February has been cold and mild and finally rather stormy. We had the first big storm here in the generally mild Midlands that we have had for a quite a while. Thankfully Doris passed over causing little damage to the garden.
In the driveway the Cornus officianalis is flowering really well now.
and the Exochorda macrantha 'The Bride' is beginning to leaf-up.
In the front hedge the forsythia is beginning to flower. Now I know that some look on this shrub as a common amongst common plants. I have a real affection for it. It is cheery and flowers when others are still sulking. Yes it is a bit ubiquitous, but that is probably because it is tough as old boots, lives for decades and just needs a good prune once a year. Seriously, what is not to love??
The front border might not look much at the moment, but in my eyes it is bursting with potential. I replanted a lot of it last autumn and I am hoping to be much happier with it this year.
and look at the quince hedge -just covered in flowers this year and getting very hedgy. It just needs a few bees to make it complete.
In the gravel garden what was once three or four crocii, is now a real clump. I love how there are a couple more year on year.
Then around to the back garden on a cold, grey, blustery late winter's day.
The rose arch has been removed so poor Mme Alfred Carriere and Souvenir du Doctor Jarmain are waggling about in the breeze. This will be remedied shortly as a new arch is on its way. Am I excited about this new arch, oh yes.
The Spring Border is looking springy. The hellebores are flowering well and the first patch of daffodils are open.
The Prairie Borders are waiting for the nights to just warm up a little more before they have their annual hair cut,
and the Dancing Lawn is bejewelled with crocii.
The Magnolia Leonard Messel is covered in buds.
and the willow is covered with its dark furry pussy willows that will soon burst into yellow-bee-catching wonderfulness.
The last of the hamamelis is in flower at last.
and the Cornus Mas is now in flower.
Yet still the Prunus Ben-chidori waits.
and buds are forming on one of the tree peonies.
The fernery has stayed green and looked good all winter.
and the sedums are giving that rhythm of structure thing that they do in the Pond Border.
The veg beds wait....
and Miss Haversham has moved out of the greenhouse, though if the temperature dips she could still return.
I end as ever on the pond, which is looking quite clear at the moment. There are several newts swimming around and I await the first frogspawn.
I am currently enjoying visiting some amazing snowdrop gardens. This has become a favourite pastime this time of year as it helps keep the winter blues at bay. The garden is generally too sodden to achieve much in my own garden so to get outside and enjoy some beautiful gardens is a fine way to spend time. These visits make me think about my own garden (as all the best garden visits should). My snowdrops are, like the rest of my garden, work in progress. I have however made some progress and so I thought I would share this with you.
This somewhat scruffy photo is of one of the oldest clumps of snowdrops that I planted. These were planted the first autumn I moved into this house which is nearly ten years ago. I put a few snowdrops under this tree in the driveway. Since then I have spread them a little as they have slowly bulked up. The other day a garden friend came to visit as we were off garden-bothering together for the day. She exclaimed 'look at the snowdrops' and pointed to this clump. There are few greater moments of happiness than someone noticing something you are rather pleased about in the garden.
Further down the drive I have planted some more. You can see the rubbish that gets left the other side of the fence as well. I have hopes that one day, when I am long gone from from this place, there will be hoards of snowdrops limboing under the fence. One day someone will look at them and wonder who planted them and I shall snuggle down a little cosier in my final resting place.
In the backgarden I have planted snowdrops here and there. These keep Natasha and Elsie company.
These are in the Spring border. Only snowdrops bought from Easton Walled Gardens go in this border. Each year a few more go in. Over the last couple of years I have planted more into the borders as previously I had focussed on planting them into the Wild Garden.
What was one or two snowdrops is now starting to make some impact.
This year I started this clump of snowdrops off from ones bought at Hodsock Priory. I like to have spaces where I can identify where the snowdrops came from. This brings a smile of memory every time I look at them.
I started out by buying those dry bulbs in the autumn. I would plant a couple of hundred a year and some would actually appear.
A couple of years ago I changed tactics and started buying a couple of hundred in the green. This has worked so much better. Most actually seem to appear now far more reliably. Also the clumps are getting big enough to be divided which has helped enormously.
They run along the side of the garden and across the top boundary.
I don't think that Hodsock or Easton or others need to quake in their boots just yet from the competition; but I am really pleased at how many I have now. Most are most common nivalis, but there are some flore pleno in there as well.
I rarely buy named snowdrops, but this Atkinsii was bought the other day and popped into the garden. It is so tall and regal I think it is a great addition.
So there you have it, my little contribution to growing snowdrops.
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.
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.