Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week leading up to Saturday August 29. This week there’s a bit about barrow pushing and a bit more about pressure points!
Barrow Pushing This week has been quite a whirlwind – after arriving home from our travels late last Sunday to heading into work early doors the next day to get the week underway. From Friday to Monday I had literally gone from leisurely strolling around the garden paths at Wallington, and without a care in the world, to barrow pushing along the garden paths at Broadwell in the Cotswolds.
Storms To touch on the weather, ‘turbulent’ is how I’d describe the week, for most garden folk it’s been a Karate Kid situation of ‘jacket on, jacket off’ to beat the showers. Mind you, despite the lowering light levels and shortening days, humidity and moisture levels have been up, meaning the growth rate for many plants (grass in particular…) seems high.
Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week leading up to Saturday August 22nd. This journal entry isn’t my usual written response to a week of working in the garden, as I’ve been away for a week in the wonderful North East of England staying with family.
Instead of the normal journal, I’ve endeavoured to understand the special characters of two gardens I’ve visited this past week. Not reviews as such, but short descriptions and questions: what aspects of each garden visit struck me and what flavour, if any, did each garden leave. The gardens featured are the refreshed ‘Belsay Awakes’ garden and the stunning Wallington, both in Northumberland.
Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week leading up to Saturday August 15th. This week: Cloudburst and Raindrops on Roses.
Cloudburst After last week’s grumbling about working in the heat, I guess I got what I asked for with a cloudburst mid-week; although it kept us waiting and sweating for a while there. Peaking on Wednesday in my area with temperatures in the mid-thirties and incredible humidity, a much needed storm arrived mid-evening with a strong gush of wind followed by petal beating rain that thankfully continued into the night.
Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – for the week leading up to Saturday August 8th. This week: Exploring Packwood’s Garden, and Managing an Historic Garden.
Exploring Packwood’s Garden Work and home, work and home, work, shopping, and home; that seems to be the cycle that has remained on repeat for quite a while. More frequently now though, the odd weekend offers a day out to break that norm, and last weekend just such an opportunity appeared; a trip to Packwood House and Garden, and I could hardly wait to stroll amongst some different trees and flowers.
Confidence seems to be growing between people, but a healthy respect of personal space generally takes precedence. However, due to the understandable need for one way routes around gardens just now, some of the garden was off limit. A favourite walled garden of mine was closed, along with the sunken garden and exotic raised borders – just viewable from near the house.
Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week leading up to Lammas Day, Saturday August 1st. This week: Maintaining sweet peas in Every Which Way, pond weeding in All in Good Time, and botanical illustration in Sharp Pencils and Inspiration.
‘The last week in July’ – what a week that was! Monday I took a day trip to a near-ish garden in Northampton called Canons Ashby. Following this it was head down for the working week, where the temperatures continued to rise each day, ending with the fan-oven Friday ridiculousness. It might have taken all of Friday evening to top up my fluid levels, but at least now I’ve thankfully returned to my normal self – apart from permanently etched tan lines of course…
In a works capacity, irrigation of containers and raised beds became something of a priority due to the temperatures, but all came through the week nicely. Indeed this was the very same with my containers at home, with additional watering needed each evening, and occasionally in the dark!
Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week to Saturday 25 July. This week: getting ‘bogged down’ at Coughton Court, plus pond life and speedy blades at Broadwell.
Bogged Down Last weekend brought another pre-booked garden visit, this time to Coughton Court, near Alcester in Warwickshire. Alas we couldn’t enter the house itself which was a shame because it’s beautifully formed and steeped in history and intrigue – another time for sure. We could however tour most of the gardens including an area that was sure to be in top form just now – the bog garden.
It’s been a good few years since I made it across to the bog garden, and more fool me. Apart from sitting beside the river and watching the damsel and dragonflies, the trip around the bog garden was a real treat, and without doubt the absolute highlight of the visit.
The core bog garden is relatively compact by some standards, and reached by following a one-way route alongside an alder shaded brook. After a short walk the river meanders away, and ancient fish ponds become the dominant feature with views across to the church. Twisted branches form the edging to a soft, bark chipped footpath, and it isn’t long before woodland ferns blend with more voluminous and exotic foliage types.
The pond around which the bog plants are arranged is thickly planted with marginals yet there’s plenty of open water, or space, to balance the wider view. With tall trees above leading down to shrubs and lush herbaceous underplanting, it really is an impressive space and not one you’d necessarily expect. At the very moment I visited most plants seemed to be flowering their socks off, with classic bog planting on show including: Aruncus – Goat’s beard; Lysimachia – Purple and Chinese loosestrife; Hemerocallis – Day lilies; Astilbe; Ligularia; and Hosta. You can be assured there are many more plant varieties than listed here, and also that collectively, they form a quality exotic space you’d go a long way to experience in an accessible open space locally.
Pond Life Back on the work front, most of Friday was again enjoyed beside the pond, but this week with two extra pairs of helping hands; Alex and Mary. With watering duties completed and sweet peas picked for the week, it was down to the poolside we strolled with our ropes and rakes and trusty wheel barrow.
I won’t repeat the story from last week’s journal entry, but in short we’ve settled on a process of repeatedly casting a wide landscape rake across the pond, only to haul it back with a load of weed attached. This is then pulled out of the water to dry on the pool side until the following week; a process that is proving really effective and is slowly making the improvement we’re seeking – removing as much blanket weed as possible, and reducing the quantity of a submerged plant that I believe is Fontinalis antipyretica.
Realistically, we’re not going to sort all the weedy issues that this pond presently has overnight, as there is much more to understand and quite possibly some larger scale restoration to undertake. However, once we’ve washed that pleasant pond aroma out of our gardening gloves and clothes, and given our back muscles a few days to recoup, we’ll be back again next week to re-engage in another battle, and to progress our battle with pond weed – if indeed it is ever possible!
Highlights of the gardening week: Before I move onto my final thought, here’s my key gardening moments from last week: Sunday – Visit to Coughton Court. Monday – Watering and deadheading containers; weeding and edging dahlia border; mowing. Tuesday – Mowing; weeding; making range poles/rods. Wednesday – Watering; Mowing; Strimming. Thursday – Weeding; Sweet pea maintenance; composting; watering and check over in KG. Friday – Watering, dead-heading sweet peas; feeding conservatory plants; pond maintenance.
Speedy Blades It’s not been too many weeks since the rain came to swell the ground and thankfully top up the reserves. Prior to this soil was desiccated and growth slower than hoped for. One place where growth rate becomes noticeable at such times is across our beloved lawns, and especially when viewed across the season.
If you’re one who chooses to irrigate your lawn during dry periods, and especially if you like to weed and feed your lawn, then you’ll be used to whipping the mower out pretty much every week from March or April through to October or November – and possibly on occasion in winter too. However, if your lawn is left to its own devices and allowed to grow as the seasonal weather dictates, then growth rate becomes noticeably reactive to the availability of water, amongst other things.
Soil type, temperature, light levels etc, also have an impact on the growth of a lawn, and all need to be taken in our stride to present the ideal lawn, whatever that may be. However, at the risk of harping on about the incredibly fascinating subject of ‘how quick does your grass grow’, I simply want to say the following, and highlight what may or may not be obvious:
Walking around as we do, pushing the odd wheelbarrow, or if we’re blessed, pootling around on a tractor and trailer, gardeners can often screen the fact that they’re actually in a race. For, when the soil has had its fill, the light is good and humidity high, most plants do actually grow for it, and the race is on. Whether it’s to get tasks done before the morning, the day or the week is out, the pressure mounts.
All those other tasks do still need attending too, probably more so – container watering, weeding and tying in to say the least. But then there’s the grass… which grows for it too. Those speedy blades start shooting up the moment their partners are severed by the blades of the mower – if you look closely, fresh blades of grass will be waving at you as you walk away from the locked mower shed…
It’s all in a day’s work, as they say, and there’s certainly no need to stress over it, but also it’s not a good time to procrastinate, as grass waits for no one. Those speedy blades and that smooth and freshly cut lawn will sneak up and catch out the unwary gardener – you have been warned!
Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week leading up to Saturday 18 July. This week, apart from a day of annual leave, has revolved around some project work on a rather large pond which left us mud splattered and more than a little damp around the margins.
Light Dancing and Bobbing Now, that pond work… One and a half days devoted to the pond so far this week, and the task itself; to regain the upper hand over pond weed. It’s a naturalistic fish-shaped pond, albeit with its tail fin curled up, and it sits perfectly amongst the lower slopes of a green and pleasant Cotswold hills garden. Grassy banks slope gently from the north to a margin lined with a variety of lush plants, and beyond the pond Iris foliage and reeds direct the eyes to a nearby belt of trees that form a varied texture backdrop.
If anything, the pond has naturalised a little too successfully and is approaching the stage where bigger intervention may be required – but until that day comes we have a job to do, and Tuesday last was the day to make a start, to pick up the gauntlets, to haul some weed and to begin returning the lake from a bobbled blanket weed surface to its smooth and reflective self.
I’ll spare you the detail, but suffice to say there were numerous rope tricks, repeated netting ‘runs’ and rake flinging techniques employed in an effort to pull and tease and encourage the weed to the pond edge. Once at the edge the weed could be dragged out to drain on the side of the pond – a good practice that gives any pond life a chance to crawl or wriggle back to the water, whilst also allowing the sodden weed to dry and become a whole lot lighter – reduced manual handling and all that.
‘Surprisingly heavy, damp and aromatic,’ is how I’d describe the pond work itself, but even with webbed feet developing, it is immensely rewarding. If some gardening can be seen as a restorative act, then working beside open water is equally so. I’ve known this for many years if I’m honest: the presence of damsel and dragon flies flitting about the surface; water birds flapping away from perceived threat; an occasional fish swimming near; the sound of splashes from disturbed water itself; and last but not least – flashes of reflected light dancing and bobbing across the surface. I don’t fish personally, but it’s no wonder that angling is such a long established pastime.
Picking Up Steam Leaving the pond for now, there have been numerous other ‘plate spinning’ tasks with watering, plant feeding and lawn mowing dominating – and hasn’t the grass picked up steam?! Aside from these gardening regulars, it’s also been good to spend time in the kitchen garden attending to some of the raised beds with a touch of weeding. I’ve also picked up the baton again and started to remove dead ivy from the perimeter wall in an effort to raise the presentation standards now the end of the garden build comes into sight. (It was also a good opportunity to spot any loose stonework that might have needed attention).
Jobs Done Before I move onto my final thought for this week, here’s my key tasks in the garden last week: Monday – Watering and deadheading containers; feeding in kitchen garden. Tuesday – Mowing; pond maintenance. Wednesday – A day annual leave, for daddy daycare duties! Thursday – Weeding; pedestrian mowing; pond maintenance. Friday – Watering, feeding & dead-heading; raised bed maintenance; pedestrian & ride-on mowing.
You’ve Been Framed! Stepping back from garden maintenance chat, BBC Gardeners’ World on T.V. is a weekly treat for me, if I can get it. I say ‘if I can get it’ because family life doesn’t always free up the time to sit back and watch the show in relative peace, and iPlayer doesn’t work reliably enough to guarantee quality viewing.
I’ve heard many ‘professionals’ talk the program down over the years for one reason or another, and I myself have drifted near and far from the program for as long as I can remember. These days however, I have to say that the program offers me an opportunity to peek over the garden fence, so to speak, and to see what other gardeners are up to at any particular stage of the season.
You might imagine that some of the features may sometimes be a little lightweight for myself as a working gardener, however, there is often a relevance or something useful to take away, and anyway; none of us should be so daring to say we know it all. To this end, I want to also record how good the ‘viewers videos’ have been, and to make a particular point.
After training in horticulture it’s very easy to use techniques that have been taught and to stay in a gardening comfort zone. However, features like viewers videos remind me personally that there are many ways to grow plants and to achieve a beautiful garden – and some of them entirely more sensitive to the planet. The feature also proves how a novice gardener can approach any particular topic with imagination, and achieve brilliant results and personal satisfaction. I see people young and old exhibiting new and innovative methods that are clearly successful, breaking the established norm with refreshingly simple techniques, and often whilst doing it being thrifty and environmentally aware to boot.
My point is, that I’d like to vote for a ‘viewers video’ feature to continue in future runs of the program, maybe even spreading to include some of our self employed and employed gardeners who, through necessity, also have to innovate on a regular basis. (Dare I say it, the example set by You’ve Been Framed, offering a fixed sum payment for clips used, might be an attractive way to adopt the feature, and to support gardeners too?! – I’ll leave that one with you….)
Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journey. I say weekly, yet this post comes after an unplanned three week break from writing. The last few months have weighed somewhat heavy and, to save a fuse blowing, I just needed to step back a little and to let a few things go…
That said, my gardens are overflowing with growth, the task list is as full as ever, I’ve nibbled some chocolate and have summoned enough energy to drag this journal into July – covering the period 21 June to July 11 2020 – three weeks for the price of one (but not three times as long I hope!)
Anyone for Tennis? In late June I was able to have a final, focussed go at completing the cleaning of a full size astroturf style tennis court where I work. The task might not have been directly horticulture related, (if only it was a grass court,) although it is part of the scene and as such, needed to be useable and presentable.
Power washing was begun with some very welcome volunteer help back in March, although ground to a halt when lockdown started. As Wimbledon week approached however, and as the commercial jet washing machine was again available for hire, it was time to get the job done. Suffice to say that with my hat pulled down tight and with some carefully chosen podcasts keeping me sane; the task was finally completed and the court, all but a fresh topping of sand is now ship shape and good to go.
Press Clippings In other news, it was a real treat to be name checked and pictured in the dahlia border with Rachel de Thame in a Sunday Times Home article ‘A Fresh Start’ on June 21. Mind you, even before that brief moment in the sunshine faded, those very dahlias around our feet were shouting for attention as the windy weather arrived. The sweet peas were also not far behind in the attention seeking race as they stubbornly refused to climb without a share of attention. I’m glad to report that both the dahlias and sweet peas are doing very well indeed, and oh; I won’t let the stardom hasn’t changed me, much.
Task List As this is a catch-up entry, I’ll pop a key tasks list below instead of the usual day by day list: Espalier and cordon fruit – summer pruning. Containers – watering, feeding, dead-heading, supporting. Mowing – lots of mowing as growth rate increases. Tulips – reclaiming bulbs from containers and storing. Kitchen garden – raised bed preparation, feeding and pest control. Herbaceous border – bedding plant maintenance. Roadside – reclaiming verges from woody weed growth. Topiary – trimming and feeding. Auriculas – feeding, watering, cleaning. Wisteria – pruning and tying in.
Spectacular Summer Colour Like so many others recently, my family has also spent time discovering local footpaths for core daily exercise. (Exactly what I need after a day on my feet in the garden I can assure you!) One evening last week we retraced our steps along a local circular route and I was taken aback by the amount of colour from so called weeds, or wild flowers found growing beside the road, footpath, and alongside the brook – areas that appear to receive little attention but for an annual mash-down, and yet were there with an abundance of spectacular summer colour.
The colour was brilliant, especially in the early evening sunlight, but what particularly struck me was their existence and accessibility so close to home, in an area that otherwise appears to be dominated by housing, roads and farmland. I felt a touch of guilt that I’d temporarily been blinded by the cosseted plants in my own garden, and had stopped looking beyond my garden gate. Indeed, as I look back on the colourful images, I am reminded of Horace Walpole’s quote about the landscape gardener/artist William Kent back in the 18th century: “He leaped the fence, and saw that all nature was a garden…”
Spider-Man at Hidcote Manor Finally for this entry, I want to briefly mention a pre-booked trip out to the nearby garden Hidcote Manor. We were welcomed at the visitor reception gazebo to a short rendition of the Spider-Man theme tune from two cool ladies each wearing the oak leaf logo and a welcoming smile. I must add that they weren’t delirious, but full of spontaneity when seeing our youngest lad approach in his Spider-Man hoody! (On our next visit we might dress as the Von Trapp family so we can all join in with the singing!)
In some ways it’s a sad time to be visiting gardens as the impact from a reduced workforce and maintenance becomes evident. As an example, beside the door into Hidcote’s garden, a blackboard informs that the garden staff and volunteer team contribute 30,000 hours of time annually to maintaining the gardens, and so far 5,000 hours have been lost this year. That’s five thousand hours of preening, planting and pruning and engaging. I can imagine how the loss of time is weighing heavy on the team, but can’t begin to imagine what they must be thinking about the upcoming trimming of the miles of important hedging within the garden…
On a lighter note, I have to say that the visit – a pre-determined one way route through most, but not all of the garden, was exceptional. It may not have been financially advantageous for the property, but for me, the reduced visitor numbers actually added to the ambience of the visit, and I’m very thankful for the efforts to get the garden open and to keep it all going. One last thing to say on the visit, about the decision to open the lawn between the Red Borders for closer examination; a rare treat indeed – and it kinda made my day too! 👏🏻
Well, that’s it for this journal entry, I have to finish up as the garden jobs are calling. I hope you’re getting along OK in (and beyond) your garden; do let me know in the comments or elsewhere if you’d like. Until next time….
Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journey – a journal entry for the week leading up to June 21 2020. This week I’ve learned a major lesson about how not to mow grass, and made a shocking discovery in the engine room.
On the whole, this week seems to have passed by in slow motion – like they do sometimes. Rain has (yes, he’s mentioning the weather already…) made its presence felt and the wind has blown scattering dropped foliage and immature fruits here and there. There has though been stunningly beautiful moments with tall billowing clouds above, and the lushest, freshest of garden scenes below.
Flowers have drooped heavily during rainfall and many blooms have been damaged beyond repair yet between the showers, even with the most fleeting of sun rays, blooms have opened and glistened with intensity and indeed, for those who’ve opted for scented plants in their garden I’ll just say Wow! – aren’t the roses delivering this year!
It has been great though to see the much needed rain fall, as not only were many of our gardens becoming dust bowls, the plants just do prefer rain as opposed to mains water.
Picking up on my ‘major lesson learned’ comment, it came from a patch of ground that, through time running short, hadn’t had its once-a-fortnight mow. It’s generally a tree dominated space and whilst sunshine does penetrate the glade-like space, there’s little effect on the ground except for lush grass and a collection of docks.
However, on my ‘catch-up’ mowing round on Tuesday, I pootled around the space in ever decreasing circles, as you do, only for a little speck of purple to catch my eye. On closer inspection it turned out to be what I took for a pyramidal orchid, or Anacamptis pyramidalis – although I’m no orchid expert.
Naturally I steered clear of this exquisite little wild orchid, but didn’t I scold myself for not picking up on this earlier! As it happens, there has already been discussion about this particular area and the desire to encourage wild flowers, and although some mowing has happened regularly, it’s only been to hold the area until there’s time to give it proper attention. Suffice to say though, that this little discovery gives me hope for the potential of this space to deliver much more than presently meets the eye – and isn’t that often the case with a garden…
Before I leave the no-mow thread completely, the foliage from the oxeye daisies shown above became apparent to me many weeks ago. Its leaves stood out from the grassy crowd so to speak, and so I mowed around the patch. What a vivacious bunch of daises it turned into – not only do they look great but they’ll subsequently offer free seed for sowing in other wilder parts of the garden.
Next up is that ‘shocking discovery’. Even after years in gardening, plant identification challenges still like to appear on a weekly basis. Furthermore, there’s also the interesting and additional challenge of putting names to fungi, animals and insects that also live in ‘our’ gardens. Once you’ve made an identification, you can better understand how friendly or not, and how useful or not, an individual may be.
Well, I was working away in the garden’s ‘engine room’ as I like to call it – the compost bin area to every other normal person, when on moving a piece of cardboard, (yes cardboard and paper composts perfectly!) I was given a bit of a shock.
The shock was around a metre in length and it, a grass snake, refused to move as they usually do. A gentle lift with the muck fork only encouraged it to slide out between the slats, and back into the bin lower down, suggesting to me that she was shielding a nest.
Naturally, with four compost bays in production, there’s no need to disturb a nest, indeed it is enough to know roughly where it is and to ensure its protection. Whilst it was a shock at first, I soon read up and gained the knowledge to make an informed decision, and will in future go a little steadier when forking through the compost! For what it’s worth, over the years I’ve discovered mice, rats, slow worms and wasp nests in compost heaps, as they can offer dry and warm cavities in which to nest. It pays therefore to remain observant, to water the heap if necessary, and to turn those engines over regularly before anything moves in to throw a spanner in the works!
Elsewhere in my working garden, the stunning pots some of you may remember from BBC Gardeners World last year continue to delight and entertain. Under different none-COVID times it would have been nice to have added some fresh plant material, but I’m sure you’d agree that the plants originally chosen still look brilliant in their potted quarters, and but for a refreshing of the compost, regular feeding and a gravel mulch; look as good as ever.
Below is a lovely rambling rose called ‘Chevy Chase’ – I must admit to being a tad suspicious when I read its name label for the first time back in winter, but what a stunner it is! There was little I could do back then but tie in some wayward stems, adding a couple of wall pegs for good measure, but the growth since has been phenomenal and the weight of one stem and flowers even broke the string – hence the ladders to tie in a main lateral. My main learning point going forward is not to judge a plant by its name alone… and to use stronger string!
Before I move onto my final image, I like to record how my working week looked, as follows:
Monday – Day off!
Tuesday – Composting; photos for Sunday Times article; mowing & orchid discovery!
Wednesday – Tied in sweet peas; weeding; feeding; tree pruning; composting including snake charming!
Thursday – Cleaning; Machinery research; stone delivery.
Friday – Cleaning; potting up; watering and feeding; rambling rose attention.
Next up is not a simple tree image, but a snapshot of a day in the long history of a tree at an historic garden. It’s a mature and very solid sweet chestnut tree situated beside the Elizabethan gatehouse in Charlecote Park.
I was fortunate to visit last Sunday and with the central gardens closed, took the opportunity to look more closely at the parkland and its trees.
This particular tree was pollarded maybe ten years ago, and I remember seeing it pretty much straight after the work was complete. As harsh as it always seems, that is the cutting back of the main branches quite severely; a healthy tree of the right species very quickly responds with a host of new shoots from those chopped stems. Indeed, the image above shows the tree having again been pollarded to keep the system going – and I’m sure there would have been a host of useable stems from the cut wood.
I’m touched for some reason by the fact that pollarding, as for coppicing is an age old process, one that gives a renewable and useful product, and in cases where the activity ceases, can leave a tree that lasts much longer than if left to its own devices. Of course it depends on numerous factors but the very fact that centuries ago, people learned that certain trees could be pruned and manipulated to provide a renewable source of timber for construction, for tools, for firewood or as animal fodder is incredible. For me, viewing a tree like the chestnut above speaks of tradition and ingenuity, and it’s heartening to see an actively managed pollard such as this one. Long may it continue!
All of the above is by no means the entirety of my gardening experiences this week, but I’m sure is enough to capture the essence of my week for future reference. Until next time…