“We go, in winter’s biting wind,
On many a short-lived winter day,
With aching back but willing mind
To dig and double dig the clay.”
– Ruth Pitter, The Diehards
For a gardener, January is the bleakest month of the year. Many people consider it a month when the garden should be avoided, and to be honest I have a lot of sympathy with this view. Although a garden in winter seems uninviting there is a fascinating and complex process of renewal going on. Micro-organisms, worms and all kinds of other minibeasts are converting fallen leaves, manure and compost into nutrients that the coming year’s crops and other plants will use to make leaves, stems, flowers, seeds, roots, bark and wood etc. As the earthworms munch they tunnel along, aerating the soil, an essential process for healthy plants. So although you may not be in the garden yourself, there is plenty of activity going on out there.
In the garden here, December was a month of continuing to tidy up fallen leaves and cut back herbaceous plants. January’s jobs will be pretty much the same; we will also be spreading tons of compost on the garden for those minibeasts to get to work on. Doing this now will save a lot of work later by reducing the amount of weeding needed and the amount of irrigation required.
A Grand Day Out.
Whilst we all sit in this mild December and contemplate the work still to be done, I often find myself planning which gardens I want to visit in the New Year. To those of you who might be doing the same, here are two gardens which I visited this year that you might like to visit. Both are just over the border in Herefordshire but not too far away. They are both very different gardens and the contrast between them would make for an interesting day out.
Hampton Court Herefordshire.
Situated on the river Lugg, Hampton Court is a spectacular castle in a beautiful setting. The gardens have been fully renovated over the past ten years or so. The Victorian walled garden has been transformed. On stepping through the entrance the visitor is greeted by an extensive and highly ornamental kitchen garden. The garden is run entirely on organic principles and the knowledgeable staff have a great deal to impart about companion planting and other techniques. When I visited in July I was also able to speak to the gardeners about some of the unusual varieties they were growing.
The walls of the garden were bedecked with attractive annual climbers, and borders featured some herbaceous perennials, annuals and biennials designed to complement the ornamental effect of the herbs and vegetables.
The kitchen garden is obviously managed intensively so as to suppress weed growth as much as possible but there is plenty for any gardener to learn.
Moving past the kitchen garden the visitor enters an area of outstanding romance. The garden is broken up into ‘rooms,’ that ever popular design device. The colour scheme was all muted pinks, silvers and blues which gave softness to the overall feeling. I most remember some wonderful stands of Onopordum acanthium and beautiful reflections of Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’ in the water which flows through the garden. The garden also features some wonderful gazebos and stonework.
I must also recommend the cafe, that most important element in any garden visit.
Hergest Croft, Kington Herefordshire.
Imagine going into the house of an elderly eccentric relative and being asked to find something amongst years of accumulated clutter. Perhaps this might not sound like the most encouraging review of a garden but to journey through Hergest Croft is to journey through decades of plant collecting.
The gardens at Hergest croft are renowned as having one of the best collections of trees and shrubs in the country, but as with all gardens that have evolved over time, there is not necessarily a logical order which I think adds excitement to any visit. The garden is divided into two parts; on the one hand is a large ornamental kitchen garden which also produces some of the plants sold at the entrance. And although the sales area is small there are often treasures to be found there for reasonable prices. I brought home three species of Eucryphia which grew into fantastic specimens before being polished off by last year’s winter. The main area of the garden proceeds from the beautiful arts and crafts style house where the small tearoom is located, giving views over the Herefordshire countryside. Formal lawns lead onto a variety of small planted landscapes from rockeries, small water gardens and into ornamental shrubberies. Hergest Croft is particularly noted for its collection of Acers. The principle seasons of interest are Spring and Autumn although the avid plants person will find something to see throughout the year.
Finally, “Here’s to a new year and another chance for us to get it right”.
Please note: images have been removed from this pages because some of them may have been used without permission.