Christmas has left me with a broken camera and a persistent lack of energy. Much more positive is my growing obsession with coloured stems, especially of the willow variety.
It all started with the hardwood cutting material I received from World of Willow last year and the need to move both these (now rooted) and some dogwoods down to the bottom of the garden, just at the point where it starts to flood. The result is that I've ended up with a vision for not just one but two winter gardens.
The top garden (which will need to be worked in the spring) is going to be a kind of small knot garden, but I've started on the willow woodland down below during these last few days.
The colours are truly amazing (better in life than in pictures, I think, since they are rather subtle in their variations). With a broad tract of occasionally flooded garden this could become a bit of a collecting mania (I've already caught the rose fever - 37 planted in the garden over only two years).
All of the dogwoods (Cornus alba 'Sibirica') have now been transplanted down to the willow woodland (hope they don't feel like intruders!). To compliment their bright reds are the dark stems of Salix daphnoides 'Continental Purple' and the olivey green, reddish-purple tipped shoots of Salix purpurea (right). I read that the stems of this species are only sometimes purple - presumably depending on the maturity of the wood as well as natural variability. Next to go in will be Salix viminalis. I've four other colours still to add: S. myrsinifolia 'Nigricans' (the only cuttings which have grown on less than completely successfully), S. alba 'Chermesina Yelverton', S. gracilistyla 'Melanostachys' and S. alba x fragilis.
I'm afraid that I may lack imagination. Whenever Nick mows or strims an area and leaves lines of raked grass where I hadn't expected them, my brain wrestles hard to go back to the original plan I had hovering in my head.
But the line in the picture on the right is actually quite useful, since it does mark a point beyond which the floodwater never rises in the garden. The so-called 'Willow Woodland' is to the right of the raised turf line, in the occasionally flooded area. After studying it over several weeks, I'm thinking that I should run with it as more than a simple boundary.
I've propagated too many apples and pears for our orchard. I now have three young plants of 'Cox's Orange Pippin'. (What I was thinking the day I chose the scion material? Three of the same cultivar in one small orchard! At least it's a good one.) Also growing on are a plant each of 'Caville Rouge d'Hiver' and 'Transparente Blanche' (a lushly juicy summer apple, which has to be eaten as soon as it is ripe). Then there are three pears: 'William', 'Fondante Thiriot' and 'Doyenne de Comice'. My inspiration is that I'll use the line Nick has created and plant them all as free-standing espaliers (on posts and wires) in a line dividing the wild (flooded) area of the garden from the much more formal orchard and hornbeam gardens. I will fit more cultivars into a small area and I think the boundary they make will be superb, especially when they are flowering.
I'm not fussing too much about the way I plant, because I've so much to do and willows are pretty tough. So it's a little in the style of tree planting in a lawn - a circular hole with the plant in the middle (I'm putting all the rooted cuttings of one cultivar in the same circle because they are still quite smallish and I know I can space them out later).
S. viminalis and purpurea are the most common osier species for basketry and the woven garden ornaments that have become popular. We have the national school of reed-growing and basket-making close by and I'm so turned on by the colours of my willows that I'm thinking I'll enquire about short courses there. I can fancy birds strutting their way through my orchard some day, just as they do at Fayl Billot.
This year we will have the joy of relatively clean and distinct areas of the garden, all ready for planting. The last two years have been a simple slog of weeding and clearing - let's hope 2014 is where the fun begins!
I was all set to write about the little winter knot garden I'm trying to make so that we have lovely patterns and colours to look down on from our balcony, even when the steps are too slippery or icy to allow us to enjoy using the garden. But then Pauline at Lead up the Garden Path left a comment on my post about the view from my living room window and her words brought a 20-year-old memory rushing back.
A group of us were on a visit to the home of an alpine plantswoman. Unfortunately we were treated to particularly gloomy weather that day and did the tour of her smallish garden in heavy drizzle (it was either November or February, one of those slightly blue months).
Eventually we crowded into her living room and carried on the talk about her exciting cold frames full of trillium seedlings and the other things we'd enjoyed outside. After a while I stopped concentrating, because I could hardly take my eyes away from her big picture window. There, framed as if they were in a painting, were the trunks and bare branches of two trees, planted in close partnership: Betula utilis var. jacquemontii and Prunus serrula.
The colours and shapes seemed to fill the room with a vibrant sense of the garden outside, in spite of the miserable weather. I planted these two together in the garden of our house in Ireland, but a year or so later we moved and I was never able to enjoy the effect. Here it would be impossible. But if you are looking for two reasonably small, well-behaved trees to bring the 'outside in', think of this pair.
The picture of the birch above was borrowed from the website of the Stone Lane Gardens in Devon, both a garden and a tree nursery, which holds the NCCPG collection of birches. Do take a peek at their website (I hope they forgive me for 'borrowing' their picture, but at least it's to promote birches and their collection). Better still, pay them a visit and post about their beautiful plantings. If only I still lived in the UK and could visit myself!
It is difficult to buy plants in this part of France, and I have to resort to buying new things online. If anyone who lives in Europe can recommend good nurseries (with good prices!) that deliver in France, I'd appreciate it.
Below are two pictures of the relatively small area where I'm hoping to put the winter knot garden. I had to rip out the young box plants in September when they came down with blight, and now I'm wondering if hedges of Sarcococca humilis or S. confusa might do as a box replacement?
Meanwhile, Merry Christmas to anyone who happens to stop by!