Winter Walk Around Bodnant Garden in Wales

Bodnant House dwarfed by a large cedar tree

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.

Yellow witch hazel in a garden with tall grasses, dogwoods and heather

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.

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In Praise Of Winter Gardens, Plus A Tip Or Two

Wooden bench amongst winter plants and grasses

Bodnant Garden’s colourful winter garden

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.

Overhead view of a pot protected from the frost

A pot of bulbs wrapped in burlap, with a double layer of netting to deter squirrels

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Regular Random: Double Hellebore

Close up of a flower, held up to look inside

When you photograph a hellebore, you’re faced with some stark choices. Show the plant as it is and capture the natural essence of the bloom, or lift the flower to show the inside. It’s tempting to go for a macro shot like this one to reveal the beautiful pattern of veining but it gives me a weird feeling of misrepresentation; invasion, almost. It feels uncomfortably like peeking at a Victorian lady to get a glimpse of voluminous, lacy underwear.

A cluster of double hellebore flowers on sturdy stems

I would have said that this shot gives a better impression of the true character of the plant if the one in the back didn’t seem to be wearing a superman cape and keeping a watchful eye on a couple of conspirators in the foreground.  Continue reading

Two Hellebores At Ness Botanic Gardens

Velvety hellebore hybrid with a blurred sea of snowdrops

The first shot is a variation on a theme. You may remember the purple hellebore bowing its head in homage to snowdrops towards the end of my recent post about snowdrops. This flower was nearby. I bent down, half automatically, and turned the flower up to take a look inside. The darker spotting on a rich, purple background created an effect somewhere between velvet and silk. Very regal. It may be just my imagination, but in this shot, it’s the snowdrops that seem to be paying homage, like fans at a concert.  Continue reading

Beware of the Flowers…

Floating hellebore flowers

…cos I’m sure they’re gonna get you, yeah.

You’re not sure what that refers to, perhaps? That bit of punk pop rock fluff from the 20th century passed you by, even though it’s reputed to have been voted the nation’s seventh favourite lyric of all time in a 1999 BBC poll? Lucky you have me, then.

You do recall this is the same nation that overwhelmingly voted for Boaty McBoatface as the name of our spanking new polar research vessel (and still imagines more popular votes might be helpful)?

If you were expecting something more meaningful to accompany these floating hellebores, don’t worry, I’ve got that covered too. Continue reading

Helleborus: Spotted Doubles

Hellebore spotted double

If I was asked for one word to describe the character of hellebores, it would be demure. That shows the dangers of generalising. These beautifully spotted, double blooms look like something out of musical theatre.

Helleborus x hybridus Ashwood Garden Hybrid - spotted double

I can’t help wondering what they are whispering about. Fear of slugs? The shipping forecast?  The best hairdresser in the county – should that be petaldresser?

For those hoping for something a bit more botanical, these are Helleborus x hybridus (Ashwood Garden Hybrids).

Plantlust

Hellebore flowers

Every now and again, we gardeners spot a plant we really want. Not having the space or the conditions it deserves doesn’t always help reduce the cravings, but when we’re lucky enough to have the perfect spot, we’re almost powerless to resist.

If the plant is a mass propagated, named cultivar (and we know the variety name and can find a supplier) there’s something we can do about it, when it’s not, it’s more tricky. I’ve recently been bewitched by a hellebore I saw in woodland at the Ness Botanic Garden that I fear falls into the latter category.   Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge: Seasons

Double hellebore

I called in at Gresgarth Hall last Sunday for snowdrop day. As expected, the snowdrops were looking fine, but what ought to have been a surprise is that so many hellebores were in full flower too. Hellebore day isn’t scheduled for another month, so it’s perhaps as well that their flowers are so long lasting.

Far from being surprised, I’d been eagerly anticipating the hellebores. After all, I’d have had to have been keeping my head in a bucket not to realise this season is a strange one. Since the start of 2016, gardeners the length and breadth of the country have been marveling out loud on social media at the range of flowers brought out early by the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had this winter.  Continue reading

Winter garden: Gresgarth Hall

I promised to share more pictures from my most recent visit to Gresgarth Hall – here they are. I’ve tried to give you a quick private tour of this lovely winter garden.

Pink hellebores

It’s not often I’ve had the chance to see so many mature hellebores flowering. I wanted to try to capture a different impression of these generous plants than a picture of just one single flower can convey.

Hellebore with many flowers Continue reading