DSCN7063It’s not happened before.  It has often been expected, but the springs haven’t been, for many years, this complicated: summer for a week, suntan, breakfast outdoors, then … winter.  OK, I was expecting the forecast snow, but no clouds formed, stars glittered, temperature fell.  And this morning the astonishing display on the magnolias, the best ever, is no more.

The two trees, both supposedly the variety ‘Susan’, must be fifteen or sixteen years old.  They were leftovers of young ones from an avenue I’d designed for the bottom walk of a client’s walled garden.  The remnants got heeled in here, higgledy-piggledy, rather forgotten, until they began to flower two or three years later.  We fell in love with them, and so they remained, grew, hosted the rose Ispahan, which had decided it was a climber, clematises, and more.  Branches hang over the high wall, and into the cobbled lane down to the fields.

And the avenue?  It should have been looking enchanting.  The client, impatient for flowers, chopped them down.  Perhaps not as overwhelming as the magnolias that arch over the steps up from the Jousting Green at Dartington Hall, but fun nevertheless.  Ah well…

So far, the magnolias’ flowers seem the only casualty.  The apple blossom, buds still tiny and crimson, seems ok.  By the lower pool even the weird, vastly veined, and just unfurling leaves of Rogersia tabularis seem fine too, though the first ones usually get killed by late frosts.  A new fern, Dryopteris labordei, with golden leaves, and which we had planted next to a stand of narrow arching and equally golden leaves of ‘Bowles Golden’ carex, looks mortally offended. Also, ah well…DSCN7072

Still, the cold snap can’t last for too long.  I hope not anyway, for a blackbird couple have furnished a nest on top of the wood pile, and there are only half a dozen logs we can now remove without destablising the whole thing and causing the nest’s ruination.

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At last!


At last!  After all the mists, the rain, the sodden leaves squelching underfoot, the urge to stay indoors by the stove, a clear day.  At last some bitter weather, the air so still and clear that it seems possible to see every twig on a tree five miles distant.

And then the mad, long put off, rush to get the tender plants indoors, and then the madder difficulty of trying to find where on earth to put them. And do I really need three large pots of identical cymbidiums to overwinter indoors, and any more that one rosette each of all those echeverias, and I’ve forgotten to take cutting of the geranium that swagged the huge celadon vases with glittering leaves and bronze-red flowers.  And so on…

hoya1There are protests if I balance more pots on the kitchen windowsills, and so I will have to turn executioner in the garden room.  Do we need the Hoya that sprawls over yards of wall, or its cousin, so like Spanish moss, but whose flowers, wildly beautiful when held upright, but which normally always face towards the floor, then fill our gardening boots with sticky rubbish when they shrivel and fall.  Or the gorgeous Fuchsia boliviana, now at two yards tall, and going fast, gone gangly and flowerless…  Murder, I’m afraid.

Well, not quite murder.  I think of Romulus and Remus abandoned on a hillside by their chill mother.  The same chill forgetfulness on my part has seen off splendid things: several overweening oleanders, grotesque begonias, justicias, even a cactus or two that I’d grown for forty years and which tended to topple into our arms if we passed it without sufficient care.  Left outside in the yard, with the promise of rescue, I simply forget until a frost does away with them for me.  Ideally, the frost kills the plant before it cracks the pot.

Of course, some plants have murder in mind anyway.  Ours, not theirs.  From a balcony in Italy’s deep south, I pinched a fragment from a huge tangle of skinny, only slightly spiny, cactus stems.  Heliocactus I think.  I should have taken note when it rooted swiftly after several vicissitudes, and then produced several yard long stems in its first season.  Forgotten for a season or two, it now almost bars the exit to the garden and, worse, where it has propped itself up against the garden room uprights, has produce a whole network of aerial roots that are stuck irretrievably to glass and woodwork, and combine into ropework thongs that look as if they penetrate the very wood itself.

Ah well…. Off with their heads!

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Gorgeous or ghastly grape hyacinths?


Having once, long ago, spent three years trying to make a reasonably good classification of Muscari species (some being the grape hyacinths of the garden), and spending mind-numbing hours examining their chromosomes, I thought I would hate them for the rest of my time on the planet.  But…
Well, they aren’t all mid-blue (mostly Muscari armeniacum or M. botryoides) or deep blue (bits of the hugely variable M. neglectum), or even mostly black.  One is banana yellow, another is silvery green, and quite a lot are shades of brown, with a tuft of violets sterile flowers at the top of the spike – almost fetching.
It was the yellow one I was first reconciled with.  It has a gorgeous banana/vanilla/lilac perfume, does well in pots, and has amusingly large seed pods.  Perhaps still called Muscari macrocarpum (these things change fast), have a hunt for it.  Bury the bulbs deep in a very deep pot; slugs can eat out the growing point of the bulb.  Once established, the bulbs have fleshy persistent roots, so just let the pots dry out.
Then there was the irrestistable (even to me) iceberg blue Muscari (blast, it’s lost its label, but is probably a bit of M. aucheri, and I think called ‘Peppermint’).  I see it’s seeded itself into the stonework of the empty window in ‘the ruin’ where it’s pot once stood.
But what enchants me at the moment, even if only at a specific time of day, is the mostly sterile Muscari ‘Blue Spike’, where the flowers barely exist, and blue feathery filaments replace them.  OK, for most of the day, the blue is unexceptional.  But here, in their whopping pot, they catch early evening sunshine, and their blue turns almost the same colour as the distant hills.
Their leaves begin to appear in late autumn, and look untidy-ish during the winter.  The old flower stalks get a bit of a mess too once the blue has faded.  However, here, they get swamped by the gorgeous smoky yallery-greenery foliage of Hosta ‘Wide Brim’.  And, with a bit of luck, that will be augmented by a skein or two of the butter yellow rose ‘Greenfinch’.

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A Ghost of Gardens Past

A Ghost of Gardens Past

This is one of three fruit trees, once espaliered as divisions between the three tiny gardens of which our present one is made. The zig-zag trunk marks the position of the long lost horizontal branches, now just scarred over stumps. The wall behind, and the adjacent gable once had cordons – there are slots cut for them in the flagstone path that still runs the length of the whole piece of ground. The espalier that divided gardens 2 and 3 still exists, though now engulfed in honeysuckle and roses, and barely fruits. An espalier pear that divided gardens 1 and 2 ran across the vista we wanted of the Cheviot and, with much regret, we removed it. However, most of the flagstone paths remain in their original position. Cottages 1 and 2 now make up our house. Cottage 3, once roofless and used as a garage, has just had the nasty gates removed, a new stone wall built, and now makes a productive if tiny kitchen garden.
The tree in the picture is grafted on the old Paradise stock. This suckers heavily, so we’ve now got several independant plants which we intend to use as stock for grafting material from this tree – probably on its last decade if not year – so we can replant for future owners. It produces and abundant and delicious crop.

The entrance to Cottage 3, now the kitchen garden.  The doorway has been a trifle decorated.

The entrance to Cottage 3, now the kitchen garden. The doorway has been a trifle decorated.

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