Archive for March, 2016

Gardening with Children

The RSPB has launched the results of their 2016 Big Garden Birdwatch, during which a staggering 8,262,662 birds were counted, the top ten birds were:

  1. House Sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blue Tit
  4. Blackbird
  5. Woodpigeon
  6. Goldfinch
  7. Chaffinch
  8. Great Tit
  9. Robin
  10. Long-Tailed Tit

The House Sparrow remained at number one, around 4 House Sparrows were spotted in each garden, the Blackbird was the most widespread garden bird appearing in 88% of gardens, the Long-Tailed Tit was a new entry in tenth place, the RSPB commented that ‘January’s mild weather meant more smaller birds had survived the winter, and although natural food sources were plentiful, it’s clear these birds still rely on the food we put out in our gardens’.

We were fortunate to spend the Easter Weekend at Silverdale, whenever we go on holiday we always do our own Bird Species Count, the Silverdale area is ideal for birds with mixed habitats including, woodland…

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That Bloomin' Garden

I love shade gardening. Its my refuge to a garden full of wonderful foliage plants. You see after flowers finish, the foliage of plants remain. It’s wise to chose plants with either great leaves, bark or berries to have interest all year round. This week I am planning what I will plant in the front shade garden. This month the garden is getting lots of sun as the trees are bare of leaves, with signs that the leaves are not far away. In early spring this garden is full of colour.

Planning Colour for the Shade Garden

Under deciduous trees is a good place to plant spring bulbs and early bloomers such as Primula. Primula like the shaded conditions the trees provide later in the season but enjoy the warmth of the early spring sun for its blooms. The moist soil in spring is what this plant loves. Once they finish blooming they put their energy…

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Hellebores coming to an end...

Hellebores coming to an end…

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

So, as usual, I’m feeling guilty at all the jobs that are lining up and my failure to make much of an impact on them. Still, I was heartened by Monty Don’s comment in last week’s ‘Gardeners’ World’, when he said: ‘Now’s the time to divide and move herbaceous and other perennials’; phew, at least I’m a little ahead of the game on that score!

However, I do seem to be behind in digging over the borders and getting seedlings going, amongst other things. I got round to planting out some (leggy) ‘cut and come again’ lettuce the other day (under cloches), and yesterday I potted up some other trays of early seedlings. At the same time I started to clear out the greenhouse- of trays of not very successfully overwintered pelargoniums, and the more tender exotics…hopefully a cover of fleece will see them through the remaining cold weather.

Potted up and ready to go- Scabious 'Nana', Geum rivale etc.

Potted up and ready to go- Scabious ‘Nana’, Geum rivale etc.

The little bit of digging I have done was very satisfying, having finished cutting back all the dead growth from last year and raked up the remaining fallen leaves from the borders. The daffodils are well into their stride – mine seem to have behaved much as normal as far as flowering time is concerned, unlike other parts of the country, where the abnormally mild winter has brought many species out earlier than ‘usual’. And the tulips are starting to show their colours. I also gave the grass its first real cut of the year at Easter Weekend and that always makes things look a little tidier.

I’ve continued to dig out the new Pond Garden and also- thanks to a gift from Blickling- set up a lowish rustic fence. in front of this I’ve planted a couple of lines of Yew cuttings (which will, I hope reach a reasonable height to form a hedge in a few years time). I’ve also slotted in an evergreen, variegated Jasmine (the variety escapes me), pink Clematis and a Belgian Honeysuckle; these three should nicely clothe this fence and leave some peep holes into the pond garden.

Grass has had its first real cut...

Grass has had its first real cut…

I’ve firmed up my plans for this new area and have decided to follow a ‘Crescent’ theme- you’ll recall that I cut out a crescent (or arc) along the top of the Laurel hedge that bounds this new garden? I plan to repeat this motif in other features; e.g. a crescent-shaped wall of rustic poles to hold up the embankment behind the rustic bench, and a series of rope swags which will form a nice rose and clematis-clad pergola feature over the bench. I’ve also got a rather fine arc of an oak trunk which will look good placed in the garden and have ideas for some ‘rustic arc sculpture’ to also pick up the theme. However, I’ve looked back at my letter to you about this time last year and was horrified to see that the pond excavation was underway then- so a whole year on and not much to show for it!

I’m using the spoil from the pond excavation to create a mound overlooking the fields and church beyond; where another bench can be placed as both a feature and somewhere different to sit- not that I seem to do much of this these days!

Mound under construction with the view across the field to the Church

Mound under construction with the view across the field to the Church

Along side this the woodland garden I set out last year is starting to fill out nicely, with several types of spring bulb beginning to form flowers. In due course I’l extend this to enclose the new bench mound.

The woodland garden starting to fill out..

The woodland garden starting to fill out..

As I write this the remnants of Storm ‘Katie’ have just passed and so I’ve been out with the pressure washer to try to clean up the paved areas of the terrace and around the house. It was hard work and a few hours later it looks better, but retains a lot of algae. I’ll give it a coating of patio cleaner and another go with the pressure washer tomorrow. I also divided up the two main patches of snowdrops the other day, but there is plenty of other plant moving and dividing to do. Along with digging over, mulching, preparing the ground for my ‘first early’ potatoes and so on…

Getting cleaner- the terrace after it's first pressure wash

Getting cleaner- the terrace after it’s first pressure wash

The other big digging job that I’ve just begun involves taking out some cotoneaster shrubs and the roots of the ivy that grew up the front gable wall of the house. I hope that once this is cleared we can get the old paint removed  to reveal the original flint facing and at the same time get the roof flashings repaired to, hopefully, overcome our water penetration problems.

The front border is being dug out to remove ivy roots and a couple of old Cotoneaster plants- these will be relocated to the new pond garden

The front border is beign dug out to remove ivy roots and a couple of old Cotoneaster plants- these will be relocated to the new pond garden

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I’m pleased to say that more time is now available as the Garden Design course I ran at Blickling has just ended. I think that this went pretty well, though some elements need to be tweaked. The last session involved the participants going into the Walled Garden at Blickling and doing a practical exercise in setting out and preparing the ground for planting etc. Though pressed for time, I think that they found this useful and I’m grateful for Project Manager Mike’s help in this.

Garden Design course participants getting to grips with a setting out exercise in the Walled Garden at Blickling

Garden Design course participants getting to grips with a setting out exercise in the Walled Garden at Blickling

This is the time of year that is full of promise in the garden- stems, flowers and foliage are sprouting, bringing back a welcome splash of fresh colour. My hope is that I manage to get all the preparation done before it’s too late to tread on the ground- and all this this alongside the other big projects in both house and garden!

All the best to you and Lise,

Old School Gardener

Hellebore: picture by Colin Garratt

Hellebore: picture by Colin Garratt

Oh dear, first mud on a nice new floor...

Oh dear, first mud on a nice new floor…

My second Wednesday at Blickling was focused on the Walled Garden. Joined by three other volunteers (one of whom was also a newcomer to Wednesdays), we finished off shifting top soil onto the beds to level them up to the path edges.

So, more barrowing and raking for starters. The available soil had been shifted by the gardeners from the piles in the orchard next door, so we didn’t have far to go. But it was pretty strenuous, nonetheless. The space created will soon be (temporary) home to 100 tonnes of crushed Carr Stone- which will be used to surface the main paths in the Walled Garden.

Since my last session here, the Walled Garden has taken some further big steps forwards; rows of Catmint have been planted along some of the paths which will give a colourful, fragrant and insect-attracting floor to the trained fruit bushes, some of which had also been planted by the canes I had helped set out a few weeks ago.

The other big step is the finishing off of the new Bothy, from where, around mid morning, Project Manager Mike shouted ‘Tea time Team!’- I think this might have been the first time it had been used for refreshments (but probably not the first time Mike had made tea for the volunteers). I duly christened the new room -with it’s shiny spotted grey flooring specially chosen by Mike to hide the dirt!

'Tea time Team!'- Mike in the new Bothy...will it be too comfortable for our own good?!

‘Tea time Team!’- Mike in the new Bothy…will it be too comfortable for our own good?!

After lunch (taken, for now in the old bothy near the double borders), we finished off shifting manure to the beds where the soft fruit (Raspberries, Strawberries and the like) will soon be planted. I may be on trenching in this lovely stuff in my next session (back to Thursday). To finish off the day a couple of us raked over the new soil to avoid the expected rain panning the surface. Another group were finishing off the oak path edging which looks tremendous. Mike tells me he’s decided to turf these grass paths so that they can be used this season.

The final stretch of oak edging to the grass paths in the Walled Garden

The final stretch of oak edging to the grass paths in the Walled Garden

As I left for the day I had a quick word with gardener Rob in the car park, where he was about to deliver half a dozen large oak trunks to a sawmill in nearby Hevingham; these are going to be shaped into the posts for the lines of Raspberries, Blackberries, Tayberries etc.  which will be tied into wires strung between them.

So, some more lovely ‘home grown’ oak will add a touch of class (and longevity) to the Walled Garden. Mike says he’s glad that, at long last, he can soon stop being a builder and start being a gardener once again!

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener



Washingtonia robusta in the National Garden, Athens, Greece

Washingtonia robusta in the National Garden, Athens, Greece

Whilst there are a few trees with common names beginning with ‘W’ (e.g. Whitebeam, Willow) the choice on botanical names is once more limited. So you could argue that my choice is really a large (very large), grass rather than a tree, and a bit of a rarity in the U.K. But as the Washingtonia palm can be grown as an ornamental garden tree, I think I might just get away with it…

Common name: Named after George Washington, there are two species:

  • Washingtonia filifera, known also as California Washingtonia, Northern Washingtonia, California fan palm, or Desert fan palm.

  • Washingtonia robusta also known as Mexican Washingtonia, Southern Washingtonia or Thread Palm.

Native areas: Washingtonia is a genus of palms, native to the southwestern United States and northwest Mexico Both Washingtonia species are commonly cultivated across the southern USA, Middle East, southern Europe and north Africa, where they have greatly hybridized. The filifera species is also attempted in cooler climates, including the milder parts of the southern British Isles.

Washingtonia in a natural setting by Jim Harper

Washingtonia in a natural setting by Jim Harper

Historical notes: There is a persistent myth that these palms were brought to the Americas by the ancient Egyptians and their seeds were distributed in the waterways of the Western Californian area. The fruit of the Washingtonia was eaten raw, cooked, or ground into flour for cakes by native Americans. The Cahuilla and related tribes used the leaves to make sandals, thatch roofs, and baskets. The stems were used to make cooking utensils. The Moapa band of Paiutes as well as other Southern Paiutes have written memories of using this palm’s seed, fruit or leaves for various purposes including starvation food.

Features:  They are fan palms, with the leaves with a bare petiole terminating in a rounded fan of numerous leaflets. The flowers are in a dense inflorescence, with the fruits maturing into a small blackish-brown drupe 6–10 mm diameter with a thin layer of sweet flesh over the single seed. W. filifera can grow to around 23 metres tall, whilst robusta gets up to 25 metres. W. filifera has white flowers and large leaves and robusta pale orange-pink flowers, smaller leaves and narrower trunk. The fruit are eaten by birds, which disperse the seeds in their droppings after digesting the fruit pulp.

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Uses: Both species are cultivated as ornamental trees, as specimens, or more often in groups along side roads, in parks and other such open spaces. W. robusta is suitable for coastal gardens.

Growing conditions:  W. filifera is very hardy in a dry climate and able to survive brief temperatures in the vicinity of -15 °C (5 °F), provided the air and soil are not too wet, and the afternoon temperatures are not too cold. Intolerance of wet, prolonged cold is the main reason the filifera species cannot grow properly in temperate marine climates. W. robusta is less sensitive to moisture than filifera, grows faster, but is far more easily damaged by cold. Grow outside in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun.

Further information:


Old School Gardener

Green-eyed Rudbeckia: picture by Ellen Zillin

Green-eyed Rudbeckia: picture by Ellen Zillin

Local residents in Walsall hold a 'popup' event at Chuckery Village Green- one of the winning projects

Local residents in Walsall hold a ‘popup’ event at Chuckery Village Green- one of the winning projects

More than 80 unloved and neglected urban spaces across the country will be transformed into green oases for everyone to use, thanks to a share of a £1.5million dedicated fund, Communities Secretary Gregg Clark has announced.

Increasing the availability of green space draws more people outside, giving residents, particularly in urban areas without gardens of their own, more space to relax, get together with their neighbours, grow food and provide safe space for children to play.

87 Community Groups, from Newcastle in the north to Penryn in the south-west, will have the money to create their own ‘dream’ pocket parks, developing small parcels of land, sometimes as small as the size of a tennis court. Clark said:

“These winning bids all have a strong community focus at the core of their plans and their designers have thought up highly creative ideas to turn unloved urban spaces into the green lungs of their communities that will be enjoyed for years to come”

Permarin Community Group, in the south-west, plan to turn an unused area of tarmac into a native Cornish Garden with space for children to play. A Disability Group in Wolverhampton plan to turn a 30 year old tipping zone in to a natural wildlife area, working with local residents and people with poor mental health or physical disabilities to create a pocket park. And at Chuckery Village Green, in Walsall, a group plan to make the most of some cherry trees on a derelict plot by planting an edible herb and vegetable garden, using the produce to make and sell pies and jams.

Peri pocket park today- due for a major makeover

Permarin pocket park in Cornwall, today- due for a major makeover

Each community group has been allocated grants of up to £15,000 to create a pocket park, which has been defined for this programme as a piece of land of up to 0.4 hectares, although many are around 0.02 hectares.

Chuckery village Green's Cherry trees- part of the plan for food growing

Chuckery village Green’s Cherry trees- part of the plan for food growing

Graham Duxbury, Groundwork Chief Executive, said:

“We’re delighted the government is supporting communities and councils to do more. For many local groups, improving the park at the end of their street is the first step in getting much more involved in how their neighbourhood is run.”

Further information: Government Website with locations of all the winning projects

Old School Gardener

(from an original in ‘Landscape and Amenity’ Magazine, March 2016)

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