Diary of a Cultural Gardener - January 2021
02 Feb 2021
The clouds have delivered water in all formats this month - peltings that have sheeted down and drenched right through my bobble hat, delicate crystals of fine ice, smacking flakes of wet snow and a curious spectral fog that froze. The very first snowflakes to have ever fallen on the garden floated down gently one morning as I arrived and increased their intent rapidly, quickly becoming a tempest of swirling white.
The ground has frozen and thawed, and frozen and thawed again, the river has risen and receded, and amidst it all, the plants, the birds and the tiny hibernating insects tick-along, with their physiology evolved over millennia to bear it out, they are holding steady until we reach the edge of spring.
It has not all been ice – occasionally the sun has shone and there are tastes of new life to be found, with the delicious scent of Sarcococca confusa (sweet box) perfuming the air and the Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ opening its purple flowers for the very first time.
In addition to real drops of snow, January also brought us a delivery of 10,400 snowdrops. All Galanthus nivalis the beautiful common species, which we are planting ‘in the green’ throughout shady, moist areas. We are putting them in as little plants with leaves because it fits more easily within our annual programme of tasks. You can plant snowdrops when they are dormant as bulbs, but they are juicy things and they don’t like to dry out. This means that in order to plant them dormant, you would need to work quickly in September and as we had thousands of other bulbs to put in in the autumn, we decided it would be wise to do the snowdrops now instead.
As soon as the snowdrops arrived it was critical to get them aired and to give them a spot of water, as they are sent in bundles of 100 and perspire in the plastic bags on their journey through the postal system. Once they were aired and sorted, we set about the big task of planting them, working in areas which had been prepared with the perennial vegetation cut back and the soil pre-mulched. It has been a painstaking task, working from boards so as not to crush the other daffodils, tulips and scillas which are now pushing their tips just a centimetre below the top of the soil. These snowdrops are a real investment for the future, they may not bring their full spectacle to the garden this first year, but as time passes they will bulk up and seed themselves around, such that in years to come the garden will be carpeted with early swathes of white.
This month’s work brings the total number of bulbs now planted in the garden to over 60,000 and to think that we have planted the majority of them during this year of challenge and pandemic is no mean feat. We are hugely grateful to the Finnis Scott Foundation whose grant has enabled the purchase of the bulbs – a gift of successional spring colour which will increase in beauty with every year to come.