Hello and welcome to my garden journal – a place for recording my gardening activity and tracking moments in gardens. This week (and especially last week) I breathe again through a garden visiting getaway where I’m wowed by the work of Sir John Vanbrugh, and I have a swift gardening observation for the moment.
I count myself very lucky to have had the opportunity last week to getaway up to the northeast of England. On the whole it was time spent with family that was the most important aspect of the trip, but of course, there are always other benefits when a gardener gets to travel…
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.
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.
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?!
Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – this entry a little later than planned, but an important entry nonetheless; as you find me on the last page of my chapter gardening in the Cotswolds.
Essentially it’s change of job time, equalling new days and new challenges ahead. My boots though are not yet cold from tearing around the works garden, preparing things as best I could for the inevitable gap between me and the next gardener. Therefore, for this journal entry, unlike my usual format of reviewing and looking back over the previous week, I want to be a little more creative with a look back over my last year.
Not wanting to assume that you know anything about the place, I shall try, at the risk of under-selling, to explain in one paragraph the garden as I see it.
Situated in the rural Cotswolds, the mellow stoned Manor House with its formal east facing Georgian façade has owned its place in the landscape for more than three centuries. Lichen and moss enriched dry stone walls and mature woodland wrap their arms around the garden, where plants ornament every corner, and iron fixings pepper every available garden wall. Fully grown walnut, beech, lime and oak trees anchor the garden firmly to the limestone packed soil, and sweeping lawns roll away from the house to a reflective pond and farmland beyond. Did I mention the kitchen garden…?
Moving into a working position there took some time, with my notice period taking a full three months to navigate. Apart from brief visits to keep things going therefore, my start was held back until mid-November, about when the rains arrived – and seemingly for the whole winter.
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…