Garden Journal 8.4.22

Hello and welcome to my garden journal. It’s been a while, but I hope you’ll stick around for what I hope will be an interesting trot through my recent gardening ways.

You may remember that at the end of January, I was heading into a gardens and parks consultancy role for the National Trust, in the super-large Midlands and East region. This in effect means that for the first time in years, more years than I care to remember, I won’t have a ‘work’ garden to directly manage; which I’m still struggling to get to grips with to be fair.

Swirling patterns in stone balustrade at Upton House Warwickshire by Gary Webb
Stunning stonework at Upton House & Garden

In fact, the first question numerous people have asked during introductions has often been “How are you going to adapt to a ‘hands-off’ role?” Well, in all honesty it will have to remain a ‘suck it and see’ exercise, because if we don’t try new things or dip our toes in the water, if we don’t walk through the door when it opens; then how do we know if we’re in the right place? Only time will tell.

There is though a couple of tricks up my sleeve, which I hope will satisfy my thirst for physical, active gardening. The first, having taken over a new garden at home at the end of last summer, is brand new garden project that is pretty much a blank canvas.

Just taking a breather whilst enjoying some digging…

It is a bland, largely grass and clay-based plot I have to say, and with economics the way they are, it’s certainly not going to become an overnight show garden. But what an opportunity this little garden presents; such an opportunity that I’ve hardly dare touch it for months whilst I’ve pondered the options. I’ve studied the light and shade, and frost-pockets since day one, so at this point I’ve worked out where’s best for a seating area or two. I know where my potted and long suffering sun loving plants need to go, along with those that will be happier in the shade.

The most challenging aspect, which isn’t entirely unexpected in a new development I guess, is the soil. Well, when I say soil, I mean subsoil. From the moment I dug out the base for the shed, to the moment I planted a new sapling in the front garden, my concerns over the quality of the soil were confirmed.

Digging this lot into new borders will make all the difference, I hope… Let’s also hope it’s not also full of nasties…

However, if I’m to maintain my presence as a gardener, my lot is to work with what I have, and so this week arrived a bulk bag of well-rotted manure, of which 1/3rd is already part dug into a new border I’m working on. There’s a long way to go before I can crouch down and plant, but I’ve made a start, by investing in what matters most; the soil. Just watch the weeds grow now!

The other trick up my sleeve, so to speak, is of course our family allotment, which has given my veggie growing ambitions a new lease of life already. We took on the new allotment at the very same time as the new home garden last year, and we’ve all thoroughly enjoyed visiting on fair-weather days.

Sun set lighting up allotment sheds in Warwickshire. By Gary Webb
Sun setting on a productive session on the plot.

Our boys have been there with us most times, and have both dug holes. Well, to clarify, they’ve dug one hole each. Every time they visit, they dig a little more out of ‘their’ hole, and it quickly reached the point where they had to cover over said holes to make them safe whilst we were away. But they’re digging, my boys are actually enjoying digging! We just need to figure out what they can do next with each hole, so any suggestions would be happily received!

There’s a good deal to do yet before it becomes the productive oasis I’m envisioning, and I’m absolutely certain we’ll have lots of fails and disasters. But, and this has been a huge surprise to me and my better half, if we go on to have as many satisfying fresh air filled moments as we have thus far enjoyed; we’re in for an absolute treat.

Carrots & parsnips going in! 🤞🏼🥕🥕🥕

Don’t forget, when you’re a horticulturist and get yourself an allotment, it’s hard not to feel a touch of pressure. What I will say though is we, the royal ‘we’ that is, have already grown in confidence. Our first seeds were sown direct last weekend, and there’s a range of seedlings growing in the warmth of a growing frame at home; where I can keep a close eye on them. Can’t you tell I’m having a ball? Maybe I’ll be able to survive the day job after all!

Speaking of the day job, the adjustment has been quite a big deal I have to say, but without doubt, the best elements so far have been the opportunities I’ve had to meet fellow gardeners and tour their gardens. It’s already given me different perspectives and I’ve much more insight now to their working worlds. The organisation has grown hugely since I departed in 2008, and its work, its people, and their ambition is incredible.

The orangery (or maybe camellia 🤔) house at Belton House.

If there is a down side, it’s the good deal of time spent worshiping a laptop, which for someone more suited to praying to a potting bench, or anointing a freshly sharpened pair of pruners; takes some adjustment. It’s also made blogging pretty awkward, as the last thing you want is more screen time blogging after a day on a PC! But, and it’s a big but; I’ve had some brilliant hours away from the screen, and I’ve spent quality time with some very talented gardeners in some stunning gardens. Plus, I’ve hugged some INCREDIBLE trees! 🌳

OK, enough is enough, I know you need to get on and do things, or check Instagram or TikTok, so I’ll thank you now for your valuable time; I’m very grateful you stopped by. I’ll nip away if I may to continue establishing in my new role, to fork-out more couch grass at the allotment, and to smash my spade through solid clumps of drying clay in my home garden.

If you’d like to have a look at progress on our allotment, you can find us over on Instagram: @allotofpotential

Kind regards, Gary – Gardening Ways

Garden Journal 23.12.21

Hello, thanks for clicking on the link and welcome to my garden journal – A bumper Christmas Edition you could say! I hope you’ll stick around for a few moments whilst I paint a picture of Sunlight and Snow, I look back on December Gardening, and record some thoughts peeking Onwards to a whole new chapter in 2022.

Bright December sunshine washes down through a silhouetted tree, whilst casting long shadows across snowy ground
They may be short, but some days can be exquisite!

Sunlight & Snow

If there’s one thing that has struck me recently, apart from the roller coaster temperatures we’re experiencing, it is winter sunlight. I would be quite within my rights to waffle on about how poor the light has been of late, what with short days frequently shrouded with cloudy gloom, but I won’t.

I will instead refer to days when those grey pillows move aside to reveal bright skies, and when sunbeams flood down across our faces and gardens. Perfect moments for me, if a little challenging from a gardening perspective, are days when frost clings to foliage or when a sprinkling of snow highlights formwork and structure in the garden; both, especially when sunlight shines can enhance even the grumpiest garden corner.

Bird pulling a sledge? 🛷

Wildlife footprints leave telling signs of night time activity, frozen foliage droops, sound softens and time slows. What’s extra exciting in a public garden though, is the fact that a gardener often finds themselves alone and faced with a thousand picture postcard opportunities – even if there is work to be done!

Christmas pudding anyone?!

Snow peppered tree trunks, perplexing footprints criss-crossing and silhouetted trees with their long shadows. If you’ve an eye for a photo opportunity, everywhere you look becomes a picture. Thank heavens for social media so that some of the half decent images of all that otherwise unseen garden loveliness can be shared. I hope you like the few I’ve shared here, snapped before a warm session with the snow blower.

December Gardening

Whilst many things have been (and continue) in a state of flux, gardening has continued as normal for me – like it must. On the work-front, December demanded that I focus on a few tasks which on one hand meant putting the garden to bed, and on another meant paving the way for a solid 2022 start.

Hedge trimming – there seems to have been a good deal of hedge trimming. Yew is the hedge of choice at Sulgrave and this year brought a second opportunity to raise the bar. Building on the work of previous gardeners and my efforts last year, I again tightened my approach and tried various forms of string tying to get the cleaner edges I desired. It’s better than before but, there’s room for improvement still.

All now planted & in position 🌷

Bulb planting – after last year’s 5000 + bulb planting extravaganza, this season has been much swifter, with a key focus on containerised bulbs plus more for six mixed borders. There’s a hope that many planted last year will flower again, but I did add more bulbs to guarantee a display. I also colour themed container displays to red, white and blue. I chose to take a cost-effective approach due to a tight year, but I’m sure all will be wonderful from the moment the first Iris flowers spring forth.

New shoots – at home, and with a new garden as referred to previously, I’m glad to say my first plant is finally in the ground. As a key plant to the front of the house, it had to be a special one, so after much deliberation I chose a Japanese cherry tree called ‘Collingwood Ingram’.

Naturally, it’s going to provide a wonderful display of single pink flowers in early spring, but I’m equally awestruck by its historical connection to Captain Collingwood Ingram (1880-1981) – known in horticultural circles as Cherry Ingram. I’ll save that fascinating story for now, but with regard to planting what was little more than a bare-root whip, I’m glad to declare that gardening, with a sprinkling of mycorrhizal fungi and peat free Christmas magic, is officially underway!

Onwards

Honestly, if you’d have said one month ago that I’d be starting a new role in the first month of the new year, I’d have thrown you a long and pretty suspicious look. It’s true though, so following an unbelievably busy two months where I’ve even paused my blogging, I can confirm that I’ll be leaving the garden team at Sulgrave for a position with the National Trust in the Midlands.

There’s a lot to discover about my new role as yet, but whilst I’m really keyed up for my start towards the end of January, we do have a pretty busy (and festive) few weeks to navigate. To that end, I shall channel my next journal post to looking back over a fascinating and very productive fifteen months at the Manor, where I’ve worked with and been supported by an amazing team of gardeners who I’ll be sad to leave.

Face to face peacocks

On the whole, it’s clearly been a topsy-turvy two years for us all and every one of us have our own up and down stories. I’ll spare you mine, but I will say that aside from a sense of letting a few folks down by moving on a little quicker than expected, I have found myself on a journey where I’ve learned more about me and my aims than I ever thought possible.

‘If a door opens, step through it’, and ‘things happen for a reason’, are sayings I’ve heard repeatedly, and I do believe in fate. But I also believe that whilst hard work and applying yourself to the task in hand is the only way, there is much to be said for looking forward and working towards a goal.

Yes, of course there have been times when I’ve been completely ‘lost in the moment’, but these have subsequently challenged me to view my job and career journey differently – and I believe I’m not alone over recent months in re-evaluating my connection with gardens and nature. I know I’m at the point of serious change, of turning down a new, thrilling garden path. My eyes though are fully open, and whilst I know there will be bumps in the road, I look forward with a great deal of excitement – it’s going to be quite some journey for little old me!

Me & the not so friendly neighbourhood cat! Photo A. Robinson

All that said, I really don’t know what impact all this change will have on my blogging or social media for that matter. I enjoy it all thoroughly, partly for the creative opportunity it brings me and also for the encouragement I receive to keep it all going. I will, somehow, always find a way to share my love for the detail in gardens and for the benefits they offer us. Where would we be without our gardens and green spaces eh. . .

Thanks for making it to the end of this garden journal update, I hope to be back for a new one soon! Whatever you have planned for the coming days, I hope you enjoy a happy and peaceful Christmas, lets look forward to a brighter New Year!

Kind regards, Gary Webb, Gardening Ways

Garden Journal 7.11.21

You are very welcome, to another garden journal entry at a time when winter looms large and that familiar autumn atmosphere surrounds and embraces us. The season’s leaves have been floating down for some while now to enrich our soils, berries and fruits have been dazzling us with their little balloons of brilliance, and spent flowers are decaying in their own special way. Isn’t it an exquisite time of year for nature and gardens?!

Bright red mountain ash berries hanging in clusters from the tree, with leafy background
Nature’s larder ready for winter shoppers

Tree Connections

I’ve been wanting to write a little piece about trees for a while now, but as often the way, it’s been just another post on the to-do list. However, when our friends on BBC Gardeners’ World produced a special program dedicated to trees, I was inspired to get out my notes and to revisit that post I’ve been meaning to write.

Limes in the morning mist.

Like many other people, I’ve a long held interest and fascination for trees, and not least for the fact they can grow from the smallest wind blown seed to enormous, living and breathing structures. How they establish a root hold and adapt their growth, melding with the environment they find themselves in is nothing short of extraordinary.

Garden Journal 12.10.21

It’s garden Journal time for me, so if you’ve found these words already, I hope you’ll stick around for another few minutes whilst I tell tales about my last two weeks in gardening. In this post I’ll be Feeling Autumn, I enjoy a Hidcote Booster, and I explain why my arms will be a touch achy for the next few weeks.

Feeling Autumn

I don’t know how you’re finding things, but when I stop to consider the autumn season, being in the garden has felt a little bit weird for a while now. Allowing for the vagaries of plants that do what they want, when they want, things still feel odd. Maybe it’s just the mild seasonal weather at the moment, but some flowers seem to be later than usual, some trees are keeping their colours hidden, and some perennials want to keep on going – at least in my garden.

A tired but persistent October cosmos flower…

Garden Journal 27.9.21

Hello and thanks for visiting my garden journal, a place for recording my gardening activity and tracking moments in gardens. This week I’m recognising a grand volunteer effort through raking the orchard, I’ve been corralling plants for growing at home, and have been soaking up some wonderful autumn light in observations.

Raking the Orchard


Gardening at work this summer, (Sulgrave Manor if you’re new to this blog,) has been something of a rollercoaster I have to say. Indeed, numerous factors seem to have combined to create a two steps forward one step back type of year – weather and Covid being the biggest of them for sure. Yet, I’ve been completely uplifted of late, and especially on our very successful and busy Heritage Open Day, by the growing visitor numbers and the many positive comments about how tidy and lovely the garden is.

The results in terms of garden presentation is in no short measure down to the regular attendance and dedication of the Sulgrave team – mostly volunteers, who’ve donated many years in some cases to the garden. Week in, week out, each individual arrives, giving up their valuable time to help us plant, prune and weed, and without them the garden would be but a slither of its excellent self.

Heaps of fun after a good deal of raking!

Garden Journal 1.8.21

Hello, and thanks for visiting my garden journal – a place for recording my gardening activity and tracking moments in gardens. This week I recall positively glowing border flowers, I’ve been sniffing and snapping at Rousham, and I discuss mood and moments in observations.

Positively Glowing

There have been some ridiculously warm days over the last few weeks but since the full moon last weekend, hasn’t it all balanced out? It was all blazing sun and head-cooking workdays one moment, but then the weather turned and showers and storms seem to have become the norm for a while. Honestly, this year’s weather has been a real lottery!

The Rose Garden at Sulgrave Manor
Daisy clouds around the rose garden at Sulgrave Manor and Garden

Still, it has been and still is Continue reading

Garden Journal 11.7.21

Hello, and thanks for clicking the links to my garden journal – a place for recording some of my gardening activity, tracking my horticultural journey and waxing lyrical about gardens. This week I’m writing about the incredible growth just now in gardens, some border renovation in my work’s garden of Sulgrave Manor, and I have a timely message about growing in containers.

Incredible Growth

Gardens are growing well at the moment aren’t they, at least they are in middle England. Summer warmth has seen temperatures in the twenties pretty consistently since my last post, and with frequent rainfall, herby growth in particular has been lush.

Abundant growth across the rose garden at Sulgrave Manor

Wilder areas have been flattened by the rains and are spilling over the otherwise neatly mown paths – the grass itself seemingly springing up behind me as I walk. Then there’s edging-up; will it never end?!

Garden Journal 27.6.21

Hello and thanks for clicking the link to my garden journal. This week I’m writing about planting out all that summer bedding, I get all focused as I tune into topiary, and I finish with my regular observations on gardening and nature.

Planting Out


Following on I from my last journal entry where I talked about potting-on, I’m naturally drawn now to mention the very next step in the process which is of course planting out – in the garden at Sulgrave Manor.

Propagation there isn’t on the grand scale of course, with but two good sized glasshouses we have turned out a tidy number of annuals over the course of spring. Sowings of Cosmos, Tithonia and bedding Dahlias, Calendula, Rudbeckia, Nasturtium, Cleome, Helianthus and Zinnia have created a very busy glasshouse as you can imagine. This is of course in addition to plug plants that we’ve sourced and nurtured, over-wintered cuttings, tender plants and food plants for the Tudor Veg’ garden.

One of many wheel barrow fulls of plants heading out to the garden at Sulgrave Manor in Northants
One of many barrow fulls of plants heading out to the garden.

It’ll come as no great surprise then when I speak of the relief when each of the varieties find their way into the garden. Months of growing and nurturing has finally brought us to the point where the majority of the planting stock has been upturned, tipped from their pots and settled into summer quarters.