Magnolia stellata 2 0318
Caught in a flurry, Magnolia stellata, Tostat, March 2018

Strange how the cold breeze ruffled some of the new flowers on the Magnolia stellata, but not others- and with no windbreak either.  The weather is bouncing quixotically from 2C in the morning, to 21C, and then greying over in the afternoon with a cold wind- which accounts for the fact that most things are biding their time for more stable temperatures- but it is Skegness-bracing for us humans- and the ground is slowly regaining malleability as the torrential rain seems to have stopped.

Only small moments are happening in the garden- human activity is focusing on big-weed removal, like dandelions where I don’t want them- they can help themselves to the ‘lawn’ in my view.  Personally, I wouldn’t grace our mossy and dry, how can it be both?, grass with the term ‘lawn’.  But then again, I’m not that bothered about lawn-stuff.  My eyes glaze over when Monty Don starts on about lawns and grass.

Tulipa clusiana Lady Jane 2 0318
Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’, Tostat, March 2018

I rather like the delicacy of this little tulip.  I have a feeling that I should have planted them deeper, I will try and remedy that for next year.  I bought a handful of Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’ in the autumn, as an experiment.  Of course, I had forgotten where I had planted them, and then I had also done a massive clearout of the vicinity, which may have disturbed them a bit.  So they are a bit on the wobbly side.  I had a go at tucking them up a bit more with some pale gravel, which does set them off quite well but may not really help anything.  Let’s hope that they are tougher than they look.

Tulipa clusiana Lady Jane 0318
Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’, Tostat, March 2018

If there is enough sunshine, the flowers open wide to show thick chocolate stamens and a splash of liquid gold at the centre.  I think, though, that I like the half-open position, so that the soft pink contrasts with the white of the flower.

Narcissus Finland 0318
Narcissus Finland, I think, Tostat, March 2018

Continuing with the pale and delicate theme, these daffodils have graced me with a return this year.  I think I have to review my bulb purchasing.  The last couple of years, tulip and narcissus bulbs have done very poorly for me, despite growing them in pots with sharp sand to help with drainage.  So, last autumn, I just threw some old bulbs into the ground, thinking, ‘Fat chance’.  But, there they are.  Looking back, I think I have named this variety properly, but carelessness abounds.

By contrast, these daffs, from a purchase last autumn, have positively shocked me with their Disneyland colouring.  I am sure that these were meant to be cream with an orange trumpet, a sort of extra-frilly one, but you need your sunglasses on for these.

Narcissus Chantilly 0318
Narcissus ‘Chantilly’, Tostat, March 2018

With a name like ‘Chantilly’, you would expect cream, wouldn’t you?!

The white Japanese quince, Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’, was pretty nipped by the frost the other week, but bolstered by a background show from the Magnolia stellata, was giving a final show.  I rather liked the impressionistic feel of the breeze through the blossom.

Chaenomeles japonica 0318
Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’, last flurry, Tostat, March 2018

But for more to happen, we must wait more.  A beautiful installation at the Garden Musuem, London last month took my fancy on a wintry day.  Called ‘The Vitrine’ and made by Rebecca Louise Law, it is a simply gorgeous copper wire suspension and arrangement of flowers.  Here is the view from one side, and, with reflections, from the other side.  Magical.

GardenMus 1 0218
The Vitrine, by Rebecca Louise Law, 2017, Garden Musuem, London
GardenMus 2 0218
The Vitrine, from the other side with reflections, Garden Museum, London

 

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…

 

 

 

 

In search of Dan and Christopher…

GardenMus Melianthus major 0218
Lime-green fresh new growth on Melianthus major, the Cloister Garden, Garden Museum, London, February 2018

I have followed Dan Pearson and his career from being a handsome, alternative television gardener way back, to now, at the age of fifty or so, having become the master of peaceful, thoughtful gardens, respectful of their place and situation with choice species planting as his speciality.  In his writing he has honed an almost zen-like long range perspective on how gardens live and evolve side by side with their human carers.

In a very cold and wintry London, I made two small sorties to see his work close up.  More than six years ago, I used to enjoy visiting the Garden Museum, and especially, the café, which, managed by several warm and serious women cooks, made great teas, coffees, baking and lunches to enjoy in the tiny graveyard that was tucked away at the back of the old converted church.  Since then, the Musuem has undergone a transformation.  With no public funding, it has still managed a skilful rehabilitation of the church while Dan Pearson and Christopher Bradley-Hole have brought alive the new Cloister Garden and the entrance/wrap-around garden respectively.

GardenMus 4 0218
The Cloister Garden, the Garden Museum, London, February 2018

 

Winter exposes all, and the Garden is not yet a mature planting.  But, the bananas and the astonishing new growth on the Melianthus major, the upright spikes of Equisetum, and the cheery red Nandina domestica berries provided much more focus than you would imagine.  The underplanting, a lovely mix of Ophiopogon, ferns and not-yet emerged perennials, was only just on the move, but will make a really lush carpet through which the ‘Garden of Treasures’ will appear.  I really enjoyed the use of ancient gravestones, set into the planting, often askew, which will allow you to get up quite close and intimate with the planting.  They also remind you, as does the presence of the decorated tombs of the two John Tradescants, father and son, probably England’s first botanical collectors, of the vivid past and people of this small parish in Lambeth.  Give it all a year or two more, and this little garden will beautifully evoke the Victorian Wardian case that inspired Dan Pearson.

GardenMus Nandina domestica 0218
Nandina domestica, the Cloister Garden, Garden Museum, London, February 2018
Pearson 9 Ch2015
The use of stones to ‘bring you’ into the planting, Dan Pearson’s garden at Chelsea 2015

Christopher Bradley-Hole is another designer who seems almost modest in his search for a simple aesthetic which favours harmony and purpose, rather than decoration.  I thought his 2013 Chelsea garden was a stand-out, though it seemed unassuming in comparison with some of the richesse on display in other gardens.

BHole Chelsea 2013
Christopher Bradley-Hole, Chelsea 2013

He has opened up the entrance of the Garden Museum with sweeping yew hedges which embrace and create a generous curved and gravelled courtyard space, simply opening up the ancient church buildings to their Museum function.  Using the existing flat and standing tombstones, he has planted amongst them, using a mix of ferns, perennials and grasses to populate these tiny spaces.  This makes little rivers of mixed planting around the stones, bringing them into focus and linking with the use of stones in the Cloister Garden.  There is no bling- and a real economy of focus.

GardenMus 5 0218
Christopher Bradley-Hole, entrance to the Garden Musuem, London, February 2018
GardenMus 6 0218
Standing clumps of white hellebores and the bright red stems of Cornus, Garden Museum, London, February 2018

The planting towards the boundaries of the Entrance Garden links to the small public space nearby of St Mary’s Gardens, a very tiny smile-shaped area between the Museum and the busy traffic of Lambeth Palace Road.  Bright red Cornus stems spear upwards, maybe ‘Midwinter Fire’ but could be the species Sanguinea, surrounded by clumps of tall Hellebores and bulbs, ferns with probably hardy geraniums to come.  Simple, semi-shade loving with the tall tree canopy to contend with, and very lovely.