Thursday, 23 February 2017

Irritating Plant of the Month February 2017 - the viburnum

This plant is clearly very irritating.  This small viburnum bodnantense has created its own demise by its sheer level of irritatingness (ok that is not a word, sorry).
Flossy has kindly agreed to demonstrate the issue.  This small shrublet when placed on the table in the garden is at the perfect height for a cat to use to scratch their face.  Sometimes they even like to have a bit of a chew at it as well.  It is no surprise then that it is not thriving.  It is possibly a bit of a surprise that I have not moved it to stop this from happening.  It is probably too late for that now, but I shall place it in the greenhouse for a while to see if it gives it a much needed pause.

Poor thing.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Thenford Snowdrops

As regular readers will know, I recently reviewed the new book from Anne and Michael Heseltine that is a celebration of their garden at Thenford.  I said in my review that I thought that Thenford was an important garden and that I very much wanted to visit.  After checking their website I found the list of dates that this private family garden is open and duly applied.

Thenford is about an hour's journey from home.  We set off late morning and arrived just as the garden opened.  We were faced with an immediate dilemma.  Did we join the small queue for soup or go through and join the scrum around the snowdrop stall.  People were bee-lining for the stall and scooping up the precious snowdrops.  We decided that lunch would be first and we would take our chances with the snowdrops.
The snowdrop stall was loaded with different types of snowdrops.  So many names and different types and prices.  Some were as much as £70 a pot.  I glanced at them and appreciated their rariety but that was too costly for me.  A purchase was made of Madeline, a very pretty yellow snowdrop.  I've been hankering after a yellow snowdrop and this day was the day the hankering ceased.
We bought one pot so we could share the cost.  It is even then this is the most expensive snowdrop I have bought.  I shall be hoping to see it again next year!

Snowdrops purchased and safely stowed back in the car, we set out into the garden.  Rarely has a map been so needed.  This is not a small garden and there is much to see.
There is a woodland walk flanked by snowdrops.  Lord Heseltine is a galanthophile and there are swathes of naturalised snowdrops......
..... and parts of the garden that show off the collection.  There are clumps of snowdrops are carefully named and laid out so you can appreciate the distinct differences between them in various parts of the garden.  This mixture of approaches is very much the best of both worlds.
I very soon found I was peering at them and making ooh noises.  When you're taking photographs of the interesting reverse side of a snowdrop you know that the collecting bug is very catching.
It is also a garden of sculptures.  There are some incredible sculptures that fit their setting perfectly.
It is above all else a garden that is personal to Lord and Lady Heseltine.  Their initials mark various moments around the garden.  I loved this bench that was situated in the rose garden.
The rose garden is a little bare this time of year, I am standing behind the bench here and you can see it looks out towards the late.  I think the sun would set over the lake from this point and that must be a wonderful sight.
Watching over the rose garden is this rather fine bird.
The walks through the grounds were full of scents from viburnums and hamamelis.
Pan makes more than one appearance in the garden.  Pan is god of the wild, shepherds and flocks.  When I see Pan I totally give away my age as I immediately think 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn', which is (for me) a bit of a Pink Floyd/Wind in the Willows moment.  I like that he has his place here in this garden.
The garden leads you on and through many openings.  As I said previously I think that Thenford is a great garden.  It is created with a similar vision to many of the great Victorian if not older gardens.  One thing that gives me even more confidence in saying this as that at this time of year a garden is stripped to its bones.  If it's bones are good, then the garden itself has a fair chance of being equally good.
Let me explain further:  there are the calming green spaces.  This smallish (in Thenford terms) lawn and lumpy box hedging was a real delight.  Just to walk through and let the mind rest from all the sights that had been seen was perfect.
There are the grand vistas.  I love a good rill and cascade at the best of times and this has to be one of the best.  It is on the scale almost of some of the ones I saw when in Italy last year.
There are the hedges, the many hedges.
Just look at the line of the hedges around the circle gardens.  There are apparently ten gardeners employed and the care and attention and skill was very apparent.

In the sculpture garden these are used to great effect.  The concept of garden rooms is well established but these were more like garden peep-holes.
As you walked along you got glimpeses of the sculptures and then you had to find the way in to actually see them up close.  I cannot begin to describe to you how much I loved this.
When talking about the whole use of  'light and dark' in gardens, this is a master class.  You are led along narrow paths to discovery.
Rarely have I seen sculpture so well placed in a garden.
This one was almost my favourite, she exudes graceful quiet.
Now I know that this is one of the most famous and one of the most dramatic pieces in the collection but I cannot tell you how wonderful it really is.  A piece this big is difficult to place well and this is placed well.  I loved it.
There are many surprises in the garden, this is not  quite an elephant in a pink cage.
I love the elephant, it has that quality about it that makes you want to reach out and touch it.  I can never explain how some sculptures have that effect on me, but there is something about making contact with it that is almost irresistible.  I thought that if I owned it I would probably want a bench nearby.  We could then sit and keep each other company and share thoughts as the sun sets.
There is a temple lion on top of a mound.
and what I would term Portmeirionesque gates into the trough garden.
There is also one of the biggest, grandest, most formal walled gardens you probably ever did see,
and an ice-house that almost looks like a hobbit-hole.

There is more, so much more to this garden but I am going to stop here.  As ever I think it is better to leave much untold in the hope that if possible readers can go and discover for themselves.  It is worth it.

With grateful thanks to Lord Heseltine for giving me permission to write about my visit.

Other snowdrop garden visits this year:

Hodsock Priory

Easton Walled Gardens

Little Ponton Hall

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Snowdrops and aconites at Little Ponton Hall

This year Little Ponton Hall opened for its annual snowdrop weekend on the 11th/12th February to raise money for the Lincolnshire Down's Syndrome Support Group.  Only being open for one weekend means that waiting for good weather is not an option.  This weekend did not see good weather.  It was probably the uniformly most cold weekend of the winter that barely reached above 3 degrees.  It also decided to stay uniformly grey and alternate between rain, sleet, snow, drizzle and rain etc.  The weather was quite frankly unpleasant.
So we dressed for the weather: waterproof coats, hats, scarves, gloves and good waterproof boots.  When we arrived at the hall we were directed to the yard to park in as the pasture that is usually used was already very very muddy.  We strode out boldly to view the snowdrops.
Here at Little Ponton it is always a close-run thing to decide if you see more snowdrops or aconites.  They compete for your attention.  No matter how many gardens I visit at this time of year I still think that Little Ponton is the one with the most winter aconites.
Even with the late start to the season, the aconites were making yellow carpets under the trees.  I do not think I could ever tire of this sight.
The snowdrops are also plentiful.  I always like this view along the stream that runs through the grounds.
I also like how the snowdrops cluster around the wall,almost holding the aconites back.
There was a nod of hello to the dogs' cemetery.  It cannot be a bad place to spend eternity, in a pause in the wood surrounded by snowdrops and aconites.
I always love this bumpy hedge as well.  It shows its long life in how smooth the bumps are.  There might have been proper shapes once, but now it has evolved into these fascinating shapes and colours of the different shrubs and trees forming the line.
We then wandered back towards the kitchen garden.  Again this is a well maintained, beautifully kept part of the garden.
The beds look beautifully prepared and ready for the new growing season.
We paused briefly to pay our respects to this fantastic old apple tree.  It clearly has considerable age.  It also delightfully has this low clump of mistletoe.  I had serious mistletoe-envy.

This year we were very restrained and did not buy lots of plants.  We did buy some snowdrops because it is rude and (as I repeatedly say) against the law not to.  You cannot visit a snowdrop garden where they sell snowdrops and leave without any.  They will check you at the gate and, more importantly, you will regret it as soon as you leave.

Despite the weather we fuelled ourselves and kept our spirits up with soup and cake and had a thoroughly nice time. We pondered whether we were crazy for wandering around outside on such a vile day, but we agreed it was better than staying at home and doing domestic chores.

Other snowdrop visits this year:

Hodsock Priory

Easton Walled Gardens


Monday, 13 February 2017

Book Review: The Gardener's Companion to Medicinal Plants

or to give its full title "The Gardener's Companion to Medicinal Plants. an A-Z of healing plants and home remedies." by Monique Simmonds, Melanie-Jayne Howes and Jason Irving.

I was pleased to be asked to review this book as I thought it sounded fascinating.
The authors of this very beautiful new reference book work at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and this was the location for much of the research referenced.  The authors have impeccable credentials to write this book: Professor Monique Simmonds is the Deputy Director of Sciences at kew and has worked on different aspects of medicinal plant research for over thirty years.  Jason Irving is a writer, forager and qualified herbalist and Dr Melanie-Jayne Howes is a registered pharmacist and chartered chemist.  Now this is interesting to know and clearly they want you to understand that there is good scientific research underpinning the information in the book.  It does help to know this if, like me, you are cautious about brewing up herbal teas from the garden.  On saying this I grew up knowing that dock leaves alleviate nettle stings and that rubbing willow on rheumatism gives pain relief.  This book is full of this type of information that many of us know from handed-down folk-lore, but with the science-bit that explains why it works.

The book describes and illustrates 220 plants with medicinal uses and also gives 25 home remedies.  Remedies such as St John's Wort oil which can be mixed into balms/creams and used for nerve pain and sunburn.  Or there is Meadowsweet tincture which can be used to relieve the symptoms of acid reflux.

Each plant is accompanied by a beautiful illustration.  The part of the plant to be used is listed as well as the traditional uses and medicinal discoveries.  This makes very interesting reading as (and I am sure this will not be a huge surprise to some of you) the reason why these plants have been used as herbal remedies down the generations is that there is something in their make-up that science can show makes it effective.
The index thankfully uses not only the latin name, but also the common name of the plants.  There is also a very useful glossary that is probably one of the most eclectic glossaries you will ever read.  I spent quite a while looking for unknown to me names of plants and then looking to see what they are/do.  It is a fascinating read, for instance:  Descurainia sophia, which sounds a bit like an exotic princess, is also known as 'flixweed' and 'the wisdom of surgeons'.  Once you read the latter name then if you are like me you have to read on.  The plant has traditionally been used for its healing properties and medicinally it has been found to have antibacterial activity.

I need to also mention that the book is pleasingly cloth-bound.  There is something really good about a cloth-bound book.  It is also a nice size to hold, not too big, not too heavy.  It has been well considered.  I know in these electronic-book days that these things may get to matter less and less but I still enjoy the physicality of books.

I also enjoyed dipping in and out of this book.  It is an excellent 'wet February afternoon and I cannot get out in the garden' book.  It would make a welcome present for anyone interested in plants and/or traditional remedies.

The Gardener's Companion to Medicinal Plants is published by Frances Lincoln.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

An Easton afternoon

This time of year I enjoy myself hugely by visiting snowdrop gardens.  I am by no means a galanthophile,  but I love seeing these incredible carpets of snowdrops that appear like magic.  I always enjoy visiting Easton Walled Gardens  and it opens early in the year so that its wonderful snowdrops can be appreciated.  It is within an hour of home which means I can visit often.  On this afternoon I had been invited to the launch of the snowdrop season hosted by Lady Ursula Cholmeley so it was even more special than usual.
I love these snowdrop kokedama and hanging baskets that adorn the gateway into the gardens.  I think they are such a nice touch.
The snowdrops wind around the garden, down towards the river.  This bench is perfectly placed and the colour of snowdrops.
This turn on the river has a good showing of snowdrops flowering really well already.
Further along the river walk there is this bank of snowdrops,
and aconites.
plus the odd primrose making an early show.   We walked along, pointing out spring flowers to each other and just thoroughly enjoying the afternoon.
Whilst it was a sunny day, the shadows soon lengthen.  We spent a little time looking at the river than runs through the gardens.  Lady Ursula told us that the river had been re-directed at some point in the gardens history.  At times, when it is very full, it does try to revert to its original course.
There is of course more to Easton than snowdrops.  We could see that preparations for the sweet pea season were already well in progress.  Sweetpea week, which starts on the 2nd July 2017, is a must-visit week.  They have been growing sweetpeas at Eason since 2001 which is a timely reminder that these gardens have only been being restored since that year.  This adds very much to the charm of the gardens as each time you visit there is a bit more achieved and the garden has matured by another year.  So if you last went five years ago then you need to go again, the garden has moved on.
Lady Ursula took us into the area where the sweetpeas are currently overwintering.  Some will be planted out and some are sold in the plant sale area.  These grow outside all winter and are only protected against mice.
As Lady Ursula was talking to us I loved how she almost unconsciously affectionately patted the side of the trestle.
Whilst the sun still shone, the moon also made its presence felt.
I made sure I said hello to the giraffes who overee the garden.
and I stood in my favourite place to view the walled gardens.  I am not sure I will ever tire of this view.  The sun being low in the sky added beautifully to the atmosphere.
I went home clutching my Easton snowdrops, which are beautifully presented.  I have two areas of the garden where I plant only Easton snowdrops.  They are now clumping up rather well and always make me smile and think of happy times wandering around that garden.

Other snowdrop visits this year:

Hodsock Priory

Little Ponton Hall