While we’ve had a lot of rain and a fair amount of wind since Christmas, one thing we haven’t had during January is excessive cold. Very few frosty nights and no snow (so far) have meant that the early bulbs have come through probably ahead of schedule. The cheery yellow cone-shaped heads of the aconites popped through in the Walled Garden shortly after New Year, with the rest under the sycamores in the more exposed Policies following 10 days or so later. These are the earliest-flowering bulbs we have here in the Garden.
The snowdrops too have started to appear, under the largest apple tree in the Walled Garden and in sheltered patches in the Woodland. We thinned quite a few clumps in the woodland last year and I am anticipating that these may take longer to poke their heads through the leaf-litter than the established clumps. I’m no galanthophile but these early harbingers of spring always lift the spirits with their dainty blooms. Our snowdrops are mainly Galanthus nivalis as far as I can tell, but we do have quite a few double-flowering ones too, and very beautiful they are if you take the trouble to get close enough! The daffodils and hyacinths are surging through as well, so we may be in for an earlier spring show than usual.
The winter flowering shrubs have been looking very good too, with no snow-related damage. The Viburnum bodnantense have been flowering in the Woodland and the Policies since the late autumn, beautiful scented light- and dark-pink blooms on bare stems. In the Walled Garden, the yellow florets of the Mahonia x ‘Charity’ have coped well with the high winds the garden has experienced; this is a tall shrub which we have left unpruned, so it now exceeds the height of the walls and is therefore quite exposed. The winter-flowering Jamine (J.nudiflorum) too has been its usual reliable self with a mass of yellow blooms.
But some of the summer-flowering shrubs have been pretty good too! Some of the Hybrid T, climbing and David Austin roses are still pushing out blooms. They are not so large as those seen in the summer but they are still most welcome! Because we have had no snow, a lot of the structure in the herbaceous borders has remained from last summer, providing a bit more interest than we normally get at this time of the year. This structure is principally in the form of old, dried, seed-heads; not as impressive as the ‘live’ version, and somewhat monochrome, but still very ornamental.
Since Christmas, we have been concentrating on the trees, chain-sawing timber in the Woodland and the Secret Garden and hand-pruning the apple and pear trees round the walls. The fruit trees are done annually with secateurs and, depending on the vigour of the tree, necessitate the removal of last year’s growth, which can be up to 3’ long. This effectively keeps the trees the same size, forcing the sap into flower and fruit production the following spring.
We are now on to the 7 free standing apple trees (some of which are very old and likely date back to the time when the Walled Garden was in full production) which take longer than the ‘2-D’ fan-traineds, espaliers and pillars round the walls. Hopefully, we will complete these in the next couple of weekends or so, allowing us to move on to the black-, white- and red currants and the gooseberries. That will, of course, depend on the weather, which traditionally unleashes its worst during February and early March!