A Spring Visit: Columbine Hall

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Spring brings the start of the garden-visiting season for us. This year, one of our first visits was to Columbine Hall, a timber-framed house built in about 1390. It was originally the gatehouse of a medieval manor-house and stands beside an even older defensive moat.

This attractive historic home had its gardens open to visitors as part of the ‘Great Garden Trail’ in aid of Suffolk’s St Elizabeth Hospice. The gardens here were begun by owner Hew Stevenson and his late wife, Leslie Geddes-Brown and developed with the aid of their head gardener, Kate Elliott.

Columbine Hall’s gardens have a dreamy air. The ancient house is surrounded by its moat and gardens (which are a mix of formal and very informal), with views to open fields and the Suffolk countryside.

Columbine Hall, formal lawns
Formal lawns within the area bounded by the moat. A parterre lies alongside these, and beside that is a much more informal area.

Traditional lawns surrounded by tall clipped hedges (above) provide calm, quiet spaces which contrast with the wilder, nature-inspired parts of the grounds. I particularly loved the area in the below, right-hand photo. Here white and ‘Spring Green’ tulips mingled their way through cow parsley, below rows of pleached limes.

Columbine Hall, informal planting
Left: Part of the bog garden, where moisture-loving plants flourish along the edges of a narrow stream. Right: Beside the parterre is a wilder area where tulips grow through cow parsley – one of my favourite parts of the garden.

There are a number of different areas to the garden. A parterre provides a formally-structured area near the house, with rows of pleached trees, clipped cubes of box, and climbers on obelisks. In summer it will be full of flowers, including irises, alliums, hardy geraniums, lavender and Alchemilla mollis.

Nearby, the planting gradually becomes wilder and less formal as it gets closer to the edge of the moat. In a couple of weeks or so, the cow parsley in this area will have reached its full height and its mass of tiny white flowers will create a wild and romantic froth.

A bank with bluebells lies in front of the Mediterranean garden (to the right). Above and to the left is the edge of the orchard.

Outside the space encircled by the moat are other gardens. There is a bog garden, where moisture-loving plants grow, and a walled kitchen garden which, in summer, will be full of colourful vegetables, roses, dahlias and sweet peas. There is also an orchard – which was in full of blossom when we visited – and a Mediterranean garden. (You can see part of both in the photograph above.)

Tulips at Columbine Hall
Some of the tulips at Columbine Hall

A few weeks earlier the garden’s collection of Engleheart daffodils would have been in flower. (Columbine Hall holds a part of the National Plant Collection of daffodils bred by Rev. G.H. Engleheart in Victorian times.) Now though, it’s the tulips that demand attention in this garden. (Thousands of tulips are planted every year by Kate Elliott and her assistants.)

There are tulips of a wide range of colours in the garden, even in the vegetable garden, where white tulips look very well with the bold silvery leaves of cardoons. My own favourites amongst the tulips were the dark, reddish-black ones, which you can see below. (I have ‘Black Parrot’ and ‘Queen of Night’ in my garden, as well as the white and green ‘Spring Green’.)

Columbine Hall - tulips, irises and fennel in a border.
Tulips, irises and fennel in a border beside the house.

My visit to Columbine Hall was thoroughly enjoyable and it gave me both inspiration and food for thought. Seeing the gardens there has encouraged me to wonder how I can combine wild and cultivated plants in my own garden. It would surely make it more appealing to wildlife if I did. I wouldn’t have thought that tulips would look so at home with cow parsley, but it works and looks really lovely. At the same time it provides a better habitat for wildlife.

I hope I’ll get the chance to visit Columbine Hall again. It would be very interesting to see how it looks later in the year. I’m sure it will be beautiful in summertime. I’ll be keeping a lookout to see when their next garden-opening is!

White and 'Spring Green' tulips with cow parsley by the hall.
White and ‘Spring Green’ tulips with cow parsley under the pleached limes give an informal, nature-inspired feel.

In the Winter Garden

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With January over, I hope that the cold will begin to ease. It feels like it’s time to get back to work in the garden, but I don’t fancy getting frosted when I do!

We haven’t had any more freezing mornings in the last week, so perhaps these will be the last of my frosty pictures for this year. I’ve been very glad to have the heavy hoar frosts around to give me something to photograph. They have made some very unremarkable parts of the garden take on a new interest.

Frosted rosehips
I’d normally have deadheaded this rose, but this year a few rosehips were left and the frost found them.

Some plants, like the Knautia macedonica (top), are generous in producing late flowers that are likely to get frosted. That makes them an obvious subject for me to photograph. But many of the other plants look much more ordinary until the frost decorates them. So plants that I might not have thought of photographing earlier in the year suddenly demand my attention.

The tiny yellow flowers of the pond plant below (Sisyrinchium californicum, aka yellow eyed grass) are long gone and have been replaced by its seed pods. The frost has turned these into odd-looking spiky growths, almost as if they’ve become some strange winter flowers reaching towards the frozen pond.

Frosted pond plant
Pond plant Sisyrinchium californicum takes on a different appearance when covered in hoar frost.

Sometimes there are non-plant things for me to photograph on a frosty day, like the spider’s web below. I can’t help wondering if the spider has survived the very cold spell – maybe it’s hiding in a warmer spot under some leaves somewhere. At any rate, I’m sure that any spiders and other creatures in the garden will be much happier when it warms up a bit.

However, since I began writing this, I’ve noticed that the latest weather forecast has promised us some very chilly nights. So I may have to be patient and wait a while yet for the warmer weather. (But roll on spring!)

Frosted Spider Web
Chilly weather for spiders!

In a Shady Corner: Frosted Hydrangea Flowers

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A climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris) grows in a cool and rather dark spot in our garden. It is beside our main seating area, under a laurel that has grown into a large tree.

The laurel’s shade is a very welcome protection from the hot sun in summertime, both for us and for the hydrangea. Without that bit of shade, the hydrangea would struggle to cope with the way heat can build up here.

The RHS describes this plant as ‘best grown in partial shade in a moist but well-drained soil’. Unfortunately, the soil here is rarely moist in summer. (Winter is a different matter!) This was something I did not realise when I planted it many years ago. Nor did I make much allowance for how dry the tree roots must make the area. Nevertheless, the climber has survived, though growing slowly.

From May to July the hydrangea’s white flowers add a cool note to my favourite place to sit. I get to enjoy their grace and airiness from close quarters. By winter any remaining flowers have turned brown and leathery, but a light dusting of frost makes them graceful again.

You can see the summer flowers of Hydrangea petiolaris in this post.

Frosted hydrangea flowers
Frosted hydrangea flowers in a shady corner of my garden.

A Hint of Gold

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The winter chill continues here, with more frozen mornings. Frost brings an icy elegance to the remains of last year’s plant growth. Amongst the most attractive of these frosted plants are the seed heads of Stipa gigantea (golden oats). They become especially lovely when they are coated with a filigree of tiny crystals and backlit by the low morning sun.

The mix of frost and winter sun has brought out the golden tones of the seed heads and made them stand out against their dark background. It’s as if they’ve taken on new life for a short while. On mild days these same seed heads would look drab and dead and would go unnoticed in the garden. A dusting of frost is all it takes to bring subtle details to our attention in winter.

It won’t be long before life is starting again all around the garden. Old leaves and seed heads will be stripped away to make room for spring growth. (I don’t remove these in autumn because they provide shelter for overwintering insects.) For the moment, though, the frost creates its own magic upon the most ordinary of things.

(If you’d like to see how Stipa seed heads look with melting frost, see this post from last year.)

Frosted Stipa gigantea (golden oats)
Frosted Stipa gigantea (Golden Oats)

Frozen Lace

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These well-frosted leaves belong to Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ (a black cut-leaved elder). I was captivated by the way that the shapes of the hoar frost imitated the lacy shapes of the leaves, giving a very decorative effect.

We rarely get hoar frost here. Temperatures don’t normally get low enough for long, but we had a very chilly period before Christmas. For several days we had hard frosts and then snow. It created a magical look to the garden, so I made the most of it and got out there with my camera.

This elder would usually have lost all its leaves by December, but the milder weather in the weeks before must have delayed its urge to shed its leaves. Some leaves, as in the picture below, hadn’t even changed colour but remained a deep blackish-brown.

Right now I am very happy that I have a large stash of frosty photos from last month to use here. It is very grey and wet outside, so the urge to stay warm and dry indoors is strong! There isn’t, anyway, a lot to photograph in the garden in January. (However there are always some jobs to be done whenever the weather is dry enough.) I’m looking forward to the time – not far away – when the new growth starts and the garden comes fully alive again.

Frosted leaves of Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace'
Frosted leaves of Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ (black cut-leaved elder).

A Happy New Year to You

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It’s time to say goodbye to 2022 and welcome in 2023. I hope that this coming year is a good year for you and treats you kindly. If you celebrate today, I hope you have fun!

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions but I do look back at what I’ve done over the previous year and make a few small plans for the future. One of the main areas that I plan for is, of course, my garden. The biggest step forward with it in 2022 was the completion of the pond, which delighted me by bringing more wildlife into the garden.

In 2023 I have more work to do in the area around the pond to create a bog garden. I also have plans to create more small wildlife areas and perhaps a bit of space for growing veggies for ourselves. It’s very unlikely that I’ll manage to do all the things I want to, but it feels good to have an idea of where it’s all heading. (I might even take time away from the garden to do a bit of printmaking… 🙂 )

Whatever your hopes and plans for 2023 are, I wish you a very Happy New Year. May it bring you health and happiness and peace!

Wishing You a Happy Christmas

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Christmas already! It feels as if it has sneaked up on me very quickly again this year. As usual, I’ve been on the lookout for a photograph of a suitably frosty ‘decoration’ from the garden for this post.

Luckily, our recent frost and snow, which lasted for several days, was a great opportunity to spend time in the garden with my camera. There are always some seed heads left in the garden and these look good when they’re heavily coated with frost. The seed head you see here is on a bronze fennel. It’s the same plant that I used for the photo of a seed head with water drops (from melted frost) in this post. (The photographs in that post were taken in a previous winter.)

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a time of happiness, and a time to get together with the people you love. I hope that it will be a chance to enjoy being with family and friends. Merry Christmas everyone! 🙂

Going to Seed!

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Although the phrase ‘going to seed’ suggests going into a decline, I’m usually happy to see seed heads in the garden. (Not all, mind you – weeds may not be so welcome!) For a garden photographer they are another opportunity to create an image. That’s especially welcome at a time of year when there are fewer flowers and plants to photograph.

Seed heads are, of course, very valuable for wildlife too. The seeds are a good source of food for birds in winter and, before that stage, the flowers are a great source of pollen for insects.

The seed heads here are bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’). In the top picture, there are still many of the tiny yellow flowers but you can also see the brownish/orange ridged shapes of the newly-formed seeds. I was attracted to it by the neat drops of melted frost encasing them. (This was a young plant that had flowered very late and got caught by the first of the frosts last year.)

In winter, the seed heads of fennel provide a very graceful shape for frost to decorate. The frost in the second photo was especially hard and covered the whole garden with its delicate filigree. The air was so cold that the frost had time to glitter in the sun for a little while before it melted. We haven’t had any frost yet this year, but I’ll be checking the fennel plants when it arrives! Hopefully it will last long enough for me to take some more sparkly photographs.

Frosted fennel seed head
Frost makes this fennel seed head glisten.

Autumn Days

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Autumn brings a restrained feel to my garden. There is nothing showy here at the moment and the remaining touches of colour are easy to miss. But if the sun shines, there might be a sudden brief glow as it brings the leaves alive like small flames.

Mostly this is a time of rain (needed after the summer’s drought) and winds that tear the remaining leaves from the trees. Not so nice for gardening, until a dry and mild day comes along. Then I can get some digging done in the loosened soil. (It gets so dried out in summer that digging then is very hard work. Adding more compost will help, but it will take a lot to make a difference.)

As the autumn colours begin to fade or get blown away, new winter colour is starting to arrive. Bright yellow flowers are ready to open on both a mahonia and winter jasmine. Near the jasmine, a viburnum bush has the dark red bells of a winter-flowering clematis to accompany its own pink buds. And, at last, I can see buds of hesperantha (see this post) which should open soon. So I will still have one or two things to photograph while the winter draws closer.

Autumn leaves and berries

Into the Jungle: Henstead Exotic Garden

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Last weekend I went to visit Henstead Exotic Garden near Beccles in Suffolk. The weather was still very warm, so it was a great pleasure to spend time in a garden that provided plenty of shade.

That precious shade was provided by the many trees, shrubs and bamboos growing in the garden. Amongst these are around 100 palms, giant yellow bamboo that can grow a foot a day (plants grow fast in the warmth here) and beautiful red-leaved bananas.

Henstead Exotic Garden

The garden has been established for less than 20 years, with its owner, Andrew Brogan, having moved to Suffolk in 2004. It is not what you might expect to see in Suffolk. This garden survives winters here because many of the palms and other exotics are actually quite hardy and due to its sheltered site, surrounded by a belt of older trees. (These include yews and oaks, some of which are up to 300 years old.) Additionally, the garden is only two miles from the coast, which protects it from having prolonged frosts.

Henstead Exotic Garden

The deep shade created by the lush growth of the plants at this time of year made trying to photograph it very tricky. It was very dark in many areas. (But, oh, I did enjoy the cool!) I tend to prefer not to use the higher ISO speeds on my camera, but this time I really had no choice.

It was so much easier when I emerged from under the leafy canopy into the nursery area. Here there was a large open area that allowed me plenty of light to photograph some of the plants in containers. (The nursery area is packed with all sorts of serious temptations, many at very reasonable prices…easy to spend a long time at this bit!)

Henstead Exotic Garden

I reckon I’ll have to return to the garden earlier in the year in future, so that I can photograph some of the lovely garden features that were hidden in it’s dark depths. There were ponds and an artificial stream that would be easier to photograph at a time when the canopy above hasn’t yet filled out.

There were interesting buildings too – the main one being a large tropical-styled summerhouse, which must be an inviting place to spend a relaxed hour or two. There was also a ‘Thai pavilion’ and viewing area which visitors clamber up to via some rather deep steps – an exciting viewpoint up close to the trees and bamboos! I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this very different garden – I’ll be back!

Henstead Exotic Garden