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My Garden Journal 2019 – February

Here we are visiting my garden journal for the second time in 2019 with my February entries. My first double page spread was all about the week that spanned the last few days of January which delivered snowfall and the first few days of February which gave us a heavy frost.

The photos on the left hand page illustrated some of our winter flowering scented shrubs topped off with a layer of deep frost. I wrote, The last few days of January shared a week with the first few days of February. It was a cold week cheered greatly by the appearance of flowers on our winter shrubs, which also delighted with their rich scents.”

“The delights of scented winter shrubs. Food for winter flying moths.”

   

Opposite my photos showed the effects of snow on our sculpture, both man-made and created by Mother Nature, the seedleads of grasses and perennials.

“The snowfall that came and went all within a day.”

       

Over the page my next two pages concerned with a period of strong winds and the earliest of bulbs to flower in our patch.

I wrote, “February 9th delivered gale force winds overnight so firstjob on the 10th was inspecting for damage. Luckily very little was to be found just a few minor happenings.” 

  

“One broken stake of a support trio. Plant labels blown around the garden. 

“Part of an insect home blown down. Plant protection bags blown off delicate shrub Loropetala.”

 “Collapsed Calamagrostis”

On the opposite page I wrote, “February sees the first of our bulbs coming into flower.”

 

“A pale crocus and an deep purple Iris reticulata.”

  

“Snowdrops have bulked up nicely.”

 “Winter Aconite give winter gold”  

“Cyclamen at the base of our Field Maple.”

The next double page spread is all about Hellebores and we have so many.

I wrote, “Hellebore hybrids and self-seeders are blooming throughout our garden.”

    

“Euphorbia foetidus grows to small shrub proportions in the rich soil in our patch. Its acid-yellow bracts sit well against its deep green deeply cut foliage. It has a rather unfortunate common name of “Stinking Hellebore”, but is also called “Barfoot”.

“Even more of our Hellebore hybrids.”

     

Turning over the page one more time I looked at some indoor gardening related jobs and wrote, “Wet days in February afford us the opportunity to catch up on indoor tasks such as chitting potatoes, starting off Dahlias and Cannas as well as sowing seeds of perennials and a few annuals.”

      

I continued, “Meanwhile outside we continue to tidy up border by border. Sorting our gravel garden, the Chatto Border, is a major task so we do that work on days when Ian, our part-time gardener is around to help us. We also dug up and divided Day Lilies.”

   

About Crocus I wrote, “Whatever the weather, sunny or overcast, the gold of Crocus shines through, even the purple coloured varieties have spots of deep yellow, almost orange.”

Turn over and I share the surprise of a wildlife visitor, about which I wrote, “There is a surprising amount of wildlife activity in our February garden. Recent sunny, warmer than average days have encouraged our resident birds to start singing and calling. The Song Thrush calls loudly from first light along with Robins, Dunnock and Wren while overhead Buzzards and Red Kite mewl as they soar. As the light levels drop Tawny Owls called for long periods of time. Sunshine also brings out Bumble Bees and Honey Bees to feed off early flowers of bulbs and the first butterfly of the year makes its appearance. A stunningly beautiful Red Admiral rests on a wall taking in the extra warmth of the sun on the bricks.

 

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Winter Gardening winter gardens

Simply Beautiful No 20 in a very occasional series

As we struggle to keep our garden going in our current drought and extremly high temperatures, here is a post to remind us of cooler times!

Hellebores! Everyone loves them. Here are some of the latest colours from breeder of new cultivars, John Massey.

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gardening hardy perennials ornamental trees and shrubs shrubs

The Avocet Collection

It feels so magical when you discover a chance seedling that is a natural hybrid that has happened under your nose with no help from the gardener. It is equally special when a surprise seedling is so special and different that you want to give it its own name. We have a few of our own Avocet plants that occurred in this way, two Hellebores, two Hollies, a Cotoneaster, a Willow and a Cornus.

I thought it would be interesting to share them with you and let you see some photos of them to see what you think.

Firstly I will share our two Hellebores, the first pictured below we called Hellebore “Jo’s Jewel”after our daughter Jo who creates beautiful jewelry. It has flowers of a delicate pink with tiny purple dots inside and faint hints of green at the base of each petal turning deep green at the base. The reverse of the petals are of a deeper pink colour. The petals are rounded in shape.

   

Our second selected Hellebore has purple-pink outer petals with fine lines of a deeper purple and spots adorn the inner petals. Each petal, although rounded comes to a point. We have named this seedling after our daughter-in-law, Sam so we call it Hellebore “Sammi’s Smile”. So these sister seedlings are named after two sisters!

    

Our Ilex was selected from dozens of seedlings grown from berries from our garden at our last garden prior to our Avocet patch. We grew them on our allotment nearby and watched and waited to see if anything special developed. After a few years they began to show their potential and naturally most were pretty ordinary apart from half a dozen with very dark stems and foliage. We kept these and composted the rest. We carefully watched these finalists develop until we could identify their growth habit, leaf and stem colour and their flowering and berrying. Eventually we ended up with a select three with very dark and shiny stems and leaves, two we thought would make good standards that we could topiarise, and a third which seemed more delicate.

  

Our third selection we have called Ilex “Avocet Flat Black” and after ten years it has grown to just 3ft tall and 5ft across. It has delicate dark shiny foliage and black stems, it flowers well and its flowers attract bees and hoverflies. The deep red berries are enjoyed by our resident Blackbirds and the shrub is enjoyed by our garden visitors.

Here is our Ilex “Avocet Flat black” in flower and attracting bees.

Salix alba britzensis “Wendy’s Orange” is a plant we grew by taking cuttings of a few branches of a friend’s Salix alba britzensis which showed very rich orange coloured stems. These stems glowed so brightly when caught by the sun. The friend was called Wendy hence the name we christened our plants, Salix alba britzensis “Wendy’s Orange”. We grew our cuttings on until large enough to take cuttings from them and so on. We grew a few on as standards that we could pollard and three of these now grace our Rill Garden. They look wonderful and so brightly coloured! See how the sun brings out the orange and makes the branches glow brightly. The first photo is taken under cloud, the second and third in sunlight.

We pollard these willow trees to thicken their trunks and force them to grow fresh, colourful stem growth each spring.

Our selected seedling Cotoneaster was again planted out on our old allotment near our previous home and garden. We selected out one very strong growing plant which looked far superior to the rest, its stems darker than usual, its leaves also darker coloured and heavily textured. When it matured enough to flower it did so profusely, attracting bees and hoverflies. These were followed by deep red berries, ruby red in fact, and highly glossy. Each berry is like a red gem, a ruby, and so we named it Cotoneaster “Jude’s Ruby”. It is much admired by visitors on our garden open days and group visits, who often ask if we have cuttings for sale. We are now trying to build up stock. Cuttings seem slow and not very reliable so we will also try growing from collected seeds.

Our other shrub seedling also features the colour ruby red but not berries, coloured stems instead are its main feature. We named it Cornus “Avocet Ruby”. We selected it from seedlings which appeared on the bank bordering the wildlife pond, and were hybrids between Cornus Midwinter Fire” and other dogwoods grown for their coloured stems. We are now taking cuttings to help build up some stock from which we will be able to sell specimens to our garden visitors. The picture below shows its autumn colouring. Once these yellow leaves fall the brightly coloured stems of yellow, orange and ruby red are revealed in readiness for glowing so brightly in late winter sun.

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birds colours flowering bulbs garden photography garden wildlife gardening gardens hardy perennials ornamental trees and shrubs outdoor sculpture Shropshire shrubs spring bulbs trees Winter Gardening winter gardens

My 2017 Garden Journal – January

It feels good to be back sharing my Garden Journal with you once again. So here is the first for 2017, my report on what was going on in our Avocet garden in January.

For 2017 I will share the beauty, the happenings and the stars of our Avocet garden month by month. I will consider the wildlife that visits and shares our garden with us and see what it is up to. I aim to record the birds we spot, the creatures which live in our pond and the mini-beasts who appreciate our plants in our borders.

I hope to set up my moth live-trap and carry out a pond dip regularly. I will record using words, photographs, paintings and drawings.

jan-03

My 2017 Garden Journal opened with a comment about the weather, the favourite subject of the English and particularly English gardeners, “We were well into the third week of January when we were pleased to get typical January weather, frosty mornings followed by bright glue skies. Fog joined in on odd days. Until then every day was dull and wet, dull to the point of darkness at times. Not a good start to a new year of gardening and enjoying our garden.

Extra colour and movement, and of course sound, is added to the atmosphere of our garden by the birds who visit. This winter we moved our main bird feeding centre closer to the house so that we could observe the birds in close up. Surprisingly this had the extra bonus of increasing the birds visiting, in particular the finches.

Birds of our January garden: 

Blackbird                    Goldfinch                    Blue Tit

Robin                           Greenfinch                  Great Tit

Wren                            Chaffinch                    Coal Tit

Dunnock                      Blackcap                      Long-tailed Tit

Jackdaw                       Siskin                            Collared Dove

Mistle Thrush             Song Thrush                Nuthatch

Turning the page finds me discussing scented shrubs starring in our January garden.

Scented shrubs add an extra element to enjoy in our Avocet garden all  year round, but winter-flowering shrubs are probably the most important of all. Their rich scents, warm and sweet and spicy, spread far to attract the few insects flying in the colder months. In January we are enjoying the welcome aromas of Mahonia, Sarcococca, Witch Hazels and Daphne. The local honey bees are drawn to the Mahonia and we can hear their gentle humming whenever the sun gives some unexpected warmth and brightness.

I used my watercolours to create a painting of a Honey Bee, Apis mellifera, and it was a very difficult painting to do.

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On the page opposite my bee painting, I included photos of the “Scented flowering shrubs of our January garden at Avocet, our home in Shropshire, a very cold county in winter.”, Sarcococca confusa, Daphne bholua “Jacqueline Postill”, Hamamelis Jelena and Diane and Mahonia “Winter Sun”.

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Over the page we look at “new” gardening tools, one brand new and one new to me which is a vintage tool.

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“Acquiring new tools to use in the garden is always a pleasure. Recently I have treated the garden, and myself of course, to a few interesting implements”. 

Firstly a pair of Japanese secateurs, with the unusual problem of instructions written in Japanese. As I had ordered them from Japan I should not have been surprised really!

I painted a picture of my new Japanese secateurs, which was a lot harder that it looks.

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“Okatsune secateurs are the favourite of  professional gardeners in Japan. They are manufactured from Japanese high carbon steel so they sharpen easily and well.”

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“My second “new” gardening tool is actually a vintage piece, a 1930’s turfing spade made in Birmingham by a company called Vaughan’s. The long handle is crafted from solid forged iron and the handle is made from Ash wood. The long wooden shaft reduces the workload and the beautiful “D” handle makes the tool comfortable to use. The shape of the blade makes it efficient at even lifting an even 1 inch thick slices of turf. The unusual shaped metal shaft increases the efficiency of this wonderful old tool. So my turf lifting spade is vintage circa 1936 but “new” to me.

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I moved on to show how Ian, our gardener, used the vintage turfing spade to replace the grass on some of our paths.

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“We bought the Vaughan tool specifically to use in our garden, to lift the turf paths in our back garden. Our gardener, Ian, loved using it and found it easy to use, a real joy. Now it is part of my vintage garden tool collection, a great addition.”

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“The old turf from our worn paths is soon removed and new rolls are soon down.”

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I next looked at a beautiful totally dried seed head of an Allium, which, with its spherical shape, tends to get blown around the garden with several others. We meet them at random times and places all overthe garden. We are always surprised by their simple beauty. I drew the Allium seed head using just a pencil. Looking and studying the Allium took much longer than the time spent with pencil moving on paper.

jan-09

“The dried spherical seed heads of all our different sorts of ornamental Alliums remain in the garden through the winter months. They act as our own Avocet “tumbleweeds” as wind takes them on journeys.”

I hope you enjoy the close ups of my drawing below.

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By turning the page we see little white birds and colourful bulb flowers. I wrote: “We bought three new stoneware sculptural pieces for our garden, three cheeky and chirpy Sparrows. We loved taking them around the garden seeing where they looked their best. We decided to keep moving them around as the mood took us. They, however, decided that their favourite place was our garden bench in “Arabella’s Garden”. Cheeky chappies indeed!

jan-13

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Opposite the photos of the sculpture birds are photos of early flowers, Irises and Hellebores.

“Iris reticula, the first bulb to flower in 2017.”

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“Meanwhile Hellebores are budding up strongly, so we will have flowers in Feb.”

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January frosts feature on the next double page spread.

jan-14

“On the early hours of the days following cold frosty nights, the flowers which give colour to our January garden, were topped off with cold, icy halos.”

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“Cold nights also gave our sculpture pieces a thin layer of icing sugar.”

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My next page was titled simply “January Frosts” and featured a series of photographs of foliage and seedheads covered in a thin covering of frost and icy crystals.

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Turn over to the next page and we leave the frost behind and take a look at one of our Birches, Betula albosinensis “Septentronalis”, one of the best Betulas around.

jan-15

“Plant of the month – Betula albosinensis “Septentronalis”. This Birch is an elegant tree with an open canopy so casts little shade. We grow it mostly for its colourful bark which peels to expose clean, more colourful bark beneath. This is best described as pale salmon coloured which peels back to show gingers beneath. This tree also produces beautiful long catkins.”

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I collected up some peeled bark from the tree and glued two pieces side by side to illustrate how different the layers of bark can be.

jan-16

Betula albosinensis “Septentronalis” is probably one of the best trees for the small garden and no garden should be without one. Larger gardens can host a trio of them!

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And that is it for my Garden Journal in January. Perhaps in February winter may be biting deeper or we may be experiencing one of our occasional February heatwaves when temperatures can reach 17 celsius.

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flowering bulbs garden design garden photography gardening gardens gardens open to the public hardy perennials ornamental trees and shrubs outdoor sculpture sculpture shrubs spring bulbs Staffordshire trees Winter Gardening winter gardens woodland

The Dorothy Clive Garden in February

We returned to the Dorothy Clive Garden for our second visit of the year. In January we walked around the gardens with snow on the ground and we had to wrap up warm against the cold winds. For our February visit we left home with dark grey skies overhead and a slight drizzle in the air but the closer we got to the garden the better the weather became. Patches of blue sky appeared and the clouds turned ever paler. The temperature had reached 15 degrees Centigrade as we parked the car and made our way to the cafe for the obligatory coffee and cake essential for a successsful garden visit. Our visit was going to have an added dimension as there was an activity day for children all to do with wildlife and the natural world. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Wildlife Trust were there as well as a bird of prey group. Children were given the chance to make bird boxes, bird food cakes and to handle skulls of native mammals. There was also a quiz sheet and a trail for them to enjoy.

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As we walked from the car park to the cafe the first photo I took was of a view that in January was simply snow with a few evergreen shrubs rising up. Around the next curve of the path we noticed that a new project was in hand (see right hand picture below). The area had been cleared of old untidy evergreens which were well past their best. The area has already been leveled and large blocks of local sandstone await close by. We look forward to watching this develop over the coming months. The plant sales table looked much better without its covering of snow.

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On the lawn outside the restaurant we were enthralled by getting up close to some beautiful owls and falcons. After enjoying our coffee and cakes we took off to walk towards the Quarry Garden, passing a border dotted with tiny pale blue flowering bulbs. As we entered the Quarry we noticed a family making nest boxes.

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The Quarry garden was much greener without its snow blanket and early flowering bulbs  were adding colour allied with Hellebores in full flower and a few blooms on Rhododendrons and Azaleas.

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The textures and architectural shapes of trees come to the fore in winter before the leaves return in the spring. Unusual foliage such as the Rhodendron with orange-ginger undersides to its leaves provide brightness under the shade of taller trees. The upper side of the leaves are glossy but the underside have a matt, powdery feel to them. Close up it gives them the look of a windswept desert landscape.

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Leaf shapes and their patterns and textures provided added interest under the tree canopy.

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We wandered around a bit trying to find the stag sculpture we found in January and kept getting the wrong path. When we did find him he looked much more majestic without his white coat of snow. We then moved off towards the new Winter Woodland Garden, which is a juvenile garden having been created in early 2015. It already looks and feels a really good seasonal garden, with many shrubs and trees with coloured stems and bark, evergreen groundcover such as Bergenia, several different Carex and Luzula many with striped or golden leaves. Flowering bulbs were putting on an excellent show for us.Ggiven a few years and this will be a beautiful woodland winter garden and will be one of the best close to us so will become a place we visit often.

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We left the Winter Garden by walking under the Laburnum arch still devoid of any growth and enjoyed a wander through the Upper Garden where trees and shrubs reigned supreme. A shy sculpture maiden welcomed us.

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Having indulged in the powerful scent of this delicately coloured pink Daphne we followed a path that led us around the front of the coffee shop and then down the sloping gardens  to the pool.

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Species tulips demanded a close look to appreciate their beauty and delicacy.

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Can you spot the bee at work collecting pollen from the blue crocus? Great to see this.

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So that was our February visit to the wonderful Dorothy Clive Garden. We can’t wait to be back with camera in hand to see what March will bring, perhaps a few touches of spring!

 

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My Garden Journal – March

As we entered the month of March we looked forward to increased temperatures both during the daytime and at night .We thought with luck the danger of frosts would be diminishing, although  this year we have had few to talk of and none deep enough to cause many problems.

So let’s have a look at my Garden Journal for the month of March.

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“Early in March we treated ourselves to two new Hellebore hybrids to add to our dozens already adding colour to our borders”

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One displays simple single deepest red flowers and the other pale green petals edged with a picotee fringe in deep plum and in the centre a similarly coloured collar of petals. Let’s  look at the simpler one first.

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In complete contrast the “colarette” Hellebore shows so much more colour and variation.

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Pleased as we were with our new purchases we were even more pleased to find a chance seedling Hellebore which has sneaked its way into our Rill Garden. The problem is that it has settled in tight into the base of the stone wall of our raised pool. “We were also surprised to discover a beautiful new self-crossed hybrid in the Rill Garden. Each petal is a subtle combination of blush pinks and pale greens, its centre the deepest yellow.” It really needs moving out to replant it where it can be appreciated properly. This photo shows it in its chosen home. We love it for its subtle combination of pink and green with delicate spots, and of course for choosing our garden to grow in. What do you think of it?

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My journal moves on to look at the first tulip of the year, this beautiful species one with such unusual colour combinations within its petals. “Our first tulip is out, a beautiful deep red-blue colour. Each bloom is so delicate it seems the gentlest breeze will disperse its petals.”

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I reveled in the challenge of representing its flower, shaped like the flame of a candle, in watercolours with pen and ink detailing. I had great fun mixing so many tints of blues and reds together and even brought in a touches of green.

The bird life at Avocet starred next in my journal. “Wrens and Robins are becoming dominant in the garden. Robins are developing territorial traits resulting in chasing and flouncing. The nimble Wren hunts in every nook, crack and cranny for insects, spiders and their eggs. They still roost together in the pouches we have, scattered throughout our garden. Soon they will be considering them as potential nesting places.”  It will be interesting to observe the changes in behaviour and attitudes towards each other when this change of emphasis occurs.

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I quoted a further passage from Jenny Joseph, “March is certainly coming in like a lion – a roaring beast. After the gale had torn wider and wider the covering to the sky to let the blue in, it was a bright sunny enticing outside world.” In my journal I wrote But for us here in Shropshire we have had no strong winds at all, just sunny days alternating with cloudy damp days and cold nights.” But March was to prove these words to be dreadfully premature, for as the month was preparing the way for April to follow in its footsteps we did indeed get gales lasting several days and taking us into April. This strange atypical weather isn’t helping the garden, and definitely not helping us as we prepare for our first opening for the year on 16th April. I noted this in the journal, “This is confusing the garden. It doesn’t know which way to turn. Plants are behind where they should be. Few Tulips or Daffs have displayed their blooms. Leaves on the Acers are showing little inclination to burst from their buds.”

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As my journal closes for March we are preparing for our April opening and we could do with some help from the weather and from Mother Nature herself! We can only wait as spectators and see what April brings with it.

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colours garden design garden photography gardening grasses hardy perennials ornamental grasses ornamental trees and shrubs shrubs Winter Gardening winter gardens

A February Bouquet

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Nothing seems to have changed much in the garden since my “Bouquet for January” post. The ever-changing weather, moving from cold to very cold and back again appears to have stagnated growth. The first daffies have just opened and crocus in various colours are appearing around the borders.

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There is a much wider range of Hellebores to enjoy though. I love having to bend down and lift their heads to find the secrets of their hidden beauty. Enjoy my Hellebore gallery.

The Prunus subhirtela autumnalis flowers have been browned by the weather and we have cut down many of the grasses and perennial seed heads. Now the garden is looking empty  but as a result of our tidying up we can appreciate the importance and impact that foliage plays in the February garden. Grasses and Phormium join with shrubs such as Pittosporum to give interesting colours and leaf patterns.

One of my favourite garden plants is the simple and much-maligned Bergenia. At this time of year the leaves take on deep shades of green, red and purple and the first of their flowers start showing colour before being lifted up on strong stems later on.

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Let us finish February off by wishing for signs of spring. Some sunshine perhaps? Blue sky? Just a few degrees more?

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Impulse buying at nurseries – is this true retail therapy?

We hate shopping in town centres, retail parks and especially supermarkets. How can people refer to such unpleasant things as being any sort of therapy? But put us in a nursery and everything seems different – we get tempted every time! We have just visited two of our favourite nurseries half an hour from home just into the Welsh countryside outside Welshpool, The Dingle and  its sister, The Derwin. We went to buy a couple of plants for a container that sits empty at the end of the central path in the back garden. It has long been crying out for some plants. We came back with a boot full of plants, some for that pot, some for another pot, some alpines, a couple of shrubs and some perennials. It happens to us all the time, but just look at our booty! We are definitely into coloured foliage.

Euphorbia Silver Swan and Euphorbia Walberton's Rudolf
Heucheras Frosted Violet and Mahogany
Hellebore lividus
Bergenias - Bach, Winterglut and Winter Glow.
Osmanthus x macrodonta and Luma apiculata "Glanleam Gold"