Last chance to visit bluebell woods…..

Cold weather has held back the bluebells this year. They are still looking glorious. Last chance to visit Coton Manor tomorrow.  Here’s some photos from our visit today. As usual, we started with a picnic. Spreading our rugs under the branches of some apple trees, we  tucked into home-made bread and warming soup, followed by an array of cakes and shortbread. A great start to our garden visit.


Our little haven can be found at the far end of the car park. Funnily enough, we’d never noticed the orchard before. But full of blossom today, we could hardly miss it. Next we set out to visit the bluebells.

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As you can see, the bluebells are at their peak of perfection. It’s a sight I’ll hold in my memory until next spring. That blue, with the unfurling lime green leaves, and the honey scent. Just glorious!

We found the dogs’ graves. What a peaceful resting place.


The gardens always provide breathtaking planting, deserving of a separate post. But for now, here’s a taster of what we found.  Luckily the wisteria escaped any damage from the recent hard frosts.


I love this view from the terrace steps.

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I wrote about visits to bluebell woods here mentioning Coton Manor  and Hodsock Priory .  For more information click on the highlighted words. Also look at the Woodland Trust website for bluebell woods all over the country.  Be quick to visit. They are at their best right now.

#wordlesswednesday 

First picnic of the season. We visited Hodsock Priory for the bluebells.


No picnic is complete without jam jar flowers- and chocolate cake.


And this is the glorious view. 


I wrote about Hodsock snowdrops here. Also a must-visit for bluebells. Last chance to see them this coming weekend 6th and 7th May, 10-3pm. I’ve shared more photos over on twitter @kgimson. 

Do you have any favourite bluebell woods you like to visit? Are you a fan of picnics? 

#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.

#Perennial Party…..Taking a piece of my garden with me.

I don’t travel well. I’m much happier surrounded by familiar sights and sounds. I’ve become accustomed to green fields and birdsong.  My favourite place is the potting shed. A quiet, peaceful haven- shared with a cheeky robin. The scent of potted Carnegie white hyacinths and creamy Paperwhite narcissi wafts around. I’m reluctant to leave….

But I need to travel to London. So after much fussing with packing and checking train times and tickets, at least 50 times,  I set off for the unfamiliar.

Just at the garden gate, I see some violets in flower.   Nearby, the first snowdrops are in bud. There’s a primrose poking through the leafmould. And there’s a tiny hellebore flower wearing a hat of  compressed beech leaves. The leaves have protected the plant and forced the flowers into early growth.

So I pick a few flowers and gather them into a tiny posy. I wrap them in dark green gutta tape  to lock in moisture. I twirl around some string, add some lavender from the potting shed table, and set off for London- carrying a tiny piece of my garden with me. A talisman. A kind of amulet. Protection against the noise, hustle and bustle.


Propped up on the flip-down table on the train, the scent from the violets is a welcome reminder of home. I look about to see if anyone else is bothered by the noise and diesel fumes. They don’t seem to notice.


I’d forgotten that snowdrops have a strong honey scent. The flowers start to open as we travel along. These are   Galanthus elwesii, the first to flower in my garden.


The hellebore is called Jacob. It’s a  strong, healthy variety. Dependable and hardy. The violets and primroses arrived  as seedlings from my grandfather’s garden. I have happy memories of grandad Foulds arriving each Sunday with a little piece of his garden; a cutting, a seedling, or division. He loved walking around the plot, pointing out the weeds, giving advice on growing veg and cut flowers. After we had  pottered in the greenhouse and orchard, he’d settle down in a cosy armchair with home-made cake and tea. Such memories are a comfort, brought back to life by these few flowers.


And this is the place I’m travelling to. The Barbican conservatory, for the annual party for Perennial. I’m a fish out of water. A country mouse. But I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone to support a charity that is dedicated to helping all people who work in horticulture.  I’ve been lucky enough to make my living from horticulture for this past 20 years, and I care about the gardeners, contractors and tree surgeons I work with. Perennial provides a “lifebelt” to anyone in a crisis. Advice, help and financial support, for anyone of any age.


The auction featuring luxury holidays and events  raised more than £11,000, and there were raffle prizes too. It’s the most hectic and noisy event I’ve ever attended. But I’m glad I’ve pushed myself out of my little potting shed. The chance to support a valued charity, and see friends from all over the country, has been worth it.


Looking in the pink are from left to right  Fran SuermondtTanya BatkinPerennial’s Laura Garnett,  host James Alexander-Sinclair,   writers Naomi Slade , Alison Levey, and in front, Barbara Segall.

Do you have a favourite charity to support? Do you ever carry a piece of your garden with you on your travels? What measures do you take to cope when you are stepping outside of your comfort zone? I’d love to hear your news and views. 

Read more about Perennial here.

A Visit to the Garden of Ninfa

These photos are for anyone who, like me, can’t visit the RHS London Rose Show this weekend. 

Curated by Rachel de Thame, the second annual show at the RHS Lawrence Hall, promises to be a “celebration of England’s favourite flower.” I’m really sorry to miss out, as Rachel tends to have an eye for all things elegant, and is well known for her knowledge and passion for roses.

Instead, I’m beavering away at work – but in my tea break, I thought I’d share my photo album of Ninfa. 


I was lucky enough to be invited on an Italian gardens tour at the beginning of May. Family commitments and work means I’ve not ventured abroad for around 10 years. I’m not complaining, I love British countryside and gardens.

But when a friend decided to celebrate her birthday with a tour of gardens, and invited 12 pals along, I couldn’t turn down the chance to go along.

We spent a week touring the gardens of Lazio near Rome. On our last day, we visited Ninfa. 

The garden planted among the ruins of the ancient town of Ninfa, is the work of generations of the Caetani family, most notably, Princess Lelia. Virtually every wall, tower and tree is draped in roses. They look as if they have grown naturally-all on their own- with no help from anyone. 

The approach to the garden is down a path with white rambling roses engulfing the boundary wall.

It was our lucky day. Our guide was the Director’s wife, Stella. Wherever there was a Sign saying no entrance, Stella lifted the rope barring our way and ushered us through. What a treat to see the secret areas of the garden, not open to the public. Such kindness is always appreciated, and never forgotten. 

The whole garden is filled with such fragrance. 
American Pillar, possibly. So beautiful against the blue/green walls. All the roses look so healthy.


Rosa Mutabilis- an old fashioned China  variety-quite often called the butterfly rose. 


We ducked down under this cloud of tiny red roses to cross the bridge.

The garden of Ninfa is open infrequently to protect its delicate environmental balance. More information from http://www.fondazionecaetani.org. We travelled on a bespoke gardens trip organised by  Success Tours  www.successtours.com accompanied by tour manager  Wendy Viney. We had the most luxurious coaches ever  and the best driver, Enrico (who saved our lives at least five times a day).Coaches by http://www.corsiepampanelli.it . We stayed at Villa Vecchia Hotel http://www.villavecchia.it   

Read more about Ninfa in RHS Lessons from Great Gardeners by Matthew Biggs, published by Mitchell Beazley.  www.rhsshop.co.uk 

Look out for next year’s RHS London Rose Show. http://www.rhs.org/shows-events/rhs-london-shows/rhs-london-rose-show. I’m determined not to miss it next time.

Have you been to any gardens that have had a big impact on you?