28 January 2012

Footprints and hellebores

A frosty morning this morning: -1C or so as Iz and I headed out on our walk. The grass in the field was slightly crunchy and we walked in "the winking glitter of a frosty dawn". 

The eastern sky was glowing red and that light warmed the pale bark on the small birch trees that run along the edge of the field. I don't know if the frost heightens the scent of everything, but there was one happy schnauzer with her nose to the ground this morning...
Morning birch and a happy schnauzer
We've had a warm winter this year--in stark contrast to the last couple of years. To be honest I enjoyed the frosty air this morning: it feels right. And the frost accentuates textures beautifully and democratically: not differentiating at all between the dreaded Ranunculus repens and the lovely cow parsley, both growing well on the banks of our local stream (the very same stream that flooded a shopping centre only a few months ago...) 
Democratic frost
At home in my garden, the hellebores are starting to bloom. I have some of the standard Helleborus foetidus which is great if you want lots of hellebores (it seeds everywhere) and good foliage. Its flowers are less than thrilling though.

But have a look at this beauty, which is in my back garden. 
Here it is as it should be seen--head bent, blue sky behind. 
Head bent, sky behind
And here it is as we humble gardeners normally see it, as we hunker down, place a hand behind its head, and gently turn it skyward so we can see its hidden treasures.
Turning heads
And here's one from the front garden, the frost still on its petals - I enjoy having this one in the front as the low winter sun lights up its burgundy petals from behind when we glance out at it from our front room. I know... you don't read about back-lit hellebores very often, but it's worth thinking about when planting some of the darker varieties. 
Frosted petals
I'll end with an idea I robbed from the illustrious Dan Pearson: to appreciate the hellebore blooms without damp knees or a sore back, I put some of them in a shallow bowl: works nicely I think!
Bowled over

21 January 2012

Witch hazel and haiku

The Witchhazel is starting to bloom! Improbably fragile yellow blossoms emerge from stubby buds. Such a welcome sight. Because this tree is in my back garden in the shadow of the house, it's very shaded throughout the whole of autumn and spring (the back of our house faces north) so perhaps that's why it's slower to bloom than a lovely tree in a neighbour's garden that's covered in blossom at the moment... But I don't mind, I'm simply delighted to see mine on the way.

At the front of the house, which makes the most of winter sunshine, the first iris has bloomed. And in some of the pots I have around the place, irises and narcissi are pushing through. There'll be tulips later on.

This is a short one this week - it's a sad time as it's my brother's month's mind. Not much more to say, really, so I'll just finish with a winter haiku.

On moon-pale ash limbs
charcoal buds hunker down
and wait for light

14 January 2012

Winter Bee and Uisneach

January has settled in. Gardening columnists in the newspapers have moved on from winter scent to mulling over seed catalogues -- doing what so many gardeners do so well: looking forward. When you plant bulbs in the autumn, you're already imagining those narcissi/scillas/irises/tulips come spring and early summer. I don't do the seed catalogue thing yet, but may have to soon: I'm helping a friend out with her allotment this year so I'll have to get my thinking cap on about what to grow. Allotments are HUGE! Their size seems to be based on the notion that they're tended by someone with lots of time and lots of mouths to feed... But many allotment holders are working at least fulltime and probably don't have families of six or more to feed. Anyway, all of that is for another time.

Winter bee and Hellebore
Mid-January in my garden is a pretty sparse time; this year I'm impatiently waiting for the witch hazel that I planted last spring to do its thing -- there's one hint of yellow starting to show and I'm hoping that this time next week I'll have more to say. I'm a bit excited, to be honest. The thought of the brightness of it and the scent... can't wait. And in spite of the depradations of a small dog, there are bulbs coming up (see above re. gardeners planning for the future). Of course if I were an organised gardener, I'd have a list of what I planted... but I'm not and I don't. I do recognise some Iris reticulata coming through underneath the witch hazel, and their deep purply blue should provide a lovely contrast to the yellow tissue-paper flowers on the tree.

Meanwhile, back to the only show of colour at the moment: a winter pot I planted up before the end of last year: this was easy to do and inexpensive, just two types of Skimmia, one Hellebore, and one Gaultheria. It's possible to get gorgeous red berries without having holly (which I love, but its place is in hedgerows or large gardens, not squished into a pot). I have 'posh' hellebores in the garden itself--some of which will be in bloom shortly--and I love their subtle colours: greens and purples, but the pure white of this one looks good alongside the dark greens and reds of  its companions in the pot. And the bee wasn't complaining: the blossoms provided sustenance on what was a cold (about 4C) but sunny day. Beside the pot is a basket very kindly given to me by my next-door neighbour, nicely planted with cyclamens (white and red - and she hadn't even seen my pot, what a nice coincidence!), some primulas and a small-leaved trailing ivy. Thanks CC.

Twisted Hazel
Uisneach silhouette
Finally for this week, a return to silhouettes: this twisted hazel was showing nicely against the evening sky here in the Dublin 'burbs yesterday evening. And while I was taking this photo, a friend in the midlands was taking the other one, complete with feathered wildlife, in the midlands, near Uisneach (next to Tara, one of the most important ancient sites in Ireland, by virtue of its height on the central plains: went to a Bealtaine festival there once or twice, and it's a spine-tingly thing to stand up there near a huge bonfire and see other fires lit on other high spots across the countryside). Thanks for the lovely photo DW: nice that we were both out enjoying the 'grand stretch' at the same time.

Gothic oak
This last one is an oak (I think) from the Dargle valley, looking suitably wintry and gothic I think...

05 January 2012

Birds and Berberis

A quiet week. Son back to Canada (au revoir et bonne chance cm), Christmas tree to the park for shredding and re-use by the council as mulch, me back to work.

Fighting a cold still so sitting in the home office (in reality a tiny bedroom upstairs) looking out at the birds in the garden this morning: collared doves, blackbirds, thrushes, blue tits, coal tits, blackcaps, feral pigeons, a shy dunnock, and I know there are wrens, robins, great tits and sparrows too. Occasional visitors include a sparrow hawk, long-tailed tits, starlings (always plural), mistle thrushes, chaffinches, bullfinches, green finches, wood pigeons and last winter of course there were fieldfares and red wings. 

A policy of no chemical pesticides or herbicides, and the inclusion of bird-friendly plants (including ivies both for shelter and berries), has meant that the garden always has movement of some sort in it. And in the winter, when there's so little else going on, it's great to see the birds busy feeding and sometimes squabbling. It won't be long before their thoughts turn to 'country matters' and there'll be great singing and fighting and building of nests getting underway. 

The thrushes and blackbirds love to feed on some old apples I've chopped up and strewn on the ground, but more than that, they love the crab apples on my neighbour's tree and the berries on the Cotoneaster horizontalis and Mahonia that grow in my own garden. In a small garden in the suburbs, it's a bonus when your neighbour plants trees/shrubs that you love and and get the benefit of -- and the Malus (crab apple) and a lovely rowan tree next door certainly fall into that category. 

My other neighbour has a Berberis that grows alongside a shared wall - it's not a shrub I particularly like, the orange flowers are a harsh colour and the leaves tiny and nondescript. But another of the genus caught me by surprise the other morning - a beautiful scent on the winter air stopped me in my tracks on a morning walk. And there it was, hanging over a wall into the park, yellow flowers, large (still spiny) dark green leaves and definitely a more prepossessing appearance than the more popular one in most gardens.