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A Walk in the Park – Attingham Park December

We made our monthly visit to Attingham Park, our last one for 2017, just as Christmas was making itself known at this National Trust property. Before we even reached the coffee shop for our usual warm drink to get us fueled up for our walk, we had been met by a snowman, a Christmas tree and we were entertained to some 1940’s music and dancing. The hall was decorated in a 1940’s style so the dancing set the scene.

 

The trees were decorated with wartime decorations, based on the idea of “make and make do”, as were the decorations in the coffee shop, where paper chains were made from newspaper. The trees were themed with one based on children’s games from the 1940’s and another was book based.

 

We came across a few other Snowmen, as we followed the one-mile trail, to amuse us on this chilly day. I managed to get around this month without my wheelchair as my recovery from leg surgery is coming along nicely. I walked the mile using a crutch which was very pleasing and rewarding!

      

Wandering through the woodland areas beneath tall mature trees, we noticed that a few browned leaves were managing to hang on to the branches but the majority were bare skeletons. These frameworks of trunks, branches and twigs were magnificent with no green leaves to hide their structure.

   

New buds were already waiting patiently on some branches anticipating spring far off on the horizon, while on other neighbouring trees a few dried leaves hung on. One patch of trees still showed some green in its canopy. A few old seed pods hung on having defied the storms, rains and gales of autumn, seed heads of trees, shrubs and perennial plants.

 

  

We wandered around the walled garden now virtually clear of crops, leaving hazel pole structures bare of the bean plants that once adorned them. The volunteer staff here are adept at creating beautiful and original plant structures.

   

A green flowered cauliflower had recently been attacked by frost, so had browned a little. Celeriac though recently cropped awaited storage.

 

The gardeners’ bothy was simply decorated but full of atmosphere, added to by the gardeners and volunteers enjoying their break so the aroma of freshly brewed coffee mingled with the smell of wood smoke.

Whatever time of year you explore the countryside, parkland or even more so a garden, there are always surprises awaiting. An out of season flower, a bud bursting at an inappropriate time or sadly at times the sudden death of a favourite plant. Two surprises were awaiting us at Attingham this December. First were lemon yellow catkins hanging fresh and healthily from hazel shrubs. These are usually key features of the month of February. In December they provided a beautiful diversion for me and my camera lens!

The second surprise was a Rhododendron shrub in flower!

  

Now that we have explored the parkland at Attingham Park every month during 2017, we need to decide where our monthly visit will be next year. We need somewhere open all year and of interest every month too. We shall let you know in the new year! I hope you have enjoyed visiting Attingham with us each month during 2017.

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My Garden Journal 2017 – June

We have reached the half way point through the year and I am beginning a second book in my Garden Journal 2017. A book of blank pages waiting to be filled with words, paintings and photographs.

On the first page of my new book I started my June reports by writing, “June is the month when our wildlife friends become very obvious, pollinators and predators work away helping us out, and all our wild friends entertain us, stimulating our senses. We had a dip in the wildlife pond with a net and found a healthy population of newts and dragonfly larvae. Whenever we sit in the summerhouse for a tea break we are entertained by birds coming for a drink or bathe in the pebbled shallow end, especially bright are the Goldfinches with their splashes of red and yellow. Next to the summerhouse door a pair of Blue Tits is nesting in one of our boxes. Both parents are making frequent visits into the garden to collect caterpillars to feed to their young. Each day these caterpillars get larger as the youngsters  grow and their appetites grow even more quickly.

Wildlife in the garden is so entertaining!”

Over the page brightly coloured photographs glow from the pages, photographs of Geum cultivars.

“Plant of the month for June is the Geum, the cultivars with hot colours – yellows, oranges and reds, – Totally Tangerine, Koi, Mrs Bradshaw, Lady Stratheden ………………..”

        

Leaving the brightly coloured Geums behind I next looked at a few representatives of our garden’s wildlife friends.

“Double Brimstones, butterfly and moth, the Brimstone Moth and the Brimstone Butterfly. 

The Brimstone Butterflies are one of the earliest arrivals in our garden but a few continue to fly in May and June. The Brimstone Moth flies in both daytime and night time.”

On the page opposite I talk about and paint the Little Owl, a regular visitor to our patch.

“We host three owls in our garden, the Tawny, the Barn and the Little. When we first moved to Plealey our Little Owl migrated in search of warmer places every Autumn to return in Spring.Today they stay with us year round. We love this change!”

 

Over the page I share with you some of our Foxgloves, the Digitalis family.

“Foxgloves, spires of colour buzzing with bees,  flower every day this month. Bumble Bees and our neighbour’s  Honey Bees disappear right inside the larger flower gloves. Bees explore each flower on each spike starting at the lowest bloom and moving upwards methodically.”

             

Next I looked at one of our poppies, Papaver somniferum the Opium Poppy.

“Papaver somniferum comes in a variety of  pinks and lilacs”. 

     

“The small orange double poppy is Papaver rupifragum “Orange Feathers”.

From an orange poppy to an orange rose I moved on to look at a small flowered orange patio climber.

“Rosa “Warm Welcome” is a small climber and a cheerful charmer. Roses continue to flower profusely throughout the June garden.”

    

June turned out to be a difficult month for the garden with extremes of heat accompanied by a long dry spell causing plants to suffer especially relatively recently planted trees and shrubs. We water trees every week for a year after planting but a week’s holiday prevented us from doing this. We returned to find trees and shrubs with brown shrivelled leaves. A sad sight. I wrote, “June ended up being a dry month with many plants showing signs of stress, especially trees planted this year and lawn areas. We need rain urgently!” I included photos of some of the plants looking worse for wear.

    

On the opposite page, which is the final page for June I mentioned the return of the rain, refreshing us and the garden. “In the last few days of the month, steady rain helped put life and vitality back into our garden putting extra sparkle in flowers and gloss on foliage. We can only hope that trees planted earlier this year survive. They look troubled! Lilies however quickly burst back into life.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Walk in the Park – Attingham Park – June

We made our June visit to Attingham Park early in the month to see how summer was coming on in the walled garden and in the wilder parts of the park along the woodland walks. We enjoyed a view of the cottage garden on our way to begin wandering beneath tall trees towards the walled garden.

  

The walled garden impressed us so much because it was full of colour, with plants in the double herbaceous border bursting with blooms.

We left the walled garden taking the path through the adjoining orchard, where we sat for a while to enjoy some ice-creams. Fully refreshed we followed the winding paths beneath the trees and between the shrubs, taking the Woodland Walk before taking a short cut back to the parkland, over two bridges and past the hall itself. You may notice that as we crossed over the bridges we enjoyed playing Pooh Sticks.

I thought I could share my photographs via a gallery for you to enjoy. Please click on the first pic then navigate using the arrows. I hope you enjoy the views we enjoyed.

 

Our next visit to Attingham Park will be in July when we will be well into summer.

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My Garden Journal 2017 – May

So as spring moves towards its end and we look forward to summertime, it is time to look at my Garden Journal 2017 entries for May.

I began by writing, “May is the month when Spring turns to Summer and Roses are the stars of many gardens. Irises shine out alongside them and many early hardy perennials join in.”

“Rosa rugosa – deliciously scented purple rose flowers throughout the summer, followed by large, glossy, red hips.

  

“Bearded iris.”

  

“This is the month when all our patient hardening off of non-hardy “delicates” pays off and we can return them to the garden where they add another dimension.

Hayworthia cymbiformis with its rosettes of boat-shaped succulent translucent leaves, hails from South Africa.”

I did a watercolour and fibre-tip pen picture of this unusual little succulent, which proved quite a challenge.

  

Turning over to look at the next double page spread we see a sea of pinks and purples. I share our Cercis siliquastrum with you and some more May specials, all decked out in pinks.

“Plant of the month for the month of May is a small, flowering tree, Cercis siliquastrum , a favourite.” Our Cercis is also called the Judas Tree and the Mediterranean cercis.

    

I continued to look at May special plants, more pink ones!

“More May time specials – those little flowers so worthy of us seeking them out. Take a walk around our patch and I will look down to see what is looking special. Sugar pinks……..Shocking pinks….. Lipstick pinks…..”

  

Turn over once again and we see that the pages consider the very special little plants, the Dodecatheons, with Euphorbias alongside.

“Dodecatheon – secret gems of the shade garden – sit demurely in dappled shade. Their delicacy and the unique form of their flowers ask the gardener to stop, stoop and study them close up. They are members of the Primula family, the Primulaceae, but it is hard to spot any family features.

The flowers nod on slender stems rising from a basal clump of foliage. We grow the cerise D. cusickii and the white-flowered D. media White Shooting Star.

Close up we find yellow, brown and pink on the white flowers and yellow, orange, red and even blue on the pink flowers.

Dodecatheon are true shooting stars of any shaded border.”

    

On the page opposite I feature “Bracts at their brightest and best” and go on to look at Euphorbias, featuring photographs of a few of our many varieties. “Euphorbias burst into the brightest possible shades of yellow, orange and red in May. A good month to do so as the bracts catch the rain drops from the frequent showers and as the sun follows on the colours of these bracts brighten further. Here is a small selection of our many much-loved Euphorbias, and more will follow later in May.”

My journal entries for May continues with a look at our garden after a shower, “After the rain……. Plants buck up, birds sing louder and bees return to search for flowers to rob of pollen and nectar. Leaves catch the last rain drops to fall and store them for later. Droplets sit on veins and in leaf centres and act as lenses. Even the birdbaths are topped up!”

            

Water, water everywhere ……………..

 

Over another page and we look at some of our little garden friends and allies and next to that a painting challenge for me as I try to paint two very delicate heads of flowers.

“May is the month when our wildlife friends live and work alongside us everyday, beneath our feet in the soil, in the plants surrounding us and in the sky above. From first light, if not slightly before, birds begin their chorus growing to a crescendo as more and more join in. Blackbirds, robins and wrens are first to open their hearts to us with loud song and this trio are also the last to go quiet after the light dims. Owls keep calling throughout the dark hours.

Above our heads swallows, house martins and swifts chatter and squeal as they put on balletic flying demonstrations, catching high-flying insects as they do so. Under stones, inside shrubs  and in our greenhouse spiders seem so busy, constantly rushing around.”

“Beautiful flower heads, a painting challenge for May.”

 

My jottings for May next turned to flowering shrubs and roses.

“Roses and other flowering shrubs.”

A selection of our May-flowering roses …………………..

    

………… and flowering shrubs.

      

Back to Euphorbias as we turn the page over and I feature more of our collection of the unusual plants with bracts as bright as any flower.

“More crazy Euphorbias!  They have a futuristic look to them, each whorl of bracts like a spaceship.”

“So varied! So bright!”

        

“Despite their acidic colours, Euphorbias partner well with other plants.”

    

“We often partner one Euphorbia with another.”

  

So turning over the page we find the final page for May in my 2017 Garden Journal where I share some of our flowering climbers with you.

“Climbing plants begin to place splashes of colour high up in the trees and on obelisks at eye height, adding another dimension to the Avocet patch. Akebia, Clematis, Lonicera and Coronilla.”

    

So, the first book in my 2017 Garden Journal comes to an end as the month of May does also. My notes, photos and paintings for the month of June will start off the second 2017 book. See you then.

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A Walk in the Park – Attingham Park April – Part 1

We managed to find a day close to the end of April to make our monthly visit to Attingham Park. It was a bright warm day so we knew we would have much to look forward to. As we made our way beneath tall mature trees full of noisy nesting Jackdaws and Rooks we were joined by grandparents carrying out their grandchildren caring duties so the sounds at our level were of laughing youngsters enjoying being outdoors.

There was so much to enjoy, wildflowers in full vibrant colour, fresh green leaf burst in the trees and busy productive growing in the walled garden.

The old Head Gardener’s cottage garden provided a colourful welcome to the park’s visitors.

 

Enjoy a wander through the walled garden by exploring the gallery below. (Click on the first pic and navigate through clicking on the right arrow.)

We left the walled garden to follow the One Mile Walk, which would take us close to the river and afford us views of the woodland and pastureland beyond. It is a quiet but popular walk. Most visitors here enjoy the peace and the chance to be part of nature.

 

Bluebells gave clouds of deep blue, a haze of calm and beauty.

    

The pale colours of fresh willow foliage gave a ghostly feeling to this section of the walk.

 

Rhododendrons provided surprise splashes of colour in the shadows of the tallest of trees.

 

Towards the end of our wanderings for our April visit to Attingham Park, the deciduous trees with their bright fresh new foliage and bursting buds gave way to dark needled coniferous evergreens. Their large cones looked like a family of young Little Owls.

 

In part two of our report on our April visit to Attingham Park I will share with the the pleasure of finding flowers, wild and cultivated, on our wanderings and some pics of fresh foliage growth.

 

 

 

 

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A Walk in the Park – February at Attingham Park – Part 1

It is mid-February and time for our second visit to Attingham Park, our nearest National Trust property. We awoke on the day of our planned visit to a dark overcast sky and light rain hanging in the air, but we set off nonetheless, determined that the weather would not spoil our plans. We started with a quick coffee break but the rain had not improved when we set off on the actual walk to the walled garden and onwards along “The Mile Walk”.

We were on the look out for signs of fresh growth and early signs of wildlife activity. We were not expecting to find much change in the walled garden. Leaf buds were opening on several trees and shrubs, the first signs of fresh growth, as well as a few very early flowers on shrubs.

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As we left the coffee shop in the courtyard we made our way towards the walled garden following the soft bark path beneath extremely tall trees, where odd leaves brown from autumn were still caught in their lower branches. Up above in the uppermost branches Jackdaws were busy tidying up their nests from last year and noisily chattering away as they did so.

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Snowdrops carpeted the floor beneath tall trees looking at their brightest in the shade of hollies which are a feature of the woodland garden here. After enjoying the snowdrops and the variety of hollies we soon found ourselves in the protection of the Walled Garden.

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The volunteer gardeners had been working hard skillfully pruning the fruit and we really enjoyed appreciating their skills. A neat layer of compost provided a warm protective mulch and gave an extra level of neatness.

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In the very centre of the four segments of the walled garden a dipping well is conveniently placed. Alongside waits an old wheeled water bucket cart beautifully crafted in iron and galvanised metal. Today it is more decorative then functional.

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New life was showing in the herbaceous borders running along both sides of the main centre path.

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As we moved into the glasshouse yard bright blue splashes of colour showed strongly in the borders and in pots, diminutive Iris reticulata.

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We never fail to be impressed by the workmanship evident wherever old glasshouses have been restored to their former glory.

 

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We exited the walled garden via the doorway leading to the orchard, which also gave us access to the lean-to buildings outside the walls themselves. We explored each building and recess to discover old clay pots, the old boiler and an apple store.

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So leaving the warmer atmosphere found within the walled garden, we returned to the path that would take us to The Mile Walk. That will be the subject of my Attingham Park February walk part two.

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A Walk in the Park – Attingham in January – Part Two – Woodland Walk

Back with the second part of our report of our January visit to Attingham Park we find ourselves taking the path into the woodland at this Shropshire National Trust property.

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When leaving the walled garden the visitor has the choice of two walks and we decided to follow the 3 mile “Woodland Walk” as the weather seemed set dry for the day. Next month when we make our February visit we will follow the “Mile Walk”.

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Just a short way into our walk we came across the “Burning Site” marked by a wooden deer complete with impressive antlers. We like gardens with a touch of humour so we were delighted to discover this family of owls created from wood offcuts left after trees surgery work. They were created by the gardeners as a competition. We loved them all!

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Walking in woodlands in the winter helps highlight textures and patterns not easily spotted when the trees and shrubs are in full leaf. The gentle colours of lichens and mosses are more easily appreciated too as they carpet tree trunks. Please follow the gallery below featuring bark textures and the colours of lichen and mosses. The texture of fallen trees is changed over the years by the huge array of hard-working fungi present in the woodlands. Without these fungi the fallen wood would pile up so the fungi’s function of breaking down the dead trees is essential to the well-being of the woodland ecosystem. Click on the first photo and navigate using the right hand arrow.

Woodland walks are made more interesting by the manner in which rays of light penetrate the canopy, creating patterns and patches of strong contrasting light.

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After enjoying exploring the woodland following the Woodland Walk way-marked path we cut back across the parkland to the house itself. First glimpse of the house is through a framework of Cupressus trees. To find this view we crossed over two stone bridges which took the path over water and the stonework attracted as much lichen as the tree trunks did.

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Our return to Attingham Park will be in February when we will look at the Walled Garden again and then follow the much shorter walk, the Mile Walk.

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A Walk in the Park – Attingham in January – Part 1 – The Walled Garden

So here we are with the first of this year’s monthly visits to our chosen patch, Attingham Park, a National Trust property and without doubt one of the most popular. It is so popular simply because there is such a choice of walks. For our January visit we chose a cold but bright day and we enjoyed the company of the winter sun.

We began our wander by visiting the walled garden to see what the gardeners have been getting up to within the protection of its walls. We took the soft path where the surface is made from chipped bark which feels friendlier and more natural under our feet than the alternative gravel path which runs almost parallel. It is good to feel a path giving slightly beneath each footstep. The path leads us beneath tall mature deciduous trees bare of their leaves. The leaves from the fall remain carpeting the ground as a reminder of autumn but there are also signs of things to come, the leaves of bulbs have broken the surface and look like green spears thrusting towards the sky. It won’t be long until they are flowering away brightening up the woodlands. Buds on the branches of the trees are fattening up ready to open in the spring and clothe the woodland with greenery.

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As we approached the walled garden the freshly painted bench glowed white strongly contrasting with the brick-red wall which provided support for trained fruit trees.

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Entering the walled garden we could appreciate the vastness of it and marvel at the amount of produce grown in the past for the “big house”.

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We could see straight away that the gardening team of employed gardeners and volunteer gardeners had been busy creating beautiful structures from hazel and willow for climbing crops to clamber up. They had also been spreading a thick layer of rich compost as a mulch where needed, in between which deep layers of chipped bark had been lain to make soft comfortable paths.

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The most important crops remaining in the ground and currently being harvested are the members of the brassica family, such as cabbages, kales and sprouts. They are very decorative crops with their coloured leaves with each cultivar sporting its own texture. One crop is hidden away beneath terracotta forcers, keeping the light off their developing stalks, rhubarb. The forced stalks will be pale-coloured and sweet-tasting.

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Blackboards keep visitors informed of the current gardening tasks being carried out in the garden. The one info board sadly explained that the chickens were under cover because of the current “bird flu” scare.

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An annex to the walled garden is enclosed in a similar fashion but contains the range of glasshouses and cut flower beds. In this area there is a collection of the herbaceous bulb, Camassia. In the summer their many shades of blue and white will brighten up their corner border.

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On entering the bothy we discovered the gardeners and volunteers enjoying their mid-morning break and a chance to get together to discuss the work in hand. They were a happy bunch laughing and enjoying their company. As always the bothy had interesting displays on view for visitors to enjoy and learn from.

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We left the walled garden via the wooden doorway into the orchard. We found that the trees had been treated to a dose of wood ash from the bothy’s fire and woodburner. The outer walls are also used for training fruits possibly grape vines or kiwi fruit. We shall find out when the leaf buds unfurl.

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The volunteers and gardeners followed us out of the walled garden each wheeling a wheelbarrow in which they would soon be loading more mulch for top-dressing the veg beds. Leaving the productive area of the park we decided to move forward and follow the path leading us to the Woodland Walk. In part two of my January Attingham post we will share the woodland walk experience with you.

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Return to a favourite garden – Wollerton Old Hall

We are lucky living where we do with the choice of top quality gardens for us to visit and enjoy. The counties of Shropshire, our home county, and its neighbour Herefordshire are home to some real gems from tiny back gardens to large parklands. One of the best Shropshire gardens is Wollerton Old Hall, a garden we have visited many times as it is one of the best gardens in the UK created in the 20th century. We decided we were due another day there in 2016. Wollerton is a great garden all throughout its open season but it peaks in late summer and early autumn so we decided to visit on a bright day in September.

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Two elements make Wollerton such a charismatic garden, the strength of its structure and the originality and quality of the planting. Wollerton’s many garden rooms are linked by pathways, gateways, arches and alleyways inviting the visitor to make choices to help guide their route around the garden.

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Box cut into shapes and hedges of box and yew give strong bones to the garden and help lead the eye and focus on important elements.

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The borders at Wollerton Old Hall are full of exciting planting combinations and exciting plants.

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The Hot Garden is the most exciting planting as it shines and glows in the slightest hint of brightness. There are so many strong plant combinations to enjoy. This patch can brighten the dullest day and bring a smile to the saddest face.

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It has been fun sharing our love of the gardens at Wollerton Old Hall with you. It is a garden we take friends and family to so that we can share our enjoyment with them. Perhapps we will visit in the spring or summer of 2017 and we can show you what a good garden it is then too.

 

 

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The Dorothy Clive Garden in December

So here we are with the final installment in my series of posts where we report on our monthly visits to the wonderful gardens on the Staffordshire and Shropshire border, the Dorothy Clive Garden. We have really enjoyed our monthly visits and every time has been so different with different things to stimulate all the senses.

It has been a most enjoyable series of visits. Next year we will be looking at a very different place in our monthly visit series.

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As we have come to expect, the table decorations reflected the season, as we enjoyed a coffee and cake to launch our final visit for 2016. The borders up against the tea shop wall looked so bare now after them recently being full of the brightest colours possible provided by Nerines. But within a few yards of leaving the tea shop we discovered colour in flowers and buds giving promises of things to come.

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The new Winter Garden has now really come into its own and will continue to impress for a few months to come.

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This rolling bundle of box bushes tumble like acrobats along the hedgerow and by partnering up with two mature trees they frame the countryside beyond. Great fun! The next three group around the bottom of a tree like three young triplets cuddling up to their mother. In the third pic the box balls invite the visitor to pass between them to discover more garden beyond.

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Berries on trees and shrubs will hang on well into the winter depending how poor the weather becomes and how deeply winter sets in both here and on the continent. If weather as far away as Siberia becomes too inclement for the indigenous thrushes, starlings and blackcaps they migrate to our shores forming raiding parties upon arrival spreading countrywide consuming the fruits, seeds and berries in the countryside and increasingly our gardens. Some colours also last longer as birds are a selective lot when they have the choice, red first, oranges next then yellow and finally white and translucent.

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The colours, textures and patterns found on the bark of trees as well as the stems of shrubs take centre stage at this time of year and are lit up by any late year sunshine.

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We associate dried flowers with indoor arrangements in the winter but there are plenty of interesting versions to be found outside, especially if you can find some Hydrangeas like the many at the Dorothy Clive Gardens. The colours are those of faded tapestries.

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Although not great fans of coniferous trees we can appreciate them more in December when their heavy skeletal frameworks show well. Cones and the last of the flowers hang on their solid branches.

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