Winter Modesty

Midwinter Rhododendron

I often feel it’s a shame that we’re not open for people to see Rhododendron dauricum ‘Mid-winter’. A species found in Siberia's mountainous Dauria region, as the name would suggest our cultivar is a hardy soul, and throughout January looking at its best bearing small purple flowers on bear stems.

There’s always something special about winter flowering plants and along with the sweetly scented witch hazels it’s about the only thing in bloom at Stoneywell at the moment but all the more spectacular for it.  The same could be said, shamelessly, for us gardeners slaving away in Siberian like conditions with nobody to bat an eye lid.  Not that we’re attention seekers at Stoneywell of course, in truth the hope is when we do welcome people back in February, our work will seamlessly blend in to the naturalistic setting that the garden sits as if mother nature barrowed those granite chippings up the hill instead of the gardeners!

The gardens covered in snow
The gardens at Stoneywell covered in snow
The gardens covered in snow

At least this natural feel is something that can always be relied on at Stoneywell, whatever the weather and whatever time of year.  I’d like to think that connection with the wider landscape is more evident at Stoneywell than many other gardens.  Whether “undesirable or impossible” as Gertrude Jekyll wrote after a visit, over cultivating is something we’ll always be conscious of, as the Gimsons were before us, and no more is this connection evident than on a dramatically misty February morning as you look across the rugged heath towards Bradgate park and beyond.

One of the benches by the fort
View across the Charnwood Forest from a bench underneath a tree
One of the benches by the fort

So as you’ll, hopefully, hardly notice our work I guess this is my moment where I can actually mention what we have been doing!  And in case you’re worried thinking “should I have been out in my garden in January?” unless you too welcome as many as 163 people a day, rain or shine I would suggest you’re better off with your feet up and a hot drink just for a touch longer.  Regardless many of you will I’m sure appreciate the strain (as well as the many more gains) that are put on a garden enjoyed by the public especially one with grass paths.  Not the greatest time of year to have to dig up, repair and potentially reseed paths but needs must and most grass seed mixes will likely germinate at about 6 degrees… so they say.  With a bit of added protection from frosts you just never know your luck and nor do we!  We’ve also mowed the odd alternate route through meadows in the most worn areas of the garden to allow for recovery of existing paths, especially where we have roots exposed of nearby trees.  These we’ll be opening later in the season, so you can see Stoneywell from a (…slightly) different perspective, how exciting!  Add to this a little more granite or wood chippings in appropriate places to firm your step and some persuasive hazel hoops to subtly protect meadows at carefully thought out points… and that’ll be paths done… until the next time.

Crunch through the leaves in the woodland.

As the year progresses it’s not just a slight diversion of a path or two to keep you coming back for more, as if that’s not enough… we’ve got a new bin store too and if that’s not enough(!?) and your expectations are so high we’re very hopeful for an improved spring bulb display in the flower beds as long as the squirrels and badgers (don’t mention the badgers) have left one or two over the hungry winter, something we will clearly have to add to year on year.  As we progress through this year you can also expect a greater emphasis on wildlife… something you may be able to join in with!?  As well as further work on interpreting our existing plant collection at Stoneywell.  Not to mention exciting additions to that existing collection. 

The gate to the kitchen garden at Stoneywell
Looking through the gate to the walled garden at Stoneywell
The gate to the kitchen garden at Stoneywell

Otherwise it’s business as usual even though I’ve never quite worked out what that is.  Stick with me though as this is the first of many entries to a new Stoneywell garden monthly blog, where fingers crossed we’ll all gain an insight or two.  Nothing of course can beat the real thing though, come quick and you may just catch the elusive dauricum ‘Mid-winter’ or at the very least a cold gardener.   

A watering can hangs from the sheds at Stoneywell, Leicestershire