I have a odd but pleasing book called “Recreating the Period Garden”. It was published by the National Trust and edited by one of my favorite garden writers, the great gardener Graham Stuart Thomas, with contributions by six other distinguished English garden writers. This week’s Snippet is from the Foreword by Graham Stuart Thomas:
Many of us start gardening in a small area of ground in our parents’ garden. After this early start, apart from a certain amount of grass-cutting, hedge-clipping and the like, the pursuit of gardening remains in abeyance until we own a house with the surrounding plot of land. Then gardening starts in earnest if we are that way inclined.
The foreword goes on to muse on how many of us then progress to visiting famous gardens from which we draw a pastiche of ideas from different periods. But what I like about it is this evocation of how many of use became gardeners. I got my start in gardening helping my parents: my father with his large vegetable garden (which I hated, as most of my chores there involved weeding in the hot sun), and my mother with her planters on the deck behind our modern house. That was much more fun, as it also gave me the opportunity of having some of her time and attention, which, as a quiet middle child of three, I often craved. I always loved flowers, though, and often had pots of my own plants, indoors and out. I did enjoy the many pots of forced bulbs my father planted every fall and brought out one at a time starting in late winter and early spring.
I haven’t posted here in a while because I have been traveling in the UK with my family. We visited many beautiful gardens, but one of my favorites was The Lost Gardens of Heligan.
Heligan is an old estate that once had hundreds of acres of formal, informal and tropical gardens, maintained by a staff of twenty-two. After World War I, when many of the workers did not return from the war, the estate slowly declined. The gardens were abandoned by the 1970s, while the main house was sold and divided into private apartments.
In 1990, a man named Tim Smit (who later created the Eden Project) was shown the property by one of its owners, a descendant of the Tremayne family that had owned Heligan for 400 years. The property was held in a trust for him and his sister. They hacked their way through brambles and old hedges to find the remaining original garden structures and landscaping. The work they did over decades to restore the gardens, install sculptures and make Heligan a unique destination for visitors is described in Tim Smit’s book, The Lost Gardens of Heligan. This week’s Saturday Snippet is taken from that book:
We had cut our way through dense clumps of invasive bamboo, drawn towards a perfectly formed palm that stood sentinel at the entrance to what was obviously a walled garden. John Nelson and I were on another of our explorations, venturing deeper into the gardens each time. Today we were excited; somehow we knew it was going to be a special day. You can feel these things.
Once inside, we paused for a moment. There was a sense that we were trespassing, that we had come upon a secret shrine. In the gloaming we could see dozens of trees growing thickly together, woven into a solid mass by an extremely vigorous climbing plant that covered everything like a furry blanket. We had never seen anything like this before. Under the trees we could make out shapes at once familiar and other-worldly. This was clearly the area of the garden where the real work had taken place.
I spent the whole month of May posting about lily of the valley-based fragrances on my other blog, Serenity Now, in a series I called “May Muguet Marathon.” While I was doing that and reading a lot online about lilies of the valley, I came across a variety I have long wanted to try in my own garden, Convallaria majalis “Bordeaux.” It was on sale, so of course I bought 40 pips! My teenaged son helped me create a new planting bed for them by spreading many cubic feet of mushroom compost on top of the clayish soil between several old azaleas and the base of our house’s front terrace, a partly shaded area that is well-watered by our in-ground sprinkler system. He turned it in for me; I hope this will provide a suitable habitat! Lilies of the valley do not become invasive here in the South as they do further north; in fact, sometimes they struggle. Fingers crossed that “Bordeaux” finds a happy home here!
I also bought some pips of Convallaria majalis “Prolificans”, which many sellers describe as “double-flowered”, but it is not a true double flower, as can be seen in this photo:
Rather, it has clusters of tiny, single flowers that dangle together from the main stalk, creating the look of double flowers. The true double-flowered lily of the valley is “Flore Pleno”:
I hope my new lilies of the valley find themselves happy in their new home and spread profusely! I would welcome what plant-hunter Reginald Farrer described as “the worst of all delicious weeds when it thrives.”
I haven’t posted Saturday Snippets in a while because of the onslaught of spring gardening “opportunities”! Here’s a short, partial rundown: dozens of Ajuga “Chocolate Chip” planted as groundcovers on a new berm alongside the patio/drainage area we had built last fall, with stones interplanted with Ajuga Metallica Crispa. At least fifteen heucherellas planted under the young Japanese maples we planted last fall in a new “grove” to replace the messy undergrowth in a small sideyard under a huge old water oak. New statue and birdbath also in place. Major pruning back of magnolia hedge in back garden, to edge of mixed shrub and perennial border. New deciduous azalea “Fragrant Star” planted and protected from curious, digging dog. Experimental planting of anemone sylvestris under old azaleas; also protected from curious, digging dog. New heucheras still in process of being planted, including two lovely Heuchera “Purple Mountain Majesty”. To be planted: “Berry Supreme” and “Frosted Violet.”
Today’s chores, in addition to the usual weeding, spraying, watering: plant in containers two new Itoh peonies, bought for half-price from local nursery: “Takara” and “Julia Rose.” Plant nine new Hosta “Blue Mouse Ears” and Japanese painted ferns (they are gorgeous together — try it!). Plant nine new Phlox “David” in sunny border. Plant second “Black Diamond” crape myrtle into pot that matches the first one’s new home. Deadhead David Austin rose “Teasing Georgia”. Spread organic tree fertilizer under recently pruned oak tree. Plant more ceratostigma plumbaginoides under established Japanese maple “Filigree”, the idea being that the leadwort’s red autumn leaves and blue flowers will complement the fall colors of the maple. Finish replanting doorstep containers with summer plants.
However, if I really get a lot done, I will likely treat myself to a field trip to see the new Chihuly exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and that will be worth all the effort!
‘Blue Mouse Ears’, the 2008 Hosta of the Year, is the mouse ears hosta that started it all, shown here with its adorable, well-proportioned flowers.
It is mini hosta time at Carolyn’s Shade Garden where mouse ears hostas are definitely the customer favorite. What’s not to love? Whether you go for the clever mouse-themed names, the round and rubbery, slug resistant leaves, the useful mini to small size, the perfectly symmetrical, elegant habit, the large variety of beautiful leaf colors, the pixie-like, proportionate flowers, or their general gardenworthiness, you can’t go wrong with mouse ears.
Nursery News: You are welcome to shop at the nursery any time by appointment. The 2016 Mini Hosta Catalogue is now on line here, and we are taking orders. Our third open house sale, featuring hostas, miniature hostas, ferns, epimediums, and hardy geraniums, will be held on Saturday, May 7, from 10 am to…
Ashwood Nurseries are world-famous for their Hellebores and the range of hybrids they create is quite remarkable for their breadth and beauty. My timing for this visit was perfect as I was travelling down from Manchester to London, and this was an excellent stopover, just to the west of Wolverhampton (for them, close to a big population base but in quite secluded rural location). And as I knew, there was an Open Day, with behind the scenes tours around the glasshouses where the breeding program happens. Marvellous.
The colours range from pure white to deep plum and slate, passing through pale lemons, deeper golds, pinks, peaches, ruby and claret red, jade greens – with spots and dots, stripes, blotches and contrasting veins, picotee edging (a fine line at the edge of the tepals) while the inner ring of nectaries (the petals, really) provide further interest, in green, gold, purple, red…
This post has inspired me! Last year we planted a small grove of different Japanese maples, in a front side yard under a very large, old oak, in high shade. It is bordered by a curving pathway that leads from the sidewalk to our front steps, across the front of our old house, and that pathway is lined by pink azaleas on both side. I have been wracking my brains to figure out what, if anything, to plant under the small Japanese maples.
Aha! Heucheras! I have become fascinated by the many pretty varieties at the garden centers and in the catalogs, but I’ve held off on buying many of them until I could decide where I might place them. I think their many colors will work nicely with the foliage of the Japanese maples, and this site is on a slight slope which will help them with drainage. They will be close enough to a pathway so their details can be seen. Like the Japanese maples, their foliage colors change over the seasons, so I think it will be a dynamic display. Thank you, Tamara at My Botanical Garden!
Does anyone have any experience with heucheras as an underplanting that you’d like to share?
While I wait for real spring to arrive in my garden (as distinct from the false spring we had in December!), this post is a lovely reminder of January’s own beauty. Thank you, Susan Rushton, for more gorgeous photographs!
In honor of this January weekend’s blizzards and storms, and feet of snow in much of the Northeastern United States, as well as the new season of Downton Abbey airing this month, this week’s Saturday Snippet is from “The Head Gardeners; Forgotten Heroes of Agriculture”, by Toby Musgrave.
Ornate conservatories or winter gardens were an adjunct of any garden that claimed to be of note. They were sometimes attached to the house or detached and set in the pleasure grounds. These great glass structures were home to many exotic and tender new arrivals brought from jungles and tropical regions across the world. Indeed, be they tendder, half-hardy or hardy, the wealth of new plants brought to Britain by the plant hunters excited botanists and garden-owners, and provided head gardeners with a constant onslaught of challenges. These expensive treasures required careful and skilled nurturing to survive. Often in the vanguard of those attempting to cultivate such tricksy rarities, the head gardener had to rely on his experience, a modicum of experimentation and an ability to learn fast.
This week, I am quoting an author whose book I do not yet own: Anna Pavord, author of “Tulip” and “Bulb.” I need to own the latter. In middle age, I have realized that I have a few consistent passions toward specific kinds of plants. One of them is the family of bulbs and corms. I think what I love is the gift-like nature of bulbs: they are like little papery packages, hiding wonderful flowers within. I love the surprise aspect of not knowing exactly when their shoots will suddenly appear; and many of my favorite flowers come from bulbs: narcissus, crocus, amaryllis, lilies, etc. Bulbs work on their own timetables.
“At the heart of the whole business is the feeling that when we garden we abandon a timetable constructed around dentists’ appointments, car services and the possible arrival of trains, to plunge headlong into a completely different timetable, an immense and inexorable one entirely outside our control, ruled by the sun, the moon, the seasons.”