Welcome to spring in the Shrub Borders

Area supervisor Bill Warrell looks forward to the blossoming season ahead…

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Berberis darwinii

The garden is now slowly re-awakening after its winter slumber. Whilst some brave rhododendrons have been flowering handsomely over the last couple of months, my favourite being R. mucronulatum with its delicate pink flowers held on bare branches, spring is now burgeoning. Snowdrops and crocus, delicate harbingers of the new season, are soon to be joined by swathes of daffodils, their bold foliage already a bright riposte to the vestiges of winter.

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Viburnum plicatum

Colour slowly permeates the garden; the bold red of Rhododendron Portia Group, pale, subtle pieris and the lungwort’s mellow blue. The coming weeks will witness an ever-widening palette, as first magnolias then viburnums burst into bloom. I love the magnolias, not only for their unparalleled beauty of flower, but also for their evanescence – a single frost and their fleshy blooms burn and wither to brown. A glorious reminder to savour a garden’s fleeting pleasures.

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Rhododendron mucronulatum

It is in spring that I am particularly reminded of the horticultural genius of the McClarens and their Head Gardeners, the Puddles. There is a near seamless succession of blooms on the Borders. Following the tiered beauty of many Viburnum plicatum cultivars, marvellous cascades of white blossom, the oriental tree dogwoods, Cornus kousa, bear their creamy bracts. To conclude this pallid profusion in late spring, the stewartias, S. sinensis and S. pseudocamellia Koreana Group are adorned with their camellia-shaped flowers, embellishing their prized ornamental bark.

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Cornus kousa

All the while, bolder shades erupt all around, as Bodnant-hybrid rhododendrons jostle with the vibrant orange of Berberis darwinii and countless camellias. As the garden springs into life, so the pace of work quickens for the gardening team. Having scoured the borders for weeds, pruned roses and hydrangeas, we are now busy mulching with our own compost. It’s perhaps a little early, given the cold snap we’ve experienced recently (it’s always better to mulch a warm, moist soil), but this is our window of opportunity as the grass glades have dried out a little, so tractor damage will be reduced. Last year, we spread around sixty one-tonne trailer loads. I find mulching deeply satisfying: not only are we nourishing the plants, we are protecting the soil, feeding the myriad creatures that dwell in its midst, reducing annual weeds (therefore toil) and providing a dark backdrop which serves to beautifully amplify colour, shape and texture.

All our autumnal endeavours gathering mound-upon-mound of beautifully tinted leaves come to fruition (with the occasional help of a 3.5 tonne digger to turn the heaps). I love the cyclical nature of the process and celebrate Nature’s marvellous ingenuity – barrowloads of free fertility! But of course, we never have enough…

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Mulching in the Shrub Borders, using machinery and good old fashioned spadework.

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