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Old School Garden- 31st December 2014

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

It was great seeing you and Lise just before Christmas, and thanks for the Christmas card, which was a pleasant surprise! I was grateful for your advice about the raspberries, too; I shall be looking out for some new saplings to plug the gaps and hope for a more consistent crop next year.

The mild weather we had just before Christmas has now been replaced by rather colder, though mixed conditions. It’s been quite frosty here in the last few days; I’m glad that I managed, earlier in the month, to get the greenhouse insulated and heated and the tender plants inside.

Apart from that, it’ s been a relatively quiet time doing the usual winter chores; leaf collecting, mole hill clearing (don’t they ever pack up their tunneling?) and tidying away spent stems and foliage where these have flopped or offer nothing to wildlife or the winter garden.

The colourful stems of the Dogwoods are now looking good, as are the Mahonia and (surprisingly) flowers on some of the Viburnums- a hang over from the mild autumn, I guess. We’ve also got some winter and spring colour in pots on the Terrace.

I pulled my (small) crop of parsnips just before Christmas and we’ve been enjoying these over the holiday – the harvest was pretty good, though I noticed a couple of the roots had been eaten out  (I had this problem last year), and one or two of the biggest specimens were a little woody inside. Still they were very tasty!

I did manage to clear one mixed border and replant this using the remaining Box balls from the Terrace planters. You recall seeing these? I had three large balls left after removing three that had Box Blight. The remainders were getting a bit too large for the planters anyway.

The balls now form a neat row that reflects the three large pots we have at the other end of the terrace lawn, and I’ve planted around them with a mix of Allium bulbs and some of the plugs of Canterbury Bells I grew on earlier in the year. I’ve also rearranged the selection of other herbaceous plants that were in this bed and – hopefully – removed all of the Ground Elder and Periwinkle that between them were making the bed a nightmare to keep tidy.

The replanted mixed border with Box Balls- with a frosty sheen!

The replanted mixed border with Box Balls- with a frosty sheen!

You remember I told you that the local Vicar had asked me to produce a Management Plan for the churchyard? Well Deborah and I went over earlier in the month and measured up to see what scale the ground plan he’d given me was; luckily it was almost exactly 1:100, so that meant the transfer of information was a straightforward tracing job- it would have been a real hassle if I’d have had to scale off and position every grave and stone! Well, the base plan is done and I’m now thinking about the design and Management Plan. I think this will involve some selective cutting down and cutting back of some of the trees around (and in) the churchyard to allow more light and space, and the gradual cultivation of a wildflower meadow environment across much of the rest of the site- but keeping more recent graves clear and ensuring some mown paths to allow access. As it’s management will almost entirely depend on voluntary labour I’ll need to keep things relatively simple, but perhaps there is limited scope for introducing some greater plant interest in one or two spots.

As you know, Deborah retired from teaching at the local Primary school this year and I took the opportunity of ending my school gardening work there too, especially as they had achieved ‘5 Star’ status with the RHS and are now getting regular advice and input from the RHS Regional Coordinator. However, at our recent Christmas Party the Teacher who coordinates ‘Outdoor Learning’ asked me to prepare a specification for maintenance of the grounds and also to help her prepare some design proposals for the playground, where there are ambitions to get more play and educational value from the space. I’m pleased about helping with both of these issues, as I’ve felt for some time a different, more considered approach to the grounds is needed, including one that is more wildlife-friendly, and also to take into account the maintenance needs of areas that I’ve helped to plant up over the years.

This ‘Desk work’ will be a nice project for the winter months, but I’m also excited about starting to garden at nearby Blickling Hall, where the National Trust is embarking on a project to regenerate its two acre Walled Garden as well as maintaining the extensive and varied gardens in this beautiful place. I met the Head Gardener and Project Manager a few weeks ago and had a tour of the site and explanation of their plans, which are about to kick off with new paths and irrigation systems being installed. I’ve agreed to begin work with them next week, so I’ll probably keep you up to date on this through future letters and other posts.

 Oh, and just to finish off, a bit of news about Old School Garden (the blog, that is). As you know I’ve been producing this for two years  and I recently had an annual review from the publishers, WordPress. So I thought I’d share a few key findings with you:

  • During 2014 the blog had around 130,00 hits or page views.

  • The most popular topic was recycling in the garden, especially projects using old pallets!

  • The best day for hits was 15th September with nearly 15,000 views.

  • 82% of those viewing the site live in the USA, UK and Canada

  • I now have 2647 followers, including all those via Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook etc.

I’m especially grateful to all those who took the time to comment or ‘like’ my posts. I wish you and them a successful 2015 and look forward to another productive year in Old School Garden- both blog and plot!

All the best for now,

Old School Gardener