Archive for 14/01/2015

SONY DSCI’ve mentioned recently that I’m commencing a stint as a volunteer gardener with the National Trust at Blickling Hall, a wonderful Jacobean House and estate just outside Aylsham, about 8 miles from home.

I’m particularly interested in helping with a project to regenerate a two acre walled garden that once supplied the household with an array of vegetables and fruit. Like many walled gardens of its time this was domestic food growing on a huge scale- almost like operating a mini farm.

I was reminded of this near agricultural scale of operation on my first day as the whole space has been deep ploughed (using an implement called a ‘sub soiler’ pulled behind a conventional tractor) to try to break up the compacted soil.

One of my first jobs involved marking out the main pathway structure using canes, so that plentiful supplies of farmyard manure can be tipped and spread on the growing areas and not wasted on areas which will soon be hard-surfaced. Fortunately the Project Manager, Mike Owers, had already set out some marker pegs around  the periphery of the garden from which we could run lines and so get our bearings over the rough terrain. Other members of the gardening team then trailered in what seemed like a never-ending stream of manure  (it was still being delivered as I left at dusk). Mike, Rebecca (one of the gardeners) and I then started the task of spreading this lovely stuff over the ground so that the worms can get to work incorporating it into the newly turned soil- a Rotatator may be used in due course to fully integrate this material.

My other main job on my first day was to work out the materials needed to restore the walled fruit support system around three walls (the fourth side of the garden is hedged). Many old espalier trained fruit bushes remain, though over the years, as the garden was not in commission, these have not been regularly pruned, so some careful renovation is called for. In some cases, the bushes may be beyond recovery, but a good basic structure exists on two out of three walls. Mike had been researching different ways of supporting these bushes and come up with a system used at another of the Trust’s properties, Scotney Castle in Kent. Here oak battens provide vertical supports for stretched wires which run along a series of vine eyes (and incorporate straining bolts at the ends of each run to ensure the wires are kept taut).

This avoids screwing the vine eyes themselves into the ancient walls, which I must say, as you’d expect, look a little fragile in places. The battens will be placed at roughly 4 metre intervals, which more or less corresponds to the spaces between the existing bushes. I did a quick sketch diagram of each wall showing the rough placement of the battens, straining bolts etc. and finished off with some basic calculations of the materials required- interestingly my estimate on the wire (which will be in 7 rows spaced around each 5 brick courses) at 1324 metres was close to Mike’s early estimate, so hopefully the figure is more or less on target!

I’m due back at the Gardens this week and will post a brief update as this work unfolds. The next few months are promising to be especially interesting as the basic structure of the garden- paths, irrigation, greenhouses etc – are put in place and the garden is readied for its first season of growth for many years.

Further information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

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