In the bleak midwinter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Call me Mr Grumpy but I just can't wait to see the back of this December! The weather has been horrendous with frequent torrential rain and howling gales and there is no sign of it coming to an end anytime soon. At least we have reached the shortest day and from now onwards the nights will start to get lighter.

Some rare blue sky but it was still gloomy


Many of the Christmas cards pouring in through the letterbox have a scene that would make you believe that December is a cold and snowy month and we all love that image. In truth most years it is a wet, windy and murky month. Bleak yes but not in the way that the famous carol describes it. No earth as hard as iron nor water like a stone - I wish there was! Since 2nd November we have not had one rain free day.

 It is always a struggle at this time of year to find any newsworthy events and although there are less than normal I have still manged to find a few to share with you. Thanks for visiting the website and if you visited the garden in 2015 many thanks for your support.


Apart from the endless rain and gales it was actually an incredibly warm month more like early spring with no frosts and night time minimum temperatures higher than the normal daytime average temperatures for December. Min 0C  max 14.5C with 10 days over 10C Although our small river has reached the top of the bank on several occasions it has not, as yet, overflowed which would have put parts of the lower Paddock garden at risk.

The small stream running through the garden had plenty of water in it 

showing off the waterfalls to good effect


Garden update

The gardens are soaking so it is best not to walk on them any more than necessary although with the grass stll growing well. I managed to mow the lawns in a window of drier weather on 9 December.


There is new growth on certain herbacous plants, hydrangeas and some clematis which will all be setback when the colder weather comes.  I have cut back a couple of the borders nearer the house and finished the final clear up of the leaves. Work continues in the polytunnels where botrytis is a major problem in the humid atmosphere, and I have started to pot on the spring flowering plants in the nursery.

Flower buds on clematis "Prince Charles" normally a summer flowering form


A few remnants of plants and flowers are still hanging on from the autumn and some late winter plants are coming into bloom ridiculously early. 

Asplenium scolopendrium Cristatum Group. This marvellous form of our native fern is winter green in all but the most severe winters


Iberis "Betty Swainson" is surely one the longest flowering perennials in the gardens


The very last rose in flower is "Gentle Hermione" -being battered all month she hasn't lived up to her name!


 Even when there are no flowers to admire the remaining seedheads come into their own none better than the Himalayan lily cardiocrinum giganteum


Brassicas continue to thrive in weather much to their liking and we have a range of winter forms including  kale, savoys, January King, white storing cabbage, the great winter stalwart "Tundra", cauliflower and tenderstem broccoli that we are pleased with, having a great flavour and a cut and come again habit. The Christmas special - sprouts everyone's favourites! (even featured by the BBC this year as the Festive screen saver), and we have a good crop on the later sown form "Brilliant"



What's looking good?

Only one serious contender and that is my all time  favourite - I give you the hellebore. Loudest applause please! Already there are 57 in flower all over the gardens. They are good month earlier than they should be but are so welcome in such a dull and dismal month. Hoorah for Hellebores!

Always the first to flower in any year is H. odorus a scented species form 


A superb floriferous clump of h. x hybridus, the so called Lenten hellebore


A delicate pure white this is an anemone centred form


A complex hybrid in the ericsmithii group is "Winter Moonbeam" with superb foliage coming from the H.lividus part of the cross.


H. niger, the so called "Christmas Rose" never in my experience flowers for Christmas even in a warm December like this one - lots of buds to come though


The beautiful architectural form of h. foetidus; an unfortunate name for a tall elegant underrated hellebore


Although I normally cut off all the old leaves from over 200+ plants that we have throughout the gardens as part of my post Christmas regime, taking care not to cut off the emerging flower stems in doing so, this year I have had to get on with it sooner. The reasons it is recommended to do this are: to prevent the spread of blackspot on the leaves to the new flowers, to make it easier to see them, and to remove places for rodents to hide which are voracious eaters of the developing flowerbuds. Some years ago, before I had time to cut the leaves back, I lost the majority of flowers to rodents, but a few late ones came towards the end of the flowering season in late March. I also have pots of hellebores in the nursery to attend to.

Leaves before cutting back


6 hellebores revealed after the cutting back!


 Wildlife and Countryside

Apart from our year round resident birds (robins, wagtails and tits of various kinds and of course the red kite) there is little other wildlife to be seen. Since putting up the electric fence around the Paddock Pond there have been no otter predations but I did see flying overhead recently a cormorant - we are 30 miles from the nearest coast. They are known to move inland during the winter and you certainly don't want one of them in your fish pond!

Hopefully the Koi carp are safe in their protected pond


I suppose the countryside "highlight" was the flowering of a couple of celandines along the stream bed.- that shows how desperate I am for news! But it is exceptionally early for a plant that normally comes into bloom in February




A short break in the Cotswolds early in the month was a great antidote to the bad weather and incredibly we had a couple of dry days and even saw the sun - remember that? Based in The Lords of the Manor Hotel with a Michelin* restaurant we revisited some small towns that we haven't been to for many years including Stow-on the-Wold, Moreton-in Marsh and best of all Chipping Campden which is the archytipal small Cotswold town. There are of course plenty of others too.

Chipping Campden  - the town seems to be on a slope in this poorly composed picture! Only the flag post is upright - something wrong there!!


Whilst in Chipping Campden much to our delight we found the memorial garden to Ernest Wilson, the famous late 19th early 20th Century plant hunter who was born in the town. Collecting primarily in China he introduced around 1,200 species of plants, trees and shrubs in particular. For more info go to www. and search for Ernest Henry Wilson 

Pictures taken from the very informative information board at the entrance to the garden


Perhaps his most exciting discovery in 1903 was lilium regale which were found in rocky terraine in great numbers. Just imagine what impact the sight and scent of these wonderful flowers must have had upon him.


Sadly after collecting as many as could be carried, his leg was broken in a terrible landslide and for the rest of his life he walked with what he called his "lily limp". 

The inviting entrance to the intimate garden





And to bring me up to date with modern day plant hunting I attended a talk in mid month given by Bleddyn and Sue Wynne Jones the owners of the world famous Crug Farm Nursery.


They have been plant hunting for 25 years in locations all around the world and they are still finding plants that have never previously been collected. The subject of their talk was "Plant Hunting in the Northern Mountains of Vietnam". Illustrated with superb pictures and packed with fascinating plants many of which were entirely new to me and most of the rest  of the audience.

This is the handout for the talk, If you can read it see how many of the featured plants you recognise.


Their passion and knowledge was infectious and they were generous with their time to answer questions long after the talk ended. It was a memorable experience and shed a light on all that is involved in providing gardeners around the world with new plants. Visit their wonderful website for a voyage of discovery and the mail order plant list - you will be mesmerised! The perfect antidote to the Christmas TV schedules. 


And for my final "Visit" item and as a little Christmas Quiz, this is about a man who so far as we know, never left these shores but his work has been all around the world. He was born and died on the same date 23rd April - a true Englishman and next year the 400th Anniversary of his death will be celebrated. Who am I talking about?

A few pictures to give you a clue

The entrance to HSBC Bank in his home town


His marital home


In the kitchen is the original floor he would have walked on every day (you wanted to kneel and kiss it!!)


 A fine building in his home town of Stratford-on-Avon


 Surely by now you will have guessed the identity of The Bard - the one and only William Shakespeare. It was great to go back to Stratford after an absence of 18 years when I saw "Twelfth Night" there.

 So to finish on a seasonal note.

Mistletoe on one of the many apple trees in the immaculate gardens of "Anne Hathaways Cottage"



And window dressing in Chipping Campden


 Seasons greetings and let us hope for a better gardening year in 2016 and the best of health. 

Keith and Moira