Archive for March, 2014


I love land art. You can often see it in protected landscapes or the grounds of important buildings. Sometimes, more riskily, it can be found in the open landscape, where it can make a wonderful contribution to an overall scene, aid interpretation of a place or maybe even just define a space that would otherwise be unremarkable.

I feel this way about wind turbines- I know that having them placed up against your plot might be a pain. Their numbers, groupings and locations do need careful thought, but I think we should embrace them more as potentially positive additions to our landscape (as well as out at sea). Rather than try to ‘hide’ them by leaving them creamy white, why not make more of them as land art – a clever paint job or perhaps adding some whimsical ornamentation could actually make them something we look forward to seeing.

Coming back to earth, or rather back to the garden, what about land art in a more domestic setting?

In my opinion, a lot of ‘off the shelf’ garden sculptures and other ‘features’ are just plain dull and many others too sickly sweet or twee to be given house room- or should I say garden room. We also sometimes place small, insignificant items in our gardens which are out of proportion and are soon ‘lost’. We really ought to be thinking big(ger).

Well, enough of my Monday rant, here are a few examples of some superb pieces of land/garden art in stone. What do you think of them and what about more land art in gardens?

Old School Gardener

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National Trust Press Office

To celebrate the arrival of British Summer Time and the first day of spring, The Wild Network is encouraging parents to use the extra hour of daylight to take the kids outdoors and get some more ‘wild time’.

Children playing at Belton House, Lincolnshire. Credit NT Images Children playing at Belton House, Lincolnshire. Credit NT Images

During the colder winter months the battle to get our children away from their gadgets can be a challenge, but with the arrival of spring it’s time to reunite them with the outdoors.

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greenbenchramblings

Recently I published a post about one tree, today I follow up with a post about two logs. Of course they are from Silver Birch trees, my favourite trees. When we have our log supply for the winter delivered the birch logs always look so colourful and full of textures. These two started getting more colourful and as the bark dried and peeled the textures got more interesting.

So I popped them down on the back lawn and took these shots. Please enjoy! You just have to like the curly bits! Look closely and you will find landscapes in miniature brought out by the bright sunlight.

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OK, here’s a little challenge for you to start the new week. I photographed these two old gardening tools at Erdigg House and Gardens last week. I wonder how efficient they were, as I can certainly see me using them both in Old School Garden.

What do you think they were used for? Have you used them, or do you have them in your garden? Please leave me a comment!

Old School Gardener

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Last weekend, whilst staying in Chester, we took a little trip out to Wales, specifically to the elegant house and gardens at Erdigg, near Wrexham. It was well worth the effort as we found a beautiful formal garden stemming from the 18th  century and showing evidence of later period garden design fashions.

Erddig was owned by the Yorke family for 240 years. Each of them was called either Simon or Philip. The first Simon Yorke inherited the house in 1733 from his uncle, John Meller. Erddig’s garden was begun in 1685. Each of Erddig’s owners has altered and added to it, but each has respected their predessors work. Today you can still see evidence of the gardens of the past. Erddig’s walled garden is one of the most important surviving 18th century formal gardens in Britain.

The gardens contain rare fruit trees, a canal, a pond, a Victorian era  parterre and are home to the NCCPG  National Plant Collection of Hedera (ivy). The arrangement of alcoves in the yew hedges in the formal gardens may be a form of bee bole – a cavity or alcove in a wall or a separate free-standing structure set against a wall (the Scots word ‘bole’ means a recess in a wall). A skep is placed inside the bee bole. Before the development of modern bee hives, bee boles were a practical way of keeping bees in some parts of Britain, although most beekeepers kept their skeps in the open covered by, for example, old pots, or sacking. The bee bole helped to keep the wind and rain away from the skep and the bees living inside.

Further information:

National Trust Website

Wikipedia

Old School Gardener

Spring has sprung at Old School Garden

Spring has sprung at Old School Garden

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

I’m a bit under the weather at present. A heavy cold was preceded earlier in the week with an infection in the nerves of one of my teeth- very painful, but thankfully the antibiotics are now dealing with it. However, I can ‘look forward’ to some root canal work and a crown in a few week’s time!

The illnesses have rather put back my gardening activities this week, but I’ve still managed to make some progress. You probably saw my articles about the new alpine planter in the Courtyard; I’m really pleased with how that’s turned out and look forward to a new horticultural experience with alpines, which I haven’t grown before. Another project I’m hoping to start today is to turn an old wooden bike rack into a ‘pot plant theatre’ – this should be a fairly simple challenge and will hopefully add another nice feature to the courtyard garden- more on this next week!

The rest of the garden is really starting to kick in too- bulbs appearing in all sorts of places (including some I’d forgotten about), and the early flowering shrubs and trees- Viburnum, Forsythia, Chaenomeles, Cherry, Clematis (armandii and balearica), Currants and magnolias are all looking great. The pink magnolia in the front garden is just about coming into flower- we need a few days of the warmth of a week or two ago. And the Amelanchier is just about to give us its spring shower of white blossom- I can’t wait.

I’ve begun weeding and tidying the various borders but had hoped to be further on by now (I always seem to be saying that). Still, a few days next week should see the bulk of this done. I’ve also spent a good couple of days pressure washing the terrace, paths and copurtyard floors- this seems to get harder each year, or maybe it’s because we’ve had the warm, wet conditions over the winter that help algae to grow! A weather presenter last week reported that one frosty night (when temperatures fell to about -5 degrees C) had been not only the coldest of the spring, but also of the entire winter too!

I’ve been sowing seeds- veg and flowers- and most of these have so far been successful, though a couple of packets of perennials I bought have been disappointing, yielding only one plant each from packets of 10 or so seeds- maybe I didn’t get the conditions quite right for these. I’m now getting to the stage when I need to clear the greenhouse of the remaining tender, over-wintered plants to create space for further racking for more seed trays.

That reminds me, last week there was a minor disaster in the greenhouse, which is already jam-packed with trays and modules. Our cat decided to ‘explore’ – he jumped up onto the staging and managed to tip three trays of seeds onto the floor! I think I’ve managed to salvage many of the seedlings in two of these, but the third one hadn’t yet germinated, so I may not see anything from that given the way the compost (and seed) was turned upside down!

I’ve finished turning over the soil in the kitchen garden and started to mulch the fruit with manure. The rhubarb is looking good and we had our first crop of ‘forced’ stems last week- very sweet too. The first crops of broad beans, carrots, red cabbage, spinach, onions and garlic are all in (some sown last autumn and over wintered), so we should be getting some tender new veg in a few months. I gave the lawn its first cut a week or two back and it looks like it now needs another, so that’s a further job for the next few days- and edging this will also take some time, especially as I want to straighten out one section that isn’t quite parallel with its opposite edge.

Further afield I’ve continued with my support to two schools (one primary, the other a secondary). Yesterday – despite some heavy rain (or maybe because of it), the younger primary school children had great fun making ‘mud creatures’ in the grounds- a creative use of the many mole hills in what’s called the ‘Eco Park’. We also set up a greenhouse (which was bought with some of the money raised st the opening of Old School Garden last year) and pallet planting spaces (using the vertical planters I made with some of the children last year, but this time using them horizontally). The two younger classes will use these to get growing close to their classrooms – they had great fun filling these with compost yesterday, a natural follow on from getting their hands muddy making ‘mud creatures’!

This area will focus on container growing and provide the children with an introduction to growing which they can then use to progress into the main school garden area. This is starting to look very neat and tidy and has a range of crops already underway. Yesterday the class whose responsibility is the potatoes, planted three varieties of ‘earlies’ out in the raised bed we’ve earmarked for this (covered with sheets of polycarbonate). We’ve told them about rotation too – this plot had peas and beans in it last year. Oh, and I’m pleased to say that the School has now been confirmed as achieving the highest award for ‘Learning Outside the Classroom’ -Gold, which will sit nicely alongside its top marks in the RHS Campaign for School Gardening (where it has achieved Level 5, again the highest possible).

At the secondary school, we’ve just about managed to get the three plots (of 12m x 6m each) ready for planting- last week saw a local chap come in with his rotivator to finish off tilling the soil- though we have had to limit this in one plot as we’ve discovered what looks like an old lead water pipe! Still, I hope next week to get temporary landscape fabric paths laid and potatoes planted with each year group. The process of weeding/taking off grass  has been a real challenge, not least for children with short attention spans! Still, we’re nearly there and so we can start to plan out next term’s activities to bring in a bit more variety to what they do.

It’s sad that the Master Gardener programme has been wound up in most of Norfolk, as the original funding has come to an end, but it is progressing in one or two community gardening projects and in the whole of the Breckland area, where the Council has kindly agreed to continue funding it. I’m going off to the induction day for the new Breckland Master Gardener volunteers on Sunday, hopefully to inspire rather than de-motivate!

A beauty from inside the house- Clivia
A beauty from inside the house- Clivia

Well that’s about it for this month’s update, Walter. I was pleased to hear that you’ve taken on an allotment with Ferdy but sympathise with you on the tiring preparatory work, similar to what I’ve experienced at the secondary school! Still, it sounds like you’re nearly ready to sow and plant like us, so all the best for that. I’m sure you’ll really enjoy ‘growing your own’ alongside tending your fabulous ornamental garden at home.

Tomorrow, our young German guest, Lisa, is returning home. This will be a sad day as she’s been a delightful addition to our rather depleted household over the last few months. One can fall into stereotyping today’s youngsters as rather shallow, lacking interest in anyone but themselves and focused on ‘having fun’. Lisa has rebalanced my perspective, and we wish her every success in her university studies and chosen career in teaching.

Stay in touch old friend,

Old School Gardener

10 Ways to teach children to love nature

kidsnature

Click on the title for the article

Old School Gardener

IMG_8433My earlier article described how I put together a new wooden planter for my courtyard garden, made by Woodblocx. I’ve now finished it.

First, I gave the rough planed outside a sand down with a medium grade sanding disc, wiped it over and then applied two coats of Dulux Woodsheen (colour Ebony) to make the finished article match in with the other black planters in the garden. This gives it a nice semi gloss finish. I then fixed some hammer- in studs to the bottom to raise it slightly off the ground (to prevent it being in contact with standing water), and lined it with landscape fabric, stapled to the sides to give a neat finish. This will hold the soil in and also protect the inside surfaces of the planter.

The planter painted and lined, ready to fill.
The planter painted and lined, ready to fill.

I then made up a mix to fill it- roughly 3 parts soil, 2 parts compost and 2 parts horticultural grit, to ensure that the soil is free draining. Having really packed this in and slightly overfilled it to allow for settlement, I arranged a selection of alpine plants I’d bought from my local nursery (£12.50 for ten plants – I ended up buying 20 – and then a few more larger plants to give the planting a bit of structure).

The planter isn’t really large enough for me to create a more ‘mountain-like’ scene with rocks and crevices to create shady conditions, but hopefully the plants that need a shadier spot will be helped by the shade cast by the larger plants. To finish off or ‘dress’ the surface I used a bag of ‘Eco Aggregate’ – this is a range of recycled stones. I chose crushed terracotta (old tiles) which picks up the colours of some of the other terracotta pots, brickwork and floor pavers.

I’m pleased with the result – it will add an interesting feature to the courtyard and is low enough to be viewed from the seating next to it. What do you think? If you’re interested in finding out more about ‘Woodblocx’ click the link on the right hand side.

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Old School Gardener

Rethinking Childhood

A couple of weeks ago the UK laundry brand Persil (known in many parts of the world as Omo) released a set of short videos called ‘Kids Today’. The aim is to give parents insights into the intrinsic value of play, using ‘point of view’ cameras to bring the viewer closer to the world as seen through children’s eyes. Here is the first, entitled ‘Play Face’.

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WP_20140322_081Some of the wonderful planting at Queen’s Lower School for girls, Chester

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