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.

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Time flies

It may have been holiday time but things have been busier than ever here and August seems to have passed by in a flash.

On one of the hottest days of summer we enjoyed a visit from Wickham Bishops Horticultural society who had booked a tour of the walled garden. With umbrellas and hats to shield faces from the hot sun and a drinks station set up half way round for a rest and chance to rehydrate, we sweltered our way around the garden for a little over an hour. There were lots of lively and interesting questions and many generous compliments on the garden and nobody fainted. I call that a success!

Work on our new arbour is progressing very well and there has been lots of interest from the public, many taking the chance to stop and chat to Joe Bispham about the traditional construction techniques and materials being used to build the structure.

Volunteers helped to disentangle the growth and pull it off the old framework. We did wonder if it was just the plants holding it all up and a few bits did drop off in the process, but the structure was still standing!

The new sections of arbour are being constructed off site in Joe’s workshop, brought in when ready, to be slotted into the same ground fixings as the old one. The posts are of slightly larger dimension so they overlap the iron shoes, allowing the water to drain outside rather than into them, resulting in less chance of rot. This is one of the minor changes to the original design which we hope will make the new arbour more robust and longer lasting.

Joe has also modified the the joints in the new design, to avoid several sections being joined at the same point, as in the old structure, which made them weak and liable to failure, as this picture shows.

The whole structure will stand slightly higher than the old one and be visible from outside the wall as people walk across the chapel lawn, tempting them to have a peek inside the garden perhaps. And the roses? They have been carefully laid back, out of harms way, and will be re-attached to the new arbour once it is finished. Any old oak posts and beams that are still sound will be saved for other projects. The end result will be an arbour that looks good and lasts well for many years to come.

Another strand of the Heritage Lottery project was to investigate new interpretation ideas for the garden. With this in mind, 13 volunteers and staff visited the Tudor High Summer event at Kentwell Hall recently to see their living history interpretation . We explored the still room, the dairy, the gardens and the kitchens, all decked out in Tudor style and brought alive by numerous re-enactors in Tudor dress and demeanour, giving us all a realistic impression of Tudor daily life.

We saw some fantastic old espalier fruit trees in the garden.

some delightful topiary shapes..

and fascinating displays of everything from natural dyeing to candle making to basketry and alchemy.

In addition Lyn experienced what happened to Tudor volunteers who didn’t tow the line..

…and we all felt rather grateful for 21st luxuries like the tea-room and flushing toilets. We had a lovely day!

We will be visiting other gardens in the coming months and sharing the ideas gathered before deciding how we can incorporate some of the ideas into our interpretation at Cressing.

Back at base, our topiary shapes might not be quite so intricate as the ones we saw at Kentwell, but the Bay estrade in the nosegay garden was very glad to be given it’s annual haircut recently.

These creatures know how it feels! More of this later.

We will be cutting the rest of the box hedging, in the nosegay garden and the knot garden, in the next few weeks, now the weather has cooled down a bit and there has been some rain.

Honey production has been a major operation this summer, as our beekeepers, Jan, Howard and David extract the sweet delights of this year’s busy bee activity. Unfortunately, word got around in the wasp community that we were pressing the honey out of some old honey frames this week, and they all decided to visit us in the dairy for a taste! We learnt the painful way that it is better to keep doors and windows firmly shut when extracting honey at this time of year.

Learning from our mistakes, and assuming the wasps would be just as attracted to apple juice as they were to honey, we decided to use the farmhouse kitchen for our first apple juicing and bottling venture later this week. It was an exciting day, with all hands on deck, resulting in our first 27 bottles of pasteurised juice by the end of the day.

We are hoping to do one or two further pressings each week from now until Apple Day (14th October), which will mean far less wastage of our precious crop and more people getting to taste the lovely juice that can be produced from heritage East Anglian varieties of apple.

The apple harvest is particularly poor at Cressing this year, with the majority of trees having none or very poor fruit set. This was due to a long and particularly cold spring, followed by very cold winds at the end of April, just as much of the blossom was opening. Added to this, the long, hot summer, has left much of the fruit small and lacking in juice and resulted in premature dropping from the trees. Meanwhile, the codling moths and sawfly larvae seem to have had a very successful year which has left much of the fruit infested with the voracious grubs, which in turn has attracted a lot of attention from foraging wasps and lead to early dropping of fruit.

Hey ho, such are the challenges of gardening and I don’t want to sound miserable because, despite all this doom and gloom, we are optimistic we will have a sufficient quantity and variety of fruit to make plenty of juice for apple day and a selection of apples for people to taste. Next year will be better!

In the Community Garden we had some children visiting this week for the launch of our gardening club. They were creative with some of the veg (see below), enjoyed digging potatoes and searching for hidden pumpkins and went seed collecting and information gathering in the walled garden. Everyone seemed to have a great time and it will be something we hope to build upon next year to get more youngsters joining us in the great outdoors. The club will be called ‘Full of Beans!’

Thanks to Lynn, who organised it all,  Lesley and our community gardeners for guiding the children through the activities and to the children for coming to try it all out.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to visit the community garden stall for your freshly harvested veg  where there has been plenty to dig and pick over the past couple of weeks, thanks to the recent rain.

Visitors seem delighted to see the plot and talk to the gardeners as well as being able to choose a selection from the tempting array of seasonal produce. The stall is re-stocked on a Tuesday and there are signs to direct you to the plot from the carpark. A tin for donations can be found with the veg, all helping to make this project self sustaining and very enjoyable to those involved.

All our volunteers were treated to a brilliant demonstration of natural dyeing by Howard. Using plants grown in the walled garden, he explained the process and history behind medieval dyeing and before our eyes transformed plain, un-dyed sheeps’ wool (see above) into glorious shades of red, with madder (Rubia tinctoria), yellow with weld (Reseda lutea) and most impressive of all, blue from woad (Isatis tinctoria). Howard’s talk was informative, entertaining, with fascinating and often very smelly facts about the dye industry,  and much appreciated by the many volunteers who came along. It left us all wanting to know more.

The hard work of our volunteers is going on in all corners of the site, and none less than in the much neglected and secluded area of garden behind the farmhouse. Three volunteers, all from the same family, have taken on the task, started by Bob earlier in the year, to transform this delightful area into an attractive, cottage style garden with flowers, fruit and shrubs. There are many challenges to overcome, not least our population of hungry rabbits, who thought it was all being done for them! The work will continue over the winter, with re-laying of paving, controlling wayward raspberry canes, levelling the lawn area and adding more colourful plants, to make a sheltered and productive little space for staff in the farmhouse to enjoy (not the rabbits!) when they need five minutes out of their busy day.

Enjoy the chance to get out in your gardens in this lovely late summer weather. The conditions are perfect for planting, with lots of time for plants to settle in and get growing strongly before the cold of winter slows things down. And there are plenty of plants on our table for you to choose from if you have gaps to fill or drought stressed plants to replace. Happy gardening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The heat is on

and on and on and on…..When will it end, this relentless hot summer weather and lack of rain? One thing I usually like about gardening is the variety of tasks, but I am beginning to wonder – all we seem to be doing is watering! And while this can be a relaxing and contemplative activity for a while, it soon becomes monotonous when it is similar to painting the Forth Bridge!

Despite the unforgiving weather there is still lots to celebrate. The next phase of our heritage lottery project has been completed and the paving under the arbour is now repointed and looking much smarter.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the rest of the paving restored in a similar fashion? Not only does it mean the use of far less weedkiller, it also makes the paving less of a hazard for our high heeled wedding guests!

Our volunteers went on a very enjoyable outing to Green Island Gardens near Ardleigh recently. The gardens are professionally designed by its owner Fiona Edmond, and are laid out as a series of structured gardens displaying a huge range of unusual trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs. The weather was, guess what, hot and sunny, which meant we could have a warm, leisurely stroll around the grounds before ending at the tea-room for lunch. This lovely shady pergola next to the pond provided the perfect spot for a photo.

An added bonus is the little nursery where we could choose a choice reminder or two of our visit. A very enjoyable day and a thank you to all our hard working volunteers.

Back in the gardens they have been getting on with plenty of work to keep everything looking as fresh as possible, none more so than in the community garden where the crops are looking perky and beginning to produce an abundance of delicious fresh veg for us to take home.

The sweetcorn just loves the heat and, providing it gets enough moisture, will soon be giving us plump, juicy cobs for our barbecues.

The French and runner beans are also just about ready for harvest and there will be the usual glut I am sure.

This year we have tomatoes growing in a raised bed within the polytunnel which has been very successful compared to growing them in pots. The roots have more space to expand and the greater quantity of soil means more water holding capacity. The super hot, dry conditions have resulted in a red spider mite outbreak this year but it seems to be affecting the cucumbers rather than the tomatoes.

The onion crop has been very good and there are plenty available. Don’t forget, you can visit the community garden on a Tuesday between 10.30 and 4.00 if you would like to see what we have growing and take some home. The veg stall will be stocked with produce every Tuesday for our visitors to sample local, super fresh, chemical free vegetables in return for a donation to our funds.

We are also very pleased with the progress of our no-dig pumpkin patch.

The plants have romped away in the deep organic base made for them over the winter and they seem to be coping well with the drought conditions as a result. It was a bit of a struggle in early spring when the weeds and the encroaching grass threatened to engulf the beds with the rich conditions we had created!

 

We tried various ways of keeping it all under control.

But once the pumpkins got going there was no stopping them and the broad leaves provide a very effective weed suppressant.  It became hard to see where one plant starts and another finishes, hence the canes to help target the watering cans!

In the walled garden the two main tasks, aside from watering, have been cutting back the meadows and trimming the box and other topiary.

The box maze was the first to be clipped with beautiful technique on display here from our volunteers. This poor little hedge maze is much loved by our youngest of visitors and has to suffer many a misplaced foot as they negotiate their unsteady way into the centre.

In the hottest, sunniest weather we avoid cutting the box as it can scorch the cut leaves and the open wounds made by cutting can make the plant more susceptible to blight. The RHS recommends delaying box cutting until August, when the new growth has hardened off and slowed down and the hedge should remain neat through the winter months.

Scything of the meadow grass is a task we carry out between the end of June and the start of August. I always offer the volunteers a go at using the scythe but it is strictly a one person at a time activity!  Some take to it more enthusiastically than others but it is surprising how quickly the job gets done with a tool that has been around in this country since at least Roman times.

An interesting account of the scythe’s origins is given by Simon Fairlie, supplier of Austrian scythes (the lightweight continental style we use):

By Simon Fairlie. First published in the Tools and Trades History magazine 2006 also windrow 2, 2011

“Much of the world’s farming land can be divided into two zones: the machete zone and the scythe zone.  The machete is a formidable implement — a skilled  user can peel an orange, halve a wasp in mid flight or  open up a coconut with one swing. It is even used to  mow lawns; but the machete is most comfortably swung  at hand height, and hence is particularly associated with  vegetation which is tall, such as tropical forest or sugar  cane, and with regions such as South America and Indonesia,  where that kind of vegetation predominates. The  European equivalents of the machete are the billhook,  and the faghook, or sickle  The scythe is a tool specially adapted for cutting  vegetation at ground level. There is no other reason  for its existence: it is useless at hand height and (unlike  the machete) very unwieldy as a weapon. Initially it  was probably designed for grass; but as pasture became  harder to find, and livestock were increasingly fed on  different kinds of straw, the importance of cutting oats,  barley and other grains close to the ground became more  important and the scythe began to replace the sickle as a  way of harvesting crops.  The scythe is therefore found in most areas of the  world where grass and grains such as wheat, barley, oats  or rye are the predominate agricultural crop.”

For those of you with areas of meadow grass to cut, the period from July into early August is generally the best time for mowing meadows for both wildlife and practical hay making considerations.  Evidence suggests that this is the optimum time for maintaining floral diversity and balance and it is best to complete hay cutting by the end of August

After the main cut, additional mowing or grazing during late summer and autumn is very effective in removing excessive grass growth and encouraging flowers -particularly on more fertile sites.    Ideally cut at least twice from the time the hay is removed to the end of November, aiming to leave the grass short through winter. The amount of mowing required will depend on the fertility of the site; areas can be mown regularly (weekly) if a more tidy appearance is wanted.

In all this heat it has been hard to find the energy to do anything strenuous but some jobs just needed to be done and thanks to our youngest volunteer, our garlic harvest is complete and the bulbs are hanging to dry for storage all winter if need be. Hot work though!

We welcome younger volunteers to help out in our gardens, so long as they are accompanied by an adult. We are hoping to set up a gardening club for kids during school holidays too – contact Rebecca if you would be interested.

The Friends of Cressing Gardens were delighted to host a visit from Mark Carroll this week. Mark is Executive Director for Economies, Localities and Public Health, the ECC Directorate within which Cressing Temple is place. He was escorted around the site by the Trustees and shown the Jubilee Orchard, the Community Garden, the Community Shed and the Walled Garden. Volunteers were on hand to answer questions and explain their role and we all congregated in the Martin Room at the end for tea, cake and a discussion session. Everyone was keen to show what has been achieved over the years and give suggestions on what could be achieved in the future. It was a congenial, positive and thoroughly enjoyable afternoon which sets the tone for a closer relationship between the Friends group and Essex County Council in the future. many thanks to Mark for his time and his interest.

As we head into another unrelentingly hot week maybe the best thing to do is to find a pond  and do some wildlife watching, where there will always be something going on and something to see. The birds have been frequent visitors to our pond at home this weekend, desperate for a drink or a cooling ruffle of the feathers.

This young blackbird wasn’t too sure what to do as she fumbled her way to the water’s edge, frequently tweeting for some adult support and guidance! Teenagers eh!

This lovely goldfinch had more of a clue, but didn’t stay long, wary of possible lurking cats and other dangers.

The star of the show this weekend was a lovely Emperor dragonfly who chose our water lilies to lay her precious cargo of eggs.

 

Most of the dragonfly’s life is spent underwater as larva. It emerges as a winged adult for a few weeks a year to mate and lay eggs.  The female uses her ovipostor (a special egg laying organ) to lay them. To protect her eggs from being eaten by fish, she places them into slits that she has cut into stems of pondweed which is what you can see her doing in the picture above.

The eggs develop in about 3 weeks, depending upon the temperature of the water. The larva, or nymph, that hatches is wingless and lives in the water. It molts (sheds its skin) ten to fifteen times during the 2 years it takes to mature. Almost all of its growth occurs in summer months. In the last stage of development the larva crawls out of the water and dries its skin in the sun. As the skin splits, the adult dragonfly emerges. Once its soft wings have hardened, it can fly. The adult dragonfly lives for only a few brief weeks.

What an amazing creature. All that effort for just a few weeks of adult life!

Here are a few more interesting things about dragonflies.

Did You Know:
Dragonflies always rest with their wings spread open.
Dragonflies and their larvae are a popular food in some Asian countries.
There are over 30,000 facets in a dragonfly’s eye.
Very few birds can outfly and hunt down dragonflies. The fast flying, agile hobby is a match.
The dragonfly’s front and hind wings beat alternately, not together, as with most insects. This gives them better flight control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midsummer already

I always arrive at the longest day on 21st June with mixed feelings. While I relish the long hours of daylight and the peak of the flowering season in the garden I am also surprised at how quickly we arrive at this midsummer day; too soon, it seems, after the memory of the short cold days of winter.  I want to linger at this moment before we turn that corner, once again, towards those short days and longer nights.

The Midsummer Solstice, a celebration of the longest day of Summer, is associated with many ancient Midsummer traditions, and surrounded by mythical tales of fairies and supernatural visitors. But after the religious reformation in the early part of the 15th century, the church became increasingly uncomfortable with the Pagan celebrations associated with Midsummer and started to ban many of the rituals in favour of a more Christian festival. The celebration was then renamed to mark the birth of St John the Baptist and, appropriately, was called the Feast of St. John the Baptist.

The plant that is most closely associated with this time of year in the walled garden must be St John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum with its golden yellow, star shaped flowers, slit shaped perforations on the leaves and red staining sap.

A perennial, native to Britain, Europe and Asia, this plant was believed to have infinite healing powers, the red juice produced by the leaves representing the blood of St John. It was once known as Fuga demonium, devil’s flight, and was believed to give powerful protection against Satan. The house that had St John’s wort hung above the door was safe from thunder, lightning and fire. Neither witches nor the devil himself could cross the threshold. On account  of its red juice and the perforations on its leaves it was interpreted by the Doctrine of Signatures  as a wound healing herb and an oil reddened with the juice was sold in apothecary shops as a treatment for burns.

Another plant greatly enjoyed in the garden at this midsummer-time, for its colour, beauty but most particularly it’s exquisite scent is the rose, and a fine example is the vivid striped Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’ or ‘Rosa Mundi’ we have growing in the nosegay garden.

Gallicas are the oldest of the garden roses, having been grown by the Greeks and Romans and later being used as a parent for many of our more modern cultivated roses.  Rosa Mundi is the earliest known stripped rose dating back to the 1500s. Legend has it that Rosa Mundi was named after Fair Rosamund, a mistress of Henry II, England’s monarch from 1154 to 1189. Henry’s wife, Queen Eleanor is said to have poisoned the lovely Rosamund by breaking into the house Henry had built for her at Woodstock in Oxfordshire. This legend is depicted in the oil painting by Evelyn de Morgan (1855 -1915) shown here.

(Courtesy of The De Morgan Foundation)

The stained glass window above Rosamund shows two lovers in an embrace. The Queen carries a small flask of poison, plus the thread that has led her through the maze to the house. She brings with her shadowy evil forms of dragons and apes, while blood red roses lie at her feet. In contrast, winged cherubs and shadowy doves of peace accompany Rosamund and white roses, symbolising purity and innocence, lie at her feet. Rosamond stares at the flask of poison held by the Queen, recognising her doom.

This legend makes an attractive picture, but is contradicted by historical fact. Henry actually imprisoned Queen Eleanor from 1174-1189 for supporting the rebellion of two of her sons against their father. Rosamund entered a nunnery in 1174 or 1176 and died there in 1176. At the time of Rosamund’s death, Queen Eleanor was a prisoner in Winchester.
Moving from a strange tale to a strange plant: I am always delighted when something pops up in the garden that I have never seen before and we all reach for the wild flower books to see if it can be identified. This specimen was discovered by a volunteer while weeding the North wall border the other day.
It is called Lesser Broomrape (Orobanche minor), a very curious looking parasitic perennial that lacks chlorophyll, feeding on the roots of the pea and daisy family. This clump was found growing very near to the oxeye daisies growing in our meadow grass. It belongs to the Broomrape family (Orobanchaceae) which includes another similar native plant called toothwort (Lathraea squamaria), an unearthly looking parasite which grows on the roots of trees, especially hazel, elm, alder and willow. The tiers of flowers resemble dirty, mauve stained molars, giving rise to the common name.
Back to more everyday matters, we have reached the busiest time of the year and our community vegetable garden is in full swing.
This smart new banner draws attention to the plot and there is plenty to get the taste buds tingling when you get there.
Strawberries are cropping well, helped by our newly installed seep hose system.
the rhubarb is having a riot….
 …and ingenious ways are being invented to keep the crops well watered.
Gardeners (and helpers) are busy…..
Veg are available to buy from the stall….
And we have even been out and about in the local community, representing the Friends Group at Witham Community Day on 9th June.
Visit on a Tuesday and one of the volunteers will be happy to show you the community garden and offer you some of the harvest to take home.  The best buttery new potatoes ever tasted,  freshly dug and on your plate in no time….tempted?
The Heritage Lottery project is making great progress and we are pleased to announce the completion of stage one – repair of the viewing platform. Joe puts the last few fixings to the floor before work on the steps can begin.
And with a final coat of preservative to the oak boards, all is finished, and very lovely it looks too.
The next stage was to repoint the paving that runs under the arbour. A volunteer away day group from a charity called ‘Trees for Cities’ were the unlucky victims for this laborious task. After a demonstration from Joe they applied themselves with enthusiasm and seemed to enjoy the change from their usual day jobs.
What a difference. No more high heels getting stuck in the gaps!
In the meantime, two time lapse cameras have been installed to capture a year in the life of the garden. Here is a sneak preview of what the camera can see. It will be taking 6 frames per day, each of a split second duration. This will be edited, after the year is completed, to give a fascinating insight into the seasonal changes in the garden.
We have an opt out scheme for anyone who would prefer their image not to appear on the final version, although, as you can see, identification would be very difficult at this range (ask in the visitor centre for more information).
Plans are also well under way for the oral history interviews. We are contacting people who have had a connection with the gardens over the past 30 years and asking them to contribute their memories of the garden. We hope this will form a valuable and interesting record for posterity and added interest for our visitors. If you have memories of the garden, know somebody else who has, or if you would like to help us with this piece of historical recording, please contact us.
None of this would be possible, of course, without the generous support of The Heritage Lottery fund.
Enjoy your gardening in this lovely warm weather, but keep up the watering!

Volunteer week 2018

 

We have just celebrated National Volunteer week for 2018 and would like to pay tribute to all our wonderful volunteers at Cressing Temple, who tirelessley dig and snip, weed and clip, plant and sow making everything grow in the gardens. Without them, the gardens would not be as they are today:

 

We are always getting appreciative comments from our visitors about how wonderful the gardens are maintained, how lovely they look and how pleasing it is to be able to buy the produce grown on the site. So much of this is thanks to the strength of our volunteer team.

As a mark of our gratitude, we had an extra special tea-break this week, with lots of goodies and extra time to linger and chat.

I wish every tea-break was like this!

We were able to show off our new banner for the community garden.

 

 

Tell a tale….

Share a joke…..

And have just one more piece of cake. We won’t want to go back to work at this rate!

ECC notice and appreciate all the hard work of our volunteer team, as this recent comment from the new Head of Culture and Green Space about the walled garden demonstrates:

“it looks absolutely fabulous!

Please pass on my thanks to all the volunteers.”

Volunteering at Cressing Temple is all about feeling part of something and contributing your time and effort for the good of the local community. Everyone does as little or as much as they are able and everyone is valued. If this sounds your kind of thing, if you like being outdoors, would like to meet new people, share your skills or learn new ones, perhaps you could come and join us? It isn’t all about gardening: we do beekeeping, we sell plants, we create displays and information for the public, we do woodwork and DIY and there are opportunities to do historical research and garden tours. If you would like to know more, please email us

or phone to leave your contact details at reception on 03330 132738

Join the team and be part of a place that has been growing things for at least 800 years!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the history of Cressing Temple Gardens

Three cheers for the Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens! They have been awarded a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for £63,900 to carry out essential renovation to the garden structures, produce a year in the life of the garden film, improve the way we explain the garden to the public and inform them about the plants and invest in more volunteer opportunities and nurture volunteer skills.

The news was well received by Essex County Council who own the site. Dee O’Rourke, Head of Culture and Green Spaces said: “We couldn’t be prouder or more grateful to the Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens group for their work and success in securing this funding. The volunteers play such an important part in helping us maintain the beautiful gardens and setting that is Cressing Temple and we can’t wait to see how they put the funding to use for this exciting project. We are sure our many visitors will be just as thankful to them as we are.”

The site manager was also very pleased: “Lovely news this week for the Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens group of volunteers. We are thrilled for the Cressing group and can’t wait to see their work over the coming months. Our parks rely heavily on the role volunteers play in working with us and we are so grateful.” Want to know more about volunteering with us? We’d love to hear from you – find out more on the Country Parks website    http://www.visitparks.co.uk/volunteering/

We will keep you posted as this project takes shape. The first job is to replace the floor of the viewing platform, which has been closed to the public for several months, and we have been keen to get cracking. You can see the perilous state of the floor here.

The volunteers and Cressing staff made light work of dismantling the old oak floorboards.

Unfortunately this revealed the rotten state of the joists which will need to be reinforced before the new floor goes down. One thing leads to another in this kind of job.

We are now eagerly awaiting the start of the repairs by our carpenter, an expert in traditional timber frame construction. Watch this space for blow by blow updates on our progress.

And now for another triumphant achievement, how about this:

Tim, seen here admiring the mighty mandrake root (Mandragora officinarum) which took quite an effort to wrestle out of the ground. As I’m sure you know, the folklore surrounding this plant and its extraction is legendary.  In medieval texts the root was often depicted wit a strangely human appearance and all manner of special powers were attributed to it.

Our medieval forebears liked nothing better than attributing meaning to things they came across in the natural world and the mandrake plant has had more symbolism attached to it than perhaps any other plant.

Here are just a few of the superstitious beliefs surrounding this plant.

The root was believed to turn into a miniature human and scream in pain when dug up, which was carried out in darkness at midnight. Animals were often used to pull it out, avoiding the inevitable curse of the malign evil spirit that lived in the plant which would inflict madness on anyone brave enough to attempt it. How are you feeling Tim?

In ancient times strange rituals were built around the gathering of this plant. The Greeks believed they first had to draw three circles around the plant with a sword, then facing the west to avoid evil spells, the taproot could be severed. To cut a second piece the gatherer must first dance around the plant using a magical sword  made of virgin iron and only ever used for Mandrake gathering.

Mandrake was sacred to the moon goddess, Selene, on account of its powers over sleep and death. Selene is also the goddess of witchcraft so in Medieval England Mandrake was the natural witchcraft plant.

Once gathered the Mandrake root was treated with great care and reverence. Washed in a running stream for a day and night it would then be wrapped in a clean white linen cloth and stored somewhere safely in a wooden box. It would be brought out whenever certain spells were being used, accompanied with the appropriate prayers.

Another legend that was particularly favoured in Germany between the 15th and 18th Centuries was that Mandrake would grow at the spot a crimal was buried or beneath the gallows on which he was hanged. The roots were known in Germany as the ‘little gallows man’. Pretty gruesome.

The mandrake is an amazing plant with its ability to put down an impressively stout taproot in a matter of a few years. No wonder it became the subject of so many tales and superstitions. But it had a very practical and essential use in medieval times that had nothing to do with superstition. It was one of the chief components of a medieval anaesthetic called Dwale potion. The medieval word ‘dwale’ means confused or dazed and a combination of the gall from a castrated boar, lettuce, hemlock, henbane, opium, mandrake and bryony would surely have been very effective. They contained powerful chemicals such as morphine, hyoscine and narcotic alkoloids that would put you to sleep for hours at a time if administered correctly. I guess mistakes would have been costly!

With this perfect weather I hope you are all getting out in your gardens. This is the perfect time for planting so if you have any spaces to squeeze in one or two extras don’t forget our plant table is well stocked and extremely good value. Small pots holding big plants that are just ready and bursting to get going in your gardens. And all your purchases go to help us keep the walled garden looking beautiful and bountiful all year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down memory lane

While we all wait for this year’s growing season to get going I thought I would take a walk down memory lane and look at some old photos of Cressing Temple. We are thinking of creating a display of Cressing memories and would like to share photos of the gardens,  buildings or people connected with the site, either recently or in the past.

In the meantime here are some oldies I have found. First some views of the site before it was purchased by Essex County Council in 1987.

The Barley Barn as it was in Frank Cullen’s day.

And some views from the moat, looking across to the Wheat Barn.

And Frank Cullen himself of course, owner of the site from 1913 – 1971.

And his much loved walled garden as it was in his day.

 

Moving ahead to the early days of ECC ownership, an aerial view of the site before work on the garden began.

Following archaeological excavation of the garden, plans were made for a new layout. The man with the beard and green folder under his arm is Martin Wakelin, one of the architects of the new design. Explaining his vision that is now our reality perhaps.

Notice the quince trees in the background – no longer there sadly.

The early days of the garden construction, half a fountain and no sign of the star pool yet.

A very new looking platform!

And the finished fountain looking rather exposed with hardly any plants for cover. Roy Martin, the site warden, and Martin Wakelin admiring the work.

Early days, with an embryonic knot garden and step over hawthorn hedge! Can’t do that these days.

Moving on to memories of the lovely old apple tree standing in what is now our pumpkin patch.  One of the many victims of honey fungus in the garden.

And so was the huge walnut that stood to the right of the Gardeners’ Shelter.

The team of carpenters who built the shelter in 2008.

My first memories when I started as gardener in 2012 were of a garden that looked like this! Exuberant and free some might say, and certainly charming, but a little too unruly perhaps?

My colleague Jane and I had our work cut out!

The sacred border was full of old rosemary plants, due for a renovation.

And the trellis had definitely seen better days.

Work to replace all the old trellis soon made a huge difference.

With the team of volunteer gardeners growing stronger every year it became much easier to keep the garden looking well cared for.

Sad losses like the old apple tree became opportunities for new ideas.

And with the Friends Group working hard to raise money for the garden, some bigger improvements became possible.

And so it is with any garden. Ever changing, always developing, and such is the delight of gardening.

Today the gardens have more volunteers caring for them than ever before and the Friends Group is going from strength to strength. The results of such a team effort are there for all to see.  Who knows what memories we will be looking back on in the years to come but they will all add to the rich history of the garden’s  circa 460 year history.

If you have memories of the gardens to add, please let us know. You could copy photos onto a memory stick, email them to us, bring in a photocopy or show us the originals for us to scan.

Happy Easter and happy gardening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are we safe to call this Spring?

Some of us are all ready for Spring…..

But the weather has had other ideas lately……

Perhaps the birds should hold back a while before they get on feathering their nests. Mind you, we have provided a few extra desirable residences for our birdlife to consider this year. You may remember us growing bottle gourds (Lagernaria sisceraria)  in the walled garden last summer. We thought they might make an interesting alternative to the usual boxes – we will see what the birds think!

On 6th March some of our volunteers  attended a study day offered by Share Museums East at Gainsborough House in Sudbury. The day was offered to volunteers working in museums in the Eastern region and was called ‘Gardener’s Delight.’

They thoroughly enjoyed it and made us feel envious when they told us about it! Here is a summary of their day.

“A short update on an amazing study day with fellow volunteers from all over the region, including English heritage, stately homes and museums, altogether about 30 of us!

We enjoyed a full day of interesting presentations from a history of Gainsborough House to Cedric Morris and how irises influenced his painting, to a talk from a horticulturist blogger who recently published a book on the Secret Gardens of East Anglia.

Following a wonderful lunch and leisurely stroll around the gardens which contains a 400 year old Mulberry Tree and a small collection of irises collected by Cedric Morris. We had free entry to Gainsborough House which housed paintings of himself and Morris also a small exhibition of Constable.

We returned to an inspiring talk from a Professor of history at UEA on the current biodiversity changes in orchards since 1600. An amazing speaker and enthusiastic landscape historian.

Altogether a great opportunity to share knowledge with fellow volunteer gardener’s and to meet like minded people.”

So who was Cedric Morris?

Before the Second World War, Morris was a well-known painter and breeder of irises, which he admired for their ‘elegance, pride and delicacy’. In 1940 he moved to Benton End in Suffolk, where he cultivated a garden inspired by Claude Monet’s at Giverny. He grew about 1,000 new iris seedlings every year.He ran the East Anglian Art School with his partner Arthur Lett-Haines for more than 40 years and was an avid gardener who bred irises to award-winning standard.

He raised his seedlings  by hand-pollination; sifting and assessing them for vigour and form and using his artist’s eye to produce painterly colours, including pioneering soft pinks and muted yellows. His painting Iris Seedlings is one of his best known.

Iris Seedlings 1943 Sir Cedric Morris, Bt 1889-1982 Purchased 1981 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03230

The Mulberry (Morus nigra), is a native of Oriental countries but has been grown in this country since the early part of the 16th century, for its fruit and as a food source for silkworms. It is of slow growth, eventually reaching 20 – 30ft, with spreading branches usually wider than the tree is high, as shown by this example. A wonderfully, rugged and picturesque tree, but not one for our smaller modern gardens perhaps.

Another oriental, growing in the Gainsborough garden, this is Hamamelis mollis or Chinese witch hazel, a lovely early flowering shrub discovered in 1879 by Charles Maries from the famous Veitch nursery on one of his plant hunting expeditions in the Far East. It is an exotic relative of the American Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) introduced in 1656, which became a popular medicinal plant due to the astringent action of the tannins it contains. It remains a well known herbal remedy, used for varicose veins, skin inflammation and for healing wounds and burns.

Back in the gardens at Cressing we have made the most of the few nice, fine days to get some planting done. In the tea garden we have been adding more hedging roses, Rosa ‘Wild Edric’, a strongly scented, strongly coloured rugosa type, bred by David Austin. In a few years it should make a cheerful welcome to visitors as they enter the site.

In the same area we have planted clumps of a very vigorous, tall grass. It is one we dug up to make way for the hedging roses and I have no idea of its name. But it is tall and sturdy, making a lovely sight in late autumn, into winter and we thought it would look good here with the moat as a backdrop.

Other jobs have included replanting the water lilies, with Pete drawing the short straw for the plunge this time!

Take a deep breath Pete…..

And go for it!

We are hoping to get a better water balance this year, with less murky green and a clearer view of the fish. More oxygenating plants, a higher density of surface covering plants and possibly a lower density of fish should help the situation.

The Friends Group had a very successful AGM on Sunday, despite the inclement weather. About 30 people braved the snow and came along to hear news of the a very busy year for the Friends and listen to a fascinating talk on Essex apples and orchards by Neil Reeve. He has collected all 34 varieties of Essex apple tree – amazing there were once so many varieties in this County when today you would be hard pressed to find that many in the whole of the UK!  Neil told us of his ambition to see more of these varieties, maybe the entire collection, growing in our Cressing Temple orchard. An exciting thought and something for the long term. We already grow the wonderful varieties D’Arcy Spice and Chelmsford Wonder, but how about adding Braintree Seedling, Maldon Wonder or even Eros! There is currently a Heritage Lottery Funded project run by Orchards East to support and stimulate interest in orchards and orchard fruit growing. In Essex alone there has been a loss of 75% of our traditional orchards over the past 30 years, more than any other Eastern County, so it would be a great achievement for us to do our bit to reverse that trend.

Today was the first day the ground seemed dry enough to get in and do some good spring clean up tasks. We were working in the Cullen garden and had a very satisfying morning snipping back, weeding, clearing debris and rearranging things.

Now we need a bit of sustained warmth to make it all grow. What was that? talk of more snow over Easter – never!

And if this warmer weather has made you all think about getting into your own gardens, our plants are out on the sales table to tempt you. Garden plants have gone up to £2.50 this year, with the herbs staying at £2.00. Both really good value and they are strong, healthy plants that will grow away quickly once planted. Members of the Friends Group will get 50p off every plant, so well worth the membership fee.

This weekend sees the start of our season of events at Cressing Temple with the Oakleigh Food and Home Fair. Some of our volunteers will be working in the gardens to talk to the visitors and others will be selling plants on the stall.

We’re off for another year!