Friday, 13 May 2022

May's Magical Moments in our Garden

Paeonia lutea ludlowii - yellow peony tree

This tree is named in honour of Frank Ludlow, a British Naturalist. He discovered this tree whilst on an expedition through the Tsangpo Valley in Eastern Tibet during 1936. Before this date the tree was completely unknown in the West. It has very large black shiny seeds which it sheds around the base of the tree. We must have grown at least 20 trees from them which have all been given to friends who tell us how much they enjoy them.
This luscious red peony tree is our pride and joy - Paeonia delavayi, named after Father Jean Marie Delavay, a French Catholic missionary in China, who collected plants. It is endemic to southwestern China, where it is limited to Sichuan, Yunnan and the very South-East of Tibet. It does not produce bountiful seeds like the yellow tree but is much rarer. It is listed as endangered by the China Plant Red Data Book where it is under threat. This is as a result of the people digging out its roots for medicine on a scale that is not adequately controlled.
This a Lutea Hybrid Tree Peony - Paeonia 'Alhambra'. We had a similar one in ballerina pink, but the deer have trampled on it and smashed it into smithereens.
This shrub hails from the
Himalayas - Piptanthus nepalennsis - Nepal Laburnam. It has lovely very dark green shiny stems which gradually turn black and thus form a stunning contrast with its citrus yellow pea like flowers.
We have given the small walled garden a bit of a revamp this Spring. It used to have lots of ornamental grasses which had become rather thuggish, so they have been removed. For the moment we have filled the cleared beds with cheap and cheerful pansies.
Lots of Alliums adding splashes of purple all around the garden.

The Cercis siliquastrum - Judas Tree - with its pretty heart shaped leaves is looking a picture. I want it to stay just as it is for as long as possible, but I know the blossom will drop before I am ready to let it go.
I have brought a small branch of the Judas Tree into the kitchen so that we can continue to admire it whilst indoors.

Friday, 6 May 2022

Our Sons -----

Eldest son has a doctorate in Geology but deep within his heart he is a poet. Youngest son is a Special Needs teacher. He has a reputation for having a great affinity and understanding of his pupils, and is particularly succesful at getting the very best out of each of them. However, like his brother, deep within his heart he is an artist. Over the last few weeks eldest son has written 40 poems concerning the daily ongoing situation in Ukraine. He has also helped to raise money at a special Poets for Ukraine event held recently in London. Jonathan and Nick have now compiled a book together of Jonathan's poems complimented by Nick's linocut illustrations. They form a diary text of events covering the first weeks of the invasion.

The linocuts done by Nick show scenes that we are all now familiar with having witnessed them on a daily basis. As I write, the book is already with the publisher. Costing £10 each, it is being limited to just 100 copies. However, I am delighted to report that every book has already been sold prior to publication. All of the money from the sale of the books will be donated in full to Ukrainian refugee charities.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

Badbury Hill......... an area of woodland just over the Gloucestershire border into Oxfordshire. It was once the site of an Ancient Iron Age hill-fort - a defended settlement established in 600 BC. The fort originally had two banks strategically placed above one another on the highest ground in the area. Parts of the outer defence were flattened in the 18th Century, and there is now little evidence remaining. The area is particularly known today for its wonderful beech trees and beautiful bluebells that blanket the woodland floor each spring. Having never visited before we were not exactly sure what to expect.  But as we reached the top of the gently slope leading into the woods the sight that greeted us by far exceeded anything that we could have imagined - a stunning magical deep blue carpet of bluebells, stretching as far as the eye could see.

Over the years we have visited dozens of bluebell woods around the country, but none have come close to the breath taking beauty seen on Badbury Hill.

This beautiful ancient woodland is filled solely with our own exquisite native Hyacinthoides non-scripta - bluebells. They appeared to be far taller and more robust than usual, and their delicate perfume, reminiscent of hyacinths, filled the air. It is unusual to see just one species holding domination throughout an entire woodland, but here, the bluebells were in charge, this was their domain.

Can you recognise British Bluebells from  Spanish Bluebells?
British bluebells have:-
1. cream coloured stamens and anthers.
2. sweet scent.
3. narrow tubular bells with tips curling upwards and hang down one side of a purple nodding stem.
4. they are a deep blue occassionally white or pink.
5. long strap narrow leaves.
Spanish bluebells have:-
1. Blue stamens and anthers

2. Pale blue flowers often pink or white. 
3. Conical open bell flowers with no scent.
4. Long broad strap leaves.
5. Flowers all around a straight stem.

Sunday, 24 April 2022

"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now"

Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride  
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years & ten
Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
When the cherry blossom season is here I am reminded of A. E Housman's prophetic prose.  Written in 1896 it reflects on the fact that, aged 20, he has just 50 of his threescore years and ten remaining. 
Even though Housman wants to appreciate the cherry blossom while he's still around to do so there is a much deeper message here.
He is exploring the themes of life and death, along with the fast progression of time. The temporary nature of pleasure and beauty - reminding us that time is of the essence.
Great photographer John showed some very rare Oxlips on his blog which are found on the eastern side of the country. They grow in a narrow band stretching through Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. I too thought that I had spotted some growing here in the west just a five minute stroll from my home. 
I found this particular large lush clump, of what I thought were Oxlips, but could they be the false ones!  False Oxlips are a cross between a Primrose and a Cowslip. Having looked at John's again, sadly, I think that these are false, they look totally identical apart from the small orange flecks at the center of each flower. Mine resemble an orange star whilst his true Oxlips have an orange circle.

Sunday, 17 April 2022

A UK Garden Deal

During Spring 2021 we were alerted to a special 12 month garden deal - 2 for 1 entrance to gardens up and down the whole of the British Isles which sadly finished at the beginning of April. The following pictures are from our last two trips in March as we made the most of the end of the deal.. The voucher has taken us to many gardens,  some on our doorstep but others much further away. These last two visits at the end of March included a local Victorian walled garden, and a sculpture park hidden away down narrow country lanes in the Cotswolds.

It wasn't the most fruitful period to visit a walled garden, but even so, we were surprised at what was already growing in a March garden.

As soon as we stepped inside the walls, the chill in the air was left behind, and a cloak of warmth enveloped us.

I knew that we would find some Fritillaria imperialis - Crown imperials - I could smell their distinctive aroma as soon we walked amongst the tulips.
This dramatic fritillary is native to the mountainous regions of Turkey, western Iran and eastwards to Kashmir. We saw tulips galore when we visited Kashmir during Spring a few years ago, but never spotted these beautiful flowers growing in the wild. I planted some in our garden, but although they flowered the first year, the following year they came up barren. This, apparently, is a normal occurrence, unless their growing situation is absolutely perfect they decline to flower.
A solitary bee was very busy, his pollen sacs are full, but even so he continues to forage.

Time to head off, sat nav on, and see if we can locate the illusive Sculpture Park.

After travelling along a network of very narrow country lanes we finally found the entrance situated in a woodland setting. There were over 200 sculptures being exhibited which were for sale at some very high prices. Others that were not for sale were pieces, such as the one below, made out of upcycled metal and revealing some of the dreadful detritus of our modern world.

This pair of ducks are not exactly what they seem. They are actually as tall as a 6ft man. Imagine coming across them unexpectedly in the dark, would they frighten you?
Seeing so many sculptures for sale made us realise just what a precarious life being a sculptor is. All of the design work, the costs involved in making them, and then the added costs of placing them somewhere for sale. Some of the sculptures were so large that they would have required a very big vehicle for their journey and a crane to lift them on arrival.

I have just discovered that the offer I mentioned at the beginning of this post is available again for the coming year. It is in the May edition of the BBC Gardeners' World Magazine, giving entrance to 392 gardens throughout the year from Cornwall to Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland. The offer includes places such as Kew Gardens, Leeds Castle, Bodnant Garden and Nymans. Gardens are great places to get away from the stresses and strains of our world today, especially if like me, you enjoy flowers, trees, birds, butterflies and being surrounded by beautful landscapes. There are 6 packets of seeds also included in the deal plus the monthly magazine. It is available in the shops now, but if you are interested make haste as they will probably go quickly.       

Friday, 8 April 2022

Fritillaria meleagris - Snake's-head fritillary

The Snake’s-head fritillary has been in full flower since the beginning of April. Like so many of our flowers this year, they are early. This fritillary is one of our most beautiful wild flowers, with its square-sided, nodding bells, chequered in pink and white, resembling a snakes’ scales. Some flowers are pure white, but you can still see their chequered pattern, especially when the sun is low in the sky - kneel down, let the light of the sun shine through their beautiful translucent petals and see their delicate green chequered veins. Fritillaries are mainly inhabitants of damp meadows in the south of England, particularly along the flood plains of the R. Thames, but they can now also be seen in many of our gardens too. The first time that I ever saw an image of a snakeshead fritillary was during a visit to the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery at Glasgow University. I saw this painting by Rennie Mackintosh, done in his latter years, and knew that I wanted to find out where I could actually see and find it growing in the wild.

William Morris also captured it on one of his wallpaper designs, but it would have been very familiar to him. His country house, Kelmscott, sits alongside meadows in the Thames valley where they are found in abundance in just two or three floodplain meadows close to where he lived, 

These in our garden multiply each year and thrive well. Their Conservation Status is classified as Vulnerable on the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain.

Monday, 28 March 2022

The Winter months....

....were gentle in this corner of the world with many pleasant blue sky days, and happily, as far as I am concerned, neither ice nor snow was seen.

During mid-February, we had a frightening red alert, courtesy Storm Eunice, but fortunately no damage was caused here. By the beginning of February Spring was firmly established in both our gardens and the landscape. The early Spring has helped to ease some of the pain caused by sad events, beyond our control, happening in the world today. Getting out into nature, being in a beautiful landscape, surrounded by blue skies and sunshine, is a great tonic.
The snowdrops have completely vanished for this year. The
Prunus spinosa - black thorn blossom is almost finished, and in the blink of an eye the daffodils will soon be nodding their farewells too.
The Magnolia blossom has been spectacular, and achieved its full beauty. The absence of any early morning frosts has prevented their glorious blooms turning brown.
We packed ourselves a picnic, and set off to a favourite walking spot - The Weir Garden in Herefordshire. A spectacular riverside garden bordering the R. Wye as it travels on its long journey from Wales. Eventually it meets up with the might R. Severn, and ultimately, the North Atlantic Ocean.

"All at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;

As we sat in the sunshine enjoying our lunch a couple of paddle boarders suddenly came into view, and just as quickly vanished along the swiftly flowing river.

The journey homewards beckons.