Heritage Lottery project

Memories of Cressing Temple Gardens:

Oral history project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens were set up in 2013 to support the  gardens and Jubilee Orchard, at Cressing Temple in central Essex.  The Friends work with the garden’s horticulturalist providing financial and practical support for plants, materials and specific projects.  Their contribution is welcomed by Essex County Council Country Parks who manage the site.

The Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens became a registered charity in April 2016 (registered charity No. 1166431).

There is always something going on in the gardens. To find out the latest, read our regular snippets from the walled garden, Cullen garden, Jubilee orchard and Community garden.

What a scorcher

There are times when we are really glad of a walled garden and the extra warmth and shelter it provides. Not this week! Working outside in an environment with little shade has been challenging to say the least, but we have cooler conditions to look forward to next week thankfully. We have also passed the midsummer solstice, when growth starts to slow down and gardening feels less like a frantic game of catch up. A bit too soon to put our feet up though!

Vegetable and fruit production on the community garden is in full swing and we have been loading the new veg barrow with fresh produce each morning. It is proving very popular with our picnicking visitors, although most of what we have on offer requires a bit of cooking before it can be added to the hamper!

It has been lovely to welcome back our WRAGS trainee to the garden in the last couple of weeks. Yvonne has been extending her lockdown hairdressing techniques to the Bay estrade in the Nosegay garden.

Ah, much better! This was one of the first tasks Yvonne tackled when she started with us in June 2019 so it is great for her to get a second go as her year’s training has been extended a couple of months due to the shutdown in April and May.

Topiary and various methods of training and staking plants was a very important practice in medieval gardening. It was understood that to produce fruit and flowers the natural exuberance of plants had to be quelled by judicious pruning of ‘superfluities’. Pruning and shaping for aesthetic reasons reached great heights in medieval topiary in the form of a tiered ‘estrade’ or cake stand shape, like our bay tree.

Controlling the exuberance of vines through careful staking with Alder poles and pruning excess growth was just as important to medieval gardeners as it is to us today. Cutting the excess growth of the pole vines back to two leaves past the last fruit cluster has been another job that Yvonne has helped us with recently.

Midsummer is a good time to inspect fruit trees for pests and diseases and carry out fruit thinning if necessary. The apple crop in the Jubilee orchard looks to be very poor this year, with many trees bearing little fruit and several suffering from bad attacks of winter moth.

Winter moth caterpillars eat holes in the leaves, blossom and developing fruitlets of many tree fruits, ornamental trees and shrubs in early spring. Severe attacks can weaken young trees and extensive damage to fruit trees can affect crop yield and quality.

Winter moth is a name that can be used for a number of species that have adult moths that emerge and lay eggs between November and April. These moths all have wingless females that emerge from pupae in the soil and crawl up trunks to lay eggs on branches. The caterpillars of these moths hatch in the spring as buds are opening, feeding on most types of tree fruit and many deciduous trees and shrubs.

In an organic garden a certain level of such pest damage should be tolerated because the moths are an important part of the garden ecosystem, with many birds, especially tits, relying on the caterpillars to rear their chicks during the spring. Encouraging predators and natural enemies into the garden such as birds, hedgehogs and ground beetles is an important  method of natural control but in years of bad infestation it may be necessary to take further preventive action in the form of sticky grease bands or barrier glue applied around the trunk of each tree in October to trap the wingless females as they ascend to the canopy. It looks like this may be necessary for our trees this year, to break the cycle of infestation.

I am sure a peacock would be a useful form of control for soil dwelling pests but I’m not sure our willow peacock will be much use in that regard! He does look rather fine though, now he has taken his position as guardian of the knot garden.

He is best admired from the vantage point of the viewing platform where the beautiful tail can be seen to best effect.

The peacock joins our other two willow sculptures to help evoke the spirit of the garden 400 years ago. Peacocks were a familiar sight in grand Tudor gardens but not purely for their ornament as our one is. Peacock Royal was a popular dish at high society Tudor feasts: a peacock was skinned, stuffed with dried fruit and spices, cooked and then placed back inside its feathered skin and placed as a centrepiece of the feast table. I expect our peacock thanks his lucky stars he is made out of willow! Our Tudor sculptures were made by talented willow artist Jo Hammond from Suffolk. See Jo’s website if you are interested in her other work.

Whilst checking for pests and diseases on your fruit trees is a good thing to do at this time of year, fruit thinning is another important task (if you have any!). The apple trees in the walled garden are doing far better than the ones in the Jubilee orchard and many are heavily laden with overcrowded fruit.

Trees naturally undergo a period of fruit shedding following flowering and this can be over a prolonged period up until mid July. In some trees there is still a heavy crop of fruit after the June drop, the extra weight pulling down on the branches considerably and risking them breaking. A tree is unable to support a really heavy crop and the resulting apples are likely to be small and of poor quality. Deliberate thinning of the fruitlets produces better-sized, ripe and healthy fruits, albeit in smaller numbers. The idea is to leave just one or two fruit per cluster, removing any misshapen, blemished or poorly positioned fruit and leaving the strongest and best shaped.

When explaining our type of gardening to visitors I sometimes describe what we do as ‘growing weeds nicely’ and this phrase came to mind when I was working in the potager this week. Take this plant for example:

It is Prunella vulgaris or self heal, a plant you are most likely to know as a weed in your lawn, which you either mow off each week which results in no flowers or you pursue it with your lawn weedkiller. But grown in a border in good garden soil and treated to an occasional watering it can reach two feet in height and look rather attractive, as it did with a bit of backlighting in this picture. Called self heal or all-heal from its reputation as a panacea for a wide range of medical conditions, it was the primary treatment for diseases of the mouth and throat, whether sore tongues, swollen glands, tonsillitis, mumps, goitre or laryngitis.  John Parkinson (1567- 1650, master apothecary, herbalist and gardener) recommended self heal for headaches, mixed with oil of roses and rubbed on the forehead and temples. In modern medicine it is effective against viruses including HIV and viral hepatitis and has an antibiotic effect against a range of bacteria. One wonders what ‘weeds’ might be out there that could assist in our struggles against more modern viruses.

Another common lawn weed looking rather fine in our potager beds is the plantain, in this case Plantago major rubrifolia.

This has a long history as a healing plant, especially for pain relief. One of its common names ‘ Englishman’s foot’ comes from its wide oval leaves and the ease with which this vigorous weed sprang up in any place to which colonists unwittingly carried its seed. Another of its common names, Waybread, comes from eating the leaves and roots before a journey as a means of filling the stomach. I wasn’t desperate enough to try it this week!

Quiz

Around 40% of the UK’s insects species are beetles with over 4000 species! With bees and butterflies often getting the headlines, perhaps it’s time for us to pay more attention to this fascinating group of insects which have a major part to play as pollinators of numerous plant species, predators of garden pests and decomposers of organic matter.  See which of these common garden beetles you recognise.

When coming across caterpillars in the garden it can be useful to know what they will turn in to before deciding whether to feed them to the birds or not! The following photos show 4 from this list of 6 moths, but which is which?

Mullein moth, cinnabar moth, sycamore moth, elephant hawk-moth, vapourer moth, burnet moth.

And now here is a list of 6 butterflies, 4 of which are shown in the photos. Can you match them up?

Speckled wood, peacock, comma, small tortoiseshell, large white, swallowtail

Plant of the Week

Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

The much-loved hollyhock was brought to Britain from the Orient at the time of the Crusades. This cottage garden favourite pops up in various places around the garden and they are a glorious sight at the moment.

It is a member of the mallow family and its common name of hollyhock is believed to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘holi-hoc’ or holy mallow. It was used medicinally against lung disease and bladder inflammation.

The hollyhock also has a history as a dye plant. Deep red/black varieties give good green dyes. Red coloured flowers give deep orange dye. Pale coloured flowers give pinky-yellow and yellow dyes. Leaves give yellow and lime green dyes. All have good light and colour fastness.

Hollyhocks prefer a fertile well-drained soil in full sun. They are susceptible to rust disease and plants should be replaced after a few years, to prevent a build-up of disease. Collect all dead and diseased tissue at the end of the season to reduce the carry-over of rust spores to the next year. There’s just about time to direct sow seeds now, or wait until the autumn.

Jobs for the Week

It’s your last chance to plant out vegetables such as runner beans, peppers and squash which will enjoy the summer heat – provided they get well-watered!

Many roses have finished their first flush of flowers now. After deadheading, give the roses a feed to boost growth and encourage more flowers later in the summer. Use a fertiliser specific to roses, or one high in potash (such as a tomato food). A fertiliser high in nitrogen will result in soft, sappy growth that is more prone to attack from pests and diseases.

Herbs which have finished flowering may need cutting back now (unless it’s something you are growing for the seeds of course). Chives can be cut back to the ground to get fresh leaves. Lightly trim thymes after flowering to encourage a bushy growing habit. Rosemary should also be pruned now to keep its growth bushy and compact.

Flaming June?

Has all that hot weather in May made me go soft I wonder? How short the memory is – begging for cooler weather the week before and moaning about the cold and wind the next!

The weather might be less appealing for outside exercise this weekend but the garden flowers are doing their best to entice us out. The meadow area, or Tudor flowery mead,  is looking particularly lovely at the moment. At a distance it might look like a sea of oxeye daisy and grasses but on closer inspection it is a very diverse collection of species.

One wild native we have worked hard to introduce into the mix is yellow rattle (Rhinanthus major)  because of its ability to suppress the stronger, coarser growing grasses and allow the more delicate wild flowers to establish. This plant is a ‘hemiparasite’, taking some of its food from the grass roots where it is growing. The yellow rattle will keep the grasses in check by pirating some of their nutrients and preventing them from overwhelming everything else. This is the second year of establishment and already the grasses seem finer and more delicate.

Yellow rattle forms large papery seed pods for next year’s crop and the plant gets it’s common name yellow rattle or hay rattle from the way the seeds rattle loosely inside the pods when the wind blows. It is an annual and needs to disperse its seeds before the meadow is scythed or grazed.

I didn’t notice at the time but I seem to have snapped a passing shield bug, catching a ride on the yellow rattle seed pod and eager to get in on the publicity! I think it is the Southern green shield bug, an introduced species noted in the UK since 2003, although it is hard to tell from this side view.

While on the subject of insect life, here is another visitor spotted this week. The Mullein moth caterpillar (Shargacucullia verbasci – great name!) turns up on our mulleins each year between May and July so we have been watching out for it recently.

What a beauty, but oh so much damage! They can strip the leaves and flowers of our Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) in a couple of days leaving them in tatters.

The boldly marked caterpillars feed conspicuously out in the open during the day as well as at night. They are easy to spot, (providing we remember to inspect the plants), and are best dispatched by hand picking (and squishing!). If left to their own devices, the caterpillars are fully grown within about 30 days when they leave the food plant to pupate in the soil forming a very tough cocoon. The moth may not emerge for several years.

Those of you who have visited this week agreed that the community garden has come on in leaps and bounds recently, with the quantity and range of produce increasing week by week. One bed of new potatoes has already been dug, the broad beans are in full pod production, spinach leaves are huge, strawberries are enticingly red and juicy and the first courgettes are about ready. Soon we will be moaning about the glut, such is our inability to be completely happy with any gardening moment!

Our new fruit cage is doing a good job of protecting the fast developing raspberries, gooseberries, currants and hybrid berries.

This is the second year for our willow bed and it looks very healthy and  promises a better crop of willow. The plants are providing a welcome filter for the sharp wind that whips across Dovehouse field with little else to break its ferocity .

Even the no-dig bed is beginning to look more convincingly like a productive patch, with fleece teepees protecting the more tender climbing French beans and a protective cage for yet more broad beans.

Having arrived at the start of the lockdown, the new polytunnel has had to wait before it gets its big reveal but this week it has been unboxed and the assembly process started by Pete. Thanks Pete, I hope you are good at jigsaw puzzles!

All this hard work growing produce will ultimately help in raising money for the gardens. Destined to be displayed on our lovely new veg barrow, made by Allen Holman, complete with cut flower buckets at one end and trays for veg and fruit. The barrow will display everything beautifully and will be positioned alongside the plants behind the visitor centre, tempting our visitors away from their cream teas  (we hope!).

Another new arrival this week is the final piece in our trio of willow sculptures.

Mr P is yet to be installed in his final position in the walled garden but he had a little outing into the Cullen garden this week where he looked mighty pleased with himself! All three sculptures have been made for us by basket maker, Jo Hammond, and  funded partly through a grant from Braintree District Council. They make a special and unique addition to the Tudor garden, providing additional interest for our visitors, young and old.

This week has been National volunteers week so what a shame we have had no volunteers to share it with. However, their hard work is in clear evidence as this week’s blog photos show and we would like to send a huge thank you to each and every volunteer for all they have done over the past year. Although you haven’t been with us over the past couple of months, it is all in the preparation, as I am always told when we attempt any home decorating!

A big hurrah for all our volunteers and the varied work they do for us.

Quiz 

Anwers to last week’s vegetable quiz.

  1. What is the British name for these vegetables?
  • Zucchini  Courgette
  • Eggplant  Aubergine
  • Rutabaga Swede
  • Cilantro Coriander
  • Scallion Spring onion

2. What vegetable do these varieties belong to?

  • Pentland Javelin Potato
  • Alicante Tomato
  • Scarlet Emporer Runner bean
  • Ailsa Craig Tomato

3. Which vegetable was the first to be canned? Pea

4. Ipomoea batatas is the scientific name of which large, starchy, root vegetable? Sweet potato

This week’s quiz

Rather than a quiz, we are inviting you to participate in a ‘citizen science’ project being run by the Open University. Their ‘Pollinator Watch’ asks you to share your observations and photos of insect pollinators and discover more about them.  https://nquire.org.uk/mission/oupollinatorwatch/contribute

The project focuses on three groups of insects: flies; bees & wasps and butterflies & moths.

There are over 250 species of bee in the British Isles, ranging from 4mm to 25mm in body length. Over 90% of British bee species are solitary, with each nest the work of a single female.

bees

Why not take a break from gardening and spend some time studying the insect visitors to your garden? At Cressing our lovely meadow areas should be a good place to do some observing!

Plant of the week

Roses

The roses are looking (and smelling!) glorious at the moment. The area around the pool and nosegay gardens has a number of Gallica, Damask, Centifolia and Alba roses in shades of white and pink.

Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’ (Rosa Mundi)

These ‘old roses’ have been in cultivation for centuries and modern roses with a good scent often trace their lineage back to these roses. They only flower once during the year, but it’s certainly worth the wait!

The cultivation of roses originated in Persia, where an extensive rose-water trade began in the eighth century. Roses were held to be sacred to the goddess of love. The Romans placed a rose over the door of a public or private banquet hall, and each citizen who passed under it bound himself not to disclose anything said or done in the meeting. It then became common across Europe to suspend a rose over the dinner table as a sign that all confidences were to be held secret (hence the phrase sub rosa, under the rose), and the plaster ornament of a ceiling is still known as the ceiling rose.

One of the Gallica roses we grow is Rosa gallica var. officinalis, otherwise known as the Apothecary’s rose. This is thought to be the rose that Thibault IV (1201-53) brought back from the seventh Crusade in 1250 and grew at his chateau in Provins, where it was used to make a preserve that was popular for its medicinal properties. Known in northern Europe since before 1400, its scent retaining properties were much valued by apothecaries.

Rosa gallica var. officinalis (Apothecary’s rose)

Culpeper wrote of the rose, ‘It is under the dominion of Venus. Botanists describe a vast number of roses, but this (Damask), and the common red rose, and the dog rose, or hip, are the only kinds regarded in medicine… (the oil) is used to cool hot inflammation or swellings and to bind and stay fluxes of the humours, to sores and is also put into ointments and plasters that are cooling and binding’.

Jobs for the week

Cut back early flowering perennials

Many early flowering herbaceous perennials, such as Geranium phaeum or Brunnera macrophylla which have finished flowering are now looking rather untidy. Cut these back to ground level and give them a good water. In a few weeks you should get a nice neat mound of new foliage, and some will also produce a second flush of flowers later on in the year.

Roses

Dead-head roses to keep the plants looking tidy and to encourage a continual display through the summer/autumn. For multi-flowered roses, take off each flower from the cluster as its petals begin to fall, snipping with secateurs or pinching it out. This will keep the plant looking good while the rest of the buds open. Once all the flowers in a cluster have finished, remove the whole stem. When deadheading roses with single-flowers (eg hybrid teas), snip off the flower head and around 15cm of stem, cutting just above a strong, healthy leaf. Your next flower shoot will grow from that leaf joint.

Strawberries

Strawberry plants will now be producing lots of runners. Either remove them to allow the plants to put all their energy into producing fruit or peg some down if you need replacement plants for next year.

Thank you for reading our weekly blog over the past couple of months. As the site is now open to visitors and we are gradually easing the restrictions we will return to our monthly blog format. Come and see us if you want a more regular insight into the garden changes.