Snowdrops, snowdrops everywhere….

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 (2010)

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 (2011)

November work

With our volunteers and friends we planted over 4,000 bulbs on a mild morning and the soil was perfect for introducing bulbs that will bring us yellow, blue and white flowers in a succession from March onwards.

In late Spring the terrace meadows  are covered with the native cowslip and one or two precious Pasque flowers. These native wildflowers like our poor limestone slopes. Unfortunately so does the ragwort and thistle. We walk across the terraces wearing gloves (ragwort should not be handled without gloves, it has a poison that can enter the skin) and a big fork. On a damp soil, they  will slide out fairly easily. In the greenhouse, we are potting up a very delicate daffodil called Narcissus bulbicodium for planting out ‘in the green’ onto the terraces next year.

A great small tree for any garden is Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis.’ Now, it is a flaming orange and, in any spell of mild weather throughout the winter it will flower. This tree confuses visitors who think that its funny behaviour is a sign of climate change. It may burst into blossom or just throw a few pale pink flowers any time between November and April. We have planted (so far) seven and, if they flower in February, will add an ethereal feel to the drifts of snowdrops on the slopes. It is widely available and will grow in almost any soil.

We are harvesting and storing seed. Salvia patens, a true royal blue flower, sets fat dark seeds that fall out into your hand. The seed from its cousin Salvia viridis or Clary needs wrestling out of its limp seed pod. Salvia patens works well in pots and for sticking into spaces in the garden from June onwards. In milder areas than ours, it will overwinter in a warm sheltered part of the garden. Clary comes in pink, white and blue.(available for sale in our online shop) The flowers are tiny but each spike is topped with vibrantly coloured bracts. We get orders for seed of the blue or pink but rarely the white. This is a shame as the white form with its green veining is excellent in flower arrangements. These are two plants we are asked about over and over again through the summer. Almost all the Salvia family are worth investigating.

The final putting to bed of the rose meadows involves mowing, raking, piling and stacking. The birds keep a close eye on all this activity. In return, as the leaves fall from the trees we get a better view of their activities. Down in the birdhide, small groups of tits, dunnocks and finches flit between the feeders and the undergrowth. The fieldfares have arrived back to overwinter here.

We are hoping to complete the final weed through the beds and assume that the weather will turn and growth will stop. If not, we have a back up plan. A leaflet has arrived from a local one man business offering garden maintenance including clearing ‘evasive’ weeds. I hope he brings a big net.

Originally published – November 2010