The Quiescent Landscape

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‘Heartwood’, Bradgate Park, Leicestershire

Winter Song


Wilfred Owen

The browns, the olives, and the yellows died

And were swept up to heaven; where they glowed

Each dawn and set of sun til Christmastide,

And when the land lay pale for them, pale-snowed,

Fell back, and down the snow drifts flames and flowed.

From off your face, into the winds of winter,

The sun-brown and the summer-gold are blowing;

But they shall gleam with spiritual glitter,

When paler beauty on your brows falls snowing,

And through those snows my looks shall be soft-going.


Bradgate Park, Leicestershire

Like the trees, I begin to truly burst into life as the days start to lengthen. Penning this, winter solstice approaching, I look forward to that first moment, often around mid March, when I can stand in the garden, close my eyes & hold my face to the sun & feel its warmth gently radiate across my skin. My inner spirit, like the sap within the trees, starts to rise & come to life. I have always been free-spirited & often find winter restrains, stifles & sometimes can even suffocate this fire within me. Even the requirement to don a tightly buttoned up coat, socks and boots mean I can’t physically move with the freedom I want to, let alone feel the earth beneath my feet! I do acknowledge this is probably sheer poppycock to most but to some of you out there I know you get where I am coming from!

I do therefore grab every opportunity I can to be outside, either in my garden or observing & exploring my favourite landscapes: The Vale of Belvoir, Bradgate Park, Beacon Hill, The Lake District, Dartmoor or my ever beautiful North Cornish coast, even if it is in a coat or indeed a winter wetsuit!!


Winter bracken on a February descent off Fairfield Horseshoe, Lake District

The Winter landscape is indeed a thing of ethereal beauty. What remains once the winter winds have stripped the trees of the last few tenacious leaves & the birds devoured the dwindling supply of berries may well be a skeletal landscape, but it is a beautiful one. Mother Nature may be resting, taking a well earned breath, but the silhouettes of the landscape she gifts us set against our winter skies can be breathtaking.


From my garden – Ilex aquifolium (Holly)


Fennel seed heads

With winter & the absence of the summer greenery, I feel the skies are bigger, more expansive. I love the sense of space this brings especially when at the snowy 873m summit of Fairfield, my favourite Lakeland Fell. The sense of emptiness & void is inherently calming and I begin to understand the need for Mother Nature to just take time out to rest, recharge & quietly catch her breath. Perhaps I to should take heed of her ebb & flow & follow her rhythmic lead!


Fairfield Horseshoe, Lake District

With the absence & distraction of spring, summer & autumnal foliage, previously hidden colours, textures & forms come to the fore. The vivid greens of algaes & lichens on the north side of trees & clefts of branches are discovered or the fractal forms of bracken & ferns, accentuated by a hoar frost, are observed more keenly.


Winter, Bradgate Park, Leicestershire

As winter marches on I will try to echo the words of Owen in his ‘Winter Song’ & allow my inner self to be sprinkled with ‘spiritual glitter’. Without doubt, to be able to sparkle is so much, much more preferable than to be stifled ✨✨✨💚💚💚


The Lake District & an abundance of wintery sparkle! 






Lend me your eyes; I will change what you see

This weeks pickings for the vase

 I love to have my eyes opened to the new, irrespective of whether it is the joy of seeing or experiencing something for the very first time or perhaps observing something known but in a fresh or revolutionary way.  That being said I have always been inherently drawn back to plants that are very much informal in their makeup, I suspect because I am at my happiest when connected to beautiful wild spaces that owe their beauty more to Mother Nature’s serendipitous ways rather than any thoughtful planning. I have a fondness for plants which hold their delicate flowers in dainty clusters on top of long, willowy stems. Plants that are airy, loose and transparent. Plants that have an ethereal beauty. Plants that are uncompetitive, understated and whose personality isn’t wired towards the stamping of feet and screaming ‘look at me, look at me!’

And so I had closed my eyes to Dahlias, blinded by my own preconceived ideas that they belonged to a distant gardening era. They were old fashioned, ornamental, garish, brash even and certainly had no place in the naturalistic planting design I felt connected to. Then a few years ago while indulging in a few ‘me’ hours at the renowned Cotswold Garden Flowers, my eyes rested upon a sumptuous flower of the deepest, richest maroon. It wasn’t flamboyant in a shouty ‘look at me’ sort of way but it definitely had presence, a voice. Petals, iridescent and silky in texture, formed a perfect Fibonacci spiral. I had been seduced and my seducer, a most handsome fellow indeed, Dahlia ‘Arabian Night’!

Dahlia ‘Arabian Night’

My passion for this Genus of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and its 5000+ cultivars shows no sign of abating and it is a ‘proper’ joy to browse the suppliers catalogues and websites searching for next seasons tuberiferous treasures! In the last few years my haul has amassed to 15 cultivars – some old favourites and some newbies. This year I am particularly enjoying ‘Thomas Edison’, a giant cactus form with vivid magenta/purple blooms. Reaching 1.2m high with flowers up to 15cm in diameter it is very long lasting and has proved a magnet for pollinating insects, especially bees.

Dahlia ‘Thomas Edison’

One of my greatest and simplest joys is to fill my house with flowers from the garden so this year, border fork in hand and a barrow load of earthy organic matter, I created a dedicated cut flower garden to nurture more of these beauties with their gorgeous, vivid, clashing colours and forms. They are definitely not without their needs, but I wouldn’t call them onerous – garlic infused water and dishes of beer to keep the aphids and slugs at bay and a weekly dose of liquid organic seaweed will reward you with a garden and subsequent vases overflowing with cheeriness.  Tubers are lifted after the first frost, cleaned and then over wintered in trays filled with a virtually dry mix of compost and sand in a cool, but frost free environment until spring. On lighter soils, in milder areas, I have clients who never lift them and they thrive year after year.

From the cutting border left to right: D. Ambition, D. Sylvia, D. Rip City, D. Downham Royal


I am already planning next year. Top of the wish list are some fiery oranges plus a more restrained, Dahlia in the guise of Dahlia ‘Verones Obsidian’, a member of the single orchid class (sometimes referred to as ‘Star Dahlias’). They are characterised by having an open star like flower whose petals curl inwards. She is without doubt a minimalist sort of girl compared to some of her more flamboyant cousins – delicate and airy with small flowers on top of wiry stems. I will experiment, placing her amongst the naturalistic schemes I favour, quietly nestling alongside my Thalictrum, Sanguisorba and Fennel.

Dahlia ‘Verones Obsidian’

Thankful that my eyes have been opened to this colourful and characterful Genus, I will continue to enjoy their presence in my garden. Whether or not it is a fleeting or more lasting relationship only time will tell, but for now I will embrace the mantra of just enjoying the ‘moment’ along with the joy and smiles they bring. 💚

Below are some suppliers I have used to source Dahlia tubers:


Halls of Heddon

Sarah Raven

Rose Cottage Plants

National Dahlia Collection


The Plant Lovers Guide to Dahlias, Andy Vernon ISBN: 9781604694161


National Dahlia Collection


Dahlia Festival 3rd September 2017, Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire