End of Winter?

As predicted in my last post we have had snow.  Here in Malvern we have got off fairly lightly compared to some parts of the country and indeed this area.  Several friends who live in more rural settings have experienced drifts of snow over 6ft tall.  This demosntrates what has been so challenging about this phase of cold weather – the biting wind creating huge drifts in the strangest of places, blocking roads, closing airports and thwarting our rail network.

Whilst I spent yesterday turning up curtains I watched the antics of the birds.  They had been missing from the garden on Thursday and Friday probably due to the wind, bitter temperatures, and snow but with the weather improving a little yesterday, aside from the oppressive fog, the birds ventured out for food – much like my neighbours off to the supermarket.

My focus has been more on feeding the ground feeding birds which I think get overlooked a lot.  We have a bench which makes a good platform so several times a day I have been putting out a selection of bird food including the usual seed, dried mealworms, suet and apples.

The offering of apples were rewarded by a small flock of Fieldfares arriving in the garden much to my delight as we only see them when they pass through on their migration route.  They do have a weakness for apples so I was hoping they would appear. They seem to have sentries as we have had one of their number strutting around the place for the last two days guarding the food from all comers with his fanned tail, just like a turkey.

And just to make the gloomy day even better a small flock of Long Tailed Tits appeared on the bird feeders.  They are my all time favourite garden birds with their distinctive excitable song as they flit around the trees and shrubs looking for insects – like little puffballs.  I always worry about them and their small relatives when we have cold weather so it was a relief to see them.

Now on Sunday afternoon the temperature has reached the heady heights of 10C degrees, a bit of a difference to -4C a couple of nights ago and the thaw has started – it always makes me hum Little April Showers from Bambi. Heres hoping that we can now move on to Spring.


After the Snow

and we certainly had snow, about 20cm deep in less than 24 hours just over a week ago.  Whilst we have had heavy snow in the past, some four or five years ago, we haven’t had so much snow in such a short period of time.

And it was the best of snow; soft, fluffy, powdery.  So much of it weighing down branches, flattening the fragile grass stems, crystallising the Fatsia flower heads causing them to snap off.

It was so still, so quiet, nothing moved for hours not even a wind to waft the snow off the allium seed head.

Now on the shortest day of the year the snow has gone and I’m on leave and I finally have the opportunity to see the garden in the daylight and discover unexpected delights.  The first hellebore is flowering and a healthy clump of snowdrops are pushing their snouts upwards – possibly Mrs McNamara.

Removing broken stems and fallen leaves revealed so many fresh new bulb shoots – so much promise for the new year.




My Garden This Weekend – 18th January 2015


As you can see the garden has had a dose of winter this weekend albeit short-lived with the majority of the snow having melted by Saturday lunchtime. I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed that it was too cold to do anything outside as all I wanted to do yesterday was hide inside.  I have been overcome with a tidal wave of grief which has crept up on me unexpectedly during the week, just like when you don’t notice the tide coming further up the beach.  It left me feeling emotional and close to tears for 48 hours not an ideal state of mind when you have to go to work.  It took  a while to identify it for what it was, going through all the usual others things, dismissing PMT, depression, concern about changes at work etc.  No it was grief, cold and hard and something you just have to accept and wait for it to pass.


I have been getting on with life over recent months, being busy, since Dad died and although I think about him a lot I have felt I was doing OK.  But grief has a habit of creeping up on you and engulfing you when you least expect it.  I suppose I am lucky in that I learnt to recognise and accept it for what it is about a year after my sister died thanks to a wonderful counsellor.  This time it was a book that bought everything to a head.  A beautifully written book, if the first chapter or two is to go by, H for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  The book is about the author training a Goshawk but it is also about her coming to terms with the loss of her father.  Needless to say it starts with her reacting to the news her Dad had died and I suppose it struck at something deep down because I kept obsessing about one paragraph, where they are looking for the father’s car.  I can’t even talk about the story without crying but then again I don’t think that is a bad thing because I believe it is better to let these things happen rather than fight them. We do more damage to ourselves with the British stiff upper lip approach.


So the only gardening I did this weekend was to move things around in the greenhouse.  Rejigging the pots of bulbs so that those emerging have the best light and the late summer bulbs, such as nerines, are moved under the staging to rest for a while.


Sunday has been a better day.  Having recognised the grief for what it was, had a good cry, I woke up feeling like my old self again and ready to battle on.  I have been decorating the hall, landing and stairs, which means endless gloss work which I can doing in stages.  So after tackling some of the bannisters Mum and I went out for a jaunt to Ashwood Nurseries which is just over an hour from here.  My boss had given me some garden vouchers for Christmas and I had earmarked them for some more hellebores and some spring flowering shrubs.  A lot of research has been done in recent evenings and a mental wish list drawn up.


The choice at Ashwoods is extensive and always so well displayed.  I realised I have only visited at this time of year, the last time for a hellebore talk, so I must try to visit again through the year but if this is the quality of the display in early January I can only imagine how wonderful it will be in a few months.

I came home with 3 hellebores – Anna’s Red, Neon Star and Walbertons Rosemary which has been bred to look upwards, 3 heptica nobilis, a clivia and two dwarf rhododendrons that are part of my new planting plan for the border you can see in the second photograph.


We had a nice lunch, a laugh, talked about Dad, grief, glosswork (Mum is decorating too) and strangely bought a resin tortoise (a gift for my Aunt!).  We are going back in March for my birthday so Mum can treat me to something, probably for the border above.

As for the book …. it is safely back on the shelf waiting for such time as I feel more emotional able to read it.




Winter has never been a favourite season for me or even a mildly welcomed one. It is the bottom of the pile. I have found it too still, too grey and obviously too cold. My preference has always been for spring and autumn. Both seasons of significant change, generally fine weather and less overwhelming than the blowsy bountiful, bright summer.

However I am slowly beginning to appreciate winter more. Despite a loathing of snow and it’s inconveniences I find the way it blanks out all the details liberating. Every thing seems new, fresh to the eye. The skeleton trees come into their own, sinister and dark against the leaden skies. In contrast the bright pristine snow glistens and softens everything into velvety undulations.


Sometimes we have a hoar frost and we enter the mystical and magical world of Narnia. As with the snow there is a silence which conversely can be deafening. No birds sing or flit through branches, nothing stirs. I particularly enjoy the melting of the ice and snow when a soft chime of dripping water rings out and there is anticipation that winter will soon pass and life in the garden will start afresh.


So far this year we have been spared the ‘joys’ of snow and ice; a welcome respite from my perspective. It has been relatively mild although almost overwhelming wet. The Malvern Hills are known for their springs and the crystal clear water they produce. Consequently living on the side of these hills we are at the mercy of the springs and excess of water appearing seemingly wherever. The garden has developed a new sound of water seeping through the ground – it feels very earthy.

Although there hasn’t been a whiting out of the details as in recent years I am still finding winter an interesting season. The slowness of the season means that there is time to think and consider, to reflect, to plan. The perennials are no longer dominant, their showy flowers have disappeared and even the seed heads have gone having been flattened by the wind and rain. The garden is now waiting. The borders have been weeded and mulched, shrubs pruned. The mild winter has allowed the luxury of reviewing borders, removing and rejigging planting and creating new empty spaces waiting for inspiration to strike.


Winter is no longer a period of inertia and frustration. I am appreciating it as a breathing space, a time for me to rest, clear my over horticulturally obsessed mind and to refocus. It’s a time for the garden to show me what it needs in the coming year. Come spring we will be ready.

Spring! Are you Sure?


You would think booking the last week of March as annual leave would be a safe bet for some gardening time.  Not so.  Whilst officially we are in Spring the weather outside is still very wintery.  I awoke this morning to snow, not enough to snow us in but enough to make the journey to work unpleasant.  It has rained all day with the odd bout of sleet and the patio is now flooded (photo below taken at 3:30pm).  The forecast says we will have snow from around 4am tomorrow to 8am on Sunday.  So no sooner had I removed the fleece from the overwintering perennials waiting to be planted out than it was back on but it felt very strange standing on a flooded patio putting out fleece.


I have to say though that sitting in the living room looking out at the garden I am starting to think that maybe Spring is trying to arrive.  There is a distinct greeness about the borders, with new shoots of daylilies, delphiniums, iris sibirica pushing through the soil and daffodils and snowdrops flowering away although it isn’t that obvious in the view above.  I’m sure the snowdrops have normally finished by now, it’s almost as if they are frozen in time.  All this time gazing at the garden waiting for the weather to improve is partly helping me recognise the areas I really like but also making me dither around on what to do with the back lawn.  The lawn IS going that is a given but the question remains about paths.  This is only because I particularly like the front of the woodland border and the shape of the lawn there!!  I want to be able to walk by the witch hazel so I am toying with a grass path here and of course my lack of design understanding doesn’t help so I am trying to think about how I traverse the space so any paths are at least practical. In the photograph the area seems so small but when I am in the garden it seems quite a large area.  I have though made progress with the back fence and the Pyracantha have arrived to be planted out as soon as it warms up and dries up a bit.


It was quite heartening to come home to a box of summer bulbs from Avon Bulbs.  I was obviously feeling the need for some warmth when I ordered them and dreaming of warmer climes. So whilst the new steps that all the material has arrived for today won’t be going in this weekend at least I can pot up the bulbs: Agapanthus Alan Street, Agapanthus ardernei, Bessera elegans and Eucomis comosa.

One of the other jobs I am hoping to do this coming week is to convert an old butlers sink I have into a crevice bed for the alpines I have started to collect.  Many of them are flowering away in the cold frame and I want to find a way to enjoy their beautiful dainty flowers better.  I have done quite a bit of research so I just need my eldest to drag the sink round to the patio and to source some slate or similar and off I go.

Soldanella 'Spring Symphony'
Soldanella ‘Spring Symphony’

Snow Blues

Calamagrostis overdam bent over uncer  the snow
Calamagrostis overdam bent over under the snow

I really don’t think we English are cut out for the snow, well  not in the 21st century.  Personally I don’t particularly like snow, certainly not after the first initial snowfall.  I wrote nearly a week ago of the first snowfall and exploring the unsullied snow on the local common in its pristine wintery finery.  Well that was nearly a week ago and I am weary of the monochrome landscape.  I really don’t think I would do very well if I lived in the northern states of the US whose bloggers seem to cope with weeks if not months of snow; the amount of which puts us to shame. I  feel a little  ashamed  of my pathetic response to snow especially after watching an old documentary of the Big Freeze in 1963 when they had freezing cold weather for three months and snowmen built at the start of the year were still standing in March. But I  suppose we are what our  environment makes us and in recent times we haven’t had to cope with too much cold weather – we have become soft.

On Wednesday, the snow had almost cleared to the point where I could  get my snow and ice adverse automatic back to the driveway instead of parking it up the road.  But no another batch of heavy snow was forecast overnight.  I  find it amazing how we British seem to deny the existence of snow until we are knee-deep in it.  It seems that we think if we keep saying ‘oh the weathermen are just being cautious’ the snow won’t materialise.  But it does and we are unfailingly caught out and chaos ensues and I suspect we are the laughing-stock of Northern Europe.

Melianthus major giving in to winter
Melianthus major giving in to winter

Being a snow phobic and leaving in a very hilly part of the country with a good 20 minute car drive cross-country to work I become obsessive about the weather forecast when snow is possible – the same happens when it rains a lot and floods threaten.  There I was on Wednesday at work cancelling a hair appointment the next day and sorting work to do at home should the snow indeed fall.  People laughed and told me it would just be some flakes.  I parked my car up the road from home – a good 12 minute walk  up hill but at least on a main road which I know will be gritted and which would give me an almost safe journey to work.

Yesterday morning we awoke to a landscape freshly covered in snow.  Another 2 – 3″ had fallen.  The previous  snow that was still covering the garden seemed to have grown overnight and all the traces of birds and animals had been wiped out again.  More snow was forecast during the day so  I decided to stay  put and work from home .  My son disappeared off to work over the other side of the hills and luckily arrived safely – he knows better than to give me the details of the difficulties he encounters on his country ungritted route.

Hamamelis mollis ‘Arnold Promise’ hiding its charms
Hamamelis mollis ‘Arnold Promise’ hiding its charms

I worked hard getting far more done than I would in the office, always the way when you are distanced from the phone. I spent an hour clearing the snow from the driveway and road outside our house so my son could get back  home and also exploring the garden to see how my plants were faring.  The Grevillea and Bay were keeling over again under the weight of another snow fall and had to be shaken free.  I  have given up trying to help the Fatsia whose leaves, even when shed of snow, just hang down limply.  Amongst all the white and grey there was one bright spark.  Glinting out from amongst the snow were the flowers of my Hamamelis mollis ‘Arnold Promise’.  It had just  started to flower before the first snow and I find myself  wondering if it will flower for long after the snow has cleared.  I shook the snow off it so at least I could enjoy the warm sunshine yellow of its flowers from my living  room window.


The snow stopped and the temperatures have reached a heady 1C, there is sign of a thaw.  We are told the temperatures will  improve by the weekend but that this will mean a quick thaw and possibly floods.  I do hope this  isn’t a sign of another wet year ahead of us.




So the snow has arrived.  It started about 6:00am just as we were beginning to think the forecasters had been over-cautious.  Heavy snow persistently falling so that now some 4 hours later we have around 2 inches of snow laying in the garden.  I love snow if I don’t have to get anywhere in it.  I love the way it seems to erase all the details leaving an almost blank canvas in its wake.  If like me you are a gardener who is never satisfied with their space and who is  considering a serious redesign then the snow is a god send as it lets you see the space for what it is.


The above photograph is of the garden at 8:00am with the large prostrate rosemary in the foreground.  I become very worried about the birds when we have this sort of weather particularly those that feed on the ground.  With the snow falling steadily and forecast to do so for most of the day any areas I clear for food will quickly be covered.  So I moved the small patio table up the garden, cleared the snow underneath this and put out food.  Within minutes the birds were there feeding away and fighting over the food.  I am having to go out every couple of hours to top up the food.  I have also made sure there is a good water supply.


I decided to go for a walk to the local common probably no more than a 10 minute walk up the road in order to see it in its pristine beauty before the  sledgers and toboggners arrived.  Unsurprisingly there was hardly any one around, the silence palpable, not even a bird call or a distant car.  The only sound was the crunching of the fresh  snow under my feet.   I live on a small housing estate which is all up and down and therefore no one had ventured out on foot or by car, it would be pointless and futile.  When I reached the nearest proper road (see above) there were signs of a few cars having passed along it and I did see a solitary 4×4 but there was none of the chaos that rained a few years back when people were trying to get to work or get their children to school.  I wonder if the weather warnings and the fact it is a Friday  has made people see sense and stay  put.  During my walk I only saw two vehicles go along the major road running along the top of the common which is always gritted and passable if you can get to it.


The common was more or less empty.  I could just make out a couple with their dog (see the tiny dots at the top right hand side of the photo) and over the far side some tobogganers, including my eldest son.  Well I think he was there! I could hear them and just make out their shapes but the snow was falling so fast that it was difficult to see very far. In the photograph above you should be able to see the Malvern Hills and the houses on its slopes or even their house lights but it is a total wipe out.


I turned around and headed home soon finding that my footprints were already disappearing as more snow fell.  To think tomorrow when the snow has stopped falling the common will be full of children, and adults, throwing themselves down the slopes on sledges and toboggans. I will hear their screams of joy and excitement from my garden, the faint sound of cars will return.  But for today  the common was almost mine alone in its  beautiful wintery splendour and by now there will be no sign I was even there.

Update: just watched 11 Fieldfares and 2 Bramblings feeding in the garden as well as the usual Robins, tits, Starlings, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Nuthatch, Blackcaps, Magpies, oh and Pheasant!  Really pleased

Half hearted winter wonderland

I am getting quite bored of this cold now.  I know it isn’t as cold as they have had in some parts of Europe or the US but it is getting annoying.  We haven’t even had much of a snowfall (though as I type snow has started to fall!) just cold which makes it impossible to garden and generally miserable and frustrating.

Last night they were forecasting 5-10cm of snow overnight but on waking this morning there was no more than a cm, if that, and it was more ice than snow.  I had bought in lots more bird food especially apples which are popular with the blackbirds, thrusts, redwings and fieldfares.  While I was pouring warm water in the bird baths and top up the feeders I took a few photos of the garden.  As you can see it is rather a half hearted winter wonderland more a winter after thought.

However, amongst the grey and cold there is a small oasis of almost warmth and growth – the greenhouse. It is the only part of the garden where plants aren’t covered in some horrid icy slush and look like they might be growing.  Seedlings are starting to emerge and if it is a little warmer tomorrow I might hide out in it and sow my sweet pea seeds.  So at least I will get a gardening fix one way or another.


After the snow

We have been living in a seemingly permanent mist for the last two days ever since the temperatures rose and the snow started to melt.  I am presuming that this is because there is so much water vapour from the thawing snow.  I am getting desperate for the sun to break through or just to see the sky.

Today was the first day since early December when the garden hasn’t been frozen or covered in snow and it was quite startling this morning to open the curtains and see green.  It really made me see the garden with fresh eyes which was good as I have been reading lots of garden magazines the  last couple of weeks to offset my itch to garden.  I have been dreaming of Nepeta and Euphorbia plants edging borders in my sleep!

It is interesting to see how different plants have responded to the prolonged cold.  The Fatsia (above) which looked like a wrung out dishcloth only yesterday has already perked up although some of the leaves look a little damaged but time will tell. The grasses also seem quite resilient and look lovely in the mist.  There is already lots of new growth ready for next year which looks fresh and green and has cheered me up. Maybe if our winters are going to be more like this grasses will come into their own even more.

However, the Japanese Holly Fern is looking quite sad  for itself. The poor plant had only had a few days when it had managed to perk up before more cold hit it. Luckily whilst the stems have snapped there are new fronds pecking through the earth so next year it should  look fabulous.

What really interested me were leaves like the Acanthus leaves which look more like jelly in places and will obviously never recover.  There are quite a few plants like this, including some shrubs, where it appears that the leaves hadn’t had the chance to die properly before the cold hit.  The smaller leaves have frozen and dried out whilst the bigger fleshy leaves  are just mush.  I can’t say I’m that keen to clear this up but I suppose it will have to be  done soon.

Hopefully, we won’t have too much cold but with the snow on the East coast of the US there are some here who think it will only be a matter of time before it hits the UK!! I am desperate to get into the garden and down the allotment to do something positive and use up some energy. However, if we do have more ice and snow I will just have to approach it with a view to seeing how plants respond and what I can learn!!