Tag Archive: norfolk


To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Another month goes by and some major steps forward at Old School Garden.

I think the biggest change has been the considerable lopping operation on our western boundary, where the trees and shrubs have been progressively closing in the view. Once more we can enjoy the sunsets from spring through to autumn as the distant horizon is visible! I was slightly worried about how far to go with this, but on the whole taking down a few old conifers which were crowded together as well as raising the crowns on some other trees is a big improvement…

I’ve also been reshaping the kitchen garden, replacing some old raised bed edges and realigning paths. We’ve continued to harvest fruit and a few other things like ‘New England Sugar Pie’ Squashes (shown ripening below). Here’s next  year’s planting plan with the new fruit areas shown…

Oh, and I mustn’t forget the major effort our neighbour and us have put in on the ‘no man’s land’ that is the boundary (very soft) between us. Having cut back and cleared unwanted growth and weeds I’ve filled out the planting and added quite a few spring bulbs for good measure. I look forward to seeing how things develop in the coming year…

Now is the time to get on with the replacement shed, something I’ve not got round to for a couple of years. Today I’m finalising the design and working out a cutting list which I’ll then check against the spare timber I already have…and then it’s a trip to the local sawmill for the rest, and work can begin…

In my gardening work beyond home it’s definitely been a month of great progress. As I told you last month, the ‘Grow Organisation’ have received funding from the local Mental Health Trust to run a gardening therapy programme for people with mental health issues. This is now kicking off and is a great step forward; and hopefully will lead to other agencies stepping up to fund similar programmes. And the trees have been ordered for the ‘Avenue of Remembrance’ to be planted on the path up towards the local church as part of our commemoration of the airfield closing 70 years ago. 29 in total and all a reasonable size with planting kits supplied; all courtesy of the Norwich Fringe Project, so a big thank you to them!

The Remembrance Weekend is going to be a very special time as we welcome relatives and dignitaries from across the country to celebrate the airfield’s contribution to the War effort. in the next couple of weeks  we’ll be putting in a community effort alongside a group on the Community Payback scheme to prepare the ground for the trees as well as the annual cut and rake off in the church yard etc. I’m looking forward to seeing the church and it’s surroundings much improved for the  big weekend.

Next week I’m going over to the local High School to help out with a group of youngsters involved in the Allotment Project that I’ve told you about before. I’ll be helping them prune the orchard trees and develop ‘plant guilds’ around the trees, a key feature of permaculture design.

It was good to see you and your good wife Ferdy, the other week. You both look very well, and I was interested to hear about your new diets which seem to be having a great impact on your general health and wellbeing.. I’ve just read an interesting article about how important 7 hours sleep a night is, even for us ‘oldies’, so….. eat well, sleep well and keep fit..obvious really? To finish here are a few shots of the garden picking up the newly planted containers and some other interesting early autumn colour..

Old School Gardener

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I’m getting a bit behind…so here’s post covering my four latest visits to Blickling….sorry for the delay!

Session one involved weeding in the fruit cage in the Walled Garden. As you can see, after doing the bush fruit we wandered over to the strawberries, including ‘checking’ on the quality of some late fruiting varieties!

Session Two focused on clearing weeds from a part of the side borders, where its planned to create some raised beds for local Schools to get involved with. Rory and I set to and removed a large amount of Couch Grass (or rather it seemed a lot, but as you probably know the stuff will return…). After this I trimmed back the tendrils of the squashes and gourds which were starting to invade the perennial borders…some of the pumpkins are looking very large already…

The third session was a bit of a wet day and only a few volunteers were on site, but I think we made an impact in a morning’s work. First Rory and I replanted and strung together some tall perennials that had been uprooted by Storm Aileen, and then we joined Jane and Tressa in tidying up one of the glasshouses. The floor had been overrun with ‘Mind your Own Business’ and we decided to lift the metal gratings above the old heating pipes and clear this out, which revealed the piping and ornamental ironwork, and with the other tidying up made for a much improved scene overall..

Despite the recent stormy weather toppling some of the taller flowering plants in the Walled Garden, its still looking glorious…

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My last session was a switched day, so I was working with some of the Wednesday volunteers over in the Rose Garden, weeding, and in my case, tackling the large amount of lichen and other weeds that had invaded sections of the gravel paths. Here are some ‘during’ and ‘after’ shots. Quite satisfying, though I suspect in lifting whole sections of path surface like old carpet, that much of the original path is now in the compost bin!

Over the past few weeks its been pleasing to see progress in a number of other areas: the sun-dial that was stolen from the Secret Garden has been replaced with a replica (complete with 2017 date on the dial), and a couple of large oak trees have been felled because of infection – one of these may provide a good opportunity to include it in the planned Tree Trail, using its stump rings as a way of illustrating both its age and associated historical events back over a couple of hundred years. Work is also progressing on refurbishing the water wheel near the Lake, including a viewing area for visitors. And the metal tunnel in the Walled Garden has been finished and is looking great; as the apples grow up it will be come a central feature of the garden….

So a pretty busy month at Blickling (with a small contribution from yours truly) and it was also very interesting – and inspiring to see these pictures of the Walled Garden back in 2015 and just recently- what a transformation in a little over two years!

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Well, old friend, back in blighty! It’s been a month of trying to get some semblance of ‘order’ in Old School Garden, having left nature to itself for six weeks whilst we were away in Australia.

The weather this month has been rather dull for August, so much the same as we left Victoria in mid winter! I won’t say that I was ‘pleasantly surprised’ at how the garden looked on our return, for many areas had been overrun with annual weeds, and of course the grass was pretty long…. but not as long as expected.

However, after a mammoth grass cut and several sessions of ‘speed weeding’- especially trying to get out those weeds that were in flower and going to seed- everything of course looked better.

Since then its been a case of turning my attention to various construction projects; initially repairing windows on the house (at the time of writing I’m just about to fit three new openings that replace those that had rotted beyond filler) and repainting, and more recently dismantling the old shed in the Kitchen Garden, laying an extended base of flagstones and soon to begin constructing a new potting shed from floorboards and other salvaged timber…quite a project. As you might remember, I purchased a number of cedar shingles a year or two ago in order to give the new shed a more ornamental appearance.

Extended shed base …job done (but a bit of a clean required)

I’ve also continued the restructuring of the Kitchen Garden. I’ve already moved some of the fruit bushes to new plots. More recently I replaced the rather scruffy paved path next to the courtyard sheds wall with a topping of pea shingle, in keeping with the other paths in this area. Here are a few pictures of the Kitchen Garden…a work in progress!

Once the shed is built it will be  time to replace some of the edging boards to the various raised beds and relocate the various trellises to provide a visual screen to the front edge of this area, plus a new entrance (I plan to use an old metal gate) and creation of a Rose-lined path from this into the Kitchen Garden (using posts and ropes as swags along which to train the six ‘Compassion’ Roses that I planted earlier in the year and which have established themselves very well). I think I’ll go for a grey colour scheme on all these new wooden structures. Here’s a gallery of some good floral interest in the garden at present…

You may also have seen that I’ve been going along to the Aylsham Roman Dig nearby- I got involved in this last year. This has been a fascinating and rewarding experience. We’ve (re) uncovered not only the two Roman kilns we excavated last year- these are now thought to be of national significance- but new areas have been opened up which suggest that the site has been in pretty much continuous occupation for two thousand years! There are decades of futther work to be done here and my hope is that this community project grows year on year so that the story of the site- complete with Roman villa, iron working as well as pottery making and occupation for 2,000 years- can be fully explored.

I was also pleased to hear the ‘The Grow Organisation’ in Norwich (you will recall I’ve been advising and helping them develop a hub for horticultural therapy?), have been awarded funding by the local NHS Foundation Trust to get the project going, with an emphasis on preventing male suicides. This is great news and will really keep the fantastic momentum going on this site where Forces Veterans and others are already making a difference.

Turning back to Australia, I wonder if you think it would be interesting if I did a series of posts delving into the Green Spaces I visited there a little more? As you will have seen I’ve done a few posts with some selected pictures to broadly illustrate where I went, and was conscious that I didn’t want to bombard you and others with all my ‘holiday snaps’, but at least one blog follower has suggested that I could share my reflections on what I discovered…what do you think?

Perhaps I’ll post an initial item on the first green space I visited just as a trial run- I promise it won’t be too wordy, just a sort of  ‘Cooke’s Tour’ with some of the better photographs I managed?

I was delighted to hear that you’ve overcome your recent bout of ill health, and no doubt you and Lise are enjoying the summer….I can just picture you sitting out on the terrace, a glass of Pimms in hand, looking at the butterflies and listening to the birds…Here are a few general shots of the garden to finish with, hope you enjoy them…

Old School Gardener

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A small group of volunteers were in on this week’s trip to Blickling. We began the day weeding around the glorious herbaceous border that abuts the parterre on two sides.

A couple picked their way through the dense planting whilst the rest of us hoed, raked and removed the grass and other seedlings that had taken a grip amongst the gravel paths. Though the path was a bit wet in places- not helped by some blocked drains- it was generally a satisfying task, even though it took some deft fingertip sorting of the small tufts of grass from amongst the muddy shingle.

During the morning the sound of chain saws was a constant background hum. I discovered that a large oak tree just over from where we were, was in the course of being felled. Apparently ultra sound testing had confirmed internal rot, that visual observation of a tilting trunk had suggested earlier. Work on the massive tree had begun a few days before, and I learned that during this a bees nest had been disturbed and that several people had been stung by the angry bees; Assistant Head Gardener Steve included. Having been chased to the bothy in the process, Steve was attacked again by the waiting bees as he re-emerged! A brief chat with him on our way to lunch confirmed that he wasn’t feeling too bad after his ordeal. I was pleased to hear that the felled timber is to be used to create some raised beds (probably along with a whole lot else) in the Walled Garden. You can get an idea of the scale of the tree in the picture below, alongside which I’ve included a couple of shots from the double borders.

After lunch in the Walled Garden bothy,  new volunteer Tim and I gathered up some onions and put them in the glasshouse for drying, and then harvested some runner beans; Project Manager Steve offered some of these to us (a nice treat for the evening meal at home, as my own plants hadn’t been yielding many), and I finished the day by carrying over the rest to the restaurant for their use. It really is impressive how much produce is now finding it’s way into the meals prepared in the on site restaurant.

On my way back to the car I stopped off at the beginning of some of the estate walks, where a new sign had been installed that uses laser cut etching onto the surface of bare wood (see pictures below). This looks very attractive and is being considered as the way we might present the written information on each of the Trees in the gardens that will form the new Tree Trail I’ve been working on. My only concerns are that the lettering might, over time, lose it’s legibility and the surface of the bare oak plaque used for the signs might also crack with weathering. We shall no doubt look into this further to arrive at a final solution by next Spring.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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An early start at Blickling this week, and the first hour was spent harvesting some second early potatoes; variety ‘Nicola’. I don’t know these but have been told they are pretty tasty…’Charlotte’ is my favourite and I’ve just harvested a good crop in Old School Garden (I gather our neighbours enjoyed them too while we were away in Australia).

After that and reconnecting with some of the garden volunateers I missed last week, I went with them to the Parterre, which is looking splendid at present. The two Peters were continuing to paint the metal tunnel in the Walled Garden, with just the top half to do..involving painting from a platform.

The jobs in the Parterre were edging the grass and weeding. A fan of edging (it’s second to hoeing of the garden jobs  in my book), I found some reasonably sharp edging shears and managed to complete the set of four borders (new volunteer Tim had done one already) before departing home…to continue to get the home garden back to some semblance of order…

Progress is being made!


Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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It’s nearly two months since I was last at Blickling and I was wondering how the place might be looking, as it’s getting into peak visiting season.

I had lots of catching up to do, but after a few weeks with very little floral colour it was wonderful opening the garden door and coming across the double borders in all their summer glory.

It was great meeting up with the gardening team of staff and volunteers. With the other chaps I went over to the Walled Garden and was bowled over with the sight that greeted me…fabulous summer colour and every area with something growing in it, including a wide range of fruit and veg, all looking very healthy.

And whilst away the metal tunnel that runs the length of the central path (erected and welded together just before I went away) is now being painted…something the ‘two Peters’ were tasked with continuing with their tins of black ‘Hammerite’ paint. It really does add great vertical interest to the garden and will look absolutely splendid as the apples hat have been planted alongside it reach up and over to create a fabulous ‘green walk’. I also noticed a couple more new bench seats set out on the side paths which add to the scene.

Fellow volunteer Chris and I set about weeding between the rows of various vegetables (including some rather vicious globe artichokes), mainly hoeing with the occasional hand forking out of any larger plants. This was relatively easy work on a pleasantly warm and sometimes showery day…it was good to be out in the open and tackling some physical tasks once more.

Another pleasing sight was the south-west quadrant of the garden , which was the last to be cultivated. a fine sward of grass in the shape of a key hole is surrounded by vibrant floral interest and all symbolically done to represent the Indian flag, to link in with an exhibition at the House about the Marquis of Lothian’s connections to that country.

The whole scene was quite a contrast to Old School Garden,which after six weeks of letting nature do her own thing, looked rather less neat and tidy, as you might imagine. Still, after a lot of urgent attention since returning from Australia, it is starting to look rather more cared for.

As I left a little early (together with a bunch of wonderful Dahlias from the Walled Garden), to get on with the clear up at home, it was nice to hear ‘great to have you back’ from a couple of the gardening team… it was great to be back.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Here we are on our last couple of days in Australia. Six weeks on and what a trip it’s been. Grand daughter Freya is a month old and doing well. We’ve seen some wonderful places and met some lovely local people.

The weather has been very kind, even though it’s midwinter here. Bright sunny days and on occasions warm enough for shirt sleeves- though many of the locals have remained well wrapped up and think we’re crazy!

I won’t attempt to cover everything we’ve done, but suffice to say that I’ve found much of horticultural interest here along with all the other famous landmarks we’ve visited. Though there wasn’t much colour (with the notable exception of a superb, huge, vertical display of leaf and flower colour at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens), there was a lot of plant interest, often well presented by some very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides. It was also great being able to compare botanical gardens in the local area as well as in the three cities of Melbourne (very large and beautifully presented), Sydney (smaller but with some impressive focal points including a garden featuring vegetables grown- several unsuccessfully- by the first colonial settlers) and Canberra (the National centre which is striving to present a wide range of plants from across the country and is pursuing an exciting Master plan to renew and expand its collections).

In addition, many public parks and gardens are very well looked after. I especially enjoyed the Chinese Garden in Sydney and I was pleased to see at least one Green Flag flying- at the fabulous Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne. There is also a very impressive Community Gardens in St. Kilda, on the edge of Melbourne. And, as I mentioned last month, Aussies are very proud of their domestic gardens, especially those on public display in small town and suburban streets.

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As we adjust towards our return home in the next couple of days I’m wondering what Old School Garden will look like. The grass will certainly be long and I dread to think what carnage the moles have reaped in our absence, though our neighbour did kindly offer to try to ‘get them to move elsewhere’…we shall see.

Hopefully you’ve had some good weather to enjoy your own garden. With some of the summer to go- at least in theory- I hope that we too can get out in the warm sunshine and see the colours of the flowers.

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Hello from Australia! We’ve been here about 10 days, staying with our eldest and her partner just outside Melbourne. Having finally got shot of the effects of jet lag, yesterday we found ourselves getting little sleep as daughter was in hospital delivering our first grandchild..a lovely little girl (name tba)! As you can imagine the build up to this has meant staying relatively close to home, but this hasn’t prevented me from finding some places of horticultural interest to share with you.

We left the UK in something of a heat wave, and despite my efforts to provide a supply of water to many containerised plants, and even with a very diligent neighbour, I was expecting some casualties on our return in a few weeks time; especially in the kitchen garden where I’ve planted carrots, runner beans and squashes alongside new potatoes and onions (and a whole lot of fruit). I heard yesterday that there’s been heavy rain in East Anglia, so maybe the position isn’t entirely hopeless.

Turning to matters horticultural ‘a la Aus’, we’ve visited a nice little botanical garden in nearby Williamstown (a quaint little place with lots of interesting old houses), as well as a  a rather  a grand old mansion with some beautifully kept gardens and parkland at Werribee. I’ll do a more extensive piece on these, and other, yet to be visited gardens, in due course, but for now here are a few pictures to whet your appetite..

Apart from these largish spaces I ‘ve found a lot of interesting examples of domestic suburban gardens round abouts, best summarised as an eclectic mix of contemporary, cottage and tropical styles, usually nicely complimenting the architecture of the associated houses. Here’s a sample…

I’ve also noticed how tidy the grass verges outside these properties are. I gather it’s considered a civic duty (and maybe there’s a legal obligation too?) for householders to take care of their immediate strip of what is usually springy turf, including not only keeping it close mown, but also the edges cropped to neat straight lines, usually using a ‘whippersnipper’ (strimmer) to achieve the desired finish. The overall effect is one of quiet orderliness, rather like the atmosphere of these suburban streets, where there are few people out walking…well it is winter I suppose.

Having said this, and being aware of movements in the USA to allow such grass strips to be used more imaginatively, creating wildlife friendlier spaces and even food production, I was heartened to find one attempt to turn over the grass to a community garden in nearby Altona..

Well, old friend, hopefully I’ll be able to share some other Aussy horticulture with you next month, as we shall still be here, and maybe have visited some of the gems in Victoria and possibly further afield…oh, and of course doting on my new grand daughter!

Old School Gardener

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Check out this article about the Walled Garden Project, which is now half way through its project development phase.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blickling-estate/news/a-jewel-in-the-blickling-crown

Wonderful White Wisteria outside St.Michael-at-Plea Church, Norwich, recently.

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