Waiting For Snow

It has been a terribly long wait since The Priory had snow enough to show and tell: a five-year wait.  The Beast from the East didn’t bring huge amounts of snow to my corner of Sussex; but if we were spared the havoc meted out to parts of the Kingdom, we had sufficient for me to lose several day’s pay.  But on Wednesday morning the skies cleared and keen to see The Priory wearing her rare cloak, Jim and I braved the roads to drive the half hour from our home, left the car on the road and walked down the drive.

Snow over the Priory (1)

A four-by-four might have coped with this icy slope the day before,

Snow over the Priory (2)

but I know from bitter experience that an ordinary car might not.  An hour of side-sliding and back-sliding in my own car, with spinning wheels under a pall of burning rubber, tends to stick in the mind.  As do memories of The Priory’s owner’s car marooned down below for several days.

Snow over the Priory (3)

Looking back up the drive

At -3.5ºC it was bitterly cold for Sussex,

Snow over the Priory (4)

but as I emerged from the wood and gazed down over The Priory a lazy, northerly sent the temperature way down further still, to well below my boots.  (In Yorkshire an icy, cut to the bone wind is called a Lazy Wind.  Too lazy to go round you, it passes straight through).

Snow over the Priory (5)

There was precious little warmth from bright sun above Margaret’s fields.

Snow over the Priory (21)

In the gardens, the snow wasn’t as deep as I’d hoped for nor the trees as smothered.  But it was exciting to see the place under a decent mantle again; with gusts of wind whipping up flurries to quickly bury footprints.

Snow over the Priory (6)

Unsurprisingly, the east pond was frozen;

Snow over the Priory (22)

icicles clung from greenhouse guttering;

Snow over the Priory (7)

and naked oak branches were picked out beautifully by white dusting;

Snow over the Priory (15)

their undersides lit up by reflection from the snow.

Snow over the Priory (8)

I set out on a well trod, anti-clockwise circle of the grounds,

Snow over the Priory (9)

and crossed the footbridge for a good view of the house.  I wondered momentarily whether the ice was thick enough for me to walk across … but nah.  I wasn’t feeling quite brave nor foolish enough to try.

Snow over the Priory (10)

As I stood focusing my camera on some pollarded willow still in need of pollarding, a mandarin duck shot out noisily from under the bridge beneath my feet.  Being of a jumpy disposition, I jumped (and possibly squealed) and only just avoided slipping forward and testing my walking on ice quandary.

Snow over the Priory (11)

Across the meadow now, with a few sorry-looking daffodils poking through into the sunlight.

Snow over the Priory (12)

I crossed the second footbridge in the footsteps of a couple of foxes who hadn’t bothered to skirt the vegetable beds.  Lazy foxes, like the wind.  No matter, garlic and onions have yet to emerge.

Snow over the Priory (13)

And so to the west pond with Despondent upended on its bank.  She’s lain there since a house-guest recently paddled out on to the water for an adventure.  He was underwhelmed by the experience, I think, and even more so after needing a hand from a forelock-tugging-gardener to regain the shore.

Snow over the Priory (14)

February Gold narcissi have let me down again.  Were they renamed March Gold, I need never be disappointed.  But here February Gold always flower in March.  Or rather, once – once! – in nine years have they done what they promise and started their show in the very last days of the second month.  March Gold would be a truer name or Very Occasionally But Let’s Be Honest Hardly Ever Really February Gold.

Snow over the Priory (16)

I’ve pruned the apple trees already, so that happy task is done for another year – but it irks me that I missed the little twig top right.  Why is the inconsequential so stupidly annoying?  Or is that the stupid are annoyed by the inconsequential?  (No need to answer the second point).

Long tailed tit

From the trees, I hang five bird-feeders.  I waited for birds to come and feed despite my proximity.  As I could no longer feel my feet, I couldn’t wait long but then one fidgety long-tailed tit did so – before he and his gang bobbed away in that curious, charming, undulating flight.


Up by the greenhouse is a sixth feeder.  My caged robin has fattened up handsomely and I really ought to fish him out and stick him under a pie crust.   But he will be sweeter yet after another few days.

Snow over the Priory (17)

Looking back – Margaret’s fenced pond with the greenhouses behind

With little gardening to be done on a day like today, Jim and I set out southwards, uphill to Margaret’s farm.

Snow over the Priory (18)

We passed a small flock of her sheep … whose interest in us evaporated at our obvious deficiency in hay or sheep-nuts.

Snow over the Priory (19)

More sheep watched us hopefully as we approached the yard, on our way to coffee in the Aga-warm kitchen.


But first we loitered by the barn where, snug under cover, stood Margaret’s new ram.  He’s an imposing, fearless chap and I like him enormously.  He’s wearing a raddle – a huge crayon, if you like, that indelibly paints the back of any ewe he has attended to.  He’s probably rather proud of leaving his mark of love on the flock.  The flock, I imagine, less so.

Margaret’s animals almost always bear fine, resolute names.  There were her rams Digby and the mighty Cyril.  Her bulls – Lawyer, Picton, Envoy, Emblem and Wellington.  (I’ll gloss over poor Petal’s name.  Bless him.).  So what do you think the new ram might be called?

Beowulf would suit.

As would Thor, Maximus, Horatio or Achilles.


But you’d be wrong.

Hi, Kevin.

January Ice

We’ve had no snowfall yet at The Priory but we have had plenty of the next best thing: hard frosts under bright, blue skies.


The drive leading down to the house

On one of those sharp, sunny mornings last week, I grabbed my camera and strolled about the garden.  Here are a handful of images which might show why The Priory is so special to me, even in winter.


The last time I took you on a tour of The Priory gardens (see – A Garden Tour: The Priory in July’) I started through the incomplete beech arch onto the east lawn.  This time I’ll go through the main arch (above) leading to the front door.


No I won’t – I’ve changed my mind.  I’ll pass instead under the second of the three arches – minding my step on the murderously slippy brick paving – through to the west lawn .


It hasn’t rained much recently (for Sussex, for January) and the water level on the west pond is low.  Despite sustained wasp attacks during my autumnal strimming schedule, I eventually completed all the cutting back, including on the island.  But the task was not without mishap.


One mishap happened as I gingerly crossed to the island through the muddy water.  (The pond was just shallow enough for me to cross without boat nor waders … or so I thought).  Stinky pond water in my Wellington boot is not a favourite thing.  Wet stinky pond socks aren’t either, especially with no spares.

Another mishap was strimming yet another bloody wasp nest.  As I finished strimming the island, I glimpsed a scarily familiar eruption from the base of the island’s weeping willow.   And as usual, and well practised, I immediately dropped all my gear and ran away squealing – if unstung – returning only much later to collect my strimmer and helmet when the wasps were a little less excitable.  (This wasn’t the only wasp nest I upset after my recent waspish post.  A second, on the banks of the other pond, rewarded me with an ankle sting before I even noticed my peril.  After that I gave up strimming completely until we’d had several -5°C nights.  I mean, enough is enough.  Strimming five wasp nests with a six-sting-payback is outrageous bad luck after not hitting one nest in the previous seven years).


Near the west pond, the long borders are looking surprisingly good.  I say surprisingly because I hadn’t particularly planned them as a winter feature; and because however many photos I admire of tall, stately winter plants, glistening in low sunshine, mine are almost always hammered to a brown, squishy goo by heavy English rain.


But this year, our dry winter paid an unexpected dividend.


Ice crystals on Viburnum × bodnantense ‘Dawn’ caught my eye too;


with more on Verbena bonariensis.  


The golden stems of Cornus sericeaFlaviramea‘ aren’t diminished by a bit of sparkle either;

nor are the tops of cold frames.


Guests were staying in the house over Christmas and New Year but now they’ve gone, leaving The Priory quiet and empty once more.  It is what I am used to and what I like: alone again in a corner of England I know better than anywhere.


I crossed the rickety oak bridge, glanced over the frozen east pond – with holes made by splashing mallard –


to arrive on the east lawn and the back of the house clothed in winter jasmine flowers.  I cut the Jasminum nudiflorum to ground level about three years ago – for emergency damp proofing of the walls – but it has grown back and one day will swathe the brick to the first floor windows again.


As I approached the greenhouses, I noticed a hen pheasant under a conifer, enjoying the almost warm sun and taking a dust bath.  Male pheasants shout out for admiration but the female is a beauty too, if a modest one.  Her dust bathing forms a shallow depression in the soil, one of several such bowls dotted about the gardens.  In the summer pheasants made dust baths in the veg beds, carelessly obliterating row upon row of spring onion and salad seedlings.  How I chortled.


There are a handful of resident pheasant in the garden, held close by the regular falling of food from the five bird-feeders.  Some are almost tame and show no real fear of me unless I overstep an invisible but surprisingly intimate red line … or I angrily wave my arms at ruined seedlings.


Beyond the garden lies shotgun Armageddon and the crash of guns is a common, if unwelcome, soundtrack to January.  Stay here pheasant.  Here is good, here is safe.


Later, when the sun had swung away behind the conifers, casting her bath into shadow, she’d gone; leaving only a basin in the dry earth and a couple of unwanted feathers


My garden walk completed, I fetched the wheelbarrow to continue unending leaf raking and later, I cut back border plants turned to slimy heaps rather than graceful Piet Oudolf-y elegance.  Not much Sussex rain maybe but I still have an embarrassment of brown, squishy goo.