Hello and thanks for taking a few moments to drop by and read my garden journal. This post covers National Gardening Week, Heritage Open Days, Sulgrave Manor, and a short update about my own plot at home – honestly I don’t seem to have had a spare moment – but it’s all been about gardens so I haven’t minded a bit!
Oh, and you presently find me writing outside in my garden, moving my little table around every once in a while to stay in the warmth of the sun – long may it last today!
National Gardening Week
I’m presently writing at the end of a pretty active and thought provoking National Gardening Week, which I’m glad to say encourages people to get their dose of green or ‘Vitamin G’. It wasn’t without a buzz of joy when I heard Continue reading →
I’m delighted to record that after watching BBC Gardeners’ World on my screens for what seems like an eternity, I finally made it onto the screen myself! Okay, it was a video I’d sent in about me and my garden but still – I’m very chuffed for my clip to have been selected, and I’ll be walking around with a rosy glow on my cheeks for the weekend at least!
I’ve written in my journal before about how the pandemic impacted my gardening world, in as much that whilst enduring the first lockdown I was fortunate to be able to continue working. I say fortunate because I live for working with, in and around gardens, and to think of having to stay indoors, or to have been restricted to a small space would likely, well, I can’t even begin to think.
A peculiar time was spring twenty twenty. My family were housebound, as were so many others – working and learning from home. Each day I’d get myself up, prepare for the day and carry myself along largely deserted roads whilst listening to the constant dialogue about keeping safe. I’d then spend the day working solo in a beautiful garden, lost in a perfectly imperfect world that I was trying very hard to comprehend.
Each evening I’d return home, usually exhausted, isolate myself until I felt clean and able to hug by boys, and before taking them out for their much needed hour of exercise and escapism. I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that it was a spring that changed everything; the sort of spring that trained my youngest boy out of running to hug me hard as soon as I got home from work.
On the outside though, last spring was incredible. It was long and warm and extra peaceful due to an unprecedented drop in air traffic and vehicles. As such, my gardens, both work and home became different places; more peaceful yet louder, more lively yet restrained. It’s hard to describe, but my gardens became safe havens and contemplation spaces more than ever before, and places for me to process what was happening elsewhere.
Gardeners’ World Escapism
I remember saluting, mentally at least when BBC Gardener’s World took the decision to accept viewers videos, as a way I guess to obtain content. This couldn’t have been easy knowing the high quality of filming and production on the program. Home-style videos were requested, and subsequently for me and many others, became a firm favourite alongside more professional videos from the established presenters – largely filmed in their home gardens too I might add.
Viewers video content added, and still adds a raw and personal feel, often unpolished with the occasional gust of wind blowing across a microphone, or filmed from a wobbly phone camera – but it’s great. I have huge respect for mainstream presenters and the established program format, which has grown to offer an hour of escapism after the typically stressful week. However, the home video segments have by fault or design given us snapshots and glimpses of the lives and garden passions of so many other gardeners. Starting the video segment was inspired, and long may it continue!
My Gardeners’ World Video
Well, I guess all that brings me to my own contribution – around two minutes of home style lockdown gardening – and why not I thought! On reflection I might have made a little much of it, knitting clips from across the span of a week or so, but anyone who knows me understands that I love producing images and clips that show gardens in their best light. Mind you, apart from my wobbles over the clarity of my voice over, I have to admit that I was really happy with the result, which came across well after some nipping and tucking from the GW team. So, without further ado, and whilst not wanting to overplay my part, I’ve borrowed my own clip from the program for you to have a quick look. Enjoy!
Hello and thanks for dropping in on my garden journal. This week I’ve my own update on Sulgrave Manor Gardening, an important Peat Free April message plus a little Home Gardening for the sarnie filling.
Sulgrave Manor Gardening
Writing in my garden journal last week I talked about the pre-opening rush that the garden team and I were going through to make sure all was looking good for the opening day on Wednesday. If you’re a gardener you’ll likely be very familiar with the thoughts and feelings that are very present in the run up to the big day.
Is the garden as safe as can be – did we leave any tools out or gates unlocked? Have all the containers been watered and dead-headed? Has the play equipment been checked? Was the tree survey thorough enough? Are we on top of the edging-up and weeding? Did I get all the plant names correct on the ‘plants in flower’ notice board? It goes on, and on.
The answers to all those questions are of course “yes, to the best of our ability”.
Well it has been quite a full month since I last posted to my garden journal, after taking a break for a while to take stock. I’m back now though and keen as ever to resume the weekly posting of my horticultural happenings to this journal, which is part of my Gardening Ways blog.
I suppose then that I’ve four weeks of shenanigans to account for, but whilst I’ve scanned back across the weeks and selected some memory jogging images, I’ll spare you from the general daily going’s on. Instead, and from my chosen picture, I’m going to skip across the month all spring lamb-like, if you can picture that!
In my last journal entry I was still harping on about the “ongoing pruning” in the heritage orchard at Sulgrave Manor, which I’m glad to say is now all complete. In fact it’s more than complete, as some of the volunteers have thankfully returned to the fold, coming to my aid with a very thorough clean up of cut material – I had stacked it nicely of course!
In addition to completing the orchard, which is now resplendent with thousands of daffodils and a few Continue reading →
Do you have a sensory garden? If not, are you sure?
I find myself sitting at a little bistro table in my garden with fingertips poised near the keyboard. It’ll be my first post for a few weeks you see, after life, as it does, got a little heavy. But with a few moments of peace available I’m determined to reignite my writing brain and post something interesting, or useful at least so here goes; a post about my sensory garden.
Sense of Smell
As I start to consider my senses, I very quickly become aware that my nose is working overtime due to a couple of rusting but beautifully shaped tin containers, both full of very sweetly scented hyacinths. I was given the containers a few years back but this is the first year that I’ve been realistic and selected something appropriate to plant in them, and these last ten days or so they’ve blossomed perfectly.
Sense of Sound
Searching beyond the heady scent of hyacinths which are now overpowering the viburnum behind, it is my hearing that is next triggered. Taking a few moments to tune in, I first begin to hear machinery from a nearby housing development, thankfully though the noise is muffled due to distance!
A few seconds later and sounds from a lofty jet plane can be heard, again at such a mileage that it fails to interrupt my thoughts, unlike the small planes that pass much nearer on a circuit from a local airfield – although, even those have long since passed into the accepted local sounds that make up the brilliantly diverse area in which I live.
Before long all mechanised sound fades away and peace blankets the gardens around and about, that is, until I tune in to the bird calls and bee buzzing. I first connect with starlings clicking, rasping and whistling, although they’re nowhere to be seen. However, I’ve hardly completed that last sentence before a tall robin booms confidently from the birch tree just beyond the garden wall.
A few minutes later and a Jenny wren also appears on the fence top for ten seconds or so, adding a few notes to the symphony. I continue to sit very still and a house sparrow stops in the top of a firethorn, emphatically fluttering from tree, to wall, to shrub, when almost immediately I begin to hear cooing from wood pigeons on rooftops here and there. Like it or not, the birds add a hugely important element to the gardens, and so a little seed, a suet block and some water is worth every effort to make them welcome.
Now to hit a few low notes, when on this warm spring day I begin to pick up another intriguing layer of sound. As intense as this buzzing is though, it isn’t as I first thought a bee humming above the garden, but a hover fly – a fly in a bee’s clothing that is, with a much softer buzz. This little garden visitor hangs in the air, brazenly in the very middle of the garden I might add, picking up aromas in the breeze I guess.
Having first heard and now observed the hover fly – I might not have if I hadn’t stopped to consider my senses, I next observe that bees themselves aren’t actually stopping in the garden for long today. I can hear them clearly, and one or two have looped up and over the wall, and down around the foliage, but there’s not much drinking going on at all, strangely. Maybe my garden nectar bank could do with a little more investment in the form of a few more early season flowers. Importantly, I might not have noticed this if I hadn’t stopped to listen, and I mean really listen to the sounds in my garden today.
Sense of Sight
Stopping now to consider the garden view that spans out beyond my screen, and there aren’t vast acres I can assure you, I still see green; lots and lots of green. It’s a very humble lot as gardens go, but it’s full of plants that are showing their keenness to get growing in twenty twenty one. Seemingly everywhere I look just now there’s a recently opened flower, a bursting bud or a blade of growth freshly emerging from a stem or the soil.
My garden view is, for me at least, a sight to behold. Shaded and compact it might be, and something of a rented hotchpotch, but it’s my garden, and it’s full of plants that I’ve collected or grown from a seeds or a cuttings. To be able to look upon each of these beauties on any given day is to remember the journey I’ve had with each and every one. Yes, looking upon a plant might encourage me to recall a tale of woe, yet more often it’ll be a tale of joy, and don’t we all live for those encounters?!
Sense of Taste
Okay, so far I’ve considered the sense of smell, sound and sight, so next in line is the taste test. Now, if I were to suggest I could actually taste my garden right now, it would be something of a lie, unless the chocolate filled pastry I’ve just woofed down with coffee counts? Maybe not…
Seriously though, I have to confess that the garden just isn’t tickling my taste buds just now. Last year however, I can remember vividly the taste of onions and tomatoes, peas and pea shoots following a spring of lockdown seed sowing. There were also chilli peppers and potatoes, radishes and basil; it was quite a grow from home year all things considered.
Sense of Touch
As for touch, and to finish this sensory spell in my garden I’m going to attempt to feel my way around. First stop on my tour is a dirt splashed, bulbous blue glazed pot right beside my chair. As I reach down into the middle of the pot, my thumb and forefinger squeeze a strong pencil like spike of new growth that is signalling, just like its neighbours, its intent for the growing season ahead.
Just a little further into the garden and amongst a collection of terracotta and clay coloured pots, I now crouch down to lift the head of a cute little snakes head fritillary flower. Gently, as gently as I can that is, I pinch a petal between my thumb and forefinger, and pulling carefully away feel a waxy texture across the surface of its painterly chequered petal.
Around the single pot of establishing fritillaries are numerous other containers, some covered across their surface with fresh blue-green tulip leaves of maybe six inches from base to tip. Every leaf appears to have twisted and buckled as it has unfurled, yet every apex points purposely outwards, looking to make its own way.
These tulip leaves, despite knowing that raindrops shoot across their surface have a soft, textured feel, not slippery as I’d imagine. Mind you, even though it’s tempting, I’m not going to run my fingers through the nest of tulip leaves in case I snap one of the long awaited flower stems that are emerging like beaks looking for nourishment.
Now, at this point I’m not going to head down the hole of exploring more of the many senses, as five is more than enough for one of my posts. But, I will look to finish by saying a tiny bit more about what my sensory garden means, especially as I sit here now and consider how I connect with it.
I see my garden as a nectar withdrawal place for passing insects, and a feeding place for feathered friends – even the odd mouse on occasion too. I feel a connection with my humble garden that no other place can provide, giving as it does a largely private space in which to unwind and recharge my batteries.
I feel the pull of my garden even when I’m working away, knowing that my own garden plot needs attention too. On returning home from any day working in any given garden, I’m scanning my front and side borders to see what’s changed. Honestly, the roof of the house could have been removed and I’m sure I’d not notice, so fixed am I on the plants I’ve chosen to dress its lower brickwork.
Once inside I’m not much better I have to say. Naturally my family comes first, but next on my priority list is a trip to the rear windows to look at the view I’ve seen a thousand times before. It hardly changes by the day, even by the week, but then everything changes too. Different light, a new bird, a new flower, a weedy pot; it never stays the same for long. There’s always something for me to see with a new day’s eyes.
My garden therefore, even with its motley appearance has turned into a sensory garden whether I planned it or not. It’s full of things that force me, in a very gentle way to interact. As soon as I step into the garden I’m immersed in a multi-sensory environment with sounds, sights and smells that envelope me instantly – even if sometimes I’m not even aware of it.
I don’t quite know what I’d do without access to a garden, but I know I’d be much poorer and probably lifeless without it. Here’s to my garden, to any garden in fact and their multitude of layers. Here’s to the fantastic array of wildlife that freely performs and animates, to the foliage and flowers that fill the air with scent and continually renew their offer, and here’s to the fruits that are given with just a little effort to nourish and enrich us from within. Aren’t gardens simply amazing?!
Until next time, thanks for stopping by. Kind regards, Gary Webb.
I’ve arrived at garden journal time this weekend perplexed as to how the week has flown by, although as always, it doesn’t take me long to work it out, what with switching between homeschooling and working. Seriously though, despite some full days it does seem to have been another week of maximum effort, modest achievement.
What I can say is that it’s been another fully and engaging week of work in my field of ‘gardening’. It’s seen me up and down ladders whilst pruning in a heritage orchard, arranging servicing for machinery and contacting volunteers, and there was even a little COSHH thrown in for good measure.
There was a session of mulching ornamental borders, sowing seeds and moving some heavy ornamental pots. Pruning tools were cleaned, sharpened and oiled, and a good deal of my present book was thoroughly enjoyed – The Tulip, by Anna Pavord. Last but not least, there was another fascinating webinar with the discerning historic landscape expert John Phibbs.
Just an ordinary week in gardening you could say…
On the flip side, the weather has remained pretty steady all week with temperatures – being all-important to the gardener, staying reassuringly stable around my area. Yes there were the odd nights of frost, but on the whole it’s been mild and calm, meaning early spring flowers continue in the best of health.
The days though are noticeably drawing out now, and on occasion I’ve certainly enjoyed feeling the sun’s first real warmth on my cheeks. Around the gardens I’ve been cheered by the sights of hellebores and primroses, scillas, snowdrops and glory of the snow, along of course with the first of the daffodils. Just in case you didn’t know it already, the flowering season I can confirm is well and truly under way – there’s no holding it back now!
In the glasshouse at my work’s garden at Sulgrave Manor, the first of the seeds sown in the closing days of February have already burst from the compost. Sown into trays and put into heated propagators two varieties have germinated quickly, having sprouted in little more than four days. It’s incredible the difference a little bottom heat can make – butt I’ll leave you to make the bottom jokes!
So far then I have beetroot, leeks and onions, plus sweet peas, Mexican sunflower and pot marigolds on the go, with many more in mind. As the next few weeks come to pass therefore, activity will increase in line with the growing season, but at least in a week or so I shall have another pair of hands to help, with more in April.
Outside of work, physical gardening activity has been nonexistent, although a pre-booked trip down the lane to Charlecote Park on Thursday afternoon was hugely refreshing. Walking much of the park that is open to visitors, it was a delight as always to watch the deer nibbling the grass, and to stand watching the weighty River Avon flow past towards Shakespeare’s Stratford.
Mind you, whilst I peeked through the Victorian balustrade around the old croquet lawn, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pity for the gardener responsible for the lawn, because spread across the surface were numerous mole heaps. I know from experience how challenging it is to balance presentation of a formal garden feature with the desire to welcome wildlife, so hopefully, for the gardener’s sake I hope the little critter moves on soon to the other side of the wall, where a vast parkland is available to play in!
Before I close this week’s journal entry I want to touch briefly on the webinar I mentioned above with John Phibbs. You may remember one of his recent books Place-making, The art of Capability Brown, which was published in association with English Heritage and the National Trust in 2017.
Having been lucky enough to work at two Brown landscape gardens, I shall never cease to be amazed at the complexity of the design work and at the scale of projects that were undertaken. In equal measure I can also say that I’m equally amazed how much of Brown’s work remains hidden and misunderstood. It was heartening once again then to see John continuing to explore and interrogate Brown’s landscapes for history’s sake – if not for our entertainment.
Unfortunately though I’ll have to stop here before I start waxing lyrical about historic landscape, but not before I offer one little takeaway from that webinar. It is regarding the lack of written evidence from Brown about how his landscapes were constructed. One theory that came through, at least to me, was that he might simply have been trying to avoid giving away too many secrets!
Let’s face it, Brown knew he was on to a good thing, even if his style was initially built upon the work of others. But what if the lack of information published by him wasn’t because he didn’t get around to penning it, or that he didn’t want to expose himself to even more criticism, but more because he was protecting his investment, so to speak.
Well, maybe we’re way off the mark, but it’s reassuring to know that folks like John are chasing down the information and testing the evidence. Who knows, maybe one day Brown’s lost diaries will come to light and reveal all!
Until next week, take care of yourself and look for the flowers!
And just like that it’s journal time, and as for last Sunday’s entry the weather has again brought huge change to my gardening week. It’s as if Mother Nature popped in on Thursday, waved a magic wand and said “let there be sunshine!”
It really does feel like spring has sprung if I’m honest but, (and there’s always a but) from a gardening perspective I wouldn’t get too used to these temperatures for they may very well be short lived. I’m certainly not wanting to pour water on these beautiful days though as they are so welcome, if only to prove to me that the growing season is actually happening – so I may just have to crawl out from under my rock and get used to it!
Goblets of crocus flowers have appeared here, there and everywhere, and snowdrops having weathered the icy temperatures are beaming and bouncing around in the cool breezes. Siberian squill have been shining down near the gravel, and in my containers even the long anticipated spears of tulip foliage are beginning to appear across the surface. It really is all systems go and even if the weather does sit back for a while, from a floral perspective it’ll be none-stop from here onwards.
Work wise it’s been another key week for apple tree pruning and I’m up around the 15 trees mark now, with a few that have clearly been sent to test my pruning knowledge! So far so good though and as I’m roughly at the halfway mark, it should be all downhill from here – so I’m telling myself in order to stay sane! (Follow the link at the bottom of this post to see some pruning action!)
Tuesday’s pruning day was sunny if a little chilly, and as I worked away in the orchard I have to say that my mind was also engaged in listening to a good book – who says men can’t multi task?! Bill Bryson’s 2007 edition of Shakespeare was a delight and certainly made for an educational and entertaining day on the tools. The biography was easy to listen to being perfectly paced so that I could consume the content whilst also concentrate on the job in hand – something some information packed audio books don’t allow. If like me you wish to know more about old Will and the times he lived in, this book certainly makes for a excellent, well-rounded introduction.
Aside from the pruning there was some progress made in the glasshouse, with seed sowing finally underway. Leeks, onions and beetroot has been sown that will eventually make their way as young plants to the Tudor veg garden, along with some sweet peas and Tithonia that are destined for ornamental borders elsewhere. Mind you, there’s not a whole lot of space in the glasshouse at the moment so it’ll be a task to feather-in the seed sowing, to ensure we’re not overwhelmed with pots and trays in the weeks to come!
Back to my home plot again and I have an admission to make – I gave in and cut the grass this morning! I know, it’s only February and it all seems too soon, but the green tufts were just getting out of kilter and, well, it only takes me half an hour all-in. I certainly wasn’t the only one either, as local mowers have been on the go most all weekend so you could say I’m in good company.
In other home work, a garden design I’ve been working on for some friends has begun to move forward again. I’m really happy with the ground plan I’ve developed and have thoroughly enjoyed revisiting my garden design memory banks in order to produce a design. Garden surveying and brief setting through sketching to plan drawing – it’s been fascinating and daunting in equal measure but hopefully before the end of this year, a garden will move from plan to plot in real time – and what an exciting prospect that is! (I’ll keep you posted).
Before I finish I just wanted to record a moment in my journal following Monday’s ‘roadmap’ announcement for ending lockdown restrictions. There is still quite a way to go of course, but at least there are signs now that the country will begin to open up once again – hopefully on a permanent basis. In my world that will mean a return, in around four weeks time to full time gardening with staff and hopefully a full volunteer team for support.
Reopening will also coincide with a time when most of our gardens will be in the midst of spring with borders filling out and blossom all around, buds will have burst and blooms will be doing their best to copy every shade of the rainbow. We’ve come such a long way now, and whilst I can almost sense the moment – it’s still going to be ‘steady ahead’ for me as I look to enjoy every inch of the garden journey that lies ahead.
I shall finish up there for this week. Tomorrow I head into the final ( 🤞🏻 ) week of homeschool support, with a good dose of orchard and greenhouse work intermingled for good measure. Until next time, take care and do enjoy watching spring 2021 unfold.
It’s journal time for me and as I think through my week in the garden, I have to say that winter does seem to be fading away. Temperatures have risen, frozen solid ground has turned to the consistent dampness we’re more accustomed to and most importantly – there are green shoots most everywhere I look.
I speak though with a touch of hesitation, for whilst I’ve enjoyed twelve degrees of February warmth whilst walking and working this week, I really know that from a gardening perspective there’s a long way yet to go – at least I hope there is, as I have much winter work yet to do!
Traditionally though I often do tend to shy away from the vigour that emerging plants show, from the swelling buds on trees and the flowers that revel in winter light. Don’t misunderstand me, I do love to tune into the colour and vibrancy that occurs just now, but in the same breath I sense, almost mourn, the loss of a season which offers a more subtle kind of beauty – equalling that of any other season to my mind.
My working week has again been devoted to orchard pruning and having ticked tree number eleven off my list, I’m thankful to have finally found my stride. Each tree brings a different challenge as I endeavour to work out what the best course of action should be, with some having simple structures that demand the employment of simple pruning techniques, whilst others are more complex and need more study and fiddly attention. To be sure, some specimens are thriving, and some are not – indeed some trees at a ripe age are full of life, whilst one or two are clearly not.
Generally speaking I have been working to open up some of the trees to allow the passage of more air through each tree, and to improve light penetration into the canopy which will assist with fruit ripening in due course. You’d probably watch and frown if you could see me at work though – staring thoughtfully at each tree from different angles and mentally tracking the passage of the summer sun. “Should I snip here and here, or make a bigger cut down there with a saw..?”
Whichever way you look at it, the pruning work is progressing nicely and as you’d expect, I have one eye on each tree’s fruiting potential, and another on the aesthetic qualities of each and every tree – how could I not?!
In my home garden things are still generally quiet on the gardening front – although a week of cut-backs are ahead. Old, dead herbaceous growth will be getting the chop, along with spent stems on a few shrubs. In the main though I shall continue to marvel, as I have last week, at the rapid rate of the new shoots that are appearing all around. Both in pots and borders, with Alliums and hyacinth bulbs offering their promises, and even some Ranunculus popping through now too – it is certainly all beginning to get growing.
Before I finish I want to briefly mention an in-between post that I popped out from my Gardening Ways blog on Wednesday titled ‘Take a Patch of Moss’. In case you missed it I was referring to the greenery, largely moss in this case that calmly sits in corners here and there, and to its intrinsic value. If you’ve a few more moments I’d be delighted if you could read this too.
Until next time, take time if you can to notice the new shoots in our gardens and hedgerows. Enjoy these through social media if you must, but do if you can look for them whilst out and about – some may be a way off flowering yet, but their keenness to move forward towards their goal is powerful and palpable.
I was dazzled in the garden yesterday, and not for the first time by a patch of moss. This patch was part of a larger one growing very happily on the lower part of a tree trunk sheltered by hedges. The patch was soft but tough, rooted firmly to its spot and wrapped tightly around the west face of the tree – a shadier space in the garden could scarcely be found.
Its brightness captured my eyes for a while, shining as it was on a dull February day. One of those days when the sun only occasionally appeared, and only then like torchlight through the fog.
This moss seemed very happy with its lot in life and was beaming – brilliantly so. I paused for a while to feel its feathery surface and sniff its rich woody aroma. I prodded a little, but mostly observed and took its picture, trying to capture its best angle.
On viewing its image I was taken back to the foot of that tree, back to its scent and its touch. What’s more, the picture appeared against countless others following the typing of four letters into the search box: M O S S. Pictures taken here, there and everywhere, all featuring mossy and green coloured scenery.
It appears I’ve been drawn to moss for some time, or at least to the colour green – but then you probably knew this. It calms, refreshes, invigorates. The colour green lifts my spirits completely and is the force that I’m sure carries me forward – probably when I’m not even paying attention.
A glimpse of green, just one amongst millions of similar greens growing maybe amongst bark on a tree or between cracks on a decaying fence posts is important to me. If I didn’t know better I’d swear I had green blood streaming through my veins.
Mosses and lichen, even grassy tussocks are seldom placed, yet always find a way to make themselves at home. Green growth in most all its varied forms and tones will always have a place in my garden, for green signifies life and roots me to the natural world.
My stumbling across another humble patch of moss growing on a tree brought me even closer to an element of nature that was before, and was again after – minding its own business. In that moment in time I was up close to nature, and again now I relive that beautiful moment as I write and view the image.
I shall never take a patch of green for granted or undervalue its role in the wider world, its role as a home, a place of refuge and as a work of art in itself. That ‘simple’ patch of moss might mean nothing to some, but it’s everything to me.