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A Garden in February – Trentham

As promised we made our promised return to the gardens at Trentham, near Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, right on the edge of The Potteries.

The day promised good weather which would make a welcome change. On our last few visits to this garden we had been subjected to rain and often cold winds. For our February exploration the sky was blue and the car’s dashboard read out told us the temperature was 9 degrees. The aim of this return visit and indeed all the following monthly ones was to see how the garden had progressed, how things had changed, which plants were looking good and which ones were the stars.

As we passed over the gentle arch of the suspension bridge we could see the “River of Grasses” with the golden stubble of the grasses which had been trimmed down low. In contrast the close mown grass areas along the riverside were bright green decorated with strips of sparkling white snowdrops. I realise the life buoy is a safety requirement and realise it has to be red so that it is easily spotted in an emergency but it is really distracting!

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As always the gently curving line of River Birches looked wonderful, with the bark peeling more than when we saw them in January. I liked the meandering line where the dried grass area joins the deep green foliage of the evergreen Euphorbia robbiae with pale green highlights created by their flowering bracts.

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Once beyond the birches the perennial borders designed by Piet Oudolf looked very flat having been trimmed tight to the ground. This was in strong contrast to all the interesting seedheads and stems that decorated it in January. But with the clear view over the area we did spot this lovely wooden seat which we had totally missed in January. The bright green new growth of the Hemerocallis has progressed well since our January visit.

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We enjoyed seeing that the rings of cyclamen were still flowering away happily beneath the Yews. They looked good in the sunshine, their colours seeming richer.

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There was little change to be seen at the Hornbeam arbor but we did notice a few white sparkling Snowdrops around the base of their trunks. The trimmed box alongside is most noticeable at this time of year when such green sculptures become one of the stars of the garden. Some other stars of the Trentham gardens on this visit waited for us close by -Hellobores and Cyclamen in full colourful bloom. The Hellebores impressed with more than the colour range however, for they had really proud upright habit. They lit up the shade beneath an allee of Hornbeam.

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Leaving the Hornbeam allee we entered the old Italian Garden, with its rigidly symmetrical patterns of short cut grass, white chipping and smartly trimmed box edging. The low winter light emphasised this structure. It is not our favourite part of the garden but we always admire the skill taken to keep it looking so neat.

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From here we could look out across the huge Italian Garden, re-designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. Since our last visit the perennials and grasses have been neatly and closely cut ready for the new growth that is sitting just below the soil surface ready to burst out.

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Then after walking through these borders in waiting, we went off into the parkland where mature trees tower above the grassed slopes. Under the trees sits the coffee shop where we stopped for our statutory break. Some slopes appeared a bluer green than others and we discovered that the leaves here were of daffodils already with flower buds fit to burst.

Near the coffee house are areas for children and it was noticeable how busy they were. When here in January this area was deserted but on this visit there were lots of families with young children. It was the school half term holiday.

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On the lake the swan sculptures presented sharp silhouettes taking off over the water.

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Over in the display gardens the low bright light made the colours in foliage, flowers, stem and bark look extra bright.

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We returned through the Tom Stuart-Smith gardens and walked along the rose pergola. The gardeners were busy pruning the roses, weeding and freshening up the soil surface.

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The shrub borders at the end of the rose pergola were showing signs of interesting things happening, the Witch Hazels were shining yellow and the scented but subtle winter flowering honeysuckle sitting along side it looked rather drab. So that finished our February visit to Trentham. The next blog in this monthly series will be in March. Things should be really livening up then.

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A close-up look at the Hellebores in our garden.

Hellebores never fail to amaze. They flower early and continue in bloom for a long time. They present an unusual range of colours and markings on their petals which can vary in shape. We tend to choose reds and purples, plain and spotted and whites and creams mostly plain.

Let us start by venturing out into the borders armed with flower trug and secateurs, ignoring the chill in the air and nipping off a collection of flowers in a variety of colours.

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The individuality of each is best appreciated by displaying them floating in a shallow bowl of water.

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Now for a real challenge – looking closely and trying to show their character in water colours. I have chosen the deepest blue-mauve, the yellow-green and the pale yellow with purple streaks.

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The Stuttering Start to Spring

We have been getting signs that Spring may be on its way. Buds of Hawthorn and Elder have started to split open to allow the brightest of green leaves to squeeze their way out. Yesterday frogs left us a gift in the wildlife pond – a big pile of spawn. Seeing the first spawn this late in the year is unusual as we normally find some in mid-February.

Last night the temperature dropped to minus 6! The spawn was frozen into the icy surface of the pond and fluffy snow flakes littered the surface.

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The Hellebores that we have been enjoying so much over the last few weeks drooped losing all their structure. Stems bent over and lowered the flowers to the frozen ground. We know they will burst back when temperatures again rise above freezing and perhaps assisted by a little sunshine.

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Happily a few plants in the garden  have responded more positively to the fall in temperature. The foliage of Hebe “Red Edge” is always colourful but in this spell of renewed cold it has taken on richer tints.

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A January Bouquet

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Think of January in the garden. Could you put together a bouquet? This is my new monthly garden blogging challenge, and starting in January most certainly throws me in at the deep end. But here goes…………………

Here are the first couple of pages of my sketch pad for the new year.

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In this cold month colourful flowers can be used to create a bouquet, but you can also experience and enjoy a bouquet of scents.

So firstly what is delighting us with colour?

The rather inappropriately named Prunus x subhirtella autumnalis, with blossom of the palest pink, stunning against a pure blue sky.

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The perennial wallflower, Erysium Bowles Mauve flowers in almost every month of the year, but is very special in January.

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The first flowering bulb of the year is the Winter Aconite, Hyemalis, with its buttercup flowers close to the ground. The Flowering Quince, Chaenomales greets visitors to “Avocet” with its bright sun-set red flowers giving a warm welcome alongside the gate post at the bottom of the drive. The Cornelian Cherry, properly called Cornus mas dominates the “Freda Border” at the top of the drive. It is covered from head to toe with bunches of acid yellow umbels. They are little nuggets of gold.

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White is appreciated more in the dark days of winter. The pussy willow’s furry white blooms huddle along the black stems of our Violet Willow by the wildlife pond. As grasses reach their end, prior to me pruning them back to the ground, their flower heads are white and silver.

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And who keeps us warm with their scent in the cold? Sarcoccoca, Witch Hazels, Viburnum and the first Daphne of the year Daphne bhuloa “Jacqueline Postil”. She glows pink, a unique pink with hints of blue and violet. Her scent is mesmerizing.

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Jaqueline Postil – what a beauty and what expensive perfume she wears.

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But think of January blooms and we must not forget the first Hellebores.

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Witch Hazels at Swallow Hayes – a garden visit in January (part two)

A door into the children's den.

And so we continue our gentle cold wander around the wintry splendour of Swallow Hayes …….

The promise of Viburnum bodnantense flowers.
A secret, sunken garden for ferns shaded by a roof of climbers.
Sweetly scented winter honeysuckle.
Old rose hips curled and desiccated.
The unusual combination of pale pink and green together in the tassels of Garrya elliptica.
Primrose yellow cup-shaped flowers of a Hellebore.
This pink-flowered Hellebore invites you to turn its flowers over for a close look inside.
I am not a fan of Hellebores with double flowers but I was attracted to the colour of this one.
Silvery marbled variegation like a spider's web.
Paint splattered variegation.

And now to those Witch Hazels! These are not Hazels at all, but related to Parrotias, Fothergillas and of course the Sycopsis we saw in the first Swallow Hayes blog. Their unusually shaped flowers are in every shade of yellow, orange and red and give warming scents in the winter garden. Witch Hazels are well-known for their medicinal properties and are used in aftershave as well as in the treatment of bruises and insect bites. So, beautiful and useful!

The flowers are made up of long, thin strips of petals like curling ribbons or spiders, and appear on bare stems. Several Witch Hazels available to us were bred in Kalmhout in Belgium and the first photo shows one with the unglamorous name of “Kalmhout 999”. Kalmhout is an arboretum in Belgium run by Jelena and Robert de Kelder. Jelena has given her name to my favourite Witch Hazel which you will see in my blog “A Wander around the Garden in February” which I will post in the next few days. Two more of their developments are “Diane”, named after their daughter and “Livia”, named after their granddaughter.

This Witch Hazel matches its colour to its scent, the flowers coloured orange and emitting an aroma of oranges.
The aptly named "Ripe Corn".
"Ripe Corn", "Livia" and "Strawberries and Cream"
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Orange Peel
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Rubin
Diane
Jermyns Gold
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Christmas Rose

No, this is not going to be primarily about hellebore, sometimes known as Christmas Roses. They do not always flower at Christmas time, although in recent years the tendency to flower in December has increased here in our Shropshire garden.

I am talking here about the climbing version of Rosa Graham Thomas, a David Austin rose which we grow clambering over one of our garden sheds. We try to train some branches along the nearby fence but it likes to be on the shed roof best of all. It has been voted “The World’s Favourite Rose”. This seems particularly apt as Graham Thomas himself was one of the world’s favourite garden writers, having written 17 books in all. He was also an excellent artist working in both water colours and pencil, though he was best known perhaps for his role as the National Trust’s “head gardener”.

A second slow cold walk around the garden revealed that this year the hellebore are in fact performing in tune with their nick name, so perhaps I had better feature them too!

Here in winter its deep yellow blooms help to emphasise the depth of clear December skies. This rose manages to flourish all year, flowering almost every month of the year except straight after its annual pruning in spring. In winter it also displays large hips of orange and later red. Sadly it lacks the scent which pervades the garden in the humid warmer months. The David Austin catalogue describes this scent as typical “fresh tea rose fragrance” although “The under gardener”, otherwise known as my wife Jude, thinks it reminiscent of school dinners!

Several other roses have odd flowers on at the moment as a quick wander around with camera in hand illustrated. This sad rose bud didn’t quite make it to full bloom before being cut by the wind. The orange is the flower of a Calendula. They landed side by side on the bark surface of the new “Secret Garden”