Since mid-January our winter has been quite hard with a very heavy snowfall taking down a number of trees and badly damaging others. There is still some clearing up to do but we are nearly there and we are also getting into the early spring work. On good days the garden is alive with bird song and squirrel activity. If you have a good sense of smell there are already plants giving off lovely but often subtle perfumes.

This month and next the garden comes alive with flowering bulbs. Early in the month a number of different species and hybrid snowdrops, Galanthus flower throughout the garden along with their near relative, snowflakes Leucojum vernum. There are 2 species of beautiful butter yellow winter aconites Eranthis and the first miniature daffodils Narcissus minor and N. cyclamineus can be seen growing happily at Nos. 2 & 10. There are different Crocus along with Cyclamen, Scilla & Muscari especially in the top area of the garden. Please also look on the slope behind the house where a number of bulbs are naturalising. Towards the end of March, the first Trilliums & Fritillaries should be in flower. Look out for white T. ovatum, usually the first to show especially in the bed opposite the car park and T. chloropetalum var giganteum, a very large Trillium up to 40cm with highly mottled leaves. The first Dog’s Tooth Violets, Erythronium revolutum, should also be in flower by mid-March. The large stalks (some over 3 metres) of last year’s seed heads of Cardiocrinum giganteum, the Giant Himalayan Lily, can still be seen in position throughout the garden. Many visitors say they look like Venus Fly Traps!

The Stinking hellebore or Dungwort Helleborus foetidus, grows prolifically throughout the top half of the garden and has been flowering since late January. The Lenten rose Helleborus orientalis and their subspecies have a large range of flower colour from almost pure white, to pink, to red and some are highly spotted. All are very beautiful, lasting many weeks to be followed by attractive seed heads. There are other species of hellebore to be found in the garden including H. purpurescens and argutifolius.

Cluny is famed for its Asiatic primulas. Amongst the first to flower is the pale blue-pink Primula hoffmaniana with the unusual feature of propagating by runners with next year’s flowering plants on the end of each runner. There is a large carpet of it below the viewing platform on the lawn and below the path at No 19. Towards the end of the month rich purple P. bracteosa, pinky-purple P. gracilipes, yellow P. strumosa and the various blues of P. griffithii will all be coming into flower.

Now, before the leaves come onto the trees, is the time to appreciate many of Cluny’s evergreen trees and shrubs and also to be aware of the structure of the garden. The first rhododendrons flower in March but as we can still suffer from severe frosts at this time of year, the flowers can be badly damaged. At the far end of the lawn, the Cornelian cherry Cornus mas with its umbels of yellow flowers is in flower for many weeks. Wonderfully scented evergreen Mahonia is found in different places in the garden. A large one is one the left between Nos. 30 & 31. Its bright yellow flowers contrasting with the dark green sharply toothed leaves. The first Daphnes are flowering, particularly D. mezereum and D. laureola the former with pink/purple scented flowers, the latter with yellow-green slightly scented flowers.

Around Nos. 18,19,20, there is a large spreading carpet of Pulmonaria or Lungwort with flowers of various hues of purple and blue, and varied amounts of leaf spotting. Dotted throughout the garden are clumps of white/cream Cardamine enneaphylla (nine leaved toothwort) and purple Cardamine pentaphylla (showy toothwort) rhizomatous perennials from cooler parts of southern Europe. Another European woodland genus very slowly increasing in the garden is Hepatica related to Anemone. The various species have delicate and beautiful little, white, purple or blue flowers.

You should easily see one of our resident Red Squirrels. They can regularly be found feeding on the bird feeders around the car park area and at this time of year heard running up and down the trees. Please speak to one of us if you have not been lucky enough to see one. Going quietly around the garden can be very rewarding. There are plenty of garden birds especially on the feeders including various tits as well as a party of Long-tailed Tits, Siskins, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Blackbirds and Robins. The Great-spotted Woodpeckers have been heard drumming while Mistle Thrushes, Great and Coal Tits been singing their hearts out on mild days. The first Song Thrushes returned on the 25th February. Look and listen for Buzzards mewing overhead as well as “cronking ravens” or perhaps even a Sparrowhawk. Jackdaws have been guarding their chimney nest sites all winter. There are two resident Brown Hares having little nibbles (where they perhaps shouldn’t) and stoats with one still in its ermine coat at the end of February.

We have path repairs to do, bark to spread and wood to transport up from the bottom half of the garden. Any open spaces are being planted up with herbaceous plants such as primulas or meconopsis, and young trees or shrubs. We are clearing away dead plant material from the beds and covering them with a layer of 2 to 3 year old leaf mould to suppress weeds and provide nutrients. Meanwhile in the potting-room, we are re-potting and splitting up herbaceous plants for sale.