Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Richard's February Garden Notes...

After locking up, I handed the keys back to reception. Leaving the house by the front door, I turned left, back into the garden. The light was quite extraordinary. Standing on the Croquet Lawn, my eyes were drawn in the direction of Church Farm which was obscured, as always, by the Temple Garden’s Birch and Honey Locust, as well as the tall Lombardy Poplars along the edge of the farm. These trees I have come to regard as part of the scenery, but here they were in relief against a taupe sky, their forms lit up acutely by soft, silvery spring light. The Lime Walk, just to the right of this view, seemed on fire, displaying its top of red shoots.

This low level early spring light seemed so pure, each point of contact having a complimentary shadow, the Yews down the Rock Rose Path or the Knot Garden; even shadows of the Phyllerea leaves on the wall at the end of the Laburnum Walk looked like the shadows of Clematis flowers. This wasn’t the glaring, dust hazed light of July, best enjoyed whilst sat against a hedgerow Oak watching the world go by. This was as special as the gold leaf filtered autumn light that invites exploration. Beauty seems even more irresistible when it’s transient and ephemeral. I was besotted, trance like and keen to savour the garden in this fleeting moment. For twenty minutes I was in heaven.

These sunny spells over last Thursday and into the weekend have heralded spring; momentum is gathering. The carpet of yellow Winter Aconites under the trees up the drive is now at its peak, and only bright sunshine will make the blooms open wider. Small groups of this flower crop up throughout the rest of the garden. In the garden we have two main types of Crocus: one is the large white Crocus, ‘Joan of Arc’- a notable variety of this plant. We have planted two thousand along the Wilderness Path to the Spa. Squirrels love Crocus corms, so I held my breath over the winter; but they seem to be coming up! The other Crocus is the species tommasinianus, another spring herald, appearing in great ticks and streaks through beds and borders. From purple to the palest lilac, each bloom held aloft on a delicate milky filament. We also plant Crocus chrysanthus in pots and tubs, pairing it with the dwarf Iris reticulate; both plants of a similar height and enjoying flowering synchronicity. The lead planters on the veranda have Iris ‘Cantab’ and Crocus ‘Snowbunting’. In the Temple Garden, the half barrels have Iris ‘Clairette’ and the powder blue Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’. Other pots/tubs in the Temple have a variety of Hyacinthe… ‘Carnegie’ (white), ‘Woodstock’ (beetroot red) and ‘Purple Sensation’ (guess?).

I wouldn’t suggest we were a ‘Snowdrop Garden’; but we do have a small collection that each year is expanding as we go about our business of splitting and replanting. ‘Atkinsii’ came to the garden over ten years ago from Rodmarton Manor, as a clump of about ten bulbs. We will split and replant it again this spring and it will then occupy all of the Winter Walk and the Bob Dash Beds (either side of the Laburnum walk), most probably at least five hundred bulbs! It is a particular favourite due to its long stems and propeller like arrangement of petals. ‘Straffan’ also came from Rodmarton and can be found growing under and around a clipped Holly in the Broad Border (the big beds with stone paths, right of the Frog Fountain). ‘Straffan’ is yeoman like, and stouter; pretty though. In the Lime Walk, just up from the Laburnum Walk there is a group of the snowdrop ‘Rodmarton’, a showy double. And to the right of the steps that lead into the restaurant is the silver streaked leaf of the snowdrop ‘Augustus’, a dumpy drop with a seersucker texture.

There are not many areas of the garden that are not embellished by Hellebores. We have the Stinking Hellebore with its large heads of green acrid smelling flowers, complimented by dark green palmate leaves that can be seen near to the Temple Garden.

What we have most of though, are the various Hybrids and colour forms of Helleborus orientalis. Sometimes called the Lenten Rose, it is actually a member of the Buttercup family. Its saucer shaped, five petalled flowers hang down begging the observer to stoop and tilt them up with a finger, so that their faces can be seen. We have most colour forms from pewter black with golden nectarines, to bright yellow with dark red nectaries. My favourite grouping is in the Broad Border (near to the Frog Fountain with a castle topped Yew hedge); if you step through the gap in the hedge then they will be just to your left. They all have quite large flowers and most tend to be whites with green; but one is a very good pink, the other palest pink with a wine veining and cocoa coloured nectaries…gorgeous!

Two plants of individual interest are: Trachylophyllum with short spikes of pale lilac/mauve flowers that resemble reflexed Borage flowers. This plant too, is in the Broad Border; its large leaves just pushing through the leaf mould. The other plant of interest is the Pulmonaria ‘Redstart’, growing under the Laburnum Walk. It has brick red flowers and will carry on for some time; it has been flowering since before Christmas.

We scarify the lawns in autumn and this removes a lot of detritus that builds up over summer; but today we have been using a powered brush on them. This lightly removes winter rubbish and loose moss, as well as pulling the grass into an upright position, making a light topping with the lawnmower a more even finish. So Ed’s been brushing and Ben’s been cutting. All the collected brushings and mowings will be composted. The last task will be for Ed will be to apply a light feed to the lawns.

Over in the Potager, good work has been done. The old and cankerous plums have now been removed by Ed and Ben. They have been replaced by four specimens of the dessert pear ‘Beth’. Once the old trees were out, Ed took the opportunity to rework the soil, split up and replant the resident Garlic Chives and ‘Thalia’ Narcissi, as well as underplanting the young trees with Variegated Strawberries. This is a real success story as we thought we had lost this strawberry to vigorous Hellebores and overshadowing from the apple Goblets. Ed’ found a tiny one amongst the growth and from its runners, produced over a dozen plants, all of which have been planted around the four Pears.

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