A photograph taken yesterday of the swathe of honesty under the yew trees with Betula jacquemontii in the foreground.
Plant of the Month – May
When in Corfu in April, you see hillsides stretching away into the distance covered in a lilac haze. This is Lunaria annua. We have it here, shimmering under the yew trees, where it survives in bone dry soil and glade-like shade and occasional sun. It is very obliging, self seeding around in profusion and needing no intervention other than pulling out any that appear in the gravel path or in amongst plants that would be overwhelmed by it.
We have two colours; the lilac and a strong magenta. The two are kept ruthlessly apart, segregated by the main lawn over which they eye each other up, preening in an attempt to make you chose which is the fairest. To keep the colours pure we can’t mulch the beds with our own compost as the seeds would get mixed up as we cut down the old stalks in late winter.
Our visitors often see things we overlook. An American couple last year were amazed that we grew it because, frankly, in a couple of months time, it will look ghastly, if only briefly. After the flowers have fallen, the seed heads form. These start as green discs before turning a mucky sand colour. But then . . . their second season of beauty begins as the discs turn white and then as the outer sheath drops away the transparent inner disc appears that shines through winter and gives the plant one of its names – moonflower.
It’s also known more commonly as honesty. Very appropriate really, as this is a family of barristers, solicitors and generally upstanding people!
It really is spring now, but it is so cold that the tulips have lasted a month. In the Par Terre it was not Blue Heron as expected, but Bulldog interspersed not with Cistula but something that was a much harsher yellow. Polly thought it was ‘very Christopher Lloyd‘. It is annoying as one puts a lot of thought into it, but Peter Nyssen could not have been nicer and are giving me a refund for Bulldog. If you took away the colour provided by the tulips at this time of year, your garden would seem sombre. There is every tulip available, many of which seem to have stepped out of a Dutch painting. There are several reasons why I select them, colour and robustness, and time of flowering. For example Ballerina has reappeared in my garden, year after year. What I do is plant them very deep on a bed of grit and bonemeal. Then I sprinkle grit on the top of the soil so that I do not make the mistake of planting something on top. This is all done the end of October or November.
At this time of year there are domes of gold, and these are Euphorbia Polychroma. This seems to seed mildly in cracks and gives an enchanting random effect. Euphorbia Palustris is larger, and the same colour, and does not seem to seed with me. I would not be without Valerian Phu Aurea which Victoria Wakefield gave me. It is a lovely golden colour now, and later on turns green, and the flower has a very sweet scent. There are quite a few geraniums with golden leaves which are pretty to mingle with. Geranium Anne Folkard and Geranium Anne Thomson, both seem to flower indefinitely.
At the moment that garden seems to consist of several different shades of green, which is very peaceful to live with. Cornus alternifolia argentea, and Cornus Controversa, are both breaking into leaf, and they are such elegant shapes that your eye is immediately drawn to them. The beds themselves, with a lot of effort on my and Polly’s behalf, are varying textures of blue, green, variegated green, the purple haze of thalictrums, the golden foliage of euonymus and the golden foliage of Thalictrum Flavum Illuminator; and the amber colour of the new foliage of the yew. When you walk around the garden looking at it it is roughly growing 2 inches a day.
Last weekend we had a group of Australians round the garden. In spite of not knowing my plants, it was very encouraging as they simply loved the garden. I had to speak to them with a microphone which I had never done before! They were more appreciative than anyone I had ever had.
Plant of the Month April
What do you buy a girl who has everything? Or in this case, what do you take as a gift to another gardener who has tried everything and has either killed it, thought better of it or got bored with it?
Well if you are John Grimshaw (that name again!), you take them a Paeonia mairei. He told us it was the first peony to flower and it is. Despite the snow and howling gales, chestnut brown fists of foliage could be seen breaking through the ground in February. It has increased steadily to a good foot and a half across in three seasons, withstanding drought one year, deluges the next and this years ever protracted Spring.
In fairness, peonies seem to like us. Paeonia veitchii var. woodwardii has been moved every year for the past three and still comes up and flowers. What’s this about peonies sulking if they are moved? Ours should be spinning with dizziness by now.
The second picture shows Paeonia mairei drooping with frost but up it came later in the day. I’m not sure Paeonia cambessadesii would do that!
10th APRIL, Still in the grip of WINTER
We have been busy because this is the busiest time of the year. Last week Polly planted the two yew hedges at the bottom right of the garden. We managed to secure some very good plants, cheap and very bushy, from an advertisement in the back of The Garden, a nursery called Hope’s Grove in Kent. They are planted against my post and rails where there used to be Rosa Glauca. We are going to have two separate hedges and sculpt them starting high and tapering lower. The quotes for the plants ranged from £800 to £450, a big difference. Goodness knows if Polly will be able to keep on top of the couch grass, thistles, ground elder and other marauders that used to venture through. She is going to use a black membrane in one far corner. She planted this yew in a biting east wind, which made it colder than the weather forecast.
Last friday was my son Dominic’s wedding to Hetty, which needless to say was a completely unforgettable day. It was in London, and they are spending their honeymoon in Corfu. My mind is already focusing on what we are going to plant out there. I would like to have 7 pink Cercis Siliquastrum, or Judas trees, and 3 Cydonia Oblonga as you come in at the entrance of our drive. Their leaves are deep green above, and underneath grey. They have a lovely white blossom which is followed by golden fruit slightly like an irregular pear. I have got 5 Judas trees there already, but in five years they have not grown more than the odd inch, and I feel that in my life time I would like to see something, so I must rip them out and start again. They went in far too big and there was no watering system. We will be able to tell more when we dig them up. I saw this combination of plants in Old Perithia, and it was really magical. Old Perithia is a deserted mediaeval village and lies below the highest mountain in Corfu, in the north east corner. We are always in Corfu in May too, which is a consideration. Gardening there is certainly very challenging, but interesting because it is so different. There we have 5 acres, instead of 1 and a half at Pettifers, so I tend to plant in large blocks. What it really needs is the dead wood cut out of the olive trees, and the little stone walls rebuilt. There are about 250 olive trees so this is a herculean task. We try and achieve something new each year.
Apart from planting we have been lining up all our borders. As our garden is full of rectangles of grass this makes it look much better in the winter, and it is amazing how far we are out with some of them. When I can really tell is looking down from my bedroom window. James’ maiden Aunt Ivie always said to me “Gina you must look down on your garden” and she had a real point. She was the one who refused to go into the house at Rhiwlas because she said it was unlucky to bring snowdrops into the house. Robin, (my brother in law), got cross with her, and she got wheeled back to her nursing home (without having had lunch)! A plant that you should not be without in the winter is valerian phu aurea, first given me by Victoria Wakefield. I did not like it much to start with, but at this time of year it makes a splash of golden colour for about 3 months which cheers everything up. Its rather insignificant white flower smells very strongly as you pass it, then it is not so interesting and turns green.