the seasons in the lifehouse gardens
Starting with snowdrops (Galanthus spp), crocus and winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis), which give way to great clouds of the Mediterranean Scilla (Scilla bifolia) whose grey-blue flowers cover the Rock Garden and Wilderness. Thanks to Gertrude Jekyll, we think, the woodlands adjacent to Spa are filled with English bluebells Iin late April - early May. They are the most obvious survivors of the very early woodland garden; others can be found, such as examples of Jekyll’s polyanthus hybrids, and the Bulgarian leek (Nectaroscordum). Later in May the Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata) flowers beautifully at the corner of the Sunken Garden, accompanied by the splendid pink-purple Judas trees and the creamy, fragrant blooms of the Osage Orange (Poncirus trifoliata). The latter is a reminder of Lady Byng’s American travels, the former earlier elements of the first terrace design. Irises provide elegant blooms though the terraces and alongside the water edges.
A succession of attractions from the early herbaceous borders and Wilderness flowers - Salvia, Linaria, Allium, Crocosmia and Hemerocallis and many more that appear, or are planted to increase the floral effect - to the roses and late borders. Kniphofia gives way to Rudbeckia and then Hydrangea in the Sunken Garden; Lilies to Colchicum in the Wilderness.
During the Autumn a contrasting palette of reds, oranges and browns explode into colour as the Liquidamber, Swamp Cypress and Persian Ironwood come into their own. The Wilderness gives a display of grasses and flower seed heads all reflected in the clear water of the lakes. The best time to visit the gardens is on a misty morning to experience a true feeling of serenity and calm.
As the days shorten and the air chills, the gardens become a winter wonderland of crisp white and grey silhouettes, giving a dramatic backdrop to the colourful stems of trees and shrubs. On occasion the lakes freeze and provide a mirror like effect of the surrounding scenery. The animals and birds of the gardens can be seen more often as they search for sustenance during the winter months.