The Ides of March

9 March, 2013.
It is not the end of winter after all, it is freezing cold again and trying to snow.The one plant that we have in the garden is masses of primroses which have self seeded everywhere. It makes me laugh when I think of one of my best friends who actually bought 150 from Jamie Chichester, and then was only left with 20. I went down to the paddock this morning where 5 years ago we planted 200 Crocus Vernus Vanguard, 200 Crocus Vernus Pickwick and 200 Crocus Queen of the Blues. Vernus Vanguard flowers first. E.A. Bowles said crocus vernus were the best to establish in rough grass, and he was going to plant 200 crocus vernus Margot each year. Margot is not available now, so we are going to choose Crocus Vernus Grand Maitre instead, and order it from Avon Bulbs. The last two years pheasants have eaten them all, and they have been a disaster, but this year, despite Polly doing her best to mow them over, we have more than 700 with crocus vernus pickwick proving the dominant one. We have them interspersed with snowdrops and they seem to flower at the same time. The idea was to sit with a cappucino by the winter circle in the paddock and look across at them. There is a new crocus tommasianus called crocus tommasianus ‘Yalta’ which is beautiful beyond words, and similar to a small edition of vernus vanguard. I must remember to order it next year. Val Bourne brought my attention to it by describing it in the Saturday Telegraph, she does write inspiringly.
Last week we went to see our two friends at Woodchippings, Richard Bashford and Valerie Bexley. How amazing it all was, only a third of an acre and every inch planted with the choicest hellebores, ferns, cyclamen, different snowdrops which are constantly divided, and lots of corydalis. This year they have discovered species crocuses, and have made several trips to Little Heath Farm Nursery, which is near Berkhamsted. This nursery is coming for a Rare Plant Fair at Evenley Wood on April 7th. We must try and remember to go as it is near us. I came back from Woodchippings in a complete haze, and we have decided to replace all the white hellebores on the left hand side, as they are all seedlings and rather muddy in colour. Rich would not give them pride of place. You live with something and you do not notice that it is simply hopeless until you see something that is quite perfect and you cannot fail to make the comparison. Polly and I got on to Ashwoods website, where everything was completely mouth watering. At the end of the telephone conversation, Steve said “how did you hear of us” and I replied that I had fallen into their clutches a long time ago.

Plant of the Month

We decided to do a plant of the month after reading John Grimshaw’s blog on his plant of the year. How do you choose that we thought! Having already taken a photo of Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘The First’ earlier in the day this was the obvious choice for March. It’s taken its time in coming up and flowering during to the persisting cold weather and now more snow. The tips of the leaves showed at the beginning of February, the flower buds arriving suddenly about 3 weeks ago. It’s one of those plants that appear over night and if the sun is hot can be over in 3 days. But this year we’ve already had a week of tight buds, now garlanded with snow. Even with the sun shining directly on them, the flower buds are refusing to open. There aren’t any bees around to pollinate them anyway – I’ve seen only about 6 so far this year, rather worrying.
We have this tulip planted in an east facing border in well drained and probably quite poor soil at the roots of a large cotinus. The shrub will keep the bulbs dry during the summer and as it’s deciduous it won’t cast any shade during the spring when the tulip’s leaves are up. The poor gritty soil keeps the slugs at bay too – the reason Christopher Lloyd gives as to why he couldn’t grow them. Other than keeping the molluscy critters off it seems you just need to plant them deep and leave them alone. I like plants like that!

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End of Winter

23 February, 2013

Spring was on its way until about 3 days ago. All the hellebores are up and flowering, and continue to flower for about three months.. We cut all the leaves off round about Christmas time, and do not put them on the compost heap. We have a mixture of yellow, blue, white, various shades of pink, and green. They will not pick to put in a vase, but you can float the heads in a shallow bowl of water which looks very pretty on a dining room table. Digging them up and you need a huge amount of strength. When it is really cold the hellebores lie down flat which I can hardly bear to look at, but they then stand up again as if nothing has happened. The ones near the house we have surrounded with named snowdrops, which have nearly all done well. Polly has worked very hard to improve this bit, and really for the end of February this looks very pretty with a lot going on. It is important to try and achieve this as otherwise winter seems so long. We have a lot of aconites which have seeded around, and the crocus tommasinianus are showing on the crocus lawn at the bottom of the steps. When you are near the parterre you get a strong scent of the sarcoccoca of which we have two huge bushes.

Last weekend James and I went to Colesbourne Park, near Cirencester,which was inspirational. Acres of snowdrops under deciduous trees, it has taken over a hundred years to achieve this marvellous garden. It made me long to rush home and start dividing all my snowdrops. We bumped into John Grimshaw there who has written the definitive book on snowdrops and used to be in charge of Colesbourne.. I bought 4 called James Backhouse, which he said was a very good doer.

It has taken about 10 days to cut down the autumn border, it must be much bigger than I realised. We have lost all the poppies in it, and it shows how plants hate to be covered up by other things. In the Burgundy border allium Globemaster has taken over, and one has turned into about 30. The leaf is very attractive, and this is my favourite allium. There is an article on alliums coming out in The English Garden in May, and quite a lot of them are in my garden. The eremurus out the front are coming up, and some have increased from one to seven. There we have put all the Rosa mutabilis together, and just hope that they will do better than last year and that there will be some sun. The exciting thing about gardening is you always look forward to next year being better, and if not better it is usually different.

My little dog Tensing has been very ill for about 2 weeks, but finally with antibiotics and a change of diet he is much better. It is such a relief. All the grasses are cut down now except the cortaderia. We are longing for the cortaderia richardii to flower on the right hand side as the two plants look very healthy, but did not produce a flower plume last year.

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Winter Update 10 December

I felt very happy today as not only was it very mild and the sun shone, but my eldest son Dominic has got engaged to a girl called Hettie Harvey.
I have only met her once and she is deputy editor of the Evening Standard Magazine. She is pretty and clever and Dominic is in a state of euphoria.

I am at the bottom of the garden cutting down herbaceous plants in the autumn border. Polly likes them cut into small pieces, as because this takes a long time they rot down quicker on the compost heap. This is really a huge border as I have already been two days on it accompanied by Tensing and Classic FM. I think next year I am going to add coreopsis tripteris to this bed which is soft yellow and up to 8ft tall, as I have not made any changes here for sometime. It is not a dense plant and would look good at the back, once if not twice.

Polly says she has found a wriggling nest of baby grass snakes in the compost heap. I am glad it was not me as I am terrified by snakes, even grass ones. I always think that December and January are the two bleakest months in the garden. There are several shades of green, yellow and beige, and it is then that the structure you have got is important. The winter light can be beautiful, and it is now that you start to cut off the hellebore leaves as you do not want mice nesting in them eating the emerging flowers.

After Christmas the days slowly start to get longer, and since it has been mild several of my snowdrops have started to emerge. There is a large clump of Reginae- Olgae subsp. vernalis in the circle in the paddock. I must remember to divide them in the New Year. I picked a few and put them in Dominic’s and Hetty’s room.

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