Of pineapples and Cornus Mas…

It’s almost botanical, the fine detail of ‘The Pineapple’, Airth, Scotland, February 2020
The whole ‘Pineapple’, Airth, Scotland, February 2020

It has been a while coming, this blog post. I have had 3 months off from the blog. Getting the house in Tostat sold, packing up and moving ourselves over 7 gruelling days at the end of November pretty much wiped out all but survival energy. But we did it, during confinement here in France, and are now, though don’t count the boxes that are still unopened, very happily installed in our house on the edge of Oloron Sainte Marie. Leaving the garden behind was a wrench, but I had been taking cuttings, growing small plants on, taking plants out ready to go, for months. So, strangely, the process of leaving became very mundane, and although we took two whole vanloads of just plant and pots, by the time we actually left I felt as if the garden was with me, not back in Tostat.

And here, we are starting from ground zero. One of the trees that I am really keen to grow here, and although it is only a minnow at the moment, I think it will really enjoy the sunny, sloping ground at the front of the house, across a small lane. And it will bring back memories of the only trip we made last year. We were in Scotland for 10 days at the end of February, and on a glorious, crisp, blazing day of sunshine, we visited The Pineapple at Airth, and then walked around the small mediaeval town of Culross in Fife.

And there was Cornus mas- in all it’s bright, lemony, glory.

A flurry of Cornus mas blossom
The so-yellow flowers close-up
Orchard underplanting with snow drops, The Pineapple, Airth, Scotland, February 2020

Where have I been all these years in February that I have never before seen this beautiful small tree at the right time? The golden colour is almost shocking, way before any daffodils get going, and like Daphne, it flowers on bare stems, which somehow makes the exoticism of the flowers even more marked. Simply planted in a grid, with an underplanting of snowdrops, and mingled with other rows of nut and fruit trees, the Cornus mas had free rein to be the star of the show.

In Culross, the same afternoon, another glorious Cornus was growing in the back garden of Culross Palace almost luminous in the afternoon gloaming. That tree lodged itself in my mind. It seems to be tough enough to take all that might be thrown at it here, and I can’t wait. Waiting, however, is the order of the day for now. The ground is still frozen and we need to work out how to go about doing what we want do.

Whilst waiting, I caught a really great hour of interview and story telling from Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton, two passionate and intrepid gardeners who have built a great nursery and garden ‘Le Jardin Champêtre in Caunes Minervois. This is available through the ‘Garden Masterclass’ Youtube channel– as are lots of other interesting people, gardens and talks. If you are in the UK, I would really consider joining as a ‘Friend’. You can read my post about Imogen and Kate’s nursery from 2017 here.

The gold of the Cornus complimenting the golden wash of the Palace, Culross, Scotland, February 2020

And ‘The Pineapple’ and the town of Culross make a fascinating double-act for a day out. Highly recommended.

It’s good to be back. Happy New Year, here’s hoping that 2021 is a kinder year for us all.

Playing about in Handyside Gardens…

DanP 3 0218
Meet the snakepit, Handyside Gardens, Kings Cross, London, February 2018

The other Dan Pearson project that I was keen to see in a cold London was the small, but perfectly formed, Handyside Gardens, complete with play park, which slithers between new buildings at Kings Cross to make great use of a little ribbon of land.  I have borrowed 2 photographs from Dan Pearsons own site to show what I mean, thank you Dan Pearson Studio.

Handyside 1

Handyside 2
Handyside Gardens, aerial view at the opening, November 5th 2013 photo credit for both images: http://www.danpearsonstudio.com

All of the planting that was up looked in great shape, especially the flowering Cornus mas hedges which thread their way through the beds and playpark.  The bright yellow open pompoms were very welcome on a cold and wintry day.

DanP Cornus Mas 0218
Flowering Cornus mas, Handyside Gardens, Kings Cross, February 2018

There was fun to be had- and not only from the snake sandpit, which I loved.  Pretending to be four years old, I climbed up the slide steps to get a bit of a view, nothing quite as aerial as the Dan Pearson photographs though.

DanP slide view 0218
The swings, the pergola tunnel, and, just, the snake sandpit, rocks for climbing and jumping, soft surface and planting, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

The site sits on top of Underground tunnels and so soil depth was an issue.  Raising the planting up in parts of the site, using warm coppery Corten to make raised beds, also created lots of impromptu seating possibilities, especially near the play equipment.

DanP 2 0218
The big, bold, pergola tunnel wraps around the circular play area with the sandpit, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

I loved this massive, hefty pergola, underplanted with grasses and, in summer, probably a great play thicket as well as an adult pleasure.

From the aerial photographs, you can see the sinuous, elongated tear-shapes of the beds, which reminded me of the great John Brookes, whose sinuous Modernist design for Bryanston Square, didn’t survive the return of the traditionalists.  The design drawings for this simply beautiful design can be seen in the current Garden Museum exhibition on John Brookes, a man who speaks such clear sense about design.

234b88cd0ecad0bbbe4ca6db9a489d23--lungs-square (1)
John Brookes’ sinuous design for Bryanston Square, London 1965 photo credit: http://www.pinterest.com

DanP 6 0218
Raised Corten steel beds, seating, and half a small water rill, spring planting just coming through, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

Two halves of a sweeping water rill bring you towards the canal end of the Gardens, with winter planting of the stunning Bergenia purpurescens ‘Irish Crimson’ and flowering Hamemelis.  No scent, as I think it really was too cold to be able to smell anything.

DanP 5 0218
Flowering Hamamelis, not sure which, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

But that Bergenia….well, an outrageous and simply brilliant beetroot red in the little bit of sunshine that broke through.  This variety came from the Irish botanical garden at Glasnevin, was tended and raised by the great Irish gardener, Helen Dillon, who then gave it to the great Beth Chatto, and from the Chatto Nursery, it has made its way into the trade, though it is not yet widely available.  Gorgeous, and who needs flowers?

DanP Bergenia IC 0218
Bergenia purpurescens ‘Irish Crimson’, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

The underplanting that had already made it out was doing a very good job, and none better than Helleborus orientalis.  Flowering starts with me around late December, continues right through to late March, and, as the plants warm up, so the flowerheads rise up on growing stalks, so that the look of the planting in early March is quite different from early January.  And the foliage lasts, with a faintly jungly look about it, pretty much right through the rest of the year.  It’s a bargain.

DanP 4 0218
Hellebores do underplanting so well, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

Race you to the snake…