The Spring Flowering Peak

Our garden was largely developed by the people we bought the house off. They were extremely interested in acid- loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. They are not my favourite plants, but right now they are at their absolute peak and the garden looks amazing. I’m just going to paste in a few photos (taken with the iPad) and let them speak for themselves. Most of the flowers are unscented, but this gorgeous peachy orange variety has a delicious lily scent. 

Talking of lilies, the lily of the valley are also out now. These are one of my favourite plants, I look forward to this time of year for so many reasons, including asparagus, the first strawberries and of course the absolutely exquisite scent of these very delicate flowers. I will be picking a couple of bunches today to scent the house. They are also a tremendously useful ground cover plant as they grow well in dry shade under trees. The one problem is the leaves have a marked resemblance to wild garlic, a plant I also enjoy eating (mostly in the form of pesto) at this time of year. So pick with care!


Anyway, here’s a selection of our finest roddies

 and azaleas…


We have not planted any tulips here yet, but this autumn we’ll be doing a big order. They don’t last more than a few years and the ones a,ready here are getting past their best. 

These are my favourites right now, the last few remaining. I’m not normally a pink fan, but I really love the contrast with the acid yellow. I will be trying to replicate this combination… 

Now my coffee is ready and it’s time to get to work… 

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Superstar skimmia

There are some plants that every garden should have, they are simply so rewarding. In my view, the Skimmia is one of them, especially here in Denmark where our dark northern winters seem to stretch to more than half the year.

These plants have flower heads that remain tightly packed through the winter with a delicate pink blush, bursting open at this time of year in a mass of flower heads. We have had this one in a pot by our front door all year. 


What you can’t see in this photo is of course the fantastic spicy scent. On a slightly humid April evening it wafts along the garden paths. If I could I would create and wear a perfume like it. Absolutely glorious and there are often bees and other insects buzzing about it so clearly it’s very attractive to pollinators too. 

I have cut a few sprigs and put them in a vase in the house where they are again mildly perfuming the air. I liked this combination with another of my superstar plants, Cornus Alba, Red dogwood about to blossom outside and therefore definitely ready for some pruning. The other plant is I think some kind of flowering current, it has rather unobtrusive pale green flowers which pollinators again seem to like, but no real scent. 


We have several different skimmia said in the garden, the remainder are smaller, their flowers seem to miss the pinkish accents and I don’t detect such a strong scent, so this could be a specific variety, perhaps Skimmia Japonica ‘fragrans’ (fragrant cloud).

They don’t seem to like full sun though and as our large pot is now getting a great deal of sun (finally, as the sun gets higher), it will soon be time to move it in to the partial shade for the summer and find something else to bring joy to the front step. 

The only mystery with Skimmias is where on earth are all the female plants? They have attractive red berries through winter, but I have rarely seen them for sale here. The pannicles of buds seem to be the preferred decorative option. I have exactly the right spot for a red-berried shrub, so I shall keep looking… 

Lords and ladies

Our beautiful garden is really springing forward, which means it’s time to impose some order. 

We actually have done relatively little, structurally at least, most of it was already in place when we bought the house. However we noticed last year that the cuckoo pint, or lords and ladies, Arum maculatum, a native species was starting the appear everywhere. 

I rather like it. The flowers are spectacular (and spectacularly phallus like), followed by gorgeous glossy red berries. Unfortunately just about every part of the plant is poisonous, and handling it with bare skin is likely to leave irritation behind. 

The plant also has the unfortunate habit of blending in with both my spinach, our host as and other spring bulbs, so I have spent a satisfying half an hour digging it up. 

I don’t expect it’s all gone, the rather withered and misshapen bulbs are

 only fragilely attached to the rather lovely heart shaped leaves, so no doubt many of the bulbs are in the ground. Hopefully however, my attempts to play referee will mean slightly fewer providing temptation to small children this autumn… 
   
   
It’s often surprising what you find after you’ve started looking, I hadn’t expected to find so much in the garden that I would fill one of our big plastic buckets (below with our trusty sneeboer trowel for scale).

  

Creeping back to life

After the long grey winter it’s time to start thinking about the garden again. 

Actually, the winter hasn’t been too bad this year, largely thanks to a three week trip to the Southern Hemisphere, of which more another time, if I ever get a round to it… 

On our return from holiday the first snowdrops and snowflakes were creeping through, followed by a mass of winter aconite, Eranthis.

  

   
   

These have now finished and when I came home after a few days away with work, the garden is 

awash with gorgeous blue stars, Chionodoxa luciliae.    

It’s a truly uplifting sight.

The daffodils have also started to come through. We started with the little tete a tetes, a miniature early variety which we have planted in pots and window boxes as well as a number that seem to be growing in the garden. I love the rich golden color, especially in the low evening light, which finally, finally, is now reaching our rather sheltered and sunken back garden. It’s really a sign that life is returning to the garden.

   
 
There’s also this rather nice bi-colored variety in full bloom today . 

  
And the constant in the garden all spring have been these beautiful hellebores. The advantage of these is that to thoroughly appreciate them you have to get down to their level as the flower heads nod downwards. It made me appreciate the beautiful squeaky succulent glaucous foliage of the sedums in the foreground of the picture above. Their little mini-cabbage head hold beads of water, I would never have otherwise spotted.

 
The Spring flowers will be with us for some weeks yet. I have been pretty stressed out and busy at work for the last few months and sometimes, in combination with the busyness of family life it starts to feel just too much. However I have been forcing myself to slow down and to take a stroll round the garden and to really, really look. It is helping massively in keeping it all in perspective. 

I have read about the Therapeutic effects of Nature before, I am unsure how reliable the science is d of course this just one anecdote, but it does seem to help me.

Anyway, after this little ambling diversion, back to work…. 
 

Winter light

I have mentioned before the importance I place on just being able to be in the garden, to find something to appreciate in the here and now. This winter has been so grey and miserable and wet, so far at least, so it was a big relief when it started to snow a few days ago. Somehow everything looks instantly better under the snow duvet and I love how even flat grey daylight is scattered back into any room, instantly brightening everything. Having spent quite a lot of time in the Arctic, the snow light inside always reminds me of Svalbard.

So when I awoke to alpine blue skies and blazing cold sunshine this morning, it wasn’t hard to bet the garden, and our local park, would be looking amazing…
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Since our garden is rather sheltered and faces West, we don’t really get a lot of winter sun so the few glancing rays through the trees make all the difference. The quality of light and dark shade contrast beautifully on these kind of days and it struck me how important light is to us especially now at this time of year when it’s in such short supply.

I love these birch trees in the park behind our house for example, the brilliant silver white glimmers in the low winter sun in a very evocative contrast with the Scots pines. The combination irresistibly reminds me of the Cairngorms, Glen Affric and the few remaining fragments of Caledonian wildwood.

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Clearly the light entices and encourages exploration by this little wood elf at least:


  
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I think she was feeling the magic too, especially after our successful sledging trip earlier.

Other parts of the garden in deep shade are scarcely attractive at all, like the rather forlorn sandpit and raised vegetable bed (with topiary teddy bear! Not, I hasten to add my work at all)…


So then, eventually, the cold drove us inside and the exploration of all that beautiful winter light was halted, until I went out to (rather unglamorously) empty the food waste bucket on the compost heap. Heading back to the house, the importance of light once again struck me. The picture doesn’t really capture it, but I think we have all felt the pull and the power of the bright window in the dark on a cold night at some point.

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Famously and perhaps apocryphally, the Danes use more candles per capita than any other nation, the long dark winters are definitely one reason why. This year for some reason we have joined the legions of candle-lighting Danes.

However, we’ve also added these charming LED lights in a tree. They can be seen from the kitchen shining into the back door, they make a huge and very hyggelig sight from the frigid wastes of the back garden at night.

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And the little “twigs”, sticking out of the window box in this picture? They are the remains of sparklers that my husband loves to light and play with for the kids. Yet another way of holding back the dark and enjoying the light at this time of year.

In the bleak midwinter.

It’s been a pretty mild and grey winter (until this week, more on that later) but brightening up a corner of the garden has been this beautiful Cornus Alba, red dogwood. 

  
It’s actually visible from the kitchen window which is important when you don’t particularly want to go outside. This is one of those plants that if I didn’t have already, I’d have planted when we moved in. 

The red stems are very decorative and last for ages in a vase. 

  
They have the additional advantage that bringing them into the warm allows them to start shooting their beautiful bright green leaves early. And even, if you’re lucky, the beautiful white flowers that give them the Latin name Alba. 

  
In other words, it’s a perfect winter plant. 

They need cutting back in Spring to ensure a good sheaf of fresh shoots over the summer for that midwinter show….

Digging…

So, a new pond…

After a childhood spent staring in ditches at insects and fish my husband decided that he wants a new pond. I am happy to agree since it’s the single best thing you can do for wildlife in your garden. Having just bought a house with a decent-sized garden we have the space and after some discussion and web searching I came back from a work trip away to find a hole in the lawn…


Clearly the kids were pretty excited at the prospect too, so a further morning of work and we have a gaping hole, with multiple levels and a maximum depth of 75 cm (just deep enough for us to grow water lilies – my passion).

The turves removed from the lawn have all been stacked by the compost heaps, according to Bob Flowerdew, our guru of gardening, they make a fine potting compost when allowed to break down for 6 months or so. This is a step beyond my normal chuck it in and see what happens approach to composting, so let’s see if it works


Anyway, hole dug, it was time to add the liner. Possibly we’ll regret it later but being a bit lazy, and discovering our ground is mostly clay anyway apparently, we just put in a pvc liner with no sand or geotextile under it. It took a little bit of discussion and finessing but eventually we got it where we wanted.

And now for the water…

We are fortunate enough to have a rainwater reservoir installed, so all the rainfall from the roof was stored, perfect for our pond purposes as it should be clean but low in nutrients. On went the pump and a couple of hours later, there is our pond:
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At this point I feel I should admit that we have “introduced” some wildlife, two pond skaters and a few bits of duck weed were safely captured and carried home in a plastic jar to our pond from the nearby Søndermarken park. We’ve also planted a few water lilies on the bottom.
Now, let’s see what else can come visiting….