Archive for August, 2014

green flag stratfordI’m one of 700 volunteer judges for the ‘Green Flag’ Award scheme in the U.K. This involves inspecting parks and open spaces, meeting staff and volunteers and looking at Management Plans and other documents, with the aim of assessing each space against eight strict criteria, including horticultural standards, cleanliness, sustainability and community involvement.

The winners for this year have recently been announced and more parks and green spaces than ever will be flying the Green Flag Award in 2014/15. In total, 1482 parks, cemeteries, universities, shopping centres and community gardens have met the high standard needed to receive the Award.

Among this year’s recipients of the Award are, for the first time, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London (picture above) and Eaton Park in Norwich. I was a judge for Elmhurst Park in Woodbridge, Suffolk, which has won an award for several years.

Green Flag Award scheme manager Paul Todd said:

‘It’s another record-breaking year for the scheme. This is something well worth celebrating and testament to the efforts of the thousands of men and women, supported by some amazing volunteers, who work tirelessly to maintain the high standards demanded by the Green Flag Award. ‘The parks sector is facing some tough challenges so it is heartening to see that they are committed to maintaining and improving standards. We know how passionate people are about our parks and green spaces and the recent Heritage Lottery Fund report, State of UK Public Parks, highlighted the need for everyone to work together to ensure they are maintained for future generations.’

A full list of the award winning spaces can  be found here.


Old School Gardener


Canadian Museum of Nature Blog

One of the great things about traveling in far northern Ontario this July was the fact that our multi-disciplinary botany team included a lichenologist.

It was great because lichens are amazing, because lichen experts are very rare, and because there’s so much left to learn in lichenology that every lichen outing seems to result in spectacular discoveries.

Lichen growing taller than the moss around it. Powdered funnel lichen (Cladonia cenotea)—Just like in this photo, the specimen of powdered funnel lichen that we collected for exhibition at the museum is mixed with the common boreal feathermoss called big red stem (Pleurozium schreberi). Image: R. Troy McMullin © R. Troy McMullin

It was also great timing, because we’ve been making the (already ultra-cool) temporary exhibition Creatures of Light even better by adding material from the Museum of Nature’s research and collections… and as it turns out, some lichens are dazzling creatures of light.

Dr. R. Troy…

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Lancelot Capability Brown

St+Wilfreds-Kirkharle St Wilfred’s, Kirkharle. ©Gary Webb 2014

On this day in history, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716 – 1783) was baptised in St Wilfred’s Church, Kirkharle. Set in the rugged Northumbrian landscape, this charming church would be the place of Worship for the Brown family for many years to come.

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Oak chapel at Allouville Bellefosse, via The Woodland Trust

Oak chapel at Allouville Bellefosse, via woodland Trust

Coiled and ready to 'Mega Hose' promises easier and safer watering
Coiled and ready to strike…new ‘Mega Hose’ promises easier and safer watering

Half of all gardeners in the UK have injured themselves while tending to their pride and joy, according to research by TV retailer, JML. And one in five of these accidents seem to be accounted for by tripping over hoses.

JML commissioned independent research to look into the gardening habits of the UK. The survey found that Brits still love their gardens, with one in five spending more than an hour a day gardening. People spending most of their time gardening are those in the East Midlands (3.43 hours a week on average). Those in Greater London and Scotland spend the least time (2.55 hours a week).

The age that spends the most time gardening is over 60 (3.27 hours a week), but there are quite a few budding gardeners out there – those under 21 said they spend an hour and a half (1.52 hours) gardening a week.

But gardening can be a dangerous hobby – nearly half (47%) of all gardeners have had an accident while pottering among the plants.

The most common mishaps in the garden are:

1. Dropped something heavy on foot: 30%
2. Tripped on a hose: 19%
3. Stepped on a rake: 12%
4. Cut themselves with shears: 10%
5=. Fallen in a pond: 4%
5=. Fallen out of a tree: 4%

The research also found that flower beds top the list of proudest garden features (30%), followed by lawns (23%), vegetable patches (11%), hanging baskets (8%), and ponds or fountains (5%).

Recent wet (and cold) weather has perhaps relieved the need to use your hose in the garden, and you shouldn’t really water the lawn in any case. After a dryer, hotter spell a few weeks ago, my own hose (a heavy duty yellow plastic job), is lying in an untidy heap next to our back door, as its a real bind dragging it back and winding it up on its reel. The result? My wife is always complaining that it gets in the way when she’s hanging out the washing and I’ve tripped on it a few times too! And at 50 metres long it can kink and snag when in use with annoying regularity. It’s also heavy and can damage the borders unless I’m very careful. Hence my enthusiasm when JML offered me a sample of their new ‘Mega Hose’ to try out.

Oh that my hose would coil up as neatly as this....

Oh that my hose would coil up as neatly as this….

Mega Hose, launched this summer, is said to ‘never kink, bind or tangle’ and has the added benefit of  ‘starting small and light but growing to over 3x its length when filled with water’. When the water is turned off it shrinks back to its original size making it easy to store.

So far, I’m impressed. The sample sent, though expanding to less than half the length of my current hose, was long enough to water the containers and baskets in the Courtyard, here at Old School Garden. I’d fitted my own spray head attachment (this isn’t included in the hose pack), and after fixing the hose to the water tap with the supplied fittings and turning on the pumped water supply from our bore hole, the Mega Hose extended as promised and gave a nicely controlled water supply. The fabric-covered hose was good to use- light and bendable, and as promised didn’t kink or bend, and didn’t look likely to either.

The hose, once the water was turned off, shrunk back to a neatly coiled bundle, ready for its next session, or is easily stashed in the shed, avoiding the hassle of winding it up on a reel – and hopefully reducing the risk of trips too. My guess is that the fabric sleeve might wear a bit over time, but it looks pretty tough.

I’ll see how I get on with a few more waterings, and depending on this I may buy another length and join it to the other in order to reach the furthest bits of the garden. For those with smaller plots the Mega Hose I had is said to extend up to 22.5 metres, and smaller versions and other fittings are available.

Further information: JML website

Old School Gardener


One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?

ID-100219796A recent paper, No Dominion over Nature, authored by UK ecologists, Professors Mark Huxham, Sue Hartley, Jules Pretty and Paul Tett, describes how current approaches to food production are damaging the long term health of ecosystems, hampering their ability to provide ecosystem services and leaving them vulnerable to collapse. Focusing on continual (and unsustainable) increases in agricultural productivity, for example through intensive monocultures, will inevitably lead to a “boom and bust” cycle.

The “dominant narrative” in meeting the ever increasing demand for food (some estimate we need to increase food production by 100% by 2050 to meet this demand) is to intensify agricultural production, an approach, such as the Green Revolution, that has so far allowed food production to keep pace with population growth. Such a pathway, as authors argue, is causing ecosystem deterioration, eroding the ecosystem services we rely upon such as pollination, climate regulation and water purification…

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Beyond the Wild Garden

I think by now you will know I am a big fan of the gardens at Powerscourt Estate. I have talked so much about their great trees and roses here before. It will come as now surprise to you all then that after a recent visit to the gardens I decided to dedicate my latest Kildare Post gardening column to the gardens. It was a great time to highlight the estate as recently it was named the third best garden in the world. An edited version of this article appeared in the print edition of the Kildare Post on 26th August 2014.

The world’s third best garden – By David Corscadden 

When it comes to Irish gardens that have had an impact on garden design a hand full of gardens come to mind. None standout more strongly to me though than Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow.

For me these…

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Physalis seed pods mark the move into autumn...

Physalis seed pods mark the move into autumn…

Old School Garden – 28th August 2014

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

The last few weeks have felt more like autumn than summer, here at Old School Garden. The first week of the month was thankfully sunny and warm and coincided with our holiday in Suffolk; you may have seen a couple of articles I’ve posted about some of our visits.

I feel that I’ve been very lazy in the garden over the remaining weeks, just focusing on the ‘ticking over’ tasks of grass cutting, dead heading, watering, feeding and harvesting- and the occasional bit of weeding. Taking it easier seems to have made my back problems disappear, at least for now.

I dug my carrots up the other day and I was relived that this year I seem to have had some success; though a few have been nibbled around the tops and one or two have split or forked, most are what would pass as good specimens for the supermarket (not that this is test of quality of course!). The celery and courgettes and runner beans continue to crop well; I think we’re just about on top of the courgette glut! We’ve discovered a great recipe for ‘Italian style courgette and Parmesan soup’ on the BBC food website– well worth a try if you like a creamy soup with a bit of ‘edge and bite’. cauliflowers and cabbages seem to putting on a lot of leaf, but no heads, so these may be a ‘no show’ this year.

The ‘heritage’ squashes are rampant and I’ve started removing flowers to try to concentrate the energy into fewer fruit; they are colouring up nicely. Cucumbers are exceeding our needs; I must remember to resist the temptation to grow two plants next year. The tomatoes are steady, if not prolific, though recent weather conditions have probably contributed to the re-emergence of blight in the greenhouse. Still,  it seems to be under control, especially as I’ve removed most of the foliage now to try to concentrate the growth into the fruit and to help with ripening.

I’ve also been regularly harvesting plums (including a wonderful crop of cherry plums from a wild tree on our street border), raspberries and more recently blackberries. Both of these berries all seem to be doing well, with good-sized, tasty fruit, though the mystery of my raspberries remains- for the second year now the back half of both the summer and autumn raspberries have not yielded much if any flowers or fruit. I wonder if this is due to some sort of soil deficiency, though many of the summer fruiting plants are old and in need of replacement; but I can’t understand why the back end is so poor, and the otherwise good autumn row is also affected. Yes, they are next to the wood, but they are in full sun  just like the southern end of the rows. Any advice would be welcome! Here are a few pictures of fruit in the garden at present.

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I’ve also harvested my first pears from the two ‘super column’ plants I put in about four years ago. These (Williams and Conference varieties) are looking great (and the first couple of Williams tasted delicious); I must ensure I get to them before the birds do! As I’ve reported before, the apples this year are disappointing; some large cookers have appeared and been used from one of the ‘super columns’, but more generally in the orchard there are very few fruit developing, due to a combination of pest attack and probably the wet, mild spring causing blossom wilt. I’ve now given all the trees and trained fruit their summer prune, cutting back the ‘water shoots’ to encourage spurs to form (I’ve also done the Wisteria).

Begonias keeping the terrace colourful

Begonias keeping the terrace colourful

The ornamental garden areas are hanging on in there, the late summer performers just coming into their own; sedums, grasses, asters, cannas, helianthemum etc. I’ve grown some autumn pansies from seed and also bought a couple of trays to brighten up the containers on the terrace, which are starting to look tired- apart from those full of ‘non stop’, bright red Begonias.

You remember I said that I was going to experiment with the ‘Chelsea Chop’ this year? I’m pleased with the results. I gave many of the sedums this treatment back in May and the plants are now looking squat, bushy and with lots of flower heads starting to colour up, obviating the need for staking and giving a nicely proportioned show. I shall definitely do this again next year.

Sedums given the 'Chelsea Chop'

Sedums given the ‘Chelsea Chop’

The courtyard fruit is also developing, though the recent lack of sun and warmth has obviously checked this to a degree. Still grapes, figs and possibly olives are all on the way; my miniature peach which suffers from Peach leaf curl has now recovered and put on a good show of healthy new leaves, though the fruit, as before, is disappointing. I must take a closer look at what I need to do with this next year.

I’m afraid the excavating moles are still going about their business, and the main lawn is looking very patchy as a result. I’m in two minds about what to do, if anything about this- do I leave well alone and see the, probably enlarged, mole family wreak even more havoc next year, or do I get a ‘mole man’ in to ‘deal’ with them? Despite reading ‘Noah’s Garden’ and its advocacy of an ecological approach to gardening (so I should convert my lawn to meadow to hide the mole hills), I’m not yet convinced of the case for ‘leaving them be’.

As I mentioned last month my gardening support at the two schools has come to an end, though I’m still puttign in some time at Gressenhall Museum to keep on top of a few areas i’ve been involved with. I shall start to look for other projects once September is done; one might be a new project at our nearby National Trust property, Blickling Hall, where they are intending to restore the large walled garden which is currently largely a ‘blank canvas’. I’ll keep you posted.

I hope that you and Lise enjoyed your holiday in Scotland, though I guess that you didn’t have much good weather in the last couple of weeks, like here? We’re off to Devon next week to do some walking. Now that Deborah has retired she has an ambition to do some ‘open moor’ walking, trying to reach as many Dartmoor tors as we can in four or five days- I may be longing for some work in the garden as light relief after this!

All the best Walter, as we’re away towards the end of September, it’ll probably be early October before you hear from me again. I hope that you enjoy the transition to autumn. We’re looking forward to our visit to you in October.

Old School Gardener




Having been over to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum today to do some gardening, I couldn’t resist snapping the front border, which was my first design and create project there a few years ago. The combination of grasses, shrubs and annuals was looking great in the sun, so here’s a sample. Sorry to show off!

Old School Gardener

norwich 2035

This wonderful illustration and story titled ‘Norwich AD 2035 (A Prophetic Fantasy)’ written and illustrated by Mr W. T. Watling, an art master at the City of Norwich school has been unearthed by Norfolk Record Office.

The text describes a man taking a drug and finding himself transported to Norwich 100 years in the future! If you look closely, you can spot some notable Norwich landmarks in the futuristic landscape. The story was first published in ‘The Norwich Annual’ in 1935.

Old Schoool Gardener

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