Tag Archive: glasshouse

WP_20150909_12_43_35_ProFollowing our ‘Hebridean Hop’ we went on to stay for a week in Northumberland with 6 old friends, in a house we’d been to before (we rent out a house for a week in different locations every year – this was our sixth consecutive holiday together). It is usually a stay involving (too) much food, drink as well as trips to interesting places and walks on beaches and in the countryside.

On one of the days we travelled south towards Morpeth to a National Trust property I’d wanted to visit for some time- in fact the last time we were here, but for a mistake in reading the road signs, we would have visited then. Anyway, despite a couple of wrong turns this time (including using Satnav) we eventually made it.

Wallington Hall was gifted by Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan, Socialist MP and ‘illogical Englishman’. The Hall features huge pre-Raphaelite paintings around the Central Hall, beautiful furniture, treasured collections and quirky curiosities; and it was great seeing volunteers baking in the kitchens (free samples) and on hand to explain things. I also loved seeing some old letters and newspapers out on display- these added a real sense of time and place to the house. There was also a well crafted exhibition in one room on utopias. My own contribution to the personal ‘visions’ wall?- ‘Globalisation= collective responsibility’

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The 13,000-acre estate was too big to explore in one day, but we made sure to see the hidden walled garden, nestled in the woods.  It was beloved by Lady Mary Trevelyan and remains a beautiful haven whatever the season.  Entering through Neptune’s Gate, you sweep down a stone staircase, by the Mary Pool and soak up the tranquil atmosphere; this is special place for our friends John and Ann, who, along with Richard and Ann, were with us on the day.

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We wandered past colourful borders, which because of its northerly location, gave late summer ‘oomph’, even though it was September when we visited. The planting combinations in the herbaceous borders and further afield in the walled garden, are a triumph. This was once a productive kitchen garden but is no almost entirely ornamental. It slopes gently and a natural stream meanders through it, which creates a wide range of planting and design opportunities. There is also an elevated terrace walkway with a splendid glasshouse to one side, full of tender specimens and beautifully presented.

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This is definitely another of those ‘Garden of Smiles’- almost at every turn there is a feature or planting group that just works.

WP_20150909_12_25_57_ProFurther information: National Trust website

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


gourd heavens

Old School Gardener

The view to the River Tagus from the front of the Neccessidades Palace in Lisbon

The view to the River Tagus from the front of the Necessidades Palace in Lisbon

On our recent 15 mile trek across western Lisbon, we took in a park that is not often mentioned in tourist trails- that of the Necessidades Palace. The palace itself is a grand looking affair, now the country’s Foreign Office, so not open to the public. The view from outside is good in all directions- one way you look out across the River and the ‘Golden Gate- look alike’ bridge; turn round and you have the splendid pink and cream stone facade of the palace and ornamental fountains. The park is tucked round the back and has the air of somewhere that’s been a little forgotten of late.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Palace, a very important site in portuguese history:

‘Formerly a convent… it was built in the 18th century, by order of King John V, in gratitude for prayers answered by Our Lady of Needs, whose first devotional chapel stood on this site…The palace became the residence of the kings of the Braganza dynasty… Ferdinand of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, husband of Maria II, lived in this palace until his death, amassing a large collection of art, which would be dispersed after his death. The palace then underwent several renovations to accommodate the taste of the various monarchs who lived there, the most recent of which was carried out at the beginning of the twentieth century by Carlos I….

…The palace was the scene of memorable events in Portuguese history, some momentous, some tragic, some slightly ridiculous. One famous example: the king Pedro V had installed in the front door of the palace a slot through which his subjects could, if they wished to, leave messages and complaints for the attention of the sovereign. The last significant event at the palace, which would also be the epilogue of the monarchy, was the joint funeral of King Carlos and his son, Prince Luis Filipe, on 8 February 1908, after their assassination by radical republicans…’

The palace was shelled during the republican revolution in 1910 and subsequently most of its art and other treasures were moved to the Ajuda Palace (which we had visited a day or two before).

Today’s park (or ‘tapada’), evolved from a private hunting ground for the Kings of Portugal and it retains the feel of a semi wild place, but with areas of more defined botanical or garden interest. As you progress up the hill from the entrance next to the Palace you alternate between enclosed, wooded areas and open grassy plains. About half way up the scene turns into a more formal park setting with a a terrace sitting alongside a grand, glass-domed estufa (greenhouse) currently undergoing renovation. Looking rather like an enclosed amphitheatre, this space must have once been the setting for a theatrical display of a different kind- tiered ranks of exotic plants. How grand it must have looked. I hope that it will be fully restored and will no doubt be a gem of a place that will raise the profile of the park more generally.

Paths weave upward above the terrace, the otherwise peaceful setting being regularly interrupted by the sound of aircraft coming in to land at the City’s airport. Another grand building sits atop the park, set off by a fine fountain. This gives way to a wilder area with a round building that looks as though it may have been a windmill at one time. There are some superb areas of Agaves and other dramatic plants. The overall impression, though, is one of a parkland that must be great for a summer picnic, rather than a space where growing and showing interesting plants is the dominant activity. Apart from the domed glass house that is.

A place where once glorious scenes are slowly being reclaimed from the passage of time and nature’s path.

Old School Gardener


Whilst visiting our son (who’s studying at Loughborough University) we took advantage of the ‘Heritage Open Days’ event at nearby Calke Abbey, Derbyshire. Billed by owners, the National Trust as ‘The un-stately home and country estate’ because of its peeling paintwork and overgrown courtyards, Calke Abbey is witness to the wider decline of country house estates all over Britain, especially after the First World War (avid viewers of the latest TV series of ‘Downton Abbey’ can get a taste of some of the issues – death duties, lack of staff, economic downturn).

Whilst some of the House and stables have been restored, there are still many other areas where old furniture, toys and a myriad other ‘heirlooms’ have been left to speak volumes of how the British landed gentry went through a major ‘downsizing’. Admittedly the family who owned Calke did amass a vast collection of curiosities and ‘hidden treasures’- there are fascinating collections of sea shells, rocks and pebbles for example.

The house was delightful and had some very friendly ‘in character’ guides to help tell the story. But the garden was the gem in my eyes. Extensive parkland with a number of beautiful mature trees, deer roaming and typical Victorian curiosities like the fernery give way to a massive walled garden, much of which is now just turned over to grass, but a significant portion of which houses a wonderful kitchen garden (with an access tunnel to ensure the gardeners weren’t seen from the house!). There is also an impressive array of original glasshouses and an orangery in which peaches and other tender fruit and veg are still grown. I particularly liked the Squash Tunnel made of rustic poles and featuring a range of different squashes. Approached by a colourful Dahlia border, there’s also a fascinating ‘Gardeners’ Bothy’, complete with old tools and equipment, seed trays and prize certificates from yesteryear! I was puzzled by one seed drawer, labelled ‘Borecole’. I hadn’t come across this name before and guessed it migth be some local corruption of ‘broccoli’. I now know it’s another term for Kale or a particular variety of Kale!

Walking through the pretty featureless,  grassed over walled garden you suddenly turn a corner and enter a more intimate, warm, walled garden with blocks of bright colours and interesting foliage. An amazing contrast, this formally laid out garden with a range of exotic plants as well as classic bedding, made me draw breath and smile like a Cheshire Cat!

This area has been superbly laid out and the colour, foliage and flower combinations are very impressive. There’s an ‘Auricula Theatre’ currently housing Pelargoniums (see the picture I posted of this earlier in the year) and a pool, all contributing to a peaceful spot where you can (and we did) sit and gaze at the wonder of nature – as coaxed and displayed by man of course! This was a truly inspiring afternoon, so if you get the chance, get along to Calke Abbey (by the way there was never an abbey here).

Further information:

National Trust Website

History- Wikipedia

Old School Gardener

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IMG_7272I was privileged to be invited to the opening of a ‘new’ glasshouse at Peckover House, Wisbech last week.

You may recall that I spent some time here as a Heritage Gardening Trainee last year, and really learnt a lot from the Gardener in  Charge, Allison and her cheerful accomplices, Jenny and Janet. I wrote a lengthier piece about the garden earlier in the year (see link below), and at that time it wasn’t yet certain that the fast – decaying Orangery in this superb Victorian Garden was going to be saved. But thanks to some local fundraising and additional funds and wisdom of the owners, the National Trust, I’m very pleased to say that this focal point in the garden has been saved. Or rather, recreated, as the original was in such a poor condition, that further repairs weren’t possible. The replacement is a faithful rendition of the old structure, with a few minor amendments to make life easier for the gardeners. The former tiled floor, surrounding walls and walled containers with three ancient Orange trees have been retained, now with a new covering made, as was the original, in timber and glass. It includes sash window ventilation and roller blinds to help with temperature and light control.

During the rebuild the 300 year old orange trees were exposed to the elements and what a stroke of luck that we had one of the best summers in recent years, for they have obviously benefitted from that exposure to fresh air and sunshine!

The overall feeling is of a light, colourful and inviting atmosphere. The old Orangery had a typically Victorian air of ‘gothic gloom’ about it, especially as some of the older specimens accompanying the oranges were mature and shaded the interior. I guess the replacement plantings alongside the outer wall will eventually make their mark, but for now I do like the open, bright interior. The inner, sun – facing side of the Orangery is once more populated with a colourful array of terracotta pots containing a wide variety of tender specimens, all laid out on benches ans shelves in the spirit of the Victorian passion for collecting the unusual and exotic. Here are some pictures of the opening event and the new Orangery.

The overall project cost over £200,000. I’m sure it will be worth it as the garden- already a jewel in the National Trust’s crown – would have seemed empty without it. If you’re ever near to Wisbech in Cambridgeshire the place is well worth a visit – as you can see from this selection of pictures taken last week.

Congratulations National Trust, the Peckover House Gardening team and all those others who contributed to the project!

Related article- ‘Banker’s bonus:  Secret Garden Gem’

Old School Gardener

IMG_6314Whilst visiting friends recently, we were fortunate to be given a guided tour of an historic garden and house in the course of renovation.

Copped Hall, close to Epping in Essex, is a substantial Georgian mansion which I remember visiting about 30 years ago.

At that time I can remember the house being a gutted shell, having no roof and pigs being kept in what remained of the ground floor!

There has been a grand house here since Norman times, with the current building dating from the middle of the 18th century. It has a fascinating history, culminating in the near destruction of the latest house by fire in 1917. Since then, various attempts have been made to redevelop the site, but local opposition has fought these off. The outcome was the formation of a charitable trust which raised funds to purchase the site with the aims of:

  • preventing development of the buildings or in their vicinity
  • raising further funds to carry out sympathetic restoration of the buildings and grounds
  • educating the public on the site and it’s social and natural history.

An active ‘Friends’ group supports the trust, including a small band of gardening volunteers, 2 of whom (Marion & John), kindly showed us around. The house itself has been made wind and weatherproof and some progress has been made in reinstating the interior structure. As anything portable and of value was stripped out of the buildings and grounds in the 1950’s, much of what remains are functional, structural features such as the brick piers supporting former stone steps and stairs. These tumbled down ruins are interesting in themselves, and with the still significant columns of clipped Yew give a gothic, romantic ruin feel to what was once a grand, formal, elevated approach to the house along with parterres and clipped hedges and bushes.

This space gives way to a wooded walk to the walled garden. There are some open archaelogical excavations in these grounds, adding further interest, and some more recent large scale landscaping projects in areas on the site of what was once the Tudor Manor house. Originally built in 1740, the 4 acre walled garden (one of the largest in Britain), is clothed on the approach to its outer wall with a glorious herbaceous border. Several metres deep, with excellent variation in height, this border also features large groupings of plants providing a strong structure and rhythm through their repetition, along the full 100 metres or so of its length.

Inside, a series of original Boulton and Paul glasshouses- most in urgent need of renovation, contain a fascinating collection of fruit and flowers, including vines and peaches now open to the elements as the former covering of glass has fallen away.

The scale of the renovation task, especially here, is enormous, but the small band of volunteers is making steady progress, though could perhaps do with an overall ‘Conservation Plan’ to help to channel their efforts and encourage others along. We wish them well, and but for the distance from home, would offer to help them!

Copped Hall is open to the public one day a month and guided tours are available – see the weblink below for more information.

Further information:

Copped Hall Trust

Old School Gardener

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PicPost: Prayer Hothouse

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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