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

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 11.9.21

Hello, and thanks for visiting my garden journal – a place for recording my gardening activity and tracking moments in gardens. This week two new gardens requiring a good deal of work enter my life, and I’m uplifted by visits to two great Northamptonshire gardens: Kelmarsh Hall and Coton Manor.

New Garden News!

I promised in this blog to bring news of two new gardens that have arrived from left of stage. Due to their gravity I’ll cover both ‘projects’ independently below but in short, the first of the gardens has arrived because I’ve moved home to a brand new house with a wonderful blank-canvas garden. Secondly, after waiting in the queue, I’ve landed myself a half-plot at the local allotments!

Rose Gertrude Jekyll flowers in September
A potted Gertrude Jekyll survived the move 😅

As you’d imagine, I’m spinning with ideas as to the many different ways both these plots can be developed, and not at all daunted by the work ahead. Okay, maybe I fibbed about the last part! Nevertheless, I’m fully aware of the opportunities these two plots offer to literally put roots down, permanently in some cases, in gardens for the benefit of my family and those around, and of course for my own self!

Fifty Percent Foliage

In the main, I have to say that we as a family, not just I have moved house. Therefore you’ll have to forgive my distance from social media over the last few weeks as there has been a good deal of box packing and stress and of living in the moment – you know how it goes. We were so excited to get the thumbs-up after numerous postponements, but whilst we’re now in, it’s all rather strange.

As I type (starting at 7:45am,) the reversing beeps of the builders tele-handler continues to sound a short distance from the house, the JCB’s bucket scrapes tarmac, and other finished houses around us sit empty, awaiting visits from landscapers before they can be ‘signed off’. Flooring throughout the house is yet to be laid, and we continue to battle with our telecom provider for a useable system. Yet, the garden we’ve acquired is FABULOUS!

The deal with our last rented house meant that I needed to remove planted borders and reinstate to what we found eight years ago. This of course resulted in many, many potted plants that have since spring been tucked away in corners here there and everywhere, awaiting their move in date too. I even borrowed a hidden corner of the work’s garden where I stored a few car loads! The result is that on our moving day, the final van load was still fifty percent foliage and terracotta!

No time for photos, too busy carrying plants!

Now, in terms of the garden, it’s planted and turfed to the front, and entirely turfed to the rear but for some access paving tight to the house wall. The front is tidy, as you’d expect, and planted blandly into nasty looking imported soil, again as you’d expect – but it will keep. In my head I’m already peeling back the turf and imagining a pretty tree. Maybe a cherry, no, maybe an apple to make the space pretty and productive. Maybe a Cornus kousa, or Himalayan birch, or even a Musa to buck the trend! Again, it will keep, there’s so much else to think about and there’s no need to be hasty.

The back garden though is where some real potential lives. After what seems like a lifetime of restrictive growing, on the home front at least, it feels like at least we have some real opportunities here to create a proper, personal space independent of all others. Things are too busy just now but I’m keen to get sketching, to play with the spaces, and to finally get some of my cherished plants into proper soil – although this may take some work too!

New garden, room outside or football yard? There are differing opinions in the household!

I very much look forward to sharing the garden’s development of course, along with the bone jarring graft that lies ahead! (It’s going to be a steady one for sure…)

Allot[ment] of Potential


The other great gardening story of my moment is the acquisition of a half plot at a very special site nearby; Wellesbourne Allotments. It’s a long established site on a relatively flat basin of land, with views over to rising ground that carries the Roman Fosseway – it’s really quite a special place.

I hesitated for too long to join the waiting list because, well, I spend most of my mental and physical energy in my work’s gardens. Last year however, in early spring when concerns about food shortages came to the fore, it felt like the right time to get onto the list (whilst also growing some extra supplies at home in containers). I was kept updated as to progress up the list but was genuinely surprised to get a call with an offer back in August, my reply of course being be a solid “Yes Please!”

I will spare you the details as to progress so far, but to be honest there has been frustratingly little. The day I collected the gate keys was a day before we went away for a week, and we’ve been moving house seemingly ever since. Still, we’ve moved onto the allotment so to speak, and have spent a couple of hours weed pulling around the previous tenants veggies in order to stop the weed seeds blowing across the other plots – not wanting to upset our neighbours who manage some very, very tidy plots!

More sessions are planned, and soon, but before I leave my allotment chat I just have to mention that whilst I have signed on the dotted line, our new allotment is very much a family venture – at least I hope it’s going to be! To that end my partners-in-crime Ruthie and the boys have already jumped in with the weeding, and we’ve even set up a dedicated Instagram account called AllotofPotential – and we’d love to connect with like minded folks to share our newfound love for allotmenteering!

Proud holders of a AllotofPotential

I hope to post snippets of our allotment progress to my garden journal, and will likely create independent posts too if I can make the time. I’m sure we’ll be learning loads over the coming year as we take a sleeping, couch-grass infested plot through to a productive (hopefully) patch.

Observations

I was fortunate to escape my work’s garden this week for an educational team visit (with meetings I hastily add!) to two nearby properties – Kelmarsh Hall and Garden, and Coton Manor Garden. There was a good deal to see and many things were discussed of course, but looking back I realised that it was my first external works trip for two whole years. There have been webinars, online chats and such like, of course, but I’ve made no real opportunity to get out and talk garden’s with colleagues, and this needs to change!

Echinacea flower in a flowery border at Coton Manor Northamptonshire, in early September
Echinacea perfection at Coton – a beautiful garden to be sure…

Visiting gardens to compare and contrast and to discover and inspire is to many a jolly, as you’ll often hear, but of course it’s more than that. It fires the imagination, lights a spark, triggers thought processes and all that jazz! In those two gardens I rediscovered plants I hadn’t worked with before, I studied two widely different plant nursery situations and admired the gardeners who were toiling away in pretty hot conditions. I watched visitors flow through spaces, explored marketing and road tested garden interpretation. Planting combinations were poured over, early autumn borders were investigated and, I might have purchased a plant or two for my home plot.

Loving the long established use of this ‘beside the walled garden’ space at Kelmarsh Hall, with yew topiary, box hedging and mixed border plants
Loving the long established use of this ‘beside the walled garden’ space – Kelmarsh Hall

My observation and discovery is that in my quest to push plants and gardens and their benefits out across the web, that somehow, mostly due to the pandemic I expect, I’ve missed out on some important experiences myself. I’ve lost the ‘out in the field’, mind expanding, logic challenging visits I previously enjoyed. They’re valuable, believe me, and it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of sharing time with like minded people. In the coming months therefore as ‘the situation’ eases, I certainly hope to repeat the experience and simply to get out more to benchmark!

On that note I’ll finish up now, as I know you’ll need to get on. Many thanks though for reaching the end of another of my garden journals. I do hope you’re enjoying some moments in the early autumn garden.


Gary Webb
Gardening Ways

Do please check out AllotofPotential over on Instagram 👍🏻

Garden Journal 21.8.21

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.

Gardening Getaway


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…

Box parterre Italianate style at Seaton Delaval Hall
Early 1950s Italianate garden at Seaton Delaval Hall

One important benefit Continue reading

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.