It felt like we had encountered two seasons in one day when we set out to record the items for this week’s programme.
At Woodlawn Garden Centre In Crossgar big diggers were scooping up small mountains of snow, at Barbara and Jonathan Pilcher’s in Saintfield the car wheels compacted the snow into ice so we had to be dug out (thanks Jonathan) while on down the peninsula the famous micro-climate at Mountstewart meant that there was barely a snowflake to be seen.
It all came as a bit of a shock to the senses but heigh-ho, gardeners don’t mind a bit of weather as long as it doesn’t harm the plants, indeed some plants love it and what’s more it is positively good for the soil.
To break ourselves in gently though we began indoors at Woodlawn talking about houseplants, and as the snowploughs got on with their satisfying snow scooping we chatted to Garvin Wylie about what’s in vogue, what’s easy to care for, how to show them to best effect and crucially, how to keep them healthy and happy.
And the showstoppers for me were an Anthurium “ Bugatti Red” with glamorous Italian red spathes and flowers, cool Peace Lilies with creamy white spathes and softer finer foliage, a bank of soft maiden-hair ferns looking lovely arranged en masse and an array of “pretty as a picture” dainty little African Violets.
When everything outside is chilly and un-welcoming (unless you are 10) houseplants really come into their own don’t they? And for a modest outlay you can bring colour and life into your kitchen, bathroom, living room or hall.
It was the kitchen which called us next though as we made our way, albeit a bit gingerly, to Saintfield and Lisdoonan where Barbara and Jonathan Pilcher’s lovely garden was invisible under a blanket of snow. So, as the cars parked us at the bottom of the drive, we crunched up towards the house to find coffee on the stove and trays of seedlings and pots of young plants on the table in front of us. Before we could start though we were happily distracted for a minute or two by one small robin and one equally small fieldmouse (regular visitors) darting about on the snowy bank on the other side of the window to feed from the small stone bird table.
Back to the matter in hand though as Barbara talked us through growing micro-greens, the next step for hearty broad bean shoots and why strawberry plants like the cold. You can hear what she had to say if you go to the Radio Ulster homepage and follow the links to listen again or better still podcast the entire programme and listen at your leisure.
Our next stop was Mountstewart to have a chat with Neil Porteous about the gardens there at this time of year and eventually we set off, but not before Julie had to crunch back up to the house to call for help in the shape of Jonathan and a shovel. It was a case of free at last and in no time we felt as if we were in another time zone entirely as the famous micro climate at Mountstewart meant that barely a flurry of snow had fallen.
We made our way past the back of the house which is undergoing major refurbishment, toward the sunk garden where one of the garden team was busy pruning climbing roses and clematis and getting to grips with the essential tidy up which begins at this time of the year. With so much garden to garden it’s important to get going early.
In fact pruning took up a fair bit of our conversation with Neil and all around us as we talked the lovely distraction of early spring plants in full flower. Lovely creatures like the spidery Witch-hazel, the spiky yellows and greens of the Mahonia and the species Rhododendron, their pale or deep pink pom-poms looking fresh and fine in the thin wintery light. An even though it may be January, a perfect place for an inspiring winter walk.