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.
Today is my elder son Dominic’s birthday, Last night it rained hard (badly needed) and a lot of the leaves have come tumbling down. You will see from my photos that the garden is all shades of green and russet, and the bare bones have become very evident. We are still putting in more structure all the time, by that I mean evergreen shapes. Though I must say I hate gardens that are all box or yew balls, We had a friend of James staying, called Ronnie from Hawaii. He said ‘Gina why do you have alL these stone balls? I replied that I supposed it was the fashion. I did not really know what to say, and I have just counted that I have five. Mostly they are on top of pillars. I find difficult to believe how long the asters are still lasting, and two of my delphiniums have flowered for the second time. Thomas, my second son, has started me off on Instagram, but I am rather amateurish with it still, and I need to be put straight by him. He has just been to Lapland with Nicholas to meet Father Christmas, We have been redoing pieces of the Autumn border, getting rid of things that have not done well (far too many Sanguisorbas who hated this summer) and dividing things that do do well, for example the Vernonias, James is helping in the garden today, (which is a beautiful one), he is a fair weather gardener! However he is not the only one! This afternoon I am going to cut back some of the leaves of the Hellebores. We have an awful lot of them, so it might take some time. They are in almost all my borders, but in the summer you dont really notice them. We don’t put them on the compost heap. I have given up as it has started raining again and I have only done about ten.
Polly has planted the tulips in the par terre, and she cannot really plant the rest until the borders are cut back. Cutting all the borders back takes ages, particularly the autumn border. She has put all the pots away and emptied them. I dont bother to put tulips in pots, just in the ground. Clive is away in Australia, and I rather miss him.
At this time of year the best part of the garden is the par-terre. Polly has lifted all the dahlias and planted the Triumph tulips in their place. We don’t usually repeat the colour combination each year but it was so lovely that we have. From my bedroom window I can see a haze of red at the bottom on the left which are the berries of Malus Hupehensis, The whole garden after getting to the end of the main lawn, slopes downhill which adds to the drama of what you have planted. In the paddock the avenue of Malus Transitoria has turned a lovely colour with tiny little orange berries, and on the left is what Polly and I call my Magnolia grove. These are already flowering and growing well, probably because I have good soil there, Where the two lime trees came down in Storm Aileen, we have planted Prunus subhirtella autumnalis, I have always wanted to grow this and finally have a good place for it. The winter can be so bleak and long that the more structure and winter interest that you have the better. I have started about five years ago planting a few named snowdrops, and the more they increase and the earlier they come up is always exciting. Quite a few people have been sweet enough to give me some, and I love it in gardening that you always remember who gave you what. Eventually your garden becomes rather like a personal diary of plants.
My friend and neighbour, Harriet Baring, I am now quite proud of her garden. After six years, with Polly and I helping her with ideas and plants. Initially I told her that I was only going to help her if she took everything out. No one was more amazed than me when she did. But there she is in the middle of fields with sheep, duck (I dont like them, they chased my dogs) and not even a telegraph pole to look at. Harriet and Justin, with the help of one day a week Ronald, have looked after it very well. Next summer I will put on some photos of her garden.