Snowdrops

Through all these cheerless covid months and ghastly weather, the snowdrops have been silently pushing up through the cold, sodden ground. Their delicate flowers, surely could not be more welcome. Restrictions have forced the abandonment of the National Garden Scheme Snowdrop Festival however, some gates of a smattering of gardens will be open across the country this February, for those visitors lucky enough to be local to them. However in the eastern region, deep snow has forced many closures. More details can be found at https://ngs.org.uk/february-openings-2021/.

Back in 2017 when travelling was unrestricted and I was able to visit some 90 gardens throughout the year in celebration of the 90th anniversary of The National Garden Scheme, the snowdrop gardens were memorable; and I would identify three different types of snowdrop landscape: The snowdrop walk such as at Welford Park in Berkshire where the sight of millions of these tiny flowers carpeting the woodland floor was a sheer delight.

Of course you cannot come away from any of these landscapes without buying some little temptation, and so I bought Galanthus ‘Brenda Troyle’ and in my blog which followed I airily asked the question who is Brenda Troyle and was delighted to receive a knowledgeable reply. https://thegardengateisopen.blog/2017/02/14/snowdrops-spike-and-baked-off-at-welford-park-8

The second type of landscape is the simple but lovely Snowdrop garden where you find clumps of snowdrop scattered beneath winter shrubs, and bringing life to dormant borders, such as here at Gable House near Beccles, where Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ is prolific.

Here amongst the plant sales I could not resist Galanthus elwesii ‘Brian Matthews’ who is now doing well in my own border.

The third type of landscape is quite different and fascinating; that of the The snowdrop specialist, such as at Spring Platt in Kent https://kentsnowdrops.com/#home. A snowdrop spectacle, where they are arranged in a display, individually potted, seemingly different and labelled, each with a beguiling name. You could say, and although I am not fond of the word, it was here that I experienced the first stirrings of becoming a ‘galanthophile’.

It was ‘Fly Fishing’ that was my purchase here, a must for any fisherman and so it grows just outside my husband’s office, a bending rod gently moving in the breeze.

Then things began to get expensive; at £40.00 per tiny bulb (and that is nothing in this world I can assure you ), I could not resist ‘Tilly’. She is spreading nicely so I am not feeling quite so bad about that reckless expenditure.

Then my first granddaughter was born, so in celebration I planted Galanthus plicatus ‘Florence Baker’ (please could someone please breed an Alfie), and my small collection began to expand, and all around the garden I have the names of friends and family growing gracefully, all different and doing their own thing. Last year I painstakingly labelled each one, only to be stumped by my dogs who thought this was a great idea and spent the summer months finding and helpfully retrieving them.

The names always intrigue me and I like to know their origin, so I bought, begged and borrowed books on the subject, the snowdrop ‘bible’ being the most elusive Snowdrops A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus by Matt Bishop, Aaron Davis and John Grimshaw, which I was fortunate to be lent and I notice that although currently unavailable on Amazon it is a mere £550 on ebay.

I also find this website invaluable and the photography sublime. https://www.judyssnowdrops.co.uk/Plant_Profiles/plant_profiles.htm. This is from the website and shows Galanthus ‘S Arnott’ a lovely tall snowdrop with a scent of almond and recommended by ‘The Land Gardeners’ http://www.thelandgardeners.com/home as a cut flower which however they suggest potting up and bringing indoors rather than picking.

Snowdrops do come in other guises; I loved this giant wicker snowdrop standing at fifteen feet high at Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire,

and these metal ones either side standing guard at a gate in Welford Park.

My garden is deep in snow with not a single snowdrop in sight, just a metal sculpture, a reminder of what will be there when the thaw comes.

I have already made this year’s purchases, Galanthus plicatus ‘Three ships’ which should flower before next Christmas from friend, plantswoman and instagrammer Jane Anne Walton, and the other in aid of St John Ambulance Galanthus plicatus ‘Diggory’, a Norfolk boy, he is a beauty.

Luckily for me I have a Snowdrop Walk local to me and which will be open next Sunday 21st February in aid of the National Garden Scheme https://ngs.org.uk/view-garden/4388. If that path isn’t just the perfect place for a little exercise, then I don’t know what is.

There has never been a greater time than now for us to support the nursing and care sector and so if you are unable to take your exercise in a local snowdrop garden why not consider making a donation by visiting the just giving page https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/norfolk-ngs

——-14-02-21——-

Snowdrops at East Ruston Old Vicarage

Inspired by the eloquent voice of George Plumptre CEO of the National Garden Scheme announcing the start of the Snowdrop Festival I decided to visit East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden http://www.e-ruston-oldvicaragegardens.co.uk who were hosting their own Snowdrop Specialist Growers Day.

The owners Graham and Alan warmly welcomed us in the car park directing us to park under the crab apple trees which despite the cold, were still looking so good against today’s blue sky.

The entry fee was modest and it was good to see the knowledgeable Ian handing out the newly printed NGS Norfolk “Gardens open for charity” booklet. Nearby a Chusan palm trachycarpus fortunei, bathed in morning sunlight seemed to wave us on,

and around the corner the air was filled with the delicious scent of Daphne Bhoula ‘Jacqueline Postill’.

East Ruston has its own nursery, guarded by friendly dogs,

but it is for the snowdrops that we have really come, not carpeted on the ground but displayed in neat rows on tables by the keen and knowledgeable nursery people who breed them.

Known as ‘Galanthophiles’, it seems such a chunky word for these delightful collectors of such a tiny flowers. With so very many varieties how do you choose?

I am still very much in the learning stage, but with what might seem rather oversized labels it is easy to read their charming names. I am looking for Galanthus plicatus ‘Three ships’, an early flowering snowdrop often out before Christmas and discovered in a garden in Suffolk; I discover it is not on display so order if from Joe Sharman from Monksilver Nursery.

I spy a tray on the ground; characters in the waiting so to speak, and looking just how they do peeping through the snow.

Under this hat is John. It was in his garden a couple of years ago that I began to have my first stirrings of galanthomania and bought the beautiful ‘Tilly’. John and his wife Brenda will be opening their garden Gable House just south of Beccles for the National Garden Scheme on Sunday 17th February. Today I buy three more beauties to add to my modest collection, Trumps, Chequers and my first yellow Spindlestone Surprise.

With such fine purchases made, my friend and I celebrate with a sausage roll and a cheese scone in the tea room before walking round the garden. I have only ever been here in the summer so it is interesting to see the bare bones of the garden.

In the winter you notice the structures so much more, the archways, hedges and the elegant metal obelisks with their neatly trained roses.

It will be awhile before the plants emerge from this (frozen) water-filled magnificent container, but along with its great size it is the weathering of the copper to an attractive verdigris which we can admire today.

Planted in the beds are a variety of snowdrops; this good sized clump is ‘Colossus’ which sports rather handsome foliage.

With 30 acres of gardens to explore, it is easy to immerse oneself and forget that there is a world outside, just occasionally there is a little reminder; in the far distance Happisburgh lighthouse can be seen,

and on the other side of the garden the parish church is framed in the view.

It amazes me how some flowers can survive undamaged following a severely frosty night and this joyful Camellia is seemingly untouched.

It is during these winter months that we can appreciate and enjoy the rich tapestry of greens from stems and leaves,

and you cannot help but enjoy this great combination of Silver Birch, Cornus and Skimmia.

At first I am not sure whether it is my eyesight but this Pussy Willow growing gracefully in a pot is definitely pink; originally from Japan it is Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’.

It is at this time of year that you appreciate those clipped shapes whether it is in Box, Beech or Yew.

This tree on a corner is firmly rooted into the swirl of low Box hedging that seamlessly runs into the wooden bench.

The garden is divided into so many different areas, many of which will come into play in those warm summer months ahead; you might be forgiven for thinking the Desert Garden might be one of those, however today you would never know it is winter.

Walking back to the house we admire this striking seat framed by the hedge,

and the collection of neatly clipped topiary.

Then just by the house in the perfect place is an explosion of colour and scent, a Golden Mimosa Acacia baileyana is underplanted with Coronilla glauca ‘Citrina’.

Alan Gray can be heard most weeks on Radio Norfolk’s ‘Garden Party’ programme. He is an Ambassador for the National Garden Scheme and he will be opening his amazing gardens at East Ruston, Norfolk twice this year on Saturday 9th March and Saturday 12th October https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/12923

——-2019——-

A touch of wintery enthusiasm at St Timothee

On a very dreary, drippy-wet Wednesday last week I attended the first open garden event of the National Garden Scheme’s year held in the delightful private garden of St Timothee, just outside Maidenhead.

Garden owner Sarah welcomed us with coffee and cake, a particularly delicious slice of Orange and Almond. She then proceeded to give us an interesting illustrated talk about what she has growing in her garden at this time of year.

This is not especially a ‘winter garden’ but Sarah feels strongly that during these short and often grey days (and today was no exception) you need plants that catch your eye from the window and inspire you to get out into the garden.

January, Sarah reminded us, is named after the god Janus, the god of archways and doorways who is depicted with two faces looking backwards and forwards, which we can connect to this time of year as we cling on to the growth of the previous year whilst looking forward to what will shoot forth in the coming Spring.

The winter palette you might think is somewhat limited but Sarah explained that the key points to planting are shape, colour and scent; careful consideration should also be given to ‘hotspots’, those places that you regularly walk past or are in your frequent field of vision. Armed with umbrellas we followed her into the garden walking past a colourful Phormium,one of those bright ‘hotspots’

Sarah explained that shape can be observed at several levels; on the ground where the direction of lawns and paths lead, and the configuration of a border itself can be a thing of beauty. At the next level perennials including the huge variety of grasses can provide a lengthy season of interest.

Keeping seed heads are important as they are not only decorative but also provide food for the birds. These dark seed heads are from Phlomis russeliana.

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Sarah created this two acre garden a few years ago from a blank canvas but was fortunate to have inherited some mature trees. Inspired by the small book The Wood in Winter by John Lewis-Stemper she emphasised the importance of not only the solid shapes of evergreens like this robust yew,

but also deciduous trees either with graceful spreading branches,

or tall and straight as in this line of poplars at the edge of the garden.

Even the fiercely pruned fruit tree growing close to the house could be considered an art form.

Of course not all trees are naked at this time of year. A recently planted Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’, the winter flowering cherry will continue to give much pleasure in future years. 

Coloured stems are a great feature of this garden and Sarah feels it is important to underplant; the green of Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ and the yellow Eranthis hyemalis the winter aconites, are a striking combination,

and the red Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ looks good with the tiny flowers and attractive leaves of Cyclamen coum.

But the real show-stopper of coloured stems, even on a rainy day is Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ which positively lights up the garden and glows. Sarah comments on how she enjoys the now unfashionable pampas grass Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ and reminds us that plants go out of favour through unnecessary plant snobbery and, as it is here, the right plant in the right place can be very effective.

Hellebores are a joy at this time of year, either planted in woodland or in clumps in the border by the wall.

Also peeping through are the Crocus ‘Snow Bunting, Sarah was a little disappointed that they were not further ahead and today the flowers were remaining firmly closed and their fragrance dampened by the rain.

However the Chaenomeles speciosa  was undeterred by the rain and the pretty white flowers were a perfect colour against the brick.

A simple knot garden adds great charm to the garden; planted with evergreen box and the silvery stems of Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ it looks good all year round.

Box balls of various sizes are dotted around the garden; a focus point they also outline an entrance to a path or highlight the corner of a bed.

I love compost and leaf bins, which of course are an essential part of any garden but these have to be the most ornate I have ever seen.

There are touches of softening the hard landscape, and this ornamental evergreen grass does the trick on the edge of the York stone path,

and while we somehow never seem to regard Rosemary as a shrub with winter interest here it is brightening an area by the steps.

Finally, Sarah touched on the importance of scent and even on a wet day the Lonicera fragrantissima winter-flowering honeysuckle lifted the spirits and was smelling delicious.

Despite the rain it was a real joy to get out and visit a garden in January. Sarah is passionate about gardening and while she wants to share what she enjoys in her garden, she is careful not to tell us what we ought to be planting in our gardens.

The Winter palette might seem limited but there was enough to see at St Timothee to come away inspired to look once again at those hotspots and to enjoy our gardens a little more in winter.

Perhaps this might be the start of a trend for other garden owners to share their garden in winter.

The garden at St Timothee is open by arrangement for the National Garden Scheme and will also be open for the NGS on 14th and 15th June 2019. Sarah will be giving another talk and walk (a ticketed event) ‘Successional Planting’ on 14th August https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/33095/

——-2019——-

Walkern Hall; Tiny Flowers and Tall Trees. (11)

I have travelled a few miles in the car over the last couple of months and I enjoy looking at the countryside rolling past. But what really upsets me is the layers of rubbish littered along the roadside. What I think might be snowdrops turns out to be discarded wrappers or cans. A glimpse of ‘travellers joy’ growing in the hedges turns out to be shredded plastic draped in the branches. It is a sight for sore eyes.

So it was a relief to turn off from the major road and drive along the neat and narrow lanes in an agricultural area of Hertfordshire. The garden owners had done a splendid job in signposting the way. An old rustic Garden Gate was ready to open.

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Walkern Hall is surrounded by farmland.  We parked in the farmyard, with English Longhorn cattle content in the fields in front of the house.

The garden owner was born here and wife Kate, a second generation NGS volunteer is on the Hertfordshire team. She gave us a warm welcome. So too did the blue sky.

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We are directed to walk past the front door where an owl observes from above whilst a lion sits at the base.

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The ground is dotted with aconites and snowdrops.  This year they have been late in coming but are probably looking at their best right now.

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The hazel catkins have also been coming out and look particularly fine by the Summer House. The inside of this intimate outdoor room is enhanced by the most  beautiful wooden bench which curves gently  round.

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An impressive gate, but firmly closed, leads into the old walled garden sited some distance from the house. No longer teams of gardeners growing produce for the house, it is now enjoyed by teams of tennis players. I worry about stray balls flying into the magnificent glasshouses.

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To the right of the gate is a Garrya elliptica enjoying the shelter of the wall. I make a note to move mine which has become totally browned off from the East wind.

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The shed, sited at the end of the wall, appears more suited to an allotment rather than a garden of this size, but possesses a simple charm.

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This garden is not about mixed borders and decorative flowers. It is more  a landscape of green space and big trees. Mature and majestic, the trees stand uncrowded, growing away from the house.

We stride back towards the house which can be glimpsed through the Holm Oak Quercus Ilex .

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A hugely tall London plane stands proudly on the lawn in the afternoon sunlight.

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It is not hard to imagine this impressive fountain gently spouting water and entertaining a Victorian house party. I wonder at its history; who made it and why is it here? Curiously sited it does not seem to line up with the house, but is randomly placed on the lawn. It is perhaps that very fact, combined with an architectural splendour of a bygone era that is entertaining us today.

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A small magnolia with swelling buds is waiting for Spring. It grows at the back of the house with snowdrops spreading freely around its base.

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Out of sight is the back gate, a treasure in ironwork. It is well bedded-in and appears to have been open for years.

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Back on the lawn we have a debate about the trees. The one on the left is definitely an oak, but the one on the right? By a stroke of luck the tree man for Hertfordshire is amongst the  visitors.

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He tells us that it is a turkey oak Quercus cerris, explaining that it is taller than the English oak and its acorn cups are hairy.  He shows us the leaf and twig.

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Enlightened we move back to the terrace on the south side of the house. It is a small area recently planted with good effect. The young evergreen lollipop shape contrasts well with the deciduous giants.

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There is Box providing formality and Winter Box filling the terrace with glorious scent.

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Visitors enjoy the teas  served in the courtyard and are able to keep warm by the fire.

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Molly is for ever hopeful.

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Time to leave this spacious landscape with its impressive trees. One last look at the drifts of those tiny flowers before we drive on to London.

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and although the owners are very friendly there is a reminder that this is a very private garden!

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——-11——-

West Dean; A Perfection in Pruning (6)

Don’t tell me that people don’t visit gardens in Winter. They do. It was West Dean’s first day of the season, a bonus that they were opening in aid of the National Garden Scheme, and it was humming with visitors.

B and I consulted the map, not really sure why,  not from a fear of getting lost but I suppose because it was there.

We headed up to the walled garden along a path where the trees stripped of their lower branches and under planted with box, allow glimpses of the open lawn and beyond:

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A stately deciduous tree stands, almost in defiance of man’s interference, it gracefully stretches out arms and bends hands towards the sky in supplication.

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In the Apple store, a deliciously smelling, cool, round thatched building, we found the jolly Sussex NGS team. B herself is one of their garden owners and so much chat ensued.

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The County Organiser, a volunteer here at West Dean showed us around and the work and devotion to horticulture is enviable. The Victorian Walled garden is filled with fruit trees. Apples and pear are espaliered and fanned against the walls and over arches:

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Also cunningly trained around carousels and pyramids:

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We wander along the neat box edged paths. This one echoes the crinkle-crankle wall:

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and hello, the garden gates is open……..

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….even the Head Gardener’s own gateway. So tempting to snoop but we have to resist as this garden is to be open another day.

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Grateful to our guide we leave her handing out her county booklets and return to the main part of the garden where we delight in the abstract forms of box and are surprised to find it so very recently clipped:

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There is no sun today but the Sarcococca, still fills the air with its heady scent. It too has received a trim:

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It is good to have a friend with me; B and I discuss the merits of hellebores. We agree that although the dark maroon looks lovely, almost exotic when displayed in a vase, it is rather lost against the dark soil, unlike the paler colours which look bright even on this dull day:

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I imagined there to be more ornament around the garden but of course Harold Peto’s huge pergola takes centre stage.  A sculpture itself, the reflection is also a work of art:

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Vines are latticed around Petos’s sturdy pillars reminiscent of Tudor chimneys:

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His attention to detail is magnificent:

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As we circulate around the garden I think this must be a disabled visitor’s dream. Easy access all the way round on smooth spacious paths. Nobody knows what it is like to push a wheelchair until you have had to. An inviting tunnel clothed simply in ivy and anchored by the box balls:

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We are not really sure about the fibreglass tree. At the very least it serves as an amusing conversation piece:

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Undeniably false but a bit of fun. The real thing is so majestic:

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And the cornus provides vibrant colour.

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More clipped shapes help to blend the cold flint walls to the garden.Time has run out for us today and we have yet to visit the Parkland walk and Arboretum.

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We will have to return to this garden in its glorious setting of the South Downs, and not just for those unexplored areas, but to try every one of the courses that the college can offer.

——-6——-