Monday, 30 January 2012

Richard's January Garden Notes...

Walking the dogs this morning, it was still dark and flakes of snow blew around in the cold air; but here on the edge of Swindon a Blackbird was singing. A very different place was midday at Barnsley forty eight hours ago, a gloriously bright winter’s day. I had spent a couple of hours in the Hairy Hedge gathering enough dead Elm to see me through the weekend and into the next week, then into the garden I went. My quest: to find out how many plants are now flowering. This is the very beginning of the spring flowering plants and the best is yet to come.

I’m sure I’ve missed one or two; but during Saturday’s casual stroll I admired over twenty flowering plants, not including the seven varieties of Snowdrop we have here at Barnsley. So where are they? Crocuses are beginning to appear everywhere and soon there will be streaks of them along the edges of borders. The most common is Crocus Tommasinianus in varying shades of lilac and purple, all with a slender white lower part to their flowers. Crocus sieberi ‘Tricolor’ can be seen in the lead planters that are at the top of the steps that lead to Suite 11, its petals have an orange base and a lilac blue top. This little Crocus is also growing amongst the overwintering Broad Beans that are out in the Veg’ Garden, a result of us recycling compost from the pots back into the compost heap and then out onto the beds!

Helleborus foetidus is a very striking plant at this time of year with its dark green, deeply cut leaves and its limelight green flower heads above the foliage. The plants are self seeded and some have rhubarb red stems, giving away the secret that the cultivar ‘Westerfisk’ (a red stemmed variety) is in their parentage. In the past ‘Westerfisk’ was planted in the Potager. Bed 4, the large bed next to the Pond Garden with blue railings has some good specimens growing in it; but don’t smell the blooms as it is these that give it its common name of Stinking Hellebore! In Bed 4 there are also some very good colour forms of Helleborus orientalis, the Lenten Rose, ranging from yellow, pink, plum and a later flowering pewter black one, with foliage to match. One special Hellebore in this bed is Helleborus odoratus, just to the left of the stone seat. The chartreuse flowers emit a sweet scent on warm, still days.

The dwarf bulbous Iris reticulata is only 15cm high; but packs a punch with its intense colours… the cultivar ‘Harmony’ is in the lead planters on the Verandah, deep blue with yellow and white highlights. ‘Purple Gem’, a darker flower, is found at the end of Bed 3 near to the Rock Rose Path. If you stand with your back to the blue Iron Gate in the wall, facing the house, Bed 3 is the large central bed nearest to you on your left. If you’re still facing the house and have your back to the gate, go left down the path lined either side by pleached (basically on stilts) Limes.

The Lime Walk is, for me, at its most interesting during February, March and into April; the small bed around the base of each Lime being bejewelled with all manner of intensely coloured gems….Cyclamen coum, Primroses, Hepaticas, Hellebores, Crocus, Fritillarias, Snowdrops, Anemones. I’m not a big fan of the double Snowdrop; we have quite a bit of it here, short with an almost too big flower for its height. I much prefer its more balanced single sibling. After saying this, my star of the show in the Lime Walk, is the Snowdrop ‘Rodmarton’. It too is a double; but much more of a Mae West character with its elegant tall stem topped, at a jaunty angle, by a double ruff layered with green, really worth a second glance.

Carry on down into the cobbled Laburnum Walk and look to your left- highlighted by the black mulch is the Snowdrop ‘Atkinssii’, such a pleasing sight, this black and white picture. When these Snowdrops have finished flowering we will dig them up, divide up the bulbs and redistribute them back into their home. The extra ones will go into the two large beds the other side of the Laburnums. We will then have ‘Atkinsii’ all the way through this little corner of the garden.

The mulching of the beds gets done every winter and serves many purposes, such as…

• It improves the soil structure and fertility; very useful during dry springs like last year when holding onto water is vital.
• It provides a foil for the spring flowers to show off against.
• Mulching now, after Christmas, smothers any annual weeds that have had the temerity to germinate, and we seem to have less of a problem with them than if we had mulched before Christmas.

We have been using municipal green waste compost; but Mark our veg’ man wants the rest for his Asparagus so we will now use our own leaf mould for the Broad Border and Bob Dash Beds.

Out in the Potager, Cavelo Nero Kale and Brussel Sprout Rubine hold sway. The tired Plum Goblets (they have canker) will be removed when their replacements arrive. Four Pears ‘Beth’ have been ordered and we hope to prune them into Pyramids. The Artichokes Ed’ grew from seed this year are monstrous, they will be thinned out, and the extra stock moved out into the Veg’ Garden.

Bitterly cold this morning; but Mark was out in the field, gauntleted, picking out Scorzonera and Jerusalem Artichokes. His salads this winter have been stunning: Rocket, Mizuna, Mustards, Spinach, Chards of all colours as well as Pea shoots. Michael Croft, our Executive Chef Director has been amazed at their quality. Mark has been diligent with his fleecing and ventilation of the crops in the tunnel.

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