Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Friday, 27 February 2015

Unusual Front Gardens #22: Cotoneaster

Photo of 3 cotoneaster shrubs clothing a building on Corsham High Street

When your door opens directly onto Corsham High Street and you have very little space for planting, how on earth do you have a front garden?

Close-up of the cotoneaster showing leaves and berries
I'm not quite sure which species -
C. franchetii perhaps?
The solution in this instance is to go vertical and clothe your house with an evergreen plant. When I was writing my post on Pyracantha last year, I remembered this place and sallied forth to photograph it as an example of how the shrub could be used. It was only when I went to take a close-up photo of the plant that I found it was Cotoneaster, not Pyracantha. Durrrr.

However, whatever plant it is, I think it still adds interest to the building. It'll provide some extra insulation for the cottage it clothes and the spring flowers will be a magnet for bees.

It's amazing to see what can be done with just 3 plants, though I'm itching to clip it into some kind of shape. I see the beginnings of some rabbits leaping along the top there, don't you?

A parade of pushchairs go past a house clad in Cotoneaster in Corsham, Wiltshire

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Allure of Orchids... and Photography

Some of the orchids making up this year's Alluring Orchids exhibition at Kew Gardens

Many moons ago I organised some volunteer weekends at Kew's herbarium (which you can read about here). The first year coincided with their inaugural orchid festival and it was a real treat to be given a guided tour after we'd finished our fern work.

Fast forward 20 or so years and it was great to see the festival's gone from strength to strength. Most of the exhibits (and the most spectacular ones) are in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, but keen-eyed orchid spotters will find them scattered throughout Kew's other buildings. For instance, I spotted some at the International Garden Photographer of the Year exhibition (IGPOTY) in the Nash Conservatory.

Admiring the IGPOTY winning photograph in the Nash Conservatory at Kew
Admiring the winning photograph: The Ballerinas by Magdalena Wasiczek

Alluring Orchids runs until 8th March and the IGPOTY exhibition until 6th April.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Spuds I Like

This year's spuds chitting away on the windowsill

I've decided to grow less spuds this year, but that's not stopped me from adding potatoes to my list of projects for 2015. I've decided to have a bit of a trial to see if there is anything which can shift my love for the scrummy, buttery Harlequin.

The key to this trial was a trip to my local Potato Day courtesy of my local allotment society and Pennard Plants a couple of weeks ago. There were around 30 different varieties there, with some I'd never heard of and therefore of particular interest.

One of the best things about potato days is visitors can buy as few or as many of each variety they want for a mere 22p per spud. I was tempted initially to buy one of each, but I soon replaced that notion with a cunning plan:

  • Select a few of the Early and Second Early varieties to try. Late blight can be a major problem up at the plot, so by avoiding the later harvested Maincrop varieties I hope to sidestep this issue in 2015. This approach also helped me to whittle down my choices to a more reasonable number in relation to the space I have up at the plot
  • Select a couple of varieties available in the shops as well as my beloved Harlequin as trial controls
  • Include both floury and waxy types to see which I prefer
  • Include a range of spuds suited to different styles of cooking, to see how they perform
So with that in mind I ended up with:
  • Abbot - First Early, waxy, suitable for chips or baking or boiling
  • Anya - Second Early, waxy, suitable for boiled, salad or steamed potatoes. Anya is often available in the shops 
  • Gold Nugget - First Early, waxy, suitable for boiled, mashed or salads
  • Rudolph - Early Maincrop (oops finger's crossed on the blight front), floury, suitable for chips, boiling or roast
  • Sherine - First Early, floury and a good all-rounder (hopefully) for boiling, mashing, baking, chips and roast
  • Vivaldi - Second Early and called the 'weight watchers' potato' as it has a up to a third less carbohydrates and calories compared to other spuds. It's also reputed to have a buttery taste and I've also seen it available in the shops. It's another all-rounder reputedly suitable for boiled, roasted, baked, salad or mashed spuds.
Note that the 'best suited for' is according to Pennards' catalogue notes. These varieties are available from other suppliers, whose notes may vary. Let's see what happens in the taste test!

I bought 2 each of the largest spuds I could find in the tubs and set them out to chit as soon as I got home. Last week's trip to the Garden Press Event saw me pick up a gift of 5 'Jazzy' to trial courtesy of Thompson & Morgan. This is another Second Early and is a waxy salad variety. It's reputed to form lots of small tubers in a small space, so is meant to be particularly suitable for container growing. Let's see shall we?

My beloved Harlequin are ordered and hopefully on their way to join this little lot. Then comes the hard work of setting up the trial next month.

Which spuds are you planning to grow this year? Are they new or tried and trusted favourites?

Spuds chitting on my windowsill - with their names added for identification
Here they are again, so you can put names to faces

Friday, 20 February 2015

Puzzle Corner: Jigsaws

NAH and I often rent a cottage for our UK holidays. Most of them have a stock of books and games to help wile away any rainy days and that's how we've rekindled our love of jigsaw puzzles. It's great to have something companionable to do on a rainy day or in the evening before going out.

It's got to the point where we're disappointed when there isn't one available, so we've started to buy them as presents to guarantee we'll get our puzzle fix. As you can see, NAH's latest choice for me was very appropriate.

Photo of the 2010 Chelsea Flower Show jigsaw puzzle box
I've just bought this jigsaw via eBay which depicts 2010's Chelsea Flower Show. It's doubly good as it's the first one I attended during the build as well as the show itself, thanks to Mark Gregory's generosity. His show garden is one of the ones featured on the jigsaw, so it's a great souvenir of happy times.

Now to persuade NAH we need an early holiday, so I can tuck it into our suitcase in readiness...

Do you enjoy jigsaw puzzles? Have you found any which match your interests?

Puzzle Corner will be back next winter - I already have a few things lined up to get you thinking!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

GBBD: Chilly Chilli Update

Overwintering chilli plant on my windowsill

It's not the best photo I know, but I loved how yesterday's sunshine provided a range of contrasts on my overwintered chilli plant. It's time to update you on progress - as you can see I have new chillis forming with a few blooms showing promise of more to come.

I was surprised to find buds on January 29th and as the resultant chillis are forming on an indoor, overwintered plant, I now know it's self-fertile. A number of you asked about the perils of aphids when I posted in January; so far they've been mercifully absent, but instead I've had to be vigilant over mildew. Prompt removal of affected leaves, increased watering and brief airings on sunny days have helped keep this peril at bay.

Today marks the wonderful day when my garden - and windowsill - receives 10 hours of light, so it won't be long before repotting duties beckon.

This month's walk around my garden for Blooms Day also provides a cautionary tale. Note to self: I must never buy mini-plug plants ever again, no matter how tempting the offers are.

If I'd stopped and thought about it last autumn, I would have realised the pictured violas stood absolutely no chance of providing any winter interest, apart from the latest kind.

I'll have a few short weeks to enjoy these emerging first flowers before they're hoicked out of their pots to make way for my choice of summery blooms.

What lessons have you learned from your garden this month?

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.


Latin without tears

Rose's comment reminded me that I should have added my new Latin section to this post. She didn't know chillis could be overwintered and neither did I until I looked up the latin name for them. That simple act started me on the path to trying to overwinter mine...

There are five major species of the genus Capsicum which according to The Free Dictionary could be from capsa, the Latin for box and probably refers to the shape of the fruit. Within these species there are hundreds, if not thousands of different cultivars.

The species are:
  • annuum - which unsurprisingly means annual. It includes the non-fiery salad peppers (bell peppers), plus cayenne, paprika and jalapeƱos
  • baccatum - with fleshy berries, and includes the aji chillis
  • chinense - from China, and includes habanero chillis
  • frutescens - shrubby or bushy, which includes malagueta, tabasco and Thai peppers
  • pubescens - downy, and includes rocoto chillis
According to Wikipedia, chinense and frutescens chillis are sometimes included with C. annuum. There seems to be a botanical debate about whether these are separate species or not.

I wonder which species my supermarket originated chilli plant hails from?

NB Rose referred to my chilli plant as chili. These plus chile are all accepted versions of the common name.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The PR Files: Valentine's Special

Some stones found on a beach with one having a heart design inked on it
It seems I really do have a heart of stone - found on holiday in Ireland in 2013.  

It's a special time of year not only for lovers, but for marketeers as well; who can forget last year's storm over the Ultimate Love Bouquet?

This year's creativity reached new heights, with the following efforts deserving a special mention by The PR Files. 

NB names and website links have been removed to protect the innocent.


I admit our postage stamp sized front lawn needs some tlc, but I don't think the Robomow will be  much help

Don’t be ‘lovelawn’ this Valentine’s Day… let Robomow match you with the perfect gift! 

This Valentine’s Day give your loved one the gift of never having to mow the lawn again with Robomow, the world’s leading automatic lawnmower.

If you’re struggling for a gift idea then help is at hand from Robomow’s range of robotic lawnmowers. A premium gift for all those who find mowing a chore or those who just want to put their feet up.  Think of all the time saved by not having to mow the lawn ever again.

Robomow mows the lawn at regular, adjustable intervals with no human input required. The machines are able to tackle lawns from under 200m2 to 3,200m2 with ease, dealing with almost any terrain, slope, angle and even debris such as twigs and leaves littering the lawn.

Its exceptional performance combined with low running costs and easy maintenance has made the robotic lawnmower market one of the fastest growing categories of garden products in Europe.

There is a new model out this year, the RC312. It is a compact but heavy duty machine capable of tackling the larger British lawns, covering 1,200m2. It comes with all the features as standard for the range, including base station with off lawn docking (available on the RC models), anti-theft security, powerful mulching system, unique edging mode and a rain sensor. It also comes with an improved 3 year warranty that is now available on all models.

A spokesperson said “Is your partner an avid gardener or likes a perfect lawn? If so then a Robomow is an ideal gift this Valentine’s Day. The UK has embraced the Robomow range and these machines really are the future of lawn care. Don’t be a slave to the lawn this spring.

 “Robomow models boast a powerful mulching system built in, which means there is no grass box to empty and makes it very environmentally friendly.  Also, with the Robomow app you can check battery life, see when it is next due to mow, send it to mow and even drive it via remote control.”

The Robomow is available from selected dealers nationwide. RRP starts from £1,199.00 for the RC304, to £2,499.00 for the RS630.

My verdict: A puntastic start to this piece, but it appears that the course of true love not only runs deep, it requires deep pockets as well.


A lovely roaring fire - we don't have one, so this is courtesy of wikimedia

How To Fan The Flames Of Love
Valentine Love Log Predicts Your Relationship Future

Champagne, chocolates and flowers may be traditional Valentine's fare, but why not give something a little different this February 14?

The Valentine's Love Log is a gift that any couple will love to share. Not only will it warm the cockles of each other's heart, but it will also reveal what the future holds for them.

The log can be burnt in a traditional fireplace or wood-burner, or outside on a camp fire. The couple should first ensure they have a roaring fire going. They then recite love poetry to each other, either choosing their own or reading verses provided on the ceremonial scroll that comes with the log.

Picture of log gift setOnce the log has been burning for seven minutes, the couple then decide which six questions, from the list on the scroll, they wish to know the answers to. As each question is asked, they take it in turns to toss one of the special pine cones into the fire. The colour of the flames, as well as their size and the way they flicker, reveals the answer to their question.

Like many rituals involving fire, the couple are meant to keep whatever remains of the log safely for 12 months to use to light a fire the following Valentine's.

The questions which can be asked range from whether the couple will get married, whether they'll stay together for ever, how many children they're likely to have, what will their biggest row be about and where will they end up living.

The Love Log comes bound in ribbon complete with hand-made firelighters, six pine cones, kindling and a ceremonial scroll and a bag in which to keep the remaining ember for the following year. It costs just £25 incl. p&p and will be on sale from mid January.

My verdict: Madame Zelda - my esteemed You Ask, We Answer correspondent - is working out how she can offer this ritual as part of her services as it has the potential to keep her in sherry for a very long time. A little light googling on her behalf reveals she can get a tonne of logs delivered from a local supplier for £137.


NAH and I don't do that much for Valentine's Day. Our 'ritual' extends to buying each other a card and pretending we haven't sent it. You see, we've discovered maintaining a sense of mystery is one of the keys to a good relationship. And lots of giggles.

I hope you find today's PR Files a wee bit gigglesome too.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Plant Profiles: Snowdrops

Photo of massed snowdrops at Colesbourne Park, Gloucestershire
Massed snowdrops at Colesbourne Park on Sunday

I've had a wonderful time visiting a number of gardens noted for their snowdrops, but now is the time to hunker down and admire those in my own garden. It's time for the annual snowdrop count, where I reassure myself that my clumps of good old Galanthus nivalis and doubles (Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflora 'Flore Pleno') are not only thriving, they're multiplying.

My blogging pals ask how I achieve my count. I'm sure their mind's eye pictures my blooms in the same profusion as those I saw at Colesbourne Park with Victoria on Sunday. The current reality at VP Gardens is not so profuse*, so it's easy to work through each clump, gently putting the counted snowdrops to one side until each little patch is recorded. My snowdrops aren't at their peak yet and I reckon it's a week or so until I know whether last year's count of 3,127 is exceeded.

Photo of a small clump of Galanthus nivalis snowdrops
One of the smaller clumps of Galanthus nivalis in my garden. How many do you see?

My count started the year after NAH gave me 1,000 in the green snowdrops for my birthday. It took me quite a while to plant them, so I was worried they wouldn't come back the next year. That first census showed I'd lost around 25%** of those I'd planted, which was a much better result than my previous non-success with bulbs.

Since then I've seen quite a debate about the best way to plant them. John Grimshaw, one of THE snowdrop experts and latterly of Colesbourne Park, advises planting plump well-formed bulbs in early summer (when lifting and dividing your own bulbs***), as their stores will be fully formed ready to flower the next spring.

Bulbs had a bad press previously because they were often supplied as dried out, shrivelled specimens and thus in the green became the more reliable supply of choice. These need to be bought or lifted and planted as fresh as possible for success. Note also that any root disturbance during the digging up process means surviving plants often spend their first year or so settling into their new home rather than getting ready to flower.

They also need to be kept well-watered during this time as there is often a dry period in spring after they're planted. Bulb supplies are much improved now, so I think it's a matter of choosing the method which suits your gardening timetable and conditions best, finding a good supplier of bulb or plant, then giving them the conditions they need to thrive.

Photo showing the labelled raised display of snowdrops at Colesbourne Park
Snowdrops on display close to the house at Colesbourne Park

There's also the pot-grown supply option, which is a sort of half-way house between the two. Having vowed never to start down the slippery slope of having a snowdrop collection, I now find myself with a small but perfectly formed set of 6 special pots ready for a new home in the garden.

After hearing Naomi's talk I know keeping my bulbs in pots is only a temporary solution. I'm worried about hybridisation if I plant them out in my garden as I don't have the space to grow them in discretely separate places close to the house. I liked the way Colesbourne Park displayed theirs, so I'm thinking about asking for a deep stone trough for my birthday to re-home my new-found treasures.

* = though I'm working on achieving a wonderful mass of snowdrops on the bank at the side of our house, just like those in the picture

** = or had I? Perhaps they were just settling into their new home rather than flowering

*** = purchased bulbs should be planted out as soon as possible


Cultivation notes

Bankside snowdrops at VP Gardens
My side garden bank of snowdrops
Snowdrops thrive in a moist, well-drained partly-shaded position such as woodland edges or orchards. They benefit from the addition of leaf-mould to the soil, if the trees above don't do it for you! I've found some anecdotal evidence that slightly alkaline soils like those in my garden are helpful. Keep the bulbs well watered whilst they are establishing.

Clumps of snowdrops propagate themselves easily - lift a clump that's getting congested and you should find plenty of mature and mini-bulbs ready for dividing up and planting out elsewhere. I've also tried bending the seedheads over after flowering and burying them in fresh soil to establish new clumps. I'm not sure how effective this is as it'll be several years before any flowers are seen.

G. 'Flore Pleno'
G. 'Flore Pleno'
The main snowdrop season for Galanthus nivalis is February through to early March. Mine usually bloom from January onwards and if I planted other snowdrop species such as Galanthus reginae-olgae, I could have them in bloom from October onwards (though to me that seems wrong, somehow).

Snowdrops are noted for their honeyed scent and provide a good source of nectar for bees on the warmer winter days. One of the snowdrops most noted for its scent is Galanthus 'S. Arnott' - Colesbourne Park has a bank of these near the steps leading up from the lake. I can confirm how noticeable their scent was last Sunday!

Snowdrops and cyclamen
Snowdrops and cyclamen
Good planting companions include Cyclamen coum, aconites (Eranthis hymelis), dogwoods (Cornus sp.), Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens', and hellebores. Some of mine are planted underneath a Himalayan birch tree with red-stemmed dogwoods as a foil. I'm also keen to try them with clumps of Arum italicum 'Marmoratum' and ferns in my woodland garden. 

There has been much debate on whether snowdrops are native to the UK. The current thinking is they're naturalised escapees from gardens. They aren't edible, but substances extracted from them such as galantamine are proving useful in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Snowdrops at Lacock Abbey
Snowdrops at Lacock Abbey
Snowdrops can be quite variable - Naomi noticed my garden's Galanthus nivalis have very strong green markings compared to the finer tracery we saw on those at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. It's this variability which has given rise to the profusion of named cultivars now available, though I'm sure mine are just plain old nivalis, rather than anything new or remarkable. Galanthus elwesii is another species noted for its variability.

Further reading


Latin without tears

There are 20 snowdrop species listed officially (as at 2015). Here's a guide to the more common ones available and their meanings:

  • Galanthus - readers of my first fun latin quiz already know the genus name is formed from the Greek words for milk (gala) and flower (anthos)
  • elwesii - named after Henry John Elwes (1846 - 1922), plant collector and owner of Colesbourne Park, where this species is seen in profusion and has given to rise to hybrids such as 'Colossus'
  • flore-pleno - with double flowers (NB this describes the double form of Galanthus nivalis, rather than being a species in its own right)
  • nivalis - as white as snow, or growing near snow
  • plicatus - pleated
  • reginae-olgae - named after Queen (the reginae bit) Olga of Greece (1851-1926)
  • woronowii - named after Georg Woronow, a Russian plant collector (1874-1931)
Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre.

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Sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs; the words are my own There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this post.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Winter Gardens

Winter Gardens - willow tree at Hodsock Priory
Bright stems of dogwood and willow are a winter staple, but the winter garden at Hodsock Priory trumps
theirs by having a graceful willow tree. It forms a beacon which beckons the visitor onward along the path. 

I hate February - it's tagged onto the end of a long winter and prevents my birthday from happening. I decided a different approach was needed this year and embarked on a mini-break to scoot around a number of gardens. My slough of despond improved no end.

I've always enjoyed seeing gardens in winter, but previously I've only managed the odd one or two per year. Seeing several over a few days was inspirational and gave me much food for thought. VP Gardens is currently exhibiting a wonderful shade of brown on the whole and the gardens I visited amply demonstrated it needn't be so.

Photo of path contrasts at Hodsock Priory
Hodsock Priory

For a pleasing winter garden, its hardscaping must work even harder than usual. I have the pictured low garden wall already, but this simple cobble contrast in the pathway is an idea I can take from its grander surroundings and make my own. I'd like to have that snuggly warm greenhouse too.

National Botanic Garden of Wales Summer & Winter scene
The same scene at The National Botanic Garden of Wales - summer 2013 is on the left and winter 2015 on the right.
It shows how effective the hardscaping and curving paths are in the design. Get rid of that picnic table though!

Belgian Fence at Aberglasney

It was my first visit to Aberglasney and it won't be the last. Naomi and I had the privilege of the delightful Head Gardener, Joseph Atkin as our guide. Bright stems and bark are the usual recommendations for winter, but we were both struck by the pictured Belgian Fence which makes the trained apples (on one side) and pears (on the other) look fabulous.

Photo showing the use of the landscape surrounding Aberglasney garden

Aberglasney reminded me the surrounding landscape has an increased importance in winter and it of course has the glorious beauty of west Wales to use. I have a more enclosed feel to my garden, but I'm glad I can 'borrow' the trees from the public land next door. They help to make my small urban garden seem much larger.

Repetition at Easton Walled Gardens & Hodsock Priory
Easton Walled Gardens (left) and Hodsock Priory demonstrate the value of repetition in different ways

Finally, here's my colour notebook from my trip. I see I need to put one together for bark and texture too - the perfect excuse for another tour this time next year.

Collage of winter flowers, cones and ironwork
From top to bottom, left to right we have (all at Hodsock Priory except where indicated):
Lonicera fragrantissima; witch hazels at the National Botanic Garden of Wales; Easton ironwork detail
Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca' (your ID help is much appreciated); Chimonanthus praecox 'Luteus'; Lonicera again
Cyclamen coum; Chimonanthus needing smellovision! and Parrotia persica

Garrya elliptica at Hodsock Priory
Garrya elliptica at Hodsock Priory - a shrub I'd dismissed previously as a bit gloomy, but my trip made me think again

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Other winter garden visits include:

Friday, 6 February 2015

Snowdrops on Tour

Picture of various snowdrops in the back of my car
Snowdrops on loan from Evolution Plants - now even NAH understands there are galanthophiles in this world
and he can see the differences in the species, forms and characteristics of this selection of snowdrops. 

I've just come back from an enjoyable week dedicated to all things snowdrop. As you can see this involved the unusual step of taking some snowdrops on tour as well as visiting several key gardens.

It's all Naomi's fault: I'd agreed to help her with her talk at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, the first in a series resulting from her book. Tom at Evolution Plants agreed to lend her some snowdrops and so I found myself there in the polytunnel on a windy Wednesday making a selection of 10 distinctive ones. These were to serve as a live and scented illustration alongside her slides.

Naomi Slade tells the story of the Greatorex Double snowdrops at the National Botanic Garden of wales

Thank goodness we went there a day early. It allowed the AV facilities to get sorted and for us to recce the snowdrop walk Naomi was going to lead after her talk. She was able to spot some of the more choice varieties in the garden's collection and weave in their stories along the way, such as the Greatorex Doubles. Here she's showing us the finer points of snowdrop identification - kudos to Naomi and the 18 or so hardy souls who came on the walk, it was snowing for much of it!

Now I must admit to a bit of a rush of blood to the head. As well as helping Naomi, I was invited to a press and blogger day to see the famous snowdrops at Hodsock Priory on Tuesday and somehow the thought of a 3 hour drive after a weekend in West Wales didn't seem quite as bad as it did last year. Besides, I worked at Hodsock Farm as a student and here was the perfect excuse to revisit the area.

"I need a little holiday to help cheer up February", I told myself and so I accepted my invitation...

... and then a cunning plan began to form for my snowdrop break. Easton Walled Gardens isn't that far from Hodsock Priory and has a set of snowdrop days which start on Valentine's Day this year (until Feb 22nd). It would be great to see both gardens if I could. Thank goodness Ursula Cholmeley agreed and kindly allowed me in for a sneak preview on Monday, where we played Spot the dog amongst the massed snowdrops.

The blooms have yet to gain their full height, but that doesn't stop the effectiveness of this sunny woodland scene.

Naomi's talk included a couple of small demonstration pots for suggested planting combinations. I was rather taken by this large urn at Easton which lifted the snowdrops to my eye level and made it easy to detect their honeyed scent. There were plenty of other pots awaiting this treatment ready to delight visitors in a week or so's time.

Tuesday dawned clear, bitingly cold and with a sprinkling of snow. I was glad I didn't have to face a long drive thanks to George and Kat Buchanan's generous hospitality at Hodsock Priory. It also meant Barbara and I had time to explore the winter garden with the snow at its best. How often do we dream of visiting a garden decorated in this way, yet are disappointed to find it so rarely happens?

I'll return to the subject of winter gardens in a later post, so let's move on to the snowdrops in the meantime...

Just like at Easton, most of the snowdrops await your discovery in the woodlands at Hodsock Priory. The low, slanting sunlight helped to pick out the blooms from their light dusting of snow.There are reputed to be around 4 million of them, though I suspect George and the team don't count theirs like I do mine ;)

The large drifts you find at Hodsock and other gardens famed for their snowdrops usually consist of Galanthus nivalis, plus some G. 'Flore pleno' added for good measure. I don't mind there aren't any of the named snowdrop treasures there; for me the magic is in having them as far as the eye can see.

Galanthus 'S. Arnott'
Closer to the house there are some labelled snowdrop treasures awaiting discovery, planted in isolated pockets to stop them interbreeding and losing their individual characteristics. There are also details of a special snowdrop connection: Joseph Mallender, Hodsock's Head Gardener for 40 years left the Priory in 1908 to garden for Samuel Arnott, of Galanthus 'S. Arnott' fame.

As I've decided to use plants in my garden which connect to friends, family or gardens visited, I've decided the pictured example of G. 'S. Arnott' I collected from Evolution Plants will be staying with me.

The Buchanan family at Hodsock Priory

We were also invited to help the Buchanan family celebrate their 250th year at the Priory. Here are George and Kat (centre) with Sir Andrew and Lady Buchanan about to cut the official ribbon to start proceedings. I can remember Sir Andrew from when I worked at Hodsock Farm, even though I worked for a completely different family there.

Sir Andrew's grandmother was Lady Beatrix Stanley, who along with her daughter was instrumental in the design of Hodsock's winter garden and forming the massed plantings found in the snowdrop walk plus establishing the collection closer to the house. It seemed churlish not to keep her snowdrop namesake as souvenir.

The whole family are passionate about Hodsock Priory as both a special place and a family home. It's obvious they're proud of what they do and are keen to make the time each visitor spends there an enjoyable and comfortable one.

The gardens are open for snowdrop viewing until March 1st 2015, 10am to 4pm. If you can't make the season this year (or any other February), you'll have to wangle yourself an invitation to a swanky wedding! My thanks to George and Kat for a wonderful day and going out of their way - along with Helen Leach - to make my visit happen.

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Alison at The Blackberry Garden has her version of the day's events. It was great to meet up with her again, plus her friend Karen. She has more details of Hodsock's history and lots of different photos from our walk.

It was good to meet Cathy and The Golfer from Rambling in the Garden for the first time, whose blog post about the day can be found here.

Tune in next week for more about Hodsock Priory's other winter garden features.


After my grand tour, I couldn't resist a visit to my local snowdrops at Lacock Abbey yesterday, where I found this rare example of a Galanthus humungus at their Frozen World exhibition.

Galanthus sculpture at Lacock Abbey

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Garlic Surprise

Just before Christmas last year, I was surprised to find 6 heads of garlic in my vegetable basket from 2013's harvest. The heads were much larger than last year's rust affected crop and so were easy to date. How on earth I missed them in there is a mystery.

I was even more surprised to find some of the cloves were good enough for cooking - they had retained a strong flavour and were relatively firm. Chopping them ready for the casserole I was making revealed the beginnings of a green shoot inside... and that got me thinking.

That green shoot suggests the cloves are still viable for growing and as they've survived over a year of storage (most garlic either shrivels away or starts to shoot at the start of the next growing season), I could have the potential for a very good strain on my hands.

So I've gone through the pictured remaining 3 heads and selected the cloves which are firm. I composted many more, but I was left with 16 fat cloves and 21 slightly thinner ones. The latter in particular may not have enough oomph to do that well, or will be good enough for green garlic at best, but I have high hopes for the 16 fat ones.

I've started them off in modules just to see how many cloves are viable. Like the bulbs I wrote about a couple of years ago, this is another example of me breaking the rules, just to see what will happen. I'll plant any out on the allotment (well away from the white rot area) that show signs of healthy growth over the next couple of weeks.

The variety is Solent Wight - has anyone else found this variety (or any other) with a longer than expected storage life?

Update: The garlic sprouted, but there wasn't enough oomph left in them to grow properly after a month or so.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

GBMD: A Blade of Grass

For my friend and ex-colleague Sue whose funeral I attended recently. This thought provoking poem was read out at her service and has stayed with me since.

It sums up Sue's character perfectly and also serves to highlight how much we take for granted, especially the everyday and familiar... and other things perhaps, such as our friends.

There is still beauty to be found in the pictured Hakonechloa flower, even in the midst of its winter decay.

It's sad that I thought of Sue before Christmas and made a mental note to contact her in the New Year, just like many of us do at that time. A few days later I found out she'd died, at around the time I was thinking of her.
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