Notes from a riverside garden – March 2019
Our blog post today is from SB with more of her interesting observations from her beautiful garden on the banks of the River Stour. We hear of her spring planting plans, including planting some delightful witch hazels which will provide colour next winter.
The recent spell of unseasonably warm weather brought some early visitors to the garden. A butter yellow brimstone butterfly was seen on the 23rd February and a peacock butterfly sunning itself on the house wall. Several types of bee were out feeding on the flowers of the crocuses and Pulmonaria. We have several Pulmonaria plants dotted around, sporting white through to the vivid blue flowers of ‘Blue Ensign’, which are extremely popular with bees on warm days.
At the bird table either a marsh or willow tit was feeding on the seed mix. According to our bird identification book it is extremely difficult to tell them apart. It was a fleeting visitor as I have not seen it since but we very much hope a pair will be nesting somewhere in the garden.
The dead stalks of the nettles etc. that grow along the upper parts of the riverbanks have all been scythed down and removed to the compost heap. We use a scythe as it seems more appropriate than an intrusive and harsh strimmer along the riverside. We do not cut the reeds but keep above them maintained at this time as it keeps the area manageable. Soon it will be a mass of wild plants including willow herb, hemp-agrimony and of course nettles. We encourage the wild plants on most of the riverbank areas only keeping the more formal areas clear so that we can enjoy the view of the river from the lawns.
We purchased some new plants for the garden at our annual early spring visit to our favourite garden centre at East Bergholt. We have redesigned a corner in a terrace area beside the house. The assorted pots of ornamental grasses, all of which have seen better days have been removed and we have replaced them with a large terracotta pot containing a Magnolia soulangeana. We also snapped up a Chaenomeles (Japanese quince) with an apricot coloured flower to grow against a wall in our formal garden. We already have a fabulous deep pink Chaenomeles which is currently giving us a splendid display. Then we succumbed to three Hamamelis (witch hazel). On the island we have a group of five Betula papyrifera (Canoe birch), which have a pale orange-brown bark, Corylus avellane ‘Webbs Prize Cobb’ are planted behind them. We intend to plant the witch hazels which are mollis and varieties ‘Barmstedt Gold’ and ‘Arnold Promise’ at the front to give, in time, a blaze of winter colour to accompany the catkins of the hazels. I have been inspired to plant more witch hazels by a recent visit to the delightful Green Island Gardens at Ardleigh where they have a large collection of witch hazels adding such form and colour to their garden in winter.
We frequently hear the otters whistling to each other after dark in the millpond. The kingfishers are regularly seen, a fabulous blue streak accompanied by a high-pitched whistle. I was blessed with one sitting on the hedge immediately outside our study window, I have never seen one so close before and the colours were incredible. It was a brief rest for the kingfisher and then it flew off across the millpond to its usual hunting spot on the fallen willow. SB