Dreich, dreich, dreich

After the hottest summer we have experienced here our cotoneaster bushes yielded smaller and fewer berries. They are all gone now. I hope the birds will be able to find some other berries or rosehips to keep them going.

The autumn was long and deliciously warm. A dream for gardeners and walkers. Then came the cold – to be expected in the winter but it has been followed by the most prolonged period of rain and heavy cloud that we have ever experienced here.

Photography in the garden has been constrained by the low light conditions.

The Viburnum tinus is flowering but there is not much time for the bees to get onto the flowers between the showers even though we have been having temperatures as high as 17 degrees Centigrade.

I like the relaxed style that this bee is gathering pollen. Comfortably ensconced on an old leaf of the winter flowering honeysuckle, she can give her full attention to gathering the pollen.

The Mahonias buzz with the bees when the clouds part and we get some light. Usually the Mahonias are full of bumble bees. I usually see the bumble bees on the Mahonias even when the low air temperatures keep the honeybees in their hives at this time of year. This year I have seen fewer bumblebees during these warm, wet days. I do not know whether the very cold spell we had before Christmas has sent them into a deeper hibernation or if they prefer to avoid the wet weather.

I have an anemone blooming early in December.

These are the buds of my flowering cherry tree on the 26 December2022. It has obviously decided not to give up the idea of flowering.

Our sole patch of snowdrops flowered on the 26 December 2022. This is their second year, so it is a success story – however minor. At least the snowdrops are in tune with the season.

I had given up on trying snowdrops and planted Crocus sieberi “Firefly” to take their place as my first early bulb. This year the crocus flowered nearby the snowdrops on the 3 January 2023.

It is not possible that the snowdrops pushed up to maintain their position as the favourite in the winter garden.

But it does make you think.

January 2022

The garden enters 2022 with trepidation.

Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta

I took some photographs in the garden on the 31 st. of December 2021 – the last day of the old year. It was a fittingly bizarre day with a temperature of 17 degrees Centigrade (62.6 F) and bright sunshine for the second straight day in a row. There were butterflies on the flowers.

And of course the bees were out and busy bringing loads of pollen into the bee hives.

We were able to sit and read outside as the sun descended and the birds were singing like a spring evening. It is still mild but the temperatures are moving towards seasonal norms. I just wonder how perturbed nature will be this year.

In the meantime the bees take advantage of the fine weather and I thank Philip Strange for reminding me that buff-tailed bumblebees can keep up nesting throughout the winter even in the south of England. Thus the pollen on the bumblebees legs.

She did not gather the pollen from the Mahonia – I have only seen the bees take nectar from the Mahonia.

This winter, despite some frosty mornings, the Anisodontea has kept its flowers and attracts the bees on sunny days.

As soon as the flowers open the bees push themselves inside. They often try when the flower is not completely open.

At the bottom of the garden we have planted an Arbutus unedo. It is a poor spot for a tree with such lovely flowers that are much appreciated by the bumblebees but it has survived and is producing flowers.

The tree is commonly called a strawberry tree, for obvious reasons. I took the photograph of the fruit on the 13 December but there are no more fruits on the tree. The birds have eaten them and, although they look delicious, the fruits are somewhat acid and bland. They can be made into jam as they are not poisonous, but I could think of easier ingredients for jams.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I took all these photographs on 31 December 2022 in the sunshine and unseasonable warmth. In the evening I noticed one of our little green tree frogs sitting enjoying the sun inside a planter on the patio. It is two days later and he is settling down for another night in the same place. The temperature is forecast to fall during the night.

Shall I take him out a blanket?

An exceptional November

The Liquidambar’s autumn colours say autumn.

I actually enjoy raking the colourful leaves and continue to mulch my front borders as I weed them and make plans for autumn replantings.

I am spending even more time in the garden as we are still confined to the house except for essential limited cases.

So things are different this year. The garden is different. It is warm and sunny here. The Cosmos sulphureus which have been wilting towards winter have started to reflower.

The coloured Cosmos which have finished weeks ago have started to grow from the seeds set this year and are now flowering.

The Salvia “Hot lips” is still going strong.

The Fuschia has fewer flowers but still putting on a good show.

My Abutilon are in their element and I am glad I attempted these plants that will not survive severe winters.

So we are still enjoying our coffee on the patio beside the Salvia leucantha in the sunshine.

The pollen sac on the white tailed bumble bee tells me she has decided to have a brood at the end of November. I hope her optimism is well founded.

After all the raspberries are still producing fruit.

The Mahonia bushes are full of bumble bees.

The Wall butterfly (Lasiommata megera) suns itself in the garden.

Our little green tree frog enjoys the sunshine behind the shutter. She appreciates the sunshine – confinment or conditions or covid – do not concern her.

Is she saying “Du calme, mes amis.” ?

The Savill Garden December 2015

I first visited The Savill Garden in December 2012 (Free in December).  I admit the absence of an entrance fee attracted me to visit but it has become one of my favourite gardens.  For me to really appreciate a garden I need to get to know it and I look forward to seeing some of my favourite trees as I would old friends.

Long view

There is plenty to see even in the winter and I was interested to see the differences this exceptionally mild winter might show.


I was impressed that by covering the Gunnera plants with their leaves in such regular pyramids that it transformed the bed into an attractive feature for the winter.

Arch with Camelia

The arch leading into the spring garden was already sprinkled with flowering pink Camellias, judging by the label Camellia Japponica “Lady Clare”.

Rhododendron kiusianum

Rhododendron kiusianum or Kyushu Azalea, a native of southern Japan, was also in flower.

Start of green roof

Heading to the Temperate House I was disappointed that the large Mahonia “Charity” was no longer in flower, I think the mild autumn encouraged it to flower earlier than usual.  However, I noticed the beginnings of a green roof which I will be interested to watch progress in future visits.

Acacia Pravisima

The Acacia pravissima was flowering brightly against the wall.  This plant is a native of Australia and would usually flower a month after Acacia dealbata in France.  Acacia dealbata is also a native of Australia but is very commonly grown in parts of France including our region and flowers from January onwards.  I have not planted any Mimosa in our garden, despite the attractive perfume of the flowers, as it is very vigorous and invasive and will push up shoots around the main trunk.

Chamaecyparis obtus “Leprechaun”

Nearby, we could not help but be amused at this little plant which is so well-named – Chamaecyparis obtusa “Leprechaun”.   It has an expected height of  thirty centimetres.

Raolia lutescens

At the same raised bed I was attracted to what I took for an algal mat.  Wikipedia tells us that it is in the “pussy’s-toes-tribe” and is a native New Zealand plant which when covered by its little white flowers can resemble flocks of sheep when viewed from afar – leading to its common name of Vegetable Sheep!

Hamamelia japponica Pallida

Coming back to more mundane plants, this was a time to see the wonderful varieties of Witchhazel that grow throughout the gardens, like this Hamamelia japponica Pallida.

Hamamelis intermedia Pallida

Or the very similar Hamamelia intermedia Pallida.

Hamamelis Intermedia Orange Peel

I liked the Hamamelis Intermedia “Orange Peel” as the petals were a deep, bright yellow and did look like orange peel.

Mahonia Bokrafoot

I was disappointed not to see the huge Mahonia “Charity” in flower but it did bring my attention to other Mahonias that can be grown like this Mahonia Bokrafoot.  This is a very compact hybrid of M. repens and will only reach 60cm in height.

Mahonia wagneri 'Aldenhamensis'

A patch had been planted out with several Mahonia wagneri ‘Aldenhamensis’ which were flowering bravely, despite being still in the seedling stage.  It will probably take about ten years for these plants to reach a maximum height of one and half metres and it is comforting for me to be aware that even in these beautiful mature gardens there is a lot of renewal and beginnings amongst the stunning focal points.

Green parrot

One thing we could not ignore was the noisy groups of green parrots calling from high in the trees.  These are the rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri), also known as the ring-necked parakeet.  These birds have most likely escaped from captivity having been imported from Africa or Asia as pets.  Large flocks of parakeets have established themselves in the Greater London area and are not always welcome as they can be very noisy additions to the neighbourhood.

Iris reticulata Katherine Hodgkin

There was so much to see like these Iris reticulata “Katherine Hodgkin”.

Hellebore bumble

And I still managed to see some bumble bees in the Hellebores

Bumble in Arbetus

and Arbutus arachnoides.




Onward in January

We returned from the U.K. with some plants that are a lot easier to source there and with an idea for the empty area created when the large pine tree was cut down.

New border at pine tree

Agreed, it does not look very impressive but it is the thought that counts.  There are four willows of the red stemmed variety Salix alba Chermesina (or Scarlet Willow) planted in a zig zag fashion.  These I hope to coppice so that they become bush-like.  Although willows are reputed easy to root I bought mycorrhizal fungi and added this to help them adapt to their new home.  I am not sure if such a large evergreen tree could have changed the micro-environment of the soil over time and so they might need a helping hand.

I also bought my first Mahonia.  I had steered clear of Mahonias as some can be as prickly as holly so they need to be sited where they will not be brushed against.  This Mahonia is Mahonia eurybracteata subspecies ganpinensis “Soft Caress”, as the name suggests – no spikes but soft frond like leaves!  It was chosen as Plant of the Year at Chelsea Flower Show 2013.  My new Mahonia also benefited from a helping of the same mycorrhizal  fungi so I hope lots of intimate root associations are being made  in this damp warm weather that we are having.

So far, so good but after more reading I found out that my new Mahonia may not be the plant that I am hoping will flower at this time of the year.  I think that it maybe an earlier flowering variety as it is reputed to start flowering in October.  Locally I have seen beautiful Mahonias flowering just now but with the spiky leaves. These were in a park with plenty of space.  I’ll have to find a suitable spot  in the garden as the flowers were fragrant and  full of bees.

Another purchase in the U.K. was Rosa mutabilis from David Austin.  Roses are not my favourite plants but I had seen so many beautiful pictures of it in Christina’s garden (http://myhesperidesgarden.wordpress.com) that I was completely seduced by this rose that flowers over a long season with few thorns and a perfume that attracts butterflies and bees.  However, once again I should have been more careful.  I have bought the variety Rosa mutabilis and not the variety Rosa mutabilis x Oderata.  That means I have bought a rose with no perfume!  For me that’s the best thing about roses, I just hope the bees won’t mind – I expect the pollen and the nectar is just as nourishing for them.  Once again I used mycorrhizal fungi to encourage the new rose to have a healthy supported root system in its new home.

A tall blue Salvia brought over from my friend Linda’s garden completes the border which is now filled in with with summer bulbs and lots of Alliums.

New border

Behind the new border many years worth of dropped pine needles had accumulated.  I used these to mulch over the border hoping that it will prevent weed growth.  There was lots more left after I had finished the border so I was able to use it in other parts of the garden.  It is supposed to be good for strawberries so they had their share too.

hoped for screen

This is the sort of screen I am hoping to create but I suppose it will take two or three years to reach this stage.

Between the stump and the new border there is a barren patch of ground where nothing has grown because the shade of the pine tree was so dense.  I wonder if, now that the ground has been cleared of the pine needles, whether this might be an ideal site for mining bees to make their nests in the spring?  Many types of mining bees like bare, sandy soil with little or no vegetation.

mulched snowdrops

Elsewhere in the garden there is not much floral interest but my first snowdrops have arrived and I have surrounded them with a mulch of pine needles to keep the chickweed at bay.  The weather is rainy and extremely mild with temperatures going as high as 16 degrees Centigrade.

Sarcocca confusa

One of the great successes in the garden is the Sarcococca confusa.  It stands in the shade of a wall and gets very little direct sun but it thrives there and perfumes the corner that it grows in.  After the white flowers come shiny black berries and now I find I am getting a lot of self-seeded plants.  Some of the earlier babies are attaining a reasonable size and I have retrieved some smaller ones and planted them against a wall in the back garden that receives the same amount of light.

Red Admiral 3.1.14
Red Admiral 3.1.14

The winter flowering honeysuckle is still in flower and provides nectar for the bees and over-wintering butterflies on the rare sunny days when the rain stops.