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.
Going to the bottom of the garden you have in an undulating shape our largest border which is called the Autumn Border. The colours have been inspired from India and are yellow, purple, orange, pink. Rupert Goldby told me his ladies would never use yellow, and in fact one lady had taken his use of yellow out. I think that is her loss. We have plenty of Asters, and we also have Heleniums Sahins early flowerer. If you dead head that regularly it will continue to flower for 3 months. There is virtually nothing else that will do that. Standing at the back is Achillea Gold Plate which is like a tall flat plate. I dithered with using this for many years as thought it would be too harsh a colour, but it has been a huge success and I saw it growing at Kew. You only dead head it when the the flowers go brown. It is huge and self supporting, Monardas take their place and what beautiful colours they are, sometimes they turn white with mildew but on the whole not. If I ruled out the colour yellow i would have Monarda, purple, bright pink, and purple. We have various grasses, two huge ones which are called Miscanthus sinensis Yakushima dwarf, though the word dwarf is hardly applicable. Aconitum Carmichaeli Royal Flush, which comes up with beautiful pink foliage, This is deep blue, Sunningdale Yellow , Monarda Melissa, Monarda Cambridge Scarlet, Sorbus Joseph Rock, two of them, with pale orange berries. One of the most beautiful grasses I have ever seen and it is called Miscanthus Silberspinne and came from my favourite nursery, Marchants Hardy Plants, Graham Gough.