Tag Archive: black garden


wp_20170202_11_40_17_proMy first New Year session at Blickling was just a morning. Just recovering (hopefully) from an inflamed hip I wanted to ease myself back into physical work gradually.It was a lovely bright morning after a foggy start, I had a warm (if ‘bantered’) welcome back from the gardeners and volunteers and it was great to be back.

Gardener Rob was in the course of trimming the yew hedging around the double borders, so I set to raking up and dumping the cuttings in a trailer for later disposal. Over a number of years these cuttings (and especially those gathered in the summer season), have been sold off to a company which turns them (or rather more specifically the oil/resin they contain) into cancer fighting drugs- all the way from Italy. Rob told me that in recent years sales have been dropping off and the money received has also been reducing as the company now has it’s own yew plantations.

I may have mentioned before that the yew used to surround the double borders (Taxus baccata) should eventually grow to form a dense hedge that can be cut to the traditional sharp-edged shapes reminiscent of many ‘heritage gardens’. however, there is a bit of doubt about the purity of the variety we have here, as the Trust’s gardens advisor thought it might be from a commercially-developed strain which is less dense. Certainly here at Blickling after about ten years growth, whilst there are some nice thick areas, there are also patches where holes are evident. Hopefully with continuous trimming new, short growth will sprout and so eventually we’ll get the full effect anticipated.

In any event the carefully cut returns on the hedges- shaped using templates to mirror the gables on the windows in the House- are starting to look nicely defined-see the pictures below. Rob was also having to measure the heights of the hedging as the land slopes upwards towards the end, meaning to keep the whole thing looking visually right he would need to progressively shorten the height of the hedge (and so the top facet of the sculpted returns would be lost at the end).

As we progressed through the morning Rob and I discussed ideas for improving the ‘Black Garden’ which sits at one end of the double borders, from where there is a ‘classic’ view of Blickling, taking in the House, parterre and lake beyond (see pictures below). This area suffers from a definite slope and this and a lack of continuity of the hedging and edging helps to divorce it from the double borders. Ideas include trying to more closely tie it into the rest of the area by repeating a circular gravelled area (which needs to be wide enough to allow a tractor and trailer to turn), and repositioning the large seat from where you get the ‘classic’ view. I think levelling the space is important and I like the idea of tying it into the rest of the double borders, but it will be tricky trying to get paths to fit visually and to meet the practical needs of the gardeners. I gather that there’s also the possibility of a viewing tower being erected nearby which would also afford wonderful views over the parterre and the wider estate. It will be interesting to see some designs on paper.

Well, my morning went by and my leg caused me no problems, so hopefully I can gradually build up my strength once more and get back to longer sessions here- and in my own garden.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


Hyacinth 'Blue Jacket' putting on a show- and fragrance

Hyacinth ‘Blue Jacket’ putting on a show- and fragrance

Another Wednesday session this week at Blickling, and, you guessed it, more spade work!

It was a showery day, so the waterproof was never far away…at one point we had an almost horizontal driving shower of hail to contend with. Anyway, my first job in the Walled Garden was to dig a trench (and half) with my fellow volunteers to provide a temporary home for a rather large number of Black Mongo Grass (Ophiopogon) plants which had been removed from the Black Garden.

I’d noticed a digger hard at work in this important area near the Double borders; I’m pleased to say that the grass (or rather mud) surface of this area was being replaced with gravel and a slight remodelling was underway too. This area is heavily trafficked and the grass surface soon cuts up over the season, so something tougher is required.

The Mongo Grass provide an important ‘floor’ to the planting here which features spring tulips and summer Black Elder amongst other ‘black’ plants. It is also home to a large bench which provides one of the best views at Blickling across the parterre, towards the Hall and the Lake beyond.

There were plenty of plants to place out and some of the other volunteers helped Gardener Rebecca pot some up for sale. I’d also noticed a large number of potted Roses, recently delivered and waiting placing out to fill gaps in the Rose Garden.

Plenty of roses waiting to be planted out in the Rose Garden

Plenty of roses waiting to be planted out in the Rose Garden

After this work- the plants didn’t require any special watering in as the rain came and went- we turned our attention to preparing the ground for the raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries that will occupy a quarter of the walled garden.

All is mucked in... forked over lines for soft fruit in the Walled Garden

All is mucked in… forked over lines for soft fruit in the Walled Garden

So having moved the piles of muck from the other side of the garden a few weeks ago, we now moved it (again) along lines that Mike had set out; to finish off we incorporated this into the top soil and so the ground is ready for planting. A digger had already been here to deep dig the soil, so, though I was still digging and forking this week, I managed to avoid yet more double digging!

The first Tulips are starting to show in the double borders

The first Tulips are starting to show in the double borders

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


Tidying up in the Moat

Tidying up in the Moat

Trusted, that’s how I felt. Assistant Head Gardener, Steve told me that the Head Gardener wanted me to prune some shrubs in the double borders at Blickling.

Buddleja, Fuchsia, Black Elder and also Pawlonia were the target, following on from the start I made a couple of weeks ago. Pruning Pawlonia always worries me; as you may know they can be left unpruned and will produce purple flowers. But they are mainly grown to create wonderful foliage and so quite hard pruning- involving some saw work- is needed. I came across some quite thick stems that on the face of it look substantial, but as you cut in their hollow insides give way easily and you feel slightly less of a vandal.

I didn’t spend any time in the walled garden, but you might be interested to listen to a 15 minute interview that BBC Radio Norfolk did with the Project Manager, Mike. Here’s a link to it.

This wasn’t my first visit to Blickling this week. I also attended a lively and stimulating induction day for new staff and volunteers. We had a tour of the house and park. Our guides were really enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Some interesting facts about Blickling that we uncovered:

  • The Manor has been owned by two kings- first Harold (he with the arrow in the eye problem) and subsequently by his successor William the Conqueror
  • There have been three houses on the site, the current one (which began building in 1619), built within the moat of the older houses
  • Anne Boleyn (Henry VIII’s second wife and with the ‘neck ache’) was probably born at Blickling in around 1501
  • The designer of the current house was Robert Lyminge, a well know Dutch architect who had previously designed Hatfield House- he was paid the princely sum of 2 shillings and sixpence (‘Half a Crown’) a day
  • King Charles II visited the house in 1671 and knighted the owner, Henry Hobart
  • Blickling Estate today employs around 40 staff and has some 450 volunteers!

After the pruning – where I was engaged in conversation with several visitors- I joined the other volunteers in the moat for some general tidying up. We managed to complete the two remaining sides (of three) within a couple of hours and it did look satisfyingly neat. Paul, the Head Gardener came round to thank us for our efforts and was very complementary about my pruning; it’s nice to feel valued!

Apart from various pieces of masonry that had fallen off of the moat walls, I also discovered a metal object (see picture)- any guesses as to what it might be?

This week's mystery object.. any ideas?

This week’s mystery object.. any ideas?

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


'Tickling' the soil in the 'Black Garden'

‘Tickling’ the soil in the ‘Black Garden’

After two weeks away from Blickling, I was eager to see what progress had been made in the gardens. I wasn’t disappointed. Though some of the volunteer sessions had been rained off, they still seemed to have made a visual impact on the borders. And I gathered from Project Manager Mike, that there had also been major progress in the Walled Garden.

My first job was to prune some Buddleja in the borders established a few years ago which echo designs by the 1930’s Garden Designer Norah Lindsay, who made such an impact at Blickling. Then it was on to join my fellow volunteers in the ‘Black Garden’ where a lovely mix of dark flowering plants and dark foliage (including Black Mongo grass) combine to create a sombre mood.

Here the ladies were ‘tickling’ over the soil around the plants and especially in a border of tulips (‘Queen of Night’) and Iris, both just beginning their spring wake up. I pruned some Black Elders here to encourage a good show of foliage at head height. It was good to catch up on the news of the last couple of weeks and over lunch I was treated to a delicious piece of birthday cake (Almond and Apricot) brought in by one of the team. I must say I like this little ritual of bringing in cakes on your birthday, especially as I will hopefully be the beneficiary rather than the donor until next January!

Further afield in the gardens there are clear signs of the arrival of spring; beautiful patches of Crocus and Narcissus are just into their show times. And the major news in the walled garden is the arrival of the newly refurbished glasshouse. However, the former heating system- the massive hot water pipes are still in evidence- is not going to be restored. In future, I understand from Head Gardener Paul, the necessary heat will be supplied by a couple of fan heaters. He also tells me there’s hope of replacing the other glasshouse at some point too, funding permitting. I can’t wait to get into the newly restored structure and use its full potential.

Work was also underway to widen a major entrance path to the front lawns of the House and this was being used as a trial session using a new supply of metal path edging, a large quantity of which had been delivered for use in laying out the paths in the walled garden. Perhaps this is something I’ll be helping with in coming weeks.

For most of the day our gardening proceeded to a back drop of a buzzing in the air. No, not an early swarm of bees, but a ‘drone’ hanging in the sky like a bird of prey; filming the gardens for a new video that’s to go on the Blickling website.

'Under attack'- can you spot the drone?

‘Under attack’- can you spot the drone?

I also bumped into a paving contractor who was finishing off some repairs to a York Stone path at the entrance to the Gardens. He’d done a beautiful job, the new stone blending in perfectly with the older material. The contractor told me that the stone costs £120 per m2 plus VAT!

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


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