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I’d like to wish all our readers a very Happy New Year! Even though it may be a relatively quiet time in the Ballymaloe Cookery School gardens, New Year is always an exciting time, planning for the season ahead, seed orders must be sent out and the anticipation of trying out new plant varieties, be they vegetables for the glasshouse or new perennials for the herbaceous borders.  
 
These mornings there is often heavy ground frost after the low night temperature, it can drop to –1ºC, (we are close to the sea here so we are spared from very cold temperatures), however the heat in the winter sun, reminds us that spring is not far away. As the days lengthen and we continue to experience the ongoing mild conditions during the day, the most significant change in the gardens is the bulbs; their new growth is well above ground, in preparation for a spring show of colour.
 
In the Ornamental Fruit garden, (designed by Jim Reynolds in 1990) the Hellebores are in bloom under the bare fruit trees. With their foliage having been removed, they provide a beautiful array of colour, from deep purple, pink, green and white; definitely a welcome sight on these short winter days. They also act as a supply of cut flowers for the school. Here also, one of the first signs of spring; the first snowdrops are showing their snow-white blossoms. 
 
On entering Lydia’s garden, which is a small garden protected by 150 year old Beech hedges (Fagus sylvatica), the magnificent evergreen winter Daphne, Daphne odora ‘Marginata’ fills the air with its sugary citrus fragrance! This is a beautiful shrub for winter interest, it has yellow-margined leaves and rosy-pink flower buds that open to white. The Hellebores are also on show here. 
 
The herbs (perennial) in the herb garden have been cut back, however the new foliage of the globe artichokes and the silver-green foliage of the cardoons already add colour to the otherwise bare parterre. The box hedging together with the central Myrtle bush provide winter structure.
 
As you follow on into the Pleasure Garden, the geese and ducks are quite happy in the wet conditions we’ve been experiencing these past few weeks. Opposite the pond, a beautiful specimen shrub, Hamamolis mollis ‘Pallida’, the Chinese Witch Hazel is in full colour with clusters of sulphur-yellow flowers. It cannot but take centre-stage in the bleakness of a winter garden. 
 
Over in the glasshouses, winter maintenance is ongoing; the panes are being power hosed inside and out. The bays have been cleared and rotavated with the addition of well rotted garden compost.  Varieties of different salads; ‘Cos’, ‘Red Lolla Rossa’, ‘Red Cos’ and ‘May King’ are growing in modules and covered by night with horticultural fleece; they will be planted in the glasshouse in the weeks to come. The oriental salads continue to be harvested; radishes and white turnip fill a separate bay. All are being harvested for the current 12-week certificate course. Next week the first peas and broad beans will be sown ‘directly’. The ‘hungry gap’ of winter is closing in quickly!
 
Terracotta pots with bulbs such as’, Tulipa ‘Vincent Van Gogh’, Tulipa ‘Deirdre’, Narcissi ‘China Gold’, Fritillaria persica and Hyacinths planted late last year now wait in the glasshouse to be placed outdoors around the Cookery School building, they’ll provide splashes of welcome spring colour in the months ahead. 
 
Other bulb varieties planted in pots for spring display include: Tulipa ‘Mondial’, Allium sphaerocephalon and Narcissi ‘Twinkling Yellow’.
 
I can’t finish without mentioning the arrival on the farm of two gorgeous Jersey calves over the Christmas, they will add to the school’s Jersey herd, which provide the school with delicious creamy milk, and is also used to make butter, cheese and yoghurt in the school dairy.
 
Thank you for reading - more from our Blog in February.