Digging Deeper - From winter to spring

Gardener admires the blooms on Magnolia Dawsoniana at Trelissick, Cornwall

Without meaning to curse the weather, winter has definitely given way to spring. The past few months have been very wet but remorsefully quite mild.

The storms have only claimed one notable casualty so far, a sweet chestnut in Carcadon, which was pre-emptively felled when we noticed it had lost its footing. The ground has been sodden and the paths washed out, but we only had a handful of notable frosts. I think most of our plants will be thankful for that.

Winter Work in the garden

My name's Will and I am a gardener here at Trelissick. I am quite new to the Cornish climate, but it seems yet again, the wildlife is also confused at the relative heat this year. As early as January, we have seen wagtails dancing for mates and robins fighting on territory expanding skirmishes. What I thought was a bumble bee skimmed past my head, and flying bugs were spotted drifting over the pond. It has been a great winter to watch wildlife though, from the cloud of goldfinches staying in our oriental plane, to a rather tame goldcrest only 2 feet away. Yet regardless of how Mother Nature feels, the days still have been cold enough for humans. It has often been required to quadruple layer clothes or begrudgingly stay for the second cup of hot tea.

If you have been brave enough to face the rain there has still been lots to see in the garden. Crisp foliage, alien-like seed pods, and vibrant berries are all fascinating, but it’s also a perfect opportunity to appreciate the form and structure of the gnarled leafless trees. For the garden traditionalists, there have been some great flowering plants too. The few early rhododendrons such as ‘Nobelium’ and ‘Christmas Cheer’ started it off, Sarcococca confusa (Christmas box) filled the air with a sweet smell, and a succession of hellebores, snowdrops and witch hazels followed. The lonicera, a climbing honey suckle, was covered in yellow white sweet-smelling flowers and crawling with pollinators in January!

A bumble bee visits an Ionicera
A tree bumble bee visits an Ionicera 'Winter Beauty' at Trelissick, Cornwall
A bumble bee visits an Ionicera

After the leaves mercifully stopped dropping and we performed the cathartic chipping of Christmas trees, there was some time to do some good gardening jobs this winter. We finished a whole month of hydrangea pruning by the new year, so we moved on to hard pruning the wisterias, climbers and all the apple trees in the orchard. It has also been a good time to get any dead wood out of our rhododendrons and camelias in order to lighten their appearance before they flower.

As our very dedicated volunteers will contest to, we have also spent a lot of time doing the less glamorous but no less needed work too. Whether it was pulling out leaves from the borders and lawns, freeing trees from the clutches of ivy, or re-levelling and raking the gravel paths.

In the nursery we have been potting on lots plants ready for the new year and tackling some rather complicated dendrological identifications. Can you spot the difference between the Cupressus assamica, Cupressus austrotibetica and Cupressus lusitanica? (See pictures below)

Cupressus foliage
Example of different species of Cupressus foliage
Cupressus foliage

What to see this spring

I am suffering for my eagerness to write this article early by sitting here editing my third draft of plants to see. It has really shown me the dynamic nature of the garden, and just how much can change in a week. I hope this information below is still relevant for your visits, and I think in the future I may try to procrastinate on my deadlines a bit more!

The entire garden is now jumping to life, the Spring Walk has been mulched and - as the name suggests - now is the perfect time to walk it. The camelias and rhododendrons are coming and going in an increasing frequency, so there will always be something different to see. Particular favourites at the moment are the ‘Camellia Magnoliaeflora’ on spring walk, and all of the towering Rhododendron ‘Cornish Red’s (x Russellianum) which are popping up all over the garden.

The Water Tower past rhododendrons in bloom
The Water Tower at Trrelissick viewed from the garden with flowering rhododendrons
The Water Tower past rhododendrons in bloom

The carpet of snowdrops have given way to daffodils, but my favourite way to see them is before they flower. The blue hued spikes of the foliage create an almost unnaturally matt lawn, especially when combined with the sharp tongues of the bluebell leaf too. A great place to see this is along hydrangea walk.

Daffodil shoots
Daffodil shoots in the garden at Trelissick, Cornwall
Daffodil shoots

Depending on how the wind and cold treats us in the next few weeks, the magnolias in Carcadon will be looking fabulous, and hopefully it will be a brilliant show to take in. The daffodils, scillas and other bulbs should also bring some joyful yellows, whites a blues to the garden.

We also all wait with bated breath to see if the newly planted colocasias, next to the pond, emerge after winter. The leafy corms looked great when planted late last year and should only get better the bigger and denser they become. The shield-like large leaves all face in the direction of the sun, so seeing dozens from the height of the path is a great spectacle.

Although we are always surprised what conditions people are determined to enjoy the garden in, you can still see some great flowering plants in the solarium and remain out of the rain. Alongside the steady regulars, the Strelitzia reginae, Canarina canariensis and several orchid species are all looking fantastic.

Bird of paradise plant, Strelitzia reginae, in the solarium
Bird of paradise plant, Strelitzia reginae, in the solarium at Trelissick, Cornwall
Bird of paradise plant, Strelitzia reginae, in the solarium

So the message I am trying to say is that everywhere you look, and anywhere in the garden there should be something to keep you interested. If you come with that attitude, the garden is great place to visit any time of year, even in the middle of winter.