Category: Dear Walter – letters/info from Old School Garden


To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Here we are on our last couple of days in Australia. Six weeks on and what a trip it’s been. Grand daughter Freya is a month old and doing well. We’ve seen some wonderful places and met some lovely local people.

The weather has been very kind, even though it’s midwinter here. Bright sunny days and on occasions warm enough for shirt sleeves- though many of the locals have remained well wrapped up and think we’re crazy!

I won’t attempt to cover everything we’ve done, but suffice to say that I’ve found much of horticultural interest here along with all the other famous landmarks we’ve visited. Though there wasn’t much colour (with the notable exception of a superb, huge, vertical display of leaf and flower colour at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens), there was a lot of plant interest, often well presented by some very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides. It was also great being able to compare botanical gardens in the local area as well as in the three cities of Melbourne (very large and beautifully presented), Sydney (smaller but with some impressive focal points including a garden featuring vegetables grown- several unsuccessfully- by the first colonial settlers) and Canberra (the National centre which is striving to present a wide range of plants from across the country and is pursuing an exciting Master plan to renew and expand its collections).

In addition, many public parks and gardens are very well looked after. I especially enjoyed the Chinese Garden in Sydney and I was pleased to see at least one Green Flag flying- at the fabulous Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne. There is also a very impressive Community Gardens in St. Kilda, on the edge of Melbourne. And, as I mentioned last month, Aussies are very proud of their domestic gardens, especially those on public display in small town and suburban streets.

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As we adjust towards our return home in the next couple of days I’m wondering what Old School Garden will look like. The grass will certainly be long and I dread to think what carnage the moles have reaped in our absence, though our neighbour did kindly offer to try to ‘get them to move elsewhere’…we shall see.

Hopefully you’ve had some good weather to enjoy your own garden. With some of the summer to go- at least in theory- I hope that we too can get out in the warm sunshine and see the colours of the flowers.

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Hello from Australia! We’ve been here about 10 days, staying with our eldest and her partner just outside Melbourne. Having finally got shot of the effects of jet lag, yesterday we found ourselves getting little sleep as daughter was in hospital delivering our first grandchild..a lovely little girl (name tba)! As you can imagine the build up to this has meant staying relatively close to home, but this hasn’t prevented me from finding some places of horticultural interest to share with you.

We left the UK in something of a heat wave, and despite my efforts to provide a supply of water to many containerised plants, and even with a very diligent neighbour, I was expecting some casualties on our return in a few weeks time; especially in the kitchen garden where I’ve planted carrots, runner beans and squashes alongside new potatoes and onions (and a whole lot of fruit). I heard yesterday that there’s been heavy rain in East Anglia, so maybe the position isn’t entirely hopeless.

Turning to matters horticultural ‘a la Aus’, we’ve visited a nice little botanical garden in nearby Williamstown (a quaint little place with lots of interesting old houses), as well as a  a rather  a grand old mansion with some beautifully kept gardens and parkland at Werribee. I’ll do a more extensive piece on these, and other, yet to be visited gardens, in due course, but for now here are a few pictures to whet your appetite..

Apart from these largish spaces I ‘ve found a lot of interesting examples of domestic suburban gardens round abouts, best summarised as an eclectic mix of contemporary, cottage and tropical styles, usually nicely complimenting the architecture of the associated houses. Here’s a sample…

I’ve also noticed how tidy the grass verges outside these properties are. I gather it’s considered a civic duty (and maybe there’s a legal obligation too?) for householders to take care of their immediate strip of what is usually springy turf, including not only keeping it close mown, but also the edges cropped to neat straight lines, usually using a ‘whippersnipper’ (strimmer) to achieve the desired finish. The overall effect is one of quiet orderliness, rather like the atmosphere of these suburban streets, where there are few people out walking…well it is winter I suppose.

Having said this, and being aware of movements in the USA to allow such grass strips to be used more imaginatively, creating wildlife friendlier spaces and even food production, I was heartened to find one attempt to turn over the grass to a community garden in nearby Altona..

Well, old friend, hopefully I’ll be able to share some other Aussy horticulture with you next month, as we shall still be here, and maybe have visited some of the gems in Victoria and possibly further afield…oh, and of course doting on my new grand daughter!

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

As you know I’ve a busy time coming up, travelling about the UK and to Australia, so this may have to be the last letter for a couple months that comments on my gardening life at home. Still, I hope that I can feature some of the places I’ll be visiting – I’m especially looking forward to seeing the many wonderful parks and gardens in Melbourne, Victoria.

Looking back over the past few weeks, a few things stand out. Despite large areas of ground elder remaining in Old School Garden  (it has been so dry I haven’t dared to try to remove any more – along with the plants of course), the garden areas immediately next to the house aren’t looking too bad. Some recent rain has also perked up the large number of plants that I’ve replanted.

In the last few days I’ve also added a few new specimens; two varieties of Veronicastrum (White and pale Pink)  and a Ligularia and Rodgersia in the pond garden. the kitchen garden is also starting to fill up, although, due to being away I’ve limited my sowings and have also gone for a green manure- Phacelia- in some of the beds. I’m especially pleased with the Courtyard Garden , where the Hostas and Candleabra Primula are doing their stuff. Hopefully the garden will survive a number of weeks without weeding and grass cutting and that we get enough rain for things- especially potted plants – to make it through.

Further afield, you may have heard about our latest ‘Groundforce Day’ over at the local churchyard. The new management policy of mowing paths though blocks of longer grass and wildflowers seems to be coming together nicely and a few days ago a few of us started to tackle the weeds and grass that has grown over the drainage strip of cobbles surrounding the church walls; it is satisfying seeing a tidy edge to the rather mole-ridden grass.

And I mustn’t forget that I’ve been spending quite a few hours online studying permaculture, via a course put on by Oregon State University and apparently being studied by over 10,000 people worldwide! This has been fascinating, with a good mix of videos, podcasts, online links and design exercises to put me through my paces. It’s been interesting comparing the Permaculture Design process with the more conventional process I’m used to, and having revisited the Concept Design for the Grow Organisation which I developed a few months ago as the focus of my study, I can see now ho permaculture principles and design processes have enriched my assessment of the site and helped me develop new angles on my earlier design; in putting greater emphasis on water harvesting and management for example.

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I was sorry to hear about your lingering ill health, old friend and wish you better soon. As the weather warms, try to get outside into that lovely garden of yours; it is bound to lift your spirits.. All the best for now and my next letter will come to you from somewhere in Australia!

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

I hope you and Lise are well. I’ve had a good month in Old School Garden…though having neglected the weeding for a year or two, I’m now paying the price.

I’ve managed to put in a good few hours digging up the borders nearest to the house, removing ground elder and replanting (as well as dividing) the plants. It’s been a bit late I know, but most of the re-plants seem to be recovering from the shock of being dug up. I’ve planted up the two front-door pots with a purple-leaved Hebe called ‘True Love’…and I’m pleased to see the first flowers on the Candelabra Primulas I’ve grown from seed, a nice purply-pink..

 I’m about to plant my second early potatoes (later than usual to try to time them for our return form a long trip to Australia), and the Phacelia I sowed a few weeks ago, as a green manure, seems to be coming on.  I’m also pleased to report a good lot of blossom on the fruit trees, some of which I gave a heavy prune a few months ago. Let’s hope the bees do their job and we don’t get caught by a late frost. Tomorrow I’ll be putting the potatoes in and netting the strawberries, before the deer get in and nibble off the tops.

Plot for potatoes dug over..

I’ve also been doing  a little hoeing, and as one of my blog followers was interested in what my Wolf hoe looks like here’s a picture…definitely one of my favourite garden tools.

The Wolf hoe

We’ve just returned from a very enjoyable trip to the North west to visit our friends Nick and Felicity, and part of this was spent on a very enjoyable visit to Tatton Park, where I was blown away by the quality of the place and especially the Japanese Ggarden…I’ll post a few pictures on this trip soon.

I’m also pleased to report practical progress at the Grow Project in Norwich, where an enthusiastic team is getting some growing beds in place by using straw bales in what will be the Trials area in due course.

The next few months (through a combination of Green Flag Award judging, Jury Service, holidays and a six week trip to Australia) will see me with little time in the Garden, but hopefully I’ve done enough to keep it in reasonable shape until another burst of clearing and tidying (as well as my major push on restructuring the Kitchen Garden), towards late summer/autumn. Hopefully we can get over to see you at some point!

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Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

This has been a month of really ‘getting going’ in Old School Garden. My hip and back have held up well so I’ve gradually increased my labouring times in the garden…I managed about 8 hours yesterday!

Whilst I’ve made inroads into the weeding- not an easy task with ground elder entangled ‘big time’ among the borders- it’s also been a time of upheaval, especially in the Kitchen Garden.

Here I’ve commenced my major reorganisation by removing the various trellises and posts – for reuse in a different position. I’ve also planted out a new row of summer fruiting raspberries and relocated a row of autumn fruiting too. At the same time the currant bushes and gooseberries have all been moved around, so the new grand plan is taking shape.

Relocated summer raspberries

I plan to use the trellis to more clearly separate off the Kitchen Garden and at the same time create an arched entrance which will be repeated along the sides of the first beds to create a rose walkway- I’ve recently bought six ‘Compassion’ climbing roses which I’m looking forward to seeing clamber up wooden uprights and along either a wooden bar or perhaps a rope swag.

In destructive mode (or perhaps ‘reconstructive’ would be better?) I’ve also removed the three old stumps of a large Ash tree that once overlooked the kitchen garden and which latterly have become clothed in ivy that has got out of hand. I must say the area looks a lot neater and will also open up a corner of the kitchen garden to more light too. It was facinating seeing how the process of decay has taken hold of the inner core of these stumps and how the material gradually reverts to something resembling soil…along with innumerable chrysalis’ of beetles and other rotting wood feeding critters.

With the warmer weather and longer days, this is the time to really get stuck into the garden, so I hope that you and Ferdy are also enjoying yourselves in your beautiful plot. I cut the grass here for the first time the other day and doesn’t that just improve the look of the most untidy garden?!

Today I’ve been to an interesting talk about the ‘Walled Kitchen Garden’ given by a local garden designer. This was very enjoyable and expanded my knowledge of the history and some of the old practices used in these wonderful places. Of course, as you will have been reading I’m really enjoying my volunteering at Blickling with its wonderful regenerated walled garden. I can’t believe its only 18 months since that project began..so much has been achieved.

I’ve mentioned the Allotment Project at Reepham High School, I think. I’m pleased to say that the greenhouse I managed to dismantle and reconstruct is in situ and hopefully it won’t be long before the glass is in and it’s being used to propagate seeds and maybe even grow tomatoes. And I must also mention that the project was the runner-up in a Norfolk ecological competition recently. Well deserved, so congratulations to Matt Willer and all the volunteers at the project!

I also visited a recently established Organic Market Garden at Booton, next door to Reepham the other day. Eves Hill Veg Co. is a social enterprise set up by Hannah Claxton who is gradually relocating herself from her current base in London (where she teaches organic growing) to this base, where currently a number of volunteers are engaged in getting the year’s growing season underway. I was pleased to meet Hannah and some of the volunteers and I wish them every success; maybe I can be of help to them at some point too. I was also grateful to be able to collect a trailer load of compost for free from them; courtesy of a local industrial scale composting facility (which composts household waste). The compost isn’t very fertile but it’s lovely stuff for building soil structure and for mulching, which is how I’ll be using it here.

Thanks for the compost Hannah!

Well, old friend, I think it’s time to be planning my day in the garden tomorrow…I think it’ll be a combination of more border clearance, ground elder removal, replenishing the compost in some long-term potted shrubs, and sowing some Phacelia. As we are going to be away for a longish period in a few weeks, I’m not planning to grow much by way of food this year. So this ‘Green Manure’ is perfect for covering the ground and then enriching it as it’s dug in. Happy gardening!

Old School Gardener

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wp_20170225_12_20_02_proTo Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

I’m making progress in Old School Garden– well, sort of. Having a solid five hour stint the other day I was pleased to see some of the front borders looking tidier, and hopefully, largely clear of the ground elder that had started to take over. Here ate the results; both borders now have repositioned roses which will eventually have a spread of Stachys byzantina surrounding them and for late summer/autumn a good number of Nerine bowdenii

Part of this day also involved removing the large clumps of Nepeta that had become too over powering around the roses. I have these in a barrow ready to fill another border that’s in the process of being cleared (and some will also go along the edges of a tunnel of climbing roses. I picked up some Convallaria bulbs (‘Lily of the Valley’) the other day and plan to under plant the Nepeta with these to provide a nice flowering combination- and some scent.

I’ve also carried on with the pruning and tidying elsewhere, but this is a long job and I can see quite a few bonfires on the way! The old cherry tree stump that has been acting as a base for a bird bath has finally rotted away in the ground so I’ve removed it (more firewood!).

wp_20170225_12_19_26_proI can report that my hip is holding up well so far, and I’m (very) gradually building up my muscle strength. I’m due to see a physiotherapist next week, so maybe I’ll have some other useful advice on what else I should be doing. The other day we had that ‘named storm’ called Doris pass by. How were you affected? I imagine possibly quite badly living up north as you do. Did you lose power, have any upturned trees etc? Fortunately we got away fairly lightly; a few garden furniture items fell over, and one pot toppled and cracked…

wp_20170225_08_11_21_proStill, the days are lengthening and some late winter/early spring flowers are doing their stuff…

I had a very interesting visit to a horticultural and associated workshop called ‘The Mount’ which is located next door to (and used by) a unit for those with mental health problems on the edge of Norwich. It’s been going for about 25 years and I was inspired to hear about the many ways the staff engage the service users in all manner of construction and growing projects. We could see an outdoor oven in the course of construction and took a look at the greenhouses and raised beds which are used extensively to grow all sorts of food and other crops. ..

Around 20 service users are involved regularly. I joined a small group of people interested in setting up something similar at a nearby Psychiatric Hospital. We had a good talk about their plans and ideas and I’m going to be involved in helping to develop the project. You may recall I mentioned before my role in a similar project called ‘The Grow Organisation’ on the other side of Norwich. I hope that we can help these and other projects to work together and perhaps to form a useful network of horticultural therapy projects in the area to benefit a wide range of people with mental and other health issues.

My other garden-related project involved spending nearly six hours last week dismantling a greenhouse!  Whilst doing our regular weekly shop we spotted an advert offering the greenhouse for free to anyone willing to dismantle it. We immediately thought of ‘The Allotment Project’ at the local High School and as we suspected the leader of that project, Matt, was enthusiastic about getting it. So having transported it over a few days ago (sadly there were a couple of glass breakages in transit and I had a gashed head for my troubles) yesterday I  went over to help with the process of installing it. Matt and I discussed location and settled, eventually, on a spot opposite the existing poly tunnel. Here are some  pictures…

Fortunately Matt had a few Railway Sleepers which we decided to use as the base, sunk in the ground and which the base of the frame could be screwed to. It was just as tricky reassembling the ends of the house as it was dismantling them- lots of nuts and bolts and very little room to get in a spanner. Still, I left yesterday with the base well on the way to being installed and the frame in a state where it can be fixed. So I’ll be returning next week to help finish off the job. A couple of other guys worked on finishing off the Chicken coop (formerly a childrens’ play house!) and I was also pleased to see that the Broad Beans I’d helped some students sow in the Autumn were coming along nicely (see pics above).

Back home, I’ve reached some conclusions on rearranging the kitchen garden, so hope in the next few weeks to get some of the trellis moved and a new fruit cage created for the raspberries and currants. I’m yet to finalise the position of the three gooseberry bushes I have, but I’m going to take a chance on putting these out in a sunny position in the open. I hope that you and Lise are looking forward to your spring break in Switzerland…you must tell us all about it when we see you at Easter.

 Old School Gardener

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wp_20170127_11_44_10_proTo Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

I hope that the early days of 2017 find you and Lise in good health! We’ve had some very cold and frosty weather here in the last few weeks. Coupled with my continuing problem with my hip/leg (which I’m pleased to say has more or less recovered in the last few days), this has meant very limited gardening activity this month.

In  Old School Garden, the only worthwhile job has been starting the pruning of the apple trees and one or two other specimens. As you can see from the picture below, I’ve done some fairly significant ‘formative’ pruning in the orchard, where the lower branches of some of the trees were starting to prove a real obstacle when cutting the grass; and hopefully by removing them this will also improve the yield (though last year’s crop wasn’t too bad).

wp_20170127_11_43_50_proApart from this little bit of practical work, I’ve been in ‘planning ‘mode, especially thinking about the kitchen garden. As you know, I’ve become more and more concerned at the lack of fruit on the summer and to an extent autumn raspberries. I’ve concluded that I need to move the area devoted to these, as it must be many years that they’ve been here, and despite some replacement plants, the rows don’t look that healthy.

So, this could have knock on effects on the rest of the kitchen garden layout and I’m currently thinking through moving all of our soft fruit bushes onto the large raised bed to the north-east of the plot and using this as an opportunity to put in a permanent fruit cage that will be more comfortable to work in (the current one is a little on the short size) and will at the same time enable me to keep the raspberries protected more effectively.

Also, I think I might move the border trellis around to create more of an enclosed feel to the kitchen garden- this will open up some of the southern beds to more sunlight too, so no bad thing. Much of the woodwork will also need a good clean and repaint, so when you add to this my plans to replace my potting shed, it looks like this year’s major project is a refurbishment of the kitchen garden!

Further afield I’ve continued to develop my involvement in ‘Green Care’ most notably with  ‘The Grow Organisation‘ in Norwich, but also recently visiting another project along these line near Fakenham called ‘The Nurture Project’; I’m increasingly aware of a number of these ‘therapeutic horticulture’ projects around Norfolk so am wondering if there would be some benefit in trying to encourage them to network and promote their joint cause with health organisations and others locally… we shall see.

Here’s a very interesting graphic taken from the Nurture Project’s website which captures the therapeutic value of various types of engagement with nature, including the ways in which gardening can help those with mental and other health issues.

green-careMy talk to the Lindfield Horticultural Society went off pretty well, I think, even though my talk extended well beyond the hour I’d been given..so much to say, so little time to say it…The  subject was ‘Heritage Gardening’ and about 80 people came along to a wonderful venue in the middle of this very attractive village, near Haywards Heath.

The other big news is our plan to visit Australia in June and July. We’ll have 6 weeks there, mainly focused on Melbourne where our daughter and her fiance live. Hopefully this trip will involve visits to some interesting gardens and parks…detailed planning is yet to be done but I’m starting to research things. Of course this will also have a bearing on what I plan for the garden this year; for example I’ve just gone for second early potatoes  (‘Charlotte’, safely placed in window cill trays for chitting).

So, for the next few weeks I think it will be a cautious return to some physical work in  the garden and at Blickling (where I haven’t been for several weeks other than to two very interesting talks about the Walled Garden and the wider estate), coupled with efforts to complete research on the Tree Trail (also at Blickling). I must also firm up those refurbishment plans for the kitchen garden….

 Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

wp_20161229_10_13_24_proI trust that Lise and you had a good Christmas. We certainly have, with our children and their partners with us to share good food, drink, walks and talks. Here’s a picture of them all outside Blickling Hall on Christmas Day.

wp_20161225_13_45_52_pro1In  Old School Garden, I’ve been continuing the tidy up, with most of the remaining leaves collected and stored, as well as some long overdue weeding and plant dividing and moving. We have also been harvesting parsnips, chard and leeks for the festive meals and , as hoped, the ‘Red Delicious’ apples I stored have ripened in time for Christmas.

The weather has offered up some mild, dry days but of late ‘real’ winter has descended with frosty, foggy days. Coupled with the weather and the festivities I seem to have developed a problem with one of my hips which has also prevented me from doing as much outside as I’d hoped. A trip to the doctor indicates inflamed muscles and ligaments, so for now I’m taking anti inflammatories to try to reduce the problem, pending an X Ray to make sure nothing more long term is the cause of the problem. To date, the medication seems to have had little impact, so my days have been uncomfortable and at nighttime my sleep has been disrupted.

Still, garden- related activity has continued….I’ve drawn up my planting plan for the Kitchen Garden in the coming year (see below). During the tidy up I’ve noticed very few stems on the summer fruiting raspberries, so it may be that a move of these is called for as harvests have been disappointing in recent years, despite some new planting in gaps left by older plants. so the plan may need a more radical approach in the next couple of months; weather and hip permitting!

kitchen-gadn-2017Apart from this I’ve had some meetings at ‘The Grow Organisation‘ in Norwich; you remember I mentioned this social enterprise and it’s plans to create a ‘Green Care’ centre? Below is an aerial picture of their site and a shot of the concept plan I’ve produced. We’ve had two very promising meetings with Garden Organic and the Mental Health Foundation Trust I’m involved with as a governor. I’m pleased to say both organisations are fired up by the plans and have agreed to work with us to make the vision a reality and get a range of gardening therapy courses and activities underway. Staff are now seeking outside sponsorship and other funding routes to get phase one of the plan completed; this involves creating a number of raised beds and vertical gardening structures on what is currently a tarmaced basketball/football court. And alongside we hope to build a sunken greenhouse and cold frames, and create an outside working space (including a compost demonstration area) next to the existing potting shed. This is an exciting opportunity which I plan to continue to help in the coming year.

Oh, and do you have any spare garden equipment or tools you could pass on, please? The Allotment Project at the local High School has put out a request for these, so if you or someone you know has things they can spare, please let me know. I plan myself to let them have a wheelbarrow and few tools that are surplus to requirements here.

In a couple of weeks I’m giving a talk to the Lindfield Horticultural Society down in Sussex, courtesy of my old friend Jen and her brother, Chris, who is their Chairman. The topic is ‘Heritage Gardening’. Apart from drawing on my own experience and training in this field (especially my time at Blickling Hall), I plan to feature some unusual examples of heritage gardening from around the country and beyond; and some fun activities too! I’ll let you know how it goes in my January letter to you.

Once this is out of the way, I plan to devote more time to researching the Tree Trail at Blickling, and hopefully finalise the content of this to enable us to move into production of the tree information signs and associated leaflets and other paraphernalia. This will include some ‘leaf stamps’ for children to use as they visit a few of the commoner, native trees. Fingers crossed; I hope to have the bulk of this completed by the time I write to you again in a month’s time.

Until then Deborah and I wish you and Lise an enjoyable New Year celebration, and more importantly, a thriving 2017!

 wp_20161229_10_08_31_proOld School Gardener

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The framework revealed- the Black Poplar in Old School Garden

The framework revealed- the Black Poplar in Old School Garden

To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

I hope this letter finds you and Lise well. Some wintery weather has descended, but I’m pleased to report a reasonably productive month in Old School Garden.

I’ve collected a lot of leaves, mainly by using the ride-on mower with it’s grass collector. In fact I now have a full leaf compound, so will have to pull the various subsidiary mounds around the garden into my main store once this has rotted down a little. I’ll also need to get cracking with the leaf fall in the pond and borders in due course, but as I write, the oak trees are only just beginning to colour up and lose their leaves, so we’ve a way to go, as usual..

Leaves a plenty

Leaves a plenty

Having also cleared out the furniture store (this performed well as a temporary ‘Cat Cave’ for my daughter and son-in-law’s cats for a couple, of months), I now have a large wooden and metal mesh door that I’ve taken off of it’s hinges and can use as a front screen for the leaf compound; so a good example fo recycling (or is it ‘up’ or ‘down’ cycling?). The outdoor furniture is also safely stored for the winter.

I’ve been busy clearing and lightly digging over most of the kitchen garden, and got my onion sets and broad beans sown. On the day that the first frosty night was promised I also managed to clear the greenhouse and rehomed winter-tender plants such as the Cannas (we had a pretty good show from these), various bedding plants (we’ll see if it’s worth hanging on to these) , Echeveria and Pelargoniums. The vine in the courtyard and some climbing roses and clematis have also had their winter tidy up. And as containers have been cleared I’ve filled them with bulbs along with some winter bedding in the form of Cyclamen, Pansies and Violas.

Greenhouse as temporary shelter for the tender...

Greenhouse as temporary shelter for the tender…

I’m pleased with the various Candelabra Primula I’ve grown from seed, and now planted out  most of these in the Pond Garden and one or two other shady spots (and given some away). I look forward to a good show in the spring.

The 'Plant Theatre' with a new cast of Candelabra Primula

The ‘Plant Theatre’ with a new cast of Candelabra Primula

I’ve also planted out the various Achillea nobilis ‘Neilreichii’ runners (courtesy of the Walled Garden at Blickling), in the two triangular raised planters next to the terrace; once bulbs for spring interest have finished here, these should help to give a good summer show of short, creamy white flowers and bluish grey cut foliage.

You recall I told you about clearing the front border under our bedroom window? Well that too has been planted up with the English Lavender I bought and brought on together with some spring bulbs, Scabious and Potentilla rupestris all grown from seed. See the picture below- eventually I hope that the lavender will fill out to a low hedge at which point the other plants can be moved on.

The front border planted up and edging levelled

The front border planted up and edging levelled

I still have some other plants to put out, hopefully before the weather turns very cold. My last harvesting is nearly done- just a few parsnips, leeks and chard left for later. The ‘Red Delicious’ apple tree seems to have produced a good crop this year so I’ve got a large box of these in store; they should fully ripen in time for Christmas.

You’ll be aware of my involvement in the Allotment Project at Reepham High School & College, where there may be an exciting development in relation to sponsorship and involving produce being used in local hotels and pubs- more on this in due course if it comes to anything.

My other active project at present is the  ‘The Grow Organisation’ near Norwich, where I’ve completed a Concept Plan for them. This appears to have gone down very well, including with some potential partners in Mental Health Services. You may recall that the organisation is providing gardening and food growing opportunities for people with various needs, including some with mental health issues.

The vision is ambitious and includes the progressive, incremental development of the site into a number of different areas, many involving food growing, and also including a ‘Trials Area’ where permaculture and other techniques can be explored. I’ve also included a sunken greenhouse (to allow round the year growing) and a demonstration compost area, where I hope we can get support from national and local composting projects. I’ll keep you posted on the developments here.

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My desk research for the Tree Trail at Blickling continues. My latest session included the Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), perhaps considered a bit of a thuggy weed in some woodlands, but also a great tree with some interesting history. Apart from being used as a gallows in Scotland due to its strength, there is a famous example in Dorset- The Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Tree.

Under this sycamore tree at Tolpuddle, six agricultural labourers, known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, formed an early trades union in 1834. They were found to have breached the Incitement to Mutiny Act 1797 and were sentenced to transportation to Australia. The subsequent public outcry led to their release and return. The tree now has a girth of 5.9 metres (19 feet, 4 inches) and a 2005 study dated the tree to 1680. The tree is cared for by the National Trust, so this little bit of history is a ‘must include’ in the Blickling Tree Trail!

 

The Martyrs’ Tree, Tolpuddle, Dorset. Picture by Simon Palmer.

Old School Gardener

To Walter de Grasse

wp_20161028_09_44_58_proDear Walter,

I heard the other day that the Met Office is saying that the growing season here has been extended by a month, due to global warming. Certainly, as I walked around Felmingham and North Walsham the other morning it was amazing to see how few trees are anywhere near bare of leaves, and there’s still so much green around!

I guess that I’m feeling as though I’m in a false sense of security, as it doesn’t seem at all urgent that I get on with planting bulbs and the perennials I’ve been nurturing in pots, sowing Broad Beans and onion sets or transplanting tender plants into the greenhouse. Of course I’m probably going to fall prey to a sharp frost anytime now and I’ll be shocked into the reality that it’s winter..well, it will be soon, as the clocks go back an hour tonight.

I look back and once more think about all that hasn’t been done in Old School Garden this month. Still I suppose a few important jobs have been ticked off- like putting in a new fence post and mending and creocoting the fence, gate posts and garden gate, cutting the grass and gathering leaves, putting out the first lot of bird food, weeding around the leeks and continuing to gather produce, especially apples and carrots. I’ve also cleared the front border (just below where we had the paint removed from the house flintwork) , levelled the edging, started to top up the soil and will eventually plant out a row of English Lavenders I’ve been growing on in pots, together with some Scabious grown from seed and some bulbs for spring colour. This will eventually be a Lavender hedge which should grow go well on this south-facing (if part shaded) wall.

I’ve also had a plant exchange with my friend Mandy; she’s given me some Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’ and Euphorbia seguieriana. The former is a hardy perennial with pale lilac flower spikes that become ‘fasciated’ (the stems and flower spikes flatten and twist into strange shapes) and so are rather curious to look at. I love Veronicastrum and look forward to growing this- perhaps alongside the two tall pale yellow Scabious I’ve grown from seed this year and which are also ready to plant out.

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Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’

Image result for images Euphorbia seguieriana

Euphorbia seguieriana

I gave Mandy a few Candelabra Primulas (also grown from seed) in return. I have rather a lot of these and have been thinking about where to put them; apart from around the pond garden that is, where they were initially intended to go. I think I’ll try a few in the triangular raised beds we have next to the terrace, perhaps mixed in with the Achillea nobilis ‘Neilreichii’ I’ve grown on from runners harvested at Blickling along with some more spring bulbs. I also think I’ll try some in the ‘plant theatre’ in the courtyard garden, in advance of the pelargoniums that normally make for the summer show.

Candelabra Primulas and Achillea ready to plant out

Candelabra Primulas and Achillea ready to plant out

As you may have seen I’ve been active on other fronts gardening-wise. A spent the first of what I hope will be regular sessions at the local high School Allotment Project, where the enthusiastic Mr. Willer is getting great results from the garden and pupils. I’m also drawing up a design for the ‘The Grow Organisation’ near Norwich, which is providing gardening and food growing opportunities for people with various needs, including some with mental health issues. This is exciting, the first bit of garden design I’ve done for a while! finally, the ‘Friends of Haveringland Parish Church’  have just about completed the first stage of turning over the churchyard to a managed conservation area with mown paths, easy access to still-tended graves and to provide a wildlife haven that’s also somewhere beautiful for humans to sit and reflect.

Haveringland Parish Churchyard- after its latest mow and ‘rake off’

Finally, my regular (well, pretty irregular recently) sessions at Blickling continue and apart from the practical gardening work I’ve begun to research the information for the new Tree Trail I’m designing there. this is throwing up some fascinating information; e.g. did you know that the ‘Monkey Puzzle’ Tree (Araucaria araucana, beloved of Victorian gardens) gets its common name from a chance remark made back in 1850?  Sir Willaim Molesworth, the proud owner of a young specimen at Pencarrow garden near Bodmin, Cornwall, was showing it to a group of friends, when one of them (the noted barrister Charles Austin), remarked, “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that”. As the species had no existing popular name, first “monkey puzzler”, then “monkey puzzle” stuck!

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Araucaria araucana- the ‘Monkey Puzzle’ tree

Though I haven’t yet had another go at that shredder, it has at least been a month of some progress in Old School Garden and beyond. I must quicken the pace to make sure all those late autumn/early winter jobs are completed soon, before the weather finally breaks..or will it be early autumn well into November?

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