Green Island is now an RHS Partner Garden
It's been a while since I wrote a blog, in fact nearly 3 years! Much has happened at the gardens since the last entries which were during the pandemic. During that time, we had to adapt the business by offering mail order service for plants which we have continued with. We have also added a large terrace the other side of the tearoom, which this year will extend into the marquee making it an ideal place to hold private functions. Our 2 National collections of “Hamamelis” and “Autumn and Winter Camellias” have continued to grow, and flourish despite the terrible drought of last summer and the freezing weather this winter, but the most exciting development for me has been that we have been accepted as an RHS Partner Garden as of this year!
We have applied for this honour several times in the past but were always met with the answer that “We have too many already in Essex!” How can you ever have too many I wonder? But anyway, it has been a long process, having applied in 2021, we were assessed in May 2022 and in August we were given the good news that we had been accepted for 2023, but were not allowed to announce it until the start of the year after the RHS had made public their list for the coming year.
I did not really know what this would mean for us in terms of our profile and visitor numbers, and we are still feeling our way, however for me with the first 2 months of free admission for RHS members to the gardens having just ended I have so enjoyed sharing the garden with so many genuine gardeners and real plants people. It has been a reminder for me of why I continue to do all this work on the gardens for what is not a financial gain. It is a life's work and a labour of love; and over that last couple of years as my body has really started to protest and remind me that it is not getting any younger I have started to question the future of the garden and how long I can physically continue to do the work? The feedback from the RHS member visitors most of whom came specifically to see the National collection of Hamamelis has been so positive with so many saying it exceeded their expectations, with numerous people commenting that we have more snowdrops than Hyde Hall, Beth Chattos and even Anglesey Abbey. This tells me we must be getting it right! February is genuinely one of my favourite months in the garden, the Hamamelis are just stunning from mid-January onwards, this year 2 of my newer varieties have really impressed with the brightness of the spidery blooms and longevity of their flowering season. Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Basma' is the first with its flowers that open a lovely rich yellow with flecks of orange and red maturing to a more orange colour, and the second flowering a little later is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Tosca', which has almost coral coloured blooms quite different to any of my other cultivars.
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Basma'
Early flowers above, and as it matures below.
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Tosca'
It still looks stunning as I write this in the first week of March. I just wish that more of them were available commercially. It has been a great season for Hamamelis, they have flowered prolifically (I wonder if this is in response to the drought we had last summer?) and, with the dry weather throughout their flowering season the blooms have stayed totally unspoiled. In addition, I have noticed very different colours on several cultivars this year. For example, Rubin which is a red coloured cultivar, opened red as usual and has matured to a really orange colour painting a very different scene in the woodland.
From February when the carpets of snowdrops appear and the Daphnes are throwing out their delicious sweet fragrance the garden is a true celebration of spring and all that is good about it and is just such a joyous place to be. February is one of the times of year that I can afford the luxury of being able to walk around the garden and just enjoying it for what it is rather than being overwhelmed with all the pressing jobs that need doing urgently. I am still, in my mind redesigning certain areas as I walk around and noting things that need to be done, but often they are not urgent and can wait for warmer weather, so I can linger and enjoy the fragrance, or stop and just listen to the birds for a moment or two.
The snowdrops seem to have been more beautiful than ever this year, again due I think to the dry weather. The driveway is a picture as the blooms have stayed white instead of being splashed by mud as the passing cars spoil their beauty in other years. My collection is developing, not so much in number of cultivars but those I have are multiplying and I have been able to plant out small clumps of many different varieties so that our visitors can enjoy them as well. It is such a sad reflection of today's society that we have to plant them near to the house to deter opportunists from helping themselves to the bulbs, such is the commercial value of rare varieties these days. I have to pinch myself to actually believe that one bulb of Galanthus plicatus ‘Golden Tears' sold last year for £1850.00 on ebay!
Sadly, I do not own one of these myself!!
The other showstopper in February is Daphne bholua ‘Jaqueline Postil'l about which I have written many times in the past. However, this year we had successfully propagated lots of plants of varying sizes. I have been astonished at how they have sold, it seems like we are just about the only nursery in the country who have had any plants available for sale. They are notoriously difficult to propagate and are done from root cuttings. Nurseries are generally reluctant to stock them and certainly will not give any guarantee as they do have a slight tendency to flower themselves to death, so flower prolifically for several years and then, as if for no apparent reason just keel over and die. This would never discourage me from planting more, and in fact as Sarah Raven once said she believed that all gardens should have a Daphne planted every 30 yards! I am still working on this ambition for Green Island, but daren't work out how many Daphnes in total this is going to require! I am adding more bholuas as I find they are the easiest and most reliable to grow. Hopefully we will be propagating more for sale this season.
Daphne bholua ‘Jaqueline Postill'
All the above-mentioned plants are still in flower along with many other fragrant winter flowering shrubs, spring bulbs, clumps of Iris, Crocus and now daffodils, along with another real beauty in the Japanese Garden, Prunus mume ‘Beni-chidori'. I have it trained against the wall and the bright pink cloud of colour cannot fail to brighten up any dull day. On closer inspection the typical ‘flowering cherry' blooms are more beautiful than any others I know and have the added bonus of giving off a sweet almond like scent. After flowering I just cut back any branches growing outwards from the wall to keep it in check. It is in fact a Japanese ornamental apricot although I have yet to witness it producing any fruit!
Prunus mume ‘Beni-chidori'
My hope is that as we progress through the year more RHS members, many of whom have said they had never heard of Green Island Gardens until we were featured in the February edition of the RHS magazine will continue to visit us. The RHS will be promoting some of our events this year such as the Bluebells Bazaar in May which is great, however I have to say I am a little nervous that I may not be able to cater for the additional number of cakes that may be required. So, if you are thinking of visiting on the weekend of May 13/14, don't leave it until the end of the day. In order for the gardens to keep going we do need more visitors, but that is not the prime motivation for me personally. I just like to share the obvious pleasure people take in visiting the gardens and appreciating the variety of planting we have here. But for now, thanks to the RHS we have been put on the horticultural map with a lot more people.
I'm not sure when I will write my next blog instalment but I promise it won't be as long as since the last one. So, until then happy gardening!