Birth of a woodland

Snakesbury is roughly divided in 2 – there’s a 3 acre field and 2 acres of garden with the house and various outbuildings. For many years now the field has been used growing hay . A local farmer harvests it once a year and gives us firewood in return. Last year we had a very poor harvest – probably only 60% of a normal yield. We put this down to the dryness of the winter/spring, but also to the bunnies. There’s a lot of bunnies, they’re breeding like bunnies.

So unfortunately the local farmer decided that it’s not really worthwhile harvesting a low yield of hay. Which was a catalyst for action on the field. Since we came to live here we have discussed various ideas for the field – everything from soft fruit to hops. More recently we have settled on creating a woodland on part of it. The woodland would be used for firewood but mainly for wildlife and for legacy. It seems like every day more of the countryside is lost to development and our thinking was that by creating a woodland we would be able to hold back this ever-encroaching tide, even if only in a small way.

I approached the Woodland Trust, who are currently funding schemes to help develop more woodland and hedgerows. They’re a brilliant organisation. Our local tree officer arranged a survey and we spent a very interesting morning discussing options. He was really helpful and a few days later reported back that the Woodland Trust were prepared to fund 60% of the cost. So far so exciting! Unfortunately doing the sums I established that I couldn’t really afford to do the full project this year. It is disappointing, but we should be in a position to do the woodland next year. In the meanwhile we are going ahead with the hedgerow, which will be planted along the top and side of the field. A native mix, it will consist of blackthorn, hawthorn, field maple, dogwood, dog rose, rowan and hazel. All with rabbit guards. Hopefully we should take delivery in the next few weeks – stay tuned.

Today I started planting trees – these are trees that I have grown in pots and ones that have been kindly donated by friends. My idea is that the ones planted now will be pioneers for next year’s big woodland planting session, creating shelter belts from the vicious wind that pumps across the field. I planted about 60 today – mainly birch and oak. This has hardly made a dent in the field – not surprising when you consider that the big woodland plant of 2019 will be 1600 trees! Still, the start of a fantastic project and I’m really excited to get it going.

IMG_3379Some of the silver birches – planted in groups of 3, 5 or 7 roughly 2-2.5m apart.



An icy start this morning. Some plants have shrivelled and wilted and will stay that way until the sun warms them up again. The temperature in the poly tunnel went down as low as -3. It looks like the tomato seedlings found it too cold, but others seem fine. Frosted leaves are a wonderful, transient thing – melting away as soon as the sun moves into a high enough position.


Clear blue sky, sharp cold air and sunshine – the best days that winter has to offer. A perfect day for planting trees.IMG_0696

Daffodils and seasons pass

They’re not quite flowering in the garden yet – Al bought these daffodils from the Coop yesterday.IMG_3340.jpg

When I first moved to London in 1990 I was fascinated with the daffodils that came up out of nowhere in the parks and gardens. They were so bright in the general greyness of winter, almost out of place in the darkness. After the first year I learned to anticipate their arrival. The daffodils arrival broadcasted a change; it may still be a while until spring but things were moving in the right direction. That moment made the rest of winter OK.

Of course there’s many more subtle signs of season change when you start to look a bit more carefully – like these crocus. Change is coming.IMG_3346IMG_3345IMG_3342


A damp blanket

Fog today, with not very much visibility. It catches in the fine network of birch branches and drips silently down. The blanket of fog makes it feel mild and damp, even though there was a low of -3 last night. It neutralises colour, leaving everything looking flat and dull. IMG_0664

The fog rounds the edges off things so that sharp objects like the seed heads of these Leonotis leonurus look soft and spongy (they really aren’t though).IMG_0656

In the gloom of this foggy day there’s many reasons for celebration; for instance the dogwoods and salix are looking amazing. At this time of year when growth is starting to stir the stem colour reaches ultimate intensity. Of course it would be a lot more impressive on a brighter day.IMG_3315IMG_3314IMG_3312

And there’s snowdrops. Al brought some inside and they opened up immediately in the warmth.IMG_0652

The excellent Mahonia x media (hopefully I have got that name right) fills the surrounding area with a lemony fragrance.IMG_0655

And suddenly there’s lots more dwarf iris too; things are starting to look better already.IMG_0663

Growing for borders

There’s 2 greenhouses at Snakesbury. They were inherited from previous owners, and although they are within the walled garden they have taken the brunt of all of the storms . The cool greenhouse (without a door) is used mainly for potting and nurturing newly hardened plants, whereas the warm greenhouse (with a door) is used for seeds in autumn/winter/spring and then for tomatoes in the summer. IMG_3297Here’s a view from the warm greenhouse. The wind has blown the whole structure sideways – cracking some of the panes in the process. Doesn’t seem to be too detrimental to the plants – here’s some Stipa tenuissima and Morina longifolia that were sown in the autumn and have been patiently waiting out the winter since germinating.IMG_3299IMG_3300These will all go out into the borders – probably around March or April.

I started work on the borders today – a little early but I think a good time for moving the massive Cephalaria gigantea to a bed for giants in the driveway. I also took the opportunity to cut back some of the taller remnants of last year’s perennials. Again, this is early but I noticed that a few of them were rocking themselves out of the ground – a combination of high winds and wet soil. Its amazing what you reveal when cutting back – strong growth is very evident everywhere. I’m sure it is early for spring growth, but then maybe not?IMG_3305.jpgI have left the grasses and most of the other perennials alone for now – they continue to look fantastic.IMG_3304

Making tracks

Recent works on the railway line at the top of our field has resulted in deep vehicle tracks across the damp fields. The works consultants are very apologetic and have promised to return things to the way they were. I’m sceptical. I think these tracks can probably be seen from the international space station by now, and I don’t know if covering them up will work. Another option may be to use recycled road (not the technical term – I know), which is crushed and compacted into the channels, leaving a semi-permanent hard standing that the grass will eventually grow into. I’m coming around to this idea, especially as it seems like the access is going to be needed on a regular basis when the nursery takes shape.

Did I just say nursery??

IMG_3259Vehicle tracks as they were on Friday – they’re a lot worse now..