Our first visit this year, on 25 March, was to Evenley Wood Garden in Northamptonshire. This replaced the usual snowdrop visit in February. This lovely 60 acre private woodland was bought from the Evenley Hall Eatate, 30 years ago, by Timothy Whiteley. He had discovered that one third of the area is acid soil in mainly alkaline terrain. This would give him the opportunity to grow the rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias that he loved and underplant with drifts of bulbs.
The initial impact of the wood was of lightness and airyness. The tree trunks stretched upward, tall and straight like telegraph poles, and the sun slanted through, casting long shadows. There was no dark undergrowth so it had a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. The spaciousness was enhanced by wide rides and paths, cutting through the trees. The rising ground was gentle, so there was no sense of making an effort to climb up the hillside.
It was lovely to see shrubs like pieris growing to their natural size, rather than the constrained, somewhat prissy versions, that you often see growing in suburban gardens.
The "wow factor" at this time of the year was the stream of intense blue scillas meandering through the woodland. There were clumps and swathes of narcissus; I was particularly taken with Narcissus "February Gold" and "February Silver". My latest "must have" plant is Narcissus cyclamineus which is low-growing with a striking long flower tube and swept-back petals. The scale and proportion of the planting groups was generous and totally in keeping with their surroundings.
Other bulbs in flower were cyclamen and giant pink chinodoxa and there were also clumps of hellebores and primroses.
Mr. Whiteley likes to be around to welcome groups but, unfortunately, had a hospital appointment. However, we were made very welcome and were shown round in two groups. The group that I was in was led by a delightful and knowledgeable young woman from the Czech Republic.
I would love to see this woodland garden at a different time of the year - earlier for snowdrops or later for bluebells. And, in summer, with climbing climbing roses, such as "Paul's Himalayan Musk" scrambling through the trees. We were told that there were 120 different varieties of rose growing in the woods, with the latest project to plant a glade with many more. It will be a wonderful sight.
Our day was, as usual, topped and tailed by an excellent lunch - this time at the "Red Lion" at Evenley and with tea and home-made cake, eaten on the fringes of the wood.