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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.

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“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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The many faces of Honeysuckle

We found a shrub of a beautifully flowered Honeysuckle, Lonicera, while visiting a city garden recently and noticed it had buds at every stage of flowering from early bud to fully open flowers. I hope you enjoy these shots I took.

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A Garden in Winter – RHS Rosemoor – Part 1

We love to break up the winter months with mid-week breaks away around the UK. In February this year we took off down to Devon for a short holiday where we planned to visit a garden which holds two National Collections, Betulas (Birches) and Alnus (Alders) and the Royal Horticultural Society’s Rosemoor Garden.

My previous couple of posts shared with you our wanderings around Stone Lane Garden and Nursery with its wonderful national collection of Betulas and Alnus. In this post we will share with you the two days we spent exploring the Royal Horticultural Society’ Rosemoor Garden.

We had visited many times before but never in winter before, so we were keen to see if the RHS’s claim that Rosemoor provides “Great days out for every season” and  “Rosemoor continues to enchant visitors when the Winter and Foliage Gardens are filled with a surprisingly intoxicating combination of colour, fragrance and texture.”

After a quick coffee in the restaurant we braved the rain and began our walk around.

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We made our way towards the Winter Garden which we knew had been redeveloped since we last visited so we longed to see what it looked and felt like now.

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As expected foliage took a leading role.

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Coloured stems and bark of shrubs and trees add strong structure to a good winter garden.

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After enjoying and being highly impressed with the renovated Winter Garden, we took a gravel path which led us to the Foliage Garden. We were looking forward to seeing the role that foliage could play in the February garden. We were not to be disappointed with what we saw. Perennials and grasses played key roles with the richness of texture and the delicacy of colour. Richly coloured foliage on many shrubs joined the party.

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Wherever we went we noticed evidence of the RHS gardeners and the volunteers who worked alongside them. In the Rose Garden these roses had been pruned so precisely just like illustrations in a gardening book . The soil between them had been neatly forked over to give a very professional look to the gardeners’ work.

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When we returned to the restaurant for a warming coffee we noticed in the terrace outside a little wooden framed alpine greenhouse. Here we found an impressive array of flowering bulbs.

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Leaving the alpine house we took meandering paths through the gardens where we noticed many early blooms that added cheer to a day of dull damp weather.

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These paths took us down a gentle slope towards the lake and along the way we passed through open grassed areas where Daffodils and Narcissi had been naturalised. In neighbouring borders swathes of Snowdrops looked like frozen rivers running through shrubs and trees.

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We reached the lake which looked very cold and uninviting but on its banks Cornus and Salix varieties known for their coloured stems added ribbons of very welcome brightness.

A stream fed the lake and we left the lakeside by following a path rising gently through the stream’s valley.

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This valley with its clear stream ran rapidly through areas of planting. We followed the stream along a gravel path which took us to an underpass through which we wandered to find the original garden at Rosemoor, Lady Anne’s Garden. The little valley dropped down towards the underpass and we saw King Cups flowering profusely providing splashes of golden yellow and clumps of Arum italicum marmoratum gave us splashes of silver in their variegated foliage.

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Seed heads and fruit from the autumn were still very much in evidence extending the season of interest.

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As the valley sides rose higher the atmosphere became damper and we felt the temperature drop slightly as we got closer to the underpass. Lichen grew on trees and on fences. The white bark of Birches and the snow white blooms of Snowdrops shone through in the duller light.

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We were drawn to a Betula with unusually coloured bark and were very pleased to find that it was called Betula albosinsensis “K Ashburner”, named after the owner of Stone Lane Gardens and Nursery.

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Scent was held in the valley so we were constantly experiencing the rich aromas of Lonicera, Sarcoccoca and Ribes. Sweetness in the air!

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We entered the underpass which would take us under the road we drove along hours before and gained access to the original garden here at Rosemoor, Lady Anne’s Garden. We will be in that part of the garden in Part 2.

 

 

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Croft Castle – month by month – the final report

Illness has prevented us making our monthly visit to Croft Castle where I would take photographs and report back about all that is going on in the gardens of this Herefordshire property run by the National Trust. Thus this final visit for the year took place in early December and will be a joint report for November and December together.

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The Allotments at Rest

We took a walk around our allotment site today to see what was going on and check that everything was okay. We had just watched the site on TV as we featured on a BBC2 series called the Great British Garden Revival. I filmed with Dermuid Gavin a feature on wildlife gardening. It was a strange experience seeing our allotment site on the screen but even stranger seeing our own plot being used as an example of a wildlife friendly garden.

For today’s wander we arrived during a period of sunshine with a clear blue sky over our heads, but by the time we were half way around the clouds had arrived and we were subjected to light but very cold rain. The pure white catkins of the Violet willow in the Spring Garden sit like droplets of rain water after a storm. They are bright enough to be visible from a long way away. They draw attention to themselves very well!

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Probably the brightest of winter colours on any veg plot is provided by Swiss Chard especially the cultivar called Bright Lights. Light catches on the textured leaves emphasising their undulating surface. The other crops still in evidence are sprouts that have overwintered and the new fresh foliage of the Globe Artichoke. These leaves now just a few inches long will expand to a massive few feet in length and the plants will reach a good nine or ten feet in height. Their purple, teasel like flowers will delight our pollinators the butterflies, bees and hoverflies and the seed heads that follow will be a magnet to greedy Goldfinches and Linnets in the autumn. Perhaps the strongest pattern of all was found on Tom’s plot, where he has set out all the old clay drainage pipes that he dug up from his plot.

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Both the male and female catkins glow purple on the Alders in the Autumn Garden where their neighbours the Buddlejas are showing fresh foliage with their texture like reptilian skin.

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Last year’s plants in the meadows and borders are now skeletons of their former selves. There is a strong structure linked with subtle beauty in these spent seed heads.

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The wildlife shelters sitting in the orchards and meadows hide so many hibernating creatures. They shelter creatures from the winter cold and house anything from the tiniest insects up to amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts, birds like Wrens and Dunnock and mammals including  our confident Weasels. A lost glove adds a splash of colour! In our “Dedge” the bright colours of the various Lichen, yellows, chartreuse and greens, glow however dull the light is.

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A few spring flowering bulbs are showing spears of green piercing the cold soil. Some are even flowering such as the diminutive Iris reticula and Snowdrops.

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Variegated foliage always looks good in the winter when the silver or gold stripes, spots or squiggles shine against deep green backgrounds.

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Perhaps it is only right that the most colourful and interesting garden of all at the moment is our Winter Garden. The coloured stems of different forms of Cornus and Salix give us reds, oranges, greens and yellows and even black. The white stemmed Birches are now over 20 feet tall and they dominate this garden. Euphorbias and Hellebores give colour at close to ground level, while the Viburnum bodnantense “Dawn” and Cornus mas provide pink and chartreuse at eye level. Both these shrubs are also powerfully scented.

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Elsewhere the coloured stems of a Salix in our Withy Bed shines gold and the Cornus “Midwinter Fire” glow like flames.

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Our tour finishes off with a look at this year’s major project, our wildlife pond. We inherited this large farm pond in the summer and are busy tidying up around it in readiness of the work that lies ahead.

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This little character is hidden for most of the year under a patch of Chrysanthemums grown for cutting but in winter he appears to cheer us all up.

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I shall finish this post with a couple of bright jewels.

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Scented Pelargoniums

When we visited the wonderful Herefordshire garden, Hergest Croft, we entered the garden by taking a route that took us through an old conservatory to find it full of one of our favourite families of plants, the scented Pelargoniums.

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We have a small collection at home which we display on a set of old library steps at the side of the woodstore so that we can rub their leaves as we collect logs or as we pass to go to the back garden.

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The collection at Hergest Croft was much bigger and more varied. It took a long time to rub a leaf of each and savour the scents reminiscent of mints and fruits. But there was great variety in the texture of the leaves too, from the softest velvet, through soft and waxy to rough and coarse.

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These two were so heavily scented and their leaves so textured it hardly mattered that they had such insignificant blooms.

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There were a few Pelargoniums which were from a different family, I think they are Regals but I can’t be sure. The dark flowered one is “Lord Bute”. We were fascinated by the one pink petal on the one flower of the white bloom presumably caused by a virus. A great collection and a most welcoming start to a garden visit. We left the conservatory to discover the delights of Hergest Croft especially its rare and champion trees.

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Pelargoniums at Clumber Park

The beautiful, immensely long renovated Victorian greenhouse at Clumber Park never ceases to amaze. When we first visited Clumber the greenhouse looked sad and neglected but we discovered that plans were afoot to return it to its former glory. We were delighted to find one section which now housed an amazingly varied collection of Pelargoniums. Shades of pink. Fruity scents. Textured and patterned foliage. I can share these with you through my photographs.

A word of warning – if you have a total aversion to pink look no further!

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A Wander around our Garden in April.

Flowering Currant and Muscari.

It is already into the fourth month of the year and so this is the fourth in this monthly series of garden wandering posts. So much happens in April, so many plants start into growth, so many seeds are sown and the weather changes so often. Frost, hail, sun, mild, cold, windy, calm – everything comes randomly and we gardeners get caught out inappropriately clothed. Wildlife is equally confused, with bees, hoverflies, butterflies and wasps appearing on warmer days and disappearing as soon as it cools down again.

Taking advantage of some bonus sunshine.

Some spring bulbs are going over while others are in full swing, some tree blossoms are going over while others are just coming into flower. There is so much to do in the garden, productive or ornamental, and it feels good to be out there doing it.

How red can a flower be!

As soon as April arrives we know the garden will look and feel differently every day. Come around our garden with me and my camera and see what is going on.

The front garden glows in the afternoon sunshine, with every shade of green in new herbaceous growth splattered with the many colours of bulbs.

The Hot Border.
Euphorbias below white-stemmed birches.

The Shade Garden is soon to reach its peak time, with its fresh leafy growth and the tiny, pale jewels of flowers. Pulmonarias, Dicentras, Anemones, Arums and Corydalis are all budding up and beginning to flower while the ferns are hardly showing any signs of awakening.

The Shade Garden bursting into life.
China blue pulmonaria.
Pale pink pulmonaria.
Silver splashed Arum leaves.
Primrose yellow Anemone.

On the gravel patch, which we call our “Chatto Garden”, new foliage is bursting through. Irises, Euphorbias are starting into healthy growth. The large terra-cotta pot of bulbs is bubbling over with the blue of Muscari and a sprinkling of tiny mauve species Tulips.

The glaucous sword shaped iris leaves.
Spears of Euphorbia griffithii "Dixter" piercing the gravel.
The thistle like spiked and variegated Galactites tomentosa.
Muscari blue and tulip mauve give a gentle colourway to the big pot.
Bright welcome at the gate - yellow Mahonia and red Cydonia.

Trees and shrubs are a little later coming to life in the spring, the miniature Chestnut’ sticky buds are only just bursting while the Amelanchier lamarckii and Spiraea “The Bride” are in their full white ball gowns.

"The Bride" is always such a good arching shape.
The long arching raceme of Spiraea.
Amelanchier blossom like delicate stars.
Chestnut buds burst out in salmons, russets and reds.

In the side garden by our main entrance the two potted apple trees are in full flower, with blossoms of many shades of pink, promising lots of juicy fruit to enjoy. We have added a second House Sparrow nesting box giving six nest holes altogether and hopefully a little less noisy bickering. The new box is apartment living as opposed to the terraced original. Right by our doorstep is a pot of violas in an unusual colour combination of  blue and brown. In front of the garage door our replanted alpine troughs are beginning to come to life.

Our miniature apple trees welcome callers.
Apple blossoms - pink beauties.
Sparrow city.
Alpine troughs protected from the cold winds.
Unusual colour combination.

Wandering into the back garden it is hard to know where to point the lens first as so much is happening. The fruit trees are in blossom, tulips add their jewel colours in every border and new leaves are appearing on most shrubs and perennials.

A mass of Damson blossom against a blue sky.
Jude, "The Undergardener" at work in the "Shed Bed".

The garden is full of sound, scents and movement. In the pools Pond Skaters perform their dances on the surface and tadpoles wriggle in black masses in the shallow pebble bay. Around each flowering shrub bees and hoverflies flit and buzz. In nearby fields Skylarks sing their “high in the sky” songs and the haunting call of Curlews reach us from the damp land alongside the nearby fishery. But the strangest sound of all is the regular sound of Tawny Owls calling to each other – have they lost their biological clocks? The calling starts mid-afternoon on most days.

Lush growth at the pool side.

Scent is provided by Viburnum, Mahonias, Wallflowers, Flowering Currants, Hyancinths, Daffodils and the last of the flowers on the Daphnes. Herby scents come with the new fresh greens of the mints, thymes, marjorams and fennel.

Strong in scent beautiful in colour, the last flowers on the Daphne.
The complex flower head of a viburnum.

In the Secret Garden it is the tulips that take centre stage, in so many colours and shapes.

The Secret Garden awakens in Spring.
The darkest orange tulip.

Some of the most impressive new foliage is to be found on our acers, growing under the trees we grow as a wind break, acid green, lemon yellow, flaming orange and salmon.

New brightly coloured foliage shines in mottled shade.
Glowing red fresh, new leaves.

We have eventually relented and cut down the last of our many grasses. We leave them as late as possible and often leave some too late  and end up cutting new growth coming up within the old. This Miscanthus napalensis was left until last, understandably.

Old grass and new acer.

Just to show how fickle the month of April can be, the day after I took the photos for this blog we woke to three inches of snow and large flakes continued to fall all morning. Many tulips and daffodils were flattened and our clump of Black Bamboo was pinned to the ground by the sheer weight of snow.

Iris swords piercing the snow.

I shall finish with two shots – one before the snow and one after. This lovely old oak tree root is our miniature stumpery – all we have room for!