My Woven Web

Hello and welcome back to my gardening ways blog. It has been a while since I last showed up, but many thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll find something to delight, entertain or connect with, be it a few moments pondering my weird take on a life in horticulture, or enjoyment of a few carefully selected seasonal images and notes.

If you know my blog, you’ll know the importance I place on images which contribute hugely to whichever piece I’m presenting. You’ll understand, that for the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m jumping straight into the writing, and the images will be randomly squeezed in afterwards. This isn’t due to a shortage of pictures by the way, but more related to my present state of mind. In the next few lines, all will become apparent, as they say!

Manipulated image of a gardener at work on an allotment.
A manipulated image of my good self at work on the allotment.

The different approach to this post is due to the strange horticultural path I feel I’m treading just now, balanced precariously as I am between a garden consultancy role, restoring an allotment, and establishing a new garden at home. (This lifestyle shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise if you know me at all!)

I don’t think I’m different to many other people, in as much that I’m inspired regularly by my surroundings and situations, and I’m increasingly driven to capture them in some way. To this end, I’m usually to be found snapping pictures of flowers, bees, beetles and anything garden-like, in fact anything ancient, artistic or horticulturally trivial that captures my attention. I’ll often lag behind on an outing, only to have to hurry to catch up because I got caught up taking some pictures!

Woolsthorpe Manor and Newton’s apple tree in full leaf, positioned behind a low wattle barrier
Another property on my patch, so to speak: Woolsthorpe Manor, with Newton’s apple tree.

In the last week alone, I’ve filmed clips of freshly shooting trees, grazing deer, potato planting, potting-up in the garden, dragonflies resting, and both wild flowers and roses swaying in the breeze. It’s all linked I think, yet makes my photo archive something of a random mix of visuals. You might experience a slither of the experience were you to scroll down my Instagram page!

The random nature of my imagery has become all the more varied since taking a major personal turn in direction towards the end of last year with, as mentioned previously: a new home, a new allotment and new job. I’ve always collected images of course, but now they’re from here, there, and seemingly everywhere!

A seedling Rowan tree in a pot
An important little seedling Rowan tree, its family line stretching back to a family garden two generations back.

However, despite the head-filling work days and remaining no-time-to-rest hours left over each week, I feel duty bound to record a post that in some ways will capture this moment in time for me; a time when some days deliver intense frustration or exhaustion, whilst other days can present moments of complete fascination, enlightened discovery and new levels of personal fulfilment. It’s hard to explain, bu oh what a woven web we weave.

If only I could stitch all the good moments together and edit out all the bad. If the whole journey could flow and not switch lanes every five minutes. If the rain only fell at night to refresh our gardens. It would be all perfect and life would be more enjoyable, right? Wrong? Who knows.

What I do know is that it’s usually a matter of balance, in as much that the challenging moments often make the special moments even more special; a case of yin and yang I guess.

Father and son studying tadpoles in the historic garden that is Painswick Rococo Garden.
A special moment studying tadpoles with my lad at Painswick Rococo Garden.

The main body of text in this post doesn’t therefore tell a story, or record key themes as my typical garden journal posts would, but hopefully, in the spirit of openness, lets you know where I’m at mentally. The images selected, therefore, whilst not themed to the post itself will nevertheless be chosen to indicate the random nature of the days I’m experiencing.

If none of it makes sense, or is hard to contemplate, rest assured that plants are still there every day in abundance. Physical gardening, whilst randomly placed, calls me regularly, keeps me active and keeps my thumbs green, and my mental engagement in the horticultural world has risen to new, infuriatingly brilliant levels. It’s all very busy, and all very fascinating!

Berrington Hall, Herefordshire
Berrington Hall, Herefordshire, acknowledged as ‘Capability’ Brown’s last landscape commission. Tomorrow I visit Croome in Worcestershire, also on my patch, & Brown’s first large scale project.

Putting all that heaviness aside, I do hope you’ve been enjoying all the growth that spring has brought. It feels as though we’re on summer’s doorstep now and its warmth is already wafting over our gardens.

I’ve enjoyed some catch-up sessions watching Chelsea Flower Show on TV, and despite my concerns over the whole shebang, I can’t help but be inspired by the creative people and entirety of the product; I hope you’ve managed to watch some or even visit the real thing?! (If you’re more of a Beechgrove fan, I’m right there with you too).

I’ll leave things there for now, but will in my closing words encourage you to stay positive, enjoy the flowers and keep in touch. Oh yes, and please do pass on the keys to a balanced lifestyle if you have them, I could do with unlocking its mysterious ways!

Kind regards

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?!

Gardening Creatively

Welcome to a slice of what normally would be my garden journal. Last week I actually drove down a new lane on my journey to work and delivered myself to a new garden called Sulgrave Manor.

Brassica foliage lit brightly by sunshine
Shapes in the garden

To coincide with this new chapter, and in an effort to develop my garden writing I’ve decided to take my blog in a new direction also. For the foreseeable future therefore, I’m going to try some posts that explore particular topics or themes related to gardens, horticulture, heritage or the natural world – all subjects that surround me everyday and remain close to my heart. My GardeningWays blog will henceforth feature posts with individual titles. Let’s hope I don’t run out of ideas!

Garden Journal 4.4.20

Gary Webb’s Garden Journal
A range of garden delights…

Well it’s garden journal time and this week feels like an improvement on last, in as much that it has seemingly moved at a more normal pace – or maybe I’ve just acclimatised a little more to the strange situation we’re all in?! Out in the garden, aside from some very cool mornings there have been some quite warm and sunny days, in fact spring seems to have really begun now with bright and beautiful blooms almost everywhere I look; primulas, daffodils, grape hyacinths, wind flowers and so many more.

As mentioned in last week’s journal – for the time being, and due to the social distancing that my working role allows, I am able to continue with my gardening. This is something I’m extremely thankful for – not least because it’s one of the busiest times of the year for gardens and for gardeners. Indeed it’s been heartening to see the pressure build for garden centres to resume service to the public, and I certainly support this. Whether by special opening arrangements akin to supermarkets, or indeed by ordering for local delivery – as I know some have now started.

Back in the garden, the cool overnight temperatures are keeping the pace of grass, for example, quite steady. Yet all around the garden is quickening its steady steps into a meaningful stroll, and that pace is only set to speed up – it’s the time of year when you wish you could clone yourself in order to devote enough time to all that needs doing!

My horticultural hit list this week has been, in summary: Monday – Fed and reduced foliage area of many box shrubs that were moved before the weekend, trimming to similar dome shapes. Began first mowing session with pedestrian mower. Some re-potting. Tuesday – Lots of heavy-going mowing to neaten up close mown areas, and to define edges of wild flower areas. Wednesday – Disinfected and cleaned many display containers ahead of dahlia re-potting. Thursday – Steered some tree pruning activity, and began cleaning up and potting up stored dahlia tubers. Friday – Completed dahlia containers – just shy of 120 pots of joy, and each one planted with love and attention!

Growing your own food
Home Grown

To my first image above, a relatively recent acquisition; a mini-greenhouse to help with growing from home. In a small garden these kits offer a sheltered space that can be really effective in lifting temperatures enough to both protect delicate plants and to bring seedlings on more rapidly. One particular thing I’d mention from experience is to make sure the unit is tied in securely, as they love to blow over once they’re fully loaded and when you’re not expecting. I learned the hard way…

Snake’s Head Fritillary​
Snake’s Head Fritillary

Next up is a single pot of what is arguably the most unusual flower going – the chequer petalled snake’s head fritillary, or Fritillaria meleagris. An absolute delight and a draw for my camera every year without fail.

I remember seeing them beautifully staged and growing in a grassy glade in the Quarry Garden at Belsay Hall, and didn’t hesitate to introduce them to Compton Verney over recent years – it’s such a shame they’re all blooming without us being able to see them just now. As well as this the one above at home, I have two pots to plant at Broadwell, and look forward to getting them all in the ground this week.

A temporary resting place in the slip garden for these box shrubs.

These are some of the box shrubs that have been lifted from the kitchen garden and planted here to rest until their final planting places are ready – not for a good while yet. Essentially they are here receiving a reduction in leaf mass, to reduce water loss after their move. Hopefully they’ll bounce back and with a strong fibrous root mass to help with their next move.

Plating up dahlias after winter storage
Dahlia potting

The image above hints at the dahlia activity from this week. It seems but a short time ago when I was washing down the tubers and potting them into dry compost in these old wooden cases. They’ve spent the winter in a cool tool shed, and have now been divided (those that were willing!) and potted up individually to grow on.

Some will clearly make strong plants, but I’ve potted almost every last tuber so we may pick the best for display – some staying in their pots and some, most likely, being transferred into the ground.

Pretty primulas
Pretty primulas and some early flowering tulips

This photo in my folder just jumped out at me. The primulas at Broadwell have been flowering their socks off for weeks, and don’t look like stopping anytime soon – they’re an absolute feast for the eyes!

My final image is of these winter windflowers, or Anemone blanda. They are flowering in a shady woodland area right now and have risen above the dense foliage of wild garlic and primroses. They’re a pure delight and their blue flowers light up this space beautifully. What – a – treat!


As mentioned in my summary above there have been a range of horticultural tasks to keep me busy this week, along with some seed sowing at home. However, it would be impossible for me to ignore or not make reference in some way to the appearance of my works garden on Gardener’s World on Friday evening. It’s a minor miracle that the GW team are able to assemble a program under present circumstances, but so far they’ve done a great and quality job, and long may it continue.

As you can imagine though, privacy is a prime concern, and for this reason I’m personally restricting my storytelling somewhat – it’s incredibly frustrating but the right thing to do all things considered. Believe me though when I say there’s an amazing kitchen garden growing out of what was a long lost walled garden at Broadwell. My gardening and history interest aligns with Rachel’s and it’s been fascinating picking our way through the architectural details left between those garden walls – an iron hook embedded in a wall here, a hollowed out piece of stonework there and slates buried next to garden walls – each detail intriguing and all consuming.

I’m delighted to be part of the Broadwell posse, as a team we’re full of anticipation and excitement, and can’t wait to get the first crops growing in what are shaping up to be the best raised beds I’ve worked with to date – no pressure! We’re moving the kitchen garden forward as much as possible in the present climate, but with a fair wind and some luck we’ll all be able to watch it continue to develop and flourish on our TV screens during the year – I’ll be tuning in to see how it looks on the other side of the camera too! (You can catch it on iPlayer if you haven’t yet seen it 😉 )

For now though, that’s enough from me. Keep calm and carry on gardening! Regards, Gary

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Garden Journal 8.2.20

Six gardening images to illustrate my gardening week

Welcome to my garden journal entry for February 8th 2020. If you’re new to my journal you’ll find that I’m a professional gardener and I post here to record some of my gardening activity and discoveries from the past week. I contribute and channel my memories through the ever popular SixonSaturday gardening meme, so please remember to check out some of the inspiring SoS hashtags on Twitter and Instagram.

This week I’ve again been beavering away in the garden at Broadwell, but before I mention more I’m going to mention the snowdrop weekend that I did manage to attend last weekend at Hill Close Gardens.

A Warwickshire named snowdro variety
Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus ‘Warwickshire Gemini’

There’s simply no holding back the love and appreciation people have for these charming little flowers, and on the day I visited the hedged Victorian gardens in Warwick the visitor numbers had reached record levels – to the point where the cakes had run out – yes – there was no cake! (Which means I was able to buy more snowdrops…)

The welcoming and the very tidy gardens however were as good as ever, along with a collection of snowdrop varieties that is now 130 strong – yes I became snowdrop blind after the first five groups.

Anyway, I’d love to visit and write about gardens all week long, but on Monday it was most definitely back to the weeding for me, with a brand new area to tackle. I say the word tackle, for five days on from those tentative first steps into the border, I find myself with aches where I haven’t ached before and hands that have still to relinquish bramble thorns – brambles don’t give up their ground easily!

It was hard to capture a tell-all image but a large mixed border it was, that had simply been left for a while to its own devices. By the end of the week I’d worked through 75% of the unwanted vegetation, and it was clear to see that the obviously deep and fertile soil had encouraged strong weed growth, so things do bode well for future growing activity – once the unwanted specimens are taken care of.

Garrya elliptica shrub in an English garden
Garrya elliptica

Above I snapped a picture of a Garrya elliptica, a visitor from the California coastal area as I learned during some brief research. The Garrya was looking handsome with the setting sun behind, A sun that has worked its magic across gardens this week. Things may be about to change with a storm moving in but for now, lets revel in the sunshine!

It’s all too easy to keep your focus on the job in hand, but one of the wonders of working outdoors is the moment you stop to straighten your back, only to notice a spectacular scene that may sometimes be seconds in duration. The crocus below is another example. Drifts of these little beauties embellish the lawns at Broadwell just now, along with aconites, hellebores and more, but this single wide open flower caught my attention as I walked by – it would have been rude not to record the moment!

“Give me all the sun you’ve got!”

Last of my floral pictures below this week brings another snowdrop moment, but with a little soil splatter and a spider web or two for added reality. Tough as they may be, the humble snowdrop does its thing at the muckiest time of year, but it doesn’t make them any less perfect. It’ll soon be time to think about lifting and dividing some to share the joy.

And finally…. is an image that tried to capture the mist that hung beautifully around for much of Thursday. Well, not that successful in capturing the mist but a nice image nonetheless, with the sun shining down through lime branches dripping with moisture. I guess you had to be there…

A very active week it was, and an enjoyable one for sure. Whilst I continue to beaver away in the borders, plans for ‘bigger’ garden developments are moving quickly along and foundations are literally being laid; from which a new garden will soon be created – it’s all very exciting and I look forward to posting some news as soon as I can.

Next week will see a continuation of border clearing, more rose pruning and a range of hedging activity to name but a few tasks. Oh yes, I’ll also be surveying an area to inform planning for a new glasshouse no less! Let’s cross fingers that the storm passes swiftly over and leaves us free to continue spring preparations – my goodness, I do believe that 2020 has really started!

Hope your garden is blossoming too. Regards, Gary Webb, GardeningWays.

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Garden Journal 18.1.20

Welcome! Join me here regularly to catch up on my gardening endeavours in this GardeningWays journal. I spend much of my time gardening professionally for Rachel de Thame in Gloucestershire, and my journal picks up on progress in her garden plus other horticultural highlights that might pop up during my week.

I join in with the SixonSaturday meme that continues to blossom on social media each week, as I find it a perfect way to turn images into journal entries that effectively record my ongoing gardening story. The following text therefore aims to give a little more background for each of the chosen images.

SixOnSaturday images for GardeningWays garden journal by Gary Webb

This past week has been, I’m not ashamed to say, one for testing morale. If there was a mere hint of rain mentioned in the forecast, we received it and more besides – and I’ll waste no more words on storm Brendan…

Beneath and between the showers however, the gardening week continued and much was achieved. Now, although a frosty weekend is upon us; the sun is beaming for the weekend and all is good!

To start my six for this week then, I look to snowdrops that are stretching their stems all over the place, signalling hope and a fresh start to the gardening year. I will be sure to post more images of these little stunners as the next few weeks pass, and will be searching for any unusual ones beside the perfect snowy white nivalis.

Snowdrops  in the morning sunshine
Snowdrops glowing in the morning light…

In my home garden I’ve a handful of containers that were freshly potted in the autumn with a range of bulbs, many of which are now shooting from the damp Compost – peat free I hasten to add.

Naturally I’ve recorded what was planted in each container, but I like to, indeed I’m very good at forgetting what bulb mixes I’ve planted in any given pot, which I believe only increases the surprise when the blooms do eventually arrive. What you’re looking at in the image below is a container full of hope and anticipation…

Containerised bulbs showing their presence

The next image shows a mature Viburnum, likely bodnantense ‘Dawn’ that I look after in my home garden. Well, I say look after, I tend to leave it alone as it’s a great perch for birds who drop down from a nearby birch tree. They hop between and inspect its tangled branches in search of insects, or to reach a hanging suet block.

The controlling gardener in me knows this wonderfully fragrant shrub would benefit from maybe two stems removing from its base, but for once, no, I’m content to let it do its own thing, and to enjoy it at its full, natural height.

Viburnu bodnantense ‘Dawn’
Sunlit scented Viburnum

Next up is a ‘pruning’ task as I’d say, for amongst the tangled mass below is a very strong and fine climbing rose that has simply had a few seasons to stretch its wings. This time, the controlling gardener encouraged me not to fire up the hedge cutter, but to work through steadily so that I didn’t cut out stems that would later prove useful…

The ‘before’ image…

Well, as you’ll see below, there doesn’t appear to be much left at all, but what the image isn’t great at showing is a slightly thinned branch network that I’ve retained, and some strong new stems that have been tied in along both rear walls.

Whilst I type right now with thorn pricked hands, this rose is now back within its own space having good light and air to all its stems and, hopefully, all its flowers this year (Or maybe next year!)

Much left to do, but it’s getting there…

Finally, some bare walnut branches that throw the most exquisite shapes against the fading but importantly clear Friday evening sky – an attempt to sugar-coat the week maybe..?

I can’t finish this week’s journal without a quick mention of the fact that I’m presently in the process of being signed up as a trustee for Silent Space – indeed early yesterday morning our first ‘Skype’ meeting saw the first discussions taking place with the team, and the true potentially of Silent Space making itself known! All very exciting and I’m looking forward to writing more about this initiative very soon.

Silhouetted walnut branches
The sun has set on another productive week

Let me just say that if you don’t have a ‘Silent Space’ in a garden or green space near you – then you should! All the info is available in the link below, including a new map of Silent Space locations, and if you’ve engaged in a Silent Space already then I’d love to hear of your experience.

Well that’s all for this week, a week of battling with the weather and roses, of reclaiming lost walls and terraces, of hardwood cuttings and container maintenance. It was also a week packed with sightings of new shoots growing from ground that we know doesn’t sleep, of working alongside the ever friendly, if cautious robin, and a treat of seeing a charm of goldfinches flee from some Verbena flower heads outside my office door – it’s all happening out there!

Kind regards, Gary Webb, GardeningWays.

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Garden Journal 11.1.20

Welcome! Join me here regularly to catch up on my gardening endeavours in this #GardeningWays journal. I spend much of my time gardening professionally for Rachel de Thame in Gloucestershire, and my journal picks up on progress in her garden plus other horticultural highlights that might pop up during my week.

I join in with the #SixonSaturday meme that continues to blossom on social media each week, as I find it a perfect way to turn images into journal entries that will record my story. The text below therefore aims to give a little more background for each of the chosen images.

Well, the first full working week of 2020 has certainly felt like a long one! The weather on my patch has largely been kind for outdoor activity, so I’ve found myself postponing some administrative tasks in favour of practical ones, in order to again push projects forward whilst the sun shines.

The week included a visit to a wildlife site, pruning fruit trees, some tree surveying and the first clearance work beginning in the walled garden. It’s incredible that even in a relatively small area, I managed to cover just over 19 miles from Monday to Friday – it’s no wonder I need a sit down at lunchtime!

My first image below offers a dose of the brightest yellow to blow away any winter blues, it is of course the prickly gorse, growing here at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s Brandon Marsh nature reserve in Coventry.

Gorse growing at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust Brandon Marsh
Gorse at Brandon Marsh

It was an absolute treat to wander around the trails that are woven amongst lakes, twisted trees, grassland and dense shrubberies – contrary to initial thoughts of a winter landscape – everywhere was alive with chirping and squawking. There were also a good few shushes thrown to my none too quiet boys who, despite not particularly wanting to go, were excitedly exploring the paths with their rotten lightsaber sticks – I don’t think they disturbed the wildlife watchers too much!

The next image below is a lighter hearted one taken on Monday morning as I prepared to start pruning in the orchard at work. Woodapuss was quick to check in with me to make sure I knew what I was doing and, as always, to remind me that she wouldn’t be far away!

Woodapuss eprting for garden duty
Woodapuss reporting for garden duty!

It’s a relatively small orchard with some ageing specimens that have cropped well in recent years, so whilst I have pruned very carefully to let more light and air into the branches, I’ve also tried to retain as much fruiting wood as possible. Time will tell, but I’ll be watching carefully to manipulate re-growth as it happens.

Pruning is one of the tasks I can find challenging, as my inner artist takes over and battles with the form I want to create, against the form the tree is taking, especially with very mature specimens such as those above. I’ll certainly find a balance with those established, and also look forward to training some new fruit in due course as the garden develops – prepare for some fruity creations!

Ivy-leaved cyclamen ad winter aconites in the January Garden
Ivy-leaved cyclamen and winter aconites.

Sometimes I don’t realise that there is a lack of colour in my day until I suddenly notice a bright blue sky, or spreading blotch of orange lichen or, as shown above, I stumble across a pretty patch of flowers in a lawn. This group of pink cyclamen and aconites put things right very quickly and I couldn’t hold back from crouching down for a closer look at this patch of perfection.

Continuing the floral theme, it’s always with excitement that flower followers post snowdrop pictures each year. I had been tipped off that there were lots of snowdrops in my garden at work, and so I have been looking forward to seeing what emerges and where.

January snowdrops Wellington their way now.
Early flowering single snowdrops racing into the new year.

It turns out the little beauties are everywhere, and this little group are ahead of most of their neighbours by a fortnight or so. I look forward to getting down amongst the foliage over the coming weeks as I attempt to capture their wonder in this Cotswolds garden.

In my next image, I have broken a self-set rule and in difference to the ‘jungle’ type image at the head of this post, I have sneaked in an image after the work is partially complete – rather than leave you wandering how the clearance work turned out!

More cut-backs in for the garden!

Essentially, the image above shows an overgrown east facing corner of the walled garden that is awaiting renovation. The photo shows the brambles cut hard back, along with a fig bush that had grown seriously out of hand – it had layered itself naturally around 4 metres away!

You might thinking the pruning looks harsh, and you’d be right, but it was essential and taken in stages so that I could understand where growth could be left to recover, to form a new framework. In my favour was fresh growth that had layered naturally, and I’ve taken some cuttings to try and root, so I’m confident we’ll see something bounce back before too long. *He says, whilst looking to the sky and whistling.*

My last image below was taken Friday, whilst surveying trees for safety. It goes without saying that with a historical site there are often many trees to be found with decay, holes and crevices, and it can be quite difficult to understand and assess some trees. On a positive note though, there is always opportunity with all trees to consider not just safety and aesthetics, but habitat also, and the tree below is one such tree.

Looking closely at the incredible habitat of this decaying parkland sycamore tree
Neil McClean from Midland Arb

A mature sycamore in a parkland setting, this tree is testament to careful and considered management over recent years, which has allowed what is essentially a high-rise habitat tree to be retained for the benefit of wildlife. Safety can certainly be managed beneath the tree, and hopefully it has many years left to decay in peace whilst offering an incredible deadwood habitat for a wide range of wildlife – long may it live!

So there we have it; another very full-on week of activity whilst out and about in Warwickshire, and working in Gloucestershire. In my quieter moments I have been thoroughly engaged in listening to The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and have been dipping into Lia Leendertz’ The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2020. Both books are hugely informative and the latter will stay with me throughought the year (as the 2019 version did) to guide me through the monthly goings on both above and beneath the garden surface. Yet another image squeezed in below!

The Almanac- A Seasonal Guide to 2020 by Lia Leendertz. Mitchell Beasley.

Before I sign off, I just want to pass on my thanks to those who follow my gardening progress via Twitter, Instagram and this blog. I have enjoyed great support from my new employers as I’ve settled into my new role – no need to name names! But as expected, there are many moments of isolation for any gardener in a largely private setting. (This may change as I look to recruit some volunteer help over the coming weeks – do DM me if you’re within easy travelling distance of Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire).

Over the last few weeks therefore, I’ve been spurred on by contact from old friends, colleagues and family, by long time social network connections and many new friends too. Many thanks to you all – it has been inspiring to connect with you all, and I look forward to meeting some of you soon, to opening up my gardening experiences through 2020, and to learning from you too!

Kind regards, Gary Webb, GardeningWays.

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Within and Beyond Compton Verney.

As I write this the final days of my employment for Compton Verney are diminishing, and anyone who knows me will understand how difficult it will be to walk away. Nevertheless, I know that time has come for change, and to move on, literally, to pastures new.

The classic Compton Verney view, by Gary Webb.
That classic Compton Verney view. ©️Gary Webb

A lengthy notice period has meant that I’ve found myself stuck in limbo, which has given much time, possibly too much time, for contemplation. My head’s been full of thoughts and concerns, partly about challenges that are ahead in my new role, but also about the place I will leave behind, a place that has literally been my baby for nearly ten years now. Mentally, it’s a very weird place to be…

Winter aconites at Compton Verney .
January winter aconites at Compton Verney. ©️Gary Webb

You see, I have spent recent years managing, tending, developing and nurturing the historic landscape garden that is Compton Verney, on behalf of a charitable trust. The area I’ve looked out for is a garden that rests in the subtlest of valleys, with a meandering pool system threaded and widened at its very heart. If you ever sensed a place with spirit, then you’ll know what I mean; Compton Verney is not left wanting when it comes to spirit of place.

Some landscape views thoughtfully created in the eighteenth century have survived the test of time. Those views, especially from the central mansion or bridge capture slices of farmland and look, to all intents and purposes perfectly natural. However, every hollow and mound, all the woodland groups and all the key views have been designed and manipulated by people. From the most recent light-touch planting and habitat creation projects, right back through the classical Georgian era, and still farther back through the Medieval period; the ground has been worked and worked again. Compton Verney simply exudes history and character, even the mansion stonework displays fossilised remains!

An 18thC mansion at Compton Verney
Lime shadows on the 18thC mansion at Compton Verney. ©️Gary Webb

There’s an enchanting woodland garden with a handful of sheltered and calm spaces, that play host to a mixed age collection of native and exotic trees – some over 400 years old, and each having their own hidden history. Layered around are shrubberies, flowing lawns and established large-scale wild flower meadows, with close-mown paths weaving within and beyond. As if this were not enough, the whole venue has also become a local wildlife site of significance.

It is, as you may have deduced, one heck of an area to look out for. Oh, did I mention Compton Verney’s present landscape is the handiwork of one Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown? I might have spoken about him once or twice over the years…

When I describe my present place I always see it from high above, whilst looking down across its key character areas. Down on the ground however, I have come to know the site so intimately, and there aren’t many square metres where I haven’t trod, studied, considered, fixed up, planted, photographed or, on occasion, had strong words with. One area even hides my wedding ring that was lost during a restoration project – a discovery for future archaeologists I think!

Buxus clipping at Compton Verney. ©️Gary Webb

If you haven’t collected the thread by now, it is that Compton Verney, an incredibly atmospheric and beautiful place has gripped me, and I wanted to register this fact for posterity. I would say that I’m very aware it is not a Waddesdon, Kew Gardens, Chatsworth or otherwise, and it doesn’t pretend to be Wisley or Hampton Court; it is Compton Verney, a place that is individual, singular and uniquely brilliant.

I’m endeavouring, I guess, to record the Compton Verney that I know and respect. Regardless of whatever job title I’ve had pinned to my shirt, I’ve fundamentally acted as a custodian, an overseer or curator, and as anyone who cares for an historic venue is likely to tell you – it is this that matters most, and can sometimes weigh the heaviest. For me, it has always been about protecting and caring for the fabric of the landscape, and about pulling it back to something of its former splendour.

Morning sun through the grove at Compton Verney. ©️Gary Webb

From the very first moment I stepped foot onto Compton Verney ground, I knew I could make a positive horticultural difference. What I didn’t bargain for was the journey it would take me on, the challenges or pain it would throw my way, or to what degree the place would embrace and hold my imagination. Like many historic landscape gardens, whilst its original design has suffered the inevitable passage of time, its atmosphere and presence remains ever-present, and has continued to grow and improve with every year of input.

Remembering that passage of time, and the changing use of the place itself, it may be interesting to note that even with the present trust ownership model; the ‘fabric’ of the landscape that I have looked out for has remained much the same as it has for centuries. In this context, and with full respect for the role I’ve been employed to carry out for almost a decade; you can hopefully see why, as one of a very long line of gardeners, I have always felt a strong commitment to do what felt right for the landscape itself.

March of the imagination at Compton Verney
March of the Imagination 2018 at Compton Verney. ©️Gary Webb

During my contribution there have been many misty morning starts, with intimate views across that we’ll known mirror-pool lake view. There have also been dead of night walks beneath star speckled skies, whilst discovering bats and ‘butterflies of the night’. Countless projects have brought me to my knees on parched or damp earth, with many a planting pocket forced into the ground with an iron bar and back aching digging session. Other, rarer projects have given opportunities like walking beside the historic roof tiles of Brown’s chapel, to look down, bird-like over that flowing, beautiful, naturalistic landscape.

Some days have filled me with anger at the loss of a branch off a special tree, and some have set my mind wandering about the futures each freshly planted tree would witness. Frozen fingers have been warmed by the exhaust pipe of the ever suffering tractor, after hours of snow clearing yet conversely, gushing cold water has often flowed from hosepipes to cool a sun-baked head. I could fondly continue…

Naturally I can always re-visit, and I will, but before long all I shall have are images and memories to remind me of my seemingly long but all-too-short time at Compton Verney. Though I write of my personal experiences, I must importantly take time to thank a wonderful team, some of whom journeyed beside me and contributed to those landscape triumphs over the last few years.

Through our combined efforts, newly established wild flowers have fed, & will continue to nourish bees and butterflies. Beetles and rare fungi have flourished on the tons of dead wood we’ve hidden away and the stump-wood we have retained. Bats have continued to thrive in tree hollows we’ve ‘not’ pruned away, and new trees will cast valuable shade for decades, even centuries to come.

Sunset at Compton Verney
CV sunset. ©️Gary Webb

Revitalised open spaces will capture and restore peoples’ senses, a variety of planting will blossom to lift spirits, and new eye-catchers will challenge ideas of art and landscape. To all of you; you did a great job, and I couldn’t have done it without you.

I may not have been the best organiser or record-keeper, I never did promise to keep a tidy desk, and that dreaded flu might have taken me down a few times, but I feel that I’ve done my bit for the landscape and I’m proud of how it looks and of how we’ve executed our tasks along the way with humour.

So here we are, nearly at the end. ‘My baby’, as I mentioned at the top of this article will soon be my baby no longer. I’m happy though to see that it has grown some and will continue to mature. I look forward to seeing its progress in years to come, and to supporting if I can, and I will rest assured that whilst soon I will not be there in person every day, I’ll be there in spirit. My inputs were thoughtful, considered, and at all times with the best of intention.

Compton Verney historic landscape and garden: Veni, vidi, vici

(Or more appropriately: I came, I saw, I gardened!)

Gary Webb. Oct 2019.

My Back Garden

My back garden is typical of many I suppose, being somewhat on the small side. When I say small, I don’t mean magazine or Gardener’s World small, I mean really small, especially by my working standards. It would snugly fit in a corner of one of Monty’s garden areas, and I’m sure if he could see it he’d say oh, well, is this it?!

Now, before I introduce it, I will say Continue reading