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What a strange year it has been in so many respects and autumn has come around quicker than ever and we seem to be storming our way through it (literally) quite quickly. The rain has been most welcome, (planting bulbs in concrete is rather challenging!), but you can have too much of a good thing and already we seem to be squelching and slipping around where only a few weeks ago we were looking at desert like cracks in the ground!
Great progress has been made adding snakes head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) and wild tulips (Tulipa sylvestris) to one of the flowery mead patches recently. Looks like Dawn and Fiona are clearing up after a bad mole attack but by next spring it will be transformed and all this hard work will pay great dividends.
September and October would normally have us all preoccupied with the apple harvest-picking, sorting, storing, checking, juicing and bottling. All in preparation for Apple Day. This year has been very different and not just for reasons of coronavirus and the lack of any events at Cressing. Our apple harvest has been the worst I can remember in my time at Cressing, with many trees woefully short of fruit and others bearing fruit of poor quality which dropped early. This was not the case for all trees, with one or two apple trees and both our pear trees having bumper crops of large, good quality fruit. These are growing in the walled garden which is more sheltered than the orchard and they are fed with a mulch every year. Perhaps this made the difference. It is all a bit baffling, but we are thinking it may be down to the very wet winter followed by an exceptionally dry spring. As with so many situations in horticulture, the number of different variables makes it very difficult to say.
We were fortunate to be invited back to Easton Lodge in September, for the only apple day event in the region. Having picked every good apple we could find we loaded up the apple press and de-camped to the walled garden at Easton Lodge and had a very enjoyable day, juicing non-stop and giving bottles of our fresh juice to a very appreciative public. It was a lovely day and a welcome reminder of more normal times.
If the apple harvest has been poor this year, we have made up for it with the success of the community garden produce and the appeal of fresh, home produced veg and fruit on our new veg barrow.
We have gathered some regular customers visiting our veg barrow and on many days it has emptied almost as soon as it is filled.
It is all too easy to miss courgettes as they are developing and suddenly come across giant ones that have turned into monster marrows, but this year the radishes gave us a bit of a surprise when we found some hiding under the butternut squash leaves. Just shows what a radish can become if it is allowed to grow up! Probably a bit woody for a salad though!
The selection of veg and fruit has been further enhanced by cut flowers, honey and willow artwork for the garden, all adding to the general appeal and giving an extra point of extra interest for visits to Cressing Temple.
The colours of autumn always seem richer and deeper than those of high summer and these Dahlias with their wonderfully symmetric flowers in a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes are certainly making a great show this autumn.
The pumpkins and squashes growing in the walled garden, also make an eye-catching spectacle and attract much comment. This year we have grown ornamental gourds and a selection of edible squashes, including varieties called Sweet Dumpling, Honey Bear and Goosebumps.
This autumn looks like being a particularly good year for berries and seeding plants. The holly tree in the walled garden is putting on a grand show already and the hawthorn and rowan trees are catching the eye of many a hungry bird.
The construction of our first new polytunnel was an exciting and positive event in a year rather short of such things.
Looking a bit like a caterpillar, the tunnel was a bit of a challenge to erect but with Pete’s expertise and determination and the willing help of several volunteers it was soon completed. The spots on the side are actually air vents which we hope will make ventilation and temperature control more manageable.
The next step is to construct and fill the growing beds inside and make a plan for early spring crops next year. The purchase of this tunnel was made possible by a generous grant from The Essex Community Foundation and will help us to grow fruit and veg all year round and raise more money for the site.
Now don’t be alarmed by the next picture. There really is nothing too dangerous about our garden volunteering, despite appearances!
Thanks to a grant from Heritage Lottery to assist charities affected by the pandemic we were able to purchase new cleaning and safety equipment, along with extra tools and garden equipment. Lisa and Mike are modelling a selection of the items purchased, at a careful 2m distance naturally.
The Heritage Lottery grant has also given us funds to develop additional ways of generating income. One option we want to develop is the running of courses. Possible topics might include beekeeping, gardening for wildlife, care of fruit trees and propagating plants. We decided to begin with running sessions on making willow items for the garden and the grant allowed us to buy the tools and materials we needed. Alison has run two pilot sessions on willow weaving for the volunteers. Once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted we plan to run further sessions which will be open to the public.
Here you can see our new polytunnel being put to good use to shelter us from the wind and the rain during the two successful willow weaving sessions making bird feeders and dragonflies!
Grant money has also been used to purchase a second polytunnel, this time with the aim of growing a range of Cressing Temple herbs to sell on our plant stall. Work has already started on construction, but the weather hasn’t been on our side and the going was very wet and sticky!
With so much else being restricted or on hold it is very encouraging to have projects to work on and future plans in the making. Thank you to our funders, the Heritage lottery fund and the Essex Community Foundation for their support and making this possible.
Another impact of the pandemic and the need to remain socially distanced, has been a change to our group jobs briefing and all important tea break. The porta cabin, which was a cramped space at the best of times, has become unusable, with a one person at a time rule. We have been quite happy sitting outside during the lovely summer weather but as temperatures drop and winter weather hardens, the waterproofs and thermals will become an essential part of our kit! Our jobs briefing is also conducted outside, rather than in warmth and relative comfort but, ever resourceful, we have rigged up an outdoor, all weather whiteboard from bits and pieces we had lying around which gives volunteers a chance to choose their tasks from the magic ever replenishing list!
As we move towards winter and many of our showy summer favourites in the garden retreat under ground to wait out the cold weather, it is the evergreens in the garden that come to the fore and really earn their place in the garden. This applies none more so than our impressive rosemary bushes in the walled garden.
Ros maris, from which the name Rosemary is derived, means ‘dew of the sea’. This could originate from the white-blue flowers that give the appearance of dew on the branches of the shrubs, which originally grew along the Western Mediterranean coast.
Recently however, the scientific name has changed. It used to be Rosmarinus officinalis, meaning that Rosemary was in the genus Rosmarinus with the species name officinalis, meaning a plant used in medicine or herbalism. But a phylogenetic study has found that Rosemary is more closely related to the Salvia genus than to the other species of Rosmarinus. The scientific name of Rosemary has therefore been changed to Salvia rosmarinus (it could not be renamed Salvia officinalis because that is the scientific name already given to Common or Garden Sage). Are you keeping up? How confusing! I think we will continue to call it rosemary.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
One of the longest and most traditional uses of Rosemary is to aid the memory. Gerard, in his Herball, says that the Arabians and other ancient physicians used it in this way. He also recommends making sugared Rosemary flowers to ‘…comfort the heart, and make it merry, quicken the spirits and make them more lively. We could all do with a with a bit of that at the moment!
Due to the use of Rosemary for improving memory it was used historically, as a symbol of fidelity for lovers, as well as being used at weddings, funerals and for decorating halls for banquets and other gatherings. Apparently, Anne of Cleves had it in her wreath on her marriage to Henry VIII (making a mockery of its love and fidelity claims!) and Rosemary branches decorated with silk threads were given to guests at weddings to represent love and loyalty.
The cosmetic uses for Rosemary mainly used the essential oils in hair-lotions. It was highly regarded for its pleasant smell and ability to stimulate hair growth so preventing premature baldness. The dried leaves and flowers were combined with borax to make a rinse that reportedly made one of the best hair washes known (not to be recommended today!). Rosemary was also used as an effective treatment for dandruff.
Whatever the merits of rosemary in terms of its medicinal, cosmetic or symbolic uses, for the gardener it is just one of the best herbs for the winter – ever green, ever fragrant and ever tasty!
Winter wildlife spotlight
The Latin word for hedgehogs is Erinaceus and our own British hedgehog is scientifically known as Erinaceus europaeus; it is the same species that occurs throughout most of the continent of Europe. In Britain it is found almost everywhere except some of the Scottish Islands, but tends to be scarce or absent from wet areas and pine forests. Uplands and mountainsides are not popular, probably because they lack both suitable food and suitable nesting places. Hedgehogs are well established in our urban habitat and can, somewhat surprisingly, survive very well in our cities, making extremely good use of cemeteries, railway land, wasteland and both public and private gardens. Shakespeare mentions hedgehogs in ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and he refers to ‘hedgepigs’ and ‘urchins’.
Naturally solitary, hedgehogs only come together to mate. They reach sexual maturity at around 12 months old. Hedgehogs have been known to live for seven years, but a lifespan of two to three is more typical. Baby hedgehogs are called hoglets.
At the risk of disappointing some people, it is worth mentioning the fact that hedgehogs tend to ‘do the rounds’ and visit several gardens within an area. Ten or more different individuals may visit a garden over several nights, which could mean that ‘your hedgehog’ is in fact a number of different individuals visiting at different times.
Test your knowledge of hedgehogs. Here are some further facts about them. All are true except one but which is is?
- Baby hedgehogs leave the nest after three weeks, by which time their spines have hardened, their eyes are open and they are able to follow their mother in search of food.
- Apart from worms, insects and snails, hedgehogs also eat frogs eggs, lizards, mice and even snakes
- Hedgehogs hibernate all winter
- Hedgehogs are immune to certain plant poisons. After chewing these plants they lick their spines, covering them with the toxin. This is thought to protect them from predators.
- There are fifteen species of hedgehog found across Europe, Asia and Africa
- Hedgehogs can swim
The clocks have gone back and we are officially moving into the winter months but that doesn’t give us any excuse to stay indoors and put our feet up apparently. Here are the 10 top jobs as recommended by the RHS for the coming month
- Clear up fallen leaves – especially from lawns, ponds and beds
- Raise containers onto pot feet to prevent waterlogging
- Plant tulip bulbs for a spring display next year
- Prune roses to prevent wind-rock
- Plant out winter bedding
- Cover brassicas with netting if pigeons are a problem
- Insulate outdoor containers from frost – bubblewrap works well
- Stop winter moth damage to fruit trees using grease bands around the trunks
- Put out bird food to encourage winter birds into the garden
- Use a seasonal bonfire – where this is allowed – to dispose of excess debris unfit for composting
Enjoy these Autumn days of gardening.