Iris 'George'
Iris ‘George’

The garden has spent most of the week under several inches of snow.  Whilst this is boring to  look at the snow has insulated the emerging bulbs and perennials from the consistently low temperatures.  Come yesterday the temperatures lifted and returning home from a day out at Ashwood Nurseries I discovered my garden had returned to its greenish/brownish self.

I think there is something special about looking at the garden after snow has covered it for a week or more.  It is as if the emerging shoots are released in one go.  This morning I discovered my hellebores were starting to flower; tulip (yes there are a few not eaten by the badger), narcissus and snowdrops were shooting; new buds were appearing on various shrubs and shoots were starting to appear on some of my perennials.  Oh at the Fatsia that was looking pathetically limp over the last week is back to its former glory.


The garden is sodden and really I shouldn’t be walking on it especially having been told forcefully yesterday about the damage compaction does.  My excuse is that  I have waited two weeks to really get into the garden and every  where I walk is going to be dug up during this year or turned into paths so the damage is limited.  I spent a happy hour this morning checking the greenhouse and cold frames, opening them up to get some air and watering.  Delphinium were shooting in the cold frame and the alpine seeds are starting to germinate.  But despite the bright sun and the beautiful blue sky the wind was just too cold for any prolonged gardening.  My only other task was to scatter some slug pellets around the Ligularia shoots which already looked like they had been munched and to cover the plant with one of the lobster pot cloches to prevent the cat eating the pellets.

Hellebores ready for selling
Hellebores ready for selling

But I’m not down at this lack of gardening as I spent yesterday immersed in horticulture and it was fabulous.  I treated myself to a ticket for a lecture at Ashwood Nurseries by its owner John Massey.  I booked it well before Christmas, taking a gamble on the weather and it was touch and go on Friday whether it would be snowed off.  Luckily, well for me, the snow was further north.  I had chosen to go to the Hellebore lecture.  Ashwood is renown for its hellebore breeding programme which has been running for some 25 years.  We learnt that John Massey had started by talking to all the good breeders, including Helen Ballard who used to live not far from me.

There were about 40 of us attending the lecture which was held in a separate building adjacent to John’s house.  John went through how to cross-pollinate hellebores, which he says is very easy and I have to say I feel inspired to give it a go when I have a few more established.  He went through the various forms of hybrids they have breed over the years and then through all the species that exist and how their different qualities come through the breeding programme.  The talk was entertaining and incredibly informative.  I was surprised at the end of the talk when John offered to give us a tour of his garden  after we had adjourned for lunch – to good an opportunity to miss out on.

John Massey's winter garden
John Massey’s winter garden

After lunch and some plant buying we reconvened and spent a fascinating hour with John in his garden.  I learnt about pruning shrubs to give a transparent view of the garden by lifting the lower branches and removing crossing branches.  John talked about choosing a season for a border when planting it and focussing on that season, then to  look at adding interest in other seasons.  This is an approach I am trying to take to my garden since  I have tried borders with interest throughout the year and they could be termed by Christopher Lloyd as having measles they are so bitty.  Seeing the winter interest borders and even the summer borders has given me the confidence to go ahead with this approach.  The in season borders become the main focus and the out of season borders just the supporting act.

I was really bowled over by John’ winter border which had at least half a dozen if not ten witch hazels in it and it wasn’t that large a space.  John showed me how to keep the witch hazels in check by tip pruning whilst also letting them keep their natural shape.  Needless to say I ended up buying another witch hazel before I left the nursery – Aphrodite which smells divine.


Whilst I enjoyed the lecture the tour of John’s garden and the way he has developed the borders, added structure with various shrubs, trees and plants has really helped me to open  my eyes to the potential of the back garden and what I can achieve when I lift the lawn.  Not bad value for £12.50!!