Three weeks into our winter opening and nearly 3,000 visitors have enjoyed the garden, blessed with only the occasional moment of brightness, for most of the last two weeks the weather, though behaving itself, has mostly been grey and damp, yet mild.
Given this relative warmth the flowering plants have really raced on. It was around January 4th that I sensed a slight glance towards spring in the garden; the days were noticeably lengthening, birds could be heard singing and the scent of Sarcococca began to waft in the air.
In the winter garden it is amazing how plants which looked dull just a few weeks ago, such as Leucothoe, Bergenia and Euonymus, have taken on their winter colour, with their foliage turning, red and pink tinged. The coloured stems of the dogwood are also more striking, taking on an almost luminous quality. The humble bramble, Rubus thibetanus, extends its ghostly gage-like structure across the beds with Galanthus and Cyclamen flowering beneath.
The stars today however are the established groups of Rhododendron ‘Nobleanum’, the best known early-flowering hybrid crossed in the mid 1830s. Bushes more than 4m high are plastered with flowers ranging from scarlet-rose, pinkish red, white flushed pink and deep red giving a most pleasing effect.
Spending time this week lifting and dividing small groups of Galanthus (we now grow in excess of 50 different varieties), I await the delivery of 20,000 G. nivalis for planting (with our visitors’ help) in the Old Park. Perhaps in years to come the sheet of white will be a display to match the beauty of the Rhododendron ‘Nobleanum’ we are enjoying today.