Winter Gardens

Whilst in England I visited Stella and Rose in Cornwall.  Their welcome was as warm as ever and no visit can be made without a turn around their beloved garden.

Brian has been working in it and has been pruning back over-zealous shrubby growth.  The bamboos have been cut from the boundary with the field, and some local slaty slabs have been set into the bank beneath the stand of canes to form three steps.  These might serve as tiers for specimens in pots.

The small mature shrubbery to the right of the Zoology hut as you look down the garden has been cleared and there are newly transplanted plants in the little raised bed that remains.  This is a take-home message for me – I tend to think that once placed, plants should be left alone and that to move them is an admission of failure to get it right the first time.  I now see that in addition to the need to thin and divide plants, you sometimes have to resite them when their immediate gardenscape changes.

Today’s showpieces are the flowering Hellebores.  The inflorescences, in a range of pinks and reds, are clumps of flowering stems rising from the ground.  There is no foliage.  I ask about this and Rose tells me that the leaves were tired, beyond photosynthesis, and therefore removed.  The result is very stylish.  I am very fond of hellebores and love the way they seed and produce new colour forms.

Stella has been preparing our lunch, with the mother-provider care she invested when she used to take a packed lunch into the old Cornish Biological Records Unit for all the staff.  I remember the homemade saffron buns………….. mmmn.  Stella has moved a bed downstairs and into the library.  She has a comfy nook with shelves – that once held books which have now been rehomed – which are decked with delightfully themed curios and pictures.

When I leave I have a box of books in my boot.  These are the writings of and about Marcel Proust which belonged to Frank.  They are going home, to France, and will find a place in one of the bedrooms.  I will tackle one of the lighter biographies and see how I get on.  I’ve got an eclectic pile of reads waiting in the wings.

As it happens the day I visit Stella is my Book Group night and I am sad to miss it, although thanks to the e-world I dip into regularly, I pick up Diana’s feedback on the evening and our next reads, before I hit the hay at my sister’s house in Dorset later that night.

A couple of days later I get an email from another book groupie, Carol, in New Zealand, who is ecstatic about a book I recommended for her because we so often agree about the books we read and I just knew she’d love it.  She did and is mourning completion.  It is The Children’s Book by A S Byatt.  A beauty.

My day in Dorset is spent viewing houses, then I’m back home for the night before picking up the ferry back to France.

These are very cold days in St Vaast.  The wind blows from the east but it is dry and sunny.  Nearly three weeks of gardening possibilities await.  With enough layers I can work happily in the sunshine.  I start by pruning and training some of the climbers; the summer jasmine, honeysuckles.  Despite a good tidy up in the autumn there is a lot of dead growth at ground level to cut back.  It already looks better.

The new circular bed is planted with delphiniums and irises.  I boldly move plants and hope the weather will not curse me for it.  Some pots are emptied and contents planted out, others are moved to new positions.  Taking a leaf from Rose’s book, I take the leaves from my hellebores.  They stand clear and darkly mysterious under the climbing roses.  I need some lighter shades to plant with them.

Nick has dug and tided the vegetable garden and so we plant out broad bean plants brought from England near a sunny wall, with a framework for them to clamber.

When the light is good I take a few photographs of my winter blooms.  Greatest delight is the Daphne odora, in this it’s first flowering year.  The Sarcococca confusa is also flowering with its dark berries beneath.  This scented pair border the opening in the pergola onto the lawn.

Gardening sessions are punctuated by lunch breaks, reading, computing and other outdoor activities.  But that’s another story.


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