December in the garden
At this time of year you could be forgiven for overlooking the previously fulsome deciduous trees and shrubs, but if you take time to stop and peer then you’ll find there is much about them to be appreciated.
Denuded limbs and boughs create interesting shapes and in a certain light can often form a shapely silhouette - the catalpa trees outside the Rose Garden are a fine example. In terms of vertical structure, the bronze stems of various grasses, as well as the tassel topped pampas in the pinetum, provide an attractive focus at a time when other plants are slowly withering and fading. Conifers, such as the yew, redwoods, thuja and cypress are still in leaf and provide a welcome splash of green against the brown, silver and ghostly grey of trunks, stems and soil.
As the year nears its close, we will focus on tidying up the garden with the emphasis on clean lines and visible straight edges. This process becomes easier as we steadily remove the final flurries of leaves that have until now clung stubbornly to their hosts. The fact that here in the garden team we talk about ‘putting areas to bed’ emphasises the fact that the garden is at least in part going to be dormant over the winter. Other specific December tasks will include: emptying the garden drains, protecting tender plants in situ, keeping an eye on the state of the lawns as the weather gets wet; and finally preparing next year’s maintenance plans – all to ensure that the garden looks its spectacular best for the seasons to come.
Some camellias flower in autumn and winter, particularly the sasanqua group: this includes many colourful and varied cultivars such as the delicately scented, white-flowered ‘Narumigata’ (meaning “Narumi Bay”) that you can see growing abundantly over the arched entrance to the Forecourt Garden. Its perfume and bright yellow stamens together create a strong beacon for pollinating winter insects. Other such camellias – in shades of pink and white – can be spotted as you stroll along Winter Walk, and in the Top Garden. With their bright blooms and glossy, dark green leaves these evergreen plants can really help lift a slightly shady corner; but remember that they require shelter from the wind and prefer an acid environment, so if you don’t have this type of soil then you can still grow one in a pot using ericaceous compost. Here in the garden team we use specially prepared Japanese camellia oil to help protect the blades of our secateurs from corrosion.
Keeping the birds fed
Aside from putting bird food out and leaving fallen fruit, one way in which we provide for the smaller birds at Nymans is to leave the seed heads on the summer border perennials - these are particularly popular with brightly-coloured goldfinches. Growing plants that produce berries is another easy way to provide winter food for our feathered friends, and these include: rowan trees, holly, hawthorn, dog rose and ivy, as well as pyracantha and cotoneaster (a favourite of redwings, a winter migrant). It is worth remembering that berries need birds in order to distribute their all-important seed. Did you know that the dry pith of ivy berries contains almost as many calories as a chocolate bar? And, at this chilly time of year, the Nymans gardeners too appreciate some chocolate-based snacks after a hard day’s work!