- April 28, 2014Read more
“Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.”
Robert Frost had it right. Instead of rushing through the year we should enjoy each moment. Every garden is a succession of moments and sometimes it is the unfussy aspects of nature which we allow into our gardens that we could not be without.
At this time of year the woods are carpeted with great washes of bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). At Hodnet Hall one of the signature triumphs of the garden is the way that the formal spaces give way to more wild areas. It is a treat at this time of year to wander past the main pool where the narcissus has faded and peonies and roses wait to perform. To go beyond the ‘envelope’ of intensive cultivation and tread beneath an expanding canopy of oak, beech, sycamore and lime. The oaks have been planted closely together so instead of developing wide spreading crowns and extensive buttress roots as they do in parkland they grow thin and tall and surprisingly straight. The art of woodland gardening is to take advantage of the extra light before the upper story becomes too dense and shuts out light and moisture. It is in this niche that bluebells and other woodland plants choose to make their appearance.
- April 10, 2014Read more
Now, as the almond burns its smoking wick, dropping small flames to light the candled grass; now, as my low blood scales its second chance, if ever world were blessed, now it is.”
The lines above by Laurie Lee, from his poem ‘April Rise’ perfectly sum up this time of year for me. Although Lee refers to the fallen petals of almonds as “small flames” lighting the grass, for me the magnolias might fit the bill with more elegance.
At Hodnet Hall Gardens we have an enviable collection established from the 1950s onwards. The heart of the collection is concentrated on the ‘Magnolia Walk’, a series of terraced areas joined by gravel paths and stone staircases.
Magnolia is a genus of about 300 species found mainly in Asia and the Americas from tropical to temperate climates. Although in Britain it is the hardy magnolias that are most frequently encountered they are perhaps the most flamboyant of woody plants. In fact the magnolia is one of the most ancient of plant lineages dating back in the fossil record up to 65 million years when they seem to have been much more widely distributed. Global cooling and glaciation drove them to extinction in Europe but they remained in the Americas and Asia from where they were to make a spectacular re-emergence in the nineteenth and especially the twentieth centuries.
Unusually in a plant family, the species of magnolia are often just as showy as the products of the hybridizers’ efforts. But it is a hybrid magnolia that is stealing the show at the moment. Magnolia ‘Athene’ is a Jury hybrid. Mark and Abbie Jury from New Zealand have bred a spectacular range of hybrids based upon crosses of Magnolia campbellii subsp. mollicomata ‘Lanarth’. ‘Athene’ is a strong growing medium sized tree flowering usually in mid -April. The flowers which can be up to 30cm across are pink at the base and white on the outside and within. If that were not enough there is also a strong sweet scent.
A word to the wise though, the flowers are very weather resistant but strong winds in an exposed position will damage them so some shelter is needed to keep such large blooms intact. Even if you do not have room for a magnolia yourself come and enjoy them here. The blooms may only last a fortnight or so but what a fortnight.
- March 27, 2014Read more
The month before any garden opens to the public can be something of a ‘silly season’ for any gardener. Priorities have to be set and the amount of manpower and time to be devoted to each task has to be carefully balanced and set against often competing demands. Now is the time for detail such as fine pruning of trees and shrubs or raking out the leaves which have been blown about by winter winds. Our motto here is to never leave an area unless it is complete.
Nevertheless there are huge compensations at this time of year. Between the beginning of March and the first Sunday in April, when the garden opens for the season, there has been a huge burgeoning of new growth. This has of course been helped by the generally mild conditions this winter, storms not withstanding, but as we pass the vernal equinox the increasing light levels are like a starting pistol for plants.
The winter storms have done much clearing in the garden and surrounding woodland into which we intend to spread more specimen trees, including magnolias, in the future. This will preserve the naturalistic style of the garden and the existing mature oaks and beeches will shelter new plantings.
The magnolias are the prelude to a symphony of flowering trees and shrubs. Where they lead cherries soon follow including ‘Kursar’, ‘Accolade’ and ‘Shirote’. In Japan they are rightly revered as a reminder of the passage of time and the transient nature of life. For us at Hodnet more mundane concerns muscle in on the esoteric. After all there is mowing to be done!