Thursday, 25 January 2007

winter aconites and snowdrops

Winter aconites are flowering in the garden and have done since the first week in January; I had thought this was rather early but looking at my gardening notes for 1993 I found that they were also out then. Snowdrops are in flower too, but this week of cold weather will hold them back a bit. I am glad of the frosty nights which are a natural part of winter but also glad that I had watched the forecast and thoroughly fleeced the fig and myrtles in the walled garden.
The nuts and seeds are crowded with birds getting food to keep the cold at bay; blue, great and coal tits, robin and dunnock foraging underneath and the splendid vivid colours of greater spotted woodpecker and goldfinch. A bird count is updated each year and is on display in the shop, showing what birds frequent the garden in each month. The teasels are left standing as long as possible for the goldfinches to extract their seeds (the downside is the plethora of teasel seedlings in the borders!) but I cut those down after the last gales had battered them about. The paths are littered with rose hips brought down in the high winds - a beautiful sight, their brilliant orange-red shapes jewelling the grey of the gravel paths. I am keeping a close eye on the tulip beds to make sure the bulbs are not dug up by pheasants again this year. They do so much damage with their large feet and claws, knocking over plants in their pots in the sales area and scratching around. Once we are open and there are visitors in the garden, most of the pheasants move off although there is always one each year that raises a brood of chicks, much to the delight of the visitors!

Thursday, 4 January 2007

A new year in the garden

After the gales of New Year's Eve (bad enough to force cancellation of Edinburgh's Hogmany fireworks and Newcastle's too), it was with some trepidation that I walked around the walled garden to see if there was any damage. Luckily the only thing was that the fleece that had protected the fig had been torn off and shredded on a nearby rose bush! As a gardener, the one thing I hate above all else is a gale. I cut down the tall teasels, their seeds now eaten by the goldfinches or scattered by the wind and decided that the next job will be to cut down the grass garden to make way for the new shoots. Bulbs are springing up all over the place - snowdrops, Iris reticulata, daffs, snowflakes and the tightly curled fists of winter aconites. The pineapple sage is still flowering exotically in the greenhouse, a jug full of it having been on the kitchen table on Christmas Day. (See blog posting of 11Dec) It's a strange season, with ceanothus and hebes in flower alongside the more expected, scented blooms of Mahonia 'Charity'.

I have started work on a new herb book commissioned by local Ergo press of Hexham. It will be a down to earth guide to growing and eating the most popular herbs and Tom has taken the front cover image. He has just created his own website - - and many of the dazzling images of wildlife and nature were taken in Chesters Walled Garden, from blue tits bathing in the pools to leaves under frost. His blog was mentioned in the letters page of the Independent a few weekends back and that inspired him to go further and make a website too. With the short days, it is good to have time to study seed catalogues, write herb articles and plan for the coming year.