April 2018, our first NGS opening!

At the beginning of the month we held our first NGS opening. We were unlucky with the weather, it was a dull day and rained from lunchtime onwards, but it was calm and relatively warm given the weather we had been having. Some people were undeterred and donned waterproofs, or brought umbrellas and the feedback was that they enjoyed the visit and many will return.

The refreshments provided by the Northern Fells Baby and Toddler Group at Millhouse village hall were very successful, overall £500 was raised for the local charity and the NGS which is great. So many thanks to the people who helped make this possible, and in particular to those who helped me at Deer Rudding.

At the next opening on Saturday 5th May, Friends of Fellview School will raise money by providing refreshments at Millhouse Village Hall. The admission charge for the garden will be to raise money for the NGS.

Progress in the Garden

Work has continued in the greenhouse, potting summer bulbs and starting Dahlias in pots. This month the weather picked up and things have come on well in the last couple of weeks. There is now a full display of daffodils and hyacinths which are all late. Also providing colour are some tulips, primula denticulata, aubretia and prunus blossom. I am pleased with the tulips recovered from 2017 pot displays, they were planted deeply in the cutting garden and there was no attrition by mice eating them; The first ones, Yellow Purissima are flowering very well. I intend to plant over them when they have finished, without lifting, so it will be interesting to see what we get next year. The tulips pictured have repeated well for me. The shrub, Prunus Incisa Kojo-No-Mai has lovely flowers in spring and good autumn colour. It is compact and can be lightly trimmed in summer.

Yellow Purissima Tulip
Prunus Incisa Kojo-No-Mia
Fritillaria Meleagris with Daffodils outside the ruins
Aubretia flowering in the ruins, it likes the alkali soil.
The first rhododendron to flower

As I write the first rhododendron is coming into flower. The soil here is neutral so some variety of rhododendron are ok - they were here when we took on the garden so if they are happy enough we have left them.

Multi-headed red tulip

In the meadow areas there are some fritillaria, and I note self-sowed Camassia are appearing in the place they were first introduced, so that is pleasing.

Resident Wildlife

We observed a pair of ducks around the pond a few weeks ago. There is an island in the middle of it that is quite wild as we don’t go onto it, this makes it an attractive site for a nest. Well, they decided to stay and the female is currently sitting on her nest, so we can look forward to a brood of ducklings shortly. As you can see from the photograph, the duck is well camouflaged, unless you know she is there you wouldn’t notice her as you pass.

Female duck brooding her eggs

March 2018, our first NGS opening approaches!

The beginning of March brought another blanket of snow and high winds This caused drifting, which blocked our driveway and roads in the area. Whilst the garden and surrounding countryside looked picturesque, it was not a week to make any progress outside. However, a (relatively) warm spell arrived, and as the first opening of Deer Rudding Garden under the NGS approaches, we have focussed our effort to be ready for this important day.

View from the greenhouse across the garden

Geoff has continued with maintenance work to gravel paths. He has also washed all the stone paving around the house, if left it becomes slippy in our wet Cumbrian climate. It still has the lichens growing on it and we are also confident that visitors will be able to walk safely around.

Geoff has also pruned the Buddleia bushes. This will help our summer display by encouraging more flowers and it keeps the bushes a more manageable, compact shape. The butterflies and insects will be pleased about the flowers. Additionally he has done more maintenance work which required use of a chain saw on the banked areas adjacent to the public footpath. I helped chop up the prunings which we will leave to decay.

Adam has worked in the lower garden to prune shrubs which will flower on this years growth. He has also pruned some apple trees and roses. We have continued tidying borders, removing last year’s growth and leaves that have collected amongst the plants. Some plants need to be lifted and split, some moved to a new home as we begin an appraisal of how they are doing.

I have pruned the Apple trees in the walled garden. The objective was to keep them a manageable size and make it easy to get close to them when cutting the grass. I have also been taking care of the greenhouse and have brought the heated propagator into use. The hyacinths in pots are coming into flower, they are a welcome sight as we wait for the weather to improve.

Hyacinths in the greenhouse

Time has been spent finishing and testing the children’s garden trail, then getting it printed ready for our young visitors. I do hope we get a good number.


Acer Griseum growing in the foreground with Cornus Mas in the background
Acer Griseum growing in the foreground with Cornus Mas in the background
Acer Griseum growing in the foreground with Cornus Mas in the background

Walking around the garden in early spring enables you to see interesting aspects of plants before they all bear their foliage. Of particular note is the colour of stems and tree bark and the silhouette of tree trunks and branches. Visitors in April will be able to see this as the cold weather is holding things back. There is a young Acer Griseum in the Pond Garden which has cinnamon coloured, peeling bark, hence the common name of Paper bark maple. It can be seen gowing close to Cornus Mas, which has tiny bright yellow flowers borne in dense clusters opening in late winter. They are both a pleasure to see.

Next month I will be able to tell you how our first NGS opening went.

New Plants

Earlier this year I added Arum Italicum Marmoratum to the woodland garden. Unfortunately I have to report that these have been dug up by a visiting animal and the corms have been eaten. I would be very surprised if anything survives, something had a gourmet snack! Undeterred, a few new plants have been added this month:

Acer Griseum growing in the foreground with Cornus Mas in the background

In the woodland garden:

  • Pulmonaria ‘Open Skies’ - this is a very small plant but promises to be interesting; it has white, pink and two tone green variegation with a true blue flower in spring. It is slow growing, so it is planted near a path then it can be easily seen.
  • Bergenia ‘Pink Ice’ - a lovely emeiensis hybrid with soft pink flowers in spring. A compact species that just grows to 40cm height which has been planted adjacent to the same path as the pulmonaria.
  • Several new snowdrop varieties, just single bulbs so it will be interesting to watch these clump up.

In the Pond Garden:

  • Fern - Polypodium vulgare an evergreen fern, to 30cm tall, with creeping rhizomes and lance-shaped to oblong, pinnate or very deeply pinnatifid dark green fronds
  • Epimedium Wildside Amber - which grows to 40cm and has long-spurred, amber flowers and speckled young foliage, however, like the Arum, this has completely disappeared, somethiing has eaten it.

We have also completed an area of new planting near the ruins, we extended a bed to make it easier to cut the grass: This includes:

  • David Austen Rose, Buttercup, loosely cupped flowers of rich copper yellow with a pleasant scent
  • Prunus glandulosa Alba Plena - white double flowers smother the naked stems in spring.
  • Bupleurum Fructicosum, a shrubby umbellifer with glossy evergreen leaves and pale green flower heads, June onwards
  • Aconitum carmichaellii Arendsii, large mid-blue flowers from August-September
  • Nepata ‘Veluws Blauwtje’ which produces clouds of pale lilac-blue flowers
Bergenia ‘Pink Ice’
Hyacinth ‘Miss Saigon’
Elegant Heads of small Daffodils in the Pond Garden, poised to open - 23 March 2018

February 2018, preparing for Spring

Work continued during February to get the garden ready for the spring:

Geoff has improved some path surfaces in the woodland garden, made sure the drainage channels are all clear and washed the stone paving in the ruins so it isn’t slippy.  He also moved 3 Cornus 'Midwinter Fire' shrubs, grown for the coloured stems which are brightest in winter, and they have been positioned  near to the drive where they can be seen regularly.

Adam has done the edging on the rear drive and tidied up in the river meadow area ready for us to enjoy the daffodils which are now making an appearance.  He has also removed a large number of self-set ash trees, which if left to grow would take a lot of light from the garden in time.

I have done a late winter prune of yew on the rear drive, tidied leaves, cut back more perennials and started work in the greenhouse.  Summer bulbs and seeds have also been ordered.

However, snow is forecast again for the coming week, so winter is maintaining its grip and we will probably find progress halted.

Refreshed path surfaces
Rear Drive with topiary Yews

Reappearance of old friends

As the month has progressed Galanthus nivalis - snowdrops - have  provided a delightful display. The Tete-a-tete daffodils are pushing through and flowers of Cardamine quinquefolia are making an appearance.  It is always a  welcome surprise to find a patch of Mauve flowers which come out of nowhere at a time of year when there is little colour, the foliage follows,  then it  is dormant from summer onwards and the space can be occupied by other foliage.  The flowers of Helleborus plants are also beginning to rise on their stems and the pulmonaria are beginning to stir. Hamemalis provides a splash of colour and the small Iris reticulata are very colourful, I only have a few, mainly in pots, but I have now found a place in the ground they seem to like, so I may add to them in the future.  There is some colour on the rockery provided by the winter flowering heathers.

Tete-a-tete daffodils
Iris reticulata
Winter flowering heathers

New plants added to the Woodland Garden

A large section of the woodland garden is adjacent to the pond garden and this area is still under development.  I have added several new plants this month, namely:

  • Arum Italicum Marmoratum which has glossy, marbled leaves that make their appearance in late autumn and then disappear underground in mid-spring
  • Bergenia Cordifolia, a perennial forming a spreading clump of rounded, slightly wavy leaves which are often tinged purple in winter, it has deep pink flowers in early spring.
  • Cardamine Trifolia which is a creeping perennial with three-lobed, dark green leaves. In late spring it produces clusters of open, cup-shaped, white flowers on 15cm stems.
  • Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Carpet’ AGM, a mat-forming evergreen perennial or subshrub with creeping stems and short, upright branches bearing leathery leaves clustered at the tips, and erect spikes of small white flowers in summer.  
  • Skimmia Japonica ‘Snow White’, a compact, evergreen shrub with deep green leaves. Cream flower buds are produced in autumn lasting through winter then opening to white flowers in spring, and it is fragrant.

January 2018, awaiting the new season.

The beginning of January isn’t an inspiring time to be in the garden, the weather is often inclement, the days seem short, but there are still jobs to be done so any glimmer of sunshine or a calm day will draw me outside. As the month progresses this becomes more rewarding as signs of the new season start to appear.

Leaf collection and cutting back

The leaf heap continued to grow, when this has composted down it will make an excellent soil conditioner for our heavy clay soil. As a result of this end product, gathering up the leaves becomes a worthwhile and satisfying activity. It also ensures the small bulbs can make an appearance in spring rather than be choked by a layer of heavy wet leaves. However, there are still some leaves left, and some undisturbed wilder areas for animals to hide, rest or hibernate.

The leaf mountain!
The leaf heap

More foliage was cut back this month. Some was left in the autumn to provide shelter for insects and winter interest. We work round tidying up gradually, trying to strike a balance between the wildlife and getting ready for the spring.

New season arrives

I find winter is a good time to walk round the garden and look at its structure. Without the leaves on deciduous trees and shrubs and bare areas where perennials are dormant, it is easy to decide if any changes are needed to extend the season of interest. This may be by adding evergreen plants, coloured stems or trees with interesting bark. I have been admiring the wonderful bark of Betula utilis var. jacquemontii which stands out in winter. Also the first Pinus sylvestris - Scots Pine - that we planted when we took over the garden are also becoming architectural features, and with the leaves off the deciduous trees they are more visible.

As the month has progressed Galanthus nivalis - snowdrops - have pushed their way up and they are a welcome sight as they herald the new season. Also standing out are the flowers of Helleborus foetidus and Helleborus argutifolius which are planted in the pond garden. I am growing on a batch of small Helleborus plants purchased from Hayloft plants, as I think they will make an interesting addition for late winter and early spring interest. They will be added to the pond garden and woodland garden when they are ready to plant out. Another interesting plant that I enjoy in winter in the walled garden is Arum italicum Marmoratum, which has glossy marbled leaves that make their appearance in late autumn and then disappear underground in mid-spring. I only have one plant at the moment, but it is one that would be useful to add to other shade areas of the garden.

The leaf mountain!
The leaf heap
Hellebores argutifolius
Arum italicum Marmoratum

As I write February approaches, during this month we will improve some paths in the woodland garden and winter prune some of the key apple trees. I missed cutting the yew on the rear drive last summer so i am going to do a late winter prune of those. The Tete-a-tete daffodils will be pushing through, I am always pleased to see them as they are harbingers of spring and the daffodil season.

December 2017, Still Planting Tulips!

A few of the pots.
A few of the pots.

I am still planting tulips - in pots, nearly finished now. The mixture I use for pots and planters is 2 parts multi-purpose compost, 2 parts John Innes number 2 and 1 part 6mm gravel. It would be nice to use horticultural grit, but I can obtain the small gravel cheaply and it seems to do the job. The aim of it is to ensure sufficient drainage in our wet climate. I like to top the pots containing only bulbs with the gravel as this keeps the surface weed and moss free and looks better in the winter before the bulbs emerge. It is important to label them if you want to know what is in there, you think you will remember, but ……….. the pot on the left doesn’t have a label and I will have to wait and see what I put in it! My biggest worry with the plantings are whether mice are going to find the bulbs, if they do they get an expensive gourmet lunch and we don’t get any flowers! So, watch this space …………

Geoff continued with cutting hedges and coppicing hazel plants. We now have a selection of poles from the hazel coppicing, I am sure they can be put to good use. The wood heaps continued to grow as he thinned some of the older planting that had become crowded. I think all the insects and mammals appreciate his efforts. Adam bravely tackled pruning of gooseberry bushes that I have totally neglected in the past. They do produce a lot of fruit, which is lovely, but this year it was difficult to pick. I am looking forward to seeing how they do next year. He also pruned the blackcurrants, not quite so neglected, but they will benefit from his attention. Adam has also removed a plant which had become a nuisance - this was a Thermopsis Carolinianus. I did look lovely when it flowered, a bit like a lupin, but its roots ran out of the bed it was in and were very tough, it was a difficult plant to contain. There was a wheelbarrow full of root when he had finished, this was from one plant! We are making a change to the border structure to incorporate a Bupleurum Fruticosum and also to make it easier to turn the lawn tractor when cutting the grass. As I write this on the 10th of December we are in the midst of very cold weather and for a change we have fared better than our southern countrymen, the snow has slipped past us.

November 2017, lifting Dahlias.

I returned from Great Dixter on 5th November and immediately got to work lifting the Dahlias. The frosts had arrived and the colourful flowers which kept going until late October were gone. Whilst at Great Dixter I had seen how they lift and store dahlias, so I obtained a supply of empty polystyrene fish boxes. I am storing the tubers packed in these boxes on the lower shelves of the unheated greenhouse. The tubers are covered in spent compost and a loose layer of fleece lies across the top of the box. I have not used lids so there is some ventilation. They will be split and potted to start into growth at the beginning of March.

Fish box storing dahlia tubers in the greenhouse.
Fish box storing dahlia tubers in the greenhouse.

Bulb planting continued in November, Tulips had been held back for late planting as they are best not put in the ground too early; this minimises the risk of disease. I am experimenting this year within the cutting garden, I have planted some bulbs stored from 2016 and put them in deeply (at least 6 inches down). The aim is to minimise attrition by mice who live in the garden, particularly in the dry stone walls. If this is successful they will be left in place and we will plant over them with annuals for cutting. Success will be measured by how many bulbs survive, and from those that do, how well they flower in their second season. I have also put bulbs purchased this year in the planters around the garden. I have chosen a variety of tulips and I am looking forward to seeing and assessing the results.

  • In the two largest planters, one on the lower garden and another on the rear drive, I have used a mixture of bulbs from Sarah Raven’s Brandy Snap Collection: 15 Cairo, 15 Ronaldo, 15 Bruine Wimpel and 15 La Belle Epoque in each planter
  • In 3 planters near the Pond Garden I have used a mixture from Sarah Raven”s Perch Hill Collection: 10 Ballerina, 10 Dolls Minuet and 10 Black Hero in each planter.
  • In each of 3 planters on the patio in the lower garden I have 20 Parrot Tulips called Rococo, again purchased from Sarah Raven.
  • I another planter on the patio in the lower garden there are 30 Antoinette supplied by Peter Nyssen
  • In the trough near the back door there are 15 Border Legend which flower early purchased from Bloms and 30 Blushing Lady which flower late from Sarah Raven.
Planter in lower garden awaiting arrival of spring!
Planter in lower garden awaiting arrival of spring!

Geoff has been busy collecting leaves, cutting hedges and doing any chain-saw work needed on the trees. We have to watch the canopy level and keep it high enough to make sure we can cut the grass safely with the lawn tractor. Adam has been busy working in the lower garden and walled garden. He has been pruning, helping re-structure borders, Preparing bedding pocket areas and cutting back perennials. November has been a very busy month in the garden.