The last time I went to the Courts Garden it was my birthday, high summer and sunny. This time, six months later, the weather was grey and freezing, and we could only manage a few minutes in the garden before taking refuge in the tea room.
There was still plenty to enjoy, though – this little known National Trust garden deserves to be better known. The display of hellebores and snowdrops along the approach to the house at this time of year is a real sight for sore eyes. And I loved the little square of cyclamen in gravel.
I spotted these winter aconites in the grounds of Cheltenham College yesterday, and made a mental note to plant some soon, so that I have something to look at next January. I planted loads of bulbs last year, many of them early flowerers as I can’t stand winter. But nothing has really appeared yet. My forced indoor paperwhites peaked way too early and the early Iris reticulata and crocuses are only just peeping through. The garden is looking a bit… brown (as opposed to white in much of the country).
To avoid the problem of nothing to look at in January next year, I’m going to order some aconites (Eranthis cilicica as opposed to Eranthis hyemalis, as it is said to do better in clay soil), Cyclamen coum and snowdrops, to plant in the green. I shall plant them at the back of the border and under shrubs, as they do at Great Dixter.
I took a trip out of London last week to the much-loved and respected Ashwood Nurseries in Staffordshire. I was there to meet the owner, John Massey, who has a beautiful three-acre private garden in the nursery grounds.
John’s garden looked so good it was almost enough to make me love January. Everything was about three weeks ahead, so my timing turned out to be perfect – the carpets of snowdrops, magenta cyclamen coum, yellow aconites and hellebores of every hue looked impossibly pretty among the yellow and red witch hazels (hamamelis) and red-stemmed dogwoods.
Sadly my camera couldn’t really do them justice (it’s got a rubbish zoom and I didn’t want to trample over John’s borders), but you can see some pics here. I did however manage to capture this border, in which most of the grasses and perennials have been left standing over the winter.
A big part of planting up a border is getting the right combination of contrasting forms and textures. The upright grasses contrast with the button-like heads of Aster ‘Little Carlow’, the coneshaped coneflowers (echinaceas) and the cotton-wool like seedheads of Clematis tangutica ‘Bill Mackenzie’.
John’s garden also makes use of evergreens, many of them clipped into distinctive shapes. His cloud-pruned holly hedge is Ilex aquifolium ‘Alaska’ – its small leaves lend themselves to being pruned in this way.
John’s garden is open to the public several times in January and February. Do go for some winter cheer, inspiration and the amazingly popular tearoom.