Tuesday, 30 April 2013

End of Month Review - April 2013

After a long, long Winter we finally reached April and the weather finally started to acknowledge that it really is Spring.  It is not an understatement to say that it was a huge relief to feel a bit of warmth return.  Persephone has been allowed back from the Underworld, all is well.

So, to the garden.  Lets start with the front garden.
In the last couple of days the Magnolia by the front gate has finally decided to flower.  I am hoping that it will not get frosted like last year.  It is about five weeks behind when it flowered last year but it is smothered in flowers and as always it reminds me of when I first came to look at this house; the magnolia alone nearly sold it to me.
The side lawn is a bit shaggy, it needs a cut but I wanted the crocii that are planted in it to have a chance to gather some energy for next year before mowing.
The main part of the garden is getting a little weedy, I will attend to this.
The quince hedge is flowering.  It is almost looking a bit less like three random twigs, though it is exaggerating to call it a hedge.  I rarely mention the hedge but I think I should more now that it is actually becoming something.  Last year's rain seems to have helped it a lot.
The gravel garden is looking green.
Though this little patch has been brightened by some Thompson and Morgan primroses that are trial plants they have sent to me.
The back garden now has some flashes of colour.  Stuff is growing with gusto now there has been some sun and also a bit of much needed rain.
The four sisters are putting on some growth but are not really shining yet.
The wild garden is starting to look a bit more wild, the trees are getting leaf, the Trentham Magnolia Stellata is flowering well and
the frittilaria are doing very well this year.
I can see buds forming on the quince, I did not get any blossom last year so I am hopeful this year I will.  One step at a time, get blossom first before getting excited about getting a quince.
There are flowers forming on the rowan.
The tree caterpillars are back (I know it is not a caterpillar really, humour me).
This is another Thompson and Morgan trial plant, Acer Orange Beauty, so far so good.
The amalanchier is just stunning this year.  So pleased with it.
The prairie borders are looking good still and new growth is appearing.
The woodland border is mainly a sea of blue forget me nots, I love this time of year.
The Spring border is looking very springy.  I am very pleased with it.  This border is slowly creeping larger.
Even the random concrete planter that I never quite know what to do with is looking good at the moment.
In the conservatory border I think these Doronicums are the starts, I grew them from seed two years ago and they are just sunshine embodied.
The Coal Bunker Border is mainly aqueligias.  I wonder if I have too many, we'll see.
The nigella and the poppies are on their way (starts singing Oh Happy Day and dancing badly).
The new magnolia stellata is sitting by the pond on the edge of the grassy knoll, it seems happy.
The peonies are in bud,
well one is, the rest look pretty much like this, but I love the red edge to the growth.
The veg beds do contain veg: potatoes, peas, broad beans, onions and garlic so far and
horseradish, a twitter friend sent me a couple of roots and I am delighted they are starting to grow.
The rain chain into the new water but is guiding the rain (and melting hail) well.  I am very pleased with it.
I end as ever on the pond, which I have to say is actually getting a little low.  Not scary low, but lower than it has been for a while.
The tadpoles are happy enough though, they have set up their one way system again as it is teeming with life.  I don't think I have ever seen it this full before.

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.  With the sudden rush of Spring I am now looking forward to what May will bring.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

I'm sure it said it was a dinosaur on the label

More or less this time last year I went to a plant fair at Swines Meadow Farm Nursery in Market Deeping.  It was a cold, snowy, windy sort of day so it was very nice that this year the weather was sunny and warmish, in fact a beautiful Spring day.

I was looking forward to going as it is always a pleasure to meet up with Colin and Karan.  I went with some pennies to spend too.

So this is what I bought from the plant fair:

Rhodotyros Scandens
Iris Quechee

All good healthy plants and I spent about £12 so far.  So far so good.

From Colin and Karan's nursery I bought:
Epimedium Amber Queen - queen of waftiness!
Magnolia Stellata 'Water Lily' - very beautiful and a wonderful scent too.
Chionanthus Virginicus - Colin had remembered that some time last year we had had a twitter conversation about this tree, I had admired it greatly.  Also with the great kindness that I have found often with my twitter friends, Colin said he thought it was a good plant to plant to remember Chesney by as it is also known as an 'American Fringe Tree' and Chesney was always on the fringes of my twitter conversations.  This was such a lovely thought so the tree was duly bought.
and last but not least, Stachyurus Praecox, a shrub I had been after for a while and I had held of hunting for too much online as I was pretty sure I would find one at the nursery.  I found several and this one jumped into my car like a good dinosaur and came home with me.  Dinosaur I hear you query?  Well yes, because I pronounce its name 'stachysaurus', I think its related to the tyrannosaurus but I will let you know how big it gets.

So, I hear you say, how much have you spent this time?  Well that little lot came to just over £20 and then, oh my oh my oh my -  go tell it on the mountains, I remembered that in my bag I had £20 of garden gift vouchers which were a christmas present from my mother.  Suddenly the day was just one big bargain and I left incredibly happy.

Apparently the next fair is in July (starts saving......)

Thursday, 25 April 2013

My visit to Crûg Farm

or the fifth visit/garden on the welsh journey.  I wanted to think of a snappy clever title for this post, but then I realised that just thinking about visiting was exciting enough and I did not need to give any further description to lure people in to read this.
I also have to say that I decided not to leave the best until last for this series of posts as this is probably, no not probably, it was the best visit of the whole holiday.  There is still another post to go about my week away (only a week I hear you cry, feels like an age!) I went to visit Crûg Farm which is about 20 minutes drive from Portmeirion.  Those of you who know about Crûg Farm and its owners Sue and Bleddyn Wynn-Jones will know why their names are almost spoken in hushed awe-struck tones.  They are renowned plant hunters and their nursery is just a joy to visit.
You enter through a garden that leads to a garden.  Even when I visited when everything was still cold and hardly growing at all, there were things to look at.  The gardens are informal and very naturalistically planted and show off their amazing collection to great effect.
On the day of my visit I was feeling quite unwell, my sore throat that had been threatening to develop for a day or two was now really making itself known.  We had had to stop off in Carnarvon so that I could stock up on cold remedies and throat pastilles.  I was also still recovering from the sadness of the loss of my cat Chesney.  I knew I wanted a plant to plant in his memory and I thought that Crûg Farm might be a good place to find such a plant.
This is not in my opinion a nursery for me to visit without some preparation.  Whilst browsing is fun, the choice that is put before you is such that I felt I needed to know what I was looking for and looking at.   I did my homework by looking through their online catalogue before setting off.  I realised quite quickly if I wanted a plant to be in memory of Chesney that I needed to buy something to suit his character, my choice was Schisandra rubriflora 'Bodnant Redberry', this had the added bonus of linking to Bodnant as well as I had visited there the day before.  This plant is now growing up the Bramley tree, a tree Chesney climbed often.
I also made other purchases:  a Euphorbia sikkimensis Crûg Contrast, Stewartia Rostrata, Lindera sericea v. glabrata and an Ilicium simonsii.  It was a good day of purchasing and a challenge to fit them into my rather small car plus two children and all of our luggage.  I could have asked for them to be posted home for me, I sort of wished I had but I just wanted to get them home.
Anyway, plant buying is fun and the nursery is one in a league of incredible nurseries but be in no doubt, the gardens are just as worthy of visit.  I loved wandering around them, including the new garden near the front gate that Sue made sure that I visited.  I was so glad I did.  It is not a huge space, no bigger than many people's back gardens; but it is well laid out and full of their wonderful plants.  The key thing is that whilst many of these plants are from exotic places and have incredible stories of how they were bought back to this country, they are hardy and if they can live up a welsh hillside they will live in most  places.
The structure of the burned out barn in the new garden adds a great element.  I walked from shrub to tree to shrub to tree.  I studied them all and even in this early Spring, when most of the plants were just unfurling their first leaves.   I soon realised I was getting completely over excited at each new plant I looked at, the place is inspirational. 
There is no other way of describing this place, it is inspirational, I tried to hold back on superlatives but  I look at my Wild Garden, which has had quite a bit of planting this Autumn/Winter, and I know that if it looked a quarter this good I would be over the moon.
Garden visiting does not get much better than this.  I was feeling lousy when I arrived at Crûg, I had almost decided not to go especially as it was trying to rain on and off all morning.  I knew that I could not be so close to the place and not visit and it was the only day I could go as we were going home the next day, yet all my gloominess disappeared in a flash as I started to walk around the gardens and after a chat with Sue, how could anyone be gloomy when you arrive somewhere really special?
The holiday was now complete as I knew nothing was going to top this.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Garden no: 4 on the welsh journey - I get to Bodnant

Garden number 4 and it is a good one.  I think I first visited Bodnant Garden about eight years ago, I tried to work it out and I think it is at least then.  When I first visited I know it was a late April very hot day.  I remember wandering around the garden in the sun but I also remember liking the garden and thinking it pleasant.

I decided it was time to revisit and I am glad I did.
Now bearing in mind when these pictures were taken there was still snow lying around on the high and sheltered bits nearby.  Spring was in stasis and looking like it might never get going; to see this colourful early growth as we walked in was a delight.  I must particularly point out the red clumps.  Many of these are red euphorbia.  I am not generally a fan of euphorbias but I loved the striking colour of the new growth so it was added to the list of a plant to seek out.  The garden is a good example of having something to see in a border when in reality there is not much to see.  This is a good thing and something I will return to in a later post.  At this point in my holiday I was suddenly getting into my garden-bothering stride, at this point, it begins to all get a bit serious as I move from the nice and the loved to the 'this is a really good garden'.
I am not going to include a photograph of the Pin Mill, either you know what it looks like or you can google it, it is the definitive Bodnant photograph.  Don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful feature and well worth photographing (I took many), but it was not what I wanted to include in this post.
Bodnant is a good wandering around garden.  You move from fairly open spaces to some planned formal spaces like this.  Much to our amusement, the Winter Garden was roped off when we visited.  You could not get in to see it.  We wondered if this was because Winter was over so that was it, no further Winter Garden allowed!  (I assume this is not really the case, but it was worthy of a chuckle or two as we kept finding the roped off paths).
The snowdrops had just gone over by the look of things.  The little round planting marks were obvious where this new planting had been added.  This is not a criticism, it raised a smile but only in terms of how nice it was to see that planting does not happen by magic, it is the hard work of someone having to add each snowdrop one by one.
There are swathes of daffodils, a good sight and appropriate in a welsh garden.
Lots of rhododendrons, lots of unusual ones that I had to photograph the names of so that I could track them down at some point.  I did mention previously I had a complicated relationship with plant labelling didn't I?
Many beautiful rhododendrons, it is their time of year and they seem to love this part of Wales in particular.  There are many plants with 'Bodnant' forming part of their name as they breed and develop their own.  So whilst this is a large (no really large) garden that is run by the a large institution there is a love of plants that is apparent.
This structure was one of my favourite bits of the garden.  It houses many roses and I would love to visit again when they are in full bloom.  It is a superb amphitheatre of roses, a great construction that displays the wealth of the family that added it to their garden with a huge boot-print in the garden.
It is guarded by a pair of matching Sphinxes with rather large breasts each side of the steps that lead up to it.  She is weirdly out of proportion like a classic statue based on a Barbie doll.
There is also nearby the boy doing something to a swan, moving on......

As you move up the terraces you get to the beautiful reflecting pools.
Just stunning especially as the weather was not that great when we visited, the sky was grey and I don't think we saw the sun at all.
and there is a rill, I would so love a rill.
The garden is beautifully planned, it is as mentioned before, an expression of wealth.  The garden was mainly begun by Henry Davis Pochin from 1874 to 1895 who made his money as an industrial chemist.  The garden is like a huge stamp on the landscape of 'this is what we can do'.  I look at my garden as I write this and acknowledge I am doing the same, with a tiny fraction of the resources or space.
There are some beautiful touches like these ageing wisteria climbing up these steps.  There are many steps, the site is quite steep yet terraced skillfully.
There are some amazing brickwork paths as well, very Arts and Crafts I thought.
At the top of the terraces are more roses, more formal gardens.  They scream out for Edwardian ladies in long skirts walking along to take the air.
The Dell is the wild part of the garden.  As I visit more and more gardens I find myself increasingly drawn to wild areas.  I can't decide if this is because I have been doing quite a bit on my Wild Garden over the Winter, or vice-versa.  Eitherway, the Dell is spectacular.
It has many paths and way to explore it.  I think it would take quite some time to try each path and explore all of it.
The noisy river runs through it, past the old mill building that still contains the mill wheel.
There was also quite a bit of skunk cabbage, stinky but beautiful.
We had a really good afternoon at Bodnant, I found the gardens exciting to walk around and intriguing as I just wanted to see how they would develop through the seasons.  It made far more impact upon me than it had done previously and I will definitely visit again.  Not wishing to damn with faint praise many National Trust gardens (but I probably just did), this garden is a cut above many others.  It is a garden that has heart, and for a large instituionally run garden that is no mean feat.