Hasn’t it been a confusing month! While gardeners in some parts of the country have complained of the bitter cold and the lateness of their bulbs, those in other parts have been basking in clement, agreeable, if not exactly seasonable, weather. Here in Edinburgh, I am not sure what to make of the alternating balmy days of 11 or 12 degrees, and the frozen days of one or two below zero. But my bulbs are appearing just as they should, with Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, already flowering in some of the more sheltered spots.
The mild days have brought on some unseasonable growth from all sorts of plants besides the bulbs. Here are the brand new leaves, good enough almost to eat, of my Acanthus mollis. (As you can see, these clement days have also brought out the molluscs from hibernation.)
New buds are appearing on the honeysuckle beside the front door and the Hydrangea petiolaris:
And the raindrops look especially becoming on new foliage of Aquilegia:
The Scarcococca flowered briefly, and quickly produced its shining berries:
And the seedheads of the hostas are providing elegant hidey-houses for overwintering insects:
But the stars of the garden are the hellebores:
1) I have no greenhouse, and there is no room in the cold frame for tender plants, so I have wrapped hessian protection around my potted pelargoniums and alstromeria to ward off the worst of the frosts.
2) To prevent blackspot, last year’s hellebore leaves can be cut back and composted, allowing the new buds to shine through.
3) Squirrels just love to nip off the buds of emerging bulbs, and I have already found buds of my Iris ‘George’ on the ground. I like to paint on an unappetising concoction of garlic and paprika or cayenne pepper (but not chilli pepper, which can be harmful to wildlife) to put the squirrels off.
4) With all of summer’s growth dead and gone, now is a wonderful time to assess the garden and make any architectural or structural adjustments. I am building an extension to the brick terrace at the back of the house, and thinking hard about which shrubs to add for winter interest and structure.
5) I do not keep the garden too tidy, as a scruffy garden is best for wildlife, and though the jury is out on tidying up dead leaves, I err on the side of messy and leave them where they lie. However, where they are lying too thickly or have formed a mat over new growth, it is good to tidy up the leaves, and any dead or rotting stems that are not providing winter interest.
6) Having tidied up the garden and planned the garden’s permanent structure, now is also an excellent time to order seed for the coming year and make a sowing plan. I have ordered cornflowers, ammi, and sweetpeas, and will start sowing in early to mid February.
7) This is almost the last chance to trim hedges before birds start nesting. In the UK, it is illegal to cut a hedge that might contain nesting birds, which is usually from early spring until mid to late summer.
January garden view
The following photos show views of the front garden in mid-January, as the first bulbs were emerging from both ground and pots.
And a view of the back garden, which is still something of a building site, so I have cropped in close!
So that is it for January, and not a moment too soon, some might say. Things start ramping up in February, with snowdrops and irises in full bloom, and pots just bursting with emerging bulbs. Which jobs have you been getting up to in the garden this month, and what have been your favourite sights?
What with low light levels, compressed daylight hours, and frantic Christmas preparations, December is usually my month off in the garden. However, I still always find time to observe and appreciate the garden, take notice of the few plants that have made a special effort to bring prettiness to a scene that is otherwise bleak, and take some photographs so that I can continue to appreciate the changes, however subtle they might be at this time of year.
What – you mean you don’t have enough jobs indoors at this time of year? Then pour yourself a mulled wine and read a book by the fire, you lucky thing!
The three stars of this month are: my Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, quite the prettiest and most cheerful thing and I wish I had more of them; and the smokebush Cotinus ‘Dusky Maiden’, which has turned the most incredible colours, large puce and fiery coins dangling over the side of their coppery green pot; and Hydrangea ‘Limelight’, which is leafless and bare but for several of its delicate blooms.
Every week I look anxiously for signs of bulbs pushing up, but save for some enthusiastic muscari in pots, there is no sign of anything yet.
I will leave you with my usual views (none of the back garden this month – it is in slight disarray due to the very slow terrace-building that is dragging ever on) and a couple of my pretty robin who always pops out to see what I am up to. Just photos, Mr Robin, no upturned worms for you today.
I am lucky enough to have a wonderful grandmother who lives in the Derbyshire countryside. She has dogs and a horse and the most beautiful cottage garden, and I adore staying there. It’s a wonderful break from the stresses of ordinary life, and I can sit for hours listening to my grandmother’s anecdotes, or touring her garden with her as we talk about the many varieties of flowers, shrubs and vegetables that she grows. My grandmother is 94, and day to day she is helped by my aunt, who lives nearby. However, as my aunt is away this week I have jumped at the excuse to drive the 5 hours south and look after my granny for the week. Or is it she looking after me? It’s hard to tell. While I walk the dogs and put the hay out for Emily, Granny cooks me the most enormous meals. If it weren’t for all the walking, I’d be the same size as Emily myself by now.
My seedlings have come on holiday too. Faced with the forecast of night frosts all week for Edinburgh, I didn’t feel that I could expect my husband to bring all the seed trays in to the cold frame every night and put them all out again in the morning while I was away. So I put them all in the car and took them with me. They have been enjoying their time in my grandmother’s greenhouse very much; even four seeds of the impossible-to-germinate Cleomespinosa have been persuaded to germinate—quite some feat.
Spring advances northwards at walking pace, about 13 miles a day, and when I am in the south at this time of year it is really noticeable how far along spring has come compared with Edinburgh. While my aubretia is only just coming in to flower in Scotland, my grandmother’s is in full fling and is covered in bees. It emerges out of the beautiful dry stone walls for which Derbyshire is famous, built of old rounded stones which absorb the warmth of the sun and radiate it back across the garden, creating a hot little micro-climate that speeds spring along even further.
Elsewhere in the garden, the camellia, name unknown, planted by my grandmother when she came to this house about 40 years ago, is also covered with the most beautiful carmine flowers. The bearded iris leaves face like tall green swords towards the sun, which bakes their roots the way they like them to be baked, and the drumstick primulas by the pond are at their peak while mine are still emerging from their crowns 300 miles away.Meanwhile, I hear that Edinburgh has also been enjoying some marvellous warmth and sunshine, and while I will be loathe to leave my idyllic retreat, my grandmother, and my three enormous meals per day, I can’t wait to get back and see how the garden has grown.
Even as I edit these photos, which I took just four days ago, I can see that spring growth has already progressed. The skimmia buds have now opened almost completely, the drumstick primulas have grown another inch, and the hyacinths have stuck their chests out like indignant body-builders. Despite today’s stormy skies and my having to scrape the car windscreen of frost yesterday morning, the garden is blundering onwards in happy spring-time oblivion, well nourished by the weeks of sunshine we had throughout late February and March.
Spring is for colour, and this native primrose, a self-seeded gleaning from my grandmother’s garden, clashes joyfully with its vermilion neighbour, a winter heather that has doubled in size this past year. A lilac drumstick primula prepares to leap like a slow motion Jack-in-a-box from its crown, and nearby several of its divisions do the same.
Spring is for bulbs, and hyacinths burst out through the gravel of their old wooden pot, while their diminutive cousins, grape hyacinths or muscari, stand proud of theirs.
Spring is for scent, and a new Camellia ‘Silver Anniversary’, a Christmas present from my mother, competes with Skimmia Rubella for a prize in deliciousness.
Spring is for new replacing old, and while the hellebore blooms begin to fade, seedlings and cuttings have started to grow up and will soon need pricking out, and potted dahlias wait in rows in the cold frame for warmer times to come.
End of Month View is hosted by Helen at The Patient Gardener. Do visit her page and see how spring is cracking on in other people’s gardens.
For non-gardeners, the dark days of February have little to recommend them. But for the gardener, February can be as full of delights as any of the summer months. From our front window my spirits are lifted by clumps of nodding snowdrops, battalions of iris reticulata, a burst of native primroses and winter heather, primula wanda, cyclamen, hellebores, muscari and skimmia. Pushing their way through the soil are the promise of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. Here come my delphiniums and the peonies I planted last summer. Things have survived the winter. Things are coming back. February is a positive, happy month for me.
February is also a month for plentiful gardening tasks. My seed-sowing got under way this month. I also turned out my cold frame on a particularly sunny day and scrubbed down the interior of a year’s worth of grub and mould. I took the opportunity to inspect the inhabitants and revive anything drooping with fresh water. I turned the compost heap, pruned the roses and mulched everywhere with manure.
February is also a time for planning. Which plants need moving? Where are the bare patches? As plants I’d forgotten I owned start to reappear, I am reminded of niggles from last year: lysemichia too close to a rose, a salvia half-buried by a fern. I also have a deeper sense of dissatisfaction with the garden: too many little plants dotted about. It’s too fussy. I want swathes of things.
Vita Sackville-West said, “I am sure that it is more effective to plant 12 tulips together rather than plant them in two groups of six.” Well, my garden is full of small divided groups, and VSW is right. It doesn’t look very good. When I look out of the window, I plan which plants I can move about to get the effect I am after.
It’s hard to get a small garden looking great in February, but as I walk past the other front gardens of Edinburgh, the ones I like the best are without a doubt those with the most snowdrops. Though not a bona fide Galanthophile, I do think a garden should be full of snowdrops in February. As you can see from my pictures, my garden certainly does not fulfill this important criterion. The question is, do I have the patience to increase my crop using what I’ve already got, or do I blow £30 on importing some more?
Bare soil, the bare bones of the garden: winter is when your skills as a gardener are revealed. Anyone can fill a garden with flowers in July, but it’s not so easy to keep the garden interesting through the damp, dark winter months. My main criticism of mine is a lack of structure, which I could easily create with judicious placing of a few evergreen or otherwise interesting shrubs. On the other hand, since the winter months have been so mild, nature has lent a hand at keeping the garden alive. Look closely, and you can see spots of colour all over the garden.
This little primrose has been flowering for months, ever since I brought it back from my grandmother’s Derbyshire garden in the summer.
This cyclamen hasn’t quite found its home; this current spot beside the path and next to the rock lily is a placemarker until a better home turns up. I can see its cheery raspberry ripple flowers from the sitting room window.
I was thrilled to find these shining berries on my Sarcococca confusa, ranging from deep red to chocolate brown.
Bulbs have been shooting up relentlessly. Last year I planted three iris ‘George’ bulbs, and this year I am hugely lucky that they have divided themselves into six. Elsewhere, snowdrops, daffodils and and hyacinths are poking their way cautiously through the soil. My pots of bulbs are looking promising.
And here, a good two or three months early, is the bright pink nose of a peony ‘Avalanche’!
Jobs have been stacking up during the month. My dahlia tubers are at last uplifted, and hanging upside-down on the inside of the shed door. After two weeks of this treatment I will cover the tubers in vermiculite and store them out of harm’s way till March, when they can be planted up again. (Many gardeners, especially in mild areas, don’t bother to uplift their dahlia tubers, but I am in fact planning to move mine to a sunnier spot. Besides, Scottish winters last just a month or two too long for me to wish to experiment with this.)
I have taken cuttings of my favourite salvia, and have lined up all the plants destined for my next project. Now is a fantastic time to go to the local garden centre and pick up bargains!
Finally, one way of bringing colour to a drab winter garden is by planting up beautiful pots of the many plants that are at their festive best at this time of year. One of the many lovely Christmas gifts I received this year was a tiny hellebore from my uncle and aunt, and when I saw it I immediately remembered this page about planting pots for winter colour, which I’d bookmarked from one of my favourite blogs, The Frustrated Gardener. Greatly inspired by the gorgeous, homely arrangements therein, I made several of my own using similar plants: my little Christmas rose, Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’, variagated azalea (which will have the added bonus of pink flowers in spring), winter heather, white cyclamen, and finished off with trailing ivy. Pushing their way through this are some shoots of muscari to help extend the pots into spring time.
End of Month View is hosted by Helen Johnston at The Patient Gardener, and I find it both wonderful and useful to visit the other gardeners who link in with Helen to see how they have managed the challenges that come at different times of the year.
Next to sunshine and warmth, the best thing to help a growing garden along its way is not to constantly watch it, or so I’ve found in the past few weeks as I’ve dashed straight from Derbyshire to Portugal to Cumbria with barely a second to draw breath or do any laundry. In those frantic few hours between destinations I just about managed to water my seedlings, but apart from that, almost three weeks had passed before I was able to spend last weekend in the garden and take a proper look at progress.
And quel progress. The sunshine had been working hard during my absence, and the plants, far from dying pathetically without my unremitting attention, had instead shot up, bloomed, spread, and be-decked themselves with leaves, without any supervision from me at all.
The crocosmia, which I divided up from the large potted specimen in our rented back garden, after a hesitant start, is sprouting healthy green blades from its new position by the hedge and the gate. I am intending it to grow up and over to flop slightly across the edge of the path. Indeed I am hoping for a lot of general plant-flopping over the edge of the path in order to soften the edge somewhat and create a less formal, more casual, romantic look.
The hostas, Devon Green and Patriot, which I despaired of ever seeing, are at last visible. I adore shining, healthy hostas and am so thrilled that mine are both arriving. I can’t wait to see what they will eventually look like. These are both on the shady side of the path where again I hope they will soften the hard line of the edging.
Hurrah for my Primula denticulata, the drumstick primulas! They are the most cheerful thing in the garden, these uplifting, gravity-defying lollipops, and I just adore them for all the healthy, vibrant colour they have supplied throughout this recent time of sparsity when I had little else going on bloom-wise. Imagine: this lot were originally a single plant, which I divided last autumn, and this year I should get another two or three plants from further divisions. Wonderful things.
This hydrangea is weeks behind everyone else’s (I do a great deal of glancing over other people’s front garden fences as I walk along; don’t you?) as it was a rather sickly thing when I bought it on the sale shelf of the garden centre. But it has been persuaded out in to leaf by the recent warm weather and I hope that a year of love and attention will stand it in good stead for lots of future blooms, which I believe will turn out to be bluey-white.
I am very pleased with these fat, healthy muscari, which fade from Delft blue to palest sky at the tips. Not bad for a Homebase impulse buy. You may have noticed from this and all my pictures that each plant is rather lonesome in its area of bare soil. I have plans for the bare patches, in short my white cosmos, delphinium Pacific hybrid, and aubrieta seedlings, and some dark ‘Black Paeony’ poppies which I will sow directly into the soil next weekend.
This odd little ‘Denim’ primula was a novelty Easter gift from my mother last year. It stayed outside all winter, alternately drowning and parching, and I am quite amazed that it has forgiven this treatment so generously by coming back into bloom here at the edge of the path. It is a funny-looking plant, but I am quite fond of it.
Now here is one of my most exciting horticultural treats: a morello cherry tree. One of the things I most wanted was to look out of the front window and see blossom in the spring. This tree, presently about 4′ tall, is planted in the furthest corner of the garden in a position calculated to overcast as little of the precious bed space as possible, the garden being shaded enough by buildings and large trees as it is. The morello cherry is one of the few fruit trees that will tolerate shade, and since the front garden receives only about 4 hours of sunlight in the summer (almost none in the winter), this was an easy choice. I am delighted that blossom is developing on the spindly branches; you can just about see the buds in the lower of the two photographs.
These bearded irises ‘Dusky Challenger’ and ‘Frost and Flame’ were chosen to contrast against one another. They are planted in the sunniest patch just behind the edge of the path.
Hellebore season is somewhat over now that so many other plants have advanced onto the stage, but I should mention this ‘Winter Bells’ of miniature blush-and-coffee flowers that I bought on sale from Crocus and planted near to the cherry tree, where it has settled in very well. It is so cheerful and I am looking forward to seeing its charming blooms next winter when little else is on show in the garden.
Another triumphant, cheerful display here from my Bergenia Eroica, bought at the garden centre at Bodnant Garden in Wales. I have just flicked back through my blog to remind myself of its name, and in doing so saw from the photos I posted in March’s End of Month View how much everything, including this, has grown and spread in just this short space of time. The ability to photographically track these week-to-week developments is one of the many advantages of garden blogging.
And here comes my Acanthus hungaricus, which I bought to compensate for the death of the self-seeded acanthus that was growing out of my mother’s compost heap and which she gave me last summer. I was so taken with her acanthus, with its striking, tall flower heads, that I knew I had to have one of my own. The hungaricus is slightly more delicate in colour and habit than the more usual mollis, I am led to believe.
And is that a tulip ‘Menton’ flower bud just coming through? I am looking forward to seeing these in bloom very much, having planted them in a panic very late in January. Tulips are probably my favourite spring bulb, and the ‘Menton’ should turn out to be the most elegant, pretty apricot pink colour.
Finally my potato bags. I’m afraid I cannot tell you the name of the potatoes I am growing inside these bags because I am typing this 130 miles away in Cumbria instead of in my office at home in Edinburgh where I keep the tags from all the plants I buy, ready to be organised into a file. But they are sprouting well and being earthed up, and watered too (hopefully) by The Brazilian, who is being a good egg at keeping the garden extremely well hydrated in my absence. I have been in Cumbria all this week and weekend, and won’t be home till next weekend, so The B has promised to send photos of the tulips and cherry blossom should they come out while I am away. And I of course will post photos of the garden next weekend for my End of Month View.
A vase from me is an event rarer than steak bleu: I have no flowers worth picking from my own garden, and would begrudge depleting any that I did for a vase. But I went to Derbyshire for a family Easter this weekend, and my grandmother asked me to pick flowers from her garden for the lunch table. So although these flowers were actually picked on Sunday, they were still in their vases today… all but the Double Ellen hellebores, which had collapsed like consumptive heroines come this morning.
I must apologise for the camera-phone quality of the photos. I foolishly left my good camera in Edinburgh, which I regretted even more when I found that the field behind the house was full of very cute lambs.
Apart from the Double Ellens, we have a daffodil, forsythia, camelia, and various bits of foliage from sage and pyracanthus. A real hodgepodge. None of it goes. Sorry about that. Let’s be kind and call it rustic.
And this beautiful carrot cake, which my mother made, is decorated with native primroses and violets from my grandmother’s garden and sits on ancient ‘Spanish Garden’ china. My grandmother very kindly allowed me to divide one of her primroses and bring it back to Edinburgh for my own garden.
When a project becomes an obsession, it consumes your time, your money, your thoughts, your very soul. The front garden of our new flat has been my obsession for the past three months. During this time I have thought of little else, spent money on little else, used my free time for little else than digging, planting, heaving unwieldy loads of concrete, earth, gravel, and armfuls of hedge, from here, to there, to back here again, to the car, to the tip, to hell and back, it sometimes seemed. And it was all in pursuit of an aesthetic vision that was sometimes hazy, sometimes felt unachievable, but drove me on through sleet, rain, sub-zero temperatures and aching muscles…
Do you remember this? This was the garden that we bought in November 2014, with its concrete paving and overgrown shrubs.
And this was the view at the end of January 2015, shrubs gone but privet hedge still very much the boss.
I played around with different garden layouts on quadrant paper. The shed would go in the darkest corner, along with a small compost heap. I wanted a curving path leading from this to the gate, and an area to sit and admire the view, with space for potted plants and a climbing rose. There would be a sunny bed, a shady bed, and a blossom tree in the North West corner where it would not overshadow the beds too much.
What to edge the borders with, and what to tread underfoot? My first edging choice was wood, but I could not find a source of what I considered to be inoffensive wooden edging. Plastic? Eugh! Bricks? Pretty, but my Aunt Kate warned me that they harbour slugs. Everedge? Have you seen the price of that stuff? I am not Rockefeller. On with the search. But search as I might, the only viable option seemed to be Everedge. Bendable, long-lasting, attractive and a piece of cake to install, it was screaming ‘Perfect’ to me. But the price… ouchio.
Fine. Maybe I could find the funds for Everedge. I would turn off the heating and rifle through bins for my lunch. Before long, I convinced myself that three figures for garden edging that would eventually be hidden under clouds of lavender and catmint was entirely reasonable, and soon enough five heavy slabs of dark brown Everedge arrived on my doorstep.
Now for the paths. Having admired the reclaimed brick paths of more than one garden blogger, I think this would have been the option had I had more time, energy and money at this stage. Grass was a no-no (too much upkeep, not enough sun). Flagstones? Ah, sigh. Probably six times the cost of the Everedge. What about gravel? It is inexpensive, quick to lay, free-draining and not wholly unattractive. What’s more, it gives a pleasing crunch underfoot.
On Monday, we took delivery of a package that was too big for the letterbox.
Spreading the gravel was surprisingly fun. Perhaps not the back-breaking part where we shovelled it out of the bag into the wheelbarrow, but definitely the pouring out and combing it smooth with a rake. Ah, that lovely crunch; the satisfying way it smoothed over the sins of the bumpy, muddy, rocky ground below; the contrast of the dark soil, black Everedge outline, pinky-grey paths…
And so here, at last, is my End of Month View: March 2015. Ta-da!
It will look even better once the plants are more than an inch high. So, exactly what plants do we have?
Well, this is Scotland, after all. A wee winter heather…
Leaf buds reluctantly emerging on a hydrangea aspera ‘Macrophylla, which I bought for a song from the garden centre sale shelf.
A yellow honeysuckle for the railings. The honeysuckle is in a race with the weather… I need to paint the railings, but cannot until the temperature reaches 10 degrees on a dry day, by which time the honeysuckle may have begun winding around the railings. Come on, sunshine!
Cyclamen, from Bodnant, to naturalise under the morello cherry tree…
… and a Bergenia Eroica, also from Bodnant, just coming into bloom. The foliage will turn to ruby red in winter.
And my beloved drum primulas, divided from the vigorous specimen I planted in our rented flat’s front garden last spring. This one will be divisible again before long, and is working hard to give my mostly bare garden some delightful spring colour.
And another vigorous primula, again divided from clumps in our rented garden.
Alliums are a garden must, in my opinion. This is one of several that I bought from Bodnant’s inspirational garden centre. It does not appreciate the wind that has been howling through the depleted privet and damaging its long, floppy leaves.
A camellia japonica ‘Mathotiana Rosea’, also from Bodnant. The Brazillian had been sitting an exam in North Wales while I borrowed his car for a blissful morning at Bodnant, and he did raise an eyebrow when I brought his car back to him filled with a jungle of new plants. The camellia is in a pot of ericaceous compost. The soil in Scotland tends to be acidic, but I have not tested ours, so the pot is to be on the safe side.
A garden is not a garden without roses. My darling Granny gave me a generous birthday cheque, and with it I raided David Austin’s virtual shelves for five roses; here are two: a climbing Shropshire Lad for around the sitting room window (joined by a clump of ‘borrowed’ snowdrops from our rented garden), and a yellow Lady Gardener, the latter sprouting famously already…
..while my poor hellebore ‘Double Ellen Red’ is doing rather less famously. It caught a fungus while wrapped in winter fleece, and I am not convinced it will make it back to the land of the living. One lives in hope…
And where is my hosta Devon Green? No where to be seen… yet.
A geranium pokes a cautious head forth through the stony soil. I can’t recall its name.
Two pots… the first contains a lily, whose shoot excitingly appeared yesterday. I transplanted these inherited muscari into the pot to make it look less empty. The second contains dianthus, bugle and stonecrop, all going cheap at Homebase.
And I’ve been busy sowing seeds…
Still to sow: black poppies, white cosmos, apricot foxgloves…
Here is my new compost heap, currently containing privet hedge and leaves, shredded down. Our soil is desperate for some organic matter, though this won’t be ready for a year or two.
And the privet is already growing back! Privets use a lot of nutrition, and if you don’t directly feed them they sap the nutrients from the soil, leaving other plants gasping. I have poured what seems like gallons of liquid feed onto the roots (which are fully cleared of the half-foot of dead leaves), plus generous handfuls of chicken manure pellets and wood ash. All this will help it grow back healthily without depleting the soil.
So, there we have it. Plenty of sweat and toil, and plenty more to do. And I couldn’t have done it without my friends… The Cousin, who uprooted the cotoneaster, then dug over the entire garden without even being asked to, before single-handedly pushing the damaged wall back into place. My friend Fiona, who donated a sunny afternoon to helping me hack back the hedge. And The Brazillian, who kept me company on tip-trips, helped me heave the concrete, spread the gravel and burn the shrubbery as well as supplying constant cheering-on, encouragement, and not a little patience.
End of Month View is hosted by Helen at The Patient Gardener. Do visit her blog and find out what she and other garden bloggers have been up to this month.