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wp_20161130_13_30_12_proWhilst in Devon recently we paid a visit to Cotehele House, just over the border in Cornwall. This is a favourite place; granite walls set in an ancient landscape of trees covered in lichen and a terraced garden that looks over the Tamar valley to Calstock and beyond.

The day was sunny after a frosty start and we took a stroll around the wintered grounds where the sounds of gushing water and the smell of wood smoke blended together as the low sun cast fingers of shadow.

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I ventured up the nearby Prospect Tower which was built in the 17th century but whose origins are obscure. After a dark, winding stair climb I emerged into the sun and some wonderful views.

We made our way into the house to find the famous Cotehele Christmas Garland

‘Every November gardeners and volunteers… create a 60ft long Christmas garland using thousands of flowers grown on the estate. The giant swag … hangs in the Great Hall throughout the festive season.

Preparations for the garland begin months earlier in February when the flower seeds are sown. The first flowers are ready for picking from late April and are then dried in the loft over the summer and autumn before the garland is put together over two weeks in November.

Tens of thousands of flowers go into the garland each year. ‘Ideally we’d like 30,000 but some years we get as low as 20,000,’ explains head gardener Dave Bouch. ‘How many we get is completely down to the summer – we need sunny days and low rainfall – that’s the joy of gardening…..’

‘Each year the garland is different, depending on which of the specially grown flowers have done well,’ adds Dave. The garland often includes ornamental grasses, everlasting sand flower, straw flower, paper daisy, paper rose, statice and garden thrift.

Creating the garland is a task which involves team work and Cotehele’s gardeners and volunteers use scaffolding to add flowers into the growing festive display.’ (courtesy National Trust)

This year marks 60 years since the first garland was created…a real example of ‘modern heritage making’…. When the residents of Cotehele first hung a modest, floral, Christmas display in the Tudor Hall six decades ago, little did they know how their simple decoration would turn into the magnificent garland it is today. To make it an extra special celebration, this year the gardeners grew flowers specifically to give it a ‘diamond’ anniversary look:

  • 31,200: number of flowers in the garland

  • 7,920: number of flowers in the swag around the door

  • 120: number of kilograms the garland weighs

Further information: National Trust website

Old School Gardener

 

nfNorwich FarmShare is a community supported agriculture scheme providing delicious seasonal, organic vegetables to their members at a weekly Hub in Norwich. Their vision is for a fair and sustainable food system that roots a healthy resilient community in the land and to each other.

A not-for-profit cooperative it works with small-scale, agro-ecological farmers and growers in Norfolk, modelling sustainable urban food supply. In October 2015, Norwich FarmShare received notice to quit their growing site to the east of Norwich, the land had been leased for five years from a local farm.

The Trustees decided to commission a feasibility study to consider other potential growing sites in Norfolk and the potential for restarting the scheme at a new site. A grant was received from The Big Lottery’s Awards For All programme to appoint an assessment team and external consultants, and fund relevant research and local consultation. The study commenced in June 2016 and is nearing completion.

captureThe Group now want to further consult on the feasibility study and are holding a community gathering on Sunday 11th December, between 3pm and 6pm at the Friends Meeting House, Upper Goat Lane, Norwich.

Further information: Norwich Farm Share

Old School Gardener

Green Flag bandstand flagI’ve been a Green Flag judge for a few years now – I judged six parks and green spaces this year, including Eaton Park in Norwich (see picture below). I recently attended a ‘Debriefing’ session to hear how this year’s judging went .

Eaton Park, Norwich

The scheme- which promotes good standards in public parks and gardens- celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year and I and fellow judges were told how the scheme continues to grow in its reputation and reach; this years aw spaces in several continental countries being inspected for the first time as well as increased numbers of both applications and successful awards across the UK.

The scheme, managed by Keep Britain Tidy, saw 1,686 parks, cemeteries, universities, shopping centres and community gardens meeting the high standard needed to receive the Green Flag Award or Green Flag Community Award, the quality marks for parks and green spaces.

And this year, for the first time ever, an NHS hospital – The Royal Bournemouth NHS Foundation Trust – has achieved the Green Flag Award standard, joining recipients Blue Water Shopping Centre in Kent and Peak Forest Canal in Whaley Bridge.

The Green Flag Award judges- there are more than 700 – volunteer their time to visit applicant sites and assess them against eight strict criteria, including horticultural standards, cleanliness, sustainability and community involvement.

SkeltonGrangepond_headerWe heard how a university grounds in Finland was the first space to be judged there this year and how more are expected to apply in 2017. We also heard about judging experiences in Ireland and a first judging for a length of Canal. This year’s awards went to the following areas:

I and my fellow judges were delighted to receive a specially inscribed copy of  ‘Great British Parks’ by Paul Rabbitts as a ‘thank you’ from the organisers. The next round of applications is now open; find out more here.

Old School Gardener

 

Well what can I say… it has been awhile?! It feels like a lifetime ago that I last sat down and wrote a blog post for Beyond The Wild Garden. But to be honest over the past few months the blog has been always in the back of my head as I went off on […]

via The Longer than Expected Hiatus — Beyond the Wild Garden

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I said I’d post up a few pictures of how Blickling is handling Christmas this year. In short, the outside lighting and house decorations are the best ever.There were even outposts serving mulled wine and mince pies, horse-drawn carriage rides and some merry musical entertainment from a brass band and hurdy gurdy player. And of course there’s a range of festive-themed crafts on sale. In case you can’t experience it for yourself, here’s a selection of shots I took. Enjoy.

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Old School Gardener

As we began our great Southwest trip on October 16th we noticed the many goldeneye bushes (Viguiera dentata) flowering along US 290 on the western side of Austin. No time to stop then, as we’d barely started on the 550 miles to El Paso, but nine days earlier I’d photographed some goldeneye flowers in my […]

via A flash of gold — Portraits of Wildflowers

wp_20161126_12_45_09_proI attended a celebration for the Norfolk Master Composters on Saturday. It’s ten years since the project was established, jointly run by Garden Organic and Norfolk County Council.

Several hundred volunteers have been trained up as ambassadors of compost making and waste reduction and they’ve delivered thousands of hours of advice to schools, communities and households, making Norfolk one of the most ‘compost friendly’ places in Britain.

Held at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Norwich, the celebration heard kind words from County Councillor Martin Wilby and Chief Executive of Garden Organic, James Campbell.

wp_20161126_12_46_14_proCertificates of hours served were also handed out, including one to longest serving volunteer George Muttby, who joined at the beginning of the project in 2006 and has committed over 300 hours of his time to the cause. He spoke passionately about his work with his local Primary School and how government needs to change legislation to make it easier for schools and other institutions to compost and recycle their waste.

wp_20161126_13_10_15_proIt was also an opportunity to have a tour of the interesting garden next to the Cathedral (I’ll be doing a separate post about this) and the cathedral itself, including clambering up narrow stairways to walk inside the nave roof, around the high gallery at the crossing point and up to the top of the tower, from where we had a wonderful view across Norwich to the coast and surrounding countryside.

We had a chance to make some christmas decorations too and had a tasty lunch to follow with a piece of the celebration cake to finish.

Here’s to the next 10 years!

Old School Gardener

 

Make your own Christmas Wreath?

Make your own Christmas Wreath?

December’s key gardening tasks may seem a little like November’s (and January’s too). But it’s important to be determined and to keep on top of some routine jobs, especially leaf raking (and leaf mould making), and clearing away spent stems and leaves from areas where, if left, they will encourage pests and diseases (but don’t be too tidy). On the other hand, the pace of activity has definitely slowed, so you can afford to take it a bit easier this month (well I  suppose that should read transferring your energies from gardening to christmas shopping, putting up christmas decorations etc.).

Here are a few ideas to help you stay connected to your garden during the onset of winter.

1. Digging (and mulching)

Continue to dig over beds and borders and incorporate as much organic matter as you can (spade work in heavier soils, or border forks in lighter soils like that in Old School Garden). This will not only help to prepare the soil for next year, it will reduce some pests by exposing them to hungry birds. If conditions are too wet or the ground frozen, avoid digging and instead spread a good layer of organic mulch- and let the worms do the work for you over the winter.

2. Clearing

It’s important to clear away old plant debris to prevent slugs and snails setting up home in the warm and damp conditions layers of leaves and stems can create.  Take special care to remove leaves around alpines – they will die if covered up in damp material. It’s also worth covering bare patches around these plants with a top up of gritty compost to aid new growth. But don’t be too tidy as you’ll remove valuable cover and shelter for hibernating animals and insects.

3. Planting

From now through until March is a great time to plant deciduous hedging (bare – rooted whips can be bought from nurseries). Some varieties – Beech and Hornbeam for example –  will retain their old leaves over the winter, and provide good screens. Hawthorn is good for a traditional country hedge and provides a natural, dense barrier (you can add in dogwoods, maple, dog rose and guelder rose to increase the wildlife value). To plant hedging first dig a trench a week or two before planting. This will allow the soil to settle. Then plant out your whips when the ground is moist (but not waterlogged or frozen). If the right conditions are a little while coming either ‘heel in’ your plants somewhere temporarily or keep them in compost in containers. Other trees and shrubs can also be planted – but again, wait for the right conditions.

It’s also a good time to take cuttings from rhododendrons, azaleas, and other evergreen shrubs. New growing tips should be cut to about 10-15 cms long, just below a leaf node, strip off most of the lower leaves and place the cuttings in pots of gritty compost in bright light, keep them moist and at a temperature of around 21 degrees C.

Hedeg planting- now's the time to get started

Hedge planting- now’s the time to get started

4. Protecting

Mulch Hellebores with wood chips to protect their flowers from rain splashes and remove any black spotted leaves (a fungal disease).

Lift any Dahlias in potentially cold and wet positions and store them in a gritty compost or vermiculite somewhere dry, cool but frost-free for the winter. It’s best to leave these (and any begonias you want to keep) in the ground for as long as possible to fatten their tubers- lift after the foliage has been blackened by frost.

Keep an eye on temperatures and if there’s a sudden drop forecast, then erect a temporary cover for tender flowering plants like Rhododendrons, Camellias, Azaleas and Daphne. A few stakes driven into the soil around the plant and a covering of fleece or a sheet should do the job. But make sure the material doesn’t touch the plant and remove the cover as soon as the temperature rises.

Avoid your hose freezing and splitting by stretching it out with both ends open, so allowing water to drain completely. It can then be coiled up and put away somewhere frost free. Likewise make sure any outside taps are covered to protect them from freezing.

Prevent your compost bin from getting too wet or frozen (and so slowing the decomposition process), by covering it with old carpet or plastic sheeting.

5. Decorating

Why not cut some shoots and branches for Christmas decorations and maybe make your own wreaths? Add in cones, dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and broad, wired ribbon.

If you normally have an artificial or cut Christmas tree, why not consider buying a rooted one this year? They don’t cost that much more and can be planted out to add a feature to your garden as well as saving a living tree! Make sure that you water a living tree well before bringing it inside and limit the tree’s ‘indoor holiday’ to no more than 10 days, making sure you keep it watered and ideally not in a warm room. Here’s a link to advice on caring for your tree.

A living Christmas Tree this year? In some places you can rent them!

A living Christmas Tree this year? In some places you can rent them!

6. Feeding

Now’s when birds start to go short of natural food, so provide good quality bird food and fat or suet balls, ensuring that feeders are out of the reach of cats. And make sure clean water is available and remains unfrozen.

7. Pruning- or not

Have a quick whisk round trees and shrubs and cut out dead, diseased or dying branches. The spurs on smaller fruit trees can be thinned out, and new horizontal tiered branches on Espaliers can be tied in. Apples, pears, quinces and medlars can be pruned. Cut down the canes of Autumn fruiting raspberries (or leave these in place until February if they are in an exposed position) and prune gooseberries, red and white currants.

Now is the time for coppicing native trees and shrubs. This technique is good for limiting the size of trees in small gardens, turning a tree into a multi-stemmed shrub. It will also provide shelter for wildlife and a breeding ground for butterflies, and lets more light through to the surrounding plants that would otherwise be shaded out by a bigger tree. This opens up the possibility of planting bulbs and ground cover plants around the tree.  Pollarding involves pruning to create a single main trunk, with cutting back of higher level stems. If you are growing shrubs for winter stem colour- e.g Cornus, then wait until spring to cut back the stems to the base.

Avoid cutting back all your perennials as they can provide food and shelter for wildlife in the winter. Anyway, many perennials (e.g. Agapanthus and Rudbeckia) have attractive seed heads and so add a little interest to the winter garden. I particularly like to leave the bleached stems of deciduous grasses in Old School Garden.

Bird Feeders just put up at Old School Garden...must remember the water bowl too!

Bird Feeders just put up at Old School Garden…must remember the water bowl too!

8. Harvesting

If you have them, these crops should all be ready for harvesting:

  • Beetroot

  • Turnips

  • Parsnips (best left until the weather has been frosty)

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Celery

  • Swedes

  • Cabbages

  • Leeks

9. Watering

Rain or snow might tempt you to think you don’t need to water your plants, but those which are growing underneath large evergreens or the eaves of the house or in other ‘rain shadows’, may become very dry. A lack of water in winter can be the death knell for these plants.

10. Winter projects

The weather may be good enough for you to complete a special project to enhance your garden:

  • Add a few native trees and shrubs into your borders and more exotic plantings

  • Build a compost heap – use old pallets to get the cheapest, most effective and sturdiest result

  • Feed hedgehogs with tinned dog food (but not bread and milk)

  • ‘Create’ a pile of sticks and logs to make a wonderful ‘des res’ for hibernating hedgehogs and the like

  • Make a leaf container out of chicken wire and posts to make leaf mould out of fallen leaves (it normally takes about 1 – 2 years to rot down). Alternatively they can be stored wet in large black plastic sacks pierced with a fork to make holes

  • Dig a wildlife pond

Oh, and finally, stay off frozen grass!!!

Old School Gardener

wp_20161124_12_48_27_proHaving spent the morning doing some Geophysics surveying at the nearby Aylsham Roman Project, I joined the Thursday Team at Blickling for a couple of hours this week.

The focus was digging over the Black Border and planting out over 600 ‘Queen of Night’ tulip bulbs which will look splendid alongside black Irises and black Mongo grass, as well as shrubs such as black Elder. The soil here is pretty damp and claggy, so we spent a good time forking it over to loosen it before planting out the bulbs.

wp_20161124_12_48_42_proOn my way to lunch I bumped into Project Manager, Mike, who has thankfully returned to work after his back problems. After lunch I was joined by Norfolk Peter and Gordon in the Walled Garden, where we planted out about seven rows of tulips which will be used for cutting flowers next spring. The soil, here, having been improved consistently over many years, was a joy to work compared to the Black border.

wp_20161124_14_43_36_proSo where were all the gardeners? It turns out they were ‘dressing’ the gardens for the festive openings in the run up to Christmas. The lighting effects and other decorations promise to be even better than previous years and the House has also been decked out as it would have looked for a 1930’s Christmas. If you can manage a visit, I’m sure it will be very worthwhile- I’ll post some pictures later in the week of how it all looks.

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Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

There are certain plants that are full of interest most of the year but they usually have powerful peaks. Such a plant is Clerodendrum trichotoma var fargesii, which we grow in our spring border. It is one of those plants with lots going for it and to recommend itself to us gardeners.

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