So, today there is no chilly wind and I thought I would do a Spring round-up with mainly photographs. This lovely Anemone x fulgens ‘Multipetala’ has been blooming for more than 6 weeks and these are the best flowers so far.
The quince blossom is much more fragile than the cherry or the apple- it waits tentatively in a closed state until the sun warms it up- and is so easily destroyed by wind and rain. So far, so good.
I have two Westringia rosmariniformis in the garden. Both have been a little stretched by the cold weather in the last week or so, and have browned a bit at the tips, but whilst not yet big flowerers, they have started.
These white Muscari botryoides ‘Album’ are new to the Stumpery this Spring, and I rather like the semi-ghostly presence that they bring, even in the sunlight.
Further down in the Stumpery, these Muscari ‘Mount Hood’ are in their third year, and mot minding, it would seem, the semi-shade. I love the little white hats.
Wisteria can be a plague on all your houses here, as it thugs its way to global domination. But, right now, on the wonky pergola, it looks and smells gorgeous.
Funny how you can discover a new view even after nearly 16 years…pots awaiting planting on the bench when tendons recover…
I was watching a short piece by Adam Frost on Gardener’s World, having just fixed up a visit to Leeds for a few days, when I heard him say that York Gate was in Leeds, not York as I had dimly imagined without checking. To cut a long story short, on a cold afternoon with sunny breaks this week, I found myself in York Gate Garden in Leeds- a garden that I have always wanted to visit. Brilliant.
This is not a grand or massive garden- but it is a garden gardened beautifully with real attention to detail and designed by the family who owned it until the 1990s with a lovely mix of quirkiness and boldness.
Take the opening photograph. Ignore the superb spikey shapes top left, and what you can see is a shape redolent of Edwardian or Arts and Crafts gardens, a lozenge-shaped pool, with off-centre plinths, on one of which is a darkly painted planting urn of the period, neatly edged gravel paths and sweeping shapes. The planting has all of the expected Spring plants that are quintessentially English in style- but looking closely, there are already planting gems, such as this stunning narcissus below. From afar, what looked like daffodils massed in the borders, but this were a lovely surprise. No idea as to variety, and only the stems and leaves say ‘narcissus’ to me, but the flower is creamy yellow something else.
Robin Spencer made the Arbour from recycled wooden beams from a fire-damaged chapel at Armley, and the wooden beams sit on chunky stone legs, very Lutyens- like in their stockiness and practicality. Close to the Arbour is a woodland area with water from the lozenge-shaped pool trickling through it- I am not a trillium expert as you might imagine, but the red buds rising up from silvered foliage looked magical in the partial sunlight.
Looking fragile without leaves, the Nutwalk nevertheless must be pretty tough to take the Yorkshire winds, hazels can take a lot. Underneath their slender stems, masses of brilliant red tulips had been planted. The Spencers knew a thing or two about light in the garden- all the paths are angled to make the most of the sloping situation of the garden. The tulips were shining like stained glass in the fractured sunlight that afternoon.
A touch of William Morris here in the beautifully constructed path leading to the Perfect Pot at the top. Fringed by dark and mysterious Ophiopogon planiscapus Nigrescens, the path glitters in the light, bordering the borders filled with spring and summer perennials and bulbs. The Perfect Pot provides the focal point, simply placed on a gravel round edged with stone pavers.
Look at the precision of the topiary, and then also at the distance and perspective that the shapes create- and then think about how long-lasting this vista is. All year round shape and interest. I am a straggly gardener, but even I love the clarity of these shapes and also the slightly surreal atmosphere that they create. And the Perfect Pot stars in the far distance. More of York Gate to follow.
Seville was really in a ‘Carmen Miranda’ mood last weekend, as we had a wonderful 4 days in the city, basking in sunshine and with blossom bursting out all over. The Cercis siliquastrum blossom was looking amazing- a great slap of cerise pink plastered all over bare branches. For about ten years, I had a Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’ which makes a really beautiful small tree, about 3m all around, with the incredible blossom followed by heart-shaped glossy green leaves. Sadly, the increasing dryness in the soil did for it, I think, and I haven’t retried.
Even roses were beginning to open- it isn’t a long season with the heat and the dryness, but Rosa banksiae lutea was flowering fit to bust everywhere, draping itself artistically over walls and banks. The green of foliage everywhere was fresh and new, and in the Palacio de las Duenas, which I visited last year when the bougainvillea was all in flower at the end of May, the lemon blossom was mingling with the ripening Seville oranges.
Fountains and pots are essentials in the Mudejar garden, the Spanish style of borrowed ‘Arabic’ art and style which was so big in 19th century Seville. The Contessa de Lembrija went a few steps further and massively redesigned her Palace to accommodate many original, highly decorated Roman mosiacs taken from the now-famous site at Italica, outside Seville. The ground floor of the Palace is an astounding display case for mosaics, ceramics, and many everyday objects in superb condition. Along with Roman relics, she had a passion for ceramic tiles- and there are some fabulous rooms decorated with beautiful tiles floor to ceiling. And pots to die for….
Internal courtyards don’t all have fountains. Simple planting and a positioned pot are all that is required to make a relaxing space.
And the same Colocasia esculenta can be seen surrounding a cream stone fountain, with no water in the Alcazar.
Up in the hills beyond Italica, scrubby areas near a beautiful little church were studded with this early Iris, Iris planifolia. For all the world, it looks like a plantain if you just see the leaves, but then up come these stubby but determined blue irises. Fantastic.
And what about these kick-arse angels? In that quiet little church, there they were. One each side of the main aisle- no messing with them.
Sometimes, at any time of the year, you just turn around in the garden and, wham bam, the light spotlights something and you gasp. And the other day, I just happened to have the camera around my neck, and ‘Tiny Wine’ obliged with photogenic new foliage breaking out in a flash of early morning sunshine. This is such a good shrub. Not too massive, though it is now about 1.5m x 1.5m, and such a good performer. From this glorious happy coloured foliage, the leaves darken to a plum red, small pink flowers appear later in spring, and then in the autumn the first colder nights really flame the foliage. I love it. I can only grow it in a damper part of the garden as it really doesn’t do dry, but I wouldn’t be without it.
I yank out Euphorbia chariacas subsp. wulfennii by the handful all year round in the garden as they are such prolific seeders, but in the spring, with the citrus lemon flowers shining, they are magnificent- so the next cull can wait till they have finished flowering. They catch the light brilliantly- see top left in the photograph.
This Kerria japonica ‘Albiflora‘ was one of my bargain basement buys last year, and looked pretty weedy till last month. Unlike it’s bright yellow cousin, which I also have, I have been smitten by the charm of this woodlander. It likes semi-shade, moistish conditions, which, for me, means only one place, but it seems to have settled in well. The soft cream-coloured flowers are charming and are matched with sharp, emerald green foliage. If it is as tough as the yellow one, it will do just fine.
Here was another turn-around moment this morning, catching Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ with a stunning, frosted outline. Normally, I would have cleared the area around this little Ranunculus so that we can see it better, but this year, projects and tendons mean that it is still a bit covered with winter rubbish. But the frosting makes the leaves sing.
The frost doesn’t spoil the game for this rose, Rosa banksiae lutea, which is about to flower any minute. Unfortunately, here in Tostat village, an over-helpful gardener has pruned our lovely Banksiae in the lavoir, including removing most of the buds. You have to prune after flowering, and allow the rose to build up old wood for next year. Darn it. Actually, to be honest, I don’t even really prune it, I just lop off any over-excited arching branches that get in my hair, literally. It doesn’t need more than that.
This plant, Gunnera manicata, always makes me think of zombie hands coming through the earth in any number of trashy horror films. It really claws its way out of the winter debris around it- no need for a helping hand from me. Growth rate is fast, pretty soon it will be towering above me, and drinking like a fish from the canal it is planted near. It wouldn’t stand a chance otherwise.
I am sorry that I can’t remember the variety, but no matter, I thought of a daffodil pas-de-deux, it made me smile. This one below is definitely Narcissus ‘Thalia’, which I really love for the drama of the dark greeny blue leaves and the pure white flower. It is almost the last to flower with us.
This is the first flowerhead on my clumps of Eryngium eburneum, which is such a good plant for me. Forming big clumps of draping scissored leaves, and sending up flowerspikes to well over my height at 5 feet, it handles everything except winter wet, always looking a bit desperate by the end of winter. But, within a few weeks, it picks itself up and gets going again. A great sign for the year to come.
I am over-dramatising just a tad. Storm Gareth which has bashed Britain this week has only meant stormy interludes of rain and wind here- the rain part being very very welcome. Inbetween, although we are back to winter temperatures, there have been passing sunny periods, with intense blue sky. Not wet enough yet to start spreading the mulch I have been saving, but nearly- I may just spread it anyway at the weekend.
The poor old garden doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going as we plunge back to frosty nights and cold winds- but for most plants, they are now committed to beginning spring growth whatever happens. I have been nursing a shoulder injury since before Christmas, hoping that time will do the trick. Turns out to be a tendon injury in two arm muscles- good job Alison- so I am grounded from gardening whilst the anti-inflammatories have a chance to work on those pesky tendons. So, gently swinging the camera in the other hand, I am just looking at the moment.
Boldly appearing in February, so far only 3 flowerheads on this beautiful wild anemone, Anemone fulgens x Multipetala have opened, and been a little rain-dashed for their trouble. But, this great plant is such a joy, bringing postbox red to spring, and gently spreading beyond the three expensive bulbs that I planted 3 years ago.
I have tried so hard to source the fantastic red bergenia, Bergenia ‘Irish Crimson’, that I saw in Dan Pearson’s gardens near Kings Cross two years ago. No luck in France, and I am not such a prolific plant smuggler as I used to be. But this could get pretty close. I am trying out Bergenia ‘Eden’s Dark Margin’ and also Bergenia ‘Wintermärchen’ in a couple of places on the moister side in the garden. So far, ‘Wintermärchen’ is more upright, with narrower, more pointed leaves and has already lost the redder tinge to the leaves that it had in January. Whereas, the dumpier ‘Eden’s Dark Margin’ is still glowing crimson.
Also starring Sophora ‘Sun King’ in full bloom on the left, the unveiled new path curves sinuously round the side of the hot, dry border taking you on a full circuit of the house if you wish. I love it. I wasn’t sure before we did it, but keeping the angle of the curve and making it frame the dry border was a brilliant move- thank you Jim. Molly the dog has other ideas and uses her own track as you can see- more direct and less messing! By the way, if you are willing to wait, Sophora ‘Sun King’ bought in a 9cm pot and planted in a sunny, free draining spot, will only take 4-5 years to be a decent-sized shrub, and after that, it can gallop.
The above is an experiment, which I think will work. I have planted spring flowering white Muscari, Muscari botryoides ‘Album’, in some rubbish soil at the edge of the Stumpery. We will see. I am hopeful.
I am really hopeless at remembering bulb names. Mainly I suspect because I have a tendency to think of them as an after-thought to the main show. Daft. Because right now they are the main show. So I can’t tell you what this very baroque variety is. But here is a mutant variation.
Radio silence has lasted for more than 10 days- as we have had the most scarey, but also without a doubt enjoyable, beautiful clear, sunny days with cool nights- days that have got up to 24C by lunchtime. And so, I have been gardening, with Andy and Jim as heavy-duty diggers and clearers, making a new border where the labyrinth was, and enlarging two established borders, as well as making a new path which completes the circuit of the house without getting muddy feet. It has been glorious. What luck, a friend arrives keen to help out with projects and the weather plays the part of good friend for a change.
But the self-same weather is also responsible for the reluctant decision on my part to abandon my hand-grown labyrinth in the back garden. I trained as a meditative labyrinth facilitator as the last phase of my working and professional life before packing it all in to be retired- and I built my own 5 circuit labyrinth in the back garden, creating the definition of the path with home-grown Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’– nearly 400 of them. So this was about 6 years ago. Since then, the Carex has really toiled- it really is a case of summers that have lost their traditional pattern dramatically.
Fifteen years ago summers reliably worked like this- 5-6 days of warm, even hot sun- followed by 2 days of stormy rains. In essence, we have now had 4 or maybe 5 summers of super-hot weather with no storms and very little rain. The entire family began lobbying for the dismantling of the labyrinth two years ago- and I dug in, adding supplementary water occasionally and replacing plants. But last year was the end of all that. I realised that this was like a labour of Hercules- who I do not resemble in any way!
So, I am making a memory of my labyrinth into a tear-shaped border about 3m wide and 5m long, with echoes of the labyrinth path emerging from the sharp end of the tear in 3 wispy arcs of the tougher, remaining Carex. I am trying out what I hope will be a shrub/plant mix that will take all that our summers can throw at it, without supplementary water after the first year in. There are some Australians in the mix. First off, Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’. This is the brightest emerald-green you can imagine, an upright 50cm grass look-alike forming bouncy tufts. It is frost-hardy to -10C, happy in drought and evergreen.
Looking a bit like a galloping Phormium, I am hoping ‘Wyeena’ will make a nice, strappy presence around a small, deciduous tree that I have always wanted to grow, Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’. It has the most stunning coral-pink foliage in spring, settles to a beautiful gold colour for the summer and then flames up for the autumn- the photographs below are from a specimen that we planted outside the church in Tostat two summers ago.
And then back in the new tear-shaped border, I am trying out Philadelphus ‘Starbright’, a new Canadian introduction with purple early foliage and good heat and drought tolerance. And new to me is Cornus sericea ‘Kelsey’s Gold’ which is a dwarf form of Cornus, which I am hoping will give us a touch of gold in winter stems.
Lastly, because I can’t resist a good perennial, I am trying out two new plants, Parthenium integrifolium ‘Welldone’ and Thermopsis chinensis. Parthenium promises to be a white umbel flowered clump to about 1.2m, which should handle heat and drought well being a native of of the US Midwest. Thermopsis chinensis is a medium height spring pea-bush with yellow lupin style flowers, and again, should be on the tough side. As these plants will be in battle formation to ward off the tufty old grass that made the labyrinth paths, I am thinking of laying cardboard down as a humidity protector and weed deterrent. Just for the first year, you understand. It won’t prevent everything from breaching the ramparts but it will give the new plantings a fighting chance. I would use a mulch but I have other areas in greater need with more dense plantings to deal with. This is, at least, a new area and so cardboard it will be.
Meantime, wild blue violets are everywhere that I allow them to be, and one solitary wild white violet has re-appeared as a solo plant this year.
Photographs of the labyrinth memorial will follow even featuring cardboard.
Ten years ago, when we cleared out what was accurately called ‘The Snake Pit’- to make the New Garden, completing the wrapping of the garden round the house, I planted a small Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’. As we did the annual bramble attack 10 days ago on a lone sunny day, I realised once again that it really is a gem of a plant. Evergreen, with fine needle-like leaves, it makes a solid, but not too solid, presence now measuring nearly 3m by 3m. It starts to flower round now, with tiny red spidery flowers that open out from claw-shaped buds, and it flowers in a big flush now until about May or June, then sporadically after that. It requires nothing from us. And we are so used to it, that it can easily be forgotten- but that’s our fault, not it’s.
In Australia, the Grevillea is a seriously important group of plants, both wild and cultivated. Ranging from the ‘toothbrush’ group which includes Grevillea hookeriana pictured above, to tiny spidery flowers and fat waxy leaves, to slim, fern-like foliage and firework-shaped flowers- the Grevillea is a workhorse plant, coping with hot, dry conditions as well as occasional flooding- and there may be much more interest in the Grevillea from Europe as climate change continues to bite. While there, I became more than a bit obsessed by finding them as we travelled.
Joseph Banks, travelling with Captain Cook, on his first voyage of discovery in 1768-71, was the first to collect seed and specimens of Australian native plants, which were all collated back at Kew Gardens in London. The plant pictured at the top of the post, Grevillea hookeriana, pays tribute in name to Richard Greville, co-founder of the Royal Horticultural Society, and William Hooker, director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew at the beginning of the 19th century. Australian plants, including Grevillea, had a period of intense fashionable interest, which lasted until the growth of the temperate glasshouse and the switch of fashion to tropical plants from other parts of the world. In some ways, European interest in Grevilleas has remained at the specialist rather than popular interest ever since.
Grevillea monticola is a smaller plant, about 1.5m all round- and with interesting holly- like prickly leaves and a delicate, creamy yellow inflorescence. Grevillea steiglitziana similarly has holly-like prickly leaves, and this fabulous firework-style flower, so intricate and such a piece of natural engineering. This is a rare shrub, native to the Brisbane ranges. It grows in rocky gullies and dry forest and was only formally identified in 1956.
Grevillea Poorinda Royal Mantle could be a real doer for us in Europe. A sprawling, low-lying groundcover plant, with finely shaped leaves and the ‘toothbrush’ flower, it is frost-tolerant, drought-tolerant, and will spread quickly to 6m. According to Shoot, it has a cautious H4 frost rating, which would do for most gardens in Europe except at altitude.
Grevillea capitellata is another low-lying shrub, but grows in poorly drained soil and swamp margins south of Sydney. It is considered a good plant for revegetation, and, again, in Australian terms is hardy- but probably untested as yet in a European context.
Grevillea longistyla is a native plant that is a hot contender for horticultural use, largely because of it’s neat, open habit, the almost fern-meets-seaweed foliage, and the flowers. Growing to about 2m high and wide, it’s a garden-sized plant.
Grevillea speciosa was first cultivated in the UK in 1809- many thanks to the Australian Native Plants Society for their very useful paper on Grevilleas. Trouble-free for the gardener, but like mine, able to fill a difficult hole with ease. Most Grevilleas are also excellent food sources for birds and insects, which make them really worth considering from the ecological perspective.
Look out for them. The juniperina and rosmarinifolia varieties are thought to be the toughest in terms of frost hardiness in the UK, but maybe more varieties will be made available from Australia as we learn to appreciate a different aesthetic with global warming.