Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. March.

I am a bit late with my bloom day which should be on the 15th of the month, but this week has been glorious and far too nice to be inside blogging. At last I can be outside all day long, enjoying the garden and my new She-Shed.

The sun has been shining and  each day the flowers are pumping out ever more colour. The first  Brimstone butterflies appeared yesterday. The butter yellow of these butterflies gave us the name butterfly. Bees are  buzzing everywhere and so am I; buzzing with  delight as I notice ever more beautiful spring blooms. There are jolly daffodils and these bright red tulips which raise the spirits.

Tulipa ‘Duc van Tol’

I prefer dainty little narcissus and I didn’ t plant these big King Alfred daffs , but they make a show here and in the orchard.

Narcissus ‘King Alfred’

But these cheerful blooms don’ t make the heart beat faster. It is the tiny less showy plants that excite me. The little corydalis which seed into carpets of pink and mauve or even white.

Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’

Corydalis malkensis

Corydalis chelianthifolia has lovely fresh fern-like foliage.

Corydalis cheilanthifolia

The first delicate flowers have appeared on the Pasque flowers Pulsatilla vulgaris.

 

 

The wonderful scents of March blooms are delicious. The vanilla scent of the tiny flowers of Azara microphylla drifts round the garden on the slightest breeze. The flowers are so tiny but the fragrance carries everywhere.

Azara microphylla

Sweet violets are invasive but I allow banks of them to flourish in the wilder parts of the garden so that I can catch that elusive scent. Violets release the chemical ionone which binds to the scent receptors in the nose and then shuts them down so you only get a tantalising whiff. Shakespeare knew all about this, he compared them to music in the Winter’ s Tale: ‘...the sweet sound that plays upon a bank of violets; stealing and giving odour’. I love violets and have  them in shades of pink, mauve, white and even apricot.

Hyacinths that have been in pots over the last years are dotted around the garden and add to the delicious scents.

The Japanese Apricot is still beautifully fragrant and although Daphne bholua ‘Jaqueline Postill’ is going over, Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is looking and smelling wonderful.

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

Clematis ‘Freckles’has been blooming all winter and now it is joined by the pure white flowers of Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’ which are sweetly scented.

Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’

I wouldn’t be without  Prunus ‘Kursar’ because its dainty dark pink blossoms always appear in March and early blooms are extra welcome.

Prunus ‘Kursar’

Other trees and shrubs in bloom now are Cornus mas with yellow tufts of flowers-

Cornus mas

Stachyurus praecox with its strings of primrose- coloured, bead-like flowers.

Stachyrus praecox

Camellias are blooming now too.

In the greenhouse the apricot tree is in bloom and I hope the bees are finding their way in or I shall have to do the job of ensuring plenty of apricots myself, with a little brush.

Apricot blossom

I refuse to believe that I can’t grow a plant until I have killed it three times. I am not sure if this is my third or fourth attempt to grow the lovely Edgeworthia chrysantha, but this one has survived the winter and is looking good, so I hope I have cracked it.

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Hellebores have been blooming for weeks and they seed around happily in my garden. I have read that you shouldn’t let them seed because the specials become diluted and they all end up wishy-washy. I like drifts of them all over the garden and I think they are all lovely, so I am happy to let the bees get to work and surprise me with the result of the marriages that they arranged.

I think the bird bath is a good way to display their pretty faces. They range in colour from slate to yellow; there  are doubles, anemone-flowered ones and picotees with a red edge to the petals. I love them all.


In my February Bloom Day post I promised I wouldn’t mention snowdrops any more, after all they are all finished now by the middle of March. Or are they? Actually Galanthus plicatus is looking great, it always is the last to bloom and it is one of my favourites.

Galanthus plicatus

Another late flowering plicatus was a gift from my lovely friend, Janet who was given it by her friend, Beth Chatto. She can’t remember its name but it is a little beauty with huge flowers on short stems.

Another March favourite is the primrose, but if we start on primroses we will be here all day so I will save then for a separate post. And so here are just a few other March delights in my belated offering for Carol’s meme, Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day over at
MayDreamGardens.

 

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Bring Back the Birch.

When we moved here a little over six years ago, to my delight there was a little grove of mature birch trees at the bottom of the garden.  Alas, I think they were a little too mature and already showing signs of senile decay. Most years we have lost at least one. Last year we were down to seven trees as you see in the photo below. Now after storm Doris we are down to just five.

The trees have squatters in spring. Some years blue tits nest here. I hear them tapping away customising the holes.


Birch trees don’t live a long time but it doesn’t help if they get too near to the bonfire, as you can see the next one is scorched.  To be fair, the bonfire got too near to the tree. I am looking at you, dear Pianist, maker of big bonfires. Woodpeckers find the bark full of tasty morsels. You can see where they have been drilling.
In summer we get flights of little long tailed tits chattering away as they look for seeds.  Actually, I just found out that the collective name for a group of long tailed tits is a ‘zephyr’. Sometimes we get siskins too. The pretty toadstool Amaninta muscaria; Fly Agaric  appears round the roots of the trees in autumn some years for any passing elves to enjoy.


In an ideal world I would love to have a grove of birch trees like the peerless one at Anglesey Abbey below.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful? I can’t aspire to this, but I can’t bear to be without birch trees and so I decided to buy some new ones. Obviously not quite as many as in the photo above. I  was lucky to find them at a reasonable price at a tree wholesale nursery. They were the last of the bare root Betula jacquemontii and so they were half price. £12.50!  There were only five of them but it is a start, I hope to get some more in the autumn.

As they mature they will get lovely milk- white bark. There are several beautiful hybrids of the Himalayan White Birch, Betula jacquemontii. ‘Silver Shadow’, ‘Jermyns’ and ‘Grayswood Ghost’ are all stunning. But I am quite happy with my ordinary ones. When they mature they will gradually become snowy -white ghost trees. Some of the lower  branches need to come off, but I shall have to wait until autumn now. If you cut birches in spring or summer, they bleed sap.  As the tree matures, pieces of papery bark hang loosely from the trunk. I understand you shouldn’t peel them, but sometimes it is quite impossible to resist.

There are other gorgeous birches as well as the snow white ones, although the bare outline of Betula jacquemontii against a blue sky in March takes a lot of beating.

I love the buff coloured Betula ermanii  too. Years ago at the Cambridge Botanical garden I fell for this amazing specimen of Betula albo-sinensis septentrionalis which is  a gorgeous mixture of coppery pink, red, buff and orange. I love it so much that I have planted one in my winter garden. To get a multi- stemmed tree like this, you have to be very brave and chop your new tree down. I haven’t the courage for this. You can get a similar effect by planting two trees in one hole. Or you can buy them already trained as multi-stemmed trees but they are very expensive.

Betula albo-sinensis septrionalis

Another mature birch tree in my garden is a lovely specimen of the warty tree Betula pendula. The synomyn of this tree is Betula verrucosa.  I have shown you my verruca tree before but here it is again.

 

Betula pendula in summer (Tree on the right.)

Before I moved here I used to have a lovely group of birches and every year I scrubbed them to get rid of the algae. It’s best to do this when there is nobody about; if people catch you doing it, they give you funny looks, specially if your kitchen floor is less than pristine.  I planted these trees in a circle and eventually their branches joined together. I had no plants in the circle, just gravel and in the middle there was a  huge stone to sit on.

Here, I  will plant them quite close together like the ones at Anglesey Abbey. I might underplant them with pure white Narcissus ‘Thalia’  Maybe I will even risk chopping one down in the hopes of getting a multi-stemmed tree.

There is a Chinese saying; ‘The best time to plant trees is twenty years ago. The second best time is now’. So I had better get going.

 

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In a Vase on Monday. Golden Trumpets, Heralds of Spring.

‘Daffodils,
which come before the swallow dares and take
the winds of March with beauty.’      

The Winter’s Tale.  William  Shakespeare.

The first of the little daffodils which flower in early March are particularly welcome now as winter releases its grip. At this time of the year, you can get a bunch of flowers at the supermarket very cheaply, but the ones you pick out of the garden are far more precious.
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The largest daffodil blooms I have picked are Narcissus ‘Rijnveld Early Sensation.’ which is the one to grow if you want daffodils in January. But not this year, they are still blooming now in March. ‘Spring Dawn’ on the left is is usually a bit later in February.

Narcissus 'Spring Dawn. Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'

Narcissus ‘Spring Dawn’. Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’

The lovely little wild daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus seeds around prolifically and soon makes carpets. These are the ones which inspired Wordsworth.

Narcissus pseudonarcisissus seedlings.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus seedlings.

Narcisssus pseudonarcissus

Narcisssus pseudonarcissus

I also picked Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ which has orange trumpets.
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‘Topolino’  is in there somewhere, it is very similar to Narcissus pseudonarcissus.

Narcisssus 'Topolino'

Narcisssus ‘Topolino’

Narcissus ‘February Gold’ is another early one, although it often doesn’t actually bloom in February.

Narcissus 'February Gold'

Narcissus ‘February Gold’

 

Narcissus 'February Gold'

Narcissus ‘February Gold’

You can get the pretty little Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête anywhere and it is as cheap as chips. It is worth growing though as it is so easy and long-lasting.

Narcissus 'Tete-a-tete

Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete

With the daffodils I used some red Cornus and two different types of fluffy willow; the black claws of Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’ and the dainty little bunny tails of Salix purpurea ‘Nancy Saunders’. This is a lovely elegant salix with red stems and pretty silvery leaves.

Salix gracilysta 'Melanostachys'

Salix graciliysta ‘Melanostachys’

Salix purpurea 'Nancy Saunders' and Cornus alba 'Sibirica'

Salix purpurea ‘Nancy Saunders’ and Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’

The only early daffodil I haven’t included  is Narcissus minor ‘Cedric Morris’ which is still going strong. It is too precious to pick though.

Narcisssus minor 'Cedric Morris'

Narcisssus minor ‘Cedric Morris’

Soon all the other daffodils will be blooming too, many of them are in bud. But these early harbingers of spring in my vase are extra special. We need all the harbingers we can get at the moment with constant showers and a bitter wind.

Do pop over to Ramblinginthegarden. Cathy hosts the meme of ‘In a Vase on Monday’ and encourages us to see what we can find to pick in our gardens even on a day like today when the March wind feels particularly spiteful.

‘Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair’.  Khalil Gibran.   Not today, I’m afraid Khalil. I’ve slipped in the mud already and I’m having a really bad hair day after picking these daffs.

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February Blooms.

I missed GBBD this year which is on the 15th of the month. But I can’t let the month go by without celebrating some of the prettiest and most fragrant blooms of the year. The best, the most gorgeous, the most fragrant, the most exquisite, plus all the superlatives you can think of, is the queen of the garden, Daphne bholua  ‘Jacqueline Postill’. The scent all around her would make you swoon.

Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill'

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’

There are other winter- flowering daphnes, for instance Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ smells divine too. But it doesn’t  have the masses of flowers that Jacqueline sports  and it is a low growing shrub whereas Jacqueline grows to from 6 to 12 foot tall; mine is about 6 foot at the moment and I worship every inch of her. The only drawback to these aristocrats of the garden is that they can suffer from sudden and inexplicable death.

Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata'

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

There is even a little native  woodland daphne which crops up all over my garden uninvited. I allow it to stay though because it is useful for shade, it has glossy, evergreen leaves and pretty little flowers in winter.

Daphne laureola

Daphne laureola

I have been excessive in my praise of ‘Jaqueline Postill’, but I  also  have a gorgeous, small, February-flowering tree which is expensive, but well worth breaking into the piggy bank for. It is stunning with dark carmine-pink, fragrant blossom. It is the Japanese Apricot, Prunus mume ‘Beni-chidori’.

Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori'

Prunus mume ‘Beni-chidori’

Whilst we are talking about winter -flowering trees I have to include the daintyflowered Prunus subhirtella autumnalis ‘Rosea’ which is a bit of a mouthful for such a prettily uncomplicated flower. It is very long-lasting and I much prefer it to the blowsy, pink- knicker blooms of the spring-flowering cherry trees such as the awful ‘Kanzan’

Prunus autumnalis subhirtella 'Rosea' with Viburnum bodnantense

Prunus autumnalis subhirtella ‘Rosea’ a perfect match for Viburnum bodnantense

There are lovely shrubs in bloom now too. Most  of us have the fragrant winter -flowering honeysuckle. I have several including this Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’.

Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty'

Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’

In my eyes, even more beautiful, is the rather rare, Lonicera elisae. It has long, tubular flowers which are just tinged with pink.

Lonicera elisae

Lonicera elisae

 

Lonicera elisae

Lonicera elisae

Many of the Witch Hazels which delighted us through the winter have finished flowering now. For some reason my Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ which should be long gone, is very late blooming this year, so I still have the pleasure of its lovely primrose yellow flowers.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Pallida'

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ is always the last one to bloom and it extends the witch hazel season .

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise'

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’

Catkins are looking lovely at the moment. I have a lovely black salix which  has red -anthered black catkins which start off looking like black claws. It is called Salix melanostachys.

Saalix melanostachys with Abies koreana

Salix melanostachys with Abies koreana

All the winter-flowering beauties  got off to a slow start this year. The diminutive, but perfectly formed Narcissus minor ‘Cedric Morris’ is often in bloom for Christmas, or early January at the latest. This year it waited until early February and is still looking lovely now.

Narcisssus minor 'Cedric Morris'

Narcissus minor ‘Cedric Morris’

As it is so late, it is overlapping with early  daffs such as  the January-flowering ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’.

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'

Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’

Pretty little ‘Spring Dawn’ is always early  in February.

Narcissus 'Spring Dawn'

Narcissus ‘Spring Dawn’

As it is February I have to mention the ‘S’ word, but I will try and make it snappy as I know plenty of bloggers think snowdrops are quite pretty, but basically, just little white bells which are best looked at en masse, rather than brooded over obsessively. Even as a galanthophile I think there are too many introductions that are so similar that you need a magnifying glass to tell them apart. If you grow plenty of Galanthus elwesii you will find plenty of variations. Even the common Galanthus nivalis has significant variations. As my garden is very old, I have carpets of snowdrops. Amongst the nivalis I have found a diminutive one with a long bent pedicle like a small ‘Magnet’ and I have found some with green on the outer petals which look a variety of viridipice’. I even have a green tipped one with long bunny ears like Galanthus sharlockii.

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OK, stop yawning at the back there, I will just show you some really distinctive ones and then we will say no more about them until next year.

Being a total snowdrop anorak, I have a lot of Greatorex doubles, but to be honest those Shakespearean heroines and their chums all look alike. My favourite is ‘Washfield Titania’ which came from Elizabeth Strangman’s wonderful nursery.

Galanthus 'Washfield Titania'

Galanthus ‘Washfield Titania’

There are some lovely yellow snowdrops, that is ones with yellow ovaries and markings. My favourites are  ‘Madelaine,’ ‘Wendy’s Gold’ and ‘Spindlestone Surprise’

Galanthus 'Wendy's Gold'

Galanthus ‘Madelaine’

Galanthus 'Spindlestone Surprise'

Galanthus ‘Spindlestone Surprise’

Some snowdrops have very distinctive markings, like Galanthus ‘Two Eyes’.

Galanthus 'Two Eyes'

Galanthus ‘Two Eyes’

‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Little John’ both have a distinctive cross.

Galanthus 'Robin Hood'

Galanthus ‘Robin Hood’

And then there are the coveted snowdrops with green markings on their petals. I have ‘Trymlet’ and ‘Corrin’.

Most of the Galanthus plicatus hybrids are late flowering and so still to come. One that blooms now is the delightful ‘Augustus’, named after E.A.Bowles. It has lovely plump flowers.

Galanthus plicatus 'Augustus'

Galanthus plicatus ‘Augustus’

For plump snowdrop flowers, they don’t come any plumper than ‘Diggory’. I just love the unmistakable Diggory with his seersucker petals. For all those of you who think all snowdrops look alike, just look at him.

Galanthus 'Diggory'

Galanthus ‘Diggory’

Another snowdrop which is quite distinctive and soon spreads to make lovely carpets is Galanthus woronowii, it has shiny, apple green leaves.

Galanthus woronowii

Galanthus woronowii

Right, enough with the snowdrops, I have delighted you long  enough, as you might remember Mr Bennet saying to his daughter Mary, when she showed no sign of stopping playing the piano any time that day, in Pride and Prejudice. Like Mary, I could go and on about snowdrops, but I won’t.

But I will just mention lovely Leucojum vernum which looks a bit like a snowdrop but isn’t. The flowers are like little lampshades or pixie hats if you have a whimsical turn of mind. The tips of the flowers are green.

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You can get one with yellow tips called Leucojum vernum var. carpathicum. If you look carefully at the next picture you will see that some of the flowers are pure white with no colour on the tips at all. I found one single flower like this and grew it on. I shall weed out the ones with  slight colour on their tips and hopefully I will soon have a sizeable clump of pure white ones.

Leucojum vernum

Leucojum vernum

 

I haven’t even started on the hellebores. And believe me, I am a hellebore bore. But I will spare you the commentary, I will just make a gallery of some of them.


The weather has been awful this month apart from a couple of warm days. We have had wind and rain and Storm Doris petulantly throwing my fences and birch trees about.

dsc_0231There have been days when I haven’t felt like going into the garden. But whatever the weather the blooms of February are a constant source of delight. The aconites are beginning to go over now but they are being replaced by ever more crocuses opening up. Little reticulated irises and Cyclamen coum are everywhere. I think another gallery will show them off best.


I will finish with some views of the winter garden whilst it is still winter. I made this garden two years ago and it’s jut beginning to mature.

 

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In a Vase on Monday. Tribute to Constance Spry.

I have  been reading a great biography of the wonderful Constance Spry who was an amazingly innovative flower arranger. Fans of  In a Vase on Monday owe her a great debt. She was the first one to browse the hedgerows and to use wild flowers, seed heads, fruit and vegetables in her  arrangements. Beverley Nichols adored her. This is what he said in the foreword to her book: How to do the Flowers:

To do a Constance Sprymeans standing before a bed of hydrangeas, when summer has fled, and seeing beauty in their pallid, parchment blossoms. It means suddenly stopping in a country lane, and noting for the first time a scarlet cadenza of berries, and fitting it in one’s mind’s eye, into a pewter vase against a white wall. It means bouts with brambles, flirtations with ferns, and carnivals with cabbages’. 

Yes, she even used cabbages or rhubarb leaves. There was great controversy when she made an arrangement using just kale, nobody had done such a thing before.  Here it is, I think it looks lovely.

Kale. Constance spry

Kale. Constance Spry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So here is my first vase in homage to Constance. I cheated a bit and used two kinds of Kale; Cavello nero and Pentland Brig , an heirloom variety which is delicious, so we can eat this arrangement tomorrow. In the meantime we have friends coming round this evening and I am interested to see their reaction to a vase full of vegetables.

Kale. Chloris

Kale. Chloris

Constance Spry was an incredibly energetic lady, she built up a successful shop and flower arranging business and did the flowers for the rich and famous. She was the darling of the gilded hedonists  of the 1930’s who spent vast fortunes on flowers. She even managed to keep going in the more austere war years. She did the flowers for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and as a result she was out of royal favour for a while, but eventually she was forgiven and did the flowers for the Queen’s wedding. After the war, she ran a school for young ladies to learn how to cook and do the flowers and she even found time to write books.

Page for How to do the Flowers. Constance Spry. 1953

Page from How to do the Flowers. Constance Spry. 1953

My mother was a keen flower arranger and very good at it. She was very much influenced by Constance.  She had most of her books and several Constance Spry vases. I can see her now, prowling round  the garden with the secateurs at the ready, quite unaware of my father’s scowl as he watched his precious blooms being picked. My image of my father is bent over his flower beds, bottom in the air. If you came into my garden you would find me in the same pose as my father.

The vases Constance Spry designed were made by Fulham Pottery and if you look on eBay you will see that they go for silly prices. I wish I still had the ones my mother collected. In the 1930’s there was a craze for wall vases and Constance did many arrangements featuring these. You never see them now. I have an old French Quimper one. I have never used it before but  I filled it with foliage for this post and I am pleased with the result. I used the leaves of Euonymus and Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ and the long green tassels of Garrya elliptica. I am very fond of ivy and have quite a few different ones although I can’t remember their names apart from ‘Goldheart’. The only flower I used is the green, native Helleborus foetidus which pops up everywhere in my garden.

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dsc_1137Constance Spry died in 1960. In 2004, there was an exhibition celebrating her work at the Museum of Design. Two of the directors,  Sir Terence Conran, the furniture man  and George Dyson, creator of overpriced vacuum cleaners, threatened to resign in protest.  Conran  referred disparagingly to her ‘high-society mimsiness’.  She might have mixed with high society and  she always wore a pretty hat; she might have run a finishing school for over-privileged debs, but she made flower arranging into an art form and one that can be enjoyed by everyone. And for those of us who love old-fashioned roses she was one of the first to seek them out and champion them. The rosarian, Graham Stuart Thomas went to her for advice when he was designing the rose garden at Mottisfont Abbey.

Actually, if you read Sue Shephard’s biography ‘The Surprising Life of Constance Spry’ you will find out that Constance wasn’t so ‘mimsy’ after all. Divorce, adultery and living ‘in sin’ were considered outrageous in the 1930’s and Constance was not even married to Shav Spry as he was married to someone else. Nobody knew though. And starting in 1932, she had a four- year intense relationship with the artist, Hannah Gluckstein, who insisted on being called simply Gluck.

Gluck

Gluck

They met when Gluck painted an arrangement of white flowers that she ordered from the Constance Spry shop.The painting took so long that the flowers had to be changed and rearranged over and over again for weeks. Constance was intrigued and went to meet Gluck. She loved the painting which was eventually finished and called Chromatic and the two quickly became close. White interiors were all the rage in the 30’s. People were rebelling against the stuffy, over-furnished rooms of their parents.  Beverley Nichols wrote with delight about his whitewashed room in his book, A Thatched Cottage. Somerset Maugham’s wife, Syrie was an interior designer and she adopted white walls and furnishings in her own home and for many high society customers. Constance introduced Gluck to her friends who immediately commissioned paintings of white flowers from her. So in homage to the 30’s mania for pure white I have produced my next vase. I used my pure white Furstenberg vase and ordinary Galanthus nivalis. I can’t bear to pick my specials, although I did add a couple of Ginn’s Imperatii which smells of almonds.

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Apart from her white flowers Gluck was a fine artist. Whilst I was writing this I wondered whether there are any of her paintings in galleries. She was so slow that she didn’t paint a great many pictures. What a coincidence; I found there is a retrospective exhibition of her work at the Fine Art Society, New Bond Street, London this month which runs until the 28th February. I shall be going up to see it. If you are interested there is a good biography by Diana Souhami called Gluck.

Well this is my contribution to Cathy’s great meme In a Vase on Monday. As usual, I can’t seem to cut a long story short.  My followers will probably know by now that I can’t resist a story, specially if it is spiced with a bit of gossip.

Do pop over to Ramblinginthegarden and see what everyone else is putting in their vases.

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The Gingerbread House.

Grayson Perry’s ‘A House for Essex’ has been likened to a gingerbread house. I’d say it looks more like  a cross between the Taj Mahal and a Victorian public convenience.

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On a dull January day when the ground was frozen too solid to work and I had finished examining each little shoot of every bulb and counted all the green spots on my snowdrops, we set off in the car and ended up over the border in Essex. The general feeling about Essex, in Suffolk where I live is- ‘There be dragons’ *, but I am fearless in my quest to find something new to entertain my blogging friends and also, my brother-in-law, who is an artist was staying with us and he was keen to see it. So off we went.

The house is one of five created for Alain de Botton’ s scheme, Living Architecture in collaboration with Charles Holland of  the London based architectures FAT.  His idea is to allow people to stay in houses designed by architects and artists. The House for Essex is so popular that you have to enter a ballot to get a chance to stay here. If you win you have to pay at least £850 for two nights and a lot more at weekends.

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The tiny village of Wrabness on the  muddy banks of the river Stour is not the sort of place you expect to see a shrine to the butt of hundreds of ‘Essex Girl’ jokes. The definition in the Oxford dictionary for ‘Essex Girl’ is far from flattering and indeed there is a petition to have it removed. Actually, it is appalling that this awful stereotype of the  dumb, promiscuous  peroxide-blonde,  is perpetuated in a dictionary. But Grayson Perry who is an Essex boy himself, celebrates the life of his fictional Essex girl, Julie May Cope; indeed she is shown here as the divine female.

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The story of her life and rise from a deprived background in Canvey  Island, her two marriages and death under the wheels of a take-away delivery moped is dramatised in tiles and inside on huge tapestries. There is a room devoted to both of her marriages and the deadly moped is hanging from the ceiling as a bizarre sort of chandelier.

There are four descending parts to the building  and it has been compared to Russian dollies, fitting one into the other.

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The roof is made of shining copper and there are about 2000 , olive green and white ceramic  tiles.  The symbols are the Essex shield, a  large swirly J for Julie, safety pins, cassette tapes, hearts and  wheels. Julie  is depicted as  a naked, pregnant woman with her arms raised in a hieratic quasi-religious gesture.

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This year the House for Essex has been nominated for the Meis van der Rohe award which is the highest accolade in European architecture. I am  not sure what to make of it. Perry admits that it is absolutely ‘bonkers’ and indeed it is. But the idea of a folly is not a new one. Indeed there is Freston Tower on the other side of the river which is a six storey Tudor folly. And at Pentlow, not too far away there is a seventy foot tall, Victorian tower built by a Vicar in 1859 because his parents liked that particular spot.  So the House for Essex carries on a tradition of eccentricity.

Pentlow Tower, Essex

Pentlow Tower, Essex

Eccentric it is and great fun, but is it art? That is a thorny question. Grayson Perry is the cross-dressing, self-publicising,  former winner of the Turner prize. In 2013,  he produced the four Reith lectures with typical flamboyance, dressed up in an astonishing frock and  heavy make-up which made him look like a cross between Dame Edna Everage and Little Bo-Peep. The title of the book he has written on the same theme as the lectures is appropriately called ‘Playing to the Gallery’.   He asked all the right questions about art- ‘What is good art and who decides?  But he failed to really answer them. He was too concerned with making the fawning audience laugh with one-liner gags. He is right that critics, curators, dealers and gallery owners are the arbiters of taste in art, but this  is not a new idea. It was addressed  in far more depth  by  Arthur Danto in two great books, ‘What Art is’ and  my favourite, ‘Beyond the Brillo Pad’. Perry is critical of the rise of curators and  awful arty jargon and the fact that art is big business . Ironically, it was the incredibly influential Saatchi who first made Perry famous.  Now he is very popular and at this rate he will soon be a ‘national treasure’. I am not sure why. I like his ceramic pots, some of them are beautiful, but I wish he didn’t have to make them ‘edgy’ and try to ‘push the boundaries’ in the words of these tiresome, arty clichés, by painting  obscene pictures on them. Some of them even have rude words written on them, which makes him seem like a naughty little boy trying to shock.

But enough about potty-mouthed potters, this is a gardening blog and it should be snowdrop time. The snowdrops are opening painfully slowly this year. In fact as the Pianist pointed out they should be renamed ‘Slowdrops’. ‘Three Ships’, ‘Faringdon Double’ and ‘Mrs. Macnamara’ have been going strong for ages and now at last  gradually, they are joined by buds on quite a few of the others. So soon I hope there will be more to show you.

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* I was joking about the dragons.  Actually, I love parts of Essex, specially the estuaries, and what John Betjeman called the ‘level wastes of sucking mud‘ are hauntingly beautiful.
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There are also beautiful rural parts which Betjeman described as:

The deepest Essex few explore
Where steepest thatch is sunk in flowers
And out of elm and sycamore
Rise flinty, fifteenth-century towers. ‘

He is talking about the the Essex he found in an Edwardian picture book but not much has changed, apart from the total disappearance of the majestic elm trees.

 

 

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In a Vase on Monday. Scentsation.

Goodness, it’s cold. Every day we wake up to a frozen garden. The snowdrops are hanging their fragile little heads and looking so limp and dejected. Last January I filled  a vase with different snowdrops on the the 25th; winter blooms were abundant.  This year they are coming into bloom far too slowly and I am getting impatient, specially for the wonderful  scents which make a winter’s day so magical.

So this week, although some of them are still only in bud,  I have filled a little Chinese vase with some sprigs of the most fragrant winter bloomers. It seemed appropriate as most of them come from China. The lichen is there because I like lichen, it’s such a lovely shade of green and we need green in January.

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Trying to decide which is my favourite scent is difficult as they are all gorgeous. I think probably Daphne bhloua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is the winner. I have it by my front door and it stops visitors in their tracks. The pink  buds are just beginning to open.

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Next, a close second, comes Chimonathus praecox with yellow, waxy claw- like flowers with maroon centres. The common name ‘Wintersweet’ is very apt. It has a delicious spicy fragrance.

Coming in at number three is Sarcococca confusa , it spreads its scent far and wide around the garden on a sunny day. It is spicy and exotic. It is on the right of the above picture. It  has shiny evergreen leaves.

Number four is the gorgeous witch hazel, Hamamelis x media ‘Vesna’. It would have a higher rating if it was a little more generous with its sweet fragrance. You can only detect it when it is brought into the warmth.

 

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I keep showing Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ and its pretty, primrose- yellow racemes are still going strong. Mahonia ‘Charity’ has finished blooming, but this one will take us through the winter until in early spring, Mahonia japonica, the sweetest smelling of all the mahonias will be in bloom.

The winter scented viburnums are good value and even though we have had hard frosts the flowers haven’t gone brown this year. I think it is because this one, Viburnum bodnantense‘ Charles Lamont’ is sheltered by the huge walnut tree.
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I have added a couple of buds of fragrant flowers which I hope will open in water. The winter honeysuckle Lonicera standishii is beautifully fragrant but frustratingly the buds are still tightly closed. Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ has pretty pink buds and when they open they smell delicious. On the left in the photo below, you can just make out my last fragrant flower. It is the  delicate, primrose, pea-shaped bloom of  Coronilla glauca ‘Citrina’.dsc_1066

For foliage I have used the variegated leaves of Pittospermum tenufolium ‘Irene Paterson’. I have added a couple of sprigs of catkins from a birch tree and that is my fragrant vase complete. Already the warmth of the room is bringing out the scents. Delicious!
Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden has decided to enjoy some fragrance this week. And her Lonicera standishii bloom has unfurled, unlike mine. Thank you Cathy, for hosting.

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Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. January.

In this cold,  two- faced month of snow, ice and gales, my infatuation with my garden always dissolves. Other bloggers show beautiful scenes of pure white snow. I hate the stuff. And then there are exquisite shots of seedheads rimed with hoar frost. We have had more hoar frost than usual this winter, but it is always accompanied by freezing fog. The sight of all that chilly dankness has me hurrying back under the duvet.

All year round I see the garden through rose- coloured spectacles and love it passionately. But in January, it’ s as though, if it were a man I would wake up from my infatuation and suddenly notice unwashed straggly hair, blackheads, nasal hair, a vulgar shirt, a tie with egg on it and the noisy slurping of soup. That’ s how my garden seems to me right now; thoroughly unkempt, a bit like Les Patterson. But still, the 15th is Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day so I have been prowling round to see if I can find any blooms to rekindle my love affair with  the garden.

If anything can work the magic it is the  spidery flowers of Witch Hazel. They prefer acid soil but if you can provide plenty of moisture they will cope with neutral soil, but they must not be too wet in winter. They really require that well- known horticultural oxymoron ‘moist but well drained soil’.  Last year was very dry, so some of them are not as floriferous as they could be. But still they are lovely. I am still waiting for the primrose yellow ‘Pallida’ and  last of all, the darker yellow ‘Arnold’s Promise’ to open.  But to be going on with,  Hamemelis x intermedia  ‘Vesna’ named after the ancient Slavic goddess of spring is one of my favourites. It also has glorious autumn foliage.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Vesna'

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Vesna’

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘ Livia’  has lovely wine- red flowers.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Livia'.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Livia’.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ has gorgeous coppery orange flowers.

Hamamelis x intermedia Jelena'

Hamamelis x intermedia Jelena’

Cathy at ramblinginthegarden blog clearly adheres to the philosophy that a  girl can never have too many Witch Hazels. I think she is right and what could be more cheering than a trip to find yet one more? I think it should be an annual January event. They are grafted so they are expensive, but still they are cheaper than the Xmas tree which I threw out after a week. The trip home with one in the car is blissful as the warmth  brings out the gorgeous fragrance. My find this year is the stunning Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Peel’. It even smells vaguely of marmalade. Now can you get any more orangey than that?

Hamamelis intermedia 'Orange Peel'

Hamamelis intermedia ‘Orange Peel’

I haven’t planted it yet. I was going to put it behind this evergreen Sarcococca confusa with its gorgeously fragrant little cream flowers and shiny green leaves.

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But then I realised the obvious place for it is with the orangey  grass  Anemanthele lessiana.

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I love sarcococcas with their spicy fragrance which spreads round the garden. Ideally I would like a hedge of it like the one lining the path from the car park at Anglesey Abbey.  I have three plants of Sarcococca confusa which makes quite a large shrub. Sarcococca  hookkeriana var. digyna is my favourite. It makes a small bush and the leaves are finer.  The flowers are touched with pink. These plants like shade. The only problem with them is remembering how many o’s and c’s they have. Personally, I think 4 c’s is a bit excessive.

Sarcococca humilis var. digyna

Sarcococca humilis var. digyna

Another plant worth getting out of bed for in January is the Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox. This amazing shrub comes from China. In January it produces claw- like yellow flowers with maroon centres on its bare branches. Sometimes, as in the plant in Cambridge Botanical Gardens, the flowers are pale cream or almost white.  The spicy scent is exquisite and one small twig of it will fill a room with the most delicious fragrance. It needs the warmth of a south wall to produce an abundance of blooms. I know many people are reluctant to give it such a privileged position as it is so dull in summer. I grow a  Clematis viticella up it for summer interest. There are plenty of  other flowers to enchant us in summer but nothing like chimonanthus to cheer up the gloomiest time of the year. I grew mine from seed but I don’ t recommend this. It grows readily from seed but it takes at least 7 or 8 years to bloom. Mine is about 18 years old now. When I dug it up to bring it here it sulked for about 3 years and refused to flower but now it is back to its full glory.

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I also have Chimonanthus praecox ‘Grandiflorus’ which has larger flowers but I don’t think it is as fragrant.

Mahonia ‘Winter Sun is still going strong.

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'

Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’

And the pink flowers of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’ look good.

Viburnum bodnantense 'Charles Lamont'

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’

The flowers of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ are a darker pink.

Viburnum bodnantense ''Dawn'

Viburnum bodnantense ”Dawn’

Much as I dislike January, I think February is an absolute delight and it will soon be here. The late afternoons will be  light, the birds will be singing and there will be so many early spring blooms to delight us. February is Hellebore Heaven and galanthophiles like me can indulge our strange obsession. To keep me going until then  Hellebore x ericsmithii ‘Shooting Star’ is showing promise.

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And so is this one.
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The January snowdrops are fully open. And there are plenty more to come very soon.


Actually, if the garden is looking like Les Patterson it is because I need to get out there and do some serious tidying up. And so that is what I will do. Next month I will show you the winter garden which I made 2 years ago. It has filled out nicely and in 2 or 3 weeks it should be full of colour.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted by Carol at Maydreamgardens, do go over there and see what everyone else has in bloom at the gloomiest time of the year.

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In a New Year Vase on Monday.

It is nice to start a brand new year with some freshly cut flowers for the table. I picked them rather late so I am afraid they are all taken with a flash.

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I bought the little jug in France not long after we were married.  So it is special.

For flowers, I used Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella”, Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, Jasminum nudiflorum and a few sprigs of white heather, Erica carnea.  I also had a few sprigs of Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ in the greenhouse. The foliage is Lonicera ‘Baggessen’s Gold’,  a shiny, red leaf of Bergenia ‘Eric Smith’, a marbled leaf of Arum  italicum ‘Pictum’ a sprig of Garrya elliptica with its pale green catkins. I  used some bright red twigs of Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’

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As we are entertaining today, I cheated in my second vase. Obviously the roses aren’t from the garden and the eucalyptus fell into my hand as I was walking in the little wood nearby. I love the colours with my glass vase. Never mind,  in a few weeks it will be February and there will be plenty of winter treasures for vases and I shan’t need to buy flowers or steal  foliage.

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So here we are then,  it is 2017; a time of resolutions and new beginnings . The slate is wiped clean and we can reinvent ourselves into a nice, shiny new 2017 edition of ourselves.

Here is what I have got planned for the 2017 new me. I am going to amaze my loved ones by becoming a domestic goddess. I will keep up with the ironing and cleaning. My windows will gleam and there will be no tottering piles of books by my chair. I might even sew a few buttons on. If I can find a needle.

I will stop buying jugs.

When it comes to gardening, I am going to sow all the seeds I order and prick them out. And I will even make sure they all get planted.

I am going to stop creating new areas in the garden so that I can take better care of existing ones.  Actually, I don’t think I will manage this one.

I am going to clear out the plant pot shed. OK, I know you might have heard this before.

I am going to clean my tools each time I use them and put them away in my nice new shed.

I am going to show a little restraint when it comes to plant buying.

Actually, I don’t know why I am making all these resolutions. I just checked the list I made on this blog in 2013 and I failed with every one.

Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden doesn’t need to make a new year’s resolution to fill a vase with flowers every Monday. She never fails and she inspires many bloggers to do the same. This week she has picked some of her fabulous witch hazel and made a furry caterpillar with it. Do go and see.

I have got a bit behind with other blogs the last few days, but I shall catch up soon. Being a domestic goddess is very time consuming.  Oh, and  my other resolution which is to cycle 50 miles a week has kept me busy too.  That one probably won’t last long ; just until the garden looks a little less monochrome and a little more inviting.

A very Happy New Year, dear blogging friends,  I am looking forward to sharing  your garden delights over the coming year.

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The Witch’s Garden.

In a post last winter I pondered the question of why we garden and asked blogging friends for their opinions. I suggested that one of the reasons we garden is to try to recreate a paradise we remember from our childhood. As Christmas Eve is traditionally a time for story telling, I will tell you the true  story of the  lost childhood garden I try to recreate. There are no Christmas Eve ghosts here, just a witch.

The witch lived in a huge Victorian Gothic, stone -built house with turrets at each corner.  On our way home from school we dared each other to crawl through  the hedge and sneak through the overgrown garden to peer in the window or even ring the door bell, then hide in the shrubs whilst she hobbled out  and waved her stick, angrily calling out curses and no doubt casting malign spells over us.

Finally, one day she lost her temper entirely and instead of turning us physically, into the little toads we already were, she released her horrible looking Bulldog.  He came after us growling and snapping furiously.  We fled in terror. When we were safely on the road, we assessed the damage; apart from the fright, we had one ripped skirt, two scraped knees and several painful thorns embedded in tender flesh.  We decided we had gone too far, the witch had won and we daren’t go back.

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But…. but… on our headlong flight I had noticed a huge patch of pure white snowdrops.  I just had to have another look. So just before it got dark on a cold February afternoon I crawled through the hedge to see the snowdrops.  They were even more beautiful than I remembered but like everything else, overgrown with brambles. The next day I took some secateurs from my father’s shed and a little fork and set about freeing the snowdrops.  It was the first gardening I ever did.   Little did I know that I was laying the foundations for a lifelong obsession.

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I am very glad to have been young when instead of being shut up and constantly supervised, children were free-range.  When I was a child, parents had no curiosity as to where their children went, as long as they had a clean handkerchief and were back in time for tea. So at weekends as long as it wasn’t too cold and the ground wasn’t frozen I would go out with my secateurs and trowel and clean up a bit more garden.  I loved Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’ and now I had my own secret garden to rescue.   It was hard work and a lot of what I would have liked to do was beyond my strength and limited range of tools.  I was baffled to imagine how the small girl and a sickly boy in the book could have done all that work themselves.  All I could do was tidy up little bits here and there.  And of course I lived in terror of being discovered by the witch and her snarling dog.

One day my worst fears came true.   I was totally absorbed in my work.  Trying to clean up round the yellow aconites, I  had drawn closer to the house than I usually ventured.  I never even heard the witch creep up on me until her claw-like hand had me by my collar.  ‘I’ve caught you, stealing my flowers, you horrible child. Shame on you! You’ve even brought your own trowel to dig them up with.’

Terrified, I explained that I was gardening, not stealing. I told her that I had already rescued her snowdrops and started on cleaning the brick path and I couldn’t bear to see the celandines trying to grow through so many weeds.

 ‘Celandines!’ she said contemptuously. ‘You mean aconites!  If you love flowers you must learn their names.  Now come with me.’  I got to my feet and followed her, although I really wanted to run away.  Nobody knew where I was.  I was alone with the witch. All the witchy stories I had ever heard  came back to me.  None of them  had a very good outcome. Apart from Hansel and Gretel and that was only because they had pushed the witch into the oven. I was a nicely brought up little girl and clearly couldn’t go around pushing old ladies into ovens. She took me to the house and gave me a little basket. Then she led the way to edge of the woodland where there was a bank covered with violets.  I had never smelt violets before and at first I couldn’t think where the scent was coming from.  Nowadays, the elusive scent of violets always takes me straight back to that moment.

 Don’t stand there gawping child, fill the basket with the flowers; no stalks mind and then come back to the house and I will show you some magic’.  

Pulling the heads of flowers seemed a curious thing to do but I was too frightened to disobey.  She clearly needed the flowers for a spell and I dreaded to find out what sort of spell it would be.

When I went back to the house the witch led me into her kitchen and told me to spread out the flower heads on a board. She separated an egg white from the yolk and told me to beat it up and not to stop until my arm ached and the froth became stiff. She then told me how to paint the egg white on to each flower with a little brush. Finally she made me sprinkle sugar over each one.

 ‘Right, now off  you go home.  Come back tomorrow.  And this time come through the gate like a civilised person and knock on the door. ’   She looked at my scared face and added a little more kindly.  ‘I’ll make you some hot chocolate and you can taste the violets.’

I made my way home feeling quite baffled. Had she really said ‘Taste the violets?’  Maybe she wasn’t actually a witch but just a bit batty which was just as scary really.

The next day I knocked on the brass loop which was hanging from a lion’s mouth door knocker and was ushered into the huge kitchen.   The dog was curled up in his bed and didn’t even glance at me, although I heard a low growl. The witch made me sit down next to him by the Rayburn and gave me hot chocolate in a beautiful, china cup which was decorated with rosebuds.  As I drank I found playing cards painted inside the cup.   I had never seen such beautiful or such strange china.  On a plate there were the violets; crystallised and frosted with sugar. They were sweet and crunchy and really did taste of violets. The witch smiled at me, her witchy face quite transformed. ‘You see?  It’s magic. Flowers made into sweets.  Now, you can’t sit around here all day, out you go. If you go into the potting shed you will find some proper tools, you can’t do much with that silly little hand fork.  And don’t go near the pond, it’ s very deep and the grindylows may get you and pull you in. They live in ponds and have long strong arms and hands to grab children with. Keep right away from the water’

I didn’t even know there was a pond but after that of course I had to go and find it. It was in part of the garden I had never explored before and was big enough to have a small island in the middle.  It was an enchanted place, quite hidden away.  Obviously, it was a bit scary because of the grindylows.  I didn’t really believe in them, but still the idea of long armed monsters was enough to give me a delicious frisson of fear.  Each day I was drawn to play at the water’s edge.  I watched frogs and then tadpoles and one day in spring I found huge buttercups growing round the margins.  I knew that these were called ‘May Blobs ‘and I rushed to get Miss Middle-Um, as I now called the witch. I didn’t know how her name was spelled, and I still don’ t, but in my mind it was ‘Middle-Um’  I wanted to show off my knowledge because I knew she was very keen on the naming of names.  She had made me learn the Latin names for all the spring flowers in her garden and I fell asleep each night rolling the lovely words round my mouth. ‘Primula denticulata, Pulsatilla vulgaris, Puschkinia libanotica’. The words were like poetry to me.

Miss Middle-Um scolded me for playing near the pond but all the same she was delighted to see the buttercups which she told me were not buttercups but Caltha palustris ‘Flore Pleno’. She explained that ‘palustris’ meant ‘of marshes’ and  ‘Flore pleno’ meant ‘double flower’. She said that the word ‘May Blobs’ was a local name for them so although it was pretty, I had to think of it as a nickname and make sure I knew the correct name too.  ‘Elsewhere they may be called Marsh Marigolds or Polly Blobs or any other local name’ she explained. ‘That is why Latin is important because it is universal. If you love a person or a plant you should do them the courtesy of remembering their proper name even if you call them by their nickname now and again’.

Eventually my secret came out and my parents found out where I spent so much of my time. I think Miss Middle-Um must have told them because I never said where I was going.   My parents were incredulous.   Why did I spend so much time with an old lady in her overgrown garden?   It was very odd behaviour. Why didn’t I play with my friends instead?  And anyway, if I was so keen on gardening why didn’t I garden at home?  I could have a little patch of my own if that is what I wanted.   My grandmother was even more hurt  that I never wanted to spend time with her in her garden.  ‘I didn’t even know you were interested in gardening. You never seem to want to spend any time in my garden. ’ she told me reproachfully.

As I have said before, I believe most gardeners spend their adult lives trying to recapture the gardens of their childhood. Often it is their grandparents’ gardens which people grow nostalgic for and spend their lives trying to recreate.  I couldn’t love my grandparent’s garden. It was too formal and old- fashioned for my taste. They were very proud of their Monkey Puzzle tree, or Araucaria araucana, as Miss Middle-Um insisted I called it when I told her about it.  I thought it was hideous and was delighted that Miss Middle-Um shared my prejudice.  They also had bedding out plants in patriotic red, white and blue. Red salvias and blue lobelia alternating with white allysum. They had huge dahlias, each tied to its own bamboo cane. If you examined these too carefully they were found to be full of earwigs, which everyone knows creep into your ears and gnaw into your brains given half a chance.  Besides their garden was ruled by a terrifying Mr. McGregor look-alike called Sid. He waged war on rabbits just like in the Beatrix Potter book.  In those days my sympathies were firmly on the side of Peter Rabbit.  Besides Sid was very suspicious of me and convinced that my one desire was to stamp all over his flower beds unless he was constantly vigilant. Now and again in an attempt to be pleasant he would show me his party trick of eating worms, or pretending to, I hope.  I found this even more disturbing than being shouted at.

My father was a fanatical gardener and my parent’s garden was immaculately kept. I found it a bit boring. It has given me a lifelong aversion to tidy gardens with cliff edges to the scalloped borders and brown soil round each plant with little labels to remind you what everything is.  I preferred a wild, romantic garden where grindilows lurked. My father had a rockery and formal rose beds where stiff hybrid teas grew out of bare soil. These roses didn’t smell as wonderful as Miss Middle-Ums; they were in garish colours and although I learnt their names, I thought them very dull compared to the poetic names of Miss Middle-Um’s roses which I added to my night time litany.  In summer her garden was transformed into fairyland.  I loved the scrambling roses tumbling from every tree and sending out prickly arms to entangle you as you walked past. They had lovely full faces and an exquisite perfume.  I collected baskets full of petals and Miss Middle-Um and I crystallised them just as we had with the violets on that cold winter’s day.  I couldn’t imagine crystallising my parent’s hybrid teas.

I spent a wonderful year in Miss Middle-Um’s  garden.  I never managed to get it looking very tidy, but to be honest I soon stopped trying. I loved it the way it was. It was exuberant and romantic and full of hidden treasures.    The shrubbery was full of overgrown, ordinary shrubs and trees like lilac and laburnum but it had little winding paths leading to a glade at its heart.  Miss Middle-Um said it wasn’t a shrubbery at all but a   ‘Sacro Bosco’ which meant sacred wood. She said anything could happen in such a place because it was magic.   Although she taught me legends and tales of folk lore and magic, Miss Middle-Um was a scientist at heart and she taught me to use my eyes and examine plants.  She shared her garden and her knowledge generously.   On my birthday she gave me a magnifying glass so I could examine flowers more closely.  She also gave me a book from her bookcase called ‘Wild Flowers  by Mrs. Lankester which was published in 1864.

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Before  the year was out I was devastated to hear that Miss Middle-Um’s nieces decided she couldn’t be left to manage any longer in her huge house with another winter coming on.  They persuaded her to go into a home.  She didn’t want to go. She didn’t want to leave her garden.  She had even confided in me that she was going to buy a horse to keep in one of her stables. Even I thought that a horse was a bit ambitious, as by now she needed a zimmer frame to walk with. I wished I could do something to save her and the garden,  but everyone said it was for the best really.  Her last gift to me was the china cup with rose buds and playing cards inside. I have it still.

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Her house was sold and converted into flats  and the enormous garden was divided into building plots.  For the rest of my childhood I had to avert my eyes every time I walked past my lovely witch’s garden which was gone forever.  But it lives on in my mind and little corners of my own garden where I have tried to recreate its magic.

Are you trying to recreate the magic of a childhood garden? And talking of magic, I wish all my lovely blogging friends a truly magical Christmas.

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