Garden diary

Bathed in sunshine

 

The sun is as strong at this time of year as it is in late August the radio warned me this morning, barely five minutes after I had scraped the ice from my windscreen. Sure enough by 11 o'clock this morning the sun was warm. This time of year brings the first really warm days of the year and the warmest days we have experienced in five or six months. It is heavenly. Somewhere in the trees above the common a woodpecker is busy drumming away as birds sing all around me.

This morning Hudson the cat was excitedly pursuing a stoat around the kitchen garden. Everywhere the garden is waking up but the contrasts at this time of year can make being outside uncomfortable. I was basking in hot sunshine one day last week and the next I was searching out extra coats as I shivered my way through a bitterly cold and breezy day. It feels to me almost like the growing pains of summer, the change is coming and it's inevitable; it's a great feeling.

The pots of tulips are just beginning to flower and I always find it an anxious time. You really want to know that those combinations, which seemed so exiting in November, really live up to their billing. The light in spring can make a huge difference to the success of a combination. Early indications look promising. We've really tried to improve the pot display this year planting maybe three times as many pots as we did the first year I was here. I was making willow support rings for the pots a couple of weeks ago and it seemed to take me forever, despite the fact that most of the pots already had supports. At the end of the day I counted up the rings I had made and reached 36, which is a fair amount of extras!

The Osmanthus topiary we planted a couple of weeks ago is in full flower now and is looking rather fine. Flowering topiary is something new to me but it looks very at home in the garden here. The Osmanthus outside my toolshed is looking (and smelling) particularly good.

Summer might not be here yet but we've had a sneak preview of it over the last week here at Allt-y-bela and it's been rather lovely.

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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Frost and fire

 

There are some activities in gardening that feel like they relate right back deep within our shared history. I find these moments when walking alone through woodland far away from the noise of traffic and the other distractions of modernity. Tending a fire is perhaps the most evocative of these experiences and I still enjoy the heat, the light and the unpredictability of fire that have fascinated people since the beginning of time.

Over the past few days the weather has become very wintery. Chilly, still, sunny days have preceded clear, cold, starry nights and heavy frosts have clothed the garden in icy white. Today began with a temperature of -7C and rose no higher than zero. At this time of year the sun remains very low on the horizon, barely rising above the tree line on the ridge to the north of the house. The result has been beautiful and savage. The months before Christmas tend to be a gentle, gradual cooling with the coldest of the weather arriving in January and February so a -7C in November feels particularly harsh.

Over the last few weeks we have been alternating our time between clearing and tidying the beds for winter and planting bulbs for the spring. I enjoy the duality of these activities; on the one hand you are acknowledging winter as you strip back the year's herbaceous growth, while on the other you are planting little packets of energy ready to emerge as soon as the worst of the cold has passed.

When the frost is as heavy as it has been for the passed few days it is generally advisable to stay off the grass as much as possible. This pushes us further into the landscape in order to find productive work and we have spent the cold days clearing bramble and weeds from along the boundaries beyond the drove. These areas have generally been outside of our reach as we concentrate our efforts closer to the house, but now as we open up the spaces and let in the light again a whole new surge of energy and ideas are promising to enhance and regenerate the space.

The bonfire smokes continually as the fire slowly devours the branches, sticks and stems left there a month or more ago. The heavy cold frost clings to each and every surface, fusing the branches together despite them being only a few centimetres from the flames. Through the garden the smoke is caught by beams of sunlight creating strange light effects and ghostly grey white forms, which seem to hang in the still crisp air.

On previous days the sun has reached down through the southern fields behind the house but today it never got as far as the garden. A mile down the lane in the sun it is 5C warmer and back in the garden the cold has been a bit of a shock to the system. If the winter continues to be cold and crisp we will certainly have more time to bring the more outlying areas under control, and just as importantly create plenty to burn. Today our fire might not have been quite enough to stay the cold but looking into the flames and the smell of woodsmoke is as powerful and compelling as it ever was. 

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

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

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