Garden Blog | December 2016
The gardeners’ Christmas Balls at Deene Park are the message to the household that we are nearly there! The Great Hall at Deene looks truly stunning and very jolly indeed once the enormous green baubles are hung and showing their splendour to all who enter.
It takes the two-person gardening team two whole days to gather the necessary plant materials and assemble them into shape before hoisting them high into the air.
The team begins by fixing together a couple of large hanging basket frames filled with dry florist’s foam to form spheres into which all the plant materials will be attached. Having learned the lesson many Christmases ago, the foam needs to be dry or the balls are far too heavy to manage, move and hang.
Firstly, the base is created by hanging Chaenomeles fruits on garden twine in a cluster surrounded by dried Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ flower heads, interweaved with purple-leaved sage.
The rest of the frame is then covered with sprigs of aromatically scented bay. Once the foam and frame are covered, they are decorated with the beautifully bright coloured stems of Salix and Cornus, as well as Rosa and Iris foetidissima berries. The final decoration is a few more dried Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ flower heads; a traditional sprig of Mistletoe and the creations are complete. Raising the balls and securing them requires multiple extra pairs of hands, but once up, they are quite the statement!
Additionally inside the house, the Narcissus ‘Paperwhite’ that we began to force a couple of months ago are in full flower and bringing a delightful scent and floral flash to the rooms. Although white in their flower, they still lift the rooms in the same way as more brightly coloured blooms do on a dark winter’s day.
In the garden, this month is mainly spent pruning and preparing for next season. The roses are all to be pruned. There are so many roses in the garden borders that this task takes the team several weeks to complete. On the Parterre, we are extending a climbing rose along one of the walls by taking two long extension growths, with one of those further dividing, thus creating a tri-track extension across a wall that stretches about 5 meters. In time, these extensions will fill out to produce a wall of white roses.
There are a couple of plants preparing to burst into bloom in the garden already. Wintersweet or Chimonanthus praecox, with its rich scent, and waxy, translucent yellow flowers, are almost ready to flower early in the New Year. On a still day, when the weather is mild and the winter sun bright in the sky, the scent of this plant is completely delightful. Wintersweet thrives with shelter and warmth. Grown against a south facing wall, the summertime sunshine beats down on our Wintersweet plant. Warming the wall all day, once the sun drops the wall releases its heat back onto the plant: the perfect place for this beautiful plant to prosper.
Never to be outdone, the Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is also ready to burst into flower. This beautiful purple bloom is held in early Spring above leaves that have a notable cream outline.
This year we are required to hard prune much more than normal along the south face of the house, as the scaffolding is due to arrive any day to begin the significant work to the roof of the main house. The climbing roses have been pruned as normal. However, we have taken to hard pruning as many shrubs as possible to protect them from the base poles of the scaffolding and the boots of its operatives!
For example, the Abelia grandiflora has been taken right back to near ground level. Luckily, the pretty, delicate, pink flowers, which bloom in the autumn, respond well to being taken back to just above the ground, so there is no concern about damaging this plant.
Numerous other plants in these borders, however, do not respond well to being hard pruned. The Magnolias, which are far too beautiful to butcher, will be left in their fullness, carefully trimmed only if the scaffolding dictates this necessary.
The third category of plants is that still in flower right now. For example, our Sarcococca or Winter Box. This year’s scented white flowers appear alongside the blackberries of last season’s fruit. On a bright day, this bloom fills the Parterre with its heady scent. Although this plant will accept being pruned back, it seems such a sadness to cut back a flowering plant, so this decision will be taken in counsel with the scaffolding team!
So many beautiful pods, seed heads and berries are still around in the gardens and naturally in the hedgerows. Such a fantastic time of year to go exploring! If you have gardening items on your Christmas list, we hope Santa delivers for you. We will be back in January as we begin the journey towards our Snowdrop open days in February, and the beautiful walks that these days provide for so many people; one of our favourite times of the year. Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year to you all.