Monday, 21 January 2008

Winter aconites - the first flowers of the year

My last post was a picture of Chesters Walled Garden under snow. Well, the snow went almost as quickly as it had arrived, followed by a week of weather so dull, wet and miserable that I didn't bother to take any photographs - and now we have a snowfall again! I went out with an umbrella to get a picture of these winter aconites, Eranthis hyemalis, cradled in soft snow, the umbrella necessary to keep the camera dry as it was still bleaching down. A meeting I had was cancelled because the rep couldn't get across country and there is news that the A68 is blocked, again.

Winter aconites are the first perennials to flower in the garden, with the snowdrops and snowflakes not far behind. Although these are already out 'down south', we are always a bit behind. I love the aconites bright green ruff and the particular quality of their yellow flowers. There are some yellows that I really don't like, the colour of Forsythia for one (this is just personal) but aconite yellow has quite a hint of green in it.

A catalogue came in the post today from Cotswold Garden Flowers, Bob Brown's nursery. I have always liked the fact that Bob has strongly held opinions (again entirely personal) and the catalogue gives each plant a score out of ten. He gives a high score to most of the Sanguisorbas, such as S. menziesii (gorgeous), with S. 'Tanna' scoring rather less. Out of my National Collection plants, I agree that it is less exuberant. But I notice he gives an 8 to a Forsythia! Maybe I'll have to check that one out....

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Chesters under snow

It's January 3rd and I took this picture of the garden under snow just half an hour ago; as I write this blog there is more snow falling outside the window. I love the strong lines of hedges and topiary outlined by the white, the self sown pampas grass on the left and the undulating branches of the walnut tree. A hungry robin followed me about, waiting to snatch up any grub that was disturbed by my boots amongst the leaves. We've raked up all the leaves off the lawn so that they don't spoil the grass and used them to refill the leafmould bin or to rot down into a thick mulch on the shrub border at the bottom of the walled garden. There are still some leaves on the gravel paths to rake up when the weather is right - the leafmould they will make will be used on the vegetable garden to enhance the soil structure. It's gorgeous stuff, crumbly, fibrous and rich red brown in colour.

The two trees that look really wonderful at this time of year are the mahogany coloured Prunus serrula, a Tibetan cherry, and the creamy barked Betula jacquemontiae. Visitors love to run their hands over the rich red bark of the cherry. The famous gardener E A Bowles is said to have polished his.

I don't think it needs polishing as the bark is so shiny anyway but I do wash the green algae off the birch tree before we re-open in March. At this time of the year though, the soft watercolour tones of the green have a subtle charm against the snow. Snow can be a mixed blessing; a light dusting like this transforms the winter garden, too much and shrubby herbs can be broken under its weight, box hedges damaged so I hope for moderation!