Shh! Don’t Tell The Weather Man!

I hardly dare mention it but I think Spring is finally coming to the Cotswolds. After I wrote about it back in February, the man from the Met Office sent us cold again. Hard frosts put spring on hold. To be fair, as I also wrote, the Cotswolds may be one of the most beautiful places to live in the south of England but the hills are also one of the coldest. Our spring is always two or three weeks later than places even as close as Oxford or Gloucester.
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Early spring sunshine comes to the ancient Cotswold town of Burford
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The past few weeks have been unusually dry which has meant that tidying up the garden – or, in my case, gardens: my own as well as clients – has progressed rather well. A nice drop of warm rain now would work a treat and not interfere with time schedules. At last, in the secret valley, leaves are unfurling properly, daffodils are blooming and the lone primrose has been joined by many more as well as purple and white violets.
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Wherever I have lived, there has always been one hawthorn that opens its leaves days before the rest, even when planted as a hedgerow. I’ve often wondered if this is a genetic thing which means, I presume, that it could be cloned to have a whole group of early leafing ones. Or is it a combination of warmth and soil conditions in that particular spot? When I retire and have more time (a contradiction as the two never happen according to friends who are trying it) I will take cuttings and carry out a controlled experiment. It will give me the opportunity to blog about it if I am still able to sit in front of a computer!

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I wonder if I could get a whole hedge of early flowering hawthorn? It will be another six weeks or more before they will be in bloom in the secret valley.
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The snowdrops and aconites have now finished flowering. The little ruff of green leaves are all that is left of the latter. They look so similar to the taller herbaceous aconites or Monkhoods whose green ruffs are also poking through the ground now. They are all part of the buttercup family so are related but so unalike one another at their flowering time. I love the tall purple spires of the Monkshoods in mid to late summer: not as delicate as delphiniums, another favourite, but at least slugs don’t eat them and they don’t need staking, a real plus.

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Forsythia is in full bloom. These I enjoy in other gardens but never plant them in my own unless the garden is huge and they can be planted a long way off. They show up from quite a distance and when seen too close, are too strident for my taste. The non flowering shrub later in the summer is a coarse affair too, dull and not warranting the space unless livened up by a clematis or other climbing plant. In the photo below it is grown as a wall shrub and it works well in disguising this unattractive garage. Despite being cut hard back to the wall each year in early summer it is always smothered in bloom by March.

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The same applies to the common flowering currant. The standard pink is a wishy-washy thing and the deeper coloured, named varieties such as King Edward VIII, is as strong in colour as the forsythia – a plant to be enjoyed in other gardens. For those of you that thought the currants were always pink (although there are white flowered versions) and smelt of cat’s pee – and I include myself in this category for many years – there are three others that are well worth making space for.
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Ribes odoratum, has pale yellow flowers and is beautifully scented. It is a bit of an untidy shrub in my experience, suckering freely but not a nuisance. It grows in happy neglect in a hedgerow – an ideal spot for it to do its own thing – and is really only noticed by the spicy fragrance as you wander past.
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Ribes lauriflolium is a new plant to me. Unlike the others which all originate from the States, this currant is found in the wild in China. Looking at descriptions on the internet I wonder if they are correct or if there is a lot of variation in the stock, which is possible. I bought mine described as white, evergreen and not too hardy. It has survived -16C this winter, has been deciduous (perhaps it keeps its leaves in milder winters, I rather hope not) and is white flowered. Others are described as yellow and growing to only 1 ft – mine is already 3ft but that may be because it is tucked behind our dry stone wall. The one thing they all agree on and I can confirm is the exquisite scent of lilies of the valley. Do try to grow one if you can find it.

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I have since discovered that this isn’t a ribes at all! See my next post to reveal all!!
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My final choice of flowering currant is another favourite, Ribes speciosum. It is reminiscent in bloom of fuchsia and, like them, are pollinated in their native environment by humming birds. Hailing from California, in UK gardens it requires shelter and grows best against a warm wall where it can be trained on wires or left free growing. This photo was taken in the botanical gardens in Dublin on a glorious spring day.
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Warmth, blue sky and sunshine. The clocks go forward an hour this weekend giving us more evening daylight. I’m almost feeling optimistic about the days to come – something a gardener should never be!
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Modern Stained Glass at Glasnevin

Plans are afoot to visit Dublin in Ireland once again this Spring. I went last April and the weather was glorious – it is a nice thought anticipating some spring warmth. The highlight then was the day spent at Glasnevin, the city’s botanic gardens.
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Like many events in life, it is often the unexpected that remain at the forefront of the mind and so it was at Glasnevin. The glasshouses and plants were, without saying, spectacular but a complete surprise was a small exhibition of modern stained glass work.
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This first piece of five panels is the work of Mary Mackey, based in County Cork. I love the colours and mix – to me it is a blend found in mountains in the fall (odd how, for an Englishman, ‘mountains in the autumn’, doesn’t sound as expressive or as romantic!). However, much of Mary’s work is inspired by the sea and this particular piece is titled ‘Sea-shushed Secret Places’. Painted and sandblasted, the strong colours used still have a swirling, dream like quality about them. Perhaps it is the light coming through the piece that allows this contradiction. Mary, in her own description of her work, tells of how she sees a flash of landscape: “…. fleeting images in real time, but in my memory the image is sharply focused, connected witha particular place, a particular time…..stored and enriched by treasuring it…..until at least something of that essence is achieved“.
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Debbie Dawson’s tryptich is totally different. Bold, square panels, they convey great strength and depth. Also based in County Cork, Debbie’s work is entitled ‘Like a Door Opening’.
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I also loved the strength of Emma O’Toole’sArchitectural Element’. Made from sheet glass, cast glass and concrete, it was unique at this exibition, with the feel and look of a sculpture. It brought back happy memories of a winter in Canada, years ago, exploring an ice ‘castle’, each battlement carved with its individual decoration of a native animal. Coming from relatively mild England, I had never seen anything like it before – it was a surreal experience. And that is the joy of art, it can transport you to places or events long forgotten or, perhaps, even not yet happened. . . .
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Chinks Grylls ‘Highlight Red‘ is an etched mouth blown glass piece. Four individually hinged panels remind me, depending on my mood – or perhaps how hungry I am – of Saharan sand dunes or rashers of bacon waiting to be cooked…. Chinks Grylls works from south west England, an area which is rapidly becoming a centre for modern glass work.

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I know that when I return to Glasnevin it won’t be the glasshouses that I shall visit first. I will make a beeline for their exhibition hall in the hope that some other equally pleasurable experience awaits me.

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Glasnevin: Beyond the Glasshouses

There is a lot more to explore in Dublin’s Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin than just the glasshouses which have been described in an earlier post. As expected, it’s 27 acres boast a wide array of plants and at this time of year the bright colours of the spring bedding and rhododendrons are a welcome sight after the long, grey winter we have all suffered.

Beyond this glare of colour and at the highest point of the garden is the pinetum, where sunlight is filtered through the dark, pendulous branches of this conifer, whose name I have already forgotten.

A multi stemmed Thuya would be an asset in any garden but few could cope with the size of this one. It is surprising when seeing a tree of this stature, to think that when clipped, Thuya make a fine hedge.

But perhaps the most outstanding tree at Glasnevin is the Montezuma Pine. Originating from Mexico (hence it’s name), it stands at the very brow of the hill, shining in the sunshine like a beacon. Seen close to, the irridescent, radiating needles give the branches the appearance of chimney sweeps brushes.


Never very far away from the magnificence of the ironwork glasshouses (upper photograph), it was a surprise to find this abandoned range of timber glasshouses (lower photograph). Awaiting funding for restoration, the faded, peeling paintwork and decaying architecture had a quiet dignity of its own. I loved it.



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Glasnevin: Dublin’s Botanic Garden

No horticulturist or lover of gardens and plants should miss visiting the botanic gardens at Glasnevin, situated not far from the heart of the city of Dublin, southern Ireland. The 27 acre garden is also a quiet, green refuge for those just seeking beauty and peace away from the bustle of city life.


One of its greatest attractions has to be the magnificent ironwork of the glasshouses. The Palm House, built in 1884, dominates the garden yet it is the Curvilinear Range that was pioneering in its structure having been built almost 40 years earlier in 1848.




The smallest insectivorous plants to the mighty palms themselves find a home within these buildings. A walk through the houses is one of contrast, not just in leaf texture and flower colour, but also in temperature and humidity.


insect catching sundews

an insectivorous pitcher plant

Perhaps one of the finest flowering plants was this pale pink Protea, so typical of its type, although I was rather taken by this relatively tiny, deep pink version too, with which I was quite unfamiliar.




The Jade Vine, Strongylodon macrobotrys, was another plant that was totally unknown to me. It’s luminous, turquoise, metre long pendants of flowers looked quite eerie hanging high in the canopy – if it had not been for the fallen petals glowing on the floor they would have gone unnoticed. The plant, which naturally grows in the forests of the Phillipines, rarely sets seed when grown in these conditions as it has to be physically damaged by a large pollinator (what, I don’t know).



The sunniest day of the year so far ensured that light falling onto the plants revealed them at their finest, especially when the leaves were backlit – every photographer’s dream!


The gardens, themselves are deserving of attention and exploration and these will be featured shortly.

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