Monthly Archives: February 2014

Gardening in a Cold Climate by Tommy Tonsberg

Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii' - Monkshood covered in frost - © Tommy Tonsbery/GAP Photos

Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’ – Monkshood covered in frost – © Tommy Tonsbery/GAP Photos

An old Norwegian gardener who sometimes gave talks abroad, used to take great joy in telling the them that; ”The problem with growing plants in Norway is not to get the plants to root into the glacier, but rather how to keep the polar bears from knocking them over”. It is off course not as bad as he made it out to be, and actually we don’t even have polar bears in Norway. What we do have on the other hand are freezingly cold winters. In the east country where I live it is not uncommon for winter temperatures to drop to – 20 C for severeal weeks at the time. This limits the range of plants we can grow, but it also offers opportunities for growing some real gems.

Crocus chrysanthus 'Ladykiller' - © Tommy Tonsbery/GAP Photos

Crocus chrysanthus ‘Ladykiller’ – © Tommy Tonsbery/GAP Photos

Snow can cover the garden from November – December to the beginning of April. Even though the snow acts as an insulating layer, keeping the worst of the frost of perennials and small shrubs, it also keeps most gardeners from getting round their gardens in winter time. It also keeps the bulbs and early perennials dormant, so that when spring finally arrives, it arrives with a bang.

Hardy bulbs will do very well in cold climates and comes into flower as soon as the snow melts. Because the winter is so long all norwegian gardener long for the first signs of spring, and what better to wait for than the many forms of crocus.

Planting dahlia tuber in spring - © Tommy Tonsberg/GAP Photos

Planting dahlia tuber in spring – © Tommy Tonsberg/GAP Photos

Summers are usually short and intense, so any possibilty of starting your annuals or containerplants inside or in a greenhouse wil greatly increase the flowering period. Dahlias are frost tender and has to be stored in a frost protected shed or basement over the winter here in Norway. Pot up the tubers in March – April and grow them on in a greenhouse before planting them out when the danger of late frost have passed in June. The dahlias will keep flowering from July – August and into September when the first frost usually puts and end to them.

Meconopsis betonicifolia syn bailey - Himalayan Blue Poppy - © Tommy Tonsbery/GAP Photos

Meconopsis betonicifolia syn bailey – Himalayan Blue Poppy – © Tommy Tonsbery/GAP Photos

One of the perks of gardening in a cold climate is that we can grow really good Meconopsis. The Blue Himalayan Poppy comes from the Himalayas and are accustomed to cold winters. Meconopsis baileyi is one of the more commonly grown of the big blue poppies and has large, sky blue flowers with petals almost like silk. Like all Meconopsis it enjoys a moist soil that never gets waterlogged. The Meconopsis genus comes in several different colours like red, purple, white, yellow and pink, but the blues are probably the most loved. And when it comes to blues the variety ’Jimmy Bayne’ is one of the most radiating blue we grow.

Clematis viticella - © Tommy Tonsberg/GAP Photos

Clematis viticella – © Tommy Tonsberg/GAP Photos

The cold temperatures in winter means that sometimes trees, shrubs and climbers get damaged. This happens quite frequently with severeal of the large flowered hybrids here. Because of this they never reach an impressive size. It is far better to grow the Viticella hybrids. They are extremely vigorous and bloom on first years growth, so even if they freeze back to ground level they will regrow in spring and bloom heavenly in late summer.

Tommy Tonsberg

Tommy Tonsberg

Tommy Tonsberg

Tommy Tonsberg lives and gardens in Norway where he is in the process of starting a plant nursery. He supplies both text and photos for severeal Norwegian publications and is the author of several gardening books.

View his collection on GAP Gardens by clicking here.

Veddw House Garden by Charles Hawes

The paradox of living in a house within a garden that has a high international profile is that, until quite recently, it has tended to take the back seat as far as my photography is concerned.  I juggle a full time job as a social worker (working at night and at weekends), with my garden photography (where my interest is really in whole gardens rather than individual plants) and a continuing commitment to actually work in our garden.  In that juggling act it is hard to find to prioritise photographing my own garden.

Partly this is also because there are few magazines and newspapers that have not already featured the garden – in the UK at least- so placing the pics is not so easy. But there is also the fact that because I know the garden intimately and live with it as a constant background to my life, in some ways I find it difficult to “see” the garden with the fresh excitable eyes of a photographer visiting for the first time.

Winter changes all this.  Then the weather has the ability to transform the garden into somewhere new and magical, even to me.  Heavy snow changes everything. The hedges, weighed down by the think white blanket, bow and sag. The trees and shrubs change form and shape to become strange organic blobs and the sharp distinction between what is path and what are beds or borders is lost.  The impact of heavy frost is not so dramatic but can be just as exciting.

What doesn’t change when photographing gardens in winter is the need for good light. On a grey overcast day those snowscapes will not “sing” no matter how clever I might be with Photoshop (and I am not that clever). And unless there is sun catching the frosted surfaces those architectural shapes and frosted outlines can look pretty dull.  I have the additional handicap at the Veddw of our garden facing  North and the slope of the surrounding hills means that for two weeks around the shortest day the sun never appears above the horizon.  Time to have a lie in. And around the equinox the useful hours of daylight are very short indeed.

Fortunately we have a climate that can give us sharp frosts from November to March and snow might come any time in this wide window.  Then, if I am at home and not needing to catch up on sleep and if the sun is in the garden and if I have not already booked to be in someone else’s garden I might well throw on my Salopettes, don the long socks and the wellies and get out there, excited again about what new ways I can find of seeing the garden.

Veddw House Garden is open to the public, to find out more information please click here to go to their website.

Charles Hawes by Anne Wareham

Charles Hawes by Anne Wareham

Charles Hawes lives in Monmouthshire and is co-creator with his wife, garden writer Anne Wareham, of their internationally acclaimed garden, Veddw, in Wales. Charles contributed all the photography to “Discovering Welsh Gardens”, which was published in 2009 and was short-listed for the UK Garden Media Guild “Book Photography of the Year” award. He also supplied all images for “The Bad Tempered Gardener” by Anne Wareham which was published in 2011. Charles is a keen long distance walker and blogs about this at

Growing Helleborus

Helleborus orientalis - © Pernilla Bergdahl/GAP Photos

Helleborus orientalis – © Pernilla Bergdahl/GAP Photos

Hellebores provide large, striking blooms from mid-winter to mid-spring. They often have a nodding habit, which is a pleasure in its own right, as it encourages you to cup individual blooms, giving you a chance to pause and admire their intricate details. The petals can be veined or speckled in shades of pure white, vivid lime green, pale pink, rose red and even slate black. When used as a cut flower, people often simply snip the heads off and float them in a bowl of water.

Helleborus x hybridus - © Tommy Tonsberg/GAP Photos

Helleborus x hybridus – © Tommy Tonsberg/GAP Photos

Though rarely troubled by pests, hellebores are choosy about their position, preferring freely-draining, humus-rich soil, ideally in dappled shade. They will bloom best if given a rich feed (such as well-rotted horse- or chicken-manure) after flowering, and again in autumn. Also get into the habit of removing the old, drooping leaves every spring by cutting them back at the base. This allows air to circulate around the plants, offers a better view of the blooms and also helps to avoid fungal infections. Put the leaves on the bonfire rather than on the compost heap.

Cotton bag tied round hellebore flowers to collect seed - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Cotton bag tied round hellebore flowers to collect seed – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Hellebores have a reputation for being tricky to grow from seed, but in fact they self-seed readily, and you’ll also find it quite easy to propagate them this way as long as you harvest the seed when it is really fresh and sow it right away. If you do want to store seed put it in a polythene packet, not an envelope, as you don’t want it to dry out.

Digging up self sown hellebore seedlings with a trowel to replant elsewhere - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Digging up self sown hellebore seedlings with a trowel to replant elsewhere – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

You can also divide large plants, but ensure you cut them into big pieces with plenty of buds.

Helleborus x hybridus 'Ashwood Garden Hybrids' with Cyclamen coum - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Ashwood Garden Hybrids’ with Cyclamen coum – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Helleborus foetidus (stinking hellebore) and Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) have both been given an RHS Award of Garden Merit, so these are a great place to start if you haven’t grown them before. Don’t be fooled by the names – the Christmas rose is rarely in bloom before mid January, but the plants can carry on blooming for eight to 12 weeks. At around 30cm tall, the flowers are often upturned. Helleborus foetidus is up to 80cm tall, with plenty of nodding bell-shaped blooms, often with purple lips. Again the name is misleading as the flowers don’t smell bad at all – be warned however that the fresh foliage is quite pungent if you tread on it by mistake. Helleborus orientalis or Lenten rose is the name given to many of the hybrids. Typically in bloom from February to April, they tend to grow into neat mounds around 45cm tall and wide.