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My Garden Journal 2018 – April

I began my April entries in my Garden Journal 2018 with the words, “April this year is a month to play “catch up” as the poor weather in the first quarter of the year has held us up so!” But as will be revealed during my entries this month things didn’t play into our hands as far as the weather was concerns. It rather dashed our hopes!

I continued, We had two weeks at home to garden before we went away for a Spring holiday. There was very little sign of the new season, a few daffodils and other Spring bulbs flowered but little fresh growth on perennials. Strangely, our Witch Hazels had a quick second flush of flowers.

 

Coppicing and pollarding feature strongly when we turn over to the next page, two of my favourite garden activities.

We usually aim to coppice and pollard our shrubs grown for their colourful stems, Cornus and Salix, before the end of March. The weather prevented us doing so this year so we tackled the job in early April. It is a job I love because I like to picture the results of my actions.

Some pruned stems are selected as cuttings to produce new plants to sell or as replacements.

 

Hazel rods become bean poles and the brash become pea sticks to be used on our allotment. We tidied up around the hazel stools and gave the footpath a mow over.

    

On the page opposite to the notes about coppicing and pollarding, I moved on to look at re-instating some of our grass paths, writing, A major job for this April was to repair and re-seed our grass paths. This is a result of having so many visitors when we open our garden for the National Garden Scheme.

 

We used my big vintage Bulldog fork to spike deeply into the lawn surface and top dressed the lawn with compost. We brushed this in and added fresh grass seed into bare patches. To stop our garden birds eating too many seeds we spread prunings over the surface. 

     

Over onto the next page we can see that I shared a quote from Dan Pearson’s Natural Selection, then looked at more of this month’s jobs.

Dan Pearson in his book Natural Selection wrote early in April, April is spring at its best, with the intensity of green being notched up daily until it is as vibrant as it ever will be. It is the time of some of my favourite plants and an opportunity to get to know better those that flourish in this brief window.

He moves on to speak of three of his favourite spring flowers namely Magnolias, Snakeshead Fritillaries and Tulips. We do not grow Magnolias here at our Avocet garden as we feel it difficult to justify growing a plant that performs for such a small period and sits static and dull for the rest of the year. We enjoy those growing in our neighbours’ gardens instead. Snakeshead Fritillaries and Tulips however we grow in profusion.

For the first few weeks of April this year there was no sign of the “intensity of green” mentioned above. We left to go away for the third of April, leaving our patch still firmly in the grip of Winter.

Before we left however we had jobs to do such as featured in the previous pages and several others which I feature next.

Our key job of this month was to add a single step to the slope into our Japanese Garden. The gravel tended to move beneath our feet as we stepped down the slope. A half-sized “railway sleeper” did the job nicely.

   

We topped up the log edging to the wildlife pool, topped up the bark paths and spent a day cleaning and sharpening all our secateurs and loppers.

    

Turning over to the next double page spread I wrote about the birds in our garden and then mentioned a sudden sign of spring.

I wrote, When we work in the garden we do so to a soundtrack of bird song as birds mark their new season’s territories. The loudest songbirds of all are members of the Thrush family, the Blackbirds and Song Thrushes and the more diminutive Robins. All the Titmice and Finches join in calling busily from songposts.

We enjoy watching all of our garden birds collecting nest materials and taking it off to well-hidden places. Throughout the UK people have nicknames for our most common birds. I did some research and came up with these.

Robin  –  Redbreast, Bob Robin

Song Thrush  –  Mavis, Throstle

Blackbird  –  Merle, Woofell, Colley, or Black Uzzle

House Sparrow  –  Spadger, Spuggie, Spaggie

Wren  –  Stumpy, Toddy, Sumpit, Old Lady’s Hen

Dunnock  –  Creepie, Shufflewing, Scrubber

Greenfinch  –  Green Olf, Greeney, Green Lennart

Great Tit  –  Black Capped Lolly, Black Headed Bob

Blue Tit  –  Tom Tit, Blue Cap, Pickcheese, Blue Bonnett

The most exciting bird spotted this month was an early Cuckoo who sat on top of a bush. This is a bird often heard but rarely seen, so it was a memorable sighting. 

 

The third week of the month saw Spring arrive very late and very quickly and dramatically after a few days of record setting high temperatures. Suddenly our spring flowering bulbs burst into life and leaf buds opened to reveal the brightest of greens, bronzes and pinks.

     

Tulips take over every part of our garden splashing their brightness among fresh greens of perennials growth.

          

A cold easterly wind blew back into our patch as the month came to an end. It has been a destructive force in our garden this Spring, burning leaves of even the toughest of shrubs. Every variety of Mahonia has been hit hard but do seem to be fighting back, dropping the dead browned leaves as new buds thrust from the branches.

So here I finish my report on my April pages in my garden journal. I will return in May when the weather may be more kind to us.

 

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Flintshire fruit and veg garden design garden photography gardening gardens gardens open to the public National Trust ornamental trees and shrubs The National Trust Wales Winter Gardening winter gardens

A Wonderful Welsh Winter Walk – Erddig Hall

We took a short one hour drive out into Wales today to visit a National Trust property, Erddig which we hoped would afford us the opportunity of exploring a garden with winter interest, interest found in its formal structure, its topiary and imaginative pruning as well as planting. We knew that it holds the National Collection of Hedera (Ivies), so we had something specific and extra to look for too.

After too many wet weeks the day dawned bright and we were to be treated to a day of bright winter sunshine, which would play with shadows and light throughout our walk. We were surprised to discover that the whole place, buildings and gardens were in a state of disrepair bordering on dereliction in the 1960’s when a new owner decided to rescue it and awaken a real jewel of a property.

Two welcome signs greeted us as we entered, a rustic overhead design and another with a beautiful quote which read, “Where fragrance, peace and beauty reign ….”. We would soon see if this were true.

 

The garden is Grade 1 listed and is based around the 18th Century design. Amazingly it works well today! Even the car park and courtyards on the way in had points of interest to us gardeners, some of the Ivy cultivars, ancient wall-trained fruit, a beautifully carved wooden seat featuring carved horse heads and a vintage garden watering cart. We soon met our first Hederas (Ivy) in the collection, an unlabelled specimen which grew to frame a window, and one with beautiful foliage, Hedera hiburnicum variegata.

   

A feature we were looking forward to at Erddig was the huge variety of creatively pruned trees, both fruit trees and conifers. Some of these fruit trees must be decades old but are still skillfully pruned. Really well pruned and trained fruit trees are really beautiful. It felt good to see these age old gardening skills carrying on so professionally.

    

We discovered this double row of pleached limes after spotting an orange glow as the winter sun caught the new twigs and buds.

 

Beautifully topiarised conifers were presented in neat rows and as hedges throughout the formal garden area.

       

Not all the conifers were trimmed and controlled though, some were left to mature and become tall proud specimens.

 

We loved this tall double row of pollarded Poplar trees towering above our path, their network of silhouettes highlighted against the blue sky. This added to the strong structure of the garden.

 

We love to see a touch of humour in gardens and points of interest for children and we enjoyed a few here as we wandered around Erddig.

 

Erddig holds the National collection of Ivies, growing a huge selection of Hedera, but it took us along time to find the organised and well-labelled display of them growing along an old brick-built wall. We were amazed by the sheer variety, from plants with plain green typical leaves to those with the most beautiful and subtle variegation.

 

Don’t you just love to see what gardeners are up to when you visit a garden? Here hedge cutting and mulching borders with rich well-matured farmyard manure were keeping the gardeners on their toes. We were very impressed with the quality of their work and the evidence of a sense of pride in everything they did.

From the front of the house itself we found some wide views over the surrounding countryside.

 

I have only briefly mentioned the Ivy collection at Erddig so far but I will change all that by sharing a collection of my pics of the Ivies as a gallery. Please enjoy by clicking on the first photo and using the arrows to navigate.

Hollies feature too with a lovely varied collection sadly with no labels but here are some to enjoy anyway.

Each photo of an Ilex tree is matched with a close up of its foliage.

So you can appreciate just how impressed we were with the gardens at Erddig on our return visit after many years. We will be returning more often in the future!

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colours gardening recycling trees Winter Gardening

The Wonder of Willows – part two

For part two in this series about the wonder of willows we start in our own garden at our home “Avocet” in Shropshire. The first photo shows our striking, architectural Salix erythrocadium flexuosa with the orange coloured tips to its thinnest branches. Together with the colour, the amazing curling, spiraling branches impress everyone who sees it.

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Close by our Violet Willow is equally impressive with its almost black stems which develop a white bloom in the winter. In the late winter and into early spring it produces strongly contrasting sparkling white catkins.

As the group of photos below show we have trained this as a pollarded specimen with its branches pruned down to the pollard stumps at about 8 to 9 feet. This is just tall enough to help us appreciate its catkins against the ever changing sky and also to make pruning easy.

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In late February or early March each year we prune it hard to give it its skeletal pollarded shape.

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These two photos show how much material we pruned off it this year and the amazing range of colours.

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Apart from these two specimen willow trees we have this ground hugging Salix variety that barely rises an inch above ground level.

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colours conservation countryside gardening landscapes nature reserves ornamental trees and shrubs trees Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Winter Gardening

The Wonder of Willows – part one

We spent a cold February day at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve in Gloucestershire, Slimbridge. Work was going on coppicing and pollarding the many willows around the site. It is so good to see this ancient countryside craft still being practised. Many of the willows here at Slimbridge are ancient but there is plenty of planting of willows going on all the time. When the trees have been cut the wands are used around the site. In other parts of the country the willow prunings are used in cottage industries like basket making and hurdle making. Larger pieces are also used as fuel. Willows are so useful but also very beautiful, the branches of no two ever seem the same ranging from greens and yellows to oranges and reds. One in our garden has even got black branches which develop a white bloom on them in the winter, making it a beautiful addition to our garden.

The photo below shows a grove of willows through an observation hatch in a hide.

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The photo below photo shows a craftsmen head down sharpening his tools and having a break from pollarding these ancient willows. The wands when cut are delivered around the site where they are used to make screens which allow the public to walk around the site without disturbing the wildfowl and waders feeding in the lakes, scrapes and estuarine mud.

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There is evidence of recent coppicing and pollarding at every turn.

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The pair of pictures below show a freshly cut willow and another showing strong regrowth.

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Some of the older willow trees line the main paths and looking close up you can see the gnarled bark. Some are hollowed out so that in extreme case only a tube of trunk remains.

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Enjoy this little gallery of photos of individual trees.

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We came across groves of small willows pollarded at about 4 feet high. When freshly cut they look like a busy crowd of people.

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The bowls of ancient willow after years of being subject to regular pollarding create a perfect moist area for mosses to thrive.

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So there we have it – a brief appreciation of the willows at Slimbridge. They have an important role to play in these wild areas but of course they can also star in our gardens. But, as they say, that is a different story. Soon we will need to pollard and prune the many willows we grow in the community gardens of our allotment site. I shall post a blog celebrating those willows soon.

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So there we leave Slimbridge with its wonderful willows and look forward to my next post about willows, featuring these versatile trees growing in much smaller places.