Of bulb magic and luminous trees…

cropped-wpid-20130427_145635.jpgNow, I’ve got to admit that I’ve never been a big fan of bulbs. Well that’s not strictly true – I like the bit where they flower but planting them, well, that’s another matter, particularly if you’re planting them into compacted ground or grass. The effort of chopping out a big heavy sod of cold wet turf just to put one or two bulbs in has never appealed, particularly if you have a large sack to plant!  Until this autumn that is, when, on a recommendation from Bob Flowerdew on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners Question Time, I splashed out and bought a long-handled bulb planter. A bit of a luxury really as a perfectly adequate hand-held bulb planter lurks in the back of the potting-shed but I’ve never really used this as I found it murder on my wrists and really not much use unless the earth is well dug. My new planter on the other hand is like a small spade and neatly chops out a lozenge of turf and soil with minimal effort. So I’m now very into planting bulbs, inspired by the wonderful wildflower meadow interplanted with Camassia and Tulips that we saw back in the spring outside the front door of Howick Hall, not far from Alnwick in Northumberland (highly recommended by the way, particularly Silverwood in the spring with its amazing rhododendrons and azaleas, and a very classy tea room!)

002Two years ago, somewhat reluctantly, we put the two large vegetable beds in the rear part of the Walled Garden down to grass. Now, grass isn’t the most exciting plant on the planet but the vegetable beds were simply too labour-intensive to keep on and usually ended up as a celebration of all the local weed species.


To try to bring some colour to this mass of green sward, a couple of years ago we started planting daffodils under the old apple trees that line the ‘vegetable bed’ lawns and this autumn we added in some further varieties: Narcissus Thalia (pure white with slightly whorled petals), Barrett Browning (white petals with bright orange cups), Pueblo (white petals with lemon yellow cups) and Tazetta Pacific Coast (canary yellow). In the lawns themselves we have also planted drifts of Crocus chrysanthus (Blue Pearl, Cream Beauty, Prins Claus and Gipsy Girl).

In the main lawn, we planted the first phase of early-flowering C. tommasinianus running from the old apple tree in the south east corner in a westerly direction; if these are successful, we will continue the planting next year to form a metre-wide stripe of light purple running the full length of the lawn up to the gates, flowering in February/ March. A temporary show, undoubtedly, but I’ve seen this done before and it looks most effective, providing a bright colour statement at a rather monochrome time of year. Talking of the old apple tree, we’ve put in some spring-flowering Cyclamen coum underneath it, again naturalised in the grass. Happily, the corms have started to sprout and there are signs of some early blooms!


The Secret Garden, featuring old variegated Holly and wall-trained pears (January 2015)

And finally, round in the Secret Garden, we’ve been planting some scented Jonquila daffodils including Martinette (yellow flowers with orange trumpets), Pipit (lemon yellow flowers with creamy cups), Pueblo (again!), Sun Disc (rounded yellow petals petals which fade to cream with canary yellow cups) and Suzy (paired flowers, yellow petals with bright orange cups). I have been uncertain as to what to do with this area as its open aspect has been good for the fruit trees trained on the walls – they used to be heavily shaded by an overgrown beech hedge and didn’t flower for many years; the Secret Garden offers fine views of the hills to the south so I am slightly reluctant to plant it up with more shrubs that then detract from the view and start to block out the light. This year, we’ve been mowing the grass weekly in the Secret Garden to get rid of the more pernicious weeds including cow parsley, nettles and willow herb and by the end of the season the area had turned into quite a reasonable lawn, making the area a bit smarter and more accessible. The Daffodils should give a little spring interest as harbingers to the apple and pear blossom following in May.


Ornamental Plum (Prunus cerasifolia Nigra) with sunflowers behind (August 2014)


Ornamental Plum, with Box plants added

Back in the grassed- over vegetable areas in the Walled Garden, we took advantage of an excellent bare-root tree offer from a certain German grocery chain to purchase two Ornamental Almonds (Prunus dulcis) and two Flowering Plums (Prunus cerasifolia Nigra). We have put one of each in each grassed area to give a bit of height and interest. The different foliage colours (light green for the Almond, dark purple for the Plum) provide excellent contrast, particularly with the midday and afternoon sun shining through them) and I look forward to their delicate pink flowers emerging before the leaves come the spring. This autumn we have dug out a one-metre radius planting circle round each tree to allow a ring of Box (Buxus) to be planted; as this grows it should provide some architectural winter interest. In between the tree stems and the Box we may plant some autumn-flowering Cyclamen hederifolium; we have some young plants over-wintering in the Greenhouse which we grew from seed during 2013.1273


The long month ends…


Yellow aconites (Eranthis) under an old apple tree in the Walled Garden

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.


Snowdrops in the Walled 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.


Winter Jasmine

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.


Climbing rose (on south facing wall of the house)

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.


Newly-pruned apple trees with aconites underneath


Early-flowering polyanthus

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!



Dogwood (Cornus alba sibirica)



Warm Winter


Lupins in December? Who’d have believed that?


The Hybrid Teas are still producing quite reasonable blooms

What an amazingly mild couple of weeks we’ve had here in Scotland. Temperatures of 14C in Inverness, 13C down here in South East Scotland with the last few nights not dropping lower than 10C! Many summer nights (and days for that matter!) are colder! Very strange weather! Still, it’s to turn colder next week…




Not quite Africa, but these Marigolds are enjoying the winter warmth

We’ve entered a relatively quiet time in the garden, hence fewer posts, with the winter clear-up now underway. The leaf-raking season has run on longer this year but our leafmould box is nearly full now. Last weekend was spent cleaning up after the storms of the previous week. Despite our trampoline ending up lodged against an apple tree, the Greenhouse remained unscathed but there was a mass of twigs and small branches to clear up from the lawn.

This weekend, weather permitting, I’ll be tidying up the borders, removing material that has been broken by the wind or has simply turned into a brown mess. I’ll leave what I can though including all the upright material, including attractive stems and seed-heads which can be quite ornamental in a monochrome sort of way, but, with a zing of frost, a real Christmassy feature!

There’s some strimming to be done, too, under the old apple trees and round the edge of the policies in preparation for the spring bulbs, and with all this warmth we’ve had recently, we may well see these starting to come through much sooner than usual, starting with those marvellous yellow winter aconites!

The Christmas holidays approach – a welcome break from the daily commute, heralding the start of the winter pruning season…


The delicate bloom of a David Austin rose

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




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!


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 .


Solomon’s Seal with Primula denticulata




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;


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.


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!


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.