Still in the grip of winter

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.

Planting in Corfu

I am on the plane returning from five days in our house in Corfu .

My sonThomas has been staying with me and with the help of Giannis and Byron, a very attractive Albanian who permanently has a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, we have been replanting the garden at Prosilio.

They arrive at 9am with what seems a huge amount of plants, and then get to work with a pick axe and fairly medaeval looking gardening tools. Basically what we are doing is replacing the fairly sick looking lavender with myrtle, and hope that it will stand up to the intense heat of the summer better than the lavender.

Outside our bedroom we have used a lot of westringia which has a blue grey leaf and is rather reminiscent of rosemary. It is very drought resistant and comes from Australia. My idea is that near the house we should have plants that are all different shades of green and blend into all the olive trees, so that everything is evergreen. Then on the two terraces we should have colour with the orange tecomaria capensis which is planted all along the front of the bottom terrace. To the left of them is 5 pomegranate bushes, and then 5 red and orange lantana. It took me a while to like lantana, but pruned properly it will flower all summer. These are all full of colour in October. Giannis is the master mind of everything, I could not do without his help and enthusiasm. I never would have thought I would be happy with a contract gardener, but I am. In the front of the house we have planted a cycas revoluta, which is a very ancient and slow growing palm. At the top of the steps and underneath the cottage we have planted 5 arbutus unedo, which are amongst my favourite shrubs, and are all fruiting in the wild outside Dominic and Thomas’ s, house. Their fruit is like gritty strawberries. The next step is to see if everything will come through a long, cold, and very wet winter. I would like to go back there to see our two cats and how everything is getting on, but I dont think James would come. I have completely gone off callistemon.