The Friends group

Take a look at our Apple Day 2016 video.

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.

Sizzling summer

What a scorcher! We chose the hottest day of the year so far to hold our summer volunteer BBQ  and we sizzled almost as much as the sausages!


It was a very enjoyable event and a chance to sit down for a change and celebrate the hard work and achievements of the year so far.

We feasted on some of the first produce from the plot, including a couple of mammoth onions wrestled from the ground by Paul, as well as broad beans, lettuce, radishes and strawberries.

It was also an opportunity to christen our brand new, fabulous extension to the potting shed, funded by our Big Lottery award and built with lots of hard work and great skill by our maintenance officer, Peter Eplett.

This building is going to be so useful, not least giving us a bit of shelter from the searing sunshine and a place to serve the party food.

We can’t thank Pete enough for his efforts. He even reclaimed an old butler sink that has been languishing in the nursery for years, to give us somewhere to clean up all our lovely veg.

Thanks Pete. It will make a big difference.

Before the BBQ we held a recruitment event for volunteers and managed to attract four new members, for the gardening, for shedding or for both.  I was particularly impressed by how many of our existing team turned up to chat to the potential recruits and encourage them to sign up. It is quite amazing to consider there were just two or three volunteers only  a few years ago  and now we have a strong and thriving group of 27!  You only need to visit Cressing to look at all the work that has been done to appreciate the difference they are making and in these hard pressed times of a reduced workforce we certainly couldn’t achieve much without them.

In the gardens we have reached that time of year when the list of upcoming jobs seems  longer than the ones ticked off, and with this hot summer weather, when watering becomes the number one priority, it can feel as if we are chasing to catch up all the time. It is hedge trimming time of year so the shears have been sharpened and cleaned all ready to begin the box hedging and topiary trimming.

Where was that Bay tree topiary?


Oh yes, here it is after a much needed haircut and standing proud in the Nosegay garden with a lovely blue sky backdrop.


The sweet laurel (Laurus noblilis), ancient symbol of victory, was a common feature of medieval gardens.  Better known as Bay, the Old English word for berry, it was also a symbol of evergreen constancy and man’s failure to achieve the same. A single, central tree, reminiscent of the central tree in Eden, grew in many medieval romance gardens often placed next to a well, casting shade and providing a place for the ardent declaration of medieval love and devotion.

While we bask in the heat and sunshine this weekend it seems hard to remember the downpours and damaging wind of the previous week. But life goes on whatever the weather and we certainly can’t choose sunshine just when we want it. So it was unfortunately on the rainy week, sandwiched between two very sunny ones, that we paid host to a couple of groups of hardy garden tourers. The first was Braintree Rotary Society who refused to have their summer evening ruined by summer storms and carried on regardless, brollies in hand.

The hard rain was held at bay for most of our tour around the garden but the summer Pimms had to be served in the farmhouse. In true British spirit they were determined to have  a good time whatever the circumstances and it was lovely to have them visit.

The second group, Action for Carers from Maldon, were luckier later in the week and were able to enjoy both a tour of the barns and a tour of the garden, followed by tea in the Tiptree tearoom without getting wet.

Here they are, watching me demonstrate the wools dyed from plants in our dye border. The golden flowers of broom (Cytisus scoparius), smelling of vanilla, are particularly dazzling in that border at the moment and have produced a clean but subtle yellow dye.

Broom, along with other plants such as gorse, heather, holly and butcher’s broom was once used for sweeping, and the long whippy, thornless stems of this plant made it one of the most effective for the purpose. But the flowers were also used, in bud or fully open, raw or pickled, as an ingredient in salads, particularly in a popular seventeenth century version of twenty or thirty different ingredients, known as Grand Sallat, or Salmagundies. The green tips of the flowering branches have long been used in herbal medicine, and were gathered during the Second World War for use as a mild diuretic to counteract fluid retention.






Volunteer recruitment

Cressing Temple Gardens need your help





Tuesdays and Thursdays

Contact Rebecca for more details


Would you like to spend a few hours a week in our beautiful gardens and help to make them even better?

We grow herbs, wild flowers, fruit, vegetables and cut flowers.

There are all kinds of gardening jobs or you could put your hand to making things for the garden such as bird boxes, planters and cold frames. We have a small friendly volunteer group who meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Find out more?

Come along to our volunteer information day:

Saturday 17th June at 2.30pm

Meet at reception

See the gardens, meet the gardeners and garden shedders, join us for refreshments.


All coming up roses

Rose time is here again and they are looking fabulous. The garden reaches its peak in early June and the recent warm, dry weather has kept the blooms in peak condition and intensified the aromas, resulting in plenty of appreciative oohs and aahs from our visitors this week.

Rosa x alba ‘Alba Semiplena’, the white rose of York, is seen here on the trellis in the nosegay garden. It is the white rose that the Yorkists chose as their badge in the 15 th century. Alba roses are very hardy, vigorous and long-lived, with grey-green leaves and one of the most refined fragrance of any rose. You will need to visit to appreciate the scent of these old roses which, in my opinion, can’t be beaten.

Another good one is the Kazanlik rose (Rosa x damascene var trigintepetala). Damask roses made their way to Europe through the Middle East via Damascus (hence Damask) during the early Middle Ages. They are especially valued for their natural oils which have been used for centuries in the production of Attar of Roses.

I have just started drying rose petals to make our own pot-pourri. This French word, literally translated, means ‘rotten pot’ and for centuries has been a method of preserving dried flower petals, together with herbs, spices, salt and other ingredients in a closed container, leaving them to ferment or ‘rot’. Popular in Tudor times was a moist pot-pourri, rather like a flower pickle, which matures gradually to produce a pungent, distinctive scent, very long lasting and pervasive. The mixture would be left in the jar, occasionally moistened with a little oil or spirit and the lid would be removed when it was necessary to perfume a room and then replaced to contain and preserve the scent. The appearance of the mixture would not be very attractive, as it would be the sad colour of dead leaves and flowers! Far more popular today are the dry potpourri mixtures which  are easier to prepare, more adaptable and certainly more colourful in appearance. I will let you know how I get on, with perhaps a recipe or two for you to experiment with at home.

The cut flower patch  in the community garden is producing a lovely range of blooms to tempt our visitors who fancy gracing their homes with English country flowers. We have sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus), marigolds (Calendula officinalis) to name but a few. Only £1.50 and £1 a bunch, they are a real bargain and so much nicer and better for the planet than those shipped in from far flung places.

The flowery mead is also looking flowery, as it always does at this time of year, delighting anyone  looking for that idyllic camera shot of meadows from a bygone age. It is a fleeting spectacle of daisies, birds foot trefoil, clover, vetch and the occasional bee orchid, all alive with busy insect life and the perfect wildlife refuge.


Martin Brooks, a local drone enthusiast paid us a visit this week and he took some fantastic pictures of the site for us, including this marvellously detailed one of the walled garden.

What a view of the garden and such a sharp image! Even the lilies in the pond and the daisies in the meadow can be seen. I love the way these arial shots show the symmetry of the walled garden in a way that is often missed from the ground. Just look at the knot garden, looking for all the world like a piece of intricate embroiderie.

Martin also managed to get this one of the community veg plot.

Compare it to the first drone picture before any work had begun on the plot and you can see how much has been achieved. A credit to all the hard working volunteers who have put in so much effort over the past year.

Still on the subject of the community garden we have an update on the potting shed extension. Pete has done an amazing job constructing a strong and great looking structure for us to do all our outside jobs out of the rain! Just the finishing touches to go and we are almost ready to move in.

Finally, a few more pictures for those of you who can’t make it over to Cressing at the moment. I would hate you to miss it just now.









A touch of summer

What a scorcher! The first real taste of summer weather and the gardens seem to be swelling with the joy of it all. The end of May and beginning of June have got to be about the best weeks of the gardening year. The growth is lush and healthy, flower buds are bursting out everywhere and nothing has yet ‘gone over’ or flopped. If you only visit Cressing gardens once in the year, make it now, for its best moment is just about upon us.

Our own cut flowers, grown in the community garden, have been available for the first time this week, and very tempting they look too. Alison put her artistic flair to good use making up bunches on Tuesday, adding a new and colourful dimension to our plant sales area.

What a colourful splash. Tuesday would be a good day to come along if you fancy some country garden style flowers and they are selling at £1.50 a bunch.

Despite the heat, work has continued as usual this week, with plenty to do in the walled garden and on the veg plot.

We were kindly donated a large number of dwarf box plants which Andy was busy potting up for sale. They would make a perfect low hedge or you could try your hand at clipping a bit of topiary. They are well rooted, good sized plants. Let me know if you are interested.

Getting on top of the spring flush of weeds was a priority in the veg garden. Nellie didn’t seem very impressed with the offer of salad – where’s the real grub?

We will have our first harvest of veg very soon, including broad beans, onions, peas and garlic. Beans and courgette, tomatoes and peppers, sweetcorn and summer squash – just some of the delights to come. I can hardly wait.

In the walled garden I decided to keep cool by taking a dip in the pond!

We are trying an experimental planting of the native yellow flag iris (Iris pseudocorus) which we have put in a large pond basket. It is very vigorous so we will need to lift it regularly to divide it but, if happy, it will provide a lovely show and add extra interest for wildlife in our pond.

The plant below  is only ever commented upon when it does this – puts up spikes of dramatic yellow, star shaped flowers. It is called King’s Spear or Asphodeline lutea and what a dramatic sight it is at the moment.

Introduced from Italy in 1506,  Turner speaks of the asphodel in 1551 as a rarity, and it is still  uncommon in our gardens. Prepared in various ways, they were used as food by the Greeks and in the Middle Ages were held in high esteem, and called Cibo Regia, food for a king.

The areas of long grass with short mown paths meandering through the walled garden orchard are a lovely sight at this time of year and will look even prettier in a few days time when the majority of oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) are in full bloom. The first of our garden weddings this year is on 10th June and I will be cutting the grass short to allow for the wedding guests to be seated. So, if you want to see it like this, visit soon!


Do you have sage flowering in your garden? It does look a glorious sight when in full bloom like this one in the forecourt garden. People often ask why their sage doesn’t flower. The purple and variegated ones never seem to but the plain leaved varieties flower beautifully, grown with maximum heat and good drainage. If you keep pinching out the tips for cooking you will stop it flowering and get better leaf growth. Sages are short lived plants and best replaced after about 5 years. They are easy to grow from cuttings and we always have young vigorous ones for sale through the summer, so if yours is looking long and lanky why not start again with a new one?

The intriguing plant below is called Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum x hybridum), the flowers dangling below the leaves like pairs of ballet slippers. Also called David’s Harp or Ladder to Heaven, this species is indigenous to Britain. John Gerard was very enthusiastic about its ability to heal broken bones and goes on to advise that the fresh green root, when applied, ‘taketh away in one night or two at the most, any bruise, black or blue spots gotten by falls or women’s wilfulness, in stumbling upon their hastie husband’s fists, or such like.’ Hopefully I won’t be needing that!

Our three bee colonies are doing extremely well and stores of honey are building up nicely. Jan and I inspected them on Wednesday. The first hive had one super full of honey and lots of signs of breeding in the brood box. Lovely gentle bees. In the second hive we didn’t spot the queen and there were a few queen cells. We left one sealed in case a new queen is needed. The third hive has a very strong colony and there were swarm cells developing. We didn’t see the queen but with so many bees it’s hardly surprising. We are in the process of buying our own honey extractor. I will let you know as soon as Cressing honey is available. In the meantime we have Jan’s honey from their Great Leighs beehives for sale at £4 a jar.

Enjoy your gardens this Bank Holiday weekend or pay a visit to Cressing and linger on a bench to soak up the sun.








Morocco highlights

I visited Morocco for five days this week to represent Cressing Temple as part of a conference called ‘Growing Gardens’. The conference, part of a larger project called Shore to Shore, was designed to encourage dialogue and the sharing of ideas between Britain, Spain and Morocco, with a focus on gardens. Using existing work in Britain and Morocco, the conference explored ways of encouraging young people to be more aware of their environment and to become educated in creating, maintaining and using gardens and public space.

Our involvement was a result of the student work placements we hosted in 2016, when three horticultural students, one from each country, visited Cressing Temple for two days of horticultural experience. They were touring England studying gardens of Shakespeare and their experiences were made into a film to be used as an English Language teaching resource in Morocco and Spain. It was a great surprise and pleasure to be asked along to this year’s conference and to meet up with the three scholars, Rhiannon, Ines and Neezha once again.

The Shakespeare garden created by REEP at the Cadi Ayyad University  in 2014 was looking wonderful when we visited Marrakech on Thursday.

The garden makes a perfect outdoor theatre, as seen here, as we were entertained by two British actors and representatives of the history department from Cadi Ayyad University.

The day of presentations in Essaouira focussed on educational and health settings, as well as placing an emphasis on sustainable development and tourism.

My presentation showed how we can use the garden at Cressing Temple as a resource for learning, using a variety of techniques such as artefacts and demonstrations in the garden, workshops and garden tours, as well as a range of written interpretive material with plant labels, display boards and our new garden leaflet. This use of gardens as an educational tool is only just beginning in Morocco and there is an eagerness to see what is being used successfully in other countries.

Of particular interest was a report about an inspiring eco school in Marrakech where children are being encouraged to garden in a sustainable way and to consider the environmental impact on all that they do.

We visited the school the following day and saw many great ideas being put into practice and were impressed by the happy, enthusiastic, approach of the pupils.


Old tyres being used here as planters.

Colourful painting of the buildings gives a good backdrop to the new lush planting areas in the school playground.

We may think it is a struggle to keep the plants at Cressing watered when faced with the recent lack of rain but just imagine what ingenuity is required in Morocco!

These are some of the children using drama to tell us all about their message of looking after the environment.

Further visits were made to a ground breaking psychiatric hospital, the first in Morocco, which is introducing therapies such as gardening, cookery, pottery, painting and other creative activities. As a result of the conference there will be the creation of a new network of individuals and organisations in Morocco, Spain and Britain interested in using gardening to enhance social, personal or educational wellbeing.

We were taken to see other inspiring projects working to reduce exploitation and disadvantage in Morocco including a womens’ co-operative producing Argan oil for sale directly to the public, and the Amal Womens’ Centre providing training and employment opportunities in the restaurant trade for disadvantaged Moroccan women.

Apart from the business side of the conference there were plenty of opportunities to experience the sun, the warmth, the colour and the generous spirit of Morocco. Here is a flavour of my stay:







It was such a privilege and delight to have been asked to represent Cressing Temple at this conference and I am very thankful to REEP for such a wonderful opportunity. I met up with other gardeners from this country, including Neil Miller, Head Gardener from Hever Castle in Kent, Sam Crosfield from the Royal College of Physicians Garden in London and Glyn Jones from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford Upon Avon. I made contacts with inspiring gardeners and landscape architects from Spain, including Ricardo Libero from GreenerLand and several young horticultural students from Morocco. Such a sharing of experience is encouraging, stimulating and offers great opportunities for  further collaboration and exchange. I hope to welcome them all to Cressing sometime soon.




Lessons learnt

There is always something to be learnt from gardening and often the best lessons are from our mistakes. This was brought home to me lately when I  experienced the consequence of pruning lavender too fiercely, too late in the year, with the embarrassing result of losing a good number of the plants we put in last year at the Visitor Centre. Talk about a novice error! Still it is always good to be taken down a peg or two and to be reminded that we ignore mother nature at our peril!

That is not to say that lavenders can never be pruned hard, as is often thought. There is a useful page of advice on caring for lavenders at Downderry lavender nursery, which includes a video showing how to prune them correctly.

My mistake was to leave it too late in the season and I failed to take into account the exposed, cold position they were planted in. We live and learn!

Discovering new plants in the garden is a more exciting and less humbling way of learning from gardening and this week an exciting discovery was made by Valerie, whilst weeding the medicinal border, that had us all reaching for the wild flower books and poring over pictures.

Any ideas? I had certainly never seen this growing in the garden before.

Erica gets the sleuth of the week prize after correctly identifying it as Birthwort (Aristolochia clematitis) and after a further internet search we found it to be a most interesting but rather sinister plant. Originating in Southern Europe it was once a widely grown medicinal herb, used to assist childbirth, partly  as a result of the funnel shaped yellow flowers’ resemblance to a uterus. Birthwort was given to speed up labour and it was a standard herb in the gardens of abbeys, where the nuns often performed midwifery duties. The distinguished Oxford botanist, Professor E.F. Warburg, used to shock his audiences by describing birthwort as a useful herb for inducing abortions, only found in English nunneries, where it is an introduced plant. In Northumberland it was also used by dairy farmers for expelling the afterbirth after a calf had been born.

The poison garden website, from the well known poison garden at Alnwick castle, gives some sobering information about this plant, a valuable reminder of the potency of many plants and the dangers of using them without full knowledge of their effects. Here is their entry for Birthwort:

“One of the best examples of the problems arising from the belief that the look of a plant determined its use medicinally. May have been responsible for many thousands of deaths since, at least, Roman times. Its poisonous component, aristolochic acid, continues to kill as a result of upper urinary tract cancers resulting from its use in Chinese medicine.

Quite possibly, in terms of accidental poisoning, the most harmful plant of all those featured on this website” (

Another plant with a fascinating history of a different kind is woad (Isatis tinctoria) and this is looking good in our dye border at the moment.

It was the main source of blue dye in the middle ages and much cheaper than the imported indigo from the Orient. It continued to be cultivated and used, with indigo, as an important dye up until the 1930’s and a classic historical account of woad by Hurry (1930) refers to its use for dyeing police uniforms. Celtic tribes used woad as a skin dye and the name Britain is said to derive from the Celtic word, brith, which means paint. Julius Caesar famously noted the blue stained skin of the natives, which gave them a wild look in battle. Glastonbury got its name from glastum, meaning blue and Somerset was the centre of woad growing in medieval England. Woad was gradually replaced by Indigo but not before laws were passed throughout most of Europe to prevent the import of the foreign dye and protect the local woad growers.

Hold your noses for the next bit! Woad dyeing relies on the vat method of dyeing, involving some form of fermentation during the process. One of the old fashioned ways of dyeing with woad was to use a urine vat, which contains ammonia, to make the mixture alkaline, and bacteria, necessary for removing the oxygen. If you wanted to try this method yourself, you would need to collect urine to make the vat and it should be 2-3 weeks old before use. Furthermore, it is best left open to the air during storage, as bacteria from the air improves it. Ugh, I am not recommending it! No wonder Elizabeth I forbade the production of woad within 5 miles of any of her estates because of the pong.



Learning to cross the road

It has been busy at Cressing and not just for the gardeners. Everywhere you look there are birds working frantically to collect nesting material, find enough food for hungry hatchlings or encourage them out into the big wide world.

Keep up!

Every year the apple blossom, at its point of perfection, is an amazing sight and all the more special because it is so fleeting. Well, right now is your chance to see this year’s show, as the Jubilee orchard is looking stunning. It really is worth a visit if you are passing and with cold weather forecast for the coming week it may not last long. Make sure you put the 22nd October in your diaries if you would like to see all that blossom transformed into apples of every colour and flavour  at our Apple Day. In fact there is to be a whole weekend of celebration at Cressing on 21st and 22nd October with apples and other harvest available on both days, medieval entertainment and a Barn Dance in the great Barley Barn.

Another good place to head for some colourful blooms is the Cullen garden, where the tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) and tulips are fully out.

And who said vegetables aren’t beautiful? Here in the potager we have the Orach (Atriplex hortensis var. rubra) and Kale in flower looking good enough for any flower border.

And any guesses for this architectural vegetable?

You are never too young to start gardening and we were delighted to have our youngest ever volunteer helping us this week, and what a confident gardener she is too! After planting some chives in the culinary beds she weeded out all the surplus red orach seedlings, of which there is always a forest.  Colour co-ordination in the borders too!

My star plant for this week is the crab apple (Malus sylvestris) which was looking fabulous in the sacred border.

This is our native apple which was well known in the wild all over Britain and also cultivated in gardens for its valuable sourness in cooking – the ideal complement to sweet spices in sweet and sour cooking, a medieval favourite. Crabs are small, hard fruit and would have been pickled or made into verjuice (the medieval equivalent to lemon juice). They were also eaten raw to ‘open the stomach’ before a meal, and roasted with sugar, fennel and caraway seeds, to keep it ‘open’ afterwards. Ten raw apples a day helped to keep monastic stomachs ‘open’ during Lent. I wouldn’t recommend it!