Raising the Hedge

Welcome to my GardeningWays blog, where this week I shall attempt to give rise to the significantly trivial formal garden hedge.

Hedge trimmer resting on the hedge top between trimming sessions... at Sulgrave Manor in Northants
Hedge trimming underway at Sulgrave, although that blade can be tighter…

You see, we finally managed to make a start on trimming the yew hedges in the garden at Sulgrave Manor, and whilst there’s a long way yet to go, at least we’ve made a start.

In preparation, I found myself sharpening, and sharpening and sharpening the trimmer teeth, and whilst lost in the moment I started thinking about the formal hedge I was about to trim for the first time. I also began considering formal hedges in the wider world of gardening, and particularly about their reputation.

The thing is, when looking at a formal garden such as Sulgrave, the hedging is almost always the most dominant feature that strikes you, even if they can and are, in many circumstances, overlooked. Hedges root any garden and its design firmly to its spot, and are always a very carefully considered element of any formal garden. Just imagine Hidcote or Sissinghurst or Sulgrave Manor for that matter, without their hedges?!

High hedges at Kiftsgate Court
High and mighty hedges at Kiftsgate Court Garden

Hold up, let’s just back up a moment. Before I start to sound like a hedge support group, I’ll quickly add that many other features are also important to the garden scene, and could easily vie for first place in what I’m certain would be a hotly debated ‘priority list of must have garden features’.

A neatly mown lawn allows eyes to wander, smoothly leading them to features here and there. A lawn gives breathing space in the garden and an openness, which being clutter free can feel safe, unthreatening and refreshing. We mustn’t forget that a lawn is also a living breathing thing itself and often artistically created and tended.

Lawns and lines…

Planted borders also weigh-in heavy as contenders for top of that priority list, indeed can a garden be called such without a range of plants? The tiniest of alpine beauties, energy packed perennial powerhouses or sensational shrubs – the list is almost endless with a varied mix bringing texture, colour, movement, scent and attention grabbing seasonality, not to mention personality.

I could very easily go on: trees for anchoring a garden and drawing eyes upwards with their seasonally clad stems; structures, be they lichen peppered walls, matured fences or sundials; ‘simple’ footpaths with their leading lines and textures can do more to fix and lift a garden space than would initially be imagined; and ponds and summer houses and so on.

Architectural hedge work at Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire
More than hedges, the architectural forms at Hidcote Manor.

But hedges, why all the fuss and why so often underrated?

Now, I know that for many, a hedge is a hedge is a hedge. ‘A row of closely planted shrubs or low-growing trees forming a fence or boundary’, my dictionary simply says – if I ignore references to investment funding that is. So hedges can have a mundane existence; there’s probably a functional boundary affirming hedge not too far from any of us at this very moment. Yet, when they’re included within a garden they can become something altogether different, not just fading away as green backdrops, but becoming special elements integral to the success of any garden garden – and I don’t necessarily mean topiary hedges.

Many people are familiar with the ‘garden rooms’ idea, often created by softer hedges as opposed to walls or fences. Rooms provided by hedges can be intimate, can filter the elements and offer protection from the world outside, and a feeling of security. But hedges keep evolving too. They need to grow and refresh their leaves to remain healthy, and as individual plants, when gathered in a row form lasting relationships – sometimes for hundreds of years.

Hedges on stilts at Waterperry Gardens
Waterperry lifting hedges to new levels!

When I’m looking at formal hedges therefore, I see many things. They can be links to the past, often some of the few elements that were hand drawn into an historic design, or signed off by the architect of that space. I also see hedges that cleverly hold your attention until you pass through their door to an unexpected scene, and I see how they wrap their extending arms around individual spaces to protect and nurture.

Let’s forget the priority list of garden features, for they’re all important in their own ways, and to different people. But let us not overlook the humble hedge, for each structure brings character to the garden. As beautiful as they are, the artfully created miniature hedges or parterres of our world are seasoned performers and much appreciated. Yet if I can achieve anything with this post, it would be to elevate the ‘standard’ hedge to an equal footing as the flower border or sprinkling fountain, for its repetitive yet artistic tending through the years contributes more to the formal garden than is often credited.

To the designers who carefully selected and designed them, to every steady handed, back aching gardener who ever tended one, and to all of the hedges of our world; I admire and salute you. May your trimmers be sharp and your motors smoke free, may your lines run true, and may your shoots grow unblemished through each year – long live our formal hedges!

Until next time… tune in to a formal hedge near you 😉

Gardening Creatively

Welcome to a slice of what normally would be my garden journal. Last week I actually drove down a new lane on my journey to work and delivered myself to a new garden called Sulgrave Manor.

Brassica foliage lit brightly by sunshine
Shapes in the garden

To coincide with this new chapter, and in an effort to develop my garden writing I’ve decided to take my blog in a new direction also. For the foreseeable future therefore, I’m going to try some posts that explore particular topics or themes related to gardens, horticulture, heritage or the natural world – all subjects that surround me everyday and remain close to my heart. My GardeningWays blog will henceforth feature posts with individual titles. Let’s hope I don’t run out of ideas!

I’m aware that reading about my daily goings-on and seasonal tasks may be the only reason you tune in, so I’ll definitely be posting regular updates via Twitter and Instagram, but for now, regular posts on GardeningWays will be altogether different.

Rudbeckia laciniata fading at the season end, backlit by  autumn sunshine
A little sunshine over fading blooms – Rudbeckia laciniata I believe.

All I know is that I presently feel driven to be more creative. Over the last year I’ve been exposed to various things that have really challenged my thinking and opened my mind, and I’ve come to feel that now is the time to change my game.

I’ve reignited an interest in art, or drawing at least, and immersed myself in some fascinating podcasts from history and horticulture, to culture, media and business. I’ve consumed as many audio and traditional books as my head, time and pocket would allow. But more than this, I’ve also taken a good hard look at where I am in life, at my growing children, and for all the reasons above I feel there’s never been a better time than now to try new things.

Along a new garden path at Sulgrave Manor, with a fully loaded wheelbarrow .
Along a new garden path

My new Head Gardener role, my day job, offers more than enough to fill me up, with all the trimmings you’d expect. Managing a team, improving numerous borders, understanding the historical development of a notable formal garden, mature tree management, planning garden interpretation – the list goes on. Exciting and challenging in equal proportions, and so far – so fascinating!

There’s also a voluntary garden design that I agreed to do back in the summer, which itself has given me good reason to dust off my drawing equipment and stretch out my measuring tapes. It’s been a good few years since my last ‘proper’ design work but I was thrilled to be given the opportunity, and I’m really excited to see the project evolve. In respect of this, I’ve mapped the space available, consumed site attributes, discussed aims of the project and my head is awash with 3D shapes for that garden.

One final thing. I’ve chatted with a friend, a respected artist, who’s set me an interesting target that seems simple – at least on paper. Essentially I’ve to complete a sketch, a quick and simple sketch, every day going forward. How hard can that be? Believe me, I’m already stressing over it, so bound am I to presentation and detail. Fingers crossed I’ll relax into it… but in the meantime, here follows a few words to round off today’s post:

Sketch No.1

To sketch, quickly and repeatedly, is to build my creative confidence and free my hand. To design a garden, is to move ideas from head to page to plot, a rare treat indeed. To manage an established heritage garden, is to connect, understand and nurture a living and evolving artwork. And to write, for me, is to think, see, create, engage and hopefully, to inspire.

I think those few things mentioned above are more than enough to challenge my creativity over the coming months.

Until next time…

Twitter / Instagram

Journal 3.10.20

Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – the next chapter…

In my last garden journal entry, I looked back on my previous working position. After posting that entry and sharing I was really humbled by the positive and supportive responses, every one of which helped to reassure me that my decision to move on was the right thing to do at this point in time.

Something also pointed out in some of the feedback was that I had accidentally, or maybe purposely, neglected to say where I would be working. How naughty I was, or more accurately, how careful I was in not wanting to be dismissive of my last year whilst pushing on to the next.

Man! Just tell us where you’re going?” You must be thinking, so with no further ado I’m excited to reveal that my new horticultural playground is the marvellous Sulgrave Manor and Garden, where I’ll be joining the team as a good old fashioned Head Gardener.

Sulgrave Manor, Northamptonshire.​ The front approach to the porch beyond peacock topiary specimens.
Sulgrave Manor, Northamptonshire.

Now if your first thought was ‘I’ve never heard of it,’ then I have my work cut out haven’t I! Don’t feel bad, as for many things you don’t know it until you know it – if that makes sense. I can assure you though, that once encountered this prettiest rural Northamptonshire property is sure to leave a positive and lasting impression, if for no other reason that it is the home of George Washington’s ancestors – yes, the founding father and the first president of the United States of America from 1789 to 1797. (For additional info I’ll signpost you to a little more through a link at the bottom of this post).

Yew topiary flanking the approach to the Manor House at Sulgrave.
A Yew peacock flanks the approach to the Manor House at Sulgrave.

Clearly at this stage I have much to learn about the place and its garden, therefore for knowing folk I hope not to offend with the simplest of introductions to the garden and place that is Sulgrave Manor.

One of the colour themed mixed borders...

I’ll describe it as an Arts and Crafts style garden, for it has hallmark features you’d associate with one: a strong formal plan or layout, garden rooms separated by walls and formal hedging, topiary, velvety lawns, rich flowery borders, and the cutest wild flower orchard. Further supporting this simplified description is the not insignificant fact that when the property was restored in the 1920s, the architect was none other than Sir Reginald Blomfield who also installed the garden in the enduring formal style typical of that period.

Well, for those who know my recent background, you would be forgiven for thinking that I’ve come down an acre or two in garden size, and that ‘the guy from the ‘Capability’ Brown park’ might be too tightly bound by such a formal setting, and you might be right. However, those who really know me also know how committed I am to historic gardens, to understanding their elements, their reason for being and their spirit of place. I have an ingrained fascination by all things gardening, by how gardens are assembled, artfully presented and nurtured, be it a naturalistic and flowing landscape garden or rigidly structured formal garden; I can be equally besotted, and equally dedicated to detail and presentation with both.

The Stars and Stripes flag flying  near the Union Jack at Sulgrave Manor
The Stars and Stripes flying proudly near the Union Jack at Sulgrave Manor 🇺🇸 🇬🇧

I tend to carry a good deal of emotion into my gardening, and if possible I try to be as one with the spaces I care for. I can therefore say without hesitation that whilst there will be a period of time when I’m learning this new garden, learning how to fit in with the new team, and looking to see how I can be creative in an established garden; I will be very focussed in wringing every drop of potential that the garden at Sulgrave has to offer, and to being its strongest advocate.

To that end you can be sure that I’ll be posting about my experiences and journey over the coming seasons as I look to make a positive contribution – as the new boy in the team at Sulgrave Manor.

No that’s not me – my protege maybe…

Until next time have a great week, and if you haven’t already – do connect with me on Twitter or have a peek at my gardening journey on Instagram, and do check out the ‘about’ page including garden plan for Sulgrave Manor and Garden.

Journal 30.9.20

Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – this entry a little later than planned, but an important entry nonetheless; as you find me on the last page of my chapter gardening in the Cotswolds.

Essentially it’s change of job time, equalling new days and new challenges ahead. My boots though are not yet cold from tearing around the works garden, preparing things as best I could for the inevitable gap between me and the next gardener. Therefore, for this journal entry, unlike my usual format of reviewing and looking back over the previous week, I want to be a little more creative with a look back over my last year.

Broadwell Manor, East Front in the Cotswolds in September
A reflective post….

Not wanting to assume that you know anything about the place, I shall try, at the risk of under-selling, to explain in one paragraph the garden as I see it.

Situated in the rural Cotswolds, the mellow stoned Manor House with its formal east facing Georgian façade has owned its place in the landscape for more than three centuries. Lichen and moss enriched dry stone walls and mature woodland wrap their arms around the garden, where plants ornament every corner, and iron fixings pepper every available garden wall. Fully grown walnut, beech, lime and oak trees anchor the garden firmly to the limestone packed soil, and sweeping lawns roll away from the house to a reflective pond and farmland beyond. Did I mention the kitchen garden…?

Moving into a working position there took some time, with my notice period taking a full three months to navigate. Apart from brief visits to keep things going therefore, my start was held back until mid-November, about when the rains arrived – and seemingly for the whole winter.

A small orchard in a Cotswolds garden, showing the grass being recovered prior to winter pruning.
Getting the orchard in-hand…

Shortening days and winter chills descended on the garden just as I was setting to work on waking it up. Indeed I’ve rarely spent so many blocks of time in wellies and waterproofs, with so many days alone on the tools and with little beyond birds and planes to break the quiet. I had the winter to prepare for the start of a new decade, and I was very glad of it.

Decaying leaves carpeted paths and carriage ways, lawns and borders. Tussocky wild flower areas, bleached white after a year of playing, had sat back for the winter and borders due to the busy world around them had merged seed heads with the sneakiest of weeds. With sacks of bulbs waiting impatiently in the cool garden shed, there was much work to be done.

As fortune would have it, I’d seen it all before, and I’m much more challenged by DIY than I am conquering a wayward border or lapsed coppice. Hour by hour the days passed, and when I wasn’t breathing in winter garden sounds, my head was filled with podcast chatter and audio books, and my break times, with little reception, were spent reading.

Plans were being made, development work was being commissioned, and I had plenty to get my teeth into. Dense grass swards were recovered, normal lawns trimmed, wayward shrubs pruned or moved and hedges, in need of TLC, received the harshest of cut backs. Loppers and a saw became daily tools of choice.

Garden pruners hanging on pegs in the tool shed
Hard working garden tools, & now very sharp!

A long established compost bin and sizeable leaf stack were harvested and put to use, and others turned and created – more than doubling the previous quantity of both with additional wildlife piles for good measure. Trees too called for attention, and with a handful of tasks and investigative visits, a plan for the trees began forming.

Although it would be easy to take from my words that it was all doom and gloom, it was not. Hard work yes, but moments, sometimes hours and occasionally days shone brightly through winter trees, and as buds were bursting the garden was already showing its horticultural pedigree.

Spring 2020 activity

Snowdrops, if mostly the simple form were in abundance and mild early season days brought blossom hither and thither. Selected hellebores raised many faces, glory-of-the-snow shone from freshly restored and frosted lawns, and primroses popped up beside every path. Spring was genuinely revitalising and much needed.

Slowly, as if to make up for winter rain, the sun arrived to pull and push me through to the summer. Whilst the sun shone and the kite soared overhead, the prior peace was quickly challenged. Plans, previously on paper began to form on the ground proper, and within the walls of the kitchen garden. Numerous box shrubs from their temporary quarters were scooped up and hauled away to a slip garden whilst figs and vines, layered from heritage varieties, were teased and potted for posterity.

Garden reclamation under way

Paths were laid, repairs made, and walls grew to bring present relevance. Beds have been raised, media levelled, and triangular tines have carved seed grooves with the most delicate of rake runs. The former Victorian walled garden has begun to breathe again, and what I’d have given to look out from the prettiest of garden bothies with the 1880s Head Gardener, and to have seen them looking over the new growth.

The garden bothy at Broadwell Manor in the Gloucester Cotswolds
A little before & after shot…

Beyond those garden walls dressed with the occasional ivy-leaved toadflax, another border took shape. Anonymously stored dahlias were eager to appear, and old ground was re-broken. The deck was cleared for a new display and for new discoveries of old favourites. Before the beautifully matched tulips were done, tubers were shooting and teepees were raised to be dressed, in time, with numerous sweetly scented peas that matched the brightest of border displays I’ve seen for a good while.

From this, to this, the long border…

Yet, when considering the year, it feels like I’ve only scratched the surface beyond which hide numerous tasks and trials and successes. It’s been a period of intense effort matched with dynamic thinking in a garden full of creativity and content. It was exhausting but it was significant for many reasons, and I’ve really learned a great deal about myself during the time.

Sun set behind Broadwell Manor.
A winter poplar in the park…

It wasn’t just me I hasten to add, for I had the encouragement of many people around me – for a position that is largely solo working, every comment of encouragement on social media always spurred me on. Volunteers too, how could I not thank the hard work of some great friends who also dug deep, literally, to push the garden and me forward.

It was a fascinating period of time, an illuminating stopping point in my journey, and one I’ll remain very fond of. In the very least, I’ll imagine the garden continuing to grow and blossom over the coming seasons, and who knows, I might return to see the results! Ah yes, I mustn’t forget Woodapuss…

Woodapuss a Cotswolds garden cat
Ahh, Woodapuss!

Next weekend, after the dust settles, I’ll be looking forward to my next chapter, or few chapters, where I’ll be getting to know a very different garden space. Will Reginald Blomfield turn in his grave, and can the ‘Capability’ Brown landscape styled gardener be able to thrive in the formal gardening world? All will become clear!

Until next time have a great week, and if you haven’t already – do connect with me on Twitter, and have a peek at my gardening journey on Instagram!

Journal 19.9.20

Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – this entry spanning two weeks and leading up to Saturday September 19th. This week the journal includes Sunny Scarborough, Productive Days, and Another Garden Door Opens.

A fortnight has passed since I last posted and I now sit down to write with so many things whirring around my head that I hardly know where to start.

Don’t look down they say… a little ivy trimming.

South Cliff Gardens GQT Discussion
OK, first up is some YouTube footage of yours truly in action. Don’t get too excited, I mean, it’s only me sitting there and talking about managing heritage gardens and such like, but the longer video clips and experts are fascinating and, dare I say, quite entertaining! I’ll explain…

I was honoured to be asked by Project Officer Victoria Thompson to join an expert panel for a Gardeners’ Question Time styled discussion in support of a worthy project to reinvigorate Scarborough’s South Cliff Gardens. It’s a National Lottery Heritage Funded project and the video is timed perfectly for the annual Heritage Open Days celebration.

Being a fairly regular GQT listener, I’m always in awe at how the panelists seem to draw on their encyclopaedic knowledge week in week out. The idea therefore that I could be anywhere near as informative or entertaining as a gardening celebrity was very far from my mind. Still, it was a yes from me and on the given night I made myself as comfortable as could be and recalled as much useful information as I could for the zoom discussion.

Earplugs so I didn’t have to listen to myself! 😂

The results? Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, especially for the fact that it gave opportunity to promote and talk about heritage gardens, a subject that is very dear to myself and many other people besides. Incidentally, I also learned that I need to up my game in the presentation and zoom backdrop stakes!

On a serious note though, I was delighted to have played even a small part in the discussion that was essentially created to raise awareness in the South Cliff Gardens project itself. If you can therefore give the footage a look and a thumbs up that would be really helpful for the team in sunny Scarborough, and if you could share the videos, that would be amazing! (Links at bottom of page) 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

Productive Days
Moving onto working days at Broadwell, it has been a pretty full on two weeks I have to say. The weather has settled and but for a few hot and humid days, has offered some near perfect conditions for working in the garden. In fact, if you follow me on Instagram I do post to stories most days using the hashtag inthegarden .

Onions freshly lifted a placed in sun to dry
Onions Up…

Activity speaking, I’ve trudged through a host of tasks but hedges have continued to feature greatly over the last fortnight. A touch of light trimming here, some renovation or re-shaping there with lots of ladder work, lopping and hauling was to be expected. Broadwell now has all its hedges back under control and set for the winter I’m glad to say, and my ‘flights of stairs’ tally on my walking app has reached new heights thanks to repeatedly climbing the ladder to reach the lofty hedge tops!

Brighter conditions have also meant that the ground has dried out somewhat, and this became quickly evident last week when weeding through the raised beds in the kitchen garden. Irrigation has therefore become the order of each the day with many crops still growing actively and producing fruits and flowers. Harvest wise, it felt good to lift a good crop of onions and garlic for drying this week, and clearing out a full bed of potatoes as I went. Fruit too – lots of apples and pears were just ripe for picking.

Boxes of freshly harvested apples and pears
Apples and pears aplenty…

Working Highlights:
In terms of tasks and work activity over the last two weeks, a summary:
Mondays – Completed adding topsoil to new herb beds (numerous bulk bags); Cleaned Auricula theatre, watered and fed; Potato harvesting; Weeding KG raised beds; Irrigation.
Tuesdays – Hedge work; Fruit picking; Weeding KG beds; Weeding; Potting up container plants.
Wednesdays – Irrigation; Mowing; Trimmer cleaning; Hedge work.
Thursdays – Hedge trimming; Dahlia dead-heading; Poplar sucker removal; Dead-wood removal from Lime; Ivy cutting back on house; Mowing.
Fridays – Mole heaps; mowing; Irrigation..

Just needed longer arms…

Another Garden Door Opens
I guess my final thoughts this week should focus on my news, that I am soon to move on from my Broadwell Manor position as my horticultural journey draws me north of the county borders. At the time of leaving I will have ploughed through a very intensive ten months at Broadwell where I’ve enjoyed getting involved in the early stages of the garden’s revival.

Starting as I did in mid November 2019, it was no surprise to pick up the reigns after autumn had done its worst, and as winter was beginning to take hold. Leaves clothed the lawns and driveways, borders needed a good deal of attention and a task list seemingly grew by the minute. It was a tall order, and I knew it. Still, bulbs arrived, areas needed sorting out, and plans were being made to transform a kitchen garden – all was, and is, fascinating.

The Garden Gaffer… Woodapuss.

However, whilst I’ve loved the time spent working solo and being part of the bustling kitchen garden revival, I have gradually realised that I actually miss the buzz of a bigger team, and dare I say it – visitors! The ability to bounce ideas off colleagues, being part of an active network, tours, project or activity planning; it turns out that those things do actually keep me motivated, engaged and moving forward.

Obviously I’ve considered the change very carefully, and needless to say I’ve given full commitment to my gardening at Broadwell, indeed I don’t know any other way. But, when an opportunity arose out of nowhere that looked to be more closely aligned with my skills, I felt obliged to entertain it and, before I could utter the words Metasequoia glyptostroboides, another exciting garden door opened that I just have to step through.

I still have commitments and a great deal of love for Broadwell, how could I not have. It’s been a very rewarding and intense period of time that will always stay with me. A gardener invests so much of themselves into any garden that the two often become indelibly linked, but knowing how these things go, a new gardener will soon grasp this opportunity, will make it their own, and my muscle busting efforts will fade into this years compost – I’m glad I created the journal now to remind me of the journey!

Next week I’ll take the opportunity to look both back and forward, but until then, have a great week, and if you haven’t already – do connect with me on Twitter, and look up my #inthegarden stories on Instagram!

South Cliff Gardens Video GQT 1South Cliff Gardens GQT pt2

Journal 5.9.20

Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week leading up to Saturday September 5th. This week I’ve re-potted, twisted timber, and some fruit that’s ripe for picking.

Gardening ways images for first week in September; an orchard and ripening fruit
A week in view…

Crikey what a week it has been. We went to bed after Monday’s August bank holiday sunshine, the calendar flipped to September and meteorological autumn, and the weather changed instantly to match the season! To be true though, the sunshine hasn’t gone far away this week, despite the rain clouds holding it back, and the garden is definitely thriving in the conditions.

The shorter four day week has again focussed my efforts. On one hand I’m continuing to play catchup following a recent week away, and on the other I’ve again picked up the baton to push some hedge renovation forward – a particularly large conifer hedge. Lots of ‘pressure points’, as mentioned in last week’s journal entry, but all under control of course.

Hedging restoration in progress!

The containers, as shown in the image below, are hanging on in there as the days begin to shorten now, and whilst floral colour begins to fade, the massed effect and overall structure is still working really well to soften the building. It’s worth saying that all of the plants shown were re-potted from last year – lockdown and so many other tasks prevented any new additions to the mix, therefore all things considered, it’s looking pretty good.

Can’t beat a pot or two!

Pond – Final Clearance!
The pond I have to say is looking amazing, and thanks largely to the weeding efforts of two very supportive volunteers Alex and Mary. Including some other help for a much needed early season bonfire, we’ve racked up more than 130 hours of volunteering this season, the equivalent of more than three weeks of additional input to the garden. I can easily remember some really heavy jobs in the mix of tasks, so much recognition and thanks must go to my long suffering volunteers – champions indeed!

Pond – the final clearance!

Twisted Timber
One last activity before I move onto my highlights and weekly thought, is tree work. As previously mentioned the recent storms made their presence felt at Broadwell with some damage to an Oak tree in particular. I’m glad to say that the limb in question, not an easy removal by any stretch of the imagination, is now down and safe. The image below shows one of the climbers working out how the twisted break to the stem would react when the saw blades bite into the timber. I can confirm that the timber twisted some more, and the saw was instantly trapped, needing removal. All in a day’s work as they say!

A tangle to be sure…

In terms of tasks and work activity this week, here’s a brief summary:
B/H Monday – Orchard walking…
Tuesday – Watering and feeding; Mowing and blowing; Tree works.
Wednesday – Kitchen Garden Maintenance; Hedge restoration; Tool cleaning and sharpening.
Thursday – Hedge restoration continued.
Friday – Front border maintenance; Mole heaps; Mowing; Cordon bed maintenance.

Ripe for the Picking
Stretching back to Sunday/Monday I was blessed, after a long drive south, to have all three of my children together. Whilst gardening was furthest from my mind throughout the all-too-short get together, a visit to a Somerset cider farm did make a perfect venue for a socially distanced walk. Ultimately, we found ourselves on a grassy ridge, with a forest of apple trees clothing the banks to each side..

A photo showing lots of apples ripening across the trees in an orchard
In an English Orchard…

The trees were heavily laden with apples blushing in the sunshine, the air was calm and still, and that bittersweet feeling that within a few short hours, I’d be back on the road with stretched heart strings was very present. At one point, I walked along that ridge with my nearest and dearest before me, when I called out for a moment of pause. The guys paused, posed, and grumbled; and I got my image for the memory banks.

Who’s not the introvert…?!

Then, a few days later and after I’d returned to work, the moment returned. My boys were revelling in their first week back in school – and the real world. My beautiful daughter was back conquering her working world and settling into her first home, and my better half was busily communicating with the world from our home office. All of them were miles away when, in the peace of my garden at work, I happened across some sun kissed pears on an old espalier tree, and I was momentarily transported back to that Somerset orchard, with my close ones near by.

An image showing ripenening pears on an old espalier tree in a walled garden.
Blushing pears…

I found the potential and power of a simple ripening pear, to trigger a stored memory, and to evoke strong feelings; was incredible. Thinking laterally – an aroma from a flower, a flower itself, even a shrub or leaves on a tree; they can all do the very same thing as that pear, by connecting a person at lightning speed to a special memory.

I’ll never stop thinking of plants or people for that matter, in this way; their ability to ground me with their sometimes complex, sometimes simple needs, and often for the fact that they don’t need anything from me at all – they just need to be noticed, left alone, and loved.

Until next time, do connect with me on Twitter and/or Instagram

Journal 29.8.20

Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week leading up to Saturday August 29. This week there’s a bit about barrow pushing and a bit more about pressure points!

Barrow Pushing
This week has been quite a whirlwind – after arriving home from our travels late last Sunday to heading into work early doors the next day to get the week underway. From Friday to Monday I had literally gone from leisurely strolling around the garden paths at Wallington, and without a care in the world, to barrow pushing along the garden paths at Broadwell in the Cotswolds.

Up the garden path at Wallington Hall in Northumberland
Up the garden path at Wallington.

To touch on the weather, ‘turbulent’ is how I’d describe the week, for most garden folk it’s been a Karate Kid situation of ‘jacket on, jacket off’ to beat the showers. Mind you, despite the lowering light levels and shortening days, humidity and moisture levels have been up, meaning the growth rate for many plants (grass in particular…) seems high.

Branch down…

The last week also featured some seriously powerful storms, and whilst I can say that the garden I care for was only lightly affected, it has scattered leaves and sticks like confetti – and it all feels a touch autumnal. There was tree damage in the form of a hanging limb in a lime tree, and a much larger branch from an oak that will need an arb’ team to remedy. All will be sorted and tidied in the week ahead, and there will be plenty of timber both for firewood and for dead wood habitat piles – along with a good amount of chippings for compost and mulching. Waste not, want not as they say!

In terms of tasks and work activity this week, here’s a brief summary:
Monday – Watering many (not all) containers; Adding additional supports for dahlias ahead of storm.
Tuesday – Added support for container and raised bed plants before storm; strimming (lots).
Wednesday – Attended to Auriculas; Mowing.
Thursday – Away day.
Friday – Met Arb’ consultant; dispersed topsoil into planting beds after loosening base of planting areas.

Emptying a few bags of topsoil…

Pressure Points
In my opening paragraph I referred to an absence of pressure when visiting a garden – you know, those carefree, aren’t gardens wonderful sort of days. However, that thought encouraged me to think of pressure when working in the garden – indeed it is a real thing!

You might be surprised to hear a gardener talking of feeling pressure, spending so much time as they do in environments that are generally considered to be refreshing, restorative and purely health building pleasure gardens. I would argue though, that the outwardly calm and content gardener might sometimes be hiding a mind full of tasks and challenges and pressures that would leave many folks confused and overwhelmed. As an example, just before I took my week’s leave I made extra effort to ensure all was looking neat and tidy, and I left site with just enough energy to steer the car and push the pedals to get home.

Within just a few days of returning to work I found tree limbs damaged, needing external help to remedy = this required some liaison and could be said to have raised a ‘pressure point’. Debris appeared almost overnight and spread all around = another point. Three suppliers started chasing for information = minor maybe, but more points. Lawns, verges and grass edges were growing away like there’s no tomorrow = a few more points.

Dusty primulas – they’ll survive…

An Auricula theatre packed to the rafters with little beauties, cleaned thoroughly before my leave was found dusted from a building project and suffering from red spider mite = another point. Hedges that have quietly stretched their stalks are suddenly waving loudly for their haircut = more points. And as if this was not enough for the simple gardener, the forecast of more storms risking damage, calling for additional staking for tall plants = yet more points. Oh yes, and while sorting that last task a need for dead heading is noticed, along with the need to harvest some produce = more points upon points.

It’s all relative, all part of the job as people say, and is all in the process of being sorted after prioritising and re-prioritising of course. However, when your job is to take pride in a well presented place, a sea of tasks lapping at your ankles does keep you mindfully moving forward. Occasionally though, a freak wave of tasks can knock you off balance.

Sunflowers at home, surviving the storm…

We know that gardens can rarely be said to be finished; their growing nature demanding regular intervention. Consider also, if you will, the effects of storms, pests, and the general growing cycle of plants. After understanding this I hope we can agree that a gardeners work can never really be complete, there’s always, always more to do the next morning. Just imagine the psychology around knowing that no matter how hard you try, your work will never be finished?!

To conclude my points on pressure, I’d say that gardeners at all levels of employment and responsibility will have pressure to one degree or another, but won’t necessarily exhibit it. Pressure to keep things looking on top form, to keep trees safe, tall plants hydrated, flowering plants dead-headed and healthy and whatever – each task carries responsibility and an element of pressure.

Gardeners will I assume, be striving daily to nurture and present a beautiful and productive garden, and will therefore be bothered by numerous daily setbacks; each adding pressure of sorts. To this end, I’d suggest that ‘mindful’ gardening is not always the restorative, lightweight activity that is often portrayed, but often a mentally challenging and physically draining way to spend your working days – it’s just as well the fruits of the gardener’s labour are sweet!

Until next time, do take it easy on yourself! And maybe connect with me on Twitter and/or Instagram if you haven’t already 🌿

Journal 22.8.20

Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week leading up to Saturday August 22nd. This journal entry isn’t my usual written response to a week of working in the garden, as I’ve been away for a week in the wonderful North East of England staying with family.

Sycamore Gap’ & a slice of Hadrian’s Walla break from the norm with a none-garden visit!

Instead of the normal journal, I’ve endeavoured to understand the special characters of two gardens I’ve visited this past week. Not reviews as such, but short descriptions and questions: what aspects of each garden visit struck me and what flavour, if any, did each garden leave. The gardens featured are the refreshed ‘Belsay Awakes’ garden and the stunning Wallington, both in Northumberland.

Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens

Beautiful Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens viewed from across the field
Beautiful Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens, taken on a previous visit.

Focussing just on the landscape, Belsay has 30 acres of Grade 1 listed garden to enjoy, not to mention countless surrounding acres of natural and semi-natural landscape. You could say I’m a fairly frequent visitor, for a someone who lives so far away, but it’s a pure delight from the moment I spy its Grecian style mansion to each moment spent strolling in awe through the quarry garden.

A view of the quarry garden at Belsay Hall, with shear rock faces and ornamental shrub planting
The Quarry Garden on a previous visit.

The mature trees are phenomenal and varied throughout the gardens with resilient specimens squeezed tightly into rocky crevices, others perched somehow atop the quarry, and many forest trees set in large plantations further afield. Including the trees, Belsay clearly possesses quite a plant collection from yesteryear, and its selection and quantity genuinely adds presence to the place.

Dan Pearson’s new planting  recently planted in the beds at Belsay
New planting mixes with selected originals on the terrace at Belsay.

The offering for plant enthusiasts doesn’t end with the quarry garden, with other areas including a small yew garden, long borders, and a large terrace with many more borders and raised beds amongst some substantial stonework. Furthermore, at the time of my visit last week, the recent ‘Belsay Awakes’ design work of Dan Pearson is also becoming evident, following many months of selective border clearing and fresh planting – there is yet more to come.

Foreground planting refreshed as Belsay Awakes, while the distant Rhododendron garden waits patiently.

Then what, for me, was special about Belsay, what flavour did it leave?

I hope it doesn’t sound wishy-washy when I say ‘atmospheres’. Not a general atmosphere or feeling, but the emotional effect each garden space triggered as I walked through – and especially throughout the quarry area.

Quarry garden exploring at Belsay Hall
Space to spread out in the Quarry Garden

Ultimately, Belsay is packed with horticultural heritage and character. It’s a layered and varied garden that expertly draws you through from one area to the next, and its planting is so very well executed. That’s not to say the planting is just OK, it is far more than that; it is different and unusual and unique. But when considering the whole, it’s the atmospheres that resonate with me; grandeur at the house, tenaciousness in the quarry garden, and boldness across the terrace.

Belsay just has to be one of my favourites, and I’d urge you to pop it onto your list of north eastern ‘must see gardens’.

Wallington’s Walled Garden

Golden Rod before the Hall at Wallington
Golden Rod before the Hall at Wallington

Second up on my short list just has to be Wallington. Again this was and is a vast historic estate with acres of woodland and open countryside. My immediate focus however, despite some significant gardening elsewhere at Wallington; is the ‘secret’ or walled garden.

Wallington Walled Garden Glasshouse and Owl House
Glass house range & Owl House at Wallington – with the Eddie & Maria for scale!

The walled garden’s creation in this location is linked to ‘Capability’ Brown, but I believe this remains unproven. What exists today is a long established and artfully formed walled garden that is discovered only after a walk through a mature, very substantial and natural looking woodland garden.

So softly spoken is the walled garden as a feature, that many would be forgiven for not hearing its call; and what a loss that would be. On stepping through the garden door you find yourself on an upper or raised level, leading initially to a series of Victorian looking glasshouses dressed in a deep skirt of herbaceous planting.

How’s this for a late summer border?!

On raised ground behind the glass panes sits another feature rumoured to be linked to Brown, an ‘Owl House’, and from its window a wonderful view can be had over the top of the garden walls to a stunning parkland bridge over the Wansbeck by James Paine. On the described view – I speak in memory as access to the Owl House is presently restricted.

Distant bridge placed perfect in the landscape 💚

Dropping from the glasshouse level, the remainder of the long walled garden slopes gently down to its lowest point with a path that twines through mixed border planting, before looping back at the garden’s lowest point, where an impressive wrought iron gateway is positioned to presumably let the winter chill escape. The main path leads you gently back up the garden and through a number of individually and delightfully assembled spaces to the original entry level, where you’re treated to what I’d describe as an Italianate water garden space, with sweeping stairs either side of a pond with a rill feature.

Wallington Walled Garden pond & rill
Top end of the Wallington Walled Garden – how does this grab you?!

The entire walled garden felt like an oasis; so different was this space to all else in the landscape around. I guess this is much the same with many walled gardens, for they do offer an enclosed and often inward looking space. At Wallington though, the woodland that hugs much of the garden, and the rolling fields beyond the one exposed wall, seemed to create even more shelter for the garden, or at least that’s how it seemed on the drizzle packed day I visited.

Again, I could continue to describe the garden in detail, but stepping back; what actually struck me about the garden, why did it leave such a mark?

After the calming stroll along a leafy path to the garden, I was delivered to a very full and independent garden brimming with charisma and vivacity. It was a destination within a destination, and was so very different to the rest of the site. It didn’t so much matter what the planting was, although obviously this added complexity to the scene, but that the garden, with its corners, naturalised pond, substantial urns and bountiful borders; united somehow as a garden in itself.

Coade stone urn, possibly?! Nicely planted whatever it is!

It was full of mystery in terms of its layout, its origin and its purpose, and was enjoyable because it didn’t reveal all its features in one open view, as many larger walled gardens often do. Wallington’s walled garden layout is permanently etched in my memory after just two visits, yet somehow I know it has more to reveal. I’ll definitely be going back for another serving, and hopefully in the not too distant future.

If you’ve made it this far, well done and thanks for sticking with my garden visit ramblings this week – this time next week I should have been back and actively working in the garden at Broadwell, where normal service will have resumed – although I shall be day dreaming of the North East and our family adventures for a good while I’m sure…

Until next time…. I’d be delighted if you’d connect with me on twitter, or on Instagram, to continue the discussion.

Links to: Wallington and Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens

Journal 15.8.20

Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week leading up to Saturday August 15th. This week: Cloudburst and Raindrops on Roses.

Sun drenched Marigold in the Kitchen Garden at Broadwell – pre cloudburst!

After last week’s grumbling about working in the heat, I guess I got what I asked for with a cloudburst mid-week; although it kept us waiting and sweating for a while there. Peaking on Wednesday in my area with temperatures in the mid-thirties and incredible humidity, a much needed storm arrived mid-evening with a strong gush of wind followed by petal beating rain that thankfully continued into the night.

Thursday dawned misty and humid, but thankfully much, much cooler. You could almost hear plants and parched lawns breathing in relief, and images of people dancing in the rain soon appeared on my timelines. For me, with a few away days planned from my garden, I was super relieved that the container cooking temperatures of the last week had at least subsided.

The Working Week
Weather temperatures, as gardeners will testify, can turn the pleasant task of checking through your pots and watering to something of a chore. As a rule, I mulch pots to retain moisture, and depending on the pot size and material, some can go a few days before they need attention. The last week however has meant daily, sometimes twice daily checking to ensure plants survive, let along thrive. Still, we all need a little help now and then, and our beautiful container displays are no different.

The heat, the hedge, the hat…

Besides watering, a big task that began on Monday was hedge cutting. It’s a rather large conifer hedge that had grown somewhat beyond its reach when I first encountered it last autumn – although I was only able to trim one side back then. This time it needs a full top and side trim in order to push it back within bounds, and so on Monday I went into battle, pushing my last trimming effort to a new level.

Time and other tasks overtook me however, and with the hedge crying out for more attention, I had to move on to other tasks on Wednesday. Raised bed filling and preparation, another half day on pond maintenance, and some mowing to keep up appearances whilst I’m away. Thankfully Alex and Mary helped with the pond on Thursday, and we can really see now that our blanket and pond weed extracting efforts are proving their worth, with a much clearer pond surface now appearing.

Captain Alex in action!

Before my final topic, here are some key gardening moments from last week:
Monday – Watering; Filled last (but one!) KG raised bed & prepared; Hedge cutting.
Tuesday – Watering herbaceous border & some raised beds; Cleaned Auricula theatre; Continued hedge cutting.
Wednesday – Watering here, there & everywhere!; Barrowing & filling/preparing last KG raised bed.
Thursday – Sank seep hoses into new raised beds; Harvested potatoes; Tied in tom’s; Mowing – front/rear lawns & back lane bank; Watered Auriculas; Pond maintenance with Alex & Mary.
Friday – Visit to Mount Grace Priory.

Raindrops on Roses
Friday brought a long awaited break from the norm when, after hours of driving and traffic congestion I was glad to weave along the bumpy track to Mount Grace Priory in North Yorkshire. A thick mist covered the steep and dramatic hillside behind the ruined priory, and although the Manor House was closed for the time being, I was more than content with a visit to the garden.

The heavily scented Eglantyne Rose – think Turkish Delight 😉

Being the subject of a major garden project to the tune of £700k from around 2017, the property has seen major work to update and re-dress the garden, restore and recreate historic features. Whilst I have been aware of the priory for many years, it was last year when the garden shot up my ‘must visit’ list when the English Heritage garden team picked up the hotly contested Horticulture Week Custodian Award for the Best Garden Project.

Mount Grace Manor House & Garden photograph with misty back drop and foreground of flower borders  and green lawn
Mount Grace Manor House & Garden

I’d previously read about the improvement work and Chris Beardshaw’s involvement, so naturally my expectations were going to be high. I’ve also been enjoying some of the garden scenery through Karen’s (one of the garden team) photos on Instagram, she’s really teased and tempted with some lovely shots of the garden.

I’m not generally up for reviewing garden visits, as I think that it’s hard to make a judgement on any given garden unless you can be fully informed by the gardener at the time of viewing – I simply prefer not to judge, but to figure things out myself, to soak up the scene and to enjoy it for what it is. I was simply thrilled to finally get the opportunity to stroll between the luscious planting, to photograph rain drops on roses, and to soak up the atmospheres that Mount Grace holds in abundance.

Mount Grace Manor House & Garden

The garden looked fabulous in what must have been a very trying year. Borders were perfectly packed and full of varied planting, and the structure, layering and careful plant selection was evident. Maintenance of the whole garden was a credit to the team, and I can certainly see why visitor numbers more than doubled following the garden work – as if I needed proof of the attraction of a thoughtfully created and maintained garden!

I’ll pop a link below to a wonderfully atmospheric podcast introduction to the garden and place that is Mount Grace, and I’d recommend sitting back for a relaxing and inspiring listen.

Until next time…

Follow me on Twitter or Instagram, or go for an armchair walk around Mount Grace Priory.