3rd February 2018 .
Approximately 25 fruit trees of a decent age to challenge yourself with & 2 instructors on-hand with between them over 25 years experience.Places will be limited so please contact A.SA.P. to reserve your place, all details will be sent through to you Via email as soon as we have heard from you.

The Instructors

At this point I’d like to introduce you to Nick Black.
Nick is a fully trained arborist & whilst we don’t expect you to be climbing trees like this his knowledge of both how trees work & horticulture is invaluable.
Nick can be found normally working as The Muddy Gardener. You can also find him being cheeky on twitter @imnickblack
As for me, I have nearly 20 years of looking after fruit trees under my belt, trained at Pershore college under John Edgerly, then at Ryton Organic gardens, I moved onto become the Veg gardener at Sissinghurst where we established a large Orchard under Amy Wardman who had been the Fruit student at RHS Wisley and was very generous at passing on her knowledge.
I was there that I first started training people to prune fruit & it gives me great joy to help people become confident and proficient.
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The Orchard at Sissinghurst

The course

The day will start at 10am where you will all gather and we can discuss where your skill level is as we are happy to take on absolute beginners through to those that have experience & want to progress.
You will be shown all the tools you will need and have their safe use & maintenance explained to you. Then we will go through pruning maiden trees to establish the correct framework for freestanding, espalier, fan & other styles of fruit trees.
After a short break, to warm up & refuel on hot tea & cake, we will start to tackle the big trees! This will give us an excellent opportunity to discuss different methods of pruning & the reasons for it.  If you have a tree which has got out of hand this will be exactly what you need!
A break for a warming lunch of soup and then..
Once the demonstration is over you will be let loose on your own trees with both of us at your beck & call for advice if you get stuck!
Finally, we will gather to discuss any questions & do a quick session on apple tree pest, diseases & disorders
These are the trees we will be working on

The Cost

The day will cost £60.00 per person but will include Drinks, soup & snacks

Also £20 will go straight to Marie curie via my Just giving page

If youd like to sign up just fill in the form below and I will send you further details or if you wish to buy it as an xmas present for a loved one and keep it as a surprise we can arrange that too, look forward to hearing from you

Alnwick Gardens

Alnwick Garden, one of the UKs most spectacular gardens of this century!

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I’m writing this as I sit on my dad’s sofa, he’s opening a bottle of prosecco I got him for his birthday and it’s my first attempt at blogging from my phone. This could get messy…

We’ve talked about visiting Alnwick for years together, mum & dad visited shortly after the Grand Cascade was first opened in 2001 but today was my first visit! For those in the know Alnwick is pronounced Annik…apparently…anyway!

On our approach along the A1 there was a moment of horror as we saw a sign telling us the opening wasn’t till the end of March (which sent me off into gales of laughter & my dad saying frantically “I checked the website!”) But that referred to the castle not the gardens. We also decided to turn up on a day when they were holding another event so there were hundreds of people trooping along the country lane approaching Alnwick but it did mean we got to park in the priority car park.. bonus!

From here we could see the amazing tree house which is a recent addition

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Admission is very cheap by comparison to other gardens, mentioning no names, that have far inferior facilities but that’s in my hugely over inflated opinion.

The jaw dropping entrance to the garden is dominated by the much vaunted Grand Cascade and wow! The scale is amazing, it has echoes of some of the finer Italian gardens in its sheer scale but with wonderfully modern clean lines. Designed by Wirtz international it encapsulates the Duchess’s vision for the garden & what a vision.

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It’s shape is echoed in the incredibly sculpted yew and beech hedges which climb to the summit where the ornamental walled garden is hidden away. We were booked on a tour of the poison garden, something which I’m very excited about…. I realise how odd this sounds but as a gardener there are so many wonderful plants we encounter on a daily basis that are considered toxic that to rule them out would be to almost ruin our gardens!

First though we had a while to explore! So we headed to the bamboo Grove.

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I of course being a complete child immediately ran off down this labrynth of shady tunnels giggling madly & hiding from dad, then running back up behind him like some kind of mischievous bamboo elf! Great fun!

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There are various exits located around this amazing maze and after dad was completely lost we exited and made our way over to the entrance to the poison garden. Now I’m not going to talk in depth about it this time, it deserves a blog in its own right but suffice to say our tour guide Jamie was excellent & very helpful, informative & patient with all my questions (Thank you Jamie!)

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There is a wonderful bank of snowdrops, Scots pines & silver birch as you head towards the cherry orchard on leaving the poison garden. With an amusing owl & pussycat eternally sailing the lake to your left. Then you reach some fabulous mature dawn redwoods. A reminder for dad & I of a trip to Heligan where we argued about whether the giant tree in the distance was a redwood. It was…

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Wandering through we came across a sword firmly embedded in a stone. So of course we both had a go at being Arthur…

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Neither of us will be laying our claim to the crown & the sword is still firmly embedded.

Next came the cherry orchard which sometime around late April, May will be absolutely blissful! There are swing seats between the trees which will be incredibly gorgeous to be on as the petals fill the air and the bees create a melody around you *happy sigh*

As you travel through the garden there are many amusing little statues hidden away from the lion to humpty dumpty to cinderellas pumpkin.

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As you reach the pinnacle of the hill you are once again presented with a fabulous water feature, I can imagine on a hot summers day how this would cool the air. Inviting visitors to paddle and play with the swiftly flowing water.

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This rill emenates from a beautiful pool in the centre of the walled garden where the water bubbles continuously to the suface. Framed beautifully by the ornate gates at the entrance, it invites you to explore what is a very large area. One thing that strikes you over and again with Alnwick is the attention to detail. The construction of the different elements of the garden, the permanent structures is so well thought out. The attention given to what it will look like in winter, one of the most difficult times for a gardener in some ways, is incredible!

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We lingered a long time in the ornamental garden, its sheltered climate home to some lovely Camellias which ive never seen planted this far north. The iris’s & Snowdrops flowering merrily away. The Wisterias on the centre pergola promising a spectacular display in a very short time. The scent of the Chimonanthes beguiling us further to stay.

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The rose pruning is particularly spectacular, everything from intricate towers, arches & wall trained and the labelling is to die for! Accurate and plentiful, I love a good label!

At this point Dad and I started to feel the need for a fortifying cake and coffee. So we started to make our way down the Grand Cascade, it really is spectacular. The sound of rushing water is simultaniously overwhelming and calming.

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Dad didnt really get it when I told him I was going to film and in his excitement at the feat of engineering that the pumping of hundereds of gallons of water involves kept chatting so you get the pleasure of hearing my dad! I can certainly think of worse things!

Alnwick Grand cascade with Dads commentary

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Having partaken of the wonderful spread in the Pavillion cafe and feeling a bit more bouncy once more we set out to cover the rest of the garden befor closing time. Having already played in the Bamboo maze we headed straight for the Rose garden. Now admittedly a rose garden is not at its most spectacular (to most people) in March it is worth seeing the bare bones of the structure.

The hours of pruning this must take!

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Once again its the attention to detail which strikes you as you wander through the garden, the gorgeous gateway with its incredible craftsmanship struck me particularly. Maybe because it reminded me of the jewellery i used to create in my previous incarnation as a jeweller. Metal working and gardens so often seem to go hand in hand curiously. I know many gardeners who dabble in jewellery and metalsmithing and vice versa, perhaps its the creative nature of them, the wish to bring beauty to the world?

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Whatever the reason, inspiration behind this amazing crossover of skills I for one am a great advocate and lover of metal smithing in garden settings.

One last thing before I sign off!

The hedges at Alnwick, incredible, amazing! Often overlooked in their importance in a garden setting, hedges have a multitude of functions. Creating structure throughout the year, giving form and shape, a backdrop for the plants to perform against and seperating various areas. All of my favourite gardens have one thing in common. Great hedging!

When considering the layout of a new garden this is the very first step  and here they have it just right!

I cant wait to return to Alnwick with my proper fancy camera in the summer to capture how amazing I imagine it will be!

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Epicormic growth or canker?

Whats wrong with your Apple tree? A quick guide to Canker identification

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I’m going to attempt to make this a quick short blog post.

I saw on a forum a chap was concerned about his apple tree & confusion as to what was going on with it had caused people to jump to the conclusion it was Canker. Understandably he was concerned but he really didn’t need to be, the tree was perfectly healthy it was just displaying signs of epicormic growth.

What is Epicormic growth?

Epicormic growth is when dormant buds underneath the bark of the tree are stimulated, often through stress, into growth. Often creating a knobbly raised area which i guess to the untrained eye can look a bit sinister. These happen a lot on fruit trees due to the nature of pruning them they are often stimulated to produce new growth. We prune fruit trees to an open shape for ease of picking and to help fruit ripen but left to their own devices they, like all trees want to reach to the sky. When we remove the topmost growth they produce water shoots, strong upright growth from areas that over time will grow to look like this…

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As you can see the water shoots have been cut flush over a number of years creating a gnarled knobbly appearance with sunken areas on what is effectively scar tissue, this is fine, the cuts are clean.

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As you can see above an old tree over time will develop huge knobbles and still be perfectly healthy. Even a tree with Canker will continue to survive for a very long time so long as it is managed well.

So what is Canker?

Infections on Apple and Pear trees is fungal Canker (bacterial affects stone fruit) Neonectria ditissima is the culprit and causes brown peeling sunken patches on stems, limbs and in worst cases the trunk of the tree. Most times if caught early it can be pruned out easily and new shoots trained in, winter pruning is a good time to do this as winter pruning encourages new growth.

But what does it look like?

Depending on the stage it has reached it can have a variety of similar appearances illustrated below….

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The 2 examples above are the early stages of Canker as it progresses it will begin to look like this…

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And finally…

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Even at this stage the tree has healthy fruit producing shoots at the end of the limb but the limb will have to go.

Some methods to avoid introducing Canker are

Always clean your tools between pruning different trees, white spirits and a toothbrush are perfect for this.

Practice good hygiene around your trees, don’t leave prunings, fallen apples or leaves lying around, all a source for reinfection. Dont compost, either burn or send offsite.

Make your cuts clean when pruning, sharp tools are a must!

Remember all wounds are a source of infection so when picking fruit don’t pull off the tree, lift and roll. If it doesn’t come it’s not ready. Leaf fall, harvest and pruning are the time your trees are most at risk of infection.

 

The Winter Garden – part 2

To any of you who havent stumbled on me before let me take a moment to say Hi & welcome!

I asked Twitter what they would like me to blog about & gave 3 options, this was the one that quite frankly came out streets ahead, which of course is the one I was most dreading writing.

This may sound odd coming from me but the concept of a garden totally skewed towards the winter months was something that until recently hadn’t really come up in my radar. Why? I’m not quite sure?

In most of our gardens it would be nigh on impossible to dedicate an entire garden or even section of garden to just plants that look or smell good in the winter. Most urban gardens just don’t have the scale needed for this but what we can do if we want to incorporate this into our lives is perhaps take one or two of the choicest plants and use those.

A common misconception with gardens in winter is everything stops, nothing grows, nothing changes and nothing flowers. This simply isn’t true. Winter can be an amazing time to be out in the garden and if planned correctly can be full of scent, colour and flowers from December through to the end of February when Spring creeps up on quiet feet.

Part 1 (which can be viewed here The winter garden – part 1 )looked at the trees and shrubs which make the cold dark days a little brighter. In part 2 we will look at the smaller denizens and its structure.

Ground cover

Eranthis hyemalis – Winter Aconite

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I’ll be the first to admit that im not totally in love with acid yellow flowers but for the bravest intrepid bees that venture out on the odd bright warmish day we get in the winter these are absolute stars! Bees are attracted to yellow flowers over any other colour, weirdly they apparently see it as blue (im not sure who worked this out or how?) which means also that blue flowers work well for them too… but im digressing again!

Eranthis is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculacea) and like a lot of plants can be poisonous. Dont panic, it’s not going to jump out of the flower bed and force itself down your throat… at least I don’t think so? It, like all plants, needs to be treated with respect. I know a lot of people get extraordinarily worried about poisonous plants being grown in their gardens but a good rule of thumb is just dont eat them! Teach your pets and children not to eat stuff and everyone is happy. I grew up in a garden filled with toxic plants as did our pets, none of us died. My mum taught us from before I can remember to treat plants with respect. Too often I see children in public gardens running over carefully weeded & dug borders, snapping plants & generally running riot. Is this a new thing? I know that we as children would have been given a sharp clart for wrecking someones hard work in this way never mind the potential danger of running into a plant with virtual teeth… ooh, I think im having a soap box moment… apologies, I’ll get back to the Aconite!

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Eranthis is a european native and has been known and used for centuries. Gerards Herbal, one of my favourite “mad” books includes it under the title of ‘English wolfsbane’ and gives it the title of Aconitum hyemale due to its leaf shape and seed head which are not dissimilar to those of the Aconite family. It grows from tubers in deciduous woodland so is tolerant of a little shade.

Erica – Winter Heather

As the name suggests the Erica family has slightly special needs in the form of ericaceous (acidic) soil but if you’re a gardener who lives on chalk, fear not you can easily grow them in pots of ericaceous compost but the Erica family is more tolerant than the Calluna family of Heathers of less acidic conditions.

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Unbelievably, considering I worked in a garden which had an entire area devoted to Heathers called ‘The Policy’ ( I never did find out the reason it was called this, supposedly it was because that’s the Scottish name for a heather garden? I’ve always understood thats the highlands? 😉 ) I haven’t ever really got excited about them and consequently haven’t taken many pictures of them.

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That said when you get a good display together it can be very impressive, even the odd Erica dotted around can be exceptional in its small way. So a few Heather facts!

Calluna is a distinctively different species from Erica as it flowers in autumn as opposed to Erica which flowers in spring but there are many that will flower a bit earlier and make a wonderful addition to your winter garden. In particular look out for cultivars of Erica carnea,  Erica x darleyensis and Erica erigena. 

One of the most important things for keeping your heathers looking good is consistent pruning. This should be done directly after flowering, if you have a small patch I would use secateurs (but be very careful not to catch your other hand with them, it’s easily done!) for a larger patch shears or even a hedge cutter. Cut right back to the point where you can still see growing leaves but a warning, don’t cut into old wood. like many small shrubs they won’t regenerate! Its well worth doing though as it keeps your heathers youthful and giving a good, compact flower display.

Snowdrops

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Now THIS is where i get a bit* excited!

*a lot

I’m not even sure I can put my finger on the moment this happened exactly, maybe it was the moment i was given some double snowdrops from ryton, maybe even before then? I can tell you when my appreciation became full-blown though, working with Quentin Stark at Hole Park, his love of them is infectious. A true Galanthophile!

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Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’

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I don’t even count myself as a Galanthophile more an avid lover of these beautiful, delicate, transient, denizens of our gardens that hail the coming of spring. I’m unable to tell one  from the other… unless its ‘Mr grumpy’… or ‘flora pleno’…. but then they’re easy!

There are also some amazingly beautiful ones with a yellow ovary instead of the usual green or glaucous tint. 2 of the most easy of these to get hold of & the most reliable are G. plicatus ‘Wendy’s Gold’ and G. nivalis  ‘Sandersii’ syn.’Lutescens’. The gold snowdrops can be a little unstable and subject to reversion but that makes them all the more desirable to collectors. Their rarity pushes the price they can command and if you can breed a stable form you could almost retire on it. There is one I would love to see in the flesh and that’s a double yellow called  Galanthus nivalis ‘Lady Elphinstone’ Cadwalader, amazing! For all I’ve just raved about these yellow snowdrops I’ve never actually seen any! I’m hoping this will change this year though as Im going to Chelsea physic gardens snowdrop fair.

A quick latin bit! Galanthus literally means Milk Flower, love it, Gala = Milk & Anthos, the second part slightly mangled to fit = Flower. When followed by  nivalis = ‘of the snow’

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I wish I could remember everything Quentin tried to teach me so I could relay it to you with confidence but I do remember clearly the passion he spoke about them with, which somehow communicated itself to me to the extent that you will see me crawling round on the ground, camera in hand squinting to try to spot the miniscule differences between one little white flower and another almost exactly identical little white flower.

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And there ARE differences! The picture above shows that clearly and compare to the one below…imag2906

Snowdrops aren’t native to Britain though as much as we think of them as a naturalised wildflower. Some think that the Romans introduced them, others will tell you they weren’t introduced from Europe till the 16th or possibly 15th Century, depending on who’s telling you.

Leucojum vernum

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Sometimes called the giant snowdrop (or spring snowflake) as it stands at about 30cm and being related, Leucojum flowers slightly later which gives you a marvellous continuity when planning your garden. They will tolerate shade quite happily & waterlogged soils a rare and valuable trait for difficult areas.

They will flower right through from February till April giving bees a good source of nectar. Various members of the Leucojum genus have recently been moved to the Acis genus but Leucojum vernum & it’s later flowering cousin L. aestivum (summer snowflake) have remained for which I’m very glad as I adore saying the name, try it! It’s a wonderful word!

It’s a much underused plant, I’ve rarely seen them grown but once established is pretty much bomb-proof!

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Helleborus

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This is a massive subject! I’m going to try to stay tightly focussed & not ramble too much… but this is me and … well, forgive me if I do because they are SO beautiful!

The genus consists of around 20 species of both herbaceous and evergreen plants so there literally is a Hellebore for every situation.

22 species are recognised and divided into 6 sections.[7]

Caulescent species

These four species have leaves on their flowering stems (in H. vesicarius the stems die back each year; it also has basal leaves).

Acaulescent (stemless) species

These species have basal leaves. They have no true leaves on their flower stalks (although there are leafy bracts where the flower stalks branch).

Other species names (now considered invalid) may be encountered in older literature, including H. hyemalis, H. polychromus, H. ranunculinus, H. trifolius.

As you can see it’s a big subject! So for the sake of this blog we’ll stick with the orientalis and their hybrids. I remember clearly my very first Hellebores. I bought them as little tiny plugs. I didn’t realise I wasnt supposed to just stick them straight in the ground. I had decided to revamp a border that had been full of an awful euphorbia. I dug it out, plonked some ferns in the deep shade then my hellebores, poor tiny things they were, guessing how much space they would eventually need. In my inexperience at the time I thought it would be a marvellous idea to move a large peony that had sat in the back garden to the front where it would be in partial shade. I didn’t know it wasnt supposed to like being moved. I popped it in and hoped for the best as to be fair it had done nothing in the back garden. Looking back I have no idea how I achieved it but not only did they all survive but in fact thrived! So much so I converted my Dad to loving hellebores too (that was next years birthday present sorted!) The peony incidentally flowered its head off producing huge highly scented blooms of the very palest pink, I’ve never been able to replace it, every year the local kids would come and ask me for one or two of them to give to their girlfriends or mums etc. I loved getting them involved, they were good, if a little misdirected kids…. but that’s for another story!

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There have been some amazing advances in the breeding of hellebores giving us a colour pallete that spans from an almost black right through to pure white with reds, pinks and even yellows in between. Not just the colour range but also the flower shapes, singles, doubles even anemone flowered, it’s incredible!

Whilst at Hole Park we entered a few of the classes in the local flower show, this is a great way to see some of the best on offer, especially if your flower club has enthusiastic members.

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As you can see we only came 3rd but the level of competition was high.

I also visited Great Dixters plant fair that same weekend where they had a selection of amazing doubles, one of which now resides outside my old cottage…imag3096

THIS is the hellebore that if I could only pick one is the one though, it’s gorgeous picotee edge, delicate colouring and the shape, wonderful…

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Hellebores are subject to a few odd myths, apparently they are used in the summoning of devils, who knew, they have also been used to “cure madness” but honestly I don’t think I’d try either!

Theres a couple of important things to remember with this type of hellebore, come December cut all the leaves off, completely. Be very careful not to damage the flowering spike which will just be starting to emerge. The reason we do this is threefold.

  1. To prevent infection from fungal diseases such as Hellebore leafspot, this not only looks awful turning the old leaves black in splotches but can also given the chance mar the flowering spike. By removing old leaves you are removing the chance of fungal spores spreading but remember dont compost them otherwise they will just return!
  2. Removing the leaves prevents a wee timorous beastie from hiding under them and making a feast of your flowers! For mice, hellebore flowers are a valuable source of food. Removing the leaves makes it more difficult for them to use them as camouflage from predators.
  3. Removing the leaves allows us to appreciate the beauty of these winter treats with an unencumbered view and does the plant no harm, so make this one of your December “To-Do’s”

 

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Iris

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Finally we reach the wonderful, delicious Iris. Unlike the summers blousy displays of bearded Iris the delicate Iris reticulata, the dwarf Iris, gives a show which bewitches and enchants all in its own right. Originating in Russia it’s well able to thrive in cold conditions but appreciates having dry feet through the summer. Once established you will find that flowering will improve with a hot dry summer, which mimics it’s natural environment. Planted in a south-facing border will also increase the flower power. dsc_0191

 

I would recommend planting en masse if at all possible, 1 or 2 in a pot look fine but in a border they can very quickly get lost and lose their impact

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Climbers

Clematis Cirrhosa

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If I had to pick just 1 climber to include in the winter garden forget Jasminum nudiflorum – Winter Jasmine, its acid yellow flowers are too much for me and lets face it you see it everywhere but consider this gorgeous alternative.  A gentle lemony scent accompanies these understated freckled bells. As if these weren’t enough to recommend this wonderful plant the flowers are followed by lovely fluffy seed heads which are a great attractant for finches to feed on or birds to use as nest material, amazing!

Grow it against a south-facing wall where the winter sun can encourage it’s scent and enjoy this low maintenance climber throughout the year.

Other things to consider in the winter garden

It’s not just flowers that make a garden interesting in winter though, the gardens bare bones are exposed so when planning consider how it will look when stripped down.

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Hedging and topiary are of incredible importance in this situation, they will provide focal points and backdrops that create interest and lead the eye, structures like rose arches and in fact the roses themselves can be used to bring interest if pruned and trained in a creative way. Waterperry’s near Oxford is a great example of how this is done, Sissinghurst adopted these techniques as previous Head Gardeners were trained there. I myself used these techniques at Hole Park.

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Consider also how some plants can be used, phlomis and globe artichokes in particular look amazing in the snow.

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As do grasses, so think about leaving a few things around that can stand till spring to bring movement and structure to your winter landscape.

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Finally I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite wintery pics! I’ve got spring seed sowings on my mind now…

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