Apart from the odd quite fierce frost we are entering the phase of Spring, which is infinitely preferable to Winter. People often ask me what is the best time of year here, and for me it is Spring. How exciting it is when plants push their way through the ground, a few inches every day. Today I am dividing some special snowdrops, yellow ones, called Primrose Warburg. I have got about 40 of them, and I think I started off with 3. The last two days have been very sunny, and Polly has mowed the lawn for the first time, and sprayed the roses. Her and Colin have put out all the benches, which are pale blue and mauve, this sounds ghastly but is actually very pretty. We have done some new planting with Astelia Banksiae, thin green leaves with silvery edges, which will get to three feet. I always thought Astelia were tender but it seems not. They make a good background plant for Pulmonaria Diana Clare and white Astrantias. I am quite excited how this corner is going to turn out. The dogs went to a local hairdresser which I was very nervous about, but they looked fine, and rather better than before. Two years ago they went and looked appalling, I nearly wept. They looked skinned. Pertemba, the youngest, ran away from James, and went missing for about half an hour. I was quite worried, but it transpired that he had fallen in love with a terrier that was on heat!
I am getting used to this, but it still feels peculiar. I am lucky to have James and the garden, which I hope I am having some good new ideas for and the time to implement them. My birthday, which was onMarch 24th, did have my two sons and grandchildren ring me. My Amelanchiers, three of them, are flowering down the bottom. I am about to order six new irises from Cayeux, which is probably the best Iris supplier. I first saw them at the Chelsea flower show, and they are in France. Have just ordered a beautiful terracotta pot from Italian Terrace, to put some dahlias in. Stuck in the house I seem to be spending money, still finally I am getting some larger pots instead of the
whimsy little things that I have been getting used to!
This is an interesting time of year, several plants are coming up very fast. One of the main advantages of Hemerocallis is how early they emerge from the ground, and what a lovely lime green colour they are. We are talking about the end of February so they are good value for ages. There are several lime green, evergreen ferns, so if they go in the right place they are really worth having. The same applies to alliums and you only have to watch that they do not increase too much. I think that the sentence ‘go in the right place’ applies to almost everything, in fact it is one of the most difficult things in gardening to place plants where they look best. All of the tulip leaf is up, and I feel pleased with the ones that are repeating well. Though there is some creature that is digging them up.
My gardening lunch party was a success. It was last monday, and I had Sybylle Kreutzberger, Bob Brown, and Rupert Goldby, James and Polly came, and Polly did a pudding called Eve’s pudding, which I used to do for the children. Bob came up with some ideas that I did not agree with, but they made me think. He seemed shattered when I said that I did not really like shrubs! He said that he had never heard anyone say that before! My new web site is up, and I am lucky as I have Clive’s beautiful photos on it. His son Robbie did it for me. I never even had a web site when Polly came to me eleven years ago. We have been doing quite a lot of new spring planting. Hellebores, and cyclamen from Ashwood Nurseries, and quite a lot of plants from Fibrex, who specialise in ferns and pelargoniums, and are near here. We also went on a buying spree to Bob Brown. Mice had decimated our hellebores and the tops of our walls. Next year we need to be more aware of the damage they do.
Coming back to the garden from a week spent in Seville, blue skies and heat of 75 degrees, It seemed to exceed expectation, particularly a day trip to Cordoba. Here there were 5th century arches by the Moors all underground. Normally Spain is not my favourite, but this holiday was special. Cordoba took my breath away, also the Palace in Seville. I am always fascinated at the amazing taste that countries had such a long time ago. We are not building like that now, is it money I ask myself.
But the garden was not a disappointment. A week with a lot of rain and not too cold, there is plenty to look at , Abundant displays of crocuses, more than last year, dont ask me why. Last year we seemed to have very few of Crocus Yalta, but this year at least a couple of hundred., Crocus tricolor, doing what it says, and as with all our crocuses, we need to. keep planting. But everything is coming up and the bare beds are greening. Mice and rabbits seem to have been everywhere. But I must stop moaning about them. As usual I am thrilled to be home, in my little routines! and having the dogs back is always a real plus.
Polly is the lines of the beds, and what an improvement that is, We are replanting the little stone walls with different things, and we have not done that for a very long time., We went and bought several plants at Cotswold Garden Flowers, and had a cup of coffee with Bob Brown, as a result have asked him to Lunch with Sibylle. It is a bit like having royalty to lunch, we want it to be PERFECT.
Clive Nichols photo of Pettifers early Spring, one of my favourites
James told me that last year he saw a couple of Nectaroscordons down the bottom of the paddock in the wet bit. Now he said that there were hundreds. He was right, as I went down this morning and could not believe my eyes. It is amazing what plants will do if they like the conditions! My friend Victoria Wakefield gave them to me ages ago, and I felt quite faint in the car driving them back home. You try smelling them!
I thought of something that Pam and Sibylle said to me a while ago. They were the two Sissinghurst gardeners with Vita Sackville West.. I said ‘how do you not get upset when things are going wrong in your garden, for example some creatures are digging up my tulips in the par terre”. They replied ‘You just concentrate on the plants that are doing well!’ Mice have run riot on the tops of my little walls. That is nothing, we caught 12 in Nicholas’s room just before Christmas.. What I call Nicholas’s room was Dominic’s when he was young.
Crocuses have started dotting themselves about. I like the tommasinianus that are all over the place in random positions, and I have decided to leave them where they are.. James thinks that they are not Salix Irrorata, but they are getting whiter by the day. I shall have to take a photo and send them to a couple of friends. I have been taking quite a lot of ivy off the right hand wall. I really dislike it as it gets in my eyes and does my right shoulder in. You would have thought that I would have learnt my lesson by now. The brick that I have exposed is attractive, a lot better than the ivy. I think the ivy has been there a very long time. I love the hellebores, they are almost my favourite flower and they are everywhere. Today was very windy and cold. Then I washed the trunk of my Betula Ermanii with my floor mop and it is finally starting to go pink, which is how it looked when I first saw it at Bodnant.
Five magnolias are growing away strongly in the paddock. They love it there and are doing so well. When they are flowering I will put some pictures on.
The ground is slowly beginning to wake up. Golden aconites seem to be spreading everywhere. Each time I see them my heart lifts, particularly because others find them difficult! The good thing about them is that they die more gracefully than snowdrops, which don’t die well at all. In my paddock circles Anemone ingramii, bright blue, is already showing. It is always earlier than the other anemones. I really love them for the same reason as they are so early and go over well. I have seen the odd crocus already although I can’t pretend that I am hugely successful with them considering how long I have been persevering with them. You cant get away from the fact that you need good structure in the winter, though my Salix irrorata is not doing what I thought it would do when I saw it at the Cambridge Botanic Garden last January! The only thing I would say is that when you are only an acre and a half like me, you have to remember that after Winter you are following on with Spring, Summer and Autumn. Someone came to see the garden once and said ‘I have not seen so many small trees”, and I remember feeling quite annoyed. It was probably true. The other thing Polly and I have to put up with is remarks about Spanish bluebells.
In the paddock all our five magnolias are coming in to bud and look very happy. I think Magnolias are the aristocrats of small trees. James and I are going to Seville for a week at the end of February, I dont quite know how we settled on that but I am excited. We are also going to Córdoba which is only half an hour away by train. I will probably see a lot of orange trees doing well, whereas mine in Corfu are a travesty! Whenever I am growing something really badly I cant bear to look at it and I want to rip it out. The best bit of news is that the days are getting longer.
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.