Monday, 25 February 2008

Snowdrops and snowflakes

The woods around Chesters Walled Garden are full of snowdrops at the moment, great undulating sweeps of them stretching away amongst the bare trunks of beech trees. Within the walled garden itself there are more snowdrops, as well as some specials such as the gorgeous, large snowdrop, Galanthus plicatus. It's a pity that the cold, windy weather is stopping early bees from benefitting from all the bounty. Other plants are in flower: sky-blue Scillas, spotted Hellebores in varying shades of pink and deep maroon, fragrant Viburnum farreri, rosemary in the greenhouse, fat buds on the protected peach tree and out in the garden, the lovely pointed bells of snowflakes.

I love their vibrant green, less bluey than the leaves of snowdrops, and the little green points on their old fashioned-lampshade shaped flowers. These are spring snowflakes, Leucojum vernum, yet there are already some sporadic flowers on the taller, so named summer snowflake, Leucojum aestivum. A seemingly odd name this as it always flowers about March or April but it was named by Linnaeus for whom it bloomed much later in Sweden.

Gardens in other parts of the world have been delighting us on Sundays with Monty Don's Around the World in 60 Gardens series. The most memorable for me have been the ones that widen my concept of gardens - the floating gardens of South America, the organic vegetable plots on derelict land in Havana or great sweeps of prairie grasses. I found it particualry interesting that in the last programme, from America, the two gardens that I loved the most were the two most modern and yet at opposit ends of the design spectrum - James van Sweden's fenland meadow and the stunning Californian house and garden.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Reflections in February

After what has been quite a battering from gales and snow, the garden on this early February day, looks calm and poised for growth. Even the suface of the ponds is still, reflecting the sky which has patches of blue. I love this dwarf scots pine which has a very beautiful form, graceful and rounded in shape; in a previous summer gale two years ago, it leant at an angle and I was worried that it would be lost but it seems to have kept the balance of its roots. There are three ponds, one round, one rectangular and a small pool in the greenhouse for the frogs to cool off in summer. Ponds are the single most effective way of enticing a wide variety of wildlife to the garden. The pool by the scots pine has a wooden ramp to help frogs and toads to get out and to save a hedgehog should one fall in.

All the grasses were cut down last week to allow the new growth to emerge (and to tidy it up after the gales!). The grass garden is pretty much at ground level now, a great contrast to its nine feet of height by autumn. The long flower spikes have been cut out of the Stipa gigantea by sliding the secateurs deep down amongst the fine leaves and then we took a rake to them, combing out all the loose dead leaves and debris that collects in the mound of foliage. The effect is always much better and it's really worth doing.

We are propagating lots of plants for sale as the crowns start to shoot away; lungwort, geum, geranium, euphorbia, epilobium, London Pride, sweet violet among others. The wild garlic is looking fresh and green, and the pheasants like to nibble the young shoots. We are splitting wild garlic and potting up it ready for when the garden is open again; made popular by chefs such as Antonio Carluccio, it makes a delicious soup, salad leaf, addition to a potato curry or a casserole and the smell in the woodland when it is full out is quite magical.