Welcome to my gardening journal for 25th January 2020. If you’re new to my journal entries, you’ll find that I bring focus through the ever popular #SixonSaturday gardening meme, where I aim to record some key experiences from my week of gardening.
This week a historical thread comes through strongly following a visit to a local museum, part of the week spent untangling vines and roses along a garden wall, and a good few hours of digging to understand a little more of what lies below ground level in the garden.
First image below, is from a visit to Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, Bromsgrove. I’d visited a few times before and its iconic windmill plus many other reclaimed structures were engaging as always. But with my garden history hat on I was surprised when revisiting the ice house, to discover that it had been saved and relocated from Tong, the Shropshire historic landscape designed by none other than Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Well, I remembered the ice house of course, but was pleasantly surprised to learn of its connection to Mr. Brown… I just can’t escape him!
Anyway, to my chosen image. It may be a simple garden roller to some, but it’s all about context for me. It was a concrete garden roller, likely produced by Scoffin & Willmott of London.
The roller sat on a concrete pad, leaning against a concrete shed, in a soggy post war styled back garden of a prefab house. Not the most glamorous museum object in itself, but one that resonated with me, and one that not so long ago was a must-have item in any well stocked garden tool shed.
Next up was the sight that greeted me last Monday morning, when a week largely devoted to this Cotswold walled garden was ahead. The week started well, if a little frosty and, well, I’ll let the following images explain more.
The next image shows a large and very tangled grape vine which had me head scratching from the outset, and along with some wall fruit kept me quite occupied for two days. By day I was pruning and studying both the plant and the wall, and by night, inspired maybe by Vera, I was trolling through evidence to piece together a minimalist timeline, but what did I find?
Half way along its length, the wall was raised in height to accommodate a lean-to glasshouse between 1883 and 1900, and looking at the image below, a vinery with dessert grapes was the aim. Well, the rear brick wall is hard to date, although no earlier than 18th century I’d say. Although the brick bond isn’t consistent, it would certainly have been created at great expense to support and grow wall fruit; making the most of the southerly aspect and heat retaining qualities of bricks.
Subsequent removal of the glasshouse has of course left the vine out in the cold, yet a range of original vine eyes and more recent materials to keep the vine in-check show that gardeners have largely managed this vine through recent years, even if its haphazard structure suggests otherwise. At this point, following a severe talking to from my pruners, it is only a matter of time and tender care that will show if it still has good fruiting capabilities – the summer of 2021 should reveal all!
Below you’ll see mistletoe berries, and quite a few of them, but whether the seeds are fully developed is the question. The sprig was resigned to the compost and I can’t say whether it came in useful or not, but looking to the future, I thought I’d plant a few in the orchard trees to see if we can cultivate some kisses. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say…
The next image is one of those taken for the record. The short section of wall on the left is north facing, and with the low sun at this time of year, it’s clear how much of the plot sits in shade. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and there will be much less shade cast in summer of course, but it’s one to remember when planning what to grow where, and when.
Note also the frost, that is retained in the shadier lower third of the garden – this stayed all day despite temperatures of 8 to 10 degrees centigrade on the upper, sunny side…
Finally to my last image, a close-up of a section of clay smoking pipe. The latter part of my week being devoted to researching some chosen areas within the old walled garden, to inform the developing plan; information gathered now is not only fascinating, but it’s useful to guide the project and can help to avoid any last minute surprises.
Among the surprise discoveries were some intriguing roof tiles, placed 60cm deep beside a north facing wall. With the help of Twitter gardeners we deduced that slate tiles were historically placed below fruit trees, their job being to guide fruit tree roots away from the wall, and maybe to restrict root growth too. Perfectly logical all things considered. I also discovered old path material and build up, a short section of wall foundation, and the obligatory shards of glass and pottery… The pipe section however, was a very pleasant surprise…
If you till the soil in an old garden you’re likely to turn up fragments of clay pipe, which always for me links immediately to an unknown gardener of the past who once toiled away in that very space. The pipe section above was just the same, but interestingly it still exhibited the mark of its maker ‘CARTER’.
Following more research and thanks to the guidance of Robert Moore and David Higgins, and a ‘Society of Clay Pipe Research’ pamphlet, the period when this pipe is likely to have been created was between 1850 & 1876, when various members of the Carter family were pipe making in Banbury, just 20 miles away from where it was found.
So, to summarise, it appears that we have a vinery, as an additional glasshouse added in last 15 years of the 19th century, and a section of pipe most likely to have been discarded by a gardener in the 1860s/1870s. Both of these discoveries may be small, but illustrate that this garden plot was certainly enjoying a peak of use in the late Victorian period, when walled gardens were at their height of development. Case closed, for now at least!
That has to be it for this week’s garden journal. I look forward in the coming days to bringing my garden investigations to a conclusion, for a tangled shrubbery awaits, and a beautiful wisteria is calling out to me – at least I’ll be going up in the world, so to speak!
Kind regards, Gary Webb, GardeningWays.
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