Tag Archive: cawston


We attended a couple of carol services at St. Agnes’ Church in Cawston, recently, and were bowled over by the floral displays put together by local resident Lynne Fairchild.

Old School Gardener

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I had a great day’s gardening with various groups of children at Cawston Primary School, Norfolk, last week. They made great progress with digging over the various borders, watering and transplanting- as well as each sowing runner bean seeds in aid of Dr. Barnardo’s. But in addition to these rather more mundane activities it was also possible do some ‘instant gardening’.

An old willow tree stump, removed from the side of the former pond to make way for the new one a couple of years ago, lies near the entrance to the garden and was, to be honest, a bit of an eyesore. Mrs. Brett, the ‘learning outside the classroom’, co-ordinator had a great idea to make this a feature by planting it up, so I bought various bulbs, primulas, anenomes and ferns, using some of the money raised from opening up Old School Garden to the public last year.

Ann, one of the parents, and I helped the children turn this into an attractive feature.  We cleared around the old stump and used other old branches to create ‘planting pockets’ in addition to those created by the roots of the stump and filled these with old soil from a nearby spoil heap. The plants were well watered in and there’s now a colourful, rather beautiful ‘floral sculpture’ to welcome us as we enter the garden!

Old School Gardener

Grasses and autumn leaves are looking good in Old School Garden

Grasses and autumn leaves are looking good in Old School Garden

28th October 2013

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

I hope you and Lise are well. I guess you’ve been experiencing the warm autumn like us over the last few weeks? This has done wonders for prolonging the flowers and colour in Old School Garden and the combination of these with the golden glow of grasses in the mixed borders looks super- especially in that low October sun.

But it’s also meant that I’ve been hanging on and waiting for things to finish their show so that the ‘autumn clear up’ can truly begin (though I do like to leave some plants whose stems, seed heads or shape survive to provide eye catching winter interest). I’ve just started to get tender things inside for over wintering as well as replacing summer annual displays with something to give us winter and spring colour. The main annuals beds and containers have been cleared and planted up with a combination of spring bulbs, along with Pansies, Violas and Bellis. I’ve also cleared out the greenhouse of the remaining cucumbers and (mostly green) tomatoes, the latter are now resting in a fruit bowl along with a banana to encourage ripening! The harvest has continued with lots of delicious apples, some very good black grapes and runner beans, chard and the last of the courgettes. It’s also been a busy sowing and planting time- crops of Broad Beans, yellow and red Onions, Garlic as well as green manures have all been put in, and I’m having another go at growing Asparagus.

Scabious still looking good in the courtyard garden

Scabious still flowering in the courtyard garden

As you read this we’ll be away visiting our daughter Madeleine and our son-in-law, Diego, in Portugal. So, many other things – bringing in the dahlias, pruning the climbing roses, keeping on top of the leaves, selective cutting back of perennials and dividing and moving some – will all have to await our return. A little late perhaps, but hopefully the mild weather will continue for a couple of weeks!

I’m still helping at the local School with their ‘outdoor learning’ (specifically in the School Garden). I think virtually every child (apart from the very young), has learned about tools and tool safety and harvesting (the School cook had a lovely supply of Red Cabbage, Courgettes, Runner Beans and Carrots to weave into her daily menu). It’s been inspiring to hear their enthusiasm as they open up a runner bean pod and discover the little pink and purple jewels that can become next year’s seeds and how they love to find worms and other critters in the soil! One mum told me the other day how excited her son had been when he brought home the bean I’d let him take away!

They have also learned about the different types of seed and their dispersal, what we do in the Autumn to prepare the soil, and sow and plant certain things, as well as the importance of composting, including looking after the school wormery. The other day this half term’s efforts culminated in an open day focusing on ‘outdoor learning’. Parents linked with their children and took part in a range of activities around the school site including den building and bug hunting. I was mainly involved in fuelling the fire pit where we did some ‘campfire cooking’ (bread and marshmallows on hazel sticks), and helping with:

  • some gardening (the boys particularly like a bit of digging),

  • weather monitoring (we managed to reach 19 degrees C on a beautiful sunny day)

  • making ‘elf houses’ and furniture (and a few elves too),

  • making recycled paper pots and sowing broad beans in them.

I think this event has helped to raise awareness of the good work being done in the ‘outside classroom’ at the school and may even encourage some parents to volunteer to help out at one of the regular ‘garden gang’ days or in other ways. Here are some pictures I took to give you a flavour of what was a  fun and successful day.

 

The other major activity I’ve been involved with recently is teaching.

As you know from my last letter, I’ve been running a second Garden Design course at the local High School and this is now in its last couple of weeks. The eight participants, have a wide range of different garden design challenges in front of them. They are an enthusiastic group who it’s been a pleasure working with. They are now firming up their design ideas and creating scale drawings of what they want to achieve, and the final evening will focus on how to go about realising these on the ground.

I’m also pleased to say that my first ‘Grow Your Own Food’ course for beginners and novices is running locally, too. Tuesday mornings in a nearby village hall (Foulsham), sees 6 relatively new food growers coming together and both sharing experiences and exploring the ‘keys to success’ in food growing. The second week involved a visit to Old School Garden where I shared (‘warts and all’) my own experiences of food growing, some of the ideas and tips I’ve used and some of the issues confronting me – not least being the need to ‘downsize’ my food production to avoid gluts and surpluses! I shall be introducing a greater level of ornamental planting in the kitchen garden to achieve this, so reducing the productive areas by about a third.

My blog continues to grow both in terms of followers and also in the feedback and ‘conversations’ its enabling around the world. I’ve recently topped 1500 followers on all ‘social media platforms’ and since starting it back in December last year have had over 33,000 views of pages on the site. These are currently averaging about 800-1000 per month at present. Its been especially pleasing to have positive feedback from people who have enjoyed particular articles or items (recycling in the garden seems to be especially popular). Continue reading

The blckbirds nesting among the vine in the Courtyard Garden at Old School Garden- picture by Gabbie Joyce and Paul Hill

The blackbirds nesting among the vine in the Courtyard Garden at Old School Garden- picture by Gabbie Joyce and Paul Young

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

It’s coming to the end of one of the driest and hottest July’s we’ve had in nearly 10 years. Today looks like it will be the hottest of the year to date – somewhere in the upper 20s if not low 30s Celsius in our corner of England (and higher elsewhere)! Having spent a couple of hours this morning planting out the last of my summer annuals, thinning and transplanting wallflowers and planting some leeks, I’ve escaped the worst of the heat and come inside to drop you a line!

As you can imagine, the last few weeks have been very busy on several gardening fronts. I guess the most significant event was our first garden opening last week, which I’ve done a separate article about. This was great fun and I was very pleased with the way the garden looked and the many positive comments from the 70+ visitors. We raised over £300 too which will be going to three local ‘good causes’.

One of these is ‘Master Gardener’, where I continue to offer my voluntary advice and help to those starting  to grow their own food. Gabbie, the local co-ordinator, has come up with the idea of using the money we raised as a special fund to be tapped into by Norfolk Master Gardeners to purchase small items to help their households, groups and other new growers- I’ll tell you more about this in due course. I’ve attended a few events recently and had fun talking with a range of people about their food growing experiences and maybe even helped to recruit a few new households. The latest event was the ‘Destination Aylsham’ Fun Day yesterday, which I helped out at with fellow Master Composter Sally Wilson- Town and co-ordinator David Hawkyard. Well over 70 people came over to discuss composting and ‘growing your own’, though my period at the stall seemed to coincide with the quieter, ‘wind down’ phase towards the end. Still,  no matter, we seem to have promoted composting and food growing to a few more people – and I managed to sell some plants and produce too!

I’ve done my last session this academic year at Cawston Primary School, where we had great fun harvesting potatoes, broad beans and a few onions. In truth, with the exception of the Broad Beans, these were harvested a little too soon, because this was the last opportunity for the children to garden before their holidays which begin on Thursday. Still, the potatoes were of a good size and a reasonable quantity and will be used in the school kitchen this week along with the beans and some of my donated home grown produce (we’ve had some enormous Calabrese and Cauliflowers lately). The children also continued to dig out the old compost bins so that we can make a new start there in the Autumn. However, it’s disappointing that we’ve not been able to keep on top of the weeding in the bog garden around  the wildlife pond (which is also looking extremely dry), as many weeds have now set seed, so that will be an added problem for us in the Autumn, when  hopefully the soil will be damper and weeding easier. However, the Outdoor Learning Co-ordinator , Sharon, tells me that the pond has been a real winner with the children and has yielded examples of a wide range of insect and other wildlife.

The gardens at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum are struggling in the sun and heat, but the planting and care taken earlier in the year by myself and other volunteer gardeners seem to be paying off. The rambling rose ‘Rambling Rector’ in the Wildife Garden looks particularly splendid as it covers the arbour and adjoining wall, where I and my friend Steve spent an hour or two pruning and tying in last autumn.

 

At home, Old School Garden is also struggling in the heat, and evening watering sessions of hand held spray and sprinkler have lasted a good few hours in recent weeks – and still many new plantings are wilting! Anyway, the long borders are looking great, though with a few gaps after shearing back the oriental poppies. I’m hoping that my strategically placed pots of tender perennials and plantings of annuals will soon plug these and the overall show will reach a crescendo in a few weeks time. The kitchen garden has proved to be very productive to date, though we  continue to get problems with pests such as pigeons and to a lesser extent blackbirds and aphids. I’ve noticed a few Cabbage White butterflies recently, but hopefully with my planting of Nasturtiums and netting of my Brassicas, we’ll not be too badly affected by their hungry green caterpillars! So far we’ve had crops of :

  • Potatoes – though I had to lift many of these a bit early as blight had started to affect them

  • Calabrese  -huge heads from the F1 variety ‘Beaumont’

  • Cauiliflowers- though a few heads were ‘blown’ as we couldn’t keep up with the supply!

  • Mange Tout – despite early pigeon attacks!

  • Celery – too much to cope with!

  • Carrots – a reasonable first crop though many were twisted and misshapen, possibly a combination of too rich and stony soil

  • Lettucs – a few varieties from the garden have tasted good along with some ‘cut and come again’ varieties in pots.

  • Tomatoes – just a few of the smaller, golden variety to date, but plenty on the plants in the greenhouse, ready for swelling and ripening.

  • Courgettes – the start of what promises to be a bumper year, especially as my friend Steve has given me four ‘Patty Pan’ plants to go with the two green varieties he’d already supplied!

  • Strawberries-  you remember I’d started the process of relocating the strawberry bed? Well the new plants seem to have taken well, though, as youd’ expect I didn’t let them flower or fruit this first year, but the old plants I left hoping for ‘one more year’ of fruit were a disaster. Very few fruits and what there were the blackbirds, slugs and mould seem to have taken. So for the first time in many years I actually bought two punnets of strawberries!

  • Raspberries – these are coming on well and we’ve enjoyed a few days supply so far, though the pigeons, despite my various ‘bird scarers’, seem to be enjoying themselves and breaking off the fruiting stems as they use them like ladder to go up and down the canes!

  • Garlic – most now harvested but some along with the onions are just drying  out before storing

  • Broad Beans – a good crop of a rosy pink variety, though when cooked their attractive colour seems to turn a rather dull grey, but they taste just fine!

  • Gooseberries- first bush harvested , two red varieties to come this weekend

  • Blackcurrants- two bushes harvested and a lot frozen, with one more to come shortly

Later today, I’ll be sowing some further crops of Lettuce, Mange Tout, Carrots and Cabbage as well as some Pansies I got from the Royal Norfolk Show and which  should provide us with some autumn and winter colour. That’s if it is not too hot of course.

Well, old friend, I see that it’s about time for lunch, so I’ll close for now and wish you and your good wifeFerdy’ well. By the way, would she mind terribly if I called her by her second name, which I find so much more attractive? Lise seems to capture her elegant beauty a lot more than that  nickname she got all those years ago at University! We’re looking forward to seeing you both here at Old School Garden in a week or two’s time – hopefully the garden will still look good and the weather will mean we can enjoy some warm summer evenings on the terrace with some good food, and even better wine!

all the best

Old School Gardener

Other posts in this series:

Dear Walter…. letter from Old School Garden 21st June 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 20th May 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 18th April May 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 11th March 2013

Dear Walter… letter from Old School Garden: 15th February 2013

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I’ve just returned from a session of the ‘Gardening Club’ at my local primary school – 7 children of varying ages. What a little preparation and enthusiastic kids can achieve! We:

  • Painted up the pallet planters we’re making for a floral display at the school (we’re planting up hanging baskets next week for sale at the Summer Fair on 19th May) – more on this project in due course…
  • Set up a wormery outside the school kitchen – I bought some worms from a local angling shop and with the day’s fruit peel and other kitchen waste on a bed of leaf mould we set the little critters to work and talked with the School cook about how to keep the process going…
  • Sowed some Squash and Lavender seeds one of the children had brought in – they’re already excited at how tall their sowings of trailing Nasturtiums have grown in two weeks…
  • Had a brief run down on the composting process in the wormery and set them a challenge of finding out some ‘compost facts’ for next week, as well as discussing who’ll be available to help me sell the hanging baskets, make paper pots with children visitors and advise people on food growing and composting at the Summer Fair…

Phew – need  a little sleep….

Old School Gardener

Two projects in the village of Cawston, Norfolk enabled me to ‘cut my teeth’ on designing playful landscapes.

Both were completed about 6 years ago and largely on a voluntary basis. I remain involved at the local Primary School, helping them with their School Gardening activities, but my early involvement was in designing, sourcing planting and organising the creation of an ‘Eco Park’ – basically to try and diversify the habitats and play opportunities in a bland, mown grass playing field with a solitary multi function play unit. The design features a curved mixed native species hedge (which is now over 2 metres high) and a haven for wildlife, several groupings of native trees such as Silver Birch, Hazel, Douglas Fir, Beech, Oak, Feild Maple, Mountain Ash and Black Poplar, and some areas of shallow mounding.

The planting has been used to create several different spaces, and grass within these has been left to grow long both to provide varied habitats and interesting play areas. In addition a ‘Nectar Bar’ of insect – friendly herbaceous and other flowering plants has been created alongside the school, including a painted pergola which both helps to privide shade to the south – facing side of the school and added planting interest.

The second project involved working on commission for the Parish Council and a local charity to design, seek funding, consult local people and supervise the creation of a new play landscape at the ‘Oakes Family Field’ located to one side of the village. The design was constrained by the need to retain areas for cricket and football pitches and to avoid placing play areas close to housing on one side of the field. There is a mix of landscape features including a large mound (with a slide), timber play equipment for balancing and enclosed social areas, as well as a selection of traditional play equipment in two main areas, one for younger, one for older children. Over £100,000 was raised from various sources and so a wide range of play equipment and features has been possible.

Old School Gardener

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