We have made several major changes in the par terre, We have discovered a useful evergreen called Pittisporum Golf Ball which is a delightful shade of green and is quick growing, If we had a bad winter we would lose it I think. We have put three in and they are already making a statement. Polly has already clipped them, the chimneys, and the Phillyreas. It makes all the difference in the world to have them well clipped. We have changed around the position of some of the dahlias, and have made a new block of Dahlia Honka fragile, and Dahlia obsidian verrone, They are like a white star, and the latter like a dark maroon colour. I saw them both at Cottesbrooke last year, and was very taken. James is smitten by Honka obsidian verrone. We have also removed four David Austin roses, and now have three Rosa morning mist, two of which are huge and it is a single rose which is a peachy red. The third has only just gone in. This is a David Austin rose.
We returned from three weeks in Corfu, and I could hardly believe my eyes as to the growth throughout the garden, mainly because there had similar conditions to Irish rain while we were away. Everything that I had become accustomed to.growing half the size seemed to have doubled. The Thalictrums, expecially Elin were huge, but I did not like the fact that Thalictrum flavum illuminator, magical early on as it is a lime green colour which shows off beautifully the various tulips that are against them, now are a mass of tall waving yellow, far too much of it. It does not look good if you dead head the yellow. Polly is going to dig various of these thalictrums out. We went to Avondale nursery the other day and bought several rather good plants. About five Achilleas which I have been growing for years and do not always come through the winter, but it is difficult to find any plants that glow with better colours. We bought one called The Beacon which I have often grown before, a kind of glowing red. I remember telling people who come round that we try and change the foliage, and there are Monardas right next to similar foliage. I have rather gone off Monardas anyway and they are very difficult to dig out, and they have self seeded in two places.
We did really well for Ukraine and made £3,450 and were pretty thrilled ybthrilled by that. Everyone was very generous and it was a beautioful day, it was totally memorable. Polly worked so hard, we all did.
On Sunday we opened for UKRAINE, In the morning were our friends and family, quite a lot luckily. We had a lovely day and all the Malus were in full blossom. Malus Hupehensis on the left and Malus Transitoria in the paddock also flowering. Malus hupehensis is very tall and very white, and Malus transitoria is spreading, both equally beautiful. Personally I prefer Malus transitoria as it is a better shape and the ones at the back were still flowering. Because of the time of year the colours are very intense and the star of the show were 150 new tulips that we had planted in the main border, called Bleu Aimable. They are a kind of pink mauve, with if you look inside, a blue centre. New ones in the par terre are called Marmalade, and live up to their name. The tulips that flowered for the longest time are named Sanne, the first to flower and the last to go. We planted several species tulips but they will take a year or two to make a splash.
The two Magnolias in the paddock that got badly frosted have come back, but there goes another year. The doorbell went yesterday and I thought it was a neighbour who I had had a minor tiff with, but it was Bert who is the head of a.Dutch company that brings people to us. We had not seen him for two years due to Covid, He was coming to see what it looked like with his wife! No wonder he was having a look as gardens do not stand still. At the moment it is raining which we badly need as it does not seem to have rained for ages. Nicholas, my grandson came too, and he had got Paddington Bear and Mr Fox out on the bed. `I am rather pleased that he has not outgrown them already. My friend Jake came, and it is the second time that she has come to help and I feel very indebted to her. A couple of people came with their dogs, and I felt cross with James as Temba is quite mad and goes for dogs that are twice his size. He would not stand a chance, he is a mad little thing. Once we had a shitzu who lost the sight of his eye in a dog fight. I dont like other dogs in the garden for this main reason. Anyway it was a lovely day and a huge success and well worth all the hard work, that had particularly come from Polly.
The clocks have changed and light is flooding out, and everything seems to grow 2 inches each time it emerges from the ground. I find that exciting. We have made big changes in the apricot border, for instance have taken out the Colutea Media, it took Polly a whole day to dig it out. In its place we have planted Cotinus Grace and at the back a gift from Rupert Goldby, which was Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill. This is normally columnar but we are going to top it to make it bush. The Colutea looked an awful mess in the winter, and as this is a small garden, relatively, I mind this. At the moment the fritillaries look amazing and have seeded everywhere. Probably because we cut them down in July and they have been in a long time. The tulips have come up in all the beds, particularly in the par terre where we have Slawa, Paul Scherer, and Amber Glow. We have planted a new one called Marmalade which I have high hopes for. I have just ordered some plants from Avon Bulbs, everything is special there. This morning I got up at 5 to take some photographs, and I had gone to bed very early, I took three very good photos, and Clive is right that the whole thing is in the light. My magnolias have been a disaster this year, both Athene and Aurora were completely frosted and I feel like taking them out as both flower earlier and this is the second time this has happened. Magnolia sieboldi and Gold Star are much later and as a result safer.
A week ago we went to stay in Cornwall with two friends called Nick and Vanessa Courtney. The stars of the house party were Lord and Lady Clinton, both 89 and totally charming. He had the most amazing eyebrows I had ever seen. She was a sweetie and as keen on gardening as I am. We went to the Cornish flower show, and Glendurgan which had a wonderful maze on a steep slope. It was made by one of the Fox brothers. Basically we never stopped laughing which is always good for you. They had a very comfortable bungalow with a special view of the sea, and one day of very good weather. Polly is very excited as after three years Lathraea Clandestina has emerged, It is a purple toothwort, a parasite mainly of willow, hazel and alder, rarely seeming to cause any harm to its host. The slightly orchid like flowers are all one sees above ground. Needless to say my friend Mark Griffiths told me to buy it.
The bottom two were this morning when I got up early!
I wonder if it is because it is a lovely warm day, bees and butterflies abound, and partly as this puts me in a good mood I have had some new ideas for the apricot border. For some time I have been fed up with the large untidy Colutea Media, so Polly has taken it out, not quite. It proved to be a real struggle with a large root going off at a tangent. She is determined not to give up, and says she is getting there! We are going to put in Cotinus Grace, against which everything peach in that border will look good. My friend Rupert Goldby has given me a Daphne Jacqueline Postill, which we will put at the back. The smell when it is flowering is idyllic. I am excited at what we are doing as it is going to look quite different.
The miniature species tulips are beginning to emerge, these increase with rhizomes under the ground, and are well worth growing as they flower when not much else is. All my chaenomeles are flowering, nivalis looks very Japanese, and Moerloosi is down by the circles in the paddock. The circles in the paddock are a blaze of colour at the moment with all the peonies showing off their red shoots. There are so many little beautiful treasures in them you hardly know where to look. I remember Bob Brown saying to me ‘you dont really need this’
And I replied ‘You dont live here’. What is fun all the anemone blanda have seeded into the slate chippings where the chairs are, and so have the little white cyclamen so I have about five of them. If I put my cyclamen into a bed I am nothing like so successful with them. Polly has just succeeded with that terrible root. We have added three new peonies this year from Binny Plants, all red, and with the gift of a little shortbread biscuit, such a nice touch.
On Wednesday I am giving a gardening lunch party. It is for my friend Sibylle Kreutzberger. I was so nervous of her when I first met her. Probably because I felt she knew such a lot, but she has been nothing but charming and funny with me. Clive is coming, Victoria Wakefield, Simon Bagnall, Rupert Goldby, Sue Dickinson, Polly, Colin, James, Karen Abel Smith, and me. James is cross with me as he thinks I have asked too many people and they wont go round the table. It will be fine though. I am really looking forward to it.
Today is cold and sunny, and looking around my garden I have never seen the hellebores look more beautiful. They have already been flowering for a month and are not damaged in any sort of way. They have escaped the mice this year, probably because of a black cat who has attached itself to me, though I have not seen it for a while. We always take the leaves off in November, and though have lost a few to the black death we have many that have come from Ashwood nursery and Elizabeth Strangman. Sometimes I find the yellow ones a bit more tricky than others but they are worth persevering with. Our aconites are blowing all over the place and increasing a lot since we have first come here, which is a long time now, about 40 years. They are so lovely and they go over well.
I look round the garden I notice all my crocuses and think that they are well worth planting. What else is going on in February, and they seem to be doing better than usual. I think my favourite has to be Yalta, and they seem to cope better with grass as they are quite chunky and more robust. I cannot recommend it more. It seems to increase well. This afternoon Michael Heseltine has invited us over to see his snowdrops which I am looking forward to, though I cannot bring myself to pay very much for a snowdrop, as whenever I do it is a disaster. We had a wonderful time going to the Rococo snowdrop garden last month, as it was beautifully laid out with plenty of follies, in fact quite charming. It is rather wonderful to have plenty of things to do even in January. My spirits are lifting as I feel we are getting near the end of Winter.
This is the year of ordering some interesting small species tulips, from Avon Bulbs. Because I ordered them pretty late they were not expensive. I love Avon Bulbs as they have very good taste as to what are the prettiest, We have Tulip batalini Honky Tonk which are yellow, Tulip Sprengeri, always a lot of money and red, Tulip humilis Persian Pearl, maroon with a yellow centre, Tulip Tarda, yellow, green and white, and tulip linifolia which are red. These species tulips come up every year and increase a lot, and you can always find a space for them somewhere. There are three hundred of the species tulips altogether. All I will say although I know I have said it before, even if you have something beautiful it is all important to find the right place for it as it makes the whole difference.
These were very inexpensive too as usually Camassias are expensive. We are going to have two drifts of them in the paddock on the left and what matters is exactly when they flower. The reason being that the Malus Transitoria is white, and I dont remember exactly when the magnolias flower. Though last year they all got frosted. This year I have never seen so many huge buds which is hopeful, and they have all grown hugely. Considering that this is a small garden, we are growing nine magnolias which is quite a lot, and five are in the paddock. We have two on the front of the house. I think almost my favourite is Magnolia lilliflora nigra. It has been in a long time and I first saw it at Sissinghurst, The reason I like it so much is that it seems to flower continuously, and it always never seems to get frosted. I think that almost everyone succumbed to a bad frost this year.
Polly is cutting all the leaves of hellebores off at the moment. We have a huge amount of hellebores so this takes a long time, We do not put them on the compost heap as they are too tough to rot down. We have a black cat in the garden and he puts paid to most of the mice which is good as they create havoc and eat hellebore flowers. This is not my favourite time of year, because it is so dark. Clive took some marvellous photos of the garden about ten days ago. They gave me quite a lift. I have never seen the Sorbus Joseph Rock look like that before or have so many berries on.
Below is the Klimt border in early spring,
Second level down is Magnolia lilliflora nigra, and below that is in Florence in the chapel of the Medici Palace and is by Benozzo Gozzoli
It is far too long since I have written to all of you and I am sorry, We went to Prosilio in Corfu, the last week in September and three weeks in October. The second week we had bad weather with no electricity for three days in the middle which was testing! I muttered crossly that it was like a third world country, but the reason that I love Corfu is that it is not smart like the South of France for example. The one thing that we did achieve is cutting the olive trees so that we now have 180 degrees view which is stunning. I cannot think why we have never thought of this before. It means that I can sit up in bed and have the most wonderful view which we never had before. The same applies to the main guest bedroom where a huge tree had been blocking everything. We have made several improvements to the interior of Prosilio particularly to the kitchen. What I particularly loved was the addition of an icemaker! Amalia, who is a wonderful cook, with a lovely personality, gave us a few of her recipes, which we have tried out with success back here in England.
I have made a lot of changes, I hope for the best, in the par terre which is down the bottom of the garden. 5 roses have been taken out, according to Polly, pretty diseased anyway. I have been buying bulbs. Firstly from Avon Bulbs, species tulips, not expensive as we are at the end of the season. I am excited by them. We have a black cat in the garden who is catching several mice, and I am grateful to him for that as one year they ate all the flowers off our hellebores, which I was upset about as we have a lot of hellebores. A huge rat was spotted in the kitchen last night, and I said to James this morning should I get him a cup of tea and feed the dogs. It is a miracle that I didnt as the rat was. sitting in the bottom of Temba’s big food bag munching away, I would have certainly screamed. I looked out of my bedroom window and saw James in his pyjamas walking slowly down the lawn carrying carefully the food bag, rat, and the two dogs following behind him thinking they were getting a very early walk! James let him out in our neighbour’s field, and came back to make fresh plans for his capture. The best thing in the garden at the moment is Sorbus Joseph Rock. I have never seen them so huge and beautiful and they have berried so well, The other star is Miscanthus sinensis Yakushima Dwarf, only two of them now thank to Eric Tsu, They look like shot silk and are planted underneath the two Sorbuses. The garden looks good in winter now partly because we have lived here for so long all the structure has matured.