It is depths of Winter, and there have been very few days when I could even take any photos. This morning the sun emerged and I walked down the bottom of the paddock with signs of voles everywhere! We have a lot of snowdrops out now, mostly given me by what I consider famous gardeners, and they have increased such a lot that it is very satisfying. At the bottom of the paddock, purely by chance, are a lot of trees and shrubs with red stems. Salix Batsfordiana, simply huge, and we cut it back every few years. Tilia Winter Orange, planted from a whip, again huge, and three Alders with red catkins. I remember reading about them in one of Margery Fish’s books. On the left hand side we have a grove of Magnolias, five of them all different. They like the soil and the aspect, and are doing very well. Polly has lifted the crowns of the avenue of Malus Transitoria. When the sun is out it gives beautiful shadows underneath them. Even if I have to wait for the sun to shine, it is very satisfying to walk down there.
Well here we are in the New Year, and with Christmas behind us. James’s, 95 year old mother, Judy, has died aged 95, and on Tuesday is her cremation in Banbury. I have not gardened at all for weeks, and yesterday I have been out there working hard, and this morning. I think I am pretty unfit, but have loved what I have been doing the last two days. Suddenly the garden is transformed, snowdrops everywhere, and the aconites seem to have spread quite a lot. They are so beautiful at this time of year. Other people have trouble with them, but they seem to love us. Some of the hellebores are flowering quite well, depending where they are. It was worth doing taking off all the leaves, though there are still a few to do, and it looks as if mice have been after them. My Salix Irrorata are beginning to gleam white and I am excited by them. They are underplanted with Galanthus Jacquinetta, originally given to me by Polly, and which have increased hugely. I have been cutting back the Chrysanthemum Chelsea Physic, but we are going to take cuttings of it when Polly gets back. Everything is cut back except the Klimt border which I have made a start on, and the Autumn border which takes a long time because it is so huge. James is preparing lunch while I am writing this. He has been to pick his brother Dave up from Heathrow, who has flown in from Melbourne, Australia. When you walk in to the kitchen past Sarcococca Confusa, you are nearly knocked sideways by the lovely scent that this shrub gives out. You know I don’t really like shrubs, but this is evergreen, glossy, and with a beautiful smell. You can hardly go wrong.
Am I not right, or has it been very mild. It seems very early to have all the snowdrops flowering. How I love the snowdrops, and the other thing I adore is the Peonies who are all pushing their way up. Bob Brown thought I did not need the two circles in the paddock, filled with winter flowering flowers. The pleasure I get from sitting down at my table looking at my early hellebores, snowdrops, Peonie Mairie, which was a gift from John Grimshaw. I did not realise how lucky I was at the time. It is the earliest Peony. and easy to increase. I will put on another blog filled with photographs of what I am talking about. .
It is extraordinary the lift of spirits that a group of early snowdrops gives you. On Friday I was looking at the two circles in the paddock that Polly has now weeded and cut back. There staring at me was a group of Galanthus Atkinsii. I could not believe it it seemed so early. At the moment in the garden it is almost the bleakest time of the year, except for a group of Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic’ bought from Marina Christopher. Anything that you buy from Marina is a star. It is still flowering at this moment, and I will show you a photograph of it. Very pretty too are the plumes of Miscanthus sinensis Kaskade. I ‘planted that because it was illustrated in Marina’s book ‘Late summer flowers’ It is still flowering well and is very twirly!
Down the bottom of the garden is Prunus subhirtella autumnalis. It was only planted last year and is covered with blossom and is something I have always wanted to grow. It is growing in the grass next to my bed of Salix Irrorata, spotted at the Cambridge Botanic Garden last year. I thought it was the best thing in January that I could see in their Winter Garden, and felt really pleased that we had made the decision to go there. Today we are going to lunch at Kiftsgate which I am really looking forward to. We are getting close to Christmas and have caught 10 mice in Dominics old bedroom, which my grandson Nicholas sleeps in! I cant think where they are coming in!
All the bulbs are coming up, particularly the snowdrops. I am looking out of the kitchen window., the ferns seem to have spread a lot. Bevis is getting huge, and Betula Jacquemontii is now a lot taller than the house. On Monday we are going to stay with Dominic and Hetty and the three grandchildren, they are near Devizes. I enjoy buying clothes for them, and the boys only seem to like Lego. I am pleased that they are living closer to us. Our little stone walls are very pretty and look rather Japanese, covered in moss. The next star of the garden is going to be the hellebores. What other flower flowers for three months. We have already cut off the leaves which do not go on the compost heap as they are too tough to rot down easily.
James does not like it but I rather like Christmas.
Just over a month until Christmas. Time seems to go so fast, and we have started cutting back in earnest. Basically we let the borders continue to look attractive, and demolish things that are black or soggy. We have to tackle the borders now or there is just too much work for next year. Polly is planting the tulips in between outbursts of rain. We have ordered three new Crateagus Prunifolia Splendens from Bluebell Nursery, which is at Ashby la Zouche, and very good specimens arrived quickly. Though Polly spotted big thorns on them, she has an eagle eye. She says that she is going to plant them in large circles, so she can escape the thorns. James and I saw similar Crateagus at Wisley, with bigger thorns. This was a planting by Tom Stuart Smith. Tensing and Temba have been to their hairdresser, Peter’s posh pets. They always look so beautiful when they have been there, and I think they know it. People stop me in the street! One of the main reasons for planting euphorbias is the amazing red stems they have in the winter. Clive looked out of the kitchen window and thought he was looking at Cornuses.
Last week we went to Mostyn for a trustee meeting and I had not seen the garden for a year, and it was amazing how it had advanced. The really huge ancient greenhouse was on the way to being finished and was quite beautiful. At the base of the brick work were quite large holes for the grapes to be planted to go through. My greenhouse would fit in about 30 times. Though I am not envious of it. It is a job in itself! Then we went to Llandudno and up the Great Orme, and went in to a lovely little church, 5th century, called St Tudno. Finally we went to Bodysgallen Hall, the garden looking fairly inspiring, with a lovely view of Conway Castle. The Akebia Quinata has been completely taken down from the drawing room wall, and there is a gap at the bottom which has had to be filled in but now it is rain worthy. Sorry I am back to talking about Pettifers. The whole trip gave me some good ideas.
Here we are in Autumn, feeling very grateful for the soft light and plants that turn golden and red. I have just heard from my daughter in law, Hetty, that we have a large page in Country Life, of the Autumn Border which I have not seen yet. Exciting. I thought that the Autumn border was exceptionally good this year, the colours were amazing, though whether everyone would have liked my use of yellow I do not know. It is so large this border that I can play around with combinations and colours. It’s other advantage is that the soil is very good and we do not have to stake anything.
Because of all the interminable rain we have been having, quite a few things have gone black. A very charming person called Paula came to interview me on monday, for four and a half hours, I was exhausted, and we walked round with me trying to notice everything. Polly was cutting back in the par terre as the rain had made the dahlias go over. In the Autumn Border Aster pink buttons was still going strong. Extraordinary for the first week in November. Found in Paris and increasing like mad. I have had it some time. Kniphofia Rooperi still flowering, though I never think that kniphofias go over at all well. Though one thing I think to myself is that no garden should be without asters as they prolong the season. We have more bookings than usual for this time of year, some from the French and Italians. I like them as they are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Yesterday James and I went to Wisley together, managed to get a good idea out of it, I hope. We then went to the shop, which is always very good. Pleased to see the Tim Richardson book that we were on the cover of is still for sale. Something very delicate and beautiful is flowering. Kniphofia Thomsonii var thomsonii, how I love it. It is at the edge of the main border so that you really notice it.
I suppose the frosts are going to start arriving, but as we have good structure it will look alright. If it is very cold this year I will worry about the Pittosporum Golfball which has just gone into the par terre to replace the Sarcoccoccas, which got too huge, and the Woodwardias which we normally cover.
On Monday we got back from two weeks in Corfu, a beautiful day every day. We got persuaded to open our garden at Prosilio for the Garden scheme. I did not think we were good enough and I felt a bit cross about it. Amazingly enough it was a huge success and we had about 40 people, a mixture of Greek, English and various nationalities. I never thought that I would be holding forth as to what would do well in Corfu or not. I thoroughly enjoyed it as everyone was so friendly and interested.
The main thing that we did out there was to take down three large olive trees which then opened up a large section of the mountains of Albania and the sea. Why had we never seen to do this before, partly that we are always there in august when you cannot do this, we have people staying and it is hot. I think we are going to spend less time in august it is just too hot.
Back here at Pettifers the best thing is the autumn border and the asters. It is an autumnal garden. Almost the best time, and I am so pleased to be back with Tensing and Temba. I am always saying that.
James is now a companion to go to Kew with. We have never gone together before because he has always been working, and we are at Pettifers at the weekend. We went to the Broadwalk borders, and I was thrilled to hear him say that he preferred Pettifers Autumn borders. Still here we are concentrating on the Autumn, and there they are having a much longer spectrum. How lovely Kew was, so many beautiful buildings, and I certainly want to go back and see their interiors. London is filled with stunning things. James has gone to see his mother, and Temba is sitting on the kitchen step waiting for him to return.
When I drove down yesterday I could not wait to cut down the Golden hop tree. It was blocking all the light in the study, apart from its leaf looking very chlorotic, quite hideous actually. It has opened up a view to the church and a. statuesque pine tree. It stops cluttering the beautifully clipped undulating beech hedge. You can see a small black wrought iron gate, and the clock on the church, apart from giving us a lot more light in a room in which we spend a lot of time. Polly does not like me cutting down too many large things, but I am amazed that I did not see this before.
When we get to November it is the time for planting bulbs. I am talking about tulips really, and before we went to Corfu I had ordered all the ones we needed. Peter Nyssen is the wholesale firm I go to, and I think they are pretty good. Bloms, and Avon Bulbs are both top class, but quite a lot more expensive. I think this has been quite a dry season, though tomorrow we are expecting a week of rain. In my opinion badly needed, and it is going to transform most of the borders near the house. The Autumn border has pretty good soil, and one or two visitors have commented how we do not have to stake anything down there.
] am pretty pleased with the Autumn border this year. In all the time that we have been planting it, it has never looked so good. I think it is the use of yellow, purple and blue. We did use yellow last year but we have planted purple to go with it this year. The different colour pink monardas against Helenium Sahins early flowerer early on was fairly mind blowing. I took some good shots but needless to say Clive’s were absolutely stunning.