After a wretched week of cold dull days Sunday 12th proved to be a killer. In snow, sleet and an easterly wind, I reluctantly set off in pursuit of Gable House, quite near to Beccles in Suffolk. Who on earth would want to visit a garden on such a day, even one that has been opening for the Scheme for 40 years? However, I was pleased to find that I was not the only one and 80 hardy visitors had already beaten me through the garden gate.
The two inches of snow which had fallen that morning had almost melted. Entrance to the garden is unpretentious, and a small path to the side of the garage brings you round to a vegetable garden. Clumps of primroses are an attractive addition in the fruit cage and this productive area is divided from the rest of the garden by a row of espaliered apple trees several of which are smothered in mistletoe.
It is such a pretty plant and a joy to see close up. I had not realised, until the garden owner pointed it out, that the plant is dioecious. Naturally it is the female that bears the white berries.
Indeed white seemed to be the dominant theme today; Snowdrops flowered brightly throughout the borders. Good sized clusters carefully labeled, identify the many different varieties grown here. Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ looks particularly charming:
And Galanthus ‘Richard Ayers’, named after that one-time great head gardener of Anglesey Abbey, bows his heavy head.
I have learned a lot from my February garden visits about the snowdrop, and recently discovered a cultivar named Tilly. John the garden owner, assures me that he has seen her somewhere in his large collection. Today she is proving to be a little elusive so I purchase the grey leaved and large flowered Galanthus ‘Brian Matthews’.
Another white flower and looking rather stunning is Edgeworthia chrysantha. An elegant shrub it is related to the Daphnes and as the name suggests, the flowers are similar to miniature chrysanthemum which dangle at the end of its branches.
It is always good to hear the sound of children in a garden. Here the garden owner’s grandchildren were enjoying the network of narrow straight paths, running up and down in T shirts they are happily oblivious to the cold.
Many of the trees are adorned with climbing roses and ornamental ivies. Along the outer perimeter path I notice the shiny green leaves of the evergreen climber, hydrangea seemanii healthy in its pursuit to reach the top of the tree.
The more I look at gardens in these early months, the more I wonder at the sculptural forms created by shrubs and trees in their natural winter guise. A dizzy tangle of branches on this slightly unusual form of a persian ironwood, parrottia persica, in circulation 30 years ago John is not sure what it is called. How different this will appear come the summer.
A creamy white solid trunk is grounded by a colourful mat of aconites and cyclamen.
In some patches the cyclamen flower is not so dense, but on what other plant would you find such charming leaves. Fitting for a Valentine posy?
Also pretty in pink is a daphne, the closed flower buds just waiting to burst open when the sun finally comes.
There is a warm glow from the coppery-orange flowers of the witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia Jelena. No wonder the plants do so well here, the soil in the beds is looking enriched, well-cared for and fertile.
It is the scent not of the Hamamelis but rather the Sarcococca or Sweet box that pervades this garden in the greyness of today; no garden should be without it.
Even the grasses still provide colour after the long winter, some still holding on to their shape after so many months of standing.
This garden is evidence of John’s knowledge as a plantsman and it is the greenhouse that is further testament to his horticultural skills. Despite the cold, he and his neighbour enthusiastically sell their plants displayed by the greenhouse. It is humbling to recall that this hard work and dedication is being undertaken for charity.
The visitors today are real enthusiasts, many of whom are clearly regulars. I pop into the conservatory where I find several of them keeping warm with a mug of soup. I buy something tasty for my return journey, overlooked by these regal beauties who I am sure have been here for most of the past forty years: