by anne chambers
Apart from two nights of strong winds we haven’t had any real winter weather yet. I can already see green shoots of the snowdrops peeking through the leaf debris on the edge of the drive and some penstemon and roses are still flowering!
We have had the tree surgeon here again for two weeks with quite a few major projects. Two enormous chestnut trees had died in the top field. Sadly they had succumbed to chestnut canker, a disease which seems to be spreading in our area. Counting the rings, they were something over 150 years old, which I suppose, is about what we might expect for a full life.
So far we have seen no sign of the dreaded ash dieback but I saw in our local paper that the Millennium Seed Bank has been collecting seed locally as a genetic insurance policy. With all the diseases of trees that I keep reading about, the real value of this project is becoming apparent.
Christmas is fast approaching and our son who is working in Mexico flies home today. He has never met Boris our cocker spaniel so no doubt there will be lots of bonding and spoiling over the next few days! The carol singers from Ebrington visited us this week. They come every other year and get us into the Christmas spirit as well as raising some much needed funds for the church.
It is a time for reflection and planning for the New Year. I am not working in the garden every day as in the summer, and it is good to have time to sit back and browse the seed lists as they arrive. Philip and Tina are well able to cope with everything that needs doing at this time of year and I love having the time to lead a different winter life doing all the extra things that get forgotten in the summer rush of full time gardening.
If the weather holds we will do a count of what is in flower on Christmas day and report back in January. In the meantime let me wish you all a wonderful and Happy Christmas and lets dream of another exciting year at Kiftsgate.
by anne chambers
Winter has arrived and the first frosts have cut down the last remnants of summer. Although some leaves are still on the trees we are just starting to collect them up for our leaf mould pile. By this time next year this will be mulched on whichever border is due for a feed.
Philip and Tina are working their way round the garden cutting, pruning and lightly digging over the borders ready for next year. It is at this time that we decide what has to come out or be moved. This year we have taken out quite a few large old shrubs that have been going back over the years so lots of new planting opportunities for next Spring. One major decision has been to cut down the wonderful old acer, planted by my grandmother in the wide border. Branches have been dying gradually and we have taken the sad decision that it must go.
Although the autumn colour was late this year the berries and fruit have been fantastic with such a variety of colour. From the scarlet of the well known cotoneaster to the vivid blue of viburnum davidii and the striking purple of callicarpa bodinieri. The sorbus have also been weighed down with different coloured berries and only now are the birds and squirrels feasting.
The work on burying our electricity poles is drawing to an end and we had the big switch over last week when all went underground. There are still a few BT poles to come down but hopefully by the end of the month all will be finished. The back drive is a sea of mud after all the work but hopefully will dry out and be back to normal by opening.
by anne chambers
Surprising amounts of colour in the garden still and no forecast of frosts. Even so, we are about to lift the dahlias and tender salvias to keep inside for the winter. The bulb order, daffodils, tulips and camassias, has arrived so lots of planting work over the next week or two. The border of pennisetum Red Buttons which we planted to replace a lavender hedge just inside the entrance gate has worked well and still looks good. I will be adding Tulip ‘Havaran’ alongside this grass so that there is something to look at before the pennisetum gets going again next year.
Our life has been slightly disrupted by the arrival of a cocker spaniel called Boris. Full of energy and now four months old he has fitted into the family very well and has become firm friends with Willa, our Labrador. He is not a great asset in the garden as everything goes into his mouth and hasn’t learnt that the borders are not for playing in!
Work has begun on burying the electricity and telephone poles in the garden, up the back drive and in the field adjacent to the back car park. This has been a project that has been in the pipeline for quite some time but is now full steam ahead. We are digging the trenches and laying the pipe work; consequently lots of mud and mess but hopefully all will be finished before Christmas. A paradox because most people simply won’t notice any difference. We will! For us, an enormous improvement and we are thrilled that it is happening at last.
by anne chambers
Now it really does feel like autumn with damp misty mornings and the heat of the summer a distant memory. However with the rain the garden is still full of colour with many of the asters still to flower. Philip’s hedge cutter is going flat out with the endless job of all the yew and box hedges having their annual haircut!
We are having a bumper year of fruit with the orchard weighed down with produce and the blackberries in the hedgerows covered in fruit. The Burbanks Orange plum tree which the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers presented to us on winning the Historic House Association and Christies Garden of the Year award in 2003 is a mass of plums which are delicious either eaten fresh or made into jam. What a contrast to last year when we were devoid of any bounty. We planted autumn raspberries in the kitchen garden which again are covered in fruit and will go on until the first frosts. It really has been a brilliant year for gardeners and visitors.
I always love being surprised when I walk round the garden and suddenly the autumn crocus have appeared overnight. The leaves are not very attractive especially when they are dying back before the flowers but I always forget the pleasure of these delicate bulbs.
The autumn cyclamen give me the same joy as the ground where they are planted looks completely barren all summer until early September when suddenly out of the stonework and dry earth these pink and white jewels appear. Several years ago we saw these cyclamen neapolitanum growing wild in the hills above and behind Amalfi, a stunning spectacle and in similar unpromising conditions.
Our opening season is drawing to an end and we are already making lists of all the winter jobs to be done. I find now that I must write down everything as decisions made during the year are soon forgotten as plants die down or disappear. We will begin in earnest in October when we can make a proper mess without the worry of visitors!
by anne chambers
The incredibly sweet smell of the flowers of the weeping lime trees (Tilia petiolaris) is invading every corner of the garden. This happens every August for a few days and the bees come from far and wide to collect the nectar. Talking of bees we now have two hives in the orchard and I was presented with our first two pots of delicious Kiftsgate honey a couple of weeks ago. I am hoping that they have settled in well and we might be able to offer pots of honey to sell in our shop next year.
Now that we open at 2pm we have the whole morning to garden . Philip has started on the long job of cutting all the hedges, which we take as the first real sign of autumn approaching, but we are still having lovely sunshine with the occasional downpour. The garden is passing into high summer phase with the hydrangeas flowering and the yellow border coming into its peak. I planted quite a few turks cap lilies which are looking great and standing up well amongst the ligularia, crocosmia and rodgersia.
Manoeuvring large pots is always a headache and our two datura grand marnier have grown enormous this year. It seemed a shame not to place them in the garden so Philip, Tina and Dominic, who has been the extra pair of hands this summer, had the task of loading them onto the tractor and bringing them down to the garden. Because every part of them is poisonous we have placed them where visitors normally don’t go outside our sitting room window. They are covered in flowers and will go on flowering well into the autumn.
The wild flower meadow has at last come into its own with a good variety of colours and flowers. This has been a bit of an experiment and as mentioned in previous diaries we had to remove a lot of topsoil and clear the area of grass. We are not sure that we have got it right yet as it is very bare and dull early on, but it is an ongoing project.
Plant sales have been good mainly due to Tina’s skill in propagation but for exactly the same reason we are overstocked in some items and are going to have our ‘Bargain Basement’ plant sale area in September. This enables us to balance our stock going into the winter and is always popular with visitors in search of a bargain.
by anne chambers
Very seldom do I say that it is too hot to garden but that has been the case for the past ten days. By midday it is unbearable to be outside in the sun and I leave it for the shade or a swim. We do not have an automatic watering system or even a leaky hose pipe in the garden so hand watering recent plantings or stressed areas is the order of the day. On the whole established plants have fended for themselves splendidly and seeing that this is England rain won’t be long in coming.
The garden, having been three weeks behind, has caught up in leaps and bounds and everything seemed to burst out at once. The roses have never been better with the Kiftsgate rose looking spectacular with more flowers than I can ever remember. The compressing of the flowering season has meant R. mundi, R. Pauls Himalayan Musk and R. Kiftsgate are all flowering at the same time. The downside of the heat is that flowers fade much quicker than normal but for all that it has been a brilliant flowering year with everything benefiting from last years wet summer and the cool Spring.
The other star in the garden this summer has been the deutzia family. The different varieties have flowered in succession from early May through to August. First d. x rosea, then Rosalind followed by d. Strawberry Fields. The white d. monbeigii is just going over but the d. setchuanensis corymbiflora will be out for at least another two weeks. So we have had nearly three months pleasure from this marvellous family.
Last week the BBC was here filming in the garden for the second series of Chesterton’s Father Brown due to be shown next year. Over fifty crew and actors turned up early in the morning. The amount of props and equipment was amazing and we had to organise for a tractor and trailer to act as pack horse to move the paraphernalia to and from the lower garden. All went well with a gorgeous day so we will look forward to seeing a few seconds of the garden and house in one of the new episodes.
The lilies are all bursting out at the moment and seem to be free from beetle, which is a great relief. The lily ‘Red Velvet’ in the small red border near the house is looking wonderful and has taken over from where the tulip Red Shine had been. The smell of the regale lilies is hard to beat and wandering around in the early morning and evening in this stunning weather the scent in the garden is better than any French perfume!
by anne chambers
It’s the middle of June and we have only just dug up the last of the tulips. Red Shine was the star this year and was flowering for at least a month. In fact all the tulips did really well and were a godsend as the herbaceous plants were so late to bulk up, so the tulips added colour, interest and height.
We reckon the garden is still two weeks late this year and the roses are still in bud with only early types starting to flower. To make up for their tardiness they look as though they are going to flower really well. The plus point to this cool year is that flowers have lasted far longer than normal, not having been scorched by hot sun.
It is always exciting to talk about new plants but in an established garden like this one is always managing old plants, some from my grandmother’s day. One that is worrying us at the moment is the enormous red acer in the wide border. It has been going back for the past two years and this summer a lot of the branches are without leaves. The tree surgeon came yesterday to have an inspection and is going to cut back the canopy to see if we can breathe new life into it. The other worry is the yellow banksia rose up the west side of the house. Although this has flowered quite well this year the leaves look unhealthy and the whole plant is not what it once was. We have made the decision that it will have to come out in the autumn, quite a big job as it is at least 24 ft up the house. Gardening is about moving on and being decisive, however it is sad to loose old friends but equally fun to plant new ones!
We are very busy with visitors at the moment and we are thankful that we are closed two days a week to recharge the batteries and catch up with gardening. It also gives us time to walk slowly round the garden simply looking, enjoying and seeing what needs attention in the future. I remember my mum saying how important it is to notice and really look hard at every plant; being observant is the key to being a good gardener.
by anne chambers
Still nearly as cold as it was in April but at least those plants that have made it into flower are lasting much longer than normal. The bluebells have looked wonderful for three weeks and the spring magnolias were spectacular.
To remind us what summer might be like we had a flying two day trip to gardens near Rome last week, the highlight being a visit to Ninfa. For so long an ambition to visit, I was thrilled to get the timing spot on. The sun shone and this magical and romantic garden was looking at its best with climbing roses spilling over the ruins of this medieval village and scrambling through trees. What a setting! Crystal clear water flowing through the garden adds to the charm and mystery of this enchanted place. It truly lived up to all our expectations.
We also visited the extraordinary Villa d’ Este where we could only admire the extraordinary display dreamt up by a 16th century cardinal. Water everywhere in huge fountains, gurgling gullies or babbling brooks , all designed to impress the cardinals visitors. They certainly did that for us.
We arrived home to find that a large branch of one of the radiata pines on the bank had broken and was hanging by a thread over the steep banks, a real threat to visitors and the plants below. Our tree surgeon reacted with commendable speed and was able to come the following day and remove it without further damage so danger averted!
Chelsea Week, and I keep wondering how the exhibitors have managed to get their plants to perfection, it has been such a cold late Spring. We are not going this year but have been very busy with overseas visitors this week combining Chelsea with a visit to us. Our first visit from two Chinese groups. All very enthusiastic and we had to pose for lots of photographs so hopefully Kiftsgate is getting better known in China. It is, of course, where the parents of the kiftsgate rose came from, as well as many other favourites of ours.
by anne chambers
What a cold Easter with biting east winds that did not encourage people to visit gardens or buy plants. So not a good start to our season but now at last by mid April days are longer and warmer so hidden treasures are beginning to appear at last. However lots of new growth of roses and the tree peonies have been scorched by the winds, even R. Pauls Himalayan Musk suffered but I am sure they will all put on new growth and recover. I think we must be at least three weeks behind with the magnolias and daffodils only just flowering.
It was also difficult to do anything in the garden. As much as we wanted to plant, it would not have been wise as the soil was still so cold and things would have got frosted. Only now are we busy filling the gaps left by the winter and popping new acquisitions into the borders. Philip our gardener saw the first swallows yesterday so spring really must be here!
My perennial battle with the lily beetle has begun with the appearance of the first shoots of the martagon lilies. I spray the plants with Provado Bug Killer, which hopefully will reduce the brutes! Because of the lack of warmth we haven’t seen any bees and we have had to hand pollinate the fruit trees in the greenhouses with a paintbrush. Many of our other early stars have been hit or held up. Some of our trilliums were so badly scorched that I doubt whether they will flower at all this year.
But enough of this doom and gloom ! Reasons to be cheerful – 1. Fingers crossed, we may be clear of rabbits having accounted for three inside the garden in the last month. 2. As a result our lathyrus vernus, normally a delectable hors d’oeuvre for them, are growing away well and should be a great sight in a fortnight. 3. A wonderful show from two of the early flowering delights in the garden are hacquetia epipactis which is like a yellow pincushion and corydalis solida George Baker which has a mass of pink flowers and is perfect for an Alpine bed.
Now we are beginning our busiest season and also most exciting and rewarding. Everyday I notice change and the garden is bursting into life, we just have to keep up with it all, which means lots of hard work ahead!
by anne chambers
Here we are in the middle of March and the snowdrops are still flowering and not a sign of a daffodil in flower. It really has been a cold wet winter with snow predicted at the end of the week.
Costa Rica seems a distant memory. A wonderful country with so much to see. The vegetation was incredibly varied, from the tropical to the temperate, fantastic flowering trees swathed in vast vines and inhabited by troops of howler monkeys. All very lush and green with plentiful rain (although none while we were there) and scorching sun. We did several jungle and cloud forest walks looking at the extraordinary range of birds. The variety of plants was also dramatic and although there were some familiar faces,(solanum, brugmansia, gladiolus, euphorbia, hibiscus, malva to name just a few) there were so many more that were completely new to us. We visited an orchid garden in the highlands at Monteverde with minute specimens that usually live epiphytically at the top of the canopy. I had no idea there were so many different varieties.
Now trying to get the garden ready for opening on Easter Sunday. It is always a good discipline to have this deadline but unlike last year I fear there will not be a vast amount flowering. The hellebores have been fantastic and still looking lovely. They have been out now for over two months and the selections we bought from Ashwood nursery a couple of years ago are now looking wonderful. The magnolias have still got their winter overcoats on and are not in any hurry to open so hope they don’t get frosted. Bulbs are appearing, albeit rather cautiously. We have been feeding the grass, mending potholes in the drive, painting the loos, and re-potting plants for sale. Paths have to be swept and paving cleaned so lots to do. I have not yet pruned the summer ceanothus or the penstemons just in case we have another frost, but hopefully by next week I will finally be able to tidy up the borders ready for Easter. This reminds me of my mother’s dictum ‘never cut back before CheltenhamRace week’, how right she was this year!
In pouring rain I went to Mel Tanner’s specialist Plant Sale in Ampney Crucis last week. She has got various events throughout this year and this one was specialising in hellebores and early bulbs. I was delighted to find Anenome Wild Swan which was bred by Mrs MacGregor in the borders and was plant of the Year at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2011. It looks as if it might be a cross between A. rivulris and A. japonica and I have yet to choose where to plant it in the garden but it will be one of many once the soil warms up.
by anne chambers
The Christmas festivities are well and truly over so back to work, weather permitting. Today a hard frost but last week was wonderfully mild, more like March. So we took the opportunity of emptying the new pond, which is an annual event and one that I do not look forward to!
Having got as much water out as possible we then have to sweep up all the wet heavy leaves and blanket weed into the corners. With numerous buckets we then heave up the aforementioned into a wheelbarrow for disposal outside the garden fence. It is hard work but we feel essential as otherwise I fear we might get a covering of the weed on the surface during the summer months.
We also decided this year to try to clean off some of the black die which was beginning to discolour the gold leaves. Again it was trial and error but we found that a scourer and cif managed to dislodge some of the pigment without taking off the gold covering. They are certainly not perfect but much better and a little black patina adds to their interest and age. Now the pond is filling again for another season, it takes around a week to fill luckily from our spring water, otherwise it would be very expensive!
Repairs and maintenance take place at this time of year and we have had several walls that have collapsed with the weight of the soil due to the endless rain. One was on the steep banks which was a challenge to re-build but Bernard and his son Stuart have managed to complete the task successfully. Lets hope no more fall down before we open!
The first snowdrops have appeared and the daffodil bulbs are about an inch high which is very encouraging. I have ordered my lily bulbs and sweet pea seed. I buy these from Easton Walled Garden who have a wonderful collection of sweet peas and specialise in old fashioned varieties.
At this time of year I give illustrated talks on the garden to various garden society groups. You never know when you turn up to village halls how many people will be there, but on the whole everyone is very appreciative and usually it means a visit by the club to the garden in the summer.
Now mid Jan and the snow and ice has been with us all week. It means that the gardeners have to resort to wood cutting as impossible to work in the garden. Just hoping all will disappear soon as we still have a lot to do before opening. Thank goodness for our four-wheel drive car, as we would not have got up and down our steep hills.
Am looking forward to our break in Costa Rica in February with some sunshine and interesting flora and fauna plus wonderful birds. What a treat and hopefully we will be full of energy when we return ready for another gardening year.