Tag Archive: microclimate

The third object in this series is of historic importance. The Wardian Case, originally designed by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in 1829.

A modern reproduction of a Wardian Case at Tregothnan Gardens, Cornwall. Picture by Rosie Reeve

A modern reproduction of a Wardian Case at Tregothnan Gardens, Cornwall

It became a vital tool for those intrepid plant hunters of the 19th century. Without it, many of the exotic plants that now thrive in the U.K. would not have survived even half their journey from the far corners of the world.

Early plant hunters had been actively searching the world for new exotic plants from the end of the 16th century. But transporting their discoveries as seeds and dry roots because of the dehydrating sea air and a substantial lack of fresh water caused many plants to perish. The Wardian Case provided protection from the salty wind, created a mini greenhouse where the plants could use sunlight and produce their own water through condensation.

And the Case is not only of historic importance in explaining the wide range of plants now available in the U.K. It also symbolises the ways in which gardeners try to create micro climates to nurture an exotic plant or even a range of plants. They do this by growing them under glass (and a few years after Ward’s invention an explosion in greenhouse manufacture began), sheltering them from the excesses of sun, wind and rain or creating plant colonies which support each other, possibly altering the soil too.

 Old School Gardener

One of the sloping beds

One of the sloping beds

My previous article on Trengwainton covered the wider gardens and grounds as well as some historical background. Today I want to focus on the extensive walled gardens, built by previous owner, Rose Price. This is said to follow the dimensions of Noah’s Ark- though why, I’m not sure.

It also seems to have been created as a response to the period of persistently cooler weather known as the ‘Maunder Minimum’ (or otherwise known as the ‘prolonged sunspot minimum’). This period- starting in about 1645 and continuing to about 1715 – was when  sunspots became exceedingly rare. The term was named after the 19th Century solar astronomer Edward D. Maunder who studied how sunspot latitudes changed with time. The Maunder Minimum coincided with the middle—and coldest part—of the ‘Little Ice Age’, during which Europe and North America were subjected to bitterly cold winters. recent research has established a causal link between low sunspot activity and cold winters.

The surrounding garden wall prevented warm air from escaping from the garden on cool nights, thereby allowing frost-sensitive fruit trees to survive, despite the cooling climate. The walled garden is also interesting for its use of sloping beds – orientated to take advantage of the sunny aspect and so aiding the warming of the soil and creating beneficial growing conditions. 

The gardens – there are separate walled enclosures rather than one large expanse – are both a fascinating horticultural legacy and also a modern-day guide to good food and flower growing. There are demonstration plots and little corners showing different sorts of container growing, raised beds, nectar – rich flowers, a DIY device for creating liquid plant food etc. A wide range of food is still grown here as well as beautiful ‘cottage garden’ style flower borders, orchards and a demonstration plot conjuring up the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign of the second World War. And while we were there the Gardens sported a delightful display of home-made ‘fairytale’ characters which amused and enchanted the young children who were eager to discover the next character on their way round!

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Related article: West Country Gardens: Hydrangea Heaven at Trengwainton

IMG_6665Whilst on our summer holidays in Cornwall and Devon, we visited a fascinating iron age village – Chysauster, near Penzance. Thought to be around 2,000 years old, this wind-swept, rocky network sits on a south-facing slope overlooking Mount’s Bay.

It’s thought the location takes advantage of a natural spring on the hill slope, for to locate a settlement in such an exposed spot would other wise seem a little crazy. However, having got their supply of fresh water the occupants were able to create a microclimate within their thick stone encircling walls (The walls survive to heights of up to 3 metres). Channelled water to each house and it’s accompanying courtyard/garden and the tall, 4 metre-thick walls created a sheltered, sun soaked encampment – perhaps they even grew food inside these compounds?

Primarily agricultural and unfortified, and probably occupied by members of the Dumnoii tribe, the village today has the remains of around 10 courtyard houses, each about 30 metres in diameter. Eight of these form two rows. The houses have a similar layout with an open central courtyard surrounded by a number of thatched rooms, orientated on an east-west axis, with the entrance facing east. A field system in the vicinity demonstrates the site’s farming connections. The whole site also has wonderful views of the surrounding landscape.

Work is underway with local schools to create an ‘iron age garden’  where some of the old varieties of wheat (such as Spelt) and other plants will be grown. The Site Manager, Steve (whose accent I immediately recognised as East London!) , gave us a great potted guide to the place and he’s obviously enthusiastic for the site’s future development as a super educational as well as heritage ‘must see’ attraction.


Further information:

English Heritage

Old School Gardener

Water management- Peruvian style

‘Great article discussing how Peru’s ancient cultures manipulated their water supplies in ingenious ways in order to survive in each of their many microclimates’ via Growveg


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