Thursday, April 26, 2012

Early April at Great Dixter

I have returned from my adventures at Great Dixter and hit the ground running here in Vermont. With an early, dry spring here there has been a lot to do out in the gardens. It has felt great to be back with my month at Great Dixter at my back and I seem to be bursting with ideas. This week the rain came, finally, giving the plants and soil a much needed soak and driving me indoors. It has been nice to take a few moments to look back on my month...
Above: Spirea thunbergii with Tulip 'World's Favorite'- a very good tulip with a name that doesn't quite do it justice!

This might be one of the least exciting photographs except for the fact that Rachael and I cut the edge of the kitchen drive after weeks of construction work was being done in this area. Maybe this one needs a 'before' shot?!

Opposite the kitchen drive garden, looking up into the peacock garden. The Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' is still standing strong and a remaining teasel (Dipsacus fullonum).

The kitchen drive garden looking glorious with the purple Aubrieta (in the Brassica family, who knew?) blooming with the vibrant yellows of the various Euphorbias.

Tulip 'Daydream' is an all time favorite and one that Fergus Garrett was particularly fond of. In its early stages the flower is a  rich, buttercup yellow but as it ages it turns to a creamy orange.

Here is 'Daydream' in its orange phase, slightly bent over after chilling temperatures the night before.

Tulip 'Negrita' seen in flower at the top of the Long Border.

The High Garden remains my favorite place (I think...), especially in the morning light.

This is a very nice cross cut view of the orchard garden and seen from a slightly unusual angle..

This was the project Fergus put Rachael and I on in my final hours of work. We had to make three trips for three different ladders (this beauty is about 20 feet tall) before we managed to get it right. Ilex x altaclarensis 'Golden King' is a stately thing, seen from many angles of the garden and house, it catches the morning and evening sun, creating a vertical pillar of a shining golden light. Rachael and I, after a month of working together, pulled it off. We looked at this shrub from all angles and managed to both work on opposite sides, meeting at the top. Phew!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Making Ladders (and Friends)

On Monday and Tuesday evening, the students and Fergus, stayed late working until dark to make ladders. Like everything at Great Dixter, these were made from the raw stuff of life! Chestnut poles harvested in the Dixter wood, split, shaved, drilled, and assembled into beautiful, character-rich ladders! It was intensely satisfying to make everything by hand from start to finish. I wanted to able to finish mine before I left, so I made a very short ladder. It was very... cute and perfect for my cat Patrick.

Above: Students James Horner and Yannic Boulet with Craig Pharo just after splitting their chestnut poles. Craig is one of the many amazing people here at Dixter. He works in the shop doing all sorts of jobs, including building beautiful shaving horses.

Students (and roommates) Rachel Dodd and Emma Senuik drilling holes for the ladder rungs. Emma is from Pennsylvania and was the first North American Christopher Lloyd scholar and is here for a year. Rachel is from Wales and is the current Christopher Lloyd scholar, also here for a year. These two are amazing women, gardeners, and friends!

Fergus hard at work on his ladder

Yannic Boulet is a student from Belgium and this is his second or third working/learning trip to Dixter. He is the one who knows the history of this place like the back of his hand.

Rachel at the shaving horse

James Horner, from Yorkshire, has stayed on for another year after his first year as the Christopher Lloyd scholar. This group of students have been the most motivating bunch to work with. I have learned so much from all of them and their dedication to this garden and the work they do is commendable. They are always happy to answer questions, share what they know and think, and they all know so many plants! I feel very lucky to have been a small part of this group.

The side rails

Fergus's very nice ladder and my very short ladder

I do not feel like I can bring the ladder with me on the airplane, so I am leaving it here, leaning up against the smallest tree I can find...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Starting From Seed

 Great Dixter has an incredible plant nursery. Not only do they sell top notch plants, most of these plants are grown in the gardens at Dixter or started from seed (and often the seed is collected from the garden). Of course this is the way most nurseries operated, but as with most of the good things in life, this down to earth way of doing things became less and less cost effective.  

At Great Dixter the gardening and nursery staff work in tandem and often there is much overlap; gardeners will dig and divide plants, bring the divisions to the nursery to be potted up for sale. Perennials are divided, trees and shrubs are propagated, and seeds are sown- all from the Great Dixter gardens. This same type of work is also put into growing on plants to use in the garden. The gardeners seed thousands of seeds, prick them out, pot them on, etc. to eventually be planted out as annual or biennial bedding. This is the real secret to the glorious self-seed biennial show seen at Great Dixter! Seed is collected (or seedlings), brought to the nursery to be sown or potted. They will be transplanted and nurtured, sometimes for over a year, before they are planted out in the garden again. 

There is a lot that goes into this process. First of all is the soil mixture. Yesterday Emma and I mixed two new experimental batches of soil mix, one with some sort of fiber added and the other with charcoal, as alternatives to using peat. Then we pricked out Nicotiana mutabalis into four plug trays (that is 384 nearly microscopic seedlings), two with regular potting mix, one with the fibrous mix and the last with the charcoal mix.

Above: The Long Shed potting bench where the students and I sowed seeds all Saturday afternoon

Students James and Yannic sowing seeds

After the seeds are sown, places are found to put them. Here they sit in the hot house, waiting to germinate.


A few days later....
Each day everyone eagerly checks in on how the seeds they sowed are doing. Starting from seed really helps you learn your plants, you just have so much contact and interaction with the plant from the very beginning.

The hot house is coveted real estate so more often than not seedlings are placed in one of these double frame cold frames.

After the seedlings are big enough they are potted on to plug trays, once they have out grown this size, they move on to bigger pots.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Views of Great Dixter

The Long Border sprouting up

Pulmonaria 'Diana Claire'

Magnolia stellata opening up

One of Christopher Lloyd's winning combinations of the Maiden Hair fern unfurling amongst the thick glossy leaves of Colchicum.

Spirea thunbergii in white with blood orange tulips underneath

The High Garden with Magnolia 'Galaxy' peeking over the hedge

A favorite bench in the High Garden

Unknown white iris blooming in front of the incredible early blossom of Euphorbia characias 'Portugese Velvet'

Tulips emerge in the High Garden, the lush green mound on the right is Hedera helix 'Poetica Arborea'

Tulips in the Long Border...

The Circular Steps planted with Tulip 'Ile de France' with blue forget-me-nots

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Orchard Meadow

The Orchard Meadow is the most stunning meadow planting at Dixter. It is larger than the Topiary and front entrance meadows, but I think that its rolling downward slope that gradually gives way to the surrounding fields is what makes it so beautiful. Also it is packed to the brim with numerous Narcissus and these days they are at their peak performance. This is the place to sit at the end of the day and take it all in.  

Corylopsis spicata flowering in time with the daffodils. Reminds me of a similar combination at Gravetye Manor with the yellow azalea backed by a field of yellow daffodils. 

You can really see the shapes and sweeps of plantings

Looking up at the Long Border. The Primula 'Crescendo Bright Red' and the bronze red of the spirea really help set off the yellow.