Snowdrops at Hodsock Priory

A visit to a wonderful Snowdrop garden as winter turns to spring

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hamamelis mollis
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Hamamelis mollis ‘Pallida’
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Prunus mume beni chidori
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Petasites fragrans
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Petasites japonicus

 

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 Atkinsii
  • Galanthus Sam Arnott
  • Galanthus Worwonowii
  • Galanthus Lady Beatrix Stanley- Sir Andrew’s Grandmother
  • Galanthus Elwesii
  • Galanthus Magnet
  • Galanthus Plicatus
  • Galanthus Viridipicis
  • Galanthus Allenii
  • Galanthus Barbara’s Double -Sir Andrew’s mother
  • Galanthus Augustus
  • Galanthus Bill Bishop
  • Galanthus Brenda Troyle
  • Galanthus Hill Poe
  • Galanthus Robin Hood
  • Galanthus Nivalis double
  • Galanthus Nivalis single
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Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’

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

  • Platyphyllus clade (Caucasus, W. Transcaucasus, NE Turkey)
  • Trojanus clade (NW Turkey)
  • Ikariae clade (Aegean Islands)
  • Elwesii clade (Turkey, Aegean Islands, SE Europe)
  • Nivalis clade (Europe, NW Turkey)
  • 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’

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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?

Spades… Snowdrops… spades?

Ok, I’ll shut up, here’s the Snowdrops!

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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

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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