Tag Archive: volunteers


Another hot day...

Another hot day…

An interesting (if not very taxing), session at Blickling this week. In the morning I worked with Norfolk Peter and Chris ‘bashing brambles’ along the main Temple walk. Cutting them out at ground level often involved scrambling amongst the rhododendrons and then hauling the extensive stems out of the bushes. Prickly work!

I then joined the ladies in the Walled garden and did a bit of weeding around the Raised beds with their brightly coloured Zinnias. The heat was climbing…

Weeding in the Walled Garden

Weeding in the Walled Garden

After lunch Peter and I joined Gardener Ed and a team of Tree surgeons over in the Wilderness, where a couple of huge, but unsafe, trees (a Beech and Sycamore) had already been felled- I remember hearing the loud crashes earlier in the day.

Well we were there to help clear up the brashings once another sycamore (also infected with Honey fungus) was felled. It was fascinating watching one of the surgeons clamber up the tree and progressively rid it of all its side growth, to leave a tall (I estimate 80 feet) trunk, ready for the chop. Ed told me that the hand-held chain saw he used is digitally controlled, so it regulates the power it delivers in relation to the resistance it picks up in the sawing job in hand. It was impressive.

Well, did we clear up? No. Did we see the tree fall? No. Unfortunately we had to leave before the deed was done, but Ed told me later that it fell well, and that it was caught just in time as it’s inner wood was spongy and soft from the fungus….a few more lives saved!

Old School Gardener

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

One block of the 'Piano Hedges'

One block of the ‘Piano Hedges’

A very hot, humid session this week at Blickling. Just as well then that Gardener Ed had something not too taxing for Aussie Pete and me to do. It involved coaxing the Yew bushes known as ‘pianos’ (due to their resemblance to grand pianos) into a bit of order.

Gardener Ed explaining his approach to 'playing the piano'...

Gardener Ed explaining his approach to ‘playing the piano’…

Ed handled the hedge clipper, while Pete and I used measuring tapes and lines to cut the turf edges that will help to guide the edges of the hedges! I his usual thorough way Ed explained how, over time, the bushes have become a bit unruly- too much ‘cutting by eye’ had resulted in a number of bumps, bulges and hollows that spoil the neat geometry. Over the past few years he has been letting some areas of the bushes grow out to the desired lines, and now they look pretty much ready to be ‘whipped into line’. It’s interesting looking at how much these bushes – and their accompanying ‘acorns’ on the parterre- have grown in the last 200 years or so. Here are some pictures taken between 80 and 100 years ago and the difference with today is quite noticeable…

Whilst the bushes will continue to grow (especially inside), the hope is that the lines now beign established can be maintained. Even so, it was interesting to see how much Pete and I had to cut back the turf edges to accommodate them- 2-3 inches in places. As I say, it was relatively easy work with lines and half moons, but even so the high humidity made it rather sapping work. Still we were rewarded with an ice cream from Ed at the end of the session.

The rest of the gardens in this area are looking grand, and I also made a quick trip over to the walled garden to see how it was looking (Project Manager Mike wasn’t around today). The other garden volunteers were busy weeding around the edges fo the parterre and Rob and Becca were raising the crown on a Lime tree near the Temple- complete with hydraulic lift. The result has certainly opened up the area and enabled some shaded shrubs and trees to benefit from more light.

Before the session I’d emailed Head Gardener Paul a layout plan and list of trees for possible inclusion in the Tree Trail project I’ve mentioned before. This is coming together nicely, with between 20 and 30 trees in the trail. Once firmed up we can start to sort out the information to go on the sign boards at each specimen, as well as leaflets, childrens’ activities etc.

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As I may have mentioned before, the gardening team is a wonderful group of people, with many an amusing tale to tell. Ed’s contribution today concerns the ‘human sundial’ set out in the parterre (see picture below). Apparently he confronted a bemused gentleman walking around this one dull day. The man complained that the sundial wasn’t working- ‘It’s overcast’ said Ed. The man was puzzled and disappointed he couldn’t get the dial to work- ‘You should put a sign up explaining that it only works when the sun is out’, he said. Hmm, maybe a case for introducing an artificial sun on dull days?!

The 'Human Sundial'- it seems a little too complicated for some people...

The ‘Human Sundial’- it seems a little too complicated for some people…

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

WP_20160818_10_09_52_ProI’d missed a week, but the Dahlias, which I thought had reached their best two weeks ago, were definitely in peak form in the Walled Garden at Blickling this week.

It was also pleasing to see that the posts and wires for the soft fruit were finished- but not after some further manoeuvering of our ‘difficult post’, by Project Manager, Mike! And the four new benches are also in place; they look great and offer visitors a chance to sit and enjoy the veg, fruit and flower offerings in the garden. I began work weeding around the herbs – a rather intoxicating experience as I rubbed against Thyme, Sorrel, Garlic, Fennel, Annis and so on…

After this- a mixture of hand weeding and hoeing- I went off to see Head Gardener, Paul and Assistant Head Gardener, Steve to discuss the Tree Trail Project. We are hoping to set out a series of name and information boards for around 20-30 trees within the gardens and perhaps add some ‘child friendly’ activities along the way. I suggested this after visitng Antony house in cornwall, where a similar, volunteer-led project has helped present their wonderful collection of trees.

We had an enjoyable walk around the gardens identifying the trees with a bit of special interest or stories to tell- it was difficult keeping up with the professionals whose encyclopedic knowledge of the many trees on offer was mightily impressive! Still, I think we have the makings of a great project and I’m looking forward to drawing the information together and working with Trust staff and other volunteers to finalise the information boards and leaflets etc. Something of a winter project, I think!

After a late lunch I spent an hour helping Chris and three of the lady volunteers in the corner of the walled garden clearing away the extensive weeds under and around the Mulberry Tree (which is one of those likely to make it to the Tree Trail, too). This area- previously enclosed in glass- is a wilder part of the walled garden, but after our work looked rather more in keeping with the trim borders elsewhere.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

WP_20160804_14_13_43_ProRemembered my camera this week! Norfolk Peter and I joined Chris in the Walled Garden in my latest session at Blickling. The ladies were detailed to the ‘Black Garden’ for some (as it turned out) frustrating ‘hands and knees’ weeding around the irises.

Jane and Pam weeding in the Black Border

Jane and Pam weeding in the Black Border

Project Manager Mike had already begun installing the heavy oak posts (all sourced from the Estate) that provide the support for the fruit bushes.Peter and I helped him to finish off the two areas by using lines to make sure the rows of posts (in threes) wer both straight and level, though one post in particular proved to be a pain…first we couldn’t get it level and then we installed it the wrong way round (the holes for the support wires went across rather than along the row)! Chris, mean time was doing great job trimming the edges of the grass paths.

There were plenty of visitors around, many offering compliments for the way the garden has been transformed over the last 18 months or so, and inevitably a few asking what the purple edging plant along the main paths was….as reported last week, this Catmint (Nepeta x faasennii) often confuses visitors, many of whom think it is lavender …perhaps a sign is needed, or maybe we should resist this as it at least is one way (albeit repetitive) of engaging with visitors!

WP_20160804_13_44_23_ProApart from some subtle final positioning to make the tops of the posts roughly line up (sometimes involving standing on an upturned dustbin and using a ‘comedy hammer’ as Chris called it- a large rubber mallet), this was a fairly straightforward job. The oak posts seem really heavy but even so, as the rows are rather long Mike had arranged with fellow gardener Rob to put in some angled supports to help resist the forces that would otherwise pull over the posts- I know about this from bitter experience at Old School Garden , where my posts are gradually toppling inwards with the weight of the blackberry bushes.

Peter and I dug the holes for these angled wooden supports as far as we could in the time available, and Rob and Mike began to put them in the ground, secured with a couple of stakes at their bases to, once more, help to prevent the whole assembly ‘walking’ forwards.

I also took time out to photograph the dahlia border, which is coming to its peak…here’s a gallery…

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Mike told us he’s ordered four new metal benches for the walled garden- cream, simple designs that will look rather stylish…the picture below is of a two person bench, we’ll be getting a three person version.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

ducksApologies…my latest session at Blickling and I forgot my camera…so the pics here are a few from other visits (and the one above borrowed from the Trust’s latest newsletter).

WP_20160714_15_35_58_Pro - CopyAlternative titles for today’s post were ‘Herding Frogs’, ‘Reframing’ or ‘Shuffling the Pack’…A rather shower affected day (I was in with the Wednesday crew this week), saw me and fellow volunteer Peter (another one!) weeding over two sections of cold frame (including removing large sections of worn out weed membrane) and putting down a new covering of landscape fabric, before tidying over the stored plants and rearranging these (hence shufling…). It looked a lot tidier and as a bonus I gained soem ratherr splendid (if a bit leggy) Ricinus communis plants. These will fit rather well in my front circular border at Old School Garden…with its rather exotic feel. I was also allowed to remove some runners from a clutch of Achillea nobilis susbsp. nealreichii, with its lovely creamy plate flowers and silvery foliage.

WP_20160714_12_14_48_ProWith half an hour left at the end of the day I went round hoeing the currants..using one of a new set of two-way hoes (made by Wolf, and one of which I have at home). These are really a lot more effective than conventional dutch hoes.

Currants hoed with the new two-way hoes- a delight!

Currants hoed with the new two-way hoes- a delight!

As reported last week, the dahlia border in the walled garden is starting to pop, though perhaps will look even better next week….Sorry about the lack of pics to accompany this post, I’ll do better next time!

Click here to listen to an interview with Project Manager, Mike Owers, on BBC Radio Norfolk-  on the Chrissie Jackson programme around 1 hour 7 minutes in…!

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

WP_20160721_11_48_42_ProThe Walled Garden is really moving into overdrive and looks fantastic. My latest session- a short one- at Blickling was another warm day.

I began the session an hour earlier than usual, and it was a good plan, because by midday the heat was pretty oppressive. Digging over an area next to the runner beans saw some serious weeds removed and I followed this up with some hoeing around the beans themselves.

WP_20160721_11_55_22_ProMy fellow volunteers were also involved in weeding and one or two were harvesting- there’s plenty of stuff for use in the restaurant and some will be packed up for offering to visitors, in return for a donation. My ‘pea tunnel’ created last week seems to have survived, though the peas themselves are not looking so good.

The rest of the gardens are also in full splendour and I chatted to Assistant Head Gardener, Steve about the hours of work he put into the parterre garden removing bindweed earlier in the season- he told me it was the equivalent of ‘triple digging’! The double borders and White Garden are also looking vibrant in the sunshine.

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Elsewhere, Norfolk Peter was working with a colleague from a local firm to weld together the arches that will sit across the main path in the walled garden and eventually provide a wonderful ‘tunnel of fruit’.

I finished off my morning with some serious hoeing around the dahlias that are just about to flower alongside the east wall of the Walled Garden (see picture below). Next week will, I hope, see them in their full glory, and I’ll try to capture them in my next post.

WP_20160721_11_45_39_ProFurther Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

WP_20160714_13_23_32_ProFollowing the recent turmoil caused by the Brexit vote and so many upsetting world events, we need cheering up. And Blickling volunteer gardeners don’t disappoint. Sitting down to a well-earned lunch break, Tressa announced she’d brought in a ‘Reconcilation Cake’…..we didn’t need to be asked twice.

My pea tunnel finished

My pea tunnel finished

Prior to this I’d spent the morning putting in a stick tunnel for the peas in the walled garden. It’s always nice to work with quality materials. The chunky hazel sticks went in at an angle along along both sides of the double row, and then I wove the tops together…

After lunch (rather extended due to the cake and chat) I went over to the side border and worked with Aussie Pete and Jane in weeding the various border so veg. Then I turned my attention to the garlic; I carefully dug up eight different varieties, none of which was overly impressive I have to say…down to weather I guess.

Having cleared this area- during which I had a little banter with ‘Norah Lindsay’ (one of the volunteer garden guides dressed up to look like the famous 1930’s garden designer who made such an impact at Blickling)- I dug it over and raked it off, in readiness for some more lettuces.

The Walled garden is really looking splendid at present, especially with its lush borders of Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii) and the full growth of so many different plants. Project Manager Mike had started to dig the potatoes (he tells me he thinks we have 33 varieties) and was selling these and some of the other veg off for a donation. Methinks next year that even with supplying the kitchen here, we’ll need a shop to sell off the bounty to come.

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The other joy of this time of year is the number of visitors around the place and many with questions or comments on the gardens and gardening it’s so nice chatting to these people who really appreciate the efforts of everyone involved here.

Project Manager Mike waterign in one of  the glasshouses

Project Manager Mike waterign in one of the glasshouses

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

WP_20160630_11_07_24_ProAn important day …Gardener Rob celebrates 15 years at Blickling, the new Bothy is brought into commission and the Walled Garden is declared fully open too!

A brief spell of mulching the raspberries gave way to a gathering in the new bothy where we tucked into some splendid food and drink and congratulated Rob. Head Gardener Paul thanked Rob for all his efforts and at the same time those of the wider team of volunteers and gardeners; he estimated that the gardeners between them have over 100 years experience of working at Blickling…though 44 of these are accounted for by Assistant Head Gardener, Steve!

The volunteers spent the rest of the day tidying up in the Walled Garden, which is now looking nearly full and has plenty of height as the plants get a hold. There’s also some rather good home made interwoven fencing to complete the boundaries, made from larch felled on the estate and looking pretty substantial.

Having mulched the raspberries, I weeded this and the strawberries next door; these include a white strawberry called ‘Snow White’! Mike asked me to trail the many runners in the strawberries along the rows to bulk them up and create a lot of new plants- it looks like we won’t be seriously cropping these as it’s their first year. So, a day of weeding and a tidy looking bed as a result.

Elsewhere in the Gardens there’s currently a display of sculpture intermingled with the planting…with some interesting results…

The Walled Garden fully open… and so the many visitors are now able to wander freely. And as a result we can chat to them about the garden and  share gardening experiences, one of the nicest aspects of working in this wonderful place.

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Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

WP_20160608_12_54_50_Pro Another week at Blickling and it was good to get back to the Walled Garden to see the progress and to get stuck in. I see Mike has bought some of those bird scarers that imitate birds of prey. I’ve had mixed results with bird scarers of various kinds- including old cd’s hung out on a washing line and a plastic owl with rotating head! All seem to work only if you keep moving them around. 

I spent the morning hoeing between the fruit bushes which are coming on well. There has also been much planting out of lettuces and other veggy which will give the kitchen an excellent supply in a few weeks time. There will probably be plenty left  for selling to the public too.

After lunch I planted out two varieties of courgette; one green, one gold, planted alternately. Set about a metre apart, these should bulk up into big bushes.

Courgettes planted, Mike watering them in

Courgettes planted, Mike watering them in

There are still plenty of plants in the glasshouses, and the rest of the gardens are also looking good.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

The Double Borders taking on a different character-post Tulips

The Double Borders taking on a different character-post Tulips

A month has passed since my last session at Blickling, due to stays in Scotland and Devon. So, the need to get REALLY busy in Old School Garden has meant I’ve not been posting much original material on the blog recently- sorry about that, but if you’re a gardener, I think that you’ll understand.

Anyway, when I did return to Blickling it was great to meet up with the Thursday team once more and help them with Penstemon planting; these are put out in what seems like thousands, to replace the Hyacinth bulbs that give the early spring display above one edge of the Parterre. We mixed up some over -wintered older plants with some newer plants grown from cuttings. Some of these had mildew; hopefully they’ll recover and put on a good show. By the end of the day, the border was complete.

Over in the Walled Garden, the planting out continues, and several areas are now bulking up quite nicely. The long awaited oak noticeboard has been more or less completed with its beautifully carved top.

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It was good to be back and to see how things have continued to move on. Next week it will be a Wednesday session, and hopefully back in the Walled Garden.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

 

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