Chasing away the Black Dog

It is a really gloomy day in December and we are approaching the winter equinox. On such days it is hard to remember quite how glorious June can be.

To cheer us up, I thought I would post one of my favourite images from the gardens this year. Unashamedly romantic, it reminds us that the seasons pass and there is a lot to look forward to.

 

In the Rose Meadow at Easton Walled Gardens
In the Rose Meadow at Easton Walled Gardens

 

 

Snowdrop days

It’s that time of year when we go a leeetle bit snowdrop mad. Granted, we start earlier than most people as we want to get the most out of every moment of snowdrop time for our visitors. The gardens are open 11.00 -4.00 every day from February 14th -22nd for snowdrops, talks, winter walks and hot soup or cake and we need to start the planning early.

Snowdrops week at Easton Walled Gardens

For many years, we have been working on extending the drifts of bulbs on the snowdrop banks, bulking up the hellebores in the woodland walk and generally improving access and interpretation for visitors to our snowdrop days. But, excitingly, for the last year or so, we have been able to concentrate on the detail.  This means more winter irises, Cyclamen coum, yellow aconites, Crocus tommasinianus, (known as ‘tommies’,) and winter flowering cherries. New to us this year is Skimmia x confusa ‘Kew Green’ which I found at RHS Rosemoor by chasing its heavenly scent.

We- the gardening team at Easton- have also been working on building up our stocks of unusual snowdrops to use with other flowers. We don’t consider ourselves galanthophiles in the true sense (we just haven’t got the dedication to tour the country looking at 100s of varieties) but we do love variation when it allows us to try out new planting combinations.

If you are planning your display there is still time to buy bargain crocuses and other small bulbs online. Nearly all the big bulb companies are throwing huge sales. They may flower later from a late planting but they will flower at the right time the following year. Some bulb companies will sell dormant snowdrop bulbs in the Autumn but we still prefer to buy ‘in the green’ in early Spring so we know what we are getting.

One form I  am particularly fond of is Galanthus elwesii ‘Fred’s Giant.’  I have been bulking up this beauty from a single bulb given to us by Louth Antiquary Society over 10 years ago. As snowdrops go, this one is a monster. It flowers slightly earlier than the common snowdrops; Galanthus nivalis and Galanthus flore pleno. This helps extend our season and means it will flower with Iris reticulata and similar hybrids. For now, it is nestled under a red dogwood. I will divide it again in late Spring to use with new combinations. You can find a few bulbs for sale in our online shop.

 

Freds-Giant.jpg

Today it is cold and dark, what Beth Chatto calls a ‘dustbin lid’ day. Brilliant analogy, it does feel like there is a rather unloved metal dustbin lid hovering above. A good day to check on health and safety and maintenance. A walk around the garden shows traces of new snowdrop growth and occasionally there are a few blisteringly lovely autumn colours to lift the scene.  Cotinus coggygria ‘Grace’ is on fire today.

autumn plans and cotinus More snowdrop news will be posted here as the season progresses and you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more updates.

With best wishes

Ursula Cholmeley and the gardening team at Easton Walled Gardens.

 

The Turning Of The Year

Janus, the Roman two headed god, looks forward and back at the turning of the year. We are doing the same. It is still dark and cold but the seed catalogues are arriving and I start with the vegetable seeds. I rely on Paolo Arrigo at Franchi for our main tender crops and use wholesalers for seed we want in quantity. The unusual crops tend to stick in my mind. The purple kohl rabi that makes good coleslaw, the tomato ‘Cuor di bue’ with its massive heart shaped fruits for salads and, for my children, lemon or French sorrel.

Flower seeds, particularly the annuals are a tricky game. Every catalogue promises fantastic flowers from new varieties. The problem is, I can’t resist their sales pitch. The new pictures are exciting and I want them all but I mustn’t forget to order seeds that were new to us five years ago and have become old favourites. This requires a fair amount of self discipline and an inpenetrable spreadsheet to prevent over ordering. On the whole I ignore dwarf varieties but then again they can be excellent for infill bedding. Alyssum is naturally small but punches high above its weight for floriferousness and scent. Rudbeckia ‘dwarf mix’ isn’t really dwarf at all and sometimes I just can’t resist a new cultivar however stunted its breeding. It’s this head messing stuff that drives me outside.

When temperatures reach 6C and the ground thaws then plant growth can start. The longer days have a major impact on emerging snowdrops, aconites, early irises and hellebores. Leaf litter, slowly rotting under the horse chestnut and black walnut is punctuated by pale green shoots (snowdrops) and fat buds (hellebores). Galanthophiles are also stirring. Christopher Lloyd used to call these snowdrop enthusiasts, ‘Galanthobores’ which is very ungallant. (Enough puns). This breed of men and women are making plans to visit the other end of the country from where they live for the chance to see and collect snowdrops slightly different from their own. It sounds daft and it probably is, but it doesn’t stop me from joining them.

In the meantime, the best colour in the gardens comes from the birds perched on the twigs of trees and shrubs. On a dreak January day nothing lifts the heart like the birds. We may still be watching for a break in the weather for signs of spring but they know that now is the time. The pheasant cockbird is a glorious sight in his full winter regalia. He is attended by blue tits (now looking properly blue), long tailed and marsh tits streaming through the trees behind his royal progress. In the Spring, he’ll ruin it all by flapping his wings and calling raucously like mad king George, but for the time being we believe in his dignity. He is matched in colour by glimpses of the kingfisher, and unsually this year, the bullfinch.

First published www.alantitchmarsh.com (2011)