February

Cold for a few weeks now – down as low as -6 degrees in the polytunnel. A big fall of snow just up the road but nothing here apart from thick frost that persists all day in the shady parts of the garden. Today the sun shone, and although it only reached 4 degrees somehow if felt like a transition to something a little warmer.

IMG_1235 (1)White lines of birch against a blue February sky.

Earlier than last year, I decided that today would be stage one of the long borders preparation. This involves cutting down all the skeletal remains of last year’s growth. They’ve been looking great all winter – but in the bright light of a February morning they were starting to look a little tired. Here’s a before shot:IMG_1236This big clump of miscanthus will be moved in April when it warms up a bit – after 3 years it has outgrown its position. IMG_1239This year I used my new Niwaki herbaceous sickle – a brilliant Japanese tool made for harvesting rice and perfect for cutting perennials. I’m pretty sure that the whole process took roughly half as long as previous years – and I don’t feel any RSI in my wrists from constant use of secateurs. Highly recommended!IMG_1243Very quickly both sides of the borders were done, and five trips to the compost heap with  the trolley completed the job. The sun can now reach the new growth for the first time. Next stage will be to clear between each plant, removing weeds and dead leaves, then applying a layer of mulch. That will have to wait for the next sunny weekend – although the days are getting longer it was already late afternoon by the time I finished.IMG_1254Enough time for a quick springwatch walk to check on progress. Unfortunately no residents in the Snakesbury quack house yet..IMG_1250Really cold in the old orchard along the edge of the field – the sun is too low in the sky to reach here until March. There’s a plum that has blossomed really early in previous years, but no sign of life from it yet. February.IMG_1251

 

 

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Mid Winter Fires

Another year, another winter – now halfway through. It’s been a mild winter generally but this week has been colder with snow forecast over the coming week. Hopefully not another beast, but some cold is welcome; combined with clear sunny days almost the perfect winter weather. I was surprised to see lots of activity in the garden, but then looking back realised that it’s not any earlier than last year.

img_1187Hamamelis glowing in the low midday sun.

img_1183This auricula is very early, the only one to flower so far.

img_1206Iris unguicularis has been flowering since mid December, a wonderfully resilient and rewarding plant.

Hellebores are always a very welcome sight – these are starting to spread by self-seeding.

img_1189Winter honeysuckle fills the whole area with delicate lemony fragrant loveliness.

Bare stems of spindle, dogwood and ghost bramble, owning their space at this time of year.

img_1223Twisted hazel catkins are an early sign of spring.

img_1224Viburnum tinus – sadly not fragrant but flowering none the less.

These are brilliantly fragrant though; chimonanthus, daphne and mahonia.

img_1217There’s a very cold buck sheltering on the patio.

img_1216And a layer of ice on the pond.

img_1202The elder is looking very upright (and due for a trim).

img_1233And finally, snowdrops – what more can be said!

Winter planting

I’ve been taking advantage of the mild weather – with soft soil after all the rain it is the perfect time for planting. Today’s session started at first light around 07:00, was interrupted by heavy showers all through the day, and ended at 15:40 sunset. In a productive day like today I can plant about 60 trees. So far this year I have planted about 190.

The process involves the removal of 2 square foot of turf, digging, dipping the tree in a gel suspension of mycorrhizal fungi, planting, wrapping the tree with a bunny guard and then staking it with a cane. This weekend I planted alder buckthorn, lime, wild pear, paper bark birch, silver birch and jacquemontii birch.

These are the jacquemontii birch, grown from seed this year. There’s 62 in this (future) thicket.IMG_1168

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Hopefully they will grow as fast as the silver birch which seem to do roughly 1.5m a year at Snakesbury.

This is a (future) avenue of small leaved lime.IMG_1170

Here’s some bird cherry, spindle and wayfaring trees.IMG_1176

It’s good to have these planted in December before the ground gets frozen. And although it’s more like a plastic woodland at the moment within a few years it will start to turn into a real woodland. The journey is wonderful and I’m grateful every day to be doing this.IMG_1166

Winter: now here

The first frost of the year; it seems like winter is here. On the plus side, annual weeds have flopped into mush. The last leaves are falling, revealing the underlying structure of trees. Days are short, the darkness longer every night. The best place is fireside. When morning comes the frosted garden is worth getting cold for. These sedums hold the frost well.IMG_1140The last of the medlars, bletted, now frozen, soon to return to earth.IMG_1138The long borders are being shaped by the frost.IMG_1154Leonotis seedbeds will persist through the harshest winter weather.IMG_1150Gunnera is not nearly as resilient.IMG_1163The weekend brought more rain which made for slightly warmer soil, so I planted some bareroot trees and shrubs: 10 each of guelder rose, wayfaring tree, bird cherry, hornbeam and spindle. That brings the total to 96 planted so far this season, with another 240 to go. The new woodland is starting to take shape..

Trees and memory

Light is precious as autumn gives way to winter. With sunshine and clear skies, today was perfect for planting trees. I’ve put some evergreens in at the top of the field. Partly to remove a future view of the new housing estate on the other side of the tracks. Partly to provide a backdrop for future deciduous trees in the field. Partly because I like conifers. There’s 24 in place now – they seem very vulnerable in the open field but I’m hoping they’ll do OK. IMG_1105

Pinus wallichiana, a wonderful gift, has a great church view and – in the future – beyond.IMG_1107

The hedgerow looking quite wild, in need of weeding – but great, strong growth this year.IMG_1114

Chimneys of Snakesbury and the woodland beyond.IMG_1115

Three newly-planted Acer rubrum; the edge of a future clearing in the future woodland.IMG_1120

The big cherry lost most of its leaves in a single week. Soon to sleep.IMG_1099

Deciduous larch catches fire in the low afternoon light.IMG_1124

Through the hedge.IMG_1129

Classic autumn hues of cotinus and beech.IMG_1135

Recent visits by the heron have depleted the pond but there’s still life in there.IMG_1127

Some very sad news this week. Poppy is no longer with us. She was the most wonderful dog. I planted this Koelreuteria paniculata in her memory. Forever in a field in England.IMG_1102

Poppy. You will be missed.14842353110_cd122d8919_o

Where the time goes

Autumn colour has reached its ultimate; from here on the colour falls and seeps away into the damp earth. Frosts are starting to knock the more delicate leaves back to earth too. Owl hoots echo through the dark early evenings and into the long nights.

These sedum take on an anaemic look as their colours drain away.IMG_1098A few red berries remain – full of sugar, an attractive autumn snack for birds.IMG_1093The spindle reds go beyond natural, and then they are gone.IMG_1081Cotinus: no smoke but lots of fire.IMG_1077Dogwood leaves drop to reveal their black upright stems.IMG_1069Rowan, red enough to take a position in the field.IMG_1055Prunus ‘Collingwood Ingram’ and liquidambar IMG_1058Pinus radiata: a cone for Christmas.IMG_1046Acer rubrum: nearly lost the lot now but they were incredible.IMG_1036Parrotia persica catching the last of the evening light in the last of its leaves.IMG_1022Rhus glabra ‘Laciniata’ in a delicate moment before final fall.IMG_1076

Soon most of the colour will have gone to ground, the leaves will be away and the low sun won’t really warm the ground. Winter is coming.

Colour before the fall

Deciduous plants are nearing their prime in terms of colour. Autumn has as much interest as spring – if not more – with small dramas breaking out all over the garden.

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I want more of these cyclamen.

It is the time of the aster..

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..and the liriope.

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A callicarpa (for Babs)..

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Miscanthus are perfect in this light..

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..and liriodendron is butter yellow against an evening contrail.

The variety of colour this year is quite incredible. Perhaps the long hot summer has something to do with it.

A good year for fruiting trees too with an abundance of berries for the birds to feast on.

Time feels suspended – if only by wanting it to be. Winter’s on it’s way but an amazing show is happening in the meanwhile. Lots to do, lots to look at too.