Monthly Archives: January 2015

The best laid plans

 When I began working at The Farm in early January I was struck by the extent to which the gardens had been extensively planted, although the original schemes were not always clear a decade later. As I have been clearing ‘hedges’ which were obviously not originally intended to be hedges but shrub borders, I have discovered ‘remnant’ planting in unusual and unexpected places. Under the thicket of nettles which had erupted within a stand of hawthorn, Ceanothus and two rather lovely Ilex aquifolium, I found about a dozen Sedum spectabile. They had clearly flowered only last autumn, but their flower heads would have been lost amid the weeds and overgrown shrubs. Similarly, other shrub planting had clearly been underplanted with spring bulbs, some of which were still pushing bravely through – and can now, after my pruning of the shrubs, can see daylight. More importantly, the flowers stand a chance of being seen – and enjoyed – by my clients. The Sedums, I think, will be moved into the herbaceous borders where they will flourish more happily and give their customary late-summer boost.

In other cases the mixed deciduous shrub planting is extremely hard to identify, as all of them have been shaved-off at the same height and width for many years, so without leaves or form they become a homegeneous mass. Only a few snow-white berries still left after the autumn allowed me to positively name a couple of Symphoricarpos albus, for instance. Others will have to wait until leaves or blossom appear before I can properly christen them and determine their future. Some will have to go, as in many places there are simply too many plants. Those that remain will have old stems cut out over the next two or three years, and may achieve a new lease of life.

I have now been given a set of the original planting plans from almost 15 years ago. These tell a rather sorry story in the main, especially in the Walled Garden. Here there was extensive and varied planting, with herbaceous borders, wall-trained apple and pear trees, and large numbers of bulbs. Of 25 Santolina in one of the two main borders, only one remains; more than 20 Lavendula have also gone, and the remaining half dozen are woody, straggly specimens. Even allowing for natural wasteage, it is a shame to see so many plants (at today’s prices, by my reckoning, several thousand pounds’ worth) having been lost.

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However, dispiriting as it is to see the losses, there is also pleasure to be had from being to able to see what was there, and how things might be replanted. Sadly a lot of the shrub borders are marked only as containing unspecified ‘shrub mixes’, so the plans don’t help much there.

And, again, there are survivors. Some – like the many scattered clusters of Galanthus nivalis – have been here as long as the garden itself (which dates to the 1860s). 

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January’s almost over

We are nearly at the end of January, and the thing that’s most noticeable is the extra light! One month on from the Winter Solstice we are enjoying an hour more daylight. In the curious, lopsided way that time has, sunrise has crept forward by 16 minutes since December 21st, but sunset has already whisked itself back by three quarters of an hour. What a difference that makes. When I finished working at The Manor before Christmas I was having to start packing up at 4pm – now, as I write, it is almost 4.30pm and still plenty light enough to be working outside. Of course, it depends on the weather – a clear, bright day will keep the light going well, whereas a dull or wet, cloudy afternoon sometimes still feels as though it’s over at three.

And the light is not the only sign that the year has well and truly turned. Everywhere bulbs are coming through, and some – Snowdrops, Winter Aconites, a few brave Narcissi – are already in flower. Hellebores too are beginning to show their nodding flowers, and I have been busily cutting back the leaves on many Helleborus to allow a better view as the blooms appear. H.foetidus, being more upright, doesn’t need this treatment, but its more attractive, shier cousins do.

At The Farm I have been chiefly occupied in clearing hedge-bottoms, and thinning shrub planting which has become congested and top-heavy. I have adopted a mixed approach – taking some Cornus, for example, down very hard; whilst others have been less severely cut back. On these latter plants I have taken any dead or damaged stems out, and thinned the rest by about a third – over three years it will be possible to renew the plant without subjecting it to undue stress at any point.