In a Vase on Monday-February 4th 2019

I’m starting to miss sunshine and warm weather. I’m muffled up with coat, scarves, gloves, two pairs of socks, and still the cold seeps in. There’s been such a cold wind. The ground is frozen and the pond iced over. And yet, mooching about looking for something cheerful, I find chinodoxa- untroubled by the cold, the colour of Mediterranean skies. A little bit of hope.

A circle of silver birch twigs makes a pretty background for spring flowers. I just twist the branches like rope and tie the ends together. I’m trying not to use florists’ foam as it’s currently not recyclable. I’ve found a solution. A friend sent me a box of orchids, each one with a 7cm test tube of water, keeping them fresh. Recycling them, I twist a piece of wire around the necks and stick them in amongst the twiggy coils. Topped with moss, and hidden with ivy, no one will know they are there. I just have to top up the water each morning, and at the same time, add fresh flowers as I please. The wreath here was made on Saturday with wild clematis -old man’s beard- ivy and winter flowering honeysuckle lonicera fragrantissima. It survived high winds, mostly. Silver honesty lasted a day, then blew into the back field hedge where it glistens like a tiny mirror. And the star-like cow-parsley seed heads have gone. It’s an arrangement that changes with the weather. I like that. It’s real life. A reflection of what’s happening in my garden today.

So this morning, I’ve picked some snowdrops and chinodoxa and added them to the arrangement. Chinodoxa known as “glory of the snow” seems untroubled by the cold north wind. Such a delicate flower, and yet so hardy.

To add my own sunshine, I’ve found some aconites, Eranthis hyemalis. We called these gold coins when we were growing up.

Snowdrops nestle amongst the foliage. I bought the single variety , galanthus nivalis, from Easton Walled Gardens. A little bit of history now growing in my wild garden. There’s been a garden at Easton for at least 400 years. A renovation project started almost 20 years ago, has rescued the garden for future generations to enjoy. The double snowdrops came from Hodsock Priory. Another favourite place to visit with my Mum.

My wreath sits above the doors on our 1930s turntable summerhouse. We’ve turned our backs to the wind and swung the summerhouse around to face the wild garden. There’s wild garlic thriving on the right, under the willow. I’m really pleased to see snowdrops I planted three years ago starting to form little clumps. How long, I wonder, before the scene is a sea of white. I shall have to wait and see.

Links :

I’m joining Cathy for her IAVOM meme. https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/02/04/in-a-vase-on-monday-skinny/

Chonodoxa https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/chionodoxa/chionodoxa-violet-beauty

Eranthis https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/bulbs-in-the-green/eranthis-hyemalis-winter-aconite

Easton Walled Gardens https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/

Hodsock Priory snowdrops http://www.hodsockpriory.com/about-us/the-gardens/snowdrops/

NGS snowdrop gardens to visit https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/snowdrop-gardens/

Lonicera fragrantissima https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/68665/i-Lonicera-fragrantissima-i/Details

Winter Walk at Melbourne Hall.

Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire will be open this Sunday, January 13. It’s a rare chance to see the house and gardens in winter. I usually post reviews of gardens I’ve visited. But this time I’m giving advance notice as it’s such a lovely opportunity to see behind the scenes, out of season.

Photo credit : Andrea Jones.

Lady Ralph Kerr will host the event between 11am and 3pm. There will be a guided tour of the house, accompanied by classical guitar music, after which you’ll be able to explore the gardens. The special opening coincides with a feature in the January edition of Homes and Gardens Magazine.

Tickets cost £10 and include a glass of mulled wine and a slice of apple and pear pie provided by Master Chef professionals finalist Sven-Hanson Britt.

There’s also a tearoom just outside the garden gates which will be open for lunch, teas and cake. I can vouch for the cake. It’s absolutely delicious. And there’s usually a log fire to sit by.

For more information, the website is http://www.melbournehallgardens.com. Tickets are available on the day. Note: There’s no card reader, so payment is cash.

The magazine article was by award winning photographer Andrea Jones. I reviewed Andrea’s book, The Garden Photography Workshop, in a blog post here. https://bramblegarden.com/tag/workshop/

Last Minute Christmas Presents for Gardeners

Here’s my last minute recommendations. I would love to receive any of these. They all last longer than Christmas Day. Prices vary, depending on special offers and discounts.

1. Vouchers for a course at Common Farm Flowers.

https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/workshops.html .

I joined the Grow Your Own Cut Flower Patch course a few years ago, and I’m self-sufficient in flowers for my friends and family. There was enough information to grow plants commercially, if I had wanted to. I’m delighted to be able to wander about my garden at any time of the year and create beautiful hand tied bouquets and pretty jam jar posies. There’s something special about home-grown flowers. It’s all a matter of planning and knowing what varieties to grow. Georgie is an excellent teacher. After attending one of her courses, you feel as if you can conquer the world. It’s a rather wonderful feeling!

Courses on offer range from £15 for a garden tour to £290 for a painting course.

Courses: Flower Farming, encouraging wildlife, social media for small businesses, starting a kitchen table business, grow your own wedding flowers, hand tied bouquets.

2. RHS Membership. From £61.

Develop your gardening skills with an RHS membership package. Membership includes unlimited entry to RHS gardens, discounts for show tickets, personalised advice, and entry to 200 partner gardens. The RHS magazine,The Garden, is worth the membership price alone. It is packed full of inspiring ideas and information. Written by experts we all trust. I always look forward to my copy, and it keeps me up to date with new plants, ideas for recycling, using less plastic in the garden and information on the latest research into plant diseases. It’s great to see The Garden magazine will be delivered in recyclable paper packaging instead of single-use plastic next spring.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/shop/special-offers/active-offers/rhs-gift-membership-offer

3. Support the Woodland Trust with a membership package. £48.

Explore 1,000 Woodland Trust woods. A walk in a wood lifts your mood and re-energises you. It will do you a power of good.

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/membership/

4. Membership for St Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital. £36.

We all rely on our wildlife, hedgehogs in particular, to help us combat slugs. This is a wonderful way to support wildlife and learn more about them.

https://www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk/top-navigation/help-us/membership.html

5. Join The Hardy Plant Society. £17 a year.

A great way to discover more about hardy plants, find like- minded gardeners and join in with events such as talks and slide shows, conservation and plant sales. There’s two issues of the The Hardy Plant magazine a year, free advice and a chance to take part in the free seed distribution scheme.

http://www.hardy-plant.org.uk/whyjoinus

6. Charles Dowding No-dig course. Various prices. Approx £150 a day.

Learn all about growing all kinds of vegetables and fruit, productively and with less effort. Charles has helped me to garden with a poorly back. I fractured my spine in a car crash 15 years ago. Without his advice, I would probably have had to give up my one acre garden. With his no-dig techniques, I have managed to keep on top of weeds, and grow all the fruit, veg and flowers I want to, without aggravating my spinal injuries.

I hope these last-minute suggestions have been useful. If not for Christmas, they make a lovely birthday present.

What’s the best course, or membership, you would recommend? Let me know so I can share your ideas too.

Coming up in the new year, I’ve been invited to try out some weekend holidays for gardeners. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’ll be taking my Mum with me, of course. Something to look forward to in 2019.

Tour of MrFothergill’s Seed Trial Grounds

Photo : Silene Blue Angel. New for 2018/19

Growing plants from seed is a passion for me. It’s an affordable way to bulk up annual, perennial and biennial displays in the garden. And each year I try something new, as well as sticking with tried and trusted old favourites.

Next spring, I’ll be adding Silene Blue Angel to my seed sowing plans. It’s one of the new varieties on offer at Mr Fothergill’s. And this week I was absolutely delighted to be invited to view the trial grounds at the company’s headquarters in Suffolk.

These are the plants that caught my eye. The silene was top of my list. A hardy annual, sown in March and planted out in early June. Plants form neat cushions 25cm tall. For a continuous display, I’ll sow a few seeds at two to three week intervals. I’m picturing drifts of electric blue flowers running through the borders and flowering all summer long.

Brachycome Blue Star is another new variety available for 2019. I’m going to partner it with this one I spotted from the Brachycome Blue/White Mix range. I’ve always loved any kind of daisy flower.

Regular readers know I also love sweet peas. I grow a range of heritage and modern varieties along a rather wonky hazel wigwam structure. Next year I will be adding new variety Capel Manor to the garden. It’s a pretty pinky blue and has a delicate, though not overpowering scent.

I always plant cosmos in the cut flower garden. They are easy to grow and provide flowers from early summer right through to the first frosts. I spotted this beautiful new white variety called Snow Puff. Bees seem to love cosmos, so that’s a bonus too. I’m always trying to find ways to help pollinators.

Here’s some photos of the trial grounds. It was fabulous to wander about amongst so many beautiful flowers, jotting down names for future planting plans. The scent in the heat of the day just added to the wow factor.

Mr Fothergill’s is celebrating its 40th anniversary. In May, the company won Product of the Year at RHS Chelsea for its new Optigrow range of seeds. Optigrow is a revolutionary non-chemical seed priming treatment that uses only water and air to get the seeds biologically ready for germination. I’ll be trying out some of the 19 vegetable varieties available – including tricky to grow parsnips- next spring. I’ll need to write another post about all the new vegetable varieties. There are quite a few I’ve made a note of. And there are many more new flower varieties. I’ve just picked out a few. I’ll definitely have to write another post soon….

Please share this via any social media you like, and don’t forget to say hello in the comments box below. Let me know what new seed you are planing to try out for the spring growing season. I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram.

Wordless Wednesday -Cosmos Snow Puff

I’ve had a wonderful day at the field trials ground at Mr Fothergill’s Seeds in Suffolk. This new cosmos caught my eye. Perfect for pollinators. More words to follow when I’ve recovered from the journey. I will be growing this and many other new seeds next spring.

Please feel free to share on social media, and say hello in the message box below.

#wordlesswednesday – RHS Chatsworth

Cosmos Razzmatazz. 12,000 of them!

This is the first mass planting at an RHS Flower Show. Cosmos, an annual daisy that hails from Mexico, is planted on a bank between Chatsworth House and the River Derwent. There will be two more mass plantings this summer; Verbena bonariensis at RHS Hampton Court and Rudbeckia Prairie Sun at RHS Tatton Park.

Packets of annual seeds are relatively inexpensive. They often contain hundreds of seeds. So you too could create your own “river of flowers.” Bees and butterflies love them too.

RHS Chatsworth is open until 10th June.

Visit to Bowood House and Gardens

My invitation read: “Come and visit Bowood’s famous spring planting; and Lord Lansdowne will lead a tour of his woodland garden.”

Who could resist such a missive. Not me! So I set off for Wiltshire- dreaming of camellias, magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas galore!

And what I found was one of the best spring gardens I’ve ever visited. Over two miles of paths meander through the 30 acre garden- set within a former quarry. A stream runs through the valley with banks of ferns, candelabra primroses and bluebells either side.

Now, I’ve been on these garden visits before, where tours are promised. The owner is often there for a welcoming reception- but then frequently hands over to staff for the tour itself. So I was surprised and pleased to see Lord Lansdowne standing by his offer and giving us a walking tour of his garden – and one that ran an hour longer than planned.

If you come to visit my garden, I’ll take you around, show you the tree I planted when we moved here, my favourite seat, my favourite shrub and the plants I inherited from my grandparents’ garden. To be honest, our visit to Bowood felt just like that; a keen gardener showing us around his plot – with all his favourite trees and shrubs and viewing points. As soon as we arrived, Lord Lansdowne pointed to a group of cornus dogwood trees and described them as his “pride and joy.” And then followed a chat about how difficult they are to grow, and how “wonderful” they look when the white bracts appear in spring. His enthusiasm is something we all share as gardeners. We nurture and plant something, and then stand back and admire it, and want to share that moment with fellow gardeners. It’s something I recognise and understand.

One thing I haven’t got though (ok, there’s no rolling acres and stately home either) is a rhododendron named after me. This one is Lord Lansdowne’s – it’s rather lovely, with peachy cream petals and pink buds.

I can see why this is one of his favourite views, looking out from the garden. We are standing on the mausoleum steps looking out across the tops of the rhododendrons through a gap in the trees.

Some of the rhododendrons are called Bowood Hybrids, and Lord Lansdowne showed us the nursery beds where his selected seedlings are planted. He said they could be sitting there for 10 years before he’d know if they were something special or not. Patience is obviously a virtue when you are growing new varieties like these.

I must admit, there were a dizzying array of variety names as we walked through the woods. I should have written them down, but I was just listening to the commentary and enjoying what turned out to be a most unusual and special day. I mean, how often can you report that you were meandering through the woods and suddenly there on the path is the celebrated plantsman Roy Lancaster!

Roy, who is writing about the gardens, stopped for a chat and joined our group for a photo. It was fascinating to hear the two friends talking, the Latin names flying back and forth. And later, we visited a patch called Roy’s Corner, where specimens brought back from Roy’s plant-finding expeditions are being nurtured. Altogether, it had been, a day like no other.

Bowood Woodland Garden opens from 28th April until early June. Check the website for details. http://www.bowood.org

No wonder the owner admits he spends every Saturday lunchtime having a picnic in the gardens. I think I would too.

Many thanks to the Garden Media Guild for organising this visit to Bowood. If you work in horticulture, you can become an associate member. Membership is open to anyone working in garden writing, broadcasting and photography. Probationary membership may also be available for new starters in the profession and there are training courses and mentoring schemes available.

Snowdrops and Botanical Art at Easton Walled Gardens @EWGardens

If you’ve never visited Easton Walled Gardens, you’ve got until 4pm tomorrow to view their stunning snowdrops. The gardens are open today and tomorrow 24/25th February, from 11am. And you are in for a treat. The winter displays have never looked better and feature snowdrops, iris, crocus, hellebores and masses of scented flowering shrubs.

I wrote about the history of Easton in a blog post last winter Here.

Here’s a gallery of photos I took earlier in the week.

If you are lucky, you will see kingfishers flying along the river. Such a special moment when you catch sight of that bright flash of blue feathers.

A favourite view of the stone bridge crossing from the meadow to the walled garden.

Always a poignant moment to stop and look at the ruins, all that remains of the mansion house that once stood on this site. New this year, there’s some marker stones set in the grass to show where the front door would have been.

We love the kokedama displays. Such an unusual and pretty way to display snowdrops.

I might try this idea, hanging basket kokedamas look spectacular in the gatehouse stone archway.

There are displays of little potted bulbs all around the gardens. This one is Iris Blue Note. The huge snowdrops are Comet.

Discovering secrets. How to dry and store seed, so that the mice can’t get at them. Easy when you know how.

There’s always something new to find at Easton. This year it’s a botanical art exhibition in the courtyard which runs until 11th March -on Easton’s usual opening days.

I loved this aconite. My camera phone doesn’t really do it justice.

The artists taking part are Norma Gregory, Dawn Wright and Sue Vize.

For more information go to www.visiteaston.co.uk .

Easton is just off the A1 near Grantham in Lincolnshire.

Ellicar Gardens -open for NGS 25th February @ellicargardens

There aren’t many invitations that start with the warning “beware of the goose!” But when Sarah Murch sent an e-mail inviting us to visit, she told us to sound our horn when we arrived. She would safely let us in past the goose.

Now, I had a very unfortunate experience with a gander some years ago. I only just managed to outrun him. They are surprisingly scary at full speed, with their necks out stretched and wings flapping. Not an experience I particularly wished to repeat.

But to be honest, we didn’t need to worry. The Ellicar garden goose was more concerned with guarding his “family” of adopted bantam chicks. But we gave him a very wide berth anyway.

The newly-hatched chicks and goose combination were just the start of what turned out to be a most surprising visit. We found a llama, goats, rare breed sheep, cows and two adorable rescue pigs. And they all clearly love their owner. They all come racing across the field as soon as they catch sight of Sarah.

This is Orlando, Sarah’s newest acquisition; a birthday present, she explains. Well, I’ve never met anyone who’s had a llama as a birthday present before, but I’m soon quite envious. I find myself enquiring exactly where one could obtain such a gorgeous creature, how much they eat, how much they cost…… I’m nearly ready to order one on the spot when I hear the coat can be brushed and fluff woven and knitted into jumpers! What a joy. We move swiftly on. Turning our thoughts to the gardens, around the corner, past the paddocks, is a sight of great beauty- a natural swimming pool.

The pool is frozen over when we visit, but Sarah explains the water is warm enough to swim in from March to November. The temperature is 17C in spring, and 20-26C in summer. The pool is naturally filtered and surrounded by grasses and willows that cast their reflections on the water. Sarah painted a lovely picture when she described swimming with kingfishers flying by, just above their heads.

The garden is planted with wildlife in mind and many of the perennials and shrubs provide nectar for bees and butterflies, and seeds for birds. Grasses are a special feature of the garden. At this time of the year, they look stunning, backlit by a sunset, which is when I took these photos.

The grasses include various stipa, silver feather grass Miscanthus Silberfeder, and feather reed grass Calamagrostis Overdam.

Seed heads shine amongst the colourful dogwoods and willows; eupatorium, aster and sedums in particular.

Coral bark willow, Salix Britzensis- pollarded to produce bright red stems- looks fabulous set against a background of white silver birches. They are underplanted with masses of emerging spring bulbs, including crocus, snowdrops, iris and narcissi.

We love this living willow “fedge” a cross between a fence and a hedge, with teasel heads in front. And there’s a children’s garden, with bug hotel, wild flower planting- and even a willow den.

Ellicar Gardens covers five acres and has been created over the past eight years by Sarah and her husband Will. The gardens open this Sunday February 25, 12-4pm for the NGS charity. There are other opening dates on the website. Adults £4.50, children free. Carr Road, Gringley-on-the- Hill, Doncaster, DN10 4SN. For more information : ngs.org.uk. Hodsock Priory is about 20 minutes drive away and the winter garden there is open until March 4th. Their last opening day is also in aid of the NGS.

Hodsock Priory .

Ellicar Gardens

Two happier pigs have never been seen! Just irresistible.

Garden Restoration Plans for Holme Pierrepont Hall

There’s nothing more cheerful than turning up at a favourite garden to find everyone happy and smiling. This week I visited Holme Pierrepont Hall to find the owners and gardeners busy with renovation plans. Funds from a Heritage Lottery grant and the Country Houses Foundation means work can start on restoring garden walls which date back to the 16th century.

The funding will also enable research into the site’s history. During my tour of the gardens, I learned the topiary courtyard once housed aviaries for tropical birds, and a monkey house in the centre. I can’t wait to see what else is revealed when historical documents are studied by experts.

Built in 1500, the hall is thought to be the oldest brick building in Nottinghamshire and is still lived in by descendants of the Pierrepont family. Three generations of the family live here now, Robin and Elizabeth, Robert and Charlotte and their children Oliver and Cicely. Elizabeth, whose great grandmother was Lady Mary Pierrepont, moved here in 1969 and undertook some major restoration work in the house and garden. Today, the new conservation work is being led by Robert and Charlotte. And their enthusiasm is catching. It’s easy to get caught up in the optimistic atmosphere at Holme Pierrepont. They love their home, and genuinely enjoy sharing it with visitors. It’s heartening to hear plans to open on more days in the future. Currently the house and garden opens Sunday to Wednesday, February and March, and Sundays in April, 2-5pm. (Closed Easter Sunday). New for this year, there’s additional garden open days in May and June. Dates and times are on the website http://www.holmepierreponthall.com

As well as the courtyard, the hall is famous for its Spring Walk, featuring daphne, hamamelis, rhododendrons and acers, underplanted with hellebores, primula and masses of early bulbs. To help visitors identify the varieties, a guide has been produced and new signs installed in the garden.

Scent is important in the garden and mature hamamelis and daphnes are fabulous at this time of the year. This one is Daphne Jacqueline Postill.

There are several Hamamelis planted alongside the pathways. Hamamelis mollis, Diana and Westerstede, (pictured below) among them. It’s good to have a guidebook and new signs to be able to identify them correctly.

Snowdrops, these pictured below, are Galanthus Sam Arnott, are looking spectacular at the moment in the spring garden, and also in the Woodland Walk.

New signs direct you through the old walled orchard and on to the woodland where there’s also large drifts of wild Tulipa Sylvestris. These have been growing in the grounds since the 17th century. They were apparently first planted in the main garden, and then seemingly “thrown out” in to the woodland – where they’ve thrived.

It’s a peaceful walk, amongst the Jacob sheep, now occupying the walled orchard. There’s a possibility in the future these kitchen gardens might be restored.

The old walls curve around the orchard at the back of the hall. So many layers of history in those beautiful red bricks. I’d love to know what the research reveals about them.

There’s a circular walk around the woods, which were opened up to visitors in 2011. You’ll find evidence the family’s young children enjoy this space. There’s various dens and piles of sticks and vegetation made into bug hotels and wildlife habitats.

It’s inspiring to meet the gardeners and volunteers ( pictured below) and all the other experts working on the restoration project. Their enthusiasm and obvious love for this special place is evident. I was pleased to hear students from Brooksby College will be involved in the scheme, and will be learning conservation brickwork skills. I’m in favour of passing traditional skills on to young people. And opportunities like this are all too scarce today.

Until 29th April, visitors can view an art exhibition at the hall, made possible by the new funding. There are paintings by the last Countess Manvers, Marie-Louise Pierrepont, and also a relative, Georgina Brackenbury. Georgina, a militant suffragette, is renowned for her painting of Emmeline Pankhurst which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London. You can learn more about the exhibition at http://www.holmepierreponthall.com/georgina-brackenbury/.

Many thanks to Robert and Charlotte for inviting me to visit the hall and for taking the time to explain the plans. It’s an exciting time ahead and I wish them all the very best with their conservation project, preserving the garden for future generations- and visitors as well.

Contact details: http://www.holmepierreponthall.com e.mail: rplb@holmpierreponthall.com Tell: 0115 9332371