A Treat at Great Dixter

Great Dixter Snowdrops and Giant Fennel

Friends of Great Dixter were invited to a post- Christmas event at the end of January to join Fergus Garrett, students and staff. Warm spiced home-made apple juice and biscuits were available for refreshment and the archives were open for those who had not already seen them. We were welcomed into the Great Hall where a huge fire crackled and students created a ladder from chestnut poles gathered from the surrounding area. Outside, Fergus demonstrated how, using a traditional A-frame and tools, chestnut poles could almost perfectly be split ready for use. Of course, the highlight was being able to look around the gardens at a time when they are not usually open to the public. For those who have watched Fergus’ lectures on successional planting, the practice was evident in the canes laid out on the soil. Fergus’ favourite giant fennels were already unfurling and the gardens were positively covered with Galanthus Atkinsii, both of which are clearly visible in the photograph above. An added bonus was that the day was sunny and moderately mild. What a treat.

Pat K

Our unique Garden

Just before Christmas I posed a question for everyone, asking what you think make Charlton House Gardens unique. I had a good number of replies, and I’m pleased to report that most of you DO think they are unique! But I have had a real challenge trying to consolidate them into a single idea.

Here are just a few extracts from your replies:

  • “The gardens are rooted in their sense of time and place, where you can imagine them as Jacobean gardens but where you can also see modern day planting. There is a passion and desire to keep these gardens relevant for future generations.”
  • “The House is an architectural gem, whose early inhabitants played a significant role in the revolutions of the seventeenth century; today, the gardens are an oasis of beauty and peace in the midst of the urban sprawl of London.”
  • “The gardens are small but contain as diverse and exciting planting as you might expect from a much larger space.”
  • “The gardens are public but very community focused, beloved of local gardeners creating fabulous displays and running special events.”
  • “Not unique, but certainly rare, in that they still have the atmosphere of the Jacobean age. Planting with a “nod” to the Jacobean era.”
  • “An unexpected historic oasis in a desert of modern housing”
  • “They play to a sense of history and yet have a contemporary design adapted to change of climate.”
  • “Unique because they are community-run but following professional design principles.”

So, at then end of all that, let’s go with:

Charlton House Gardens: an historic oasis of beauty and peace in the midst of the urban sprawl of London, where local volunteer gardeners work together to ensure the gardens stay beloved and relevant for future generations.

If you can say it better, please let me know!


Snowdrop fever

As Anna writes in the latest Newsletter, January and February are the months for snowdrops.

Galanthus nivalis - common snowdrop
Galanthus nivalis – common snowdrop

Joe Sharman, the owner of Monksilver Nursery and who has come to be known as ‘Mr. Snowdrop’ has produced a variety called ‘Golden Tears’, described as ‘A narrow-flowered yellow pterugiform with a very large mark and bright yellow ovary. Very beautiful and distinct.’ The bulb apparently sold for £1,850.

A few years ago, I visited the Snowdrop Sensation weekend at Great Comp where a number of specialist snowdrop growers had stands. Some very beautiful varieties were selling for £100/£100 a bulb. I thought this a bit of a stretch and compromised, buying one for £10.00. I have watched this like a hawk each year, willing it to grow. There would be a great many tears and gnashing of teeth if I bought a more expensive bulb and lost it. I cannot imagine what one would do with a bulb worth £1,850.


OPG diary – January 2021

4 January
While taking down the Christmas wreaths, we spotted all these in flower in the garden. The Sarcoccca (sweet box, bottom left corner) smells wonderful.

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19 January
Doing a weekly check in, here is the most beautiful Lenten rose, Helleborus orientalis, in the Sensory Garden. Not a rose at all, it is a member of the buttercup family.

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26 January
Another check in visit, snow still lying on the ground today, there are surprising frost pockets in this garden, although it is all clear by the walls.

Snow in the Old Pond Garden, Charlton House, January 2021
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Foxy footprints giving away the culprit! Our teasels have all been teased to bits, we wish Mr Fox would just go back to chewing the plant labels..

New Year’s Resolutions

I hadn’t really thought about a New Year’s resolution for 2021, apart from the one that most of us have in the forefront of our minds at the moment: test negative, stay positive. (Sent to me in a Christmas card by a friend). But as we get closer to the end of January, to move forward into the year without one seems a bit neglectful.

I was therefore interested to read about the drive to encourage people to save seed and to encourage seed saving communities to develop. One of the few upsides of the lockdowns over the past year has been a huge boost in demand for seed. The argument is that this “grow your own” revolution re-diversifies seed crops and provides more security for not only our seed supplies, but food in general.

Josie Cowgill, one of the women who works with the Stroud Community Seed Bank in Gloucestershire sums up the impact of seed-saving in the context of 2020: “It’s difficult times we are living in. We have got a pandemic, we’ve got climate change, we’ve got biodiversity loss, habitat loss and economic collapse as well. It might feel quite small, just saving beans and growing your own food, but actually I think it is really fundamental. By doing something infinitesimally small like this tiny little gesture in a tiny little group, in a tiny little country somewhere, you are working towards something that makes you feel more hopeful. It’s a positive step. I’m not saying this is a magic wand or a cure-all, but it’s a positive step.”

Former ‘Bake Off’ winner Nancy Birtwhistle claims we have been ‘brainwashed’ into believing we need harsh chemicals to clean our homes. In an interview with her, what caught my attention was the amount of plant-based materials she used. It sounds miraculous, but she swears by ivy as a laundry detergent (about 60g, cut up and put in a muslin bag, then put in the drum). “It excites me so much; my husband thinks I’m crackers. I knew in the depths of my memory something about ivy and saponin [a natural foaming detergent], so I Googled it. Conkers have it as well.” (Although we should remember that ivy can be a skin irritant for some people.) In the autumn, she collects conkers and boils them up to create a creamy laundry liquid. (Nancy Birtwhistle’s book Clean & Green is published on 21 January by Pan Macmillan £12.99).I’m prepared to give this one a try, but have visions of a ‘green’ wash in a way I did not intend.

Food for thought.


Members’ gardens, January 2021

Winter aconites and snowdrops looking happy in Vija’s garden. (For once, an example of some flowers that are blooming at the right time of year!)

Something to look forward to: Jillian has lots of babies off her Billbergia nutans, which she has potted up for sale to members, for when we can finally meet again. It’s common name is Queen’s Tears or Friendship Plant. She thinks the small plants should be big enough to flower this year. This isn’t a picture of her own plant, but something to aspire to! A challenge..

Some unusual flowers out in Angela’s garden – here is a Penstemon thinking it’s still summer, and the Anisodontea, African Mallow, has ignored the recent frosts and carried on.

Maggie has been out and about on her daily walks, and says that the daffodils down near the O2 are all coming out. A lovely sign of Spring, and a good walk along the Thames side.

The photo below might remind us all to ensure there are gaps under the fences in our gardens. There is a trend to use concrete gravel boards at the base of new fences, and while they are wonderfully sturdy and long-lasting, spare a thought for the wildlife! Frogs and toads need to travel between gardens and water sources. It’s really easy to push a trowel under the gravel board and make a little underpass for them, it makes all the difference.

Happy Dahlias, in bed for the winter, covered with a lovely blanket of Christmas tree branches!

What’s in flower in YOUR garden? All these in Kathy’s garden on January 3rd 2021, they don’t seem to know it’s winter. Although it’s a bit tatty, there is even a blue Lobelia flower, what’s that about? If you have more, send them in to feature here.

Clockwise from top left: Hellebore, Mexican fleabane, Cobea Cup & Saucer, Clematis Wisley Cream, Bergenia, Geranium “Pino”, Rose Bonica, Fuchsia Hawshead, Geranium Regal
Salvias: Neon, Black & Blue, Tangerine, Hotlips, Pineapple and Amistad
Teucrium, Wallflower, Parahebe, Lobelia and Primrose