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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Hello and thanks for clicking the link to my garden journal. This week I’m not afraid to say it’s Tulip Mania!
When assembling my journal entries I tend to look back across images I’ve snapped since my last post, and right now as I pause to look back there’s one particular plant that features heavily in my photos file – Tulipa!
There has been a good deal of gardening activity completely unrelated to tulips of course, but for this journal entry I thought I’d focus completely on these little beauties that by sheer fortune have bounced back into my life over the last few years.
To track back just a little, in autumn 2019 I found myself planting many tulips in pots and borders for Rachel de Thame in her beautiful Cotswolds garden. It was a real treat being introduced to some lovely varieties, but more than that it was brilliant to see how they can work together when carefully selected by someone with a very keen eye. To say I learned a great deal would be something of an understatement!
In my formative years as a gardener, I can honestly say that I never thought that trees would play such a significant part. I mean, I learnt about them, planted a few, chopped bits off a few more and did my fair share of ident’ sessions, but did I really get to know and understand trees?
Naturally I grew up with trees all around, as most people do: trees in our family gardens and down the street, a huge conker tree in the school playground, even the Christmas tree in the corner each December. (OK, maybe that last one was a bit of a stretch!) But did I really take proper notice of them?
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 my garden journal entry for February 22nd 2020.
The Intro… I’m a professional gardener/horticulturist and post weekly to record my gardening experiences and activity. My main workplace is in Broadwell, Gloucestershire, and this journal is independent – content does not represent views of my employer or any organisation.
Once again I’m tempted to focus on the weather we’ve experienced this week. However, as I know that so many have suffered much more severely, and in neighbouring counties too – I feel I can’t moan about what was simply, for me, just a few more wet and windy days that caused me to change my work plan.
Counting my blessings then, I can thankfully focus on the positive days, moments and tasks that have filled this gardening week, such as with my first image below of Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’, basking in the Saturday sunshine in my garden. The petals are almost too light for my taste, especially knowing some of the deeper blue flowers available, but the deep yellow and patterns on the falls are just mesmerising – and all the more agreeable for the £1.75 I paid back in November!
My next three images record a pretty intense activity that kept me very occupied on Tuesday and Wednesday – coppicing a handful hazels that were established either side, and possibly through this lovely dry stone wall. I did post a video to my Instagram account but suffice to say, it was quite a jumble and not your average coppice stool.
It was clear from the outset that a good amount of decaying wood was present, but whilst I found some healthy wood to cut back to, the extent of dead material was considerable. Knowing this makes wonderful habitat for a range of insects, it was too good to waste, and so I constructed a nearby habitat pile.
I could not guarantee that a few bug homes weren’t shaken up during the coppicing work, but I could at least offer a longer term bug hotel just next door for the foreseeable future.
My keenness to take on the congested mass of woody growth wasn’t just to make an area tidy, but also for the good and useable timber it would supply. As such, after cutting the shrubs back to basics, all the harvested growth was sorted into similar sized piles, and will wait in the wings for the opportunity to play a supporting role in the garden this year. The coppiced ‘stools’ will now be allowed to grow back naturally over the next few years, before the exercise is repeated.
I have to say that I love coppicing. It’s a task that grounds me, being an age-old activity that demands simple things: a little knowledge, a sharp saw, a methodical approach, and for me – a deep rooted feeling that I’m repeating an activity that has been done before, and will hopefully be done again in a handful of years.
Coppicing literally brings you to your knees, and forces you to think about things like the passage of time, the manipulation of nature for our own ends, and a productive activity that seems timeless. Or maybe that’s just me…
OK, so maybe I’ll refer to the weather just once more, when on Thursday the heavens opened repeatedly. Thankfully again the forecast had been very accurate, and so with sodden soil I had written-off outdoor gardening for the day, and wasted no time by servicing some of the tools that had worked very hard of late.
Furthermore, whilst the hail hammered against the brew house windows where I’m based, I set about some garden planning for the next few weeks – which look to be rather busy with project work bringing many more people onsite. Mind you, I have to add that the rain did eventually clear through, the sun returned and the little primulas in the lawn shone once again – what a way to end the day.
I’m very aware that next weekend sees the arrival of meteorological spring, and even at this early point in the year the grass is actively growing, tulips are breaking the soil surface in search of light and blossom buds are bursting in the trees. It might not be spring as we wish it, but even if the weather does turn again, a new growing year is well under way now and the pressure of mounting tasks build! (Yes gardeners do feel pressure too – it’s not all lightness and joy!)
Other tasks this week included some hedge tidying and the trimming of an ornamental pear that needed its crisp, umbrella-like shape returning. Shrubby tasks like these need to be drawn to a close now as birds are actively seeking places to nest – spring seemingly breaking earlier has moved all of this activity forwards, and needless to say – all of the above work was carried out after a good search for any signs of nests under construction.
That brings this week’s garden journal nearly to a close – a very heavy but rewarding week of activity. Next week I have a volunteer day to plan for, amongst many other tasks in preparation for spring.
If you want to follow my progress in the garden at Broadwell, you can also follow me on Twitter or Instagram.
I hope you enjoy your bird friendly gardening this week too! Regards, Gary.
Welcome to my garden journal entry for February 1st 2020. If you’re new to my journal you’ll find that I’m a professional gardener, and I’m recording here my gardening activity and discoveries from the past week. I channel my thoughts through the ever popular #SixonSaturday gardening meme, so please remember to check out the inspiring other SoS hashtags on Twitter & Instagram.
This week in the north Cotswolds garden where I work the weather has on the whole been kind, and other than being away from the ‘office’ on Wednesday for an ATV awareness day, I have been busily working away at Broadwell.
I started working the garden late autumn last year, with a full workload to keep me active through the winter. The weather has been regularly wet, but am I glad that it’s been mild, which has allowed me to plough on and begin returning things to good order. Put simply, I knew from the outset that the more I could achieve during winter, the better start I’d have when the spring madness gets going.
To this end, I’ve been regularly taunted by the above conifer hedge from day one. It hadn’t received a cut last year but although fluffy, was sitting quietly at the end of the long list for a trim, especially as ideally, I’d prefer not to trim in winter. That said, with continuing mild temperatures, a time slot was found on Friday afternoon and I made a start on facing up the hedge. To be continued!
The above lesser celandine is one of very few flowering ones I’ve spotted in the garden so far, although I’m certain will be joined by many more soon. They’re often over shadowed by attention grabbing hellebores, snowdrops and crocus just now, but are no less beautiful when singled out from the crowd.
Another task on the agenda this week was to see to the winter pruning of an established wisteria. Well, to say it had made itself at home would be something of an understatement, for it was ‘at one’ with the water pipe, having twined around and around.
Obviously the wisteria couldn’t be allowed to dominate the pipe or it would cease to function and damage would be costly. Suffice to say that delicately, piece after piece was removed, and the pipe is now clear. The remaining wisteria is now tied in and ready once again to climb; although hopefully now in a more controlled fashion. Who knows, we may even see a flower or two if we’re lucky!
Next image below is one of numerous early crocus patches we’re currently enjoying. Tommasini’s crocus, or ‘tommies’ for short, are just exquisite at the moment and towards the end of this week began their flowering turns whilst dancing in the breeze. How perfect…
Another discovery whilst delivering some material to the compost heap were patches of wild garlic, ramsons or ‘bear’s garlic’ I now also discover. Anyone for pesto…?
Finally, I close this week’s images with one from Monday morning, when the sky was bright and the snowdrops were at their shivering best not just in this garden but along the lanes nearby too. Yes, it would turn out to be another challenging week, but what a way to get it started; I couldn’t have asked for more…
This weekend looks like another mild and sunny one, at least in this area, so hopefully there will be chance to get out to walk amongst some flowers. I’ve got one eye on a visit to Hill Close Gardens in Warwick for their Snowdrop Weekend, which always delivers an eye-watering display after many years of collecting – over 130 varieties now! I’ll have to make time to drop in…
Weather permitting, next week I’ll be digging deep, literally, to prepare for some plant moving and to reclaim at least some of a border that has, shall we say, gone its own way for a while. Will have to put Epsom salts on the shopping list…