The garden in February
The carpets of snowdrops on Baker’s Hill and around the pond have come into flower early this year and: “…make a very agreeable appearance as the first promise of Spring.” GW Feb. 19th 1762. We have moved many of the snowdrops threatened by the new access path from the yard to the safety of the NE Quarter, where they “blow” alongside 3 sorts of Helebore ( niger , foetidus and viridis ). The Wintersweet( Chimonanthus praecox ) gives off a fine scent and the Daphne mezereum will also fill the air with sublime perfume in a week or so. It is wonderful to see this bed beginning to bulk out and realise its potential as a carefully orchestrated celebration of the very first signs of Spring.
In the Naturalist”s Garden we have woven in the springy new growth of the bird hide ( designed and built from Osier willow by local artist Madeleine Allison ) and last Wednesday, on a day so wet that being in the pond made no discernible difference to our levels of sogginess we finally braved the pond. We removed serious amounts of undesirable biomass including stonecrop, parrot feather and bog bean. The latter is an 18thC introduction which really does live up to its name in that it turns a pond into a bog with alarming speed. It has an attractive leaf and white flower, but forms a thick mass of root just under the water level that resists all but the most determined attempts to remove it. We have now created a good expanse of clear water, in about 2/3 of the area set out, leaving the bean to flourish among the bulrushes in the remaining 1/3. This unusual snowdrop, G. Ikariae is looking very healthy at the moment and would probably benefit from division when the flowers fade. As you will see from the picture (left) its foliage is a much brighter green than the other three species we grow in the garden. The one that would have been known to Gilbert White is G. nivalis an archaeophyte, probably brought here by Cistercian monks to decorate their altars on Candlemas Day, (the Christian celebration of the purification of the Virgin Mary). The name Galanthus nivalis means ‘milk
flower of the snow’. We also grow G. elwisei, including the Selborne Green Tip and G. Plicatus, rumored to have been
brought back in the pockets of soldiers returning from the Crimean War.
Our two colonies of winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) are also doing well. David used to count them every year, so in the
interests of continuous recording, l will do the same… I make it 112 under the Tulip Tree and 42 under the Mulberry. The bright
yellow flowers, set off against a sort of Elizabethan ruff of green are the first bright harbinger of the season ahead. This is the time of year when we begin to clear and mulch the Six Quarters beds. A good thick layer will buy us time to plant up the annual wildflower meadow with a mix of corn chamomile, corn marigold cornflower and corncockle.
The sheep have now done their work in the Great Mead reducing the level of the sward.when they first arrived they were extremely interested in the Mount and Wine Pipe and seemed to be taking turns to go up and investigate. In 1772
Gilbert White recorded the following:
“In the evening of Feb. the 3rd the sheep were ravenous after their hay: & before bed-time came a great flight of snow with wind. Sheep are desirous of filling their bellies against bad weather: and are by their voraciousness prognostic of that bad weather.”
I hope that that the voraciousness of our current ovine contingent does not herald a return to arctic conditions this February although the forecast for next week is for some very cold daytime temperatures. This will be a shock for many of the
emerging Spring bulbs whose early promise will be checked, but might ensure that the snowdrops remain in peak condition for longer. We have moved the tulip pots into position by the shop doors and will cover them with fleece to try to discourage the squirrels who had a fine time digging them all out this time last year.
In the greenhouse we have begun to germinate seeds to provide a new crop of unusual plants for 2018, I have some very nice Diarama pulcherima (Angels Fishing Rods) just pricked out, and Succisa pratensis (Devil’s Bit Scabious) and Daucus carota (Wild Carrot) just coming up. We will continue to propagate as many wild species of plant as we can to plant ourselves and to sell to the public in order to encourage visitors to think about growing plants with local provenance in their own gardens.
At the foot of Baker’s Hill, beyond the basins, the wooden Haha has been reinforced and rebuilt by Rob Catton and now looks very smart. Viewed from the mead, the bones 0f the Kim Wilkie design are very evident at this time of year and Len’s careful tending has resulted in some well presented circular beds stretching away up the hill. Each bed has a central tree or shrub under-planted with bulbs and perennials and the beds themselves are based on GW’s inspired idea to replace the “rank clay” in the round beds he created in his field with more friable loam excavated at Dortons on the other side of the main road.
In the Ewel Field Chris Piper has led several work parties to control the mature blackthorn which will encourage egg laying by the Brown Hairstreak butterfly and ensure that we comply with our our obligations under the Stewardship Agreement. The result of all this clearance was an enormous bonfire, (burning as I write), ably managed by Keith, which will ensure that the area is clear for the sheep to be moved in next week. In the Kitchen Garden, Keith has continued to double dig the new beds, the garlic is up and new black and red currant bushes have been planted. Vast quantities of raw horse manure have been collected to fuel the new melonry and the frame itself is being repaired. The race to be ready for the season ahead has now begun so I hope to see you all in the garden soon.