Archive for February, 2016


WP_20160222_14_13_35_ProOld School Garden – 29th February 2016

Dear Walter,

This month has been one of acquisition. I mentioned my plans for a DIY shed (including shingle roof) at Blickling recently and one of the volunteers, Peter, said he thought his brother might have some shingles he wanted rid of. Well last week I collected  several boxes of cedar shingles and ridge caps from his home in nearby Taverham, and think I might have enough to do most if not all of the roof- for a bargain price of £20.

Shingles...I look forward to fixing these on the roof of my new shed

Shingles…I look forward to fixing these on the roof of my new shed

The shingles are old, but unused and have been stored under cover for several years. You may remember that I’m drawing up plans for this shed based on using the old floorboards taken up when we had some under floor insulation put in? The plans are firming up nicely, and I’m making the shed big enough and tall enough to comfortably store all my unpowered garden tools along with a potting bench and storage for trays, pots and all the other garden paraphernalia like string, plant labels and so on. I’ll need to buy a few extra slabs for the base, as well as the timber for the frame, but the result should be something that will last, be big enough, not cost the earth – and look attractive too (I hope).

The other big project for this year, the wildlife pond, has begun too. Having firmed up my sketch plan I decided to dig out the main boundaries and other features and put in some key shrubs from elsewhere in the garden. While I was at it I thought I’d tidy up and strengthen the planting in the two borders you pass between to get to the pond. These look much better, with one side featuring a relocated Spotted Laurel (which was nestling unseen behind soem holly and whose leaves now pick up the yellow flowers of the Kerria behind), Star Magnolia and  Viburnum along with white Forget – me – Nots, and Verbena bonariensis. The other side features the ornamental Japanese Maple I bought last year along with a Flowering Currant and Anemanthele lessoniana grass, all surrounded with Yellow Loosestrife and purple Geraniums.

I’ve also acquired- again from Peter and his wife Pam, some plants suitable for the pond area and I hope to get some rustic wooden poles and log slices for embanking and an arbour from Blickling when I’m next there – the acquisitions continue!

Elsewhere in the garden I’ve begun the great spring clear up- cutting spent stems and pruning shrubs and trees, raking off leaves from the borders and forking over the soil to remove weeds and aerate. I find this very satisfying work, though I’ve a lot to do. I also cut the grass in a few places a week or two ago (in February would you believe!), as it had grown considerably in the (to date) mild winter.

Borders cleared and ready for weeding and soil tickling...

Borders cleared and ready for weeding and soil tickling…

I’ve also finally got my seed potatoes chitting (‘Rocket’ as first earlies, ‘Charlotte’ as second), and my first seeds have been sown and are starting to germinate; Sweet peas, Scabious, Lettuce, Calabrese, cosmos etc. Some of these are a little spindly, showing the effect of low light levels, but hopefully they can be potted up shortly and placed in the greenhouse to continue their journey.

My garden design course at Blickling proceeds well, I think, with 6 participants keen to find out how best to improve their own plots, which range from small, urban settings to large country gardens. The second session involved a practical measured survey of the Secret Garden at Blickling, which I think they found very instructive, and in tomorrow’s session I plan to cover garden structure which will also involve a visit to the gardens at Blickling to observe the key structural elements of the different gardens there.

Oh, I mustn’t forget my other acquisition this month. Our neighbour Richard and I were chatting over the garden fence one day and he told me of his new mole repeller, and asked if I wanted to get one as he was going to order another. Having used this sort of thing in the past with mixed results I was skeptical, but went along and said I’d give one a try. Well, he duly came round the other day and presented me with this solar-powered device, which emits a regular sound which is supposed to disturb the moles and encourage them to move on. He didn’t want any payment either!

Will it work? My new attempt at mole control,courtesy of neighbour Richard

Will it work? My new attempt at mole control, courtesy of neighbour Richard

So, it is in the lawn where there was last evidence of mole activity (I’ve also come across lots of mole hills in the borders as I’ve been clearing up), so we’ll see what impact it has. I suspect it’s still a little early for mole activity on any scale, so I await the spring with a mixture of trepidation and a small element of hope that this new device might do the trick. Of course with us both having these things we could drive the moles to our third nearby neighbour’s garden! But this shouldn’t be too much of an issue as the chap there, Norman, seems to thrive on his mole catching ability; I think his tally to date is in the twenties!

Well, Walter, I hope this latest letter finds you and Lise in good health and looking forward to the lighter, warmer days of spring that are on the horizon- tomorrow is March after all!

best wishes,

Old School Gardener

 

 

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brick pedestalThe simplest ornament has more impact if it is raised. Keep your costs down by making your own pedestal; use a length of clay drainpipe, about a third taller than it is wide. Alternatively use some old bricks to make a pedestal. Place a paving slab on a level bed of sand; cement the pipe or place the bricks on top of it. Fix a slightly smaller slab on top with cement and finish off with your ornament; this could be a large sea shell, bird bath or whatever….

You can also use 10- and 18-inch-diameter PVC pipes cut to varying heights to serve as bases for applying a mosaic surface. Overturned terra-cotta saucers turn two of the pipes into pedestals; the third cradles a flowerpot….

mosaic pillarsAnother idea is to make your own concrete pillars, stain them terracotta and put terracotta planters atop them….

stained concrete pillarsChimney pots can also make great planters or pedestals….

chimney pot planterAnd why not some sawn off tree trunks or chicken wire gabions filled with stones…

Or some simple sticks stuck around a piece of wood…

bundle sticks pedestalSources:

‘Good Ideas for your Garden’- Reader’s Digest, 1995

Pinterest

Old School Gardener

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The newly refurbished Bothy is nearing completion; a home for gardening volunteers, office and shop for the produce to come

The newly refurbished Bothy is nearing completion; a home for gardening volunteers, office and shop for the produce to come

I worked with recent volunteer recruit, Peter (another Peter, this one with an Australian accent), in this week’s voluntary gardening at Blickling. Whilst the other Peter got on with some welding of the metal edging in the walled garden, ‘Aussie’ Peter and I double dug some stretches of soil where new fruit bushes will be planted and trained into espaliers along wires.

Not much evidence of our hard wrok, but these stretches of soil are now ready to be planted up with fruit trees

Not much evidence of our hard work, but these stretches of soil are now ready to be planted up with fruit trees

The rest of the volunteers did some more tidying of the borders in the Orangery Garden. To the crackle of welding torch and a digger (driven by ‘Dud’), which Mike had got in to dig over the surface of the top beds, Peter and I got into some serious ‘Yakka’, as Peter called it.

I gather this is an aboriginal term for ‘hard work’. Well it was. Not helped by a slight back ache I’d had for a few days (after overloading the firewood basket at home). Still, we soon got into a rhythm and entered ‘into the zone’- that wonderful mental state where the unconscious mind takes over and you do things on ‘autopilot’. But this didn’t stop us having a good natter, exchanging life and family backgrounds, football and so on.

Meanwhile Project Manager, Mike and Gardener Rob were trying to install some of the remaining metal edging alongside the northern border, which the other Peter duly helped cut up into the right lengths.

A couple of days earlier I’d attended the Blickling ‘Mid Winter Meeting’ at the local High School. This is an opportunity for staff and volunteers to hear from Heads of department about plans for the coming season (the House reopens on 5th March). I thoroughly enjoyed this event, which had some fun, unusual and inspiring talks to get us fired up for the year to come.

My wife has been sorting out our family photos and similar stuff, and came across this old postcard of Blickling among several I’d bought many years ago. I think it dates from 1907  – and includes a brief, cryptic message to a ‘Maude Meachen’ together with franked Edward VII stamp. It shows the rather fussy parterre before its major redesign in the 1930’s – see how small the Yew trees are, which today are the huge ‘acorns’ that are the major structural element in todays garden.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

 

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49bef9cfc989acf6a48a3670e7b1f02dNo garden is complete- in my view- without some plants you can eat. Even if it’s only the leaves of herbs or flower petals to garnish a ‘happy salad’, growing our own food has to be a part of the essence of gardening. So today’s object is a traditional garden trug, used to gather in the fruits (and veg) of your labours.

The traditional trug has an interesting history:

‘Way back in the heydays of the 1820’s, just before Queen Victoria ascended to the English Throne, a Man of Sussex, one Thomas Smith of Herstmonceux, made a decision about his life that was to have a profound effect on Sussex and the World.   He invented the Sussex Trug!   Taking an ancient idea dating back to Anglo Saxon times, Thomas redesigned the historic “trog” and in so doing he created a part of the English gardening scene that is now World famous!   

 The “trog” was a wooden vessel hewn from solid timber in the shape of the round coracle boat that the Anglo Saxons used for their daily business.   Because of the way these “trogs” were made they were very heavy.   They were used by Sussex farmers to measure grain and liquids and were made in several sizes for different measures.   They continued in use in this form until the mid-1600’s and we have been able to uncover an inventory from a farm in Newhaven, East Sussex at about that time where there were recorded “a dozen of trogs in the milking parlour”. 

 Thomas Smith re-invented the “trog” carefully designing a lightweight basket using Sweet Chestnut (Castanea Sativa) and Cricket Bat Willow (Salix Coerulea)….’

Thomas Smith- The Royal Sussex Trug

The traditional Sussex Trug

The traditional Sussex Trug

Thanks to a thoughtful birthday present from my wife, I now have two of these lovely baskets at Old School Garden. It is a joy taking them out into the garden, from early summer, to harvest  fresh produce and then use it as quickly as possible in the day’s main meal. Celebrity gardener Bob Flowerdew underlines the importance of getting your pickings as quickly as you can from plot to saucepan to maximise the sweetness; as soon as it’s picked a sweetcorn’s, or whatever’s natural sugars start to convert to starch.

I guess the trug is a good token for all the other containers we use in the garden (including the modern day plastic trug); whether it be to carry flowers, tools, weeds, compost and so on.

But most importantly, it is the symbol of all that’s good in ‘growing your own’ and the freshness and flavour that comes from this small contribution to world food production.

Further information:

History of the Sussex Trug

 Old School Gardener

PicPost: Turban Unwrapped

Wild Tulip- pic by Stephanie Veronique

Wild Tulip- pic by Stephanie Veronique

P1020823aSeen from indoors, or as you approach a stepped entrance, pots can make a ready-staged display as they mount the stairs. But always make sure that the pots do not obstruct the route and that they cannot fall or be kicked over. You can fix the pots in place with a dab or two of cement, as long as the drainage holes are not blocked, but this means they cannot be moved. The simplest way to secure each pot is to wrap a loop of gardening wire firmly round it and tie the ends of the wire to side railings or other firmly fixed uprights.

Source: ‘Good Ideas for Your Garden’- Reader’s Digest 1995

Old School Gardener

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