Garden diary

The first day of Spring

 

Spring is coming now, you can feel it in the warmth of the sun and hear it in the birdsong. I'm never really conscious as to how and when the change begins every year and yet you feel it, you sense the change.

Everywhere in the garden that change is taking place, seeming to gather pace every day, sycamore seeds are germinating in the rich fertile ground of the kitchen garden and also in the thin grass of the amphitheatre. The first leaves are beginning to break on the hazels on the drove, delicate windflower on the lane, and everywhere there are fresh green and purple shoots emerging from the earth.

It's a hopeful time of year and every warm day leaves you more convinced that winter and the cold are finally banished for a few short months at least. Yet, the weather can change very quickly, and the warmth disappears momentarily reminding you that it is still only March after all.

The garden at Allt-y-bela is cleverly designed; at first the floral focus of the garden is kept very close to the house, the bulb meadow and courtyard are the initial focus with the snowdrops on the drove and blossom acting more as an eye catcher, drawing the view out. Now however, with the narcissus blooming, the focus is drawn out further and it will stay this way until the tulips and then the cottage garden bring you back into the garden's core.

Today I went out to gather flowers for the house. The Narcissus lobularis are just reaching their peak before they inevitably begin to fall away and with the fresh green of the new hazel leaves and the acid green of the Euphorbia, I soon had a jug of flowers that felt like spring. Oxslips, a single stem of hellebore and water marigolds completed the arrangement. In a way though I felt I was missing an important part of the garden, the first few snake's head fritillaries are in flower  and whilst it felt a very hard decision to sacrifice any for a small arrangement it also felt remiss of me to not include this beautiful spring wonder of a flower. In the end it felt right to arrange it simply with some anemone and narcissus as a simple bedside jar.

I've found the practice of picking flowers really very helpful in understanding the changes which take place on an almost daily basis at Allt-y-bela. When you are looking for the best flowers to pick you notice how the quality and quantity changes over the weeks. Actively looking for flowers has connected me with the garden in a slightly different way to that which I am used to.

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request. 

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February in the making

 

I'm generally not a big fan of February. Although it is the month the garden really begins to come back to life, February is usually cold and dark. This last month has certainly been dark (and gloomy and damp) but by and large it has lacked those beautiful cold crisp clear winter days when the snowdrops shine and the aconites glisten like gold amongst the grass.

Yet last Friday I arrived to a very different scene indeed, the sun was out and although it was chilly there was definitely more than just a hint of warmth in the sunshine. Straight away I had one thing on my mind: mowing! It might sound a little bit silly but opportunities to mow early in the season can be few and far between and if my short time in Cumbria taught me nothing else then it was to mow whenever you can! The alternating temperatures of late winter can encourage grass growth while not particularly allowing you time to mow, the garden then was looking a little ragged. Grinning like a lunatic I set about mowing and strimming the garden into shape once more.

Then this week wind, rain, heavy frost, sleet, sun, leaden skies and drizzle have all featured, it's been a proper British spring mixture. Sniffling and sneezing through a very unwelcome cold (maybe it was still a little too cold to go mowing in a t-shirt!) I set out on Monday to ready the garden for our plant supports course the next day. Through heavy rain and squally winds we arranged materials and wove the finishing touches to the structures and generally got everything together. I'm a bit of perfectionist when I'm preparing for courses or tours, I like to feel that the only wild card on the day is likely to be me!

Luckily the weather wasn't as bad as forecast on Tuesday despite one of those trademark spring showers, where the water droplets seem to be larger than physics should allow, hitting just after lunch. I really enjoy meeting people who come on the courses and sharing the garden with them.

Our plant structures course started with me giving a little background talk about the garden and the house and explaining how these influence our structures. I'm hugely enthusiastic about Arne's approach and about the way we garden at Allt-y-bela, I could talk all day about it and so I have to try and be strict with myself so that we leave plenty of time for making.

I love seeing the range of items produced on this course. We aim to teach some basic skills, provide materials and then support people to make the kind of structures that they really want to make. It makes for a really dynamic, fun environment. It was a real highlight for me come the end of the day to see happy faces loading a whole range of items into their cars. One of the great joys of working in horticulture is how prevalent the sharing ideas and skills is. Whatever it is you want to know or to learn there will be people out there who are almost literally bursting with enthusiasm over it and will be only too willing to share it with you.

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.

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A few additions

 

Change is the only constant in life. I feel like I've heard that sentiment expressed in more ways than I can recall. In truth though it has become something of a mantra of mine, reminding me that even the worst situations are transient whilst helping me to enjoy the best moments to their fullest. Working in a garden though, you can hardly fail to appreciate the truth of the matter. Each day, each week, each year, the garden is changing, nature's chaos perverting and adjusting our well considered plans into often wonderful and sometimes frustrating results.

Working in the garden at Allt-y-bela can be incredibly frenetic, energising and perplexing in equal measure. This week has been one of those weeks. It began with preparation for our rose dome building course, my list of worries and things to stress over has become an annual tradition now and I'm learning to stay slightly calmer. Despite some pretty persistent Welsh drizzle in the afternoon contributing to the familiar gardeners plea 'you should have been here yesterday!' the course was great fun and as an army of rose domes were contorted into all manner of shapes and sizes I felt very happy to have been part of the day.

No time to waste however as preparations began the next morning for some new additions to the garden. As I arrived in the lane a very large lorry was waiting and I had more than a suspicion that its contents would be for us.

Luckily for me Arne had arranged his crack team of landscapers to install these massive new plants so I could take part in the really nice bit, the placements and the little tweaks: 'I think it needs to come around 30 degrees clockwise' all very satisfying!

Amongst the new arrivals was a beech tree that Arne has been coveting for more than a decade! Just getting the enormous tree out of the the lorry was a Herculean task, followed by a strange convoy that included the beech tree dangling from a reversing telehandler, the Land Rover and trailer containing a beautiful multi-stemmed Cornus mas dome and a transit flatbed truck with a pair of Osmanthus topiary balls. We must have made an impressive, if a little bizarre, spectacle!

Safely back in the garden the last day and a half have been dominated by the installation of these new plants. Arne and I stood on the drive as he spoke of how this was the last delivery of large plants for Allt-y-bela, before mentioning the 5m tall Magnolia that will be arriving soon!

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener, Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.

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The first blooms

 

The garden at Allt-y-bela is beginning to spring to life once more. On the droveway and through the woodland snowdrops abound drifting in vast white carpets across the brown green of the winter landscape. There is something magical and heartening to see swathes of ground suddenly coming to life in these dark weeks. Amongst the throng of single native snowdrops, a few double flowers can be found. You can generally tell the doubles by the broader nature of the flowers, the only way to be sure of course is to get down on your hands and knees and have a good look. The rewards certainly make the muddy knees worthwhile but it is a shame we don't get the chance to appreciate them in a more congenial environment.

Along the sides of the drive towards the field gate is a small wild bed filled with winter snowflakes. Winter aconites are beginning to establish there too. The winter snowflakes look a little like a broader stronger snowdrop, their heads still nod in the cold breeze but they are larger and slightly more showy.

The bulb lawn is beginning to show the first signs of life now too, a few short weeks ago I was looking across the grass at the telltale leaves of iris and crocus that offered so much promise and over the course of the last few days the flowers have been breaking out, first a few crocus, then the very first reticulated iris. Each day, come rain or shine, flowers have been emerging.

One of the frustrations I've found in past years is that I never seem to be able to photograph these spring treasures to really do them justice, then, while crawling around on my hands and knees through the mud it occurred to me that it would be rather lovely to bring these flowers into the house and photograph them properly. Around this time last year Allt-y-bela played host to a Dutch Masters flower arranging course, the resulting pictures were so stunnning I was desperate to have a go at recreating a similar sense of light and dark, fine detail and highlights. These early spring bulbs which posses such breathtaking beauty are perhaps slightly overlooked as we dodge the rain and hurry past against the biting cold. Brought indoors, with time to really look and appreciate them, their elegance shines through.

Once inside with our selection of flowers we decided to break them down into three groups; the crocus, the iris and the snowdrop type flowers. I think we could have very easily spent days placing them around the house to photograph. Allt-y-bela is such at atmospheric house, somehow though it always comes back to the older parts of the house, the medieval dining room with its massive stone fireplace and shining polished oak furniture lend themselves so freely to this style of photography.

The bulbs which are in flower now represent the beginning of the year in the garden at Allt-y-bela, there is so much to come, the thought is almost a little overwhelming. But this week, through the incessant rain and frost, these beautiful plants have emerged bringing with them a sense of positivity and hope for the coming year.

Plant information:

1. Left to right; Crocus subs. biflorus, Crocus tomasinianus, Crocus 'Snow Bunting', Crocus 'Cream Beauty'

2. Crocus 'Prins Claus' & Crocus tomasinianus

3. Crocus 'Snow Bunting'

4. Crocus 'Cream Beauty'

5. Left to right; Leucojum vernum 'Snow Flake, Galanthus 'Flore Pleno', Galanthus nivalis

6. Galanthus nivalis

7. Left to right; Iris reticulata 'Pauline', Iris reticulata 'Gordon', Iris reticulata 'Pixie', Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin', Iris reticulata 'George'

8. Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin'

9. Iris reticulata 'George'

10. Handtie of Iris reticulata 'Pauline', Iris reticulata 'Gordon', Iris reticulata 'Pixie', Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin' & Iris reticulata 'George'

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.

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Pruning the roses

 

Last week passed by in a blur of rose pruning, this week has begun a little differently; the incessant rain has forced me inside to plan my kitchen garden campaign, a task that is long overdue. That's not to say that the rose pruning is finished, those two weeks off I had at the beginning of the year saw to that!

I have had a relationship with roses ever since I've been a gardener and like most relationships it hasn't always been an easy one. Pruning and training tend to lead to blood being spilled and expletives exclaimed; these days I'm rather more calm. Roses are the scent of summer and at Allt-y-bela they are particularly venerated. The work of teasing and bending sometimes brittle rose stems to our every whim can feel like a labour of love in January, yet come June the work is forgotten and the flowers enjoyed.

Last week we rebuilt the rose domes, a job which sounds pretty quick but seems to take an eternity, before we then pruned the shrub roses.  Our task for this week is to prune the rose on the front of the studio (Rosa 'Souvenir de la Malmaison') and to rebuild the frame on the back of the house and retrain the spectacular (and prickly) Rosa 'Astra Desmond'.

The latter is no small task. The frame was built the year before I arrived at Allt-y-bela and three years on it was very rotten in parts. When it was built the roses barely reached six feet up it, now they are getting stuck behind the guttering! The frame is not attached to the wall at all but rather held on large uprights which stretch from the ground to the guttering, while the other pieces hang off them. The reason for this slightly strange method is that the lime render which covers the house is soft and would flake off if anything were to be attached to it.

The climbing roses are being trained in a method similar to that used at Sissinghurst where stems are trained into loops. The roses seem to flower just as effectively as if they were trained in a more traditional horizontal way but look rather more decorative.

The rain is slowing finally and so I'd better get back to it. Rose pruning is one of those tasks that mark the year for me, I love getting the roses trained and pruned and ready for their big moment a few short months away and have learned not to fight those pesky prickles quite so much!

Words: Steve Lannin

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.

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