Spring Garden Visit for Mothering Sunday

It’s always to treat to discover a garden you haven’t visited before- especially when they open for only one day a year. Gunthorpe Hall proved to be the perfect place to take Mum for our special Mothering Sunday outing.


We stood and admired these iron gates and views over the Rutland farmland. One thing we wished we had was a guide for all the rare breed sheep. Mum and I thought we recognised a few, but there were many we’d never seen before. The lambs were a springy delight. 


The park surrounding the formal garden is awash with daffodils, and every kind of spring bulb you can think of. 




Daffodils have naturalised in the grass around the magnolia, cherry and lime trees. Backed by a south facing wall, there’s a new kitchen garden with raised beds and a new Hartley Botanic greenhouse.



We all love to mooch in greenhouses, looking to see what other people are  growing. We found broad beans and  beetroot seedlings  looking very healthy and thriving. 


I would just love to get my hands on these sleeper-edged beds. There would be sweetpeas, and dahlias, and cut flowers galore! 


And after all that gardening, I’m sure I would be quite comfortable lying on these outdoor couches, with wonderful canvas sails to shade the sun. 


Well, some people have gnomes, stone statues etc. And then there’s……plastic penguins! Not sure what the story is behind these slightly grumpy-looking penguins, but there were quite a few about the place- all in different colours. And a white plastic gorilla, and a red teddy bear. I will try to find out and report back…….


We weren’t sure about the scary-looking eyes. But we did love the cowslip bank and the mulberry tree underplanted with thousands of bulbs. 


Gunthorpe Hall, near Oakham, opens for the Leicestershire National Gardens Scheme once a year. I can highly recommend a visit. The garden is a wonderful spring delight. Mum loved her outing – and the delicious afternoon tea made by all the hard working volunteers.  

Do you have any favourite spring gardens you like to visit? Or have you, like us, found somewhere new and special to visit? 

In a Vase on Monday- the first day of spring 

If you could see me today you would notice a huge smile. Not only is it the first day of spring- the days are getting noticeably lighter- but it is also my youngest daughter’s birthday.

So for this happy day, I have dashed around the garden picking spring flowers and blossom to fill the house with colour and scent. I always put cherry blossom in every room  for my daughter’s special day. There’s little pots of scented violets and wild primroses on all the windowsills. And for the front door I’ve made a willow kokedama bouquet.


The “ingredients” for the kokedama comprise a willow heart I made last winter, a cut down plastic juice bottle, some moss from the garden and some twine. I spotted this  idea at  Easton Walled Gardens last month. Snowdops wrapped in moss and twine made strikingly beautiful displays. I made a note of how they were put together.


Here’s my ingredients in the potting shed. I used a Robinsons juice bottle cut down to 10cm for a vase and some lime green Nutscene heritage twine. 


I made a nest around the vase with wet moss, and simply wrapped back and forth until the moss was secured. It was much easier than I expected, and only took a few minutes to make. The vase was easily tied to the front of the willow heart. 



The mossy vase was packed with winter- flowering Algerian Iris Unguicularis, hellebore Ashwood hybrids, pulmonaria, comfrey, fogetmenot, Prunus Kojo no Mai and vinca. 


For the dining table posies, delicate Victorian glasses  were filled with  Sissinghurst white pulmonaria, bellis daisies, comfrey, cowparsley, and pink corydalis. 

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And lots of glass jars of  pink and white blossom. 


You can never have too much blossom…..


Do you like making flower arrangements for special occasions at home?

 Many thanks to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting this meme. Each week Cathy encourages us to go out into our gardens and find material for In a Vase on Monday. Cathy is celebrating her 5th anniversary of blogging today. She was one of the first people I followed on here, and I’ve really appreciated her helpful support and advice from the start. Finding friends and sharing ideas and information is for me, the best reason for joining in. 

In a Vase on Monday 

Regular readers will know that I grow flowers for my mother in law Joan. She’s 88 now and not able to visit as often as she would like. A posy of flowers  gives Joan a flavour of what’s growing in my garden each week. As well as flowers, I take twiggy sticks with green buds, hazel “lambs tails,” and fluffy grey willow. A taste of spring. 


This week there’s plenty of scented Paper White Narcissi- planted in the poly tunnel at Christmas. The blue and white hyacinths were planted last October and grown on in the cool dark potting shed in containers. Blue statice was grown in the veg garden last summer and hung upside down to dry in the potting shed eaves. It was the first time I’d grown statice. Choosing just the right moment to pick the flowers took a bit of practice. Some I left too late and were too far open. Others, picked on a wet day, sadly faded. 


I’m also picking this white bergenia at the moment. It makes beautiful  mini posies all on its own and lasts for a week in water. This variety is called Bergenia Jelle. 

Thanks to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting this meme. Why not go over and see what  other people from all over the world are growing in their gardens right now. It’s fascinating to see the variety of plants and flowers and the different ways they are used.

#wordlesswednesday 

After the storm- there’s always hope. 


From my garden gate I can see this willow. The tree had five massive branches, all toppled by high winds last year. Now there’s new shoots from the fallen branches. Willows were seen as trees of celebration in Biblical times. At church,when I was little, I remember willow branches being used instead of palms to celebrate Palm Sunday. 

Willows are often associated with sadness and mourning. As a young teenager  I read Shakespeare’s Hamlet at school and  can vividly recall the scene where  Ophelia drowns  beside a willow tree. A sad and lonely vision that stayed with me for some time. I was always too inclined to dwell on injustice and wrongs. But then, at that time, I still thought I had the power to change the world. On my bedroom wall I had a poster of  the famous 1850s Ophelia by Millais. 

Instead of sadness, I associate willows with catkins and the first signs of spring. Today is the Meteorological first day of spring. But in the Old Farmer’s Almanac spring doesn’t start until March 20th. I will be cutting back our willows today to make plant supports and arches. And the grey catkins will be a happy addition to my flower arrangements. 

Out of my pottingshed- again …..

Regular readers will know, I live a peaceful life. I’m happiest in my potting shed. I work as a garden designer so most days are spent with plants. It doesn’t sound exciting, but it suits my nature, and I’m happy.


I’m always surprised when opportunities come along- taking me out of my comfort zone. I’m even more surprised at myself when I say yes!

Two years ago, out of the blue, a producer from  BBC local radio phoned  and asked me to talk about  work. I’d designed some school gardens and was working with a charity to create  a garden for disabled children.

A week later I found myself at the studios of BBC Radio Leicester, chatting on the Ben Jackson afternoon show. There were a few moments of panic when I learned it would be live- and I’d have to talk for an hour. But luckily- being radio- no one could see my knees shaking.

Despite feeling like a fish out of water, and going completely blank, I survived the ordeal. And then I was really amazed when they asked me to join the gardeners question time team on Radio Leicester’s Down to Earth programme. I am more of a listener than a talker, but it’s a lot of fun. There’s laughter and support from the more experienced members on the team.

Here’s  a link to a recent programme. Whizz past the news to 06.00 on the timeline:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04qg2v6

I’m telling you this to encourage you to ring up your local radio station and tell them about YOUR work- whatever it is. They have space to fill- every day! And they want to hear from you. It doesn’t have to be work. It can be a hobby. Or you might want to promote an event, or perhaps open gardens. It’s an opportunity you might not have thought about. And a little gentle encouragement might be all you need…..

Be brave- and remember, If I can do it, so can you. And you never know where it might lead. This week I went along to the Garden Press Event in London to report on the latest plants, seeds and growing techniques. I’ll share a link to the programme when it’s out on the BBC website. And more photos next time.

Ring up- and  please let me know how you get on.


I love  blue hyacinths, planted last October, and scenting the potting shed today


I’ve propped up the Carnegie white hyacinths with hazel twigs

Pottingshed shed window. I have to really tear myself away from my garden.

Thanks for reading.

#Snowdrop love, at Easton Walled Gardens

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In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing my photos of Britain’s most romantic garden renovation project.  Easton Walled Gardens.

There was once a magnificent mansion at the top of this flight of stone steps. The orangery windows looked over the glorious gardens below.

Franklin D Roosevelt, visiting the gardens on his honeymoon tour, described them as “A dream of Nirvana- almost too good to be true.” Sadly, the house  was demolished in 1951 and the gardens slowly abandoned. The gatehouse only survived when the bulldozer broke down. The gardens were lost under brambles and tree saplings.

Strolling around today, there’s a feeling of walking in the footsteps of those who lived and worked there in its heyday.

A stone bridge has been restored and leads to the great yew tunnel- which survived the neglect and abandonment.


Sheets of snowdrops lay dormant under the brambles. Just waiting to bloom again. There’s a fairytale feel to the place.  A Sleeping Beauty garden, lost and re-discovered.


And really, only love could have saved this garden. Ursula Cholmeley,  whose family lived at Easton for 400 years, has poured love, energy, passion, and time into the renovation project.  Work, started in 2001, continues today. And it’s a triumph. The “lost gardens of Easton” have been rescued and revived.


What’s your most romantic garden?  How will you be celebrating Valentine’s Day?

Click on the highlighted words for more information

Easton Walled Gardens   just off the A1 near Grantham in Lincolnshire, is open until 19th February for snowdrops.

Buy Snowdrops from Easton by post

Events calendar
Courses/ workshops at Easton
Sweet peas at Easton

#snowdrops. Out of Hibernation-for Hodsock Press Day 

img_9173All winter I’ve found a kind of sanctuary in the potting shed. There’s a deep peaceful silence. A protection from the cold. A place to think. I can plot the progress of the seasons from the pottingshed window. Just now I can see gaunt willows bordering the pond. They look like charcoal drawings. I think of my farming ancestors who would have lopped the willows to make sheepfolds at this time of year.


I’m fascinated by old farming almanacs. My grandmother used to read them and occasionally I’d hear talk of Imbolc and Candlemas, mentioned in the first week of February. Imbolc meaning lambs milk or the start of the lambing season. And Brigantia, the Celtic female deity of light, St Brigid in the Christian tradition, calling  us to celebrate the sun – halfway on its advance from winter solstice to the spring equinox.

I map the progress of winter through the pottingshed  windows, watching the angle of the sunlight as it hits the huge table where I work.

Suddenly there’s a day -usually in the second week of February – when I notice the light has returned to the garden.  There’s a shaft of sunlight that shines through the side window like a wake up signal for spring. A kind of sundial for the seasons.


It’s a signal for me to reconnect with the world and leave the pottingshed behind.


So I make my annual pilgrimage to Hodsock Priory- accompanied by my Mum, as always.  And it is a place of pure magic. I stand in wonder under a 500 year old oak- the same age as the  brick tower gatehouse.

We call Hodsock the Chelsea of the snowdrop season. This is the first of many gardens Mum and I will visit over the coming weeks. We are lucky, and grateful, to be invited to the annual press day and enjoy a guided tour of the garden.


The woodland walk makes the heart sing.  Pyramid-pruned beech trees flank each side of the path. Such a simple idea, and it works, adding interest without being too formal.


Pools of colour from the Cyclamen Coum look  as bright as stained glass windows in the sunshine.


This Garrya Elliptica wrapped around the corner of the house always puts on a stunning display. It has every right to be called the silk tassel bush. We all decide it’s the best we have seen.

Wintersweet   or Chimonanthus Praecox. Glorious Scent  is as much a special feature of the garden as snowdrops. I particularly love  the winter honeysuckle walk. Lonicera Fragrantissima has  such tiny, almost translucent flowers  A delicious treat for the senses.


We take a new tour around the house and underground tunnels, and emerge in the dry moat. This is a view of  the house I haven’t  seen before.


We find an inviting side door to the tower. Amazing to think this stone and brickwork has been here for 500 years.


Before setting off for home we find  Narcissus Cedric Morris along a bank in front of the house. Such a cheerful sight for mid February.

There’s a  plant sale at the entrance to the cafe. I treat myself to this beautiful hellebore, Harvington Yellow. I’m drawn to the  dark eye in the centre. Such a beauty.  I shall plant it in front of my pottingshed  to remind me of  our visit.


And on the pottingshed window to welcome me home- there’s a pot of snowdrops I bought at Hodsock last year. They are just the common Galanthus Nivalis. But I like them just as much as all the fancy  named varieties. They suit the humble setting.

Hodsock Priory is open every day until March 5th.

End of the Month View

Taking photos for the end of the month view was  bit of a struggle. We garden on a windswept ridge. A  wonderful viewing point  for the surrounding countryside. Disasterous for tender plants- and for taking photos. Everything was a blur as Storm Doris  hit the garden.

The snowdrops opened today, about a week earlier than last year. Temperatures for January varied between -6 degrees and 14 degrees. It’s caused many winter flowering plants to open early. I  just hope we don’t get a cold spell now to damage the flowers.


This is my “Hodsock Priory ” corner. I always buy a little pot of snowdrops at the open gardens we visit. It’s a nice reminder of a lovely day out. Mum and I are going to the famous snowdrop press day next week. We call it the Chelsea of the snowdrop season. For us it marks the end of our winter hibernation, and the start of lots of lovely snowdrop garden trips out.  Hodsock opens from 4th Feb to 5th March, 10am to 4pm. Click on the link for more information. The gardens are full of wonderful scented plants. A real treat for the senses. –

The Easton Walled Garden snowdrops are cheering up the pottingshed window. Easton, just off the A1 near Grantham, opens 11th to 19th Feb, 11am to 4pm. A wonderful place for a winter walk. I can highly  recomend the little cafe where there’s home made cake and tea. Mum and I have spent many happy hours there. And I was lucky enough to work for Easton  last winter, writing newspaper and magazine articles.  I had no trouble finding nice things to say about this historic garden and the renovation work that has saved it for future generations of visitors to enjoy. It’s such an inspiring place. 


These Elwesii snowdrops have been in flower since the beginning of January. They have long stems  and last well in water. I’ve been picking them for jam jar posies for the house.


Mum and I bought these cyclamen from Hodsock plant sales a few years ago. They seem really happy in the leafmould in the wild garden. We just buy one pot every time we visit. They soon build up into lovely display. So cheerful at this time of the year.


Finally, the yellow aconites have got going. I’ve been trying for years to get these to grow. They love a good mulch of leaf mould. 


I bought some hellebores from Ashwood Nurseries years ago. This one is a seedling from the original plants. It flowers from  mid January in a shady spot.


I’ve been picking  Phlomis fruiticosa foliage all winter for flower arrangements. The leaves look sugar frosted all year round. 


The star of the front garden in winter is this dogwood, Cornus Westonbirt. Brightens even the gloomiest day. 

Thanks to Helen for hosting this meme. Why not go over and see what’s looking good in Helen’s end of the month view.