I am amazed that I am finding plenty to write about in what I regard as the depths of Winter still. Polly has worked her way down to what we call the Burgundy border. This is a small border at the bottom of the bank leading across to the Klimt bed. We introduced Pennisetum Macrourum to this bed some time ago, not realising that we were giving the above good soil and it was turning it into a Monster. What it has done is gone underground with the most terrifying looking roots and bobbed up even in the middle of a prize delphinium. Polly has had to remove a large section of this plant, even begging me if we could think again. At the moment I have said no, as we would not get the same effect with any other grass (ie natural). Poor Polly this bed is nothing but trouble for her. First of all it was the Camassias, followed by Allium Globemaster, which have been joined by Allium Purple Sensation and Albo Pilosum (a few)., What you have to remember is that this is a smallish bed. It includes Agapanthus Windsor Grey, which extraordinarily enough does not seem to mind being swamped with Alliums and Camassias earlier on. I would guess Graham Gough, who sells it and recommended it to me, does not have the same problem, and I seem to remember gardens on yellow clay. It might have a tougher time there than it does with me.
We are in the process of about to do a new section of the garden, always very exciting. I bought five Salix Orrorata from Bluebell Nursery, and two quite large hollies are about to be dug out by Polly who has been putting up a fight for them, which she has lost. They are going to go along our boundary, and will be offset by Prunus Subhirtella Autumnalis which is already planted and has been flowering well. We are keeping our eyes open for the 300 Crocus Tommasianus Yalta which were planted in the autumn. Nothing yet.
Snow is going to arrive any second, and I am making my escape to London, as there is a steep little run on to the main road here which never gets gritted. We have been enjoying the hellebores for quite some time now, and snowdrops. Polly has got on very well with cutting back the borders and mulching them, which is a relief as snow will bring everything to a grinding halt. The golden leafed Cornus Mas has buds all along the branches, but it has not opened yet. We brought some sprigs of Chaenomeles nivalis into the house, and they have flowered for ten days. Interesting, as I have never done it before, and had no idea that they would last so long. One advantage of January is the wafts of scent when you brush past the sarcococcas. Poor James, who has no sense of smell at all, misses out on this.
I have become a grandmother for the fourth time yesterday, very exciting. Dominic and Hetty have had a baby girl and called her Phoebe. So lovely to have something to think about other than Brexit, January or snow. Tensing is getting better, though still in a ruff poor little man. I am going over in my head what I can put in the space in the autumn border where we took out the huge clump of Miscanthus sinensis Yakushima dwarf, which was not dwarf at all. Though I must be honest about it I planted three when one or two would have done, but I suppose taken longer to make an impact. I have got interested in an Aconitum called Cloudy, together with one of my best asters called Pink Buttons. Look up Cloudy as it looks very pretty. In weather like this I look up Graham Goughs plant list at Marchants Hardy Plants and Avondale Nursery which is only half an hour from here, and then I daydream,.
It is not that the garden does not look good, because every year the structure improves and the bulbs increase, and Polly has mulched almost every border with dark black compost, but it is the flat grey light that gets to me. However it makes me very grateful for the winter light when it does emerge. When I look at my borders almost all of them have several hellebores in, which are not apparent during the summer. But in the summer we have nothing that flowers for three months which hellebores do. Ashwood nurseries are particularly good, and you can order them on line, and there is quite a difference in price according to their age and whether you are willing to be patient. I think we are going in the magazine The English Garden next month with some stunning photographs by Clive Nichols., I look forward to seeing which they choose. Think of planting Chaenomeles nivalis which is very pretty, with all the flowers along bare stems, and now it has got a lot colder we might have to wait a bit for them to open. I have a golden Cornus Mas which is struggling to open. My little dog Tensing is improving a bit, and though his head is still in a ruff, I have tried taking it off for a short while successfully. I have got Mark Griffiths coming to lunch today, and Polly and I have been laughing that it is like being in preparation for royalty. I love walking round with him there is not a single thing that he does not spot!
We have been working hard cuttting back here because we are worried that a cold snap might arrive with us. Matt is preparing all my benches and two chairs for the coming season. They all badly needed some attention, and the three benches are all being repainted. I have tried that once and never again, it took so long, and I have decided it is better to give the job to a professional. We have planted 300 crocus Yalta and I am full of anticipation. It is really special.
We have just got back from four nights in Cambridge. What bliss, no queueing, no airports, arriving feeling fresh and energetic, and what a beautiful city Cambridge is.
We went on the fourth day to the Cambridge Botanic Garden, which included a Winter garden, and lovely old greenhouses which I liked though I knew little about the contents. We had waited for the sun to shine, which is when I fell in love with Salix Irrorata. With the winter sun filtering through its stems I had to find a place for it, which I have, and five of them are on their way on Friday or Monday, from Bluebell Nursery, They are joining my newly planted Prunus Subhirtella Autumnalis, which is already obligingly flowering, So far we are not like the rest of Europe blanketed in snow, thank goodness. We visited the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Christopher Wren library, Kings College, and the Mathematical Bridge amongst several other things. Our hotel was right on the River Cam, and I am determined to use sparkling lights in my garden next Christmas! James is not so keen on the idea.
The lawn is recovering from the incredibly hot summer last year, and large patches of it treated by Green Thumb have turned black, so it is not at its best. The borders are still being cut down and we still have quite a long way to go. Today is cold, and as the garden is north facing it helps a lot to be working in the sun. It might be my imagination but I feel that it is getting a tiny bit lighter every day. All of my snowdrops seem to have increased a lot, and cyclamen and aconites are putting themselves about. Both of my cameras were on the verge of collapse, and a very kind man in Blinkhorns in Banbury has got them both going for me. Tensing is doing his intermittent bark all the time. The poor little man has his head in an enormous ruff, from having licked himself raw on his back leg over christmas. I fear he has to keep it on until next Monday. They both badly need to go to Peters Posh Pets.
Christmas is over. All that expectation and hard work, and then sometimes disappointment. I have been doing three days of gardening, I dont often venture out in December, but it is so mild. Today all the aconites are flowering, so many different snowdrops, and even anemone blanda Burghaltii, the very deep blue one that I am always mentioning. Rupert Goldby gave me the most beautiful cream double hellebore when he came to lunch, and it is still not planted. I know where it is going and I will do it tomorrow. On Christmas Day we went to the Sung Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. In the queue out side before the service I got to talking with two most charming Irish parents of a musical scholar who was in the choir. They said that their drawing room in Glasgow was crammed with a piano, organ and other musical instruments. They were both doctors and one a was a neurologist. I love people who are brilliant in what they do. Their son sang a solo in the service, and really had the voice of an angel. We have got my friend Lizzie Wilson staying, and my younger son Thomas arrives late this afternoon.
I wonder if it is a coincidence but almost everything in the paddock has winter interest. We have just planted Prunus subhirtella autumnalis, and it is flowering in its first year. Exciting. The red catkins on Alnus Cordata, and the red stems of Tilia Winter Orange make a very Christmassy statement, by that I mean red. We have four Magnolia on the left hand side and they are laden with buds. Where we have planted them they will not get caught by a frost. It is lovely having the dogs with us at Christmas, James will insist on feeding them treats, and Temba’s digestion is not up to it! We are going to Cambridge just after New Year, and I hardly know it, and it is going to be wonderful. It has the best Botanic Winter Garden there which might give me some ideas. At least we do not have to get stuck at Gatwick. I will let you know if it comes up to expectations.
I could have never called it the Winter border before, but after five years of digging out goodness knows what, and planting ferns, snowdrops, and polypodiums, they have all clumped up and got huge. Everything in my garden goes in small, so this is very satisfactory. We bought them at Fibrex Nursery, which luckily for us is very close. We have already got rid of one huge fern which was swallowing up a variegated box ball, which I decided I preferred to the fern. We have two Polystichum setiferum pulcherrimum Bevis, very beautiful, the aristocrat of ferns. Do not plant geranium Khan, I dont know how anyone dares sell it, as it covers the ground at the rate of knots. leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. You find out this for yourself in about three years! This bed was described in an article by Bob Brown, as the Sainsbury car park border, which in fact was Pollys description, but it galvanised me into doing something about it. Anyway it is a pleasure to look at now. It also has pachyphragma which is a very underused plant, and several hellebores. I noticed on the gravel path that a hellebore had seeded everywhere, funny how plants love gravel.
We first started planting a few named snowdrops about six years ago, mostly gifts from kind friends. They love me, and I have divided them once or twice and seem to have masses of them pushing their way up through the ground. Exciting! They are so worth while and are mostly in the beds near the house. My son Thomas, has showed me how to join Instagram, and I am in it as VirginiayPrice, and it is a quick way of showing what is going on in the garden, or getting ideas from other peoples pictures, though I must admit I prefer writing this. Taking photographs is one of my hobbies, and it is making me delete several. The two people who got me enthused about ferns are Polly and Mark Griffiths.
It is cold now and all the leaves are down. The garden is north facing and now the sun has come out I can see all the orange berries still on Sorbus Joseph Rock and on the left Malus Hupehensis, red ones, which were on my photos last week. The funny little Spindleberry in the paddock has turned a very beautiful red. All its branches are twisted as if it is embracing itself. I have quite a sweet photo of my grandson, Nicholas, sitting in it. No wonder about five years ago Polly and I started planting named snowdrops in the beds close to the back door of the kitchen. There are masses of them now, and it is a real uplifting of the spirits when they come up and start flowering. All the aconites that we have, which start flowering after Christmas, have scattered themselves around, and now there are masses. Several people have told me that they find them difficult, I don’t know why.
Christopher Lloyd described Dianthus Doris as being unbelievably common. But here I have her at the foot of a wall, flowering away! Nothing wrong in that. In the circle, second one, in the paddock, I have a small clump of snowdrops bravely flowering. I went to look at them, and heard my enemy, the pheasants, making an awful noise. One year they ate all the heads of my Crocus Vernus. Vanguard off. Tensing is doing his intermittent bark, he will drive me crazy! Temba has found yet another mouse, I think it is completely in James’s imagination that the owls take them..
I got carried away and have ordered 300 Crocus tommasianus Yalta. It is so pretty, I am going to have three pools of it on the crocus lawn. Robin Lane Fox was talking last weekend in the Saturday Financial Times about Chanticleer, where my friend Eric works, and said that pools of crocus look better than en masse. I think he is right. We are talking about February when they all appear, in the little semi circle at the bottom of the steps. Now that will really be something to look forward to, and it is not very long off. It is Delphinium Clifford Pink, second flowering.