Oh, to be in Lincolnshire!

NGS Open Gardens for charity

• Ashfield House, Sunday 14th April, 11am–4pm. Lincoln Road, Branston, Lincoln LN4 1NS.

John and Judi Tinsley, 07977 505682, john@tinsleyfarms.co.uk. 3m S of Lincoln on B1188. N outskirts of Branston on the B1188 Lincoln Rd. Signed ‘Tinsley Farms – Ashfield’. Follow signs down drive. Adm £5, chd free. Light refreshments. Visits also by arrangement Apr to Oct for groups of 20 to 30. Wheelchair access via grass paths.

• Burghley House Private South Gardens, Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th April, 10am-4.30pm. Stamford PE9 3JY. Adm £10, chd £8.50. Pre-booking essential.

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
April 2024

Steffie Shields celebrates nature’s new life as our countryside begins to bloom.

Look around, celebrate new life! Hallelujah! Revel at dazzling clouds of white blossom and azure blue skies.

One adjective in use since the 16th century, despite its Latin and French origins, ‘verdant’ conjures up our English countryside in April. As trees respond to more daylight, now is an exciting time to visit gardens and woods.

Goodbye to darkest winter ‘deadery’ (the latter is not actually a word, but it ought to be!). Pollinating insects are making a beeline for flowering plum and pear with branches in festive dress, as if giant bouquets held up high in celebration.

‘Bouquet’ is also old French, or possibly Germanic, with a double meaning today: either a celebratory bunch of flowers or a fine fragrance. It is said to stem from ‘bosc’ meaning ‘forest’ or ‘wood’, those areas where armies of gardeners once toiled to control nature.

Decorative vessels, pots and urns were introduced in outdoor garden rooms to show off plants to perfection. The resulting organised parterres, groves and orchards were much praised for their beauty and prized for their perfume, flowers and, later, fruits.

Elegant planting
On a glorious spring afternoon last April, I joined Lincolnshire Gardens Trust members in the gardens at Mere House, Sturton by Stow. Our hostess Alice Grey has an eye for detail. Her elegant planting ideas are worth emulating.

We found countless numbers of fragrant Narcissus ‘Winston Churchill’ encircling every apple tree in the orchard with a striking broad and floriferous collar. This unusual, creamy-white double daffodil sprinkled with orange segments has the RHS Award of Garden Merit. Many more featured at the feet of espalier fruit trees spread-eagled across two enclosing and warming redbrick walls, one either side of the patio.

By limiting all daffodils in view to the one variety, ‘Winston Churchill’, Alice has introduced a sprinkling of history together with a uniquely positive and cheerful unity. Somehow the lichen verdant, budding branches of her ‘manicured’ orchard trees seem to echo the World War II prime minister’s famous ‘V for victory’ wave, well-remembered and understood in Bomber County, and now regarded as a ‘peace’ sign.

Peaking in the greenhouse, I was bowled over with a heavenly perfume thanks to a frothy cascade of summer-flowering jasmine. Further on, a newly laid garden offers a romantic view north to St Mary’s Minster Church at Stow, framed with gorgeous groves of cherry tree mirrored in a large lily pond.

Planning a recent family wedding, Alice’s choice of tree was likely swayed by the trees’ label: ‘Prunus Ichiyo’ (RHS AGM) also known as ‘Prunus Pink Champagne’. The young trees had light bronze-green young foliage on uplifted branches that were fizzing with pendulous long-stalked clusters of double, shell-pink flowers, full of promise.

Alice has garlanded the foot of every tree in this new area with a bright white ring of ‘Star of Bethlehem’ flowers, a perennial known as Ornithogalum nutans. Strap-shaped leaves with a silvery-central vein set off delicate racemes of fragrant, nodding, bell-shaped white flowers bearing a green stripe on the outside of every petal. I was reminded of the blossom tree ringed with pure white hyacinths near the dovecote in the walled garden at Little Ponton Hall. Here again was delicious icing on the cherry!

Notice how many deciduous trees spread out their branches in distinct V-shapes, either growing naturally or trained by design. This becomes pronounced when branches are pollarded, or cut back, at about six feet, or coppiced, that is chopped, down to the ground every few years.

Careful management creates certain calm amongst nature’s chaos. By taking out dead or thick, unsightly, overly woody stems of shrubs and roses, pruning promotes rewarding verdant, vigorous new growth and flowers.

Try to imagine flowering trees, shrubs and plants as giant vases, as you endeavour to govern their shape and trim growth with gentle discretion.

One spring morning, I was delighted to discover, way above my head, darling fresh blossoms on my Norway maple, Acer platanoides ‘Drummondii’. For two whole weeks in April this tree is covered in minute flowers which appear before its large, five-lobed, variegated leaves. I suspect most folks seeing a haze of lime-green assume, wrongly, as I did for most of my life, that such trees are just coming into leaf.

Looking closely with the long, 80-200mm lens on my camera, I was mesmerised by a single inflorescence. A cluster of about 30 miniscule yellow to yellow-green flowers on a high, bare branch, each tiny bloom with five sepals and five petals, admired only by passing birds and squirrels, all beautifully displayed, a miniature verdant bouquet held in a precious Versailles vase.

Must-visit gardens
Be it local public park, village green or churchyard, there will be no shortage of verdant spaces all over the county to enjoy this month. Many historic gardens will be re-opening to the public.

Last year, Grimsthorpe Castle’s Jim Handley, head gardener, showed off specimen white daffodils individually spaced out, rather than in clumps, in a giant circle around each medlar tree in the famous potager.

For enchantment, Springfields Festival Gardens is hard to beat. Andy Boynton, head gardener, experiments with a different design theme each year with a wide selection of early, mid, and late-flowering bulbs.

If you’re an avid gardener, you might like to compete against dedicated horticulturists from across the country in the Spring Flower & Garden Show on 13th and 14th April run by Spalding Horticultural Society.

Find all necessary details online including entry form, fees, access information and regulations for exhibitors. The show features a diverse range of competition categories: Open, Novice, Youth, Garden Society, Miscellaneous, and Herbaceous Plant Sections.

Put the stunning landscape garden and arboretum at Ashfield House in Branston, southeast of Lincoln, on your ‘must-visit’ list. A walk amongst 140 flowering cherry trees and 30 magnolias underplanted with thousands of spring bulbs will be a memorable, joyous experience.

You might remember the artist David Hockney celebrated the arrival of spring in his 2012 Royal Academy exhibition A Bigger Picture. Among his most memorable paintings were those of shimmering white blackthorn and hawthorn blossom along the pastoral lanes of his native North Yorkshire.

Now living in Normandy, and still far from retired, he has revelled in painting a much wider variety of blossom trees. There’s plenty of apple, pear, plum and cherry blossom in this county David!

Time to live in the moment. Share some Easter happiness by picking a bunch of flowers from your garden for a friend. Meanwhile, as we are due to fly off to visit family in the USA, I will be paraphrasing the first line of Robert Browning’s nostalgic ode, ‘Home-Thoughts, from Abroad’: ‘Oh, to be in England, Now that April’s there…’, with ‘Oh, to be in Lincolnshire now that April’s there…’

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