Balancing the trudge back to work with the optimism of a brand new year.

Acer griseum at Bluebell Arboretum, but more about that later.

One minute you are locking arms with strangers, singing Auld Lang Syne and full of optimism and hope, at the prospect of a whole new year stretching out before you. The next, the alarm is ringing rudely and it is back to reality with a jolt.

January itself is very like the end of the Christmas holidays. Full of optimism with seed catalogues dropping through the door, days dry enough to potter outside coupled with the doom and gloom of the dark and wet. Sadly so far this year we have had only a smattering of cold clear days the main weather trend has been mild and grey. Here’s hoping for some proper winter soon.

One of the jobs I save for January is the compost heap. It keeps me warm and helps burn off a few christmas pounds. Today I emptied out the well rotted compost, turned the working pile into a new space and worked and covered over the pile which should be ready to spread just before spring. I can definitely feel I had two weeks off. The roses and the greenhouse beds will thank me later in the year though I’m sure.

It was a productive day in the garden in other ways too. I found the fork in the compost heap and the saw in the border.

One of my new features for this blog in 2020 is to take a trip out once a month to visit a garden. I really should be doing this anyway but very rarely get the chance. I am hoping this is the impetus I need to put aside some time for me and my gardening knowledge. I hope you will enjoy following my trips.

And so it was, I found myself as the only visitor to Bluebell Arboretum in Ashby de la Zouch on a sunny Friday afternoon. Whilst still a relatively young arboretum, with the planting only starting in 1992 there is plenty to see with many unusual specimens spread over the 9 acre site.

One of the first plants to catch my eye was the emerging buds on this Daphne. I may have to make another trip very soon to catch the fabulous scent I could only imagine. The woodland shrub was well established towering well over my head and spreading about the same. I have only seen tiny struggling Daphne odora in derbyshire gardens but this Daphne bholua ‘Jacquline Postill’ although needing shelter from cold winds was thriving.

Next, was an evergreen climbing Hydrangea, Hydrangea seemanii. It is a native of mexico which like the Daphne, with protection from cold winds has proved perfectly hardy in Derbyshire. It is scrambling through a tree at the arboretum but would cover a sheltered wall or crawl along the ground if there was nothing to climb. It has white flowers in the summer.

There were a plethora of Betulas (Do you need the plural s with latin?) looking stunning showing off their stems in the sunshine.

It was hard to know which way to turn next with so many lovely plants to see. There is a suggested route at various points but it was so lovely having the place to myself and being able to wander back and forth. I am sure there are many times of the year when it will be much more crowded, I was making a mental note as I sauntered, of all the times I would need to return to the garden. There were several Magnolia and Cherries with swelling buds so that is two more trips at least before spring! Don’t worry I do plan to visit other gardens too but I may add the odd update of this garden through the year as I follow its progress though a whole year.

Staying with the theme of colourful stems. There were the usual suspects for winter interest with the Acer griseum and snake bark maples. Acer negundo ‘Winter lightning’ which due to its pruning I mistook from the other side of the garden as being a Cornus or Salix. I should imagine the size of the leaves increases due to its pruning regime. Maybe another thing to return to check. For now, the stems looked stunning in the winter sunshine.

One Acer that stood out for a different reason is Acer freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’, a Canadian-US maple with fab autumn colour, which it had long since shed, but unremarkable grey silver bark. Why it is worthy of mention then, because it was playing host to some Mistletoe.

There were a couple of unusual Oak trees that caught my eye. The first stands out because it is evergreen, Quercus semecarpifolia is a rarely cultivated tree in the UK. It originates from the mountains and can be found from Afghanistan to China, it has been found growing 10,000 feet above sea level. Its glossy green leaves are still very recognisable as an oak though.

The other Oak I found was an Armenian oak, at least this one must be slightly more common as I did find it in my Collins tree guide. Quercus pontica is a tiny oak tree by our native standards. Small in stature, only ever reaching large shrub or small tree levels but it has large leaves and at 10″ it’s catkins could rival a Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’

We mentioned Cotoneasters before christmas. I have since learnt that there are five different species of Cotoneaster on the Schedule 9 list of The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which are listed as invasive species not to be planted in the wild. Which means we should also think about their use in gardens and how they may spread to the wild. However this Cotoneaster is not on the list and has a very striking colouring. Some Cotoneasters do have a red colouring, that comes into odd leaves in the winter, or when they are old and dying off but this was a beautiful dark red colour with mottled brighter red variegation. Cotoneaster ‘St Monica’ its foliage is green during the spring and summer and takes on the red tints as the weather gets colder. It is semi evergreen so may lose its leaves in a particularly cold spell but it will tolerate a wide range of soils and conditions.

I can really go no further without mentioning confers at this point in time. There were a few very interesting specimens planted around, even with my reluctance to appreciate the plant type. Before I get on to individual plants, there is a very clever visual guide to the size of some of the giant redwoods in America. A ring of redwoods has been planted with a young tree in the middle. The outside circle, which you get one side of, in my picture, represents the diameter of some of the trunks measured in the US. Simple but clever as it really gives you an idea of the vast size a Redwood can reach.

Whilst I found the three conifers above striking for their colourings it was this Swamp Cypress, Taxodium distichum ‘Cascade Falls’ which grabbed my imagination by appearing Entlike, as if just about to stride off over the stream and away into the distance. There are signs of new growth on the bottom branches which show how mild it has been so far this winter. John Tradescant, the famous plant hunter, originally introduced Taxodium into Britain, but this is a recent cultivar, which will not reach the dizzy heights of the 150m tall specimens Tradescant must have encountered on his travels.

One last conifer to attract my attention was a Pine with the longest needles I have seen.Pinus Jefferyi, named after another plant hunter John Jeffery who sadly disappeared whilst on his travels in the Colerado desert.

There were the usual suspects sparkling at this time of year, Sarcococca, Garrya, Hamamelis and Lonicera. There were a couple of Liquidambar, one in full autumn colour mode still and one Liquidamber sty. rotundiloba which is evergreen although it is supposed to change colour in Autumn. The leaves are much more rounded, similar to a fig leaf. For long lasting berries on a Sorbus, it looked like Sorbus Hupehensis ‘Pink Pagoda’ would be a good bet as it was still covered in pink berries.

The last few points of interest for me, on this visit anyway, were a Viburnum plicatum ‘Popcorn which was nicely out in flower with Bijou creamy white blooms on bare stems but no real scent to write home about compared to my favourites carlesii and bodnantense ‘Dawn’. Newly planted in 2019 was a beautiful Camelia with flowers resembling Apple blossom, Pink on the outside and white on the inside. I don’t know whether the flower size will increase as the plant matures but I hope not as they are perfect the size they are now. Camelia sasonqua ‘Navajo’ is an early flowering plant so blooms are expected anytime from October, It does benefit from sun and warmth during the summer months to flower well.

This conifer, I found fascinating. I am not sure you get the full feeling of seeing such a contrasting fastigiate shaped tree surrounded by many trees of spreading habit. I never did find a label, even though there are at least a couple of specimens growing. Always the way, when ever you go round a garden I find. All the plants you recognise have labels and the ones you don’t never do.

I thoroughly enjoyed my wander round Bluebell arboretum and will definitely be returning later in the year. I hope you enjoyed a little glimpse of the plants on offer and maybe inspire you to take a trip too. Until next time, I wish you all a healthy and productive 2020 and look forward to many Happy Days in the Garden x

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