Tag Archive: curiosity


Old School Garden – 29th September 2015

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

I’ve looked back at what I wrote to you at this time last year and it began ‘I’m feeling very guilty’.  Once more I find myself confessing to not much happening in the garden, well until the last few days at any rate.

As you know we went on a two week trip to the Hebrides (Mull and Arran) and Northumberland in late August-early September and this, coupled with an earlier spell away in Portugal has meant that the garden has been sorely neglected; but for the harvesting and watering efforts of our daughter, Lindsey and friends Steve and Joan, that is.

My other excuse, and you’ll be bored at me banging on about this, has been decorating, decorating, decorating…and still one more room to go plus some finishing details.

Enough of the excuses, what have I been up to in the garden? Well of late hedge cutting, including an overdue trim of the neighbours’ side of a mixed hedge that forms one of our boundaries. And today I am going to do drastic work on that laurel hedge that backs the main lawn (or should I say ‘Mole patch’). You might recall my plans to create a wildlife pond on the northern side of this and how my plans for the hedge are to:

  • let more sunlight into the pond area

  • reduce the height of the hedge to make it easier to maintain

  • create a sweeping curved profile to add visual interest.

Well, I’ve made a start with hedgecutter and loppers and today I will try to tackle the thicker stems using the wonderful battery-powered chainsaw I was given to trial by it’s makers Ego. And I mustn’t forget to mention Deborah’s efforts in weeding paths and beds, which has certainly made things look a lot tidier.

Despite the neglect nature seems to find a way of surviving and so there’s still plenty of ornamental interest in the garden at present, including a lovely Hydrangea paniculata, Sedums, and of course the various grasses which are now starting to put out their feathery flowers.

There seems to be a good crop of apples on the way to add to those already picked. It’s also been a good year for figs and we are just about coming to the end of the cucumbers, peppers (which were decimated by an attack of caterpillars) and tomatoes (the shortening days and contrasting night time and daytime temperatures are having their effect on what remain on the plants). I’m also rather pleased with the crop of squashes this year, largely planted to provide ground cover while we were away, and they seem to have done this and rewarded us with a winter’s supply!

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Returning to the house renovation side of things, I finally bit the bullet and chopped off the stems of the ivy growing up the front of the house, which had been encouraged to cover up some rather unsightly painting over flintwork (sacrilege). I now plan to remove the dead stems with crow bars etc and then get the builders in to sandblast the front and repoint the stones. Quite an undertaking, but I think it will be worth it in improved appearance alone.

The front of the house with its, now dead, ivy- removing this, sandblasting and repointing the flintwork will be a major undertaking, possibly before winter really sets in

The front of the house with its, now dead, ivy- removing this, sandblasting and repointing the flintwork will be a major undertaking, possibly before winter really sets in

I’ve also been splashing out on some bulbs and spring bedding in the form of violas and pansies, which I’ve started to use in some of the containers that were beginning to look a bit sad. They will hopefully provide a good splash of colour during the dark winter months. Oh, and I came across a plant on a visit to Wallington Hall in Northumberland (more on this visit in due course) which I couldn’t resist; a Crocosmia called ‘Norwich Canary’- as a season ticket holder at Carrow Road it just had to come home with me!

It’s also that time of year when I put out the bird feeders and I was immediately rewarded with the usual crowd of Blue and Great Tits plus a few other species. It is lovely watching them have their breakfast while we have ours.

WP_20150929_10_33_19_ProOn the wider gardening front I’ve re-engaged with my voluntary input at Gressenhall and Blickling. I’ll be posting about the latter in the next few days, and for the former I’m pleasantly surprised at how well my areas of responsibility have come through the summer and into autumn. I went in last week and felt that not much tidying was required so I turned my hand to mowing the grass and edging this. The front entrance border with its mix of grasses, lavenders and shrubs was looking great.

Oh, and I may well be running my garden design course once more. you might remember that the Reepham Learning Community is no longer functioning so my venue at the High School is no longer available. So I’m making enquiries about running a day time course in the New Year using accommodation at Blickling. This looks promising, and it might be especially helpful to use the gardens here as a way of illustrating elements of the course. I’ve also been invited by a former student to give a talk on the basics of garden design to her gardening group near Fakenham soon, so that will help me to keep my hand in on the teaching front.

Well I think that just about wraps up my recent gardening life. How is your garden looking just now? I bet it’s a picture with the weather helping to bring out those lovely autumn leaf colours in your wonderful collection of trees.

All the best to Ferdy Lise and we hope to see you soon, old friend,

Old School Gardener



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IMG_0972Old School Garden – 3rd October 2014

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

I’m feeling very guilty. A month has gone by and three weeks out of four we have been away from Old School Garden. So, as you can guess, I’ve not much to report as far as our garden is concerned, well at least in terms of effort, that is. I’m pleased to say, though, that due to the diligent watering of our son and neighbours, we were pleasantly surprised at the state of the garden on our return from foreign climes. Well, mostly.

I thought I’d give you a snapshot of some of the wonderful places we visited whilst away in Spain and Portugal, but first, one of the good things to report is the continued harvest. Here are a few pictures of this month’s offerings. As you’ll see, I’ve cheated a bit and included a bag of almonds donated to us by our hosts in Spain, Michael and Lisa. We sampled some of these, and especially loved the salted ones- I threw a few into a Spaghetti Bolognese we had for supper one day- they added a new dimension!

More generally, the Old School Garden has definitely put on some of its autumn clothes. However, the driest (and possibly the warmest) September on record in the UK has meant that some things you’d associate with high summer have continued to put on a show, or in some cases, a second flowering. I even spotted some new strawberries in our patch! I’m hoping that the weather will be kind enough to encourage the Melianthus major to flower this year; you remember I grew this from a cutting I took whilst working at Peckover House a couple of years ago? It’s the plant with leaves that smell of peanut butter when you rub them and has claret-coloured spikey flowers.

Here’s a selection of pictures of some of the ornamental interest in the garden right now…

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I said that the previous month had involved little gardening effort on my part. I’d forgotten a few things that I managed to squeeze in between the holidays:

  • I sowed some green manure (Phacelia) which is now beginning to look good

  • I tackled (with our soon to move neighbour) an overgrown, mixed hedge boundary and removed a lot of growth to open up the kitchen garden to more morning sun

  • I did the usual late summer round of hedge clipping (and managed to cut through the hedge clipper’s electric cable too)

  • I took some yew cuttings from the old bushes/trees at Gressenhall, and last, but not least…..

  • I continue to ‘deal with’ the rash of mole hills and runs that have spread right across all the areas of our grass (I don’t any longer call them lawns).

Turning to our trips abroad, these weren’t all about visiting gardens, parks and other lovely places – near the end we did a bit of ‘hands on’ gardening! Our daughter and son-in-law live in Almada, just over the river from Lisbon, Portugal. Their apartment has a rear patio (which I’ve written about before) and also a rather blank piece of ground at the front. This is covered with different layers of concrete and apart from providing a parking place for our son-in-law’s motorbike, does little more than collect wind-swept rubbish and provide a challenging growing space for some tough old weeds which seem to have gradually worked their way into cracks and, once there, swelled these as their roots get a grip.

I don’t know if it was us tiring of being on holiday or the annoyance of looking at this plot every day, but Deborah proposed to do some weeding one morning and so three of us set out ‘armed’ with only our hands and a draw hoe (not usually put into service for this sort of job). You can see the result below. Having begun with limited ambitions, not surprisingly we managed to remove some large chunks of concrete (!) and tilled the rather poor soil in readiness for some planting next year (I suggested some annual poppies and marigolds as good ‘pioneer’ species). Diego, our son-in-law, was obviously inspired by this effort and is now proposing to remove a larger strip of concrete to create some more significant planting areas…watch this space.

I promised you a snapshot of some of the wonderful places we visited whilst in Spain and Portugal, so here’s a selection to whet your appetite for more extensive articles (and pictures) in the next few weeks…

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I almost forgot to mention my holiday reading. Whilst our travels meant we weren’t able to read that much, I did make a start on ‘Noah’s Children’ by Sara Stein. You may recall that I was pointed in her direction by a fellow blogger? After reading her previous book ‘Noah’s Garden’ (in which she discusses her approach to ecological gardening), the sequel gets into the whole issue of how we do or don’t enable children to build a relationship with their environment. I’ve been saving some thought-provoking extracts from this and will somehow share them with you in the coming weeks. Here’s a starter from the Introduction, where Stein sets out her stall for the rest of the book:

‘Land is nourished or not by humans; humans are nourished or not by land. Place and occupant only seem separable because we have created such a distance between liveliness and livelihood. In creating that distance, we have unwittingly detached the nature of childhood from the sense it ought to make. Childish curiosity is to make connections, to realize the larger picture, to become able in the physical environment our lives depend on. We’ve removed the red from the fruit, the fruit from the tree, the tree from the wood, the wood from all the things a child might make of it, and so left fragments much harder to connect than laces on a shoe.’

To conclude this month’s letter, Walter, I’ve a positive note, not unrelated to the theme of ‘Noah’s Children’. Whilst at Gressenhall Museum on Wednesday, the co-ordinator Lynne, mentioned a comment she’d had from a recent visitor. The visitor said her young children loved coming to the ‘Curiosity Corner’ I and colleagues had created for under 5’s in a small part of the gardens here; to the extent that she’d spent a considerable sum getting her own garden landscaped to make it more ‘child friendly’, to introduce some of the features that can engage the young mind in exploring and learning from their environment. That warmed my heart.

The Kitchen Garden in autumn - 'fulsome'

The Kitchen Garden in autumn – ‘fulsome’

All the best for now, old friend,

Old School Gardener



curiosity corner gfw

 ‘Curiosity Corner’ – a garden I (with help), created for under 5’s to explore at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, Norfolk

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