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.

Advertisements

Autumn leaves

I feel like breathing a huge sigh as we move into autumn and the stresses and strains of keeping everything going through the summer months gradually recedes. It seems the trees do this too, as they relax and allow themselves to drop their heavy burden of  leaves, giving us one of the best treats of the year, like a golden rain shower.

Well, enough of the poetry, what has been happening in the gardens lately? Let’s bring you down to earth with a spot of compost! There is nothing more satisfying about gardening than the feeling of getting something for free and the pure magic this………

gradually turning into a pile of this……..

in a matter of months is a real joy. Mike has been working steadily, shredding our garden clippings and turning it over, one bin into another, until, hey presto, we have a wonderful source of organic matter, black gold,  to return right back to the garden where it began. The best form of recycling there is.

Lots has been going on in the community garden this week, including the painting of the garden shelter, a job Andy seems to be enjoying! It now blends nicely with the potting shed and makes the whole thing look like one.

Bob was the lucky taster of one of Howard’s trial apple pressings this Tuesday. Each apple has had its sugar and acidity levels measured and we are now investigating which would make the best single variety  juice and which might produce a good blend. The one being tasted here was ‘Lady Henniker’, with a sugar content of 14.5% and acidity (Ph) 3.6 and it got the thumbs up from everyone who trialled it,  a perfect sweet juice with good background acidity.  ‘Edith Hopwood’ came in second place, a much sweeter juice, suiting the pallets of some. More testing will be going on this weekend but if you really want to taste for yourself the results of our 2017 Cressing Temple harvest, come along to APPLE DAY on 22nd October where we will be selling both juice and apples.

 

On the plot itself, the clear up and preparation for next year has begun and the beds are gradually being cleared and dug over.

The gardeners are working really hard to get it all spic and span in time for the Community Garden Soup on 21st October, when community garden groups from around the County will be visiting us to see how the project is progressing and share their ideas. There will be soup for all and various projects will be pitching for funding so if you want to take part, come along between 11am and 1pm on the day and make your way up to the Cressing Temple Community Garden and Shed.

We have the most wonderful crop of bullace plums in the hedgerow this year and it has caused much debate amongst us as to what is and what isn’t a bullace plum and how it differs from a sloe or a damson.

I found this description in a book called ‘Fruits of the Hedgerow’ by Charlotte Popescu:

Damsons came from Damascus originally and were found there by the Crusaders in the 12th century. It is thought that the Duke of Anjou brought them back to Europe after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Damsons are larger than bullaces with an oval shape and blue-black fruit. the flesh is green yellow.

Bullaces are the wild ancestors of plums and are native to Europe and Asia. They were grown by the Romans and Anglo Saxons and were popular in medieval orchards. The bullace makes a large bush or small tree which has some thorns but less than you would find on a sloe bush. The bluey black bullaces known as Black Bullaces are similar to sloes but slightly larger. There are also green yellow ones, known as Shepherd’s Bullaces. The fruits are round and very bitter like sloes and so are not usually eaten raw. The flesh is yellow. A third variety, White Bullace has small, flattened fruits and a yellow skin mottled with red – these are sweeter than the other types.”

So there we have it. A bit more clarity to our confusion. Somebody brought in a branch of a bush she had in her garden and had always known it as the Bullace.

As you can see, the fruit is entirely different to ours but perhaps these are Shepherd’s Bullaces.

In the walled garden we are starting to cut things back but there is still plenty to entice the visitor.

I thought the gardener’s shelter looked particularly inviting seen here as I peered through the apple trees from the culinary beds.

The saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) has had its brief but exuberant shot at flowering and every time it appears I find myself trying to imagine harvesting those delicate stamens by hand with 4000 flowers being needed to produce an ounce of saffron. No wonder it is the most costly spice in the world!

Now here’s a curious plant that has been attracting a lot of comment recently. It is French mallow (Malva  verticillata var. crispa). A strange plant and somehow it makes me think of underwear whenever I see it – must be all those frills! It is an annual  that was a popular addition to medieval ‘sallets’ (the medieval form of salad, a highly fashionable craze at the time!). It is a great plant – a bit of a late summer curiosity as it doesn’t start growing until well into August and then, all of a sudden it is there – tall and green and frothy. It self seeds each year so we never need to sow it and I have never known it to be troubled by any pests or diseases. I have never seen it growing anywhere other than our garden at Cressing. Perhaps we should start adding it to our salads and make it fashionable again.

Something else showy I saw this week, but not at Cressing this time, was in the walled garden at Marks Hall.

That poor peacock must be thinking somebody has stolen its tail and pasted it onto a huge ball!

This is part of an exhibition of sculpture in the gardens and arboretum that is well worth a visit. I especially liked the careful placing of various sculptures in and amongst the plants in the walled garden, complimenting them very well, I thought.

Now, I know Halloween is not quite upon us but we are getting ready for it with our ghostly thistles, Onopordum acanthium, looking like they are about to spook us any minute. Visit us for spooky fun on 26th and 27th October to see if they come alive!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apples, apples and more apples

I am very fond of apples and always enjoy this time of year when I can select a different variety from our trees every day to enjoy with my lunch…….Well, up to a point. Like every harvest glut, the novelty can soon wear a little thin and the enthusiasm for finding new ‘ways with apples’ becomes sorely tested. But a fresh apple picked straight from the tree, with so much juice it is hard to keep it all in, is a treat not to be missed. For information about the varieties we grow, see our page about the orchard.

Some apples

Some more apples

And yet more bags and bags of apples. Everywhere you look there are apples!

The fruit harvest this year seems particularly bountiful and it’s all hands to the task on volunteer days, just to keep up with the windfalls, let alone pick off the trees.

And they all need sorting and grading and putting into trays to be kept until APPLE DAY ON 22nd OCTOBER. Anyone with a few spare hours to help out would be very welcome on Tuesdays or Thursday mornings for the next few weeks and of course you could take a few bags home with you. We have a heavy crop of bullace plums too, which make a heavenly jam.

In collecting the harvest, things don’t always run smoothly: Here we are, all loaded up and ready to deliver another buggy full for storage and….ooops suddenly our precious haul was left on the tarmac. That will teach us not to lean back on the tipper switch!

Of course this bumper crop is thanks to the busy work of our bees earlier in the year, pollinating all those blossoms. Without them there would be no apple harvest so well done to our bees. And congratulations are also due to them for producing award winning honey this year.

Ok, so it was first out of three, but I am assured no prizes are awarded for undeserving entries so we can be very pleased with this result. Chuffed with our success we are going to enter some jars in the National Honey Show this year too. I will let you know how we get on. In the meantime, if you are keen on tasting some  award winning honey, come along to APPLE DAY on 22nd OCTOBER to claim a jar. We have just jarred another 55lbs and this will be the last batch of the year.

Cressing Temple is a great place to spot wildlife as you can see from our record of what has been spotted on site since May this year. Nice to see we are a local hotspot for wildlife of all kinds. Please let us know if you see anything to add to our list.

The Buzzard (Buteo buteo) was almost extinct at the start of the 20th century after years of persecution but now it is one of the most commonly seen hawks, after the kestrel. They have a long history of unpopularity.  James I of Scotland ordered their  destruction in 1457, Henry VIII excluded them from his law forbidding egg stealing and they were persecuted in the nineteenth century in a desire to preserve game. With the myxomatosis outbreak of 1952-55 seriously depleting rabbit numbers, which are a major source of prey, it is amazing how well they are doing today. But then, judging by the number of rabbits we have at Cressing Temple, perhaps I can understand why!

Buzzards were thought to foretell rain, as John Clare in his ‘Village Minstrel’ recounts:

Slow o’er the wood the puttock(buzzard) sails;

And mournful, as the storms arise,

His feeble hole of sorrow wails,

To the unpitying, frowning skies.

I spent an enjoyable day last weekend with four keen people who wanted to know more about propagating plants, in one of our craft and rural skills workshops. It looks like serious concentration was needed as the cuttings collected from the walled garden were trimmed and potted up.

Followed by a drink in the water bath to stop them drying out. It’s not too late to take cuttings of things like lavender and sage and they will make good plants to go in your garden by next spring. There is nothing quite so satisfying as making a new plants from old – recycling at its best!

The next workshop we are offering is garden design on Saturday 7th October, lead by an experienced  garden designer, Karen Chamberlain . If you fancy giving your garden a makeover this winter, maybe this course can help.  Contact Gemma Clayton on 03330132738 if you would like to book a place.

The community garden harvest is still going strong and the stall is still well stocked with produce on a Tuesday, with runner beans, beetroot, carrots, summer squash and, of course, apples, in plentiful supply.  Eager to try something different, I  enjoyed a tasty meal of stuffed summer squash  last weekend, made with Turks Turban and Flat white custard squash from the plot.

Here’s the recipe, courtesy of Rachel Demuth’s Green Seasons Cookbook.

 

Autumn Roasted Baby Squash with Haloumi Quinoa

4 Small squashes

1 tbs olive oil

100g quinoa

225ml boiling water

1/2 lemon, zest and juice

pinch of sea salt

125g haloumi, cubed and dry fried until golden

60g cashews, dry roasted for 5 mins in oven

20g pumpkin seeds, dry roasted for 5 mins in oven

1/4 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp paprika

2 tbsps flat parsley, roughly chopped

Pre-heat oven to 200C

Cut the tops off the squash, remove the seeds and rub the inside with olive oil. Roast for 30-40 mins until they are soft but not collapsed.

Rinse the quinoa in a sieve. Heat 1tbsp olive oil in a saucepan, add the quinoa, stir to coat the grains and stir fry for 1 min. Add the water, lemon juice and zest and pinch of salt. Simmer for about 15mins until all the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa grain has burst.

Stir in the fried haloumi, roasted cashews and pumpkin seeds, cayenne, paprika and parsley. Season to taste.

Fill the squash with the quinoa mix, replace the tops and reheat in the oven until warmed through. We made a roasted red pepper and tomato sauce to go with it.

 

There will be an opportunity to visit the community garden and find out more about our community projects at Cressing Temple on 21st October. As part of the Art of the Possible Festival, we will be hosting a ‘Garden Soup’ at the community garden and workshop. Other community projects will be represented and it will be a chance to celebrate their success and publicise what is going on in Essex in the way of community groups.

See below for more details of the event.

GardenSOUP: celebrating community gardens and growing

 

Green fingers?  Interested in community gardening? Keen to learn more?

GardenSOUP is a chance to mix with others who love gardening, from enthusiastic amateurs to horticultural experts.  There’s more than that, though – explore a new community garden, created by local people for local people; help with the harvest; and explore the new Men’s Shed that is also on site – whether you consider it day care for dads, or garden for gramps we can guarantee fun for all.

We close with the chance to be part of a SOUP. SOUP is a global microfunding phenomenon – donate on the door, eat soup, hear from local people with good horticultural ideas and vote for the idea you like best.  The winning schemes can take the money and start making a difference there and then!

Dust off your wellies, and come explore the community garden at Cressing Temple.

 

Saturday Oct 21st

11am-1pm

Cressing Temple Community Garden

You never know, there could be a pot of gold at the end of it!

The medlars (Mespilus germanicus) are plumping up nicely with all the recent rain.

The Medlar is a native of Europe and Asia Minor but has been growing in the Uk since ancient times. It is a member of the Rosaceae family and is closely related to the Hawthorn (Crataegus app). The fruits are like large brown rose-hips which can be eaten straight off the tree in the Mediterranean region but in our climate they only become edible once ‘bletted’ – made soft and half-rotten by frost. They used to be made into jellies, preserves and fillings for pies or were baked and eaten directly out of their skins with a spoon. Anyone wanting to try, come and see us sometime in October and we will be happy to give you a bag full.

The European Woodworking show is on at Cressing Temple this weekend. It may be the last time this event runs, so if you like all things made from wood and the wood working skills that create them, why not visit us this weekend and pop into the walled garden while you are there.

 

Harvest time already

Is it just me or is autumn upon us rather early this year? Already the apples are falling off the trees and we were busy in the orchard today gathering up all the windfalls. If the weather hadn’t been so warm it could have been October.

The top quality, blemish free ones will be stored, hopefully in the peak of condition until Apple Day on 22nd October (make sure you have it in your diary).

The next grade may have the odd mark or two or a bruise or bump as they hit the ground but are perfectly useable and we put these out for the public to take home. We just ask for a donation towards upkeep of the orchard.

The duds, those affected by brown rot, eaten by wasps or too tiny to eat, are tossed into the wheelbarrow and taken up to the fire site where they can be feasted on by birds, mammals and insects.

We came across another new fungus as we were collecting up all the apples.

This one is called a Tawny funnel fungus (Clitocybe gibba) and it commonly grows in leaf litter in deciduous woodland and rough grass or heaths. Very common throughout Britain and Ireland, the Common Funnel also occurs in most parts of mainland Europe and in North America. It is described as a ‘gregarious’ fungi because it often occurs in groups. All sorts of interesting information about the identification, distribution and uses of this fungus can be found on the First Nature website if you care to take a look.

The harvest is also going strong in the community garden, with an ever abundant looking stall on display every Tuesday. We need more visitors to use up the glut – anyone know what to do with a tonne of courgettes going on marrows? Please remember to drop in on a Tuesday if you are passing and see what we have.

Keeping watch over us all was our jolly new mascot with a veg stall to rival ours!

Somebody’s got nimble fingers! Thanks to Pete’s mum for this masterpiece. More of her knitted goods can be purchased in the Visitor Centre, including a Knight’s Templar in full battle attire.

One of the less usual things we have for sale is the patti pan squash or flat white custard marrow, which was grown in Tudor times. When small it can be used just like a courgette. Once it has grown large it is better stuffed and baked. See a recipe at the end of the blog, sent in by one satisfied customer this week.

Not to be left out of this productive week, our bees have produced enough honey for us to do a second extraction, so another 50kgs is heading for jam jars and will be out for sale by Apple Day. They would make a marvellous Christmas gift for those of you who like to think about such things at the end of August!

The liquid gold pouring through the strainer into the bucket below.

More news of our bees and their honey. We are entering some of this year’s honey into the The Essex Honey Show which will be taking place at the Orsett Agricultural Show, Orsett Showground, near Grays Thurrock,  Essex, RM16 3JU on Saturday 2nd September 9am – 5pm. The Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens has entered two honey classes:

Class 2 – One jar of clear honey – Gift Class. The Honey will be sold in aid of St Francic Hospice.

Class 17 – Two jars of medium clear honey – for beekeepers of 5 years’ or less beekeeping experience.

So, let’s see if we can scoop our first honey award. Fingers crossed.

If you fancy going along to the show the entry fee is £10. And a huge thank you to Jan French and David Andrews, our beekeepers, who put in many hours of dedication to look after our bees and process our honey. If anyone fancies learning about beekeeping and has a little time to spare, Jan is a great teacher and would love to have a beekeeping group at Cressing. Contact Rebecca if you are interested (rebecca.ashbey@essex.gov.uk)

In the walled garden, guess what, we were doing lots of weeding again. One minute we are saying thank goodness for a bit of welcome rain, the next minute we are cursing the weeds. Never satisfied some would say!

Jane tackles one of the culinary herb beds. The strange frilly looking thing at the end of the bed is French mallow (Malva verticillata) an annual herb used in sallets in tudor times.

Deadheading, cutting back and mulching are other useful tasks for this time of year, keeping everything looking neat and tidy as the garden gently slides into autumn.

Lynn is applying mulch to a bed of marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), Veronica (Veronica spicata) and chicory (Chicorum intybus).

Friends of Cressing Gardens are now the proud owners of three new benches for the walled garden, made especially for us by Stephen Westover of Westover Woodlands, Gosfield. They are lovely pieces of craftsmanship and will provide extra places for relaxation and contemplation in the garden. Stephen will be attending this year’s Apple Day, so if you like what you see, don’t miss him at our event.

Roses are such versatile plants. Some are all done with their flowering by now and have already launched into their autumn show of hips. One such rose is the wild dog rose, Rosa canina, seen here on our rose arbour.

Others are late starters, are only just getting into their flowering swing now, like the lovely sweet scented Rosa moschata, looking delicate and pretty on our arbour right now.

This is a very old rose, in cultivation at least as long ago as the 16th century. Its wonderful musky scent and useful characteristic of late season and long flowering has lead to it being used for breeding other roses, such as the damask roses  and the noisette roses. I love the simplicity of these flowers, and so do the bees, as the nectar and pollen is much more accessible than in our multi-petalled modern roses.

As promised, here is the squash recipe.

Patti pan a la Cressing

Stuffed patti pan per Person:

1 round patti pan squash

1 raw pork sausage skinned and chopped (or veg sausage)

1 heaped teaspoon finely chopped onion

1 heaped teaspoon finely chopped celery

pinch dried mixed herbs

Tomato and pepper sauce:

1 finely chopped onion (minus onion used in squash stuffing)

1 finely chopped pepper

1 finely chopped stick of celery

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

1 finely chopped fresh chilli (optional)

1 clove finely chopped garlic

Vegetable stock cube

Half teaspoon mixed dried herbs

Method

Earlier in the day bake the squash(s) in the oven in about an inch of water for 30 – 40 minutes at 200ºc until just soft and leave to cool. Once cool, cut round just inside the outer rim so you have a “lid” and remove all the pips with a teaspoon.

Sauce: gently fry the fresh veg with chilli and garlic until soft, then add tomatoes and stock cube and simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Stuffing: fry the reserved onion and celery until soft, then add chopped sausage and cook, stirring frequently so sausage breaks up a bit more. Cook until sausage is all cooked through.

Assembly: fill squash with stuffing mixture and put the “lid” on. Put about half an inch of tomato sauce in the bottom of an ovenproof dish that is just a little bit bigger than the squash to be cooked. Place the squash(s) on top and bake for half an hour at 200ºc.

Serve with crusty bread to mop up sauce. If you have cooked 1 or 2 squash and have spare sauce, it can be kept for a couple of days in the fridge and reheated as a pasta sauce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Athens and back

Sorry for the gap in my regular posts but I have been away on a rather exciting trip to Athens and back, via Milan and Florence by train and ferry! Here is a glimpse of where I went and what I saw:

The Duomo in Milan. View from the top. A beautiful structure and a city that surprised me.

The fountain of Neptune in the Boboli gardens in Florence, built by the Medici family in the 16th century.

View of the Florence roofscape from our apartment.

The famous Ponte Vecchio over the Arno river.

Endless delicious gelato!

Hard to get away from home sometimes! Look what we found for sale in the market.

 

Fantastic churches and artwork.

The deep blue Adriatic as we sailed past Greek islands.

The Acropolis – and we think our Cressing barns are old!

The Roman Olympian – like a giant Jenga.

The Odeon of Herodus Atticus – where gladiators might once have fought, now orchestras play!

Through the Italian Alps, near Turin, with vineyards a plenty.

And home again. Welcome back to English weather!

So…….. back to Cressing and work. Life can’t be one long holiday.

Into August  already and everything in the gardens is looking lush and green after all the rain you had while I was away – ha ha. Thank you to everyone who helped out while I was away, keeping it all going and looking lovely and making sure there were plenty of plants for sale and produce from the Community Garden for our visitors to buy.

Before my holiday, one of the priorities was to complete all the clipping of Box hedging – a mammoth task which would be impossible without such a great team effort.

The result is rather well worth it, I think you’d agree.

This is the centre piece of our Tudor garden and demonstrates how popular this type of ornamental gardening had become in the 16th century, for the wealthy at least. The Tudors were very fond of complicated, symmetrical patterns and they could be found in their architecture, art work, carpentry and gardens, in the form of ‘knots so enknotted, it cannot be exprest’ (so said George Cavendish, loyal courtier to Cardinal Wolesly). The idea was to view them from the galleries of castles and manor houses or from raised terraces, outdoor pavilions and summerhouses, as might have been the case in the Cressing garden. The designs for knot gardens were often taken from books of patterns, more often associated with embroidery than gardening. They would sometimes have the initials of the owners or lover’s initials interlaced in the middle, as was the case at Hampton Court in 1533, where there were many knots with the intertwined initials of ‘H’ and ‘A.’ The knot was a representation of eternity, something without beginning or end and a sign of an everlasting bond associated with marriage (or not so everlasting in the case of Henry VIII!).

Production on the Community veg plot has reached its peak and we have been delighted to have members of the public and staff visiting our produce stall on Tuesdays to make their selection of  fresh vegetables and herbs straight out of the ground.

If you would like to see what’s on offer, come over to the garden on Tuesdays and one of the gardeners will tell you what we have available that week, and even harvest it then and there for you. What could be fresher!

Other priorities in the garden have included cutting the final areas of meadow grass and wild flowers. You may have thought that growing wild flowers in meadow grass is as easy as sitting back and watching it all happen, but not so. A lot of work needs to be done to manage the mix and avoid the dominance of the thugs over the delicates. To this end, we set to, pulling out a lot of knapweed (Centaurea nigra) which had started to choke out other species. This is a tough perennial species found in all kinds of grassland across the UK and the bees love it.

 

Long ago, there was a love divination game played by village girls using the pinky-purple flower heads of this knapweed:

They pull the little blossom threads

From out the knapweeds button heads

And put the husk wi many a smile

In their white bosoms for awhile

Who if they guess aright the swain

That loves sweet fancy try to gain

Tis said that ere its lain an hour

Twill blossom wi a second flower

And from her white breasts hankerchief

Bloom as they had ne’er lost a leaf

Clare 1964

 

Well, delightful though that may be, we have too many of them and some had to go.

We are hoping to introduce a greater variety of species into this meadow grass for next year so I will let you know if all this yanking and tugging has had the desired effect. We will be sowing new seed and planting new plug plants in its place.

An interesting mushroom came to our attention as we were working in this part of the garden.

We think it is a scarlet wax cap (Hygrocybe coccinea), a fairly common fungus found in cropped grassland and woodland clearings; it sometimes appears on old lawns, parks and well-managed churchyards. Not poisonous but not a good eating mushroom, those budding mycologists among you can read more about it here.

And finally this week, to all you honey lovers out there, some more of our Cressing honey has been put in jars and is out for sale in the well house. We are entering some of it into the Essex honey show this year so you never know, we might have award winning honey soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Busy bees

We are pleased to announce that Cressing Temple honey is now available to purchase from the well house. We extracted the honey from three hives last week resulting in 42lbs of delicious, golden, runny honey which we are selling in 1lb jars for £5  and 8oz jars for £3. Twelve jars were sold on Sunday at the Vintage Fair. The Essex Festival of Food and Drink is next weekend, so don’t delay if you would like some.

The ‘supers’ containing the frames of honey have been cleared of bees and are ready to be taken into the dairy for extraction.

Jan removes the wax capping from each frame with a heat gun.

Each frame is carefully lowered into the extractor where it is held in place by the metal carousel.

Once all the frames are in place David spins the carousel by winding the handle.

The honey is flung out of the frames, hits the side of the extractor drum and runs down to the bottom, where it flows out of a tap, through a sieve and  into the waiting bucket.

Hey presto. Lots of glorious honey from our busy bees who will go on collecting nectar for the rest of the summer, possibly giving us a second crop by the end of August. We must ensure the bees have plenty of stores left to feed themselves through the winter so we will only take a second crop if they have been very productive. All the more reason to come and get a jar now to be on the safe side.

Last week we had a visit from The Woodbridge Society for a tour of the barns and gardens. Despite the risk of thunderstorms in the forecast, the weather was glorious and our visitors were able to enjoy their refreshments, baked on site in our traditional bread oven, whilst relaxing on the knot garden lawns.

Before this they were treated to a tour of the barns, lead by Elphin and Brenda Watkin and a tour of the garden with me.

While this was all going on, Monika was busy baking bread, foccacia and pastry treats in the rather sweltering bakehouse.

For most of the group it was their first visit to Cressing so it was lovely to share our enthusiasm for the site and send them away with a better insight into Cressing Temple’s history and development.

With the hot weather continuing all through the week, the greatest challenge in the garden, once again, was keeping everything watered and alive! The benefits of this are very evident in the veg garden, where the quantity and variety of crops is increasing week by week. Volunteers and staff have been taking fresh produce home and two members of the public visited the plot on Tuesday for a bag of goodies. We ask for a donation to help us sustain the project, so if you would like to try some, come up to the veg garden on a Tuesday and one of the gardeners will harvest a selection from what is available. Each week the Tiptree tearoom is taking a basket of our home grown veg and transforming it into the tastiest, freshest, healthiest food you could get. Why not visit and ask what they are using this week?

And here is one of my favourite soup recipes to get your taste buds tingling:

Spinach and courgette soup

1 Medium sized onion

1 Medium sized potato

1 large courgette

100g Spinach

2tbs oil

Few sprigs parsley

1.2 litres vegetable stock

142ml double cream

Salt and Pepper

 

Chop the vegetables. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the onion and courgette until the onion is transparent. Add the potato, spinach, parsley and stock. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before blending until smooth. Stir in the cream and adjust seasoning. Reheat gently.

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

Midsummer’s day

Well, there it is, we reached midsummer’s day on 24th June and everything was at a peak in the garden. From now on, us miserable gardeners, determined to look on the bright side, start saying things like “nights are drawing in” and “it’ll be autumn before we know it” but really, where does all the time go? And are we the only ones who rejoice when it rains? This week we saw some significant and much needed rain on the garden and most of it fell over night – perfect I’d say. For once we were not spending all day with watering cans, hoses and sprinklers on the go and we could get on with other things.

The community garden veg plot is looking fantastic and has started rewarding everybody with some produce and flowers.

We have been able to start offering fresh produce from the plot direct to the Tiptree tearoom and to volunteers. We hope to be able to make it available to the general public on Tuesdays, when the gardeners are there to harvest it and dependent on us having enough to offer. A bag of the freshest veg you can get, grown with no artificial fertilisers, no insecticides or herbicides, no transport or packaging costs. Just from the plot straight to the plate!

If you want to see what’s available, call in at the plot on a Tuesday between 10.00am and 4.00pm to see what we have each week.

Of course it doesn’t appear by magic and the garden team have been hard at work this week making sure the harvest gets better and better.

Nellie was keeping watch over the potatoes while Barbara got stuck in with some weeding.

Bob was busy constructing a display bench for all the lovely produce.

It’s not all hard work and Brian and Andy found time for a chat. Brian has been helping us tackle a mole problem and Andy was planting out the Occa and Ulluco, the South American tubers we trialled for the first time last year.

In the walled garden the jobs list doesn’t get any shorter, with trimming box hedging and the start of haymaking being priorities this week.

One cut now and the maze should look smart for the rest of the year and will continue to thicken up to fill the gaps. This maze was planted about 7 years ago and is just beginning to look like a solid hedge. It sometimes gets a battering from little feet, as our youngest visitors gamble precariously to the centre or older ones take a short cut and leap through, but it’s a tough plant and seems to be growing nicely.

Dwarf box (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) is very slow growing, only putting on between 3-5cm of growth in a year. For a taller maze the common box, Buxus sempervirens would be a better choice. Hedge mazes in English gardens date from the sixteenth century and became popular as a result of travel to French and Italian gardens where they were already well established. Strictly speaking, a maze of this period and this type should be made of low growing plants such as thyme or hyssop but box was chosen here for its practicality and the ease with which it can be clipped into tight shapes. Box became popular from the middle of the seventeenth century and soon became the plant of choice for this purpose, but it took a while before everyone was convinced of its virtues. Before then it had been regarded too smelly, it was thought to kill bees and it was believed to ‘corrupt the air’.

The leaves of all box species contain buxine, a narcotic and sedative used medicinally well into the twentieth century. The wood and root of box is very dense and close grained, making it very heavy and strong. Traditionally it has been turned, carved and engraved into flutes, pegs for musical instruments, combs, nutcrackers, chess pieces and used as the blocks for printing. Six hundred tons per annum used to be brought to England from Turkey for use in the printing trade alone.

The meadow flowers have largely gone over for another year and the gradual process of reclaiming the areas to a shorter sward has begun. Using a scythe rather than a strimmer is a much gentler, process, allowing the wildlife a chance to escape instead of being whizzed to pieces. We cut the meadow grass small section by section to allow an escape route for small mammals and insects.

Alison is using a continental scythe to mow through the meadow area in the walled garden orchard. This is much lighter and easier to use than the traditional English scythe which is more rarely used these days. For those interested, you can find out all about scything and the differences between English and  the Austrian scythe here. I like to use these traditional methods of gardening where we can. They interest the public who often stop to watch and then share their memories of seeing scything done in the past. One lady was telling us how her father almost completely severed the leg of their dog when it ran in the way of him scything. She had a distinct memory of watching it being stitched back on again – ouch!

What has been the most asked about plant this week? It has got to be the Life of Man plant, a type of morning glory called Convolvulus tricolor, flowering cheerfully in the vine border around the Veronica spicata.

Any plant with three colours or an association with the number three would have attracted the Tudors, with its symbolic link to the trinity, as the meaning of plants had far greater significance then than it does now. This plant is an annual and loves a sunny position where it will flower its socks off before succumbing to the first frosts. This particularly eye-catching variety is called ‘Blue Ensign’ and is available from Chiltern Seeds if you would like to grow some.

I love noticing which flowers attract which pollinators in the garden and seeing which are clear favourites.

The bumblebees certainly favour the teasels and this one, Dipsacus sativus, flowering in the dye border is hardly ever without a bumblebee visitor. Their long tongues are clearly well adapted to probe deep into each tubular flower to reach the rich nectar.

I like this description of the wild teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) by Richard Jeffries in the 1879:

“The large leaves of this plant grow in pairs, one on each side of the stem, and while the plant is young are connected in a curious manner by a green membrane, or continuation of the lower part of the leaf round the stem, so as to form a cup. The stalk rises in the centre of the cup, and of these vessels there are three or four above each other in storeys. When it rains, the drops, instead of falling off as from other leaves, run down these and are collected in the cups, which thus form so many natural rain-gauges. If it is a large plant, the cup nearest the ground – the biggest – will hold as much as two or three wine glasses. this water remains there for a considerable time, for several days after a shower, and it is fatal to numbers of insects which climb up the stalk or alight on the leaves and fall in. While the grass and the earth of the bank are quite dry, therefore, the teasel often has a supply of water; and when it dries up, the drowned insects remain at the bottom like the dregs of a draught the plant has drained. Round the prickly dome-shaped head, as the summer advances, two circles of violet-hued flowers push out from cells defended by the spines, so that, seen protruding above the hedge, it resembles a tiara – a green circle at the bottom of the dome, and two circles of gems above”

The insect seen on this yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is a hover fly or some kind of solitary bee (sorry I’m not an expert), and having a much shorter tongue, it chooses to feed on plants of this type with broad, flat heads of flowers which are easy to land on and the nectar is much more accessible.

It is a fascinating how plants and insects have evolved to mutual benefit. If you would like to know more about different flower shapes and the insects they are best adapted for, take a look at the Pollinator Garden website. This is a good time of year to pay a visit to the walled garden which is full of all kinds of pollinating insects visiting our wild flowers.

And finally, how about this for a good bit of accidental flower combining? As the flower heads of the Scotch thistle, Onopordum acanthium emerge they are the perfect match for the same coloured but different textured flowers of purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria. A wild flower garden can be trendy too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.