And looking ahead…

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The Winter Aconites make a welcome return!

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Our curious pillar apple and pear trees, newly pruned

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Rhododendron Horizon Monarch

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The snow arrives!

Today was one of blue skies and blizzards, heralding the arrival of snow in this part of South East Scotland. We’ve had a very strange week with the temperature going up and down like a yoyo between 0 and 12 degrees C, culminating in two nights of storms. Not as windy as further north and west, though, and no damage so far. More snow and rain is forecast for tomorrow so the seasonal apple and pear pruning may have to be postponed for a further week! Over the last few posts, I’ve been looking back at some of the things we’ve been doing during 2014, but what of the future? As time doesn’t currently allow for more cultivated beds, any further areas we develop have to pretty much look after themselves. This spring, we put some more Rhodendrons (including R. ‘Scyphocalix’ and R. ‘Virginia Richards’) into the wood and while we greatly enjoy their annual spring display, the woodland tends to go a bit quiet for the rest of the year. For the last couple of years, we have managed to get the rampant nettles under control, allowing access to what is a very pleasant space and I’m keen to plant it further with species that give some summer interest. The challenge of course will be finding rabbit-proof plants as there is a small population that live in this area. I’m fairly hopeful, however, that I’ll be able to do this with plants like Aconitum, Hosta, Euphorbia, Polygonatum, Pulmonaria and Persicaria, all of which do well elsewhere in the garden and which are supposedly rabbit-proof! I’d particularly like to grow some of the larger Hostas like ‘Sum and Substance’ and ‘T Rex’ which grow to nearly 3 feet tall. I’m also keen to create some interest to the east of the lily pond and south of the house. At the moment, this is just grass and the space is quite open and exposed. However, there are some deciduous trees that we don’t yet have in the garden, some of which I’ve grown in our other gardens and none of which are too large, which offer spring, summer and autumnal interest. Of particular interest would be Betula utilis ‘Grayswood Ghost’ (one of the best white-barked birches), Prunus serula (the Tibetan cherry with marvellous peeling bark), P. subhirtella autumnalis rosea (which flowers in the winter from, bare stems), Liquidambar styraciflua Worplesdon (one of the best trees for autumn colour) and Sorbus cashmiriana (a rowan tree with white berries as opposed to the usual orange or red). All should do quite well, not growing too large as to block out the morning east light from the pond.

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Daft about daffs

wpid-20130427_122812.jpgwpid-20130427_122440.jpgThe continuation of a relatively cool airstream has meant an outstanding spring bulbs season so far. We still have a few snowdrops, even now, although the spotlight is now firmly on the daffodils, with most of them in bloom.

wpid-20130427_122555.jpgIf truth be known, I’m actually quite pleased that next wpid-20130427_123156.jpgweek is to be cool, as this will hopefully mean we get a good long flowering spell from these, surely the cheeriest of spring flowers, almost guaranteed to put a smile on your face! I’m not sure how many varieties we have here in the garden, but we do have quite a few and I thought I’d feature a few on this post.wpid-20130427_145635.jpg

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Hyacinths

Very pleased to see the hyacinths coming out too with their evocative scent; we grow them in dry, dusty soil in a south facing position round the front of the house – in common with the daffs, the local rabbit population makes no attempt to snack on them!

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Forsythia flanked by tree paeonies

Nice to see some real growth in the borders, particularly the south-facing one. The forsythia is in full bloom now and the buds on the tree paeonies are really starting to open .

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Solomon’s Seal with Primula denticulata

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Omphaloides

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P. Ice Ballet

The hostas are unfurling and the Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum) is at its best at the moment, a sea of writhing serpents rising up out of the ground. We’ve got it in a few places in the garden where it spreads easily; we also have a variegated one in the shade border but I’m not so taken with that. What is good in the shade border at the moment are the Pulmonarias;

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P. Blue Ensign

I’ve mentioned our white one before, mistakenly calling it ‘Sissinghurst White’ in previous posts, but it’s actually ‘Ice Ballet’ according the invoice that I dug out the other day; our other one, ‘Blue Ensign’, is now out with an intense blue flower, and mauve buds. Oddly so are some dwarf daffodils, perhaps ‘Minnow’, which I really can’t recall planting there. The Good Lady thinks this could have been the gardening exploits of a rather horticulturally-challenged, not to mention forgetful, squirrel!

The grass-cutting season has started, certainly in the walled garden. We have more to cut here now, as we put the two productive vegetable areas to grass late last summer; we’ll mow these as we do the main lawn, leaving the bulb areas under the fruit trees un-mown until later in the summer. We have been growing some wildflower seed in the greenhouse which is coming on nicely and which we’ll plant in these areas shortly. The grass round the front of the house is much more exposed and it will be a couple of weeks before that needs attention.

wpid-20130427_123856.jpgIn the greenhouse, all the hardy annuals we planted a couple of weeks ago are now through, I’m pleased to say, although some of the perennials are a little more leisurely in their germination. They are starting to come through now, though, so one shouldn’t give up hope too early! Probably starting next weekend, we shall be pricking the seedlings out into modules, a time of year when the greenhouse is at its most productive.

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Helleborus, the Lenten Lilly

This last couple of weekends, I have been working over the borders, removing grassy weeds, willowherb and creeping buttercup, all very determined to withstand the rigours of the hoe. I don’t like hoeing at this time of the year as there are many interesting seedlings coming through and I prefer to wait until I know what they are before I remove them. Lovely to hear the hum of the bumble bees, though, as they feed on the early flowers of the wall-trained gooseberry – worth having if only to provide this early food-supply!

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Doronicum, Shepherd’s Bane

wpid-20130420_123609.jpgSpring is definitely here. Daybreak comes before 5am now, we have daylight until beyond 9pm, and there is warmth in the sun when she chooses to show her face. A new flock of proud mums and their newborn lambs have arrived in the field; each day they gain a little more strength and a little more confidence. The buds are starting to break on the fruit trees but I’m just hoping that they don’t fall victim to the late frosts scheduled for next week. This is what happened last year over much of the UK, leading to an almost non-existent apple and pear crop. Fingers crossed that they will be okay this year.

Now that the snows have gone…

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Snowdrops carpetting the woodland floor

wpid-20130413_145849.jpgThe last traces of snow finally left us this week, although I see that large swathes remain on the hills. The tractors round about have finally got going with their spring sowings, much later than usual, so hopefully the weather will be kind come late summer for the harvest. Today the mercury finally got into double figures, spring temperatures at last! The birds have known which season it is for the last few weeks as evidenced by the resounding dawn chorus which starts at around 4.30am, long before dawn, with the quacks from the trio of mallards which have taken up residence by the lily pond; they come every spring for a few weeks, then move on for the rest of the summer. By 5.30am, all the birds are singing their hearts out- only in Spring are they in full voice.

In the garden, plants gradually come out of their winter slumbers. Buds are swelling, bulbs are appearing, weeds are starting to grow! In the woods, the snowdrops are still flowering, preserved by the incessant cold that we’ve experienced this past month. This is one of those years when daffodils and snowdrops are flowering at the same time, although most of our daffodils are yet to burst into bloom.wpid-20130413_145650.jpgwpid-20130413_145737.jpg

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the new Medlar, finally planted in the walled garden

I finally managed to get round to doing some planting this past week. The ground wasn’t too bad in places, although very wet and heavy in the woods, where the new Rhododendron has gone. A new order of three David Austin roses arrived during the week for the new west-facing border; I started planting this last spring with herbaceous but it lacked height which the roses will give it. wpid-20130413_150723.jpgI’m a great fan of David Austin roses; we have some already which start flowering around June and were still flowering in early January this year. The varieties I’ve just planted are Golden Celebration (golden yellow), Port Sunlight (apricot) and Harlow Carr (pink), named after the marvellous RHS garden in Yorkshire.

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this year’s sweet pea seedlings

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naturalised polyanthus, under the apple trees

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Pulmonaria ‘Sissinghurst White’, the first to flower in the shade border

Delighted to see that the first of my Easter greenhouse sowings are starting to come through with the advent of the Pyrethrums; hopefully we’ll start to see some movement with the others during the week now that the temperatures are starting to warm up a little. Meanwhile the sweet peas, early lettuce and wild flowers are making good progress.

In like a lamb and out like a lion, and that’s just the first week!

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P.denticulata

The battleship grey skies and cold temperatures have returned, with even a light covering of snow this morning, heralding (according to the long-range forecast) a rather more wintry March than we had last year.

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The new Lonicera hedge “Great Expectations”!

Still the Good Lady was able to take advantage of some better weather in the early part of the week with some frenzied hoeing, concluding the work we were doing last weekend on the rose beds. The herb bed too has been hoed over as have the two vegetable beds in the rear part of the walled garden. The GL too planted out some Lonicera (shrubby honeysuckle) cuttings that had rooted over the winter to make a low hedge around one of the vegetable beds. These rooted amazingly quickly in the late summer and over the winter and will very quickly establish, although they are likely to require 2 or 3 trims a year. The other vegetable bed has lavender round it. These plants we grew from seed last year and are still quite small although we should get some good flowering in the mid-late summer. The box cuttings we took in the autumn have come through the winter well and these should be showing signs of root as the spring advances. When large enough, these too will be used to edge some of the borders.

wpid-20130309_100517.jpgIn the greenhouse, the sweet pea seeds have been planted, together with some ‘All the Year Round’ lettuce, some mysterious ‘trial’ leeks and some assorted wild flowers. It’s pretty early for seed-sowing here, but none of these need much heat and I’m hopeful that we’ll get some bright weather over the next few weeks which will bring them through. We’ll probably leave the herbaceous seed for a few more weeks, though, until the overnight temperatures are more consistently above 0 degrees C.

wpid-20130309_095613.jpgTaking a wander-round this morning, it was good to see the Primula denticulata (the drumstick primulas) starting to emerge from their basal cluster of leaves; we grew quite a lot of these from seed a couple of years ago and their flowering season is quite long. The first little flower of our Pulmonaria ‘Sissinghurst White’ has also appeared in the shade border – a picture will follow in a few weeks’ time when a few more have emerged!

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A. palmatum ‘Sangokaku’

And finally for this week, I was very taken with the coral-pink stems of our new Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’ which we put in a year ago – it’s certainly giving our red-stemmed Cornus a run for its money!