Tag Archive: espalier


The final solution for the trained fruit trees along the central path?

This week’s session at Blickling was easier- at least to begin with- than the previous few. Norfolk Peter and I were detailed to measure out the positions of the new trained fruit  around the edges and across the middle of the Walled Garden.

Placing and tying in canes to mark the planting positions was pretty straightforward around the perimeter- Mike plans for these to be vertically planted and then trained. Then we needed a bit of discussion about the central path, where Mike wants to put in some angled cordons for apples and pears. Putting them all in at 45 degrees and pointing the same way proved problematic; we ended up with plants placed too close to the concrete footings of the metal posts and some cordons would have to wrap around the corners or there would be gaps at the upper sections if we stuck rigidly to the spaces between each post…

After a bit of trial and error we came up with a combination of outwardly angled and a vertical espalier for each complete stretch of the wire and posts; this would mean some cordons growing over the intermediate metal posts and the angle would have to be steeper than 45 degrees. But overall it seemed to be a pleasing arrangement, and after they were in place I could see two other advantages; the design would visually slow you down as you proceeded along the path (rather than being hastened through if they had all be pointing in the same direction) and the angles nicely framed the other central path where these cross.

The rest of the volunteers were off digging over the parterre alongside the Hall, removing dead or dying Catmint and roses and replanting with new stock.

After lunch, having finished off the cane placing, Peter helped Mike measure up the splendid carved oak top trim for the new noticeboard and I barrowed in some soil and manure along the borders in the walled garden in preparation for the planting out of the many new plants that seem to be arriving in time for my next session… so next time it will be more gardening, less construction.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


WP_20160303_12_57_32_ProThe pace is quickening in the Walled Garden at Blickling. Having missed a session, I returned to discover the second Glasshouse restored and looking wonderful, with work to install the cold frames under way.

Cold Frames under contruction

Cold Frames under construction

I discovered that in my absence my fellow volunteers – ‘Aussie’ Pete and ‘Norfolk’ Pete – had been busy painting the metal posts that will carry wires for trained fruit.

Aussie Peter getting to grips with the painting

Aussie Peter getting to grips with the painting

In my latest session Aussie P continued with this, whilst Norfolk P and I finished off double digging between these posts in preparation for the fruit bush planting.

Project Manager Mike was well into asembling the wires, including the straining bolts that enable them to be tensioned.

And in the new bothy, work was underway to fit a new kitchen. In here I also saw a wonderful carved oak panel that will sit atop the oak noticeboard installed near the entrance, installed some weeks ago.

Sneak preview...part of the carved oak rail to be set atop the new noticeboard

Sneak preview…part of the carved oak rail to be set atop the new noticeboard

A new kitchen for the new bothy

A new kitchen for the new bothy

Whilst we three set to in the walled garden the remaining volunteers went about cutting back and tidying the borders around the moat to the house, which contain a bank of perennial Fuchsias.

After lunch it was a case of ‘all hands  to the wheel’.

As the house was due to open in a couple of days a big effort was needed to clear away the excavations that have been underway to install the Lake Source Heat  system I reported on a few weeks ago.

Along with a digger, tractor and trailer, which were used to remove some sloppy spoil, we loaded barrows and filled in a trench with crushed concrete, which was later smoothed nad compacted before having gravel spread to restore the pathway near the House.

Intense activity in a confined space...restoriung a path near the house

Intense activity in a confined space…restoriung a path near the house

Serious ‘Yakka’ once more, but a satisfying bit of work as the gardening staff and volunteers pulled together amidst the usual banter….

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


The newly refurbished Bothy is nearing completion; a home for gardening volunteers, office and shop for the produce to come

The newly refurbished Bothy is nearing completion; a home for gardening volunteers, office and shop for the produce to come

I worked with recent volunteer recruit, Peter (another Peter, this one with an Australian accent), in this week’s voluntary gardening at Blickling. Whilst the other Peter got on with some welding of the metal edging in the walled garden, ‘Aussie’ Peter and I double dug some stretches of soil where new fruit bushes will be planted and trained into espaliers along wires.

Not much evidence of our hard wrok, but these stretches of soil are now ready to be planted up with fruit trees

Not much evidence of our hard work, but these stretches of soil are now ready to be planted up with fruit trees

The rest of the volunteers did some more tidying of the borders in the Orangery Garden. To the crackle of welding torch and a digger (driven by ‘Dud’), which Mike had got in to dig over the surface of the top beds, Peter and I got into some serious ‘Yakka’, as Peter called it.

I gather this is an aboriginal term for ‘hard work’. Well it was. Not helped by a slight back ache I’d had for a few days (after overloading the firewood basket at home). Still, we soon got into a rhythm and entered ‘into the zone’- that wonderful mental state where the unconscious mind takes over and you do things on ‘autopilot’. But this didn’t stop us having a good natter, exchanging life and family backgrounds, football and so on.

Meanwhile Project Manager, Mike and Gardener Rob were trying to install some of the remaining metal edging alongside the northern border, which the other Peter duly helped cut up into the right lengths.

A couple of days earlier I’d attended the Blickling ‘Mid Winter Meeting’ at the local High School. This is an opportunity for staff and volunteers to hear from Heads of department about plans for the coming season (the House reopens on 5th March). I thoroughly enjoyed this event, which had some fun, unusual and inspiring talks to get us fired up for the year to come.

My wife has been sorting out our family photos and similar stuff, and came across this old postcard of Blickling among several I’d bought many years ago. I think it dates from 1907  – and includes a brief, cryptic message to a ‘Maude Meachen’ together with franked Edward VII stamp. It shows the rather fussy parterre before its major redesign in the 1930’s – see how small the Yew trees are, which today are the huge ‘acorns’ that are the major structural element in todays garden.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


Volunteers tidying the kitchen garden beds at Blickling Hall

Volunteers tidying the kitchen garden beds at Blickling Hall

My second day as a volunteer gardener with the National Trust at Blickling Hall involved cleaning up the recently used kitchen garden, and along the way meeting some of the other garden volunteers… oh, and uncovering some plant mysteries…

You may recall that last week I helped Project Manager Mike and gardener Rebecca to make a start in preparing the ground in the main walled garden. With lots of rain since then there had been little chance of doing much more- in fact there were sections that were reminiscent of a World War I trench system, complete with mud and puddles!

‘Ooh, there’s a row of something…’

So, today we turned our attention to the long bed along the south-facing wall, an area that in recent years had been cultivated as a kitchen garden and nursery bed. There were clearly areas of bare soil, some  a bit weedy, whilst other areas still had the remains of last season’s plantings, including Chard, Penstemons, Dahlias and some less obvious herbaceous perennials.

At the start it looked like I might need to weed and then use a spade to dig over the soil, but it turned out that the soil is quite workable and so a border fork proved up to the job. I was soon joined by a platoon of other garden volunteers who turned their attention to other sections of the bed; uncovering rows of planting here and there (and trying to identify and label these as we went), tidying away spent stems and foliage and generally giving the soil its first ‘breath’ of the new year.

I think the plan is to use this bed in due course as a place for demonstrating different approaches to vegetable growing, but for this year Mike is focusing on a holding operation, working around existing groups of plants that can be left and no doubt seeing what other surprises might appear along the way; for example I think I uncovered an area of Rhubarb crowns towards the end of my stint.

Part of the team, proud of the day's work

Part of the team, proud of the day’s work

It was a satisfying day. There’s something ‘optimistic’ about seeing a newly dug border, the dark, rich soil contrasting with the brighter colours of surrounding plants, and looking forward to creating a progressively finer tilth as the days lengthen and temperatures.

My reward at the end of the day- sunset over mid Norfolk

My reward at the end of the day- sunset over mid Norfolk

Further information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


SONY DSCI’ve mentioned recently that I’m commencing a stint as a volunteer gardener with the National Trust at Blickling Hall, a wonderful Jacobean House and estate just outside Aylsham, about 8 miles from home.

I’m particularly interested in helping with a project to regenerate a two acre walled garden that once supplied the household with an array of vegetables and fruit. Like many walled gardens of its time this was domestic food growing on a huge scale- almost like operating a mini farm.

I was reminded of this near agricultural scale of operation on my first day as the whole space has been deep ploughed (using an implement called a ‘sub soiler’ pulled behind a conventional tractor) to try to break up the compacted soil.

One of my first jobs involved marking out the main pathway structure using canes, so that plentiful supplies of farmyard manure can be tipped and spread on the growing areas and not wasted on areas which will soon be hard-surfaced. Fortunately the Project Manager, Mike Owers, had already set out some marker pegs around  the periphery of the garden from which we could run lines and so get our bearings over the rough terrain. Other members of the gardening team then trailered in what seemed like a never-ending stream of manure  (it was still being delivered as I left at dusk). Mike, Rebecca (one of the gardeners) and I then started the task of spreading this lovely stuff over the ground so that the worms can get to work incorporating it into the newly turned soil- a Rotatator may be used in due course to fully integrate this material.

My other main job on my first day was to work out the materials needed to restore the walled fruit support system around three walls (the fourth side of the garden is hedged). Many old espalier trained fruit bushes remain, though over the years, as the garden was not in commission, these have not been regularly pruned, so some careful renovation is called for. In some cases, the bushes may be beyond recovery, but a good basic structure exists on two out of three walls. Mike had been researching different ways of supporting these bushes and come up with a system used at another of the Trust’s properties, Scotney Castle in Kent. Here oak battens provide vertical supports for stretched wires which run along a series of vine eyes (and incorporate straining bolts at the ends of each run to ensure the wires are kept taut).

This avoids screwing the vine eyes themselves into the ancient walls, which I must say, as you’d expect, look a little fragile in places. The battens will be placed at roughly 4 metre intervals, which more or less corresponds to the spaces between the existing bushes. I did a quick sketch diagram of each wall showing the rough placement of the battens, straining bolts etc. and finished off with some basic calculations of the materials required- interestingly my estimate on the wire (which will be in 7 rows spaced around each 5 brick courses) at 1324 metres was close to Mike’s early estimate, so hopefully the figure is more or less on target!

I’m due back at the Gardens this week and will post a brief update as this work unfolds. The next few months are promising to be especially interesting as the basic structure of the garden- paths, irrigation, greenhouses etc – are put in place and the garden is readied for its first season of growth for many years.

Further information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

Old School Gardener


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