Sunday, 21 February 2010

Winter Light

Actaea seed head. 

They are having another photo competition over at Gardening Gone Wild. This month's theme is "Winter Light". I was not too hopeful of taking part this month when I saw the theme. It feels like the darkest dreariest winter of the lot this year. We have had weeks on end with nothing but grey skies. This morning however I have done my best to dig through my photographs and pull out a very rare few that were taken this winter, which say to me "Winter Light".

My favourite macro has to be the Actaea seed head from the garden here at Tumbledown. I love the way the sun has illuminated each little seedpod and highlights the delicate spiders threads and hooks.

Cow Parsley Skeleton

I managed to snap this image of the Cow Parsley skeleton looking hauntingly beautiful against the winter sky and below the tiny pink flowers of the winter flowering vibernum trapped in a cocoon of icy snow.

Winter Flowering Vibernum

Winter Jewels 

I loved the way the light danced off the ice on this shrub in the front garden too, making it look as though it had been decorated by a thousand jewels.

Ivy in the Sun

On my visit to Colesbourne Park a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get some beautiful afternoon light. It made the snowdrop woodlands feel very magical, if not a little eerie. I loved this tendril of Ivy reaching into the sun and the shadows of an old gate against the tree below creating a very moody scene. My favourite that afternoon was the way the light reflected off of the wonderful blue lagoon making the woods look like they were from some forgotten ghostly realm.


 Silent Wood

Which is my favourite though? Eeek I'm not sure I can pick, I like them all for different reasons. I think perhaps for me it is the Actaea; I love the way the sun dances off the seedpods and draws you in. It makes me think it is a mountain waiting to be climbed!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Slushy Mushy!

Kleinia abyssinica

Its that time of year again. Valentines Day. The day we are told we must spoil our loved ones. I must confess I am not a big fan of being manipulated by marketing. It does not mean that I do not wish to show my nearest and dearest how much I love him, but that I object to commercially instigated events. I’ve never seen the romance in someone having to pay five times the market value for a sterile bunch of red roses just to prove that they love their partner.

I am not really in love with the colour red either, and I certainly do not consider it to be romantic. For me red is the colour of blood, football strips and boys bedrooms in the 1980’s. A romantic bunch of flowers to me would be a bunch of big soft blousy pale pink peonies or a posy of brightly coloured deliciously delicate anemones. I love roses but not the small neat, perfectly sized completely scentless ones they sell in the shops. A rose to me should be wildly rambling up a trellis or exuding pendulously from a pergola replete with petals and summer perfume, and preferably pink.

Valentines day falls at one of the most depressing times of the year. Winter is dragging its heels; the sky is grey and the air chilled. Whilst it may bring some welcome respite to happy lovers it can be just another hard slap in the face to singletons who would rather crawl back under the duvet and not emerge until the 15th. I must admit I have felt like that on many a Valentines Day.

For me Valentines Day means something different again. Those organically minded amongst you should look away now! Valentines is a great time to get rid of the unwanted slime in your life! Yes I’m talking about slugs and snails. When I first moved to Wiltshire some years ago I was extremely excited at having my first garden. I watched it grow the first year, discovering all the plants I had inherited and busily thinking about all the ones I wanted to introduce to it the following year. When the time came, I eagerly filled the garden full of my favourite plants and flowers like delphiniums, lupins and big leaved hostas and then sat back and watched the whole lot get eaten by a tidal wave of slugs. Slug pubs had no effect against the hoards of slimy fauna. They did not even make a dent in the population. I tried to train Stilton to remove them, but he showed no interest. He prefers worms. One evening at dusk I was sombrely attempting to gather all the slugs up in a bucket, it was a losing battle against the masses. After seeing the last of my hostas had been completely devoured I rather rashly picked up a stick and angrily whacked the largest, fattest slug I could see. The result was a spray of slug juice right across my face and hair. This is possibly the most horrific event of my life to date, a trauma I will surely take to the grave. Although, come to think of it, it probably wasn’t all that great for the slug either…

I was close to giving up all hopes of having the garden I had dreamt of when a local plantsman told me to apply a liberal quantity of Slug Clear to the garden at Valentines. The liquid sinks into the soil and kills the slumbering slug population before they have a chance to wake up and start reproducing and devouring the garden. So the next year at Valentines I decided enough was enough, I had persevered with organic methods throughout the previous summer to no avail. Either the slugs were going to win or I was and I was pretty sure it was going to be me. I applied the slug clear and waited. To my amazement the slime population that year was dramatically reduced, reduced enough for me to keep it under control with slug pubs and careful removal. With experience I have learnt that there are many methods of slug control that do not involve slug whacking or chemicals. Less brutal methods such as planting plants that slugs do not like the taste of, using coffee grounds, eggshell or sharp grit around plants particularly favoured by the children of slime, or investing in nematodes are all part of a good defensive strategy against slugs and snails (although Sun Tzu says that no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy). So now above all else Valentines has become a fixed date in my mind for prudent slime control.

Laelia anceps

Happy Valentines,

RO xx

Monday, 8 February 2010

A Galanthophiles Delight: Colesbourne Park.

Last Sunday there was a rare day of winter sunshine so I decided to make the most of it and take in some snowdrops. After a very pleasant drive through the Cotswolds I arrived at Colesbourne Park. Colesbourne Park was the home of Henry John Elwes (1846-1922) who was a traveller and naturalist. During his lifetime he introduced many plants into cultivation among them was Galanthus elwesii (named after him), which he found whilst travelling in Turkey in 1874. It was Henry John Elwes who began the snowdrop collection at Colesbourne.

Galanthus 'Hippolyta' (Greatorex double, regular skirts)

After Elwes death in 1922 the collection lay undisturbed for sixty years until his great grandson Sir Henry Elwes and his wife began to identify the plants and spread them around the park. Lady Elwes has added many further species and cultivars and today over 160 cultivars can be found at Colesbourne.
 Galanthus plicatus 'Colossus' (originated at Colesbourne)

As you leave the car park you immediately walk into the arboretum with a carpet of snowdrops beneath the trees. They are displayed beautifully nestling amongst moss, tiny tendrils of ivy and crisp copper beech leaves. It was decidedly cold, but the afternoon sun made the area look quite magical.

The snowdrop collection is clearly labelled and people were on hand to talk and answer any questions about them. The atmosphere in the park was friendly, and they seemed genuinely excited at the interest visitors were showing in the collection. I visited on the last weekend in January. The snow has put back the flowering of many of the plants by approximately two weeks, but this has meant that several of the early double varieties that are often missed on open days were just starting to flower.

It was a very brisk Sunday afternoon and there was a sense of more snow in the air. Apart from the snowdrops I was not quite sure what to expect from my visit to Colesbourne Park. I had not been prepared for the beauty of the woods and the beguiling blue lake beyond them. I looked for several minutes at the lake when I first saw it, as I could just not believe its colour. The lake was created in 1922. Its amazing colour is believed to be caused by suspended clay particles in the water.

The trees in the park were heavily draped with moss, lichen and ferns all adding to the enchantment of the place.

Galanthus 'Lady Belatrix Stanley'

Galanthus 'Hippolyta'

As I left the woods and lake and headed to the back of the house I could see the traces of a formal garden. Again here just as the trees had been covered in moss and lichen so had the stonework. The garden had the feel of a place that had been slumbering for many years and was gradually blending into the landscape in which it rested.

Berberis berries

All around the estate there were winter flowering shrubs and plants that gave interest such as the bright Cornus stems planted near the lake, Berberis branches heavily laden with berries, the delicate flowers of Lonicera fragrantissima and the alien looking stems of Euonymus alata. Cyclamen were just coming into flower along with a good display of hellebores.

Helleborus foetidus

Little remains of the formal garden as it was. A dormant herbaceous border lay at the back of the terrace. A few snowdrops were peeking though the bare earth. The sunken lawn was once full of rose beds but today the only survivors of the original plantings are the clipped box shapes. Although nothing was in flower the sleeping garden was quite beautiful, the moss on the steps, lichen on the wall and self seeded Euphorbia's in the gravel all alluded to a garden with an old fashioned, slightly unkempt kind of charm.


The Ice House (c.1760)

Galanthus elwesii 'Mrs McNamara'

Within the park at Colesbourne was a beautiful church. Small streams flowed close by in the shadows of the majestic trees in their green moss jackets.

Colesbourne Park is open every weekend in February and whether you are a galanthophile or not this is a hauntingly beautiful winter landscape that is definitely worth exploring.