Tag Archive: crocus


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

 

20140225_123456My friend Jennifer sent me these lovely pictures of the spring flowers at Myddelton House, Enfield today.

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This was the home of E.A. Bowles who transformed the garden at Myddelton and, as a keen traveller, especially to Europe and North Africa, brought home with him many specimens of plant. Such was his collecting zeal that, by the turn of the 20th century, he was growing over 130 species of colchicum and Crocus- very much the ‘Crocus King’.

If you’d like to see something of the gardens in summer here’s a link to an article I wrote last August.

Old School Gardener

 

The Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus)

The Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus)

You will recall that our day out had begun promisingly at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. After lunch we drove off (car roof remaining closed in view of the low cloud and short journey) to the town of Saffron Walden in north Essex. More specifically it is the chief town of the District of Uttlesford– I always think this sounds like somewhere you might find in ‘The Shire’ of Hobbit fame!

We’d been here a long time ago and then only driving through so didn’t really have a chance to explore it thoroughly. Here’s a link to Wikipedia’s entry on the town if you’re interested in its history. In brief it’s of ancient standing, there having been a settlement here long before the Roman occupation of Britain 2 thousand years ago. Of particular interest is the derivation of the town’s name. In the medieval period the primary trade in Saffron Walden was in wool, but in the 16th and 17th centuries the Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativa) was grown in the area. Each saffron crocus grows to 20–30 cm and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigma. Together with the styles, or stalks that connect the stigmas to their host plant, the dried stigmas were used originally in medicines, as a condiment, a perfume, an aphrodisiac, and as an expensive yellow dye. This industry gave its name to the town and what used to be Chipping Walden became Saffron Walden. The town itself retains many old buildings, interesting spaces and features, as you’ll see in the gallery at the end of this article.

We began our visit in a fascinating garden – Bridge End Garden. This is actually a series of seven interlinked gardens laid out by the Gibson family (eminent bankers and brewers) in the nineteenth century. They are Grade II* listed (so protected), close to the town centre and church and are open to the public each day free of charge. Careful restoration has replicated gardening techniques and designs typical of the Victorian era and has brought the garden back to its full splendour.

Though there are signs around stating that it is ‘not a playground’ and ‘ball games are not allowed’, I can see it can be difficult to prevent its use for play by the town’s children, some of which might get a bit over exuberant at times…. While we were there I was delighted to see a group of teenage boys playing ‘It’ around the different spaces and the hedge maze was also an obvious draw for local kids. These features in an original 17th or 18th century setting must surely have been used in a similar, playful way – if not by children then by adults! The Dutch Garden with its complex parterre of box bushes also looks so like a ‘mini maze’ (in fact hedge mazes developed out of the complex parterres in France, Holland and elsewhere across Europe), so it wasn’t suprising to see another sign, perhaps rather desperately, announcing that it isn’t a maze!

The gardens are maintained by a team of paid staff (of the Town Council, which also maintains a number of other public gardens) and volunteers, and are in a very good condition. A long winding path flanked by well – kept mixed borders leads you past the formal Rose Garden with views to the parish church beyond (apparently the tallest church in Essex) to the walled garden with its fence and wall – trained fruit trees and two glasshouses with miniature orchard and citrus fruit trees, respectively, in pots that look as though they are brought outside in warmer weather.

All around are little curiosities to intrigue –  statues of mock-snarling (or is it smiling) beasts, other classical statuary, some fine, mature trees such as a Cedar of Lebanon, a small summer house with a display of some curiosities from the garden (such as old gardener’s notes) and another gazebo called ‘Poets’ Corner’. The ‘Wilderness’, as it’s name suggests, was an area of more naturalistic planting (now with a developing Yew tunnel) and from the viewing platform at one end you can get a wonderful view of the Dutch Garden, with its swirling pattern of box hedging laid out to a design by Gertrude Jekyll, who visited the garden in the early 20th century.

Having seen a hedge maze, we went in search of one that is much older – and made of turf. At one edge of the town’s Common sits this wonderful example of a classical labyrinth (see my post on mazes and labyrinths for more information), of uncertain age, but several centuries at least as it was recut in the 17th century. This splendid feature is certainly a challenge to concentration and determination, being 1 kilometer long if you walk the full length of the winding brick path between the shallow turf mounding! Labyrinths are ancient features, adopted by Christianity as a way of encouraging meditation along the symbolic ‘journey of life’.

From here we passed by some of the medieval charm of central Saffron Walden, with their ‘pargetted’ walls (a technique that creates geometric patterns and pictures on the external render) and Market Square, and found a nice little Tea shop for our afternoon break. Unfortunately the west country ‘Saffron Cake’ appears not to be a local delicacy here, despite the town’s association with the spice! Instead portions of Strawberry Cheesecake and Millionaire’s Shortbread had to suffice! We finished our visit by looking round an old – estabslished Antique shop and the parish church of St. Mary- a superb example of a grand parish church built on wool – wealth (and latterly saffron – wealth). It has glorious glass, high painted wooden roof and stonework. Just as we were leaving this delightful town,  the rain began to fall – great timing!

Further information:

Plantax 5: Crocus- spicy herald of Spring

Saffron Walden Town Council website

Bridge End Garden- Uttlesford District Council website

Visit Saffron Walden website

Old School Gardener

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Crocus 'Jeanne d'Arc'

Crocus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’

In the wild, Crocus vernus begins to flower as the snow melts in the mountains of Europe. It is native to the Mediterranean from the Pyrenees in the west to the Ukraine in the east, and south as far as Sicily and the Balkans. This spicy herald of spring has a history dating back thousands of years.

Crocus (plural: crocuses, croci) is part of the Iris family and consists of around 90 species. They are perennials, growing from corms. Cultivated mainly for their flowers which appear in autumn, winter, or spring, Crocuses are also cultivated and harvested for Saffron– the spice obtained from the flower’s anthers. This practice was first documented in the Mediterranean, notably on the island of Crete.  Saffron’s bitter taste and hay-like fragrance is complimented by its rich golden-yellow hue, used to colour food and textiles.It has been  traded and used for over four thousand years. Iran now accounts for approximately 90 percent of the world production of Saffron. Because each flower’s anthers need to be collected by hand and there are only a few per flower, Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.

The name Crocus is derived from the Greek (krokos), which in turn is probably derived from a Semitic or Sanskrit word, which mean saffron or saffron yellow. Over the years the classification of Crocus species has been revised several times, the division of the many species challenging botanists because of the range of characteristics that are available for scrutiny. Some of the species are:

C. aureus = goldencrocus

C. biflorus = two – flowered – the ‘Scotch Crocus’

C. chrysanthus = golden – flowered

C. minimus = smallest

C. nudiflorus = naked flowered

C. ochroleucus = yellowish – white

C. sativus = The Saffron Crocus

C. sieberi = after Sieber, a botanist

C. susianus = from Susa, Persia

C. vernus = spring flowering- the Dutch or Spring Crocuses are derived from this species

C. versicolour = changing or varied colour

The first crocus seen in the Netherlands, where crocus species are not native, were from corms brought back in the 1560s from Constantinople by the Holy Roman Emperor’s ambassador who sent a few corms to the botanical garden in Leiden. By 1620, new garden varieties had been developed. Some species, known as “autumn crocus”, flower in late summer and autumn, often before their leaves appear. They should not be confused with Colchicum, a different genus of autumn – flowering plants.

crocus carpetAt the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, in 1987, Reader’s Digest sponsored the planting of 1.6 million corms of cultivated Dutch crocus for their 50th anniversary. A further 750,000 corms of C. vernus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ and C. vernus ‘Purpureus grandiflorus’ have been planted since – a visit to Kew to see this ‘Crocus Carpet’ is a must.

Sources and further information:

Wikipedia

The Alpine House – information

National Crocus collection – Wisley

A crocus planter

Crocus carpet at Kew

Saffron

Pacific Bulb Society

Old School Gardener

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