Only last week I was bemoaning the lack of a Tardis to transport me to a snow-covered Bodnant Garden, near Tal-y-Cafn, Conwy, Wales. The universe did not send me a Tardis, but it did the next best thing. A friend asked us to check out the place his family came from – Dolgellau – and Bodnant just happened to be on our way home.
While the snow in the garden had long gone, heavy white shawls on the Snowdonia mountain range opposite gave Bodnant a wintry feeling. The 130 acres of garden give plenty of scope for walking: you really need some form of season ticket* to make the most of it all.
We headed for the winter garden, one of several favourite places at Bodnant, created by clearing azaleas from a neglected hillside rockery. The stems of rubus, cornus, Betula utlis and Prunus serrula provide architecture while witch hazel’s spidery yellow flowers hang eerily in the air. Tall grasses make the most of the light, with spreading plants such as heather, cyclamen, hellebores and irises scattered below.
February is snowdrop month for much of the UK. I’ve gathered a list of places you can see snowdrops this month in my home county, Lancashire, with details of their snowdrop open days. If you’re planning to take close up pictures, go sooner rather than later to catch them at their freshest.
For those who live elsewhere in Britain, I’ve added a link at the bottom for you to research local gardens with good collections of snowdrops. Continue reading
I’m a big fan of winter gardens that make the most of plants that look good when herbaceous borders are expanses of mulch-covered dirt. Trees with white trunks such as this Betula utilis var jacquemontii (Himalayan birch) often feature, together with evergreens, light-reflecting grasses, red stemmed Cornus (dogwood), Skimmia, Hamamelis (witch hazel), flowering heather, hellebores, Bergenia, Cyclamen and winter flowering bulbs.
Plants like this seem to shrug off winter weather, but the current cold spell means that the hardiness of plants of all types is being tested in many UK and American gardens.
Some gardeners go to great lengths to keep tender plants alive, wrapping their pots up, covering them with some form of plant blanket, or moving them indoors. Others will only plant what grows. Many of us are somewhere in-between, willing to offer our plant treasures a helping hand if conditions are unusually bad, provided we know what to do.
What makes a sensory garden different to any other garden? We can expect the boundaries to be pushed. Take Howick Hall’s new sensory garden, for example. Starting, as in any garden, with the soothing power of green, harmonious and contrasting textures and colours are layered on to stimulate us.
We respond with an instinctive head-turn as we half-spot a flash of wings between rustling leaves. Our thumbs and forefingers are stained and scented from crushing a rosemary leaf, just one of many fragrant plants around us. We tune in to sounds – water splashing, birdsong and the blunt music of windchimes. Continue reading
My home town, Darwen, has several Victorian parks, including Bold Venture Park. At the entrance, an angel, now nearly 100 years old, holds up a wreath and an olive branch to remind us of the consequences of war and to commemorate those who fell in WW1. The angel’s wings are the first things you see when approaching from the town.
Bold Venture is a hillside park with an interesting topography, built around quarries and steep ravines. A small lake, home to ducks, is another visual magnet. The lake rarely freezes right over, but was cold enough to support a band of ice, covered in snow in places.
Red passion flowers, blazing joyfully in the early January sunshine during our visit to Florida, looked for all the world like a miracle to my Northern English eyes, tuned in to consider a single early snowdrop a delight.
It’s a bit of a minefield making sure which of the various scarlet red passionflowers you have before you. Passiflora vitifolia gets its name from the vine-shaped foliage. As its folk name is The Perfumed Passionflower you might expect me to have something to report about its fragrance but, not associating passionflowers with fragrance, it didn’t cross my mind to sniff it. It’s a vigorous vine when happy, able to reach 6 m (20 ft) if its surroundings force it to climb to reach sunlight. This smaller one was able to bask in the sunshine along a fence in the Naples Botanical Garden’s Brazilian Garden.
Passion flowers wow us with their intricate forms, even when their colours are relatively drab. This overhead view of a red passion flower could almost be a lesson in botany.
Three red-speckled styles that end in pale stigmas arch elegantly over at the top of the flower. The structure appears to balance on a creamy ovary in the centre, directly below; underneath that, five speckled filaments with green, pollen-bearing anthers attached. The pollen is held underneath – you can just glimpse it on the outer edges. Next, rings of eyelash-style filaments: long, dark red ones, with shorter ones in the middle, designed to make pollinators work hard enough for their nectar to withdraw with pollen on their backs (or heads, in the case of humming birds).
Underneath all that, five true petals, with five outer sepals beneath and between, all ten recurving backwards. My personal take on their colour? It’s the classic British fire engine red, more often described as crimson or scarlet.
Given its vine-like foliage, it would seem apt if this miraculous little plant went on to produce tiny bunches of grapes. Instead the fruits resemble dainty melons that some people describe as tasting like sour strawberries and others say are poisonous. It would be wise not to sample them unless you’re an expert.
While I was in Mississippi, we were passing Suzie Cranston’s house when a ball of energy with a beaming smile bounced out of the driveway, exclaiming “I’m painting them! You must look! And I’m really enjoying it!”
Waving us down the path to her workshop, she pointed out the detailing of the ones she was working on. Any bare wood had been painted over with cheerful colours. Continue reading
Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb”s semi-double flowers are full enough to amply frame a central boss of golden stamens, lifted by glimpses of white around the eye. The petals have a rich, velvety character. You’ll see ‘Tuscany Superb’ described as maroon, purple, crimson, burgundy. I’ve contented myself with crimson-purple, but you can take your pick! As the flowers age, their colour darkens.
We have relatively few scented, crimson-purple rose varieties, and this one remains popular with those who are willing to grow roses that are summer flowering (the industry term for once-flowering). While some roses are grown as a thorny deterrent, ‘Tuscany Superb’ rose is prickly at best.
Depending on which expert you believe (in the absence of the luxury of having a bloom before you to savour), the fragrance is either medium or strong. Everyone agrees on its character, which is a classic Old Rose fragrance. Continue reading