February is associated with this beautiful flower and we have them in abundance. The name ‘snowdrop’ does not refer to the powdery stuff but to the long pearl drop earrings worn by women in the late 16th and 17th centuries. (as in ’The girl with the Pearl Earring ‘by Vermeer) Once you know this, it is easy to see the comparison, as snowdrops hang on a long thin green pedicel and move in the wind.
Daffodils are starting to show. ‘Spring Dawn’ is the earliest and is a pale colour that complements the snowdrops. For some years we have been trying to establish crocuses and this year looks like we may have succeeded with a few bulbs. If the mice find the bulbs in their first year of planting they will get eaten, every single one. After that, however, it seems that the bulbs dig down deeper or maybe their roots put the mice off and they are left alone. All along the borders of the cottage garden there are delicate spikes of purple,blue and yellow. Some are crocuses but others are the early and very beautiful irises Harmony, George and danfordiae.
In some ways, February is my favourite gardening month. The grass hasn’t started to make big calls on our time, the light illuminates the spring bulbs pushing up across the close cropped turf and everything looks tidy and manageable. There is time to appreciate the small things like the first bee of the year or buds breaking on cold branches. Even the young seedlings in the greenhouse say ‘Carry on, we’re in no hurry to move.’ A warm week in March will change all that.
Snowdrop Week runs daily from 15th February until 23rd February 11.00-4.00 Jackies talks on the snowdrop are included in the admission price and last about 20 minutes and have some seating. 12.30 and 2.30 daily.
We have a good selection of unusual snowdrops and hellebores for sale.
The gardens open for the season from Sunday March 2nd until end of October. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays.
First published www.alantitchmarsh.com (2010)
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)