It has been a long hot summer, the garden is suffering and so am I. We had one welcome downpour but that was it and plants that perked up are looking sorry for themselves again. Still it is remarkable what has hung on and I am optimistic that once we do get rain (it must come in the end), the garden will revive. I am taking note of what is growing and will plant more drought-tolerant plants next year.
The gravel bed looks great with Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum, both white and purple forms, cotton lavender, silver-leaved Lotus hirsutum, lavenders, orange spikes of Libertia perigrinans, Euphorbia stricta ‘Golden Foam’, and various creeping thymes against a backdrop of the oat grass, Stipa gigantea.
I have watered the troughs and am particularly enjoying the superb show put on by my tiny specimen of Origanum ‘Emma Stanley’. What a treasure and it relishes this hot weather.
Our thatch has been redone, a 7 week task. I am going to be collecting up wheat straw and pulling out wheat seedlings for some time to come. Our thatcher has done a superb job removing the old thatch and giving us a lovely new roof, which provides excellent insulation, so the bedrooms in the cottage are delightfully cool.
Our next task is to prepare for the NGS opening on Sunday 2nd September- will there be anything to see?!
The roses are magnificent this year. The climbers, ‘Paul’s Himalaya Musk’ and ‘Frances E Lester’, are tumbling out of the old apple trees and filling the garden with their perfume, especially in the evenings. ‘Kiftsgate’ has almost reached the top of the willow tree and ‘Bobby James’ is covering the pergola in the front garden.
The old-fashioned shrub roses, mainly gallicas, are at their best now- perfect for the open day tomorrow. ‘Charles de Mills’ has fragrant deep purple double flowers which contrast with the beautiful crimson-striped flowers of ‘Camaieux’. But I have more stripes for the discerning visitor- ‘Ferdinand Pichard’ is also at his best and the suckering clump of Rosa gallica versicolor ‘Rosa Mundi’ (the earliest known stripped rose dating back to the 1500s) is just starting to open in a shady corner at the back if the pond.
Herbaceous shape and colour
The garden so much to offer at this time of year – texture, colour and scent – as well as weeds if one’s back is turned. The astrantias (Hattie’s pincushion or masterwort) have taken off since I moved them to the shady damp bed. ‘Shaggy’ has enormous flowers and ‘Roma’ is a sizeable pink clump.
The elegant spires of the strawberry foxglove, Digitalis x mertonensis, with its slightly furry leaves, provide height in the central bed. I do prefer this to the common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, but both have a place in the garden. I must collect the seed again.
My new bark path has evolved into shady passageway, fringed by the pheasant’s tail grass, Anemanthele lessoniana, that self-seeds happily if you will let it.
Our thatcher, Mark, has almost finished the back of the cottage roof and will soon make a start on the front. It is a 6-week job but the pigeons cannot believe their luck- so much seed!
Time has rattled past and it is the end of May. The garden is full of shape, scent and colour. The plants are exuberant after all the rain.. and the slugs and snails are having a field day. Tulips were fantastic earlier in the month, but they are over except for the wonderful Tulipa sprengeri – the elegant red flowers on tall stems provide a real splash of colour in my rock bed and borders where they are spreading gently by seeding. I do my best to leave the delicate tulip seedlings when I am removing those of nearby alliums.
A clump of the ladybird poppy, which survived the winter, is also providing great colour under my silver birch.
I was thrilled to come across a spectacular Emperor moth, Saturnia pavonia, in my wildflower patch where I was clearing long grass and admiring the cowslips and emerging yellow rattle. Apparently the males fly during the daytime in search of the less dramatic greyer females, which fly at night (that does not seem like a great arrangement but they obviously manage). He sat peacefully for some time so I was able to get a decent photograph – what a great moth!
Tragedy- our pond is loosing water. The liner is almost 30 years old and it turns out that the large clump of Bowle’s golden sedge, Carex elata ‘Aurea’, which we trying to divide, has actually grown through it. So the next project will have to be a complete revamp of the pond – a task that is not for the faint-hearted but is full of opportunity for the gardener. This time I will definitely avoid invasive thugs such as Houttuynia cordata and reject gifts from well-meaning friends such as the brownish “seaweed-like” thug given to me as an “easy” water plant. Beware gifts from friends with ponds, the plant is bound to be vigorous and may turn out to be a menace.
In the meanwhile I am enjoying the garden and planning what we should do before we open for the NGS on June 17th.
An intrepid, knowledgeable and enthusiastic group of twenty-seven visitors from Oxford Botanic Gardens came to the garden to-day, all happed up in coats, hats and gloves. Despite the inclement weather, they enjoyed the garden and we enjoyed their company. The small spring bed under the ash tree always looks wonderful at this time of year. Early flowering plants such as Pulmonaria ‘Bowles Blue’, hellebores, Narcissi ‘Tete-a-tete’, Valeriana phu ‘Aurea’ and Euphorbia amygdaloides provide a patchwork of colour. My tiny clump of Cardamine pentaphylla is flowering for the first time as is Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’. The delicate unfurling buds on Amelanchier × grandiflora ‘Ballerina’ just add to the picture.
Helleborus × hybridus ‘Cinderella’
Helleborus × hybridus ‘Harvington Shades Of Night’
Once the rain really started to pour down, we retreated inside to enjoy warming mugs of tea or coffee supplemented by simnel cake (my Mum’s excellent recipe), lemon drizzle cake and oatmeal biscuits. So much for spring, but at least the daffodils and hellebores have lasted well in the cold and I still have a snowdrop in flower (Galanthus ‘Polar Bear’ ).
Primula vulgaris (our lovely common primrose) flourishes in my heavy clay and self-seeds widely. I also love my Auntie Margery’s Primula ‘Wanda’ which came from Northern Ireland. Primula elatior (Oxlip) which came from my Mum thrives in my marshy bed and I hope that Primula veris (cowslip), which is not out yet, will colonise our small wild flower bank. Primula ‘Garryarde Guinevere’ is hanging on but not happy and I find it difficult to retain my candelabra primulas. I think I may have lost Primula japonica ‘Miller’s Crimson’ as I did some replanting in the marshy bed and I cannot see any sign of it, but perhaps it is too early. Primula florindae , the Tibetan or giant cowslip, should appear later and I hope I still have some Primula sieboldii.
Asarum maximum ‘Silver Panda’
Asarum maximum ‘Silver Panda’
I know that I should not try to grow woodland plants that need humus and neutral to acid soil, but I keep on trying. My clumps of dogs-tooth violets have enlarged at last, thanks mainly to large quantities of leafmould. I succumbed (for a second try) to an exotic Chinese woodlander, Asarum maximum ‘Silver Panda’, for sale in the Rare Plant Fair. Foolish I know, but the combination of glossy, evergreen, leaves marbled in silver, with such extraordinary, open-mouthed, black and white flowers that open at ground level was irresistible. I will spend the next week on my hands and knees. Perhaps I should put it in a pot.
NGS Open Day
The garden is several weeks behind last year. The tulips and snakes head fritillaries are barely open but I hope that with a little warmth in the next few days, things will have moved on by Sunday afternoon, when we open again for NGS charities and the British Skin Foundation.
The snow has melted and the snowdrops and narcissi are upright again. In fact many of the snowdrops are well past their best but their lush foliage still makes a statement. The narcissi on the other hand have come into their own so the garden is Easter-ready, abounding with cheerful nodding daffodils. I have more than 40 varieties, generally purchased from Avon or Broadleigh bulbs over the years. I still prefer the small ones especially the cyclamineus cultivars (Div 6) such as ‘Mite’ , a small cyclamineus that I planted in the damp bed. Narcissus nanus ‘Midget’ (Div 1) in the rock bed really is a midget, a trumpet daffodil only 10cm high.
Narcissus fernandesii var. cordubensis, Scilla siberica under the Himalayan birch
Narcissus fernandesii var. cordubensis
I am thrilled that Narcissus fernandesii var. cordubensis (Div 13) has flowered. This delicate little daffodil (25cm high) has narrow thread-like leaves and scented flowers about 3cm in diameter. I planted it under the multi-stemmed Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) which is just mature enough to start to show some striking patches of white bark. A few of the brilliant blue flowers of Scilla siberica have also emerged. Perhaps one day I will have swathes of both beneath the silvery bark of the mature tree, but I am afraid that I may have to wait some time.
Daphnes and sweet perfume
Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
The clusters of pink flowers on Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ in the gravel bed perfume the air by the front door, particularly in the evenings. Daphnes may be short-lived but this one is easy to grow from cuttings so I shall take some later in the year. The fragrant purplish flowers on Daphne mezereum appear before the leaves and also offer a welcome splash of winter colour along with their scent. I have just planted a D. mezereum f. alba (no more than a twig at the moment but flowering nevertheless), which has fragrant white flowers. Eventually it and an even more tiny specimen of Daphne retusa I have just planted, will fill the space which once held the Garrya elliptica. As Marina Schinz said “Gardening is an exercise in optimism. Sometimes, it is a triumph of hope over experience.”
The garden is open for the NGS charities and the British Skin Foundation on April 8th so we are keeping our fingers crossed for good weather and a good turnout of visitors. Despite the cold, I think there will be plenty to see………but there is still a lot to do.
A combination of the “Beast from the East” (icy blasts from Siberia) with Storm Emma caused havoc on the first day of spring. It is bitterly cold and the garden is covered in a blanket of snow, but we are lucky in Oxford as it is much worse in other parts of the country- up to 50cm (20in) of snow in some places and numerous roads are impassable. Schools are closed and our grandchildren have been out building snowmen and tobogganing. Definitely not gardening weather.
Garden under snow
Birds are feasting on the food we have put out and appreciate the water in the Giant’s causeway rock for both bathing and drinking. Fieldfares and blackbirds fight over apples on the lawn, robins tuck into mealworms, while siskins, assorted tits, a nuthatch and great spotted woodpeckers hang acrobatically from feeders with nuts, fat and seeds. Woodpigeons, chaffinches and dunnocks hoover up the debris on the ground.
Snowdrops Mighty Atom in frost and some snow
Snowdrop Mighty Atom completely flattened
The snowdrops are flattened (but will stand up when the temperature rises), early narcissi that I photographed last week are barely visible and crocuses are buried.
Camellia × williamsii ‘Donation’
Camellia japonica ‘Sylvia’
Camellia japonica ‘Sylvia’ damaged by frost
Camellias come into their own at this time of year. Unfortunately many of the lovely red blooms on Camellia japonica ‘Sylvia’ are an unsightly brown. Frost-damage is a problem as the plant faces east and catches the early morning sun. I really ought to move the rather weighty tub but where to (and how)? The slightly later flowering Camellia × williamsii ‘Donation’ is sheltered from the early sun, so the fat pink buds which are starting to open will soon provide a fine show. I have knocked the snow off both shrubs. The camellias belonged to my father and he cherished them with such care that I felt I had to bring them here when my parents’ house was sold. I can still envisage him watering them with the rain water he had collected, doing a little careful pruning, feeding them and happing up the tubs for the winter. These plants are almost 40 years old, but camellias are extraordinarily long-lived and may survive well over 200 years. Perhaps the children or even the grandchildren will take over their care one day.
Some of the early snowdrops are looking a little the worse for wear but many are still putting on a grand display despite (or perhaps because of) the winter chill. The clump of ‘Cowhouse Green’ (green tips to petals) has increased in size and I have invested in new snowdrops including ‘Polar Bear’, ‘Gerard Parker’, ‘Reverend Hailstone’ and, best of all, ‘South Hayes’, so the number of snowdrops has swelled to more than 60. I have been inspired by a visit to Colesbourne Park, a magnificent snowdrop garden filled with so many temptations. The little Iris reticulata are still putting on a grand display, especially a clump of pale blue ‘Sheila Ann Germany’ in the bed alongside my drive. I have also just invested in a few Polar Ice, another very pale Iris reticulata, and Pauline, a very dark blue.
Galanthus ‘Cowhouse Green’
Galanthus ‘South Hayes’
Iris reticulata ‘Sheila Ann Germany’
Crocuses have popped up all over the garden. Crocus tommasinianus ‘Whitewell Purple’ has spread widely in the grass under the apple tree and the small group of the delicate Crocus sieberi ‘Tricolor’ has enlarged. I am also enjoying Crocus chrysanthus including ‘Cream Beauty’, ‘Herald’ and ‘Blue Pearl’. Crocus ‘Yalta’, which I planted last autumn, has come into flower. I found the silvery-blue outer petals lightening up a dull corner. However the flowers were closed so I did not see the dark purple inner petals. I must check again in the sunshine.
Crocus tommasinianus ‘Whitewell Purple’
Crocus sieberi ‘Tricolor’
Hellebores and narcissi
Winter aconites are almost over but the Lenten roses (Helleborus orientalis) are looking good although I have lost the doubles (I actually prefer the less fussy single flowers) and the clump of Helleborus × hybridus ‘Harvington Black’, a dramatic dark purple, has decreased rather than increased in size. The naturalised narcissi in the grass under the apple trees are coming into their own, a sign that spring really is just around the corner.
The choice alpines from Craigiehall Nursery lived up to expectations. They arrived in perfect condition, beautifully packed, and I had a lot of fun planting up a pot with a combination of Polygala calcarea ‘Lillet’, Salix hylematica, Veronica prostrata ‘Nana’, Saxifraga federici-augustii subsp. grisebachii , Saxifraga ‘Jaromir’, Vitaliana primuliflora ssp. praetutiana and Penstemon davidsonii menziesii ‘Microphyllus’. I have probably crammed in too many tiny plants – I may have to invest in another pot.
The garden is wintery and the pond has frozen again. The weather has not been conducive to gardening to-day as the rain lashed down most of the day.
G. Natalie Garton
G. Mighty Atom
However I have had days in the garden as things are definitely moving out there. My snowdrops are really coming into their own, hellebores are in flower, winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) are just appearing, my Mum’s Iris unguicularis (stylosa) is still producing numerous flowers and I am thrilled that the Hamamelis intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ that I planted last year in the damp bed is flowering.
Helleborus multifidus ssp. bocconei
Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’
Poor Garrya elliptica was given the heave-ho. I had given it due warning – if it did not perform with a good display of green tassels this year, it would be out as most of the time the dark evergreen leaves do not brighten my day and the tassels gradually start to go brown and just look sorry for themselves. So on Wednesday we removed it leaving me with space in a small North-facing bed that is now replete with fresh compost, top soil and manure. I am going to put in Daphne blagayana at the front. I will enjoy the fragrant, creamy-white terminal clusters of flowers each spring. There will still be space for another small choice shrub and I may also add the odd bulb or even an alpine.
In fact I have ordered a number of alpines from a small Scottish nursery (Craigiehall Nursery) that I found on-line when I was sitting in bed feeling sorry for myself with a streaming cold over the New Year. Nothing like plants to cheer one up. I am looking forward to their arrival.
I tackled the Michaelmas daisies after looking at the photographs I took last autumn. I have moved them around to provide a better mix of colours and I also split some of the older clumps to rejuvenate the plants. Inevitably there was the odd crunch as the fork hit some of the very large clumps of Nerine bowdenii bulbs, most of which do not flower now because the soil is really too heavy and over the years the bulbs have got covered far too deeply when the bed has been mulched. Nerine lilies do best in a well-drained site with full sun and would love to be at the base of a sunny, south-facing wall if I had one. I have replanted many of them more superficially and moved some to the bed at the base of the cottage wall (south-east facing) – we will see what happens.
Galanthus elwesii var. monostichus ‘Marjorie Brown’
Shoots of Iris reticuloides
Bulbs- snowdrops, irises and even a daffodil
Some snowdrops are in flower, including the fine tall Mrs MacNamara, and many more are nosing their way above ground, but will those I divided last year flower well or sulk? I was delighted to see the little pointed buds of the dwarf iris, Iris reticulata ‘Sheila Ann Germany’ , just showing and the clump seems to have fattened up. By January, I hope a number of these little irises will be in flower providing bright splashes of colour in the gravel garden, rock bed, drive bed and pots.
To my delight I found one trumpet daffodil flowering – Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’, an award-winning hybrid dating from the 1940s. It is certainly early. I planted a few bulbs in 2016 because it provides winter colour and even stands up to snowfalls. The others in my small clump are probably only a week or so behind and I have more than last year, so eventually I hope to have a good sized clump .
Winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, was one of the first plants my mother gave me and the shrub has been flowering since the beginning of December. I am going to cut some twigs for the house so we can enjoy the fragrance of the dainty white 2-lipped blossoms indoors as well as out. I know it would flower better if I grew it in a sunnier spot, but then I would not have the benefit of scent by the back door.
Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox, is also in flower. The small scented waxy yellow blooms have almost no stem and look as if they have been stuck directly onto the bare twigs. I pruned it hard last spring and now it has flowers that I can reach. It was probably a mistake to plant it so close to the honeysuckle- I should have spread scent around the garden. The pink flower-buds of Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’are also almost open. The perfume will fill the gravel bed and reach the front door where I have another tiny Daphne, Daphne cneorum var. pygmaea, in the small alpine trough. It has highly scented flowers in May. Both my troughs now have smart new covers provided by Mr B – what wonderful Christmas presents.
The leaf mould bin which looked so full is now half full (or half empty depending on your attitude). The snow compressed the leaves so I am going to have to do some more collecting. Something to do when the weather improves.
Winter arrived with a dump of wet snow. House and garden looked very picturesque.
Snow at Upper Green
Buddleja davidii ‘Royal Red’ is weighed down by heavy snow
It is important to knock off the snow before the weight breaks branches as it hs in the case of this Buddleja davidii ‘Royal Red’.
We knocked the heavy snow off the branches of shrubs and trees and most have come through unscathed, but Buddleja davidii ‘Royal Red’ did take a hit. However buddlejas are tough, so it will be right as rain after a little judicious pruning.
Prior to the snow, I managed to persuade Mr B. that we could remove a narrow strip of lawn between two flower-beds. Chris, our very knowledgeable gardener, has made me a short path with a thick layer of bark chippings laid on a water-permeable and weed suppressing membrane. It looks great, giving a woodland feel to that part of the garden, where I already grow a number of ferns as well as the Pheasant’s tail grass, Anemanthele lessoniana. I shall mulch the adjacent beds thickly with my precious leaf mold and hope to have more success with woodland plants such as our native wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa, which do not thrive on the heavy clay.
Bark chippings are laid over a membrane to create the new path
Before the path
The grass has been removed
The lovely blue flowers and fat flower buds ofmy mother’s Irisunguicularis (previously known as I.stylosa) are a welcome winter surprise, hiding amongst the long untidy leaves. I think the variety is probably ‘Walter Butt’. The flower buds are frost-resistant, but the flowers themselves are not. This iris continues to flower sporadically for several months and my mother used to take great pleasure in picking a few of the sweetly scented blossoms for the table. The iris flourishes in the most unpromising of conditions, at the base of the cottage wall where the ground is both dry and without much nutrient. Anemone pavonina in the gravel bed is also in flower and seems to have survived despite the snow and frost. These treats make a garden stroll worthwhile despite the weather.