Archive for September, 2017

It’s not like Óbidos needs any more attractions. This beautiful medieval town is a must-see destination in Portugal. Inside its castle walls live the echoes of an age of chivalry that is long gone. Now that books are disappearing, their cellular fibers replaced by electric impulses, Óbidos has created unique bookstores in ancient spaces. One of […]

via Óbidos becomes a literary village — Salt of Portugal



Here’s  a second offering in my new series of posts featuring some parks, gardens and open spaces I visited recently in Australia. Shortly after arriving in Melbourne we took a trip along the coast to an old settlement called Williamstown. The Botanical Gardens are on the edge of Town and seem to be a relic of it’s Victorian past….the Croquet, Bowls  and Lacrosse clubs sit nearby.

The Gardens aren’t large but they do contain quite a range of planting and have a strong structure with an impressive avenue of palms, pond and statuary. Williamstown Botanic Gardens are one of Victoria’s first public gardens. In a newly developing colony, botanic gardens were established as a way of assessing how well familiar plants would grow, as a place for reliving the English landscape and as a place for social outings and walks. The gardens are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register as significant for their historical, aesthetic,scientific (horticultural) and social significance to the state of Victoria and are also listed on the National Register and classified by The National Trust of Australia (Vic.)

In March 1856, following a petition by the residents of Williamstown to the Government of the Colony, a 10 acre site was formally set aside for ‘a Public Park and Pleasure Ground’. The gardens were designed by Edward La Trobe Bateman, designer and artist, and laid out by William Bull (appointed as Municipal Surveyor to the newly established Williamstown Borough Council) in 1856. By 1859 works carried out were described with pleasure in a report submitted by Council:

“Great progress has been made in laying out and planting of the Garden. Paths are all formed and the shell metalling nearly completed…shrubs and flowers are already showing their heads and tout ensemble is assuming a cheerful and enlivening aspect. Liberal contributions of plants, cuttings, seeds have been received from Dr Mueller(sic) of the Botanic Gardens (and) Mr Bunce of the Geelong Public Gardens…”

Plan of Williamstown Botanic Gardens laid out (c 1856) by Bateman. Earliest known plan of the Gardens. Courtesy University of Melbourne Library.

The gardens are divided into two sections:

  • Northern section – Formal garden beds, lawns and an ornamental pond;

  • Southern section – Parker Reserve Pinetum, a collection of Pines trees. A popular shady place for picnics.

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Historically Samuel Thake’s period of curatorship from 1899 to 1912 is considered the high point in the development of the site. His initiatives included installation of the cast iron gates in 1907 and construction of the ornamental lake, all which contribute to the strong Edwardian flavour of the gardens today. Since its inception the gardens have been blessed with the careful stewardship of dedicated curators and gardeners who have passed along Victorian and Edwardian gardening methods to the present day. The authenticity of the gardens you see today are the result of an unbroken line of horticultural knowledge and tradition.

The Williamstown Botanic Gardens have always played an important role in the social and cultural lives of the people of Hobsons Bay and visitors from much further afield. In the past grand fetes, garden parties, charity functions and children’s picnics hosted by the Mayor and other dignitaries were some of the municipality’s most popular social occasions. Day trippers took trains from all over Melbourne to spend the day at nearby Williamstown beach before retreating to the shade of the Pinetum and Gardens to enjoy the lawns and floral displays.


Williamstown Botanic Gardens 1922 Mayoral garden party

13 December 1922 Mayoral Garden Party – Williamstown Botanic Gardens – Mayor JJ Liston. Photo courtesy SLV

In recent years the gardens have become the scene for much loved events and activities such as Shakespeare in the Gardens, garden parties, Storytime under the Elm, Reading Corner, school activities, the Paint the Gardens art event, tree and heritage walks, as well as providing a peaceful setting in which to enjoy a picnic, take a stroll along the intricate pathways or just relax and daydream on the cool, green lawns. The gardens are also a very popular location for wedding ceremonies and photographs.

The gardens are home to bats, possums, a wide range of birds and more than 150 species of insects. Visitors can enjoy the restored ornamental lake as well seasonal flowering delights provided by the botanical collection all in a charming seaside location.

As well as its Botanic Garden, Williamstown has plenty of other interest; a busy old suburb of the City, with a very attractive waterfront and many wonderful old style houses, for instance…

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Old School Gardener

Sources and further information:

Hobsons Bay Council website

Friends of Williamstown Botanic Garden


Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer I believe that most people like the idea of trees being planted – as long as they are in the ‘right place’. Small, negligible seeds unfurling to create little, delicate saplings growing on and upwards into woody giants that dominate a landscape. But why would we purposefully plant trees? […]

via Planting for the future — The official blog for the North York Moors National Park


To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Another month goes by and some major steps forward at Old School Garden.

I think the biggest change has been the considerable lopping operation on our western boundary, where the trees and shrubs have been progressively closing in the view. Once more we can enjoy the sunsets from spring through to autumn as the distant horizon is visible! I was slightly worried about how far to go with this, but on the whole taking down a few old conifers which were crowded together as well as raising the crowns on some other trees is a big improvement…

I’ve also been reshaping the kitchen garden, replacing some old raised bed edges and realigning paths. We’ve continued to harvest fruit and a few other things like ‘New England Sugar Pie’ Squashes (shown ripening below). Here’s next  year’s planting plan with the new fruit areas shown…

Oh, and I mustn’t forget the major effort our neighbour and us have put in on the ‘no man’s land’ that is the boundary (very soft) between us. Having cut back and cleared unwanted growth and weeds I’ve filled out the planting and added quite a few spring bulbs for good measure. I look forward to seeing how things develop in the coming year…

Now is the time to get on with the replacement shed, something I’ve not got round to for a couple of years. Today I’m finalising the design and working out a cutting list which I’ll then check against the spare timber I already have…and then it’s a trip to the local sawmill for the rest, and work can begin…

In my gardening work beyond home it’s definitely been a month of great progress. As I told you last month, the ‘Grow Organisation’ have received funding from the local Mental Health Trust to run a gardening therapy programme for people with mental health issues. This is now kicking off and is a great step forward; and hopefully will lead to other agencies stepping up to fund similar programmes. And the trees have been ordered for the ‘Avenue of Remembrance’ to be planted on the path up towards the local church as part of our commemoration of the airfield closing 70 years ago. 29 in total and all a reasonable size with planting kits supplied; all courtesy of the Norwich Fringe Project, so a big thank you to them!

The Remembrance Weekend is going to be a very special time as we welcome relatives and dignitaries from across the country to celebrate the airfield’s contribution to the War effort. in the next couple of weeks  we’ll be putting in a community effort alongside a group on the Community Payback scheme to prepare the ground for the trees as well as the annual cut and rake off in the church yard etc. I’m looking forward to seeing the church and it’s surroundings much improved for the  big weekend.

Next week I’m going over to the local High School to help out with a group of youngsters involved in the Allotment Project that I’ve told you about before. I’ll be helping them prune the orchard trees and develop ‘plant guilds’ around the trees, a key feature of permaculture design.

It was good to see you and your good wife Ferdy, the other week. You both look very well, and I was interested to hear about your new diets which seem to be having a great impact on your general health and wellbeing.. I’ve just read an interesting article about how important 7 hours sleep a night is, even for us ‘oldies’, so….. eat well, sleep well and keep fit..obvious really? To finish here are a few shots of the garden picking up the newly planted containers and some other interesting early autumn colour..

Old School Gardener












I’m very pleased to include, this week and next, guest posts by Jane Kilsby. They feature some great research and, as you’ll see, some quite exceptional rural council housing. Jane worked in housing management for councils and housing associations across the country for over twenty years before settling in Banbury four years ago. She wrote about Banbury’s […]

via North Oxfordshire: The ‘foxhunters, farmers and parsons’ and their first council houses, Part I — Municipal Dreams


The National Trust is more popular than at any time in its history after the charity’s tally of members soared to 5m. The conservation charity has welcomed a million new members in the last six years alone, having previously taken 86 years to reach its first million. A record-high of 24.5m people visited the National […]

via Surging support for National Trust sees memberships and visits soar to an historic high — National Trust Press Office

On exile…

EXILE – 18 September – 12 November, Kingston Lacy, Dorset A bold new installation at the National Trust’s Kingston Lacy in Dorset marks fifty years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. It examines the exile of former owner William John Bankes and reveals both its significance for understanding the house that is seen today and […]

via Kingston Lacy explores the life and exile of William John Bankes as part of National Trust’s ‘Prejudice & Pride’ programme — National Trust Press Office

I like creating these little occasional series posts as they given extra elements to look out for when we visit garden, which we do often. So far I have posted about garden seats, entrances and archways then “Garden Walls and Steps”. Here is number three in a very occasional series of posts of “Garden Walls […]

via Garden Walls and Steps – a very occasional series – Part 3 — greenbenchramblings


I’m getting a bit behind…so here’s post covering my four latest visits to Blickling….sorry for the delay!

Session one involved weeding in the fruit cage in the Walled Garden. As you can see, after doing the bush fruit we wandered over to the strawberries, including ‘checking’ on the quality of some late fruiting varieties!

Session Two focused on clearing weeds from a part of the side borders, where its planned to create some raised beds for local Schools to get involved with. Rory and I set to and removed a large amount of Couch Grass (or rather it seemed a lot, but as you probably know the stuff will return…). After this I trimmed back the tendrils of the squashes and gourds which were starting to invade the perennial borders…some of the pumpkins are looking very large already…

The third session was a bit of a wet day and only a few volunteers were on site, but I think we made an impact in a morning’s work. First Rory and I replanted and strung together some tall perennials that had been uprooted by Storm Aileen, and then we joined Jane and Tressa in tidying up one of the glasshouses. The floor had been overrun with ‘Mind your Own Business’ and we decided to lift the metal gratings above the old heating pipes and clear this out, which revealed the piping and ornamental ironwork, and with the other tidying up made for a much improved scene overall..

Despite the recent stormy weather toppling some of the taller flowering plants in the Walled Garden, its still looking glorious…

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My last session was a switched day, so I was working with some of the Wednesday volunteers over in the Rose Garden, weeding, and in my case, tackling the large amount of lichen and other weeds that had invaded sections of the gravel paths. Here are some ‘during’ and ‘after’ shots. Quite satisfying, though I suspect in lifting whole sections of path surface like old carpet, that much of the original path is now in the compost bin!

Over the past few weeks its been pleasing to see progress in a number of other areas: the sun-dial that was stolen from the Secret Garden has been replaced with a replica (complete with 2017 date on the dial), and a couple of large oak trees have been felled because of infection – one of these may provide a good opportunity to include it in the planned Tree Trail, using its stump rings as a way of illustrating both its age and associated historical events back over a couple of hundred years. Work is also progressing on refurbishing the water wheel near the Lake, including a viewing area for visitors. And the metal tunnel in the Walled Garden has been finished and is looking great; as the apples grow up it will be come a central feature of the garden….

So a pretty busy month at Blickling (with a small contribution from yours truly) and it was also very interesting – and inspiring to see these pictures of the Walled Garden back in 2015 and just recently- what a transformation in a little over two years!

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener









Tern again…

A tiny bird which clocked up the longest migration ever recorded is booming in population thanks to conservation efforts on a stretch of coast recently bought by the National Trust. More than 500 Arctic terns – and five internationally threatened little terns – have fledged thanks to rangers camping out on 24-hour watch against predators, such […]

via Arctic tern booming in population thanks to resolute conservation efforts — National Trust Press Office

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