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.


Lengthening days and signs of spring

It may seem that we are still firmly in the grip of winter, still waking up in darkness, peering out onto a gloomy lifeless scene and making decisions about how many layers of clothing are needed or which waterproof to take. But look a little closer and you soon realise that some plants are feeling a little more optimistic and have decided it is time to have a tentative peek at the world.

Here are a few signs of spring, spotted at Cressing yesterday.

Usually the first to flower, the winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is a cheery sight. Looking like choirboys with their ruff of leaves, these flowers have been known and loved in Britain since at least 1597 although they should be treated with caution like all members of the Ranunculaceae family because they are very poisonous. In 1822 a certain Mrs Gorst died after eating a tuber, having mistaken it for horseradish!

Next are the wonderful catkins, or lambs tails,  of the hazel (Corylus avellana), waiting for the wind to distribute its pollen to the tiny red female flower which is harder  to spot.

The hazel has been growing happily in Britain for the last 6000 years, having been one of the first species to recolonise our land after the last Ice Age. During that time it has been one of the most useful woody species we know, having two invaluable qualities. Poles can be split lengthways and then twisted and bent at sharp angles without breaking, making them the perfect material for weaving and use in all manner of construction from wattle and daub to fencing and hurdles and even for pegging down thatch. And it is not just ancient craftsmen that found a use for this versatile timber. More recently, Hazel screens have been used to reduce motorway noise, ‘mattresses’ of hazel have been used to fortify the banks of the river Ouse, and gardeners everywhere still use humble hazel rods for pea and bean sticks and walkers for walking sticks.

This time of year would not be complete without the mention of the much loved and well known snowdrop (Galanthus ssp).

Galanthus nivalis, or Candlemas bells, are what you might think of as an archetypal British wild flower. But all is not straightforward with the history of the snowdrop and it may not even be a native species. It grows wild on the continent in damp woods and meadows but is unknown in Scandinavia and colder Northern Europe, despite having leaf tips specially hardened to pierce frozen ground. But they were not recorded as growing wild in Britain until the 1770’s and they failed to generate much enthusiasm amongst early gardeners here. They are one of few naturalised species not to get a mention by either Shakespeare or Chaucer and it was known as the unromantic ‘bulbous violet’ until the name snowdrop appeared in 1633. Considering its near obsessional popularity amongst collectors today one wonders what our medieval forebears were missing.

Whilst things in the garden are still relatively quiet at Cressing there was more of a commotion at the Community Shed on Tuesday when it held a grand opening, attended by what seemed like hordes of people, making our large Shed seem suddenly rather cosy.

The grand unveiling was performed by two Councillors from Braintree District Council, assisted by Bob Adams, chairman of the Cressing Community Shed and was watched by a good crowd of hardy Shed enthusiasts.

Inside, many items were on display to give inspiration to budding shedders and show what can be done.

All the hard work of getting the shed smartened up, organised and ready for action was clear for everyone to see.

There was even a celebratory cake, soup, sandwiches and cups of tea to give much cheer to those who came along.

It has taken over a year to arrive at this official opening and we are delighted to have this community facility at Cressing, to complement our other volunteering opportunities. With very little money but a great idea and a few willing and determined volunteers it just goes to show what is possible and what can be achieved. If you would like to know more about the Shed or are thinking you might like to join, visit their Facebook page or come to Cressing Temple on a Tuesday or Thursday where there will be somebody to tell you more. You can also find out more about the whole idea of Mens’ sheds and how it came about at the Uk Mens’ Shed Association website. And our shed is not just for men so if you ladies out there have a hankering to bash in a nail, turn a bowl or make a planter for your garden why not come along?

It is always nice to be able to take our Cressing Temple gardens a bit further from home, and I had the opportunity to do this a couple of weekends ago when I gave a talk at the Nottingham Hardy Plant Society., called ‘Plants with a Purpose’. The invite came from my sister, a committee member for the Nottinghamshire Hardy Plant Group, who needed to fill a gap in their speaker programme (nobody much wants to come out in January!), which I duly accepted.

And what a lovely occasion it was, with a  friendly, interested audience who made me feel very welcome. My talk was called ‘Plants with a Purpose’ and I used the opportunity to introduce the walled garden and explain the many fascinating uses to which the plants have been put in the past. but I was surprised and delighted to find that one or two members had already visited Cressing and knew the garden. Let’s hope we see a few more of them this summer.

The Nottingham Hardy Plant Group has been going for an amazing 42 years and has a thriving membership of about 120 plant enthusiasts. The group meets for monthly talks in the winter and for regular visits to gardens in the summer. They are also lucky to be responsible for the care of a botanic garden at Wollaton Deer Park and Hall in Nottingham, a delightful and beautifully maintained  garden, 100 feet by 50 feet and surrounded by a 10 foot high brick wall. They grow plants from 50 different genera and they are all labelled meticulously.

The botanic garden is open on Sundays from 2-4pm from spring until autumn and would be well worth a visit as they sell their plants too! Take a look at the Notiingham Hardy Plant website for more information.

The Friends Group is now the proud owner of a 36L apple press, an Ebay bargain not to be missed.

If you remember, we won some money at last autumn’s Garden Soup for an apple press to turn some of next year’s wonderful apple harvest into Cressing Temple Apple juice. Well, now we have come a step closer to that goal. Strange to be thinking of harvesting apples when it is only January, but knowing how quickly time flies we will soon be heading towards our next Apple Day on 14th October. Put it in your diary and come along for a taste of the 2018 vintage.

Well, having started this blog with a comment on this morning’s gloomy weather, I have just spent a glorious afternoon in my garden, with the sun shining and birds singing as though Spring is here already. A day is a long time in gardening!












Friday 23rd February 2018 at 7.30pm

The Friends are pleased to host a general knowledge quiz.

Please come along, everyone is welcome.

The Quiz will take place in the Cressing Temple Visitor Centre starting at 7.30pm.

Teams of 4-6 people, £5 per head.

Tea, coffee & biscuits provided, but please feel free to bring your own food and drink.

To book a table please contact Karen Perry:


Tel: 07917 850860


Happy Christmas

So here we are, almost at the end of another year and time for another volunteer Christmas party. This time last year we had nothing but the gazebo to shelter us from the drizzly December weather. Do you remember it?

So what luxury it was this year, to have warmth, light and power in the porta cabin, potting shed and shelter. And all thanks to the Big Lottery grant we were lucky enough to receive this year.

It felt like civilisation had arrived at the Community Garden and we made the most of it by cooking three soups, hotdogs and potatoes!

All this was enjoyed around the campfire whilst catching up with friends.

We know how to party, us gardeners!

To top it all off, some of us braved the icy cold floor of the community shed to make willow bird feeders. Here’s me trying to remember how I made it.

And here’s everybody trying to remember how I made it!

And a happy result.

Let’s hope the birds enjoy their Christmas dinners.

It was a lovely way to round off an enjoyable year of gardening at Cressing. A  huge thank you to all our volunteers who have worked so hard, been so cheerful and enthusiastic and added so much to the life and events of Cressing Temple this year. It has been a fantastic year and so much has been achieved. A real team effort.

Much had been going on in the gardens before we got to party time. This week we have endured some dank and gloomy weather but for our apple trees in the Jubilee orchard they have never had so much light! The hedgerow had become completely overgrown, blocking light to the trees for many years. As a consequence, some of them were leaning desperately to one side in search of light and were struggling to produce a decent crop of apples each year. We decided the time had come to do some radical cutting back and with the expert help of one of our Country Parks Rangers we lowered the hedge to a more manageable 6 foot.

What a difference it has made. The trees look a bit shocked but will soon get used to it and we are hoping it will make them grow stronger, more balanced and with better fruiting ability.

Encouraged by our success we continued the process of letting in more light by cutting back the hedgerow adjacent to the main road, which has also improved access to the public footpaths running across the Cressing Temple site. Howard was a dab hand with the long handled pruner as you can see.

While we had ranger help we took the opportunity to take down a couple of trees that were dying in the Walled Garden. This Elder (Sambucus nigra) has been looking increasingly sickly over successive years, possibly as a result of the honey fungus we have in the garden. We finally took the decision to fell it this autumn, to be replanted with another tree, grown against the wonderful South facing Tudor wall.

Chris carefully inspected the tree before taking it down, in case it might be a potential bat roost. For those of you with an interest in chiropterology you can read about bat roosts on the bat conservation society website. Although there were a few small holes in the dead wood of this tree, none were large enough or deep enough to provide a suitable roost.

Our new community shedders are keenly interested in any tree felling that happens on site. What to us is an old diseased piece of wood might for them become a beautifully turned fruit bowl. What better example of recycling could you get?

Before the weather turned all Christmassy – mild damp and dreary! – we enjoyed a brief but beautiful few days of snowy weather, which is hopeless for gardening but great for photos.

Despite the inevitable slide into winter we have found plenty to keep us busy and there have been many trips over to the bonfire site with apple tree prunings. It was on one of those trips that several fairy rings were spotted in Dove House field.

These strange growths are caused by the fungi Marasmius oreades, a common fungus found in grassland across the UK. The genus name Marasmius comes from the Greek word ‘marasmos’, meaning ‘drying out’ which alludes to their ability to completely dry out in hot sunny weather only to reappear when the rains return. This and other members of the genus Marasmius are sometimes referred to as ‘resurrection mushrooms’ for this very reason. They are also commonly known as ‘Scotch Bonnets’. The ring is produced because the mycelium of the young fungus spread out in all directions using the nutrients in the soil, leaving none in the middle, so a ring with nutrient poor soil in the middle occurs.

I often mention how much of our time is spent trying to outwit or outmanoeuvre our rabbit population at Cressing and the last few weeks have been no exception! With great dedication and diligence, in the miserable rain, this little yellow garden elf (aka Mary) constructed a beautiful and colourful barrier out of red stemmed dogwoods (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’) to prevent the persistent digging and nibbling in the well house border. We are trying to beat their sneaky efforts without turning the whole site into a chicken wire fortress! These dogwood barriers look far more attractive.

What about these for a curious looking vegetable?

They are called Oca (Oxalis tuberosa), a South American tuber with a lemony taste that can be cooked like potatoes.  In warm climates Oca is a perennial herbaceous plant and can overwinter as underground stem tubers but in more temperate northern climates, it is frost sensitive and is grown as an annual. It is easy to grow and harvest, it can tolerate poor soil and would be ideal for a ‘no dig’ gardening system. This is the second year we have grown these unusual tubers and we can easily grow some more next year by saving a few of the biggest and best from this year’s crop to be planted out next spring. I thought I would go for  a bit of variety and serve these as part of our Christmas dinner this year.

For those of you who like something a little more traditional, have a very happy Christmas and enjoy your……

Have a peaceful, restful and warm Christmas. See you all in the New Year!














A smelly week

With the warmth and and fragrance of summer herbs and roses well behind us, this week has been filled with more autumnal aromas, and not all of them pleasant!

It was time to give our fishpond a thorough clean out, following a summer of very poor water quality. We knew there were fish in there somewhere, we just couldn’t see them!

Having used the pump to empty the water to as low a level as we dared without having to remove the fish, it was time to reach for the waders and roll up our sleeves. First problem, will I be able to see over the top of the waders!

Not the most flattering of outfits but let’s hope they are watertight.

And in I go.

At times like this it is hard to remember the delightful scents of summer or imagine the sparkling jewel like flowers of the water lilies. People often say to me how lucky I am to have a job like mine!

And this is what we dredged out.


With Carol’s help we managed to remove a proportion of the thick sludge that had accumulated over the years at the base of the pond. A large population of goldfish and an overhanging D’Arcy Spice apple tree results in the build up of a large amount of decaying organic matter which was contributing to the poor water quality. Our intention was not to remove all the sediment, which is full of insect life and nutrients providing food for the fish. We just wanted to restore a healthy balance for fish and plants alike, whilst also improving the appearance for our visitors. The smelly sludge was emptied into the moats so none of the insect life was lost. Now we just need to return the repotted water lillies, fill the pond up to its normal level and see if it has all made a difference. In the spring we intend to add some extra oxygenating plants, introduce some water snails and treat the pond regularly with a dose of barley straw extract to limit the growth of algae and maintain a healthy ecosystem with everything in equilibrium.

Pond cleaning was not the only smelly job we tackled this week. On Tuesday we all went home smelling of kippers after an all-day bonfire up at the fire site.

It was hard work as the waste pile had become very large over the summer but by the end of the day about a third of it had gone and there was a huge pile of wood ash which we can add to the compost heap in small amounts or dig into the vegetable garden. Wood ash has the benefit of raising the soil Ph, so is good for brassicas which benefit from an alkaline soil, and it has high levels of potassium which is good for promoting better fruiting.

I thought I might be in for another smelly experience this week when I visited the compost loo at Runwell allotments, an option we are considering for our community garden and community  Shed area. This time I was pleasantly surprised to find no unpleasant smells  and was rather impressed with the practical installation they have there, on a site with no mains services.

Lynda Payne, parish councillor for Runwell, kindly showed us their facility and explained how it all worked and how they had secured funding from the National Lottery.

They have had their loo for over two years and are delighted with it. No smell, no maintenance so far and what a difference it has made to all the allotmenteers who no longer have to cross their legs or dash home when nature calls!

It seems like a great option for us at Cressing if we can get the necessary permissions and raise the funds. At the moment the only option for community gardeners and Shedders who are caught short is to take the long trek on foot to the main public toilets or use the allotment taxi – Carol’s bike!

This week has seen the first frosts of the winter which is a lovely sight on those crops that can withstand it like this parsley (Petroselinum crispum).

On a bright, sunny morning with a blue sky and a slight mist hanging in the air it was a beautiful sight first thing in the morning up at the vegetable plot.

It is well worth leaving some plants standing through the winter months, especially if they have valuable seed heads like these sunflowers which the blue tits and great tits have been feasting on for their rich, energy giving oils.

The cold weather is also a good time to make sure there are plenty of places for the insects to hibernate over winter. An insect box like this is ideal, but also leaving piles of twigs and sticks in the corners of the garden and leaving some leaf litter under hedges will all provide valuable cover for wildlife facing the rigours of the colder weather.

Whilst we and many creatures feel like hiding away and keeping warm as the weather turns colder, there are some advantages to the gardener of the onset of the first frosts: and one of them is the sweetening of certain vegetables like parsnips and brussels sprouts.

Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis, which are usually stored in the plant as starches but in response to cold temperatures, some plants break down some of their energy stores into “free” sugars, such as glucose and fructose, and stash them in their cells to guard against frost damage. Sugar dissolved in a cell makes it less susceptible to freezing in the same way that salting roads reduces ice. Clever stuff. And we benefit because the vegetables taste sweeter.

Despite the gradual slide into winter it is still a good time to lift and divide perennials so long as the soil is still workable. Mary did a fantastic job in the Cullen garden on Thursday splitting and replanting hardy Geranium macrorrhizum and Osteospermum jucundum in the central island bed. These plants have proved to be very good ground cover, reliable and healthy and relatively untroubled by our resident population of rabbits! We are gradually getting a good idea of what plants are rabbit proof in our conditions. Peony, Hellebore, Catmint, Hydrangea, Bergenia, Agapanthus, Red hot poker and several grasses seem pretty resistant and we will go on looking for more. Ground cover is really useful where rabbits are concerned as they prefer uncovered, loose soil where it is easy for them to dig. We intend to make it as inconvenient for them as we can!

Thanks to Mike, we now have a lovely, efficient composting process going on and have been using the products to mulch our beds this week. Chopping or shredding the material as it is added to the pile is a great way to speed the whole thing up, in addition to it being a good workout and warm up at the start of a chilly day.










A thriving apiary

What a fantastic year it has been for our bees and their honey. Thanks to all the hard work of our beekeeper, Jan French and ably assisted by our chairman, David Andrews, our honey has scooped three awards this year:

We are delighted with this recognition and feel very proud to have such a healthy and productive apiary at Cressing. We have been able to collect 5 buckets of honey this year and so far have sold 104 8oz jars and 65 1lb jars, making a total income of £637. This has meant we could invest in in our own honey extractor and build up our supply of honey jars and wax foundation for next year. We hope to buy a warming cabinet in 2018, by which time we will be more or less self sufficient for honey production.

We are delighted to be doing our bit to support and protect our local honey bee population and all the gardeners are to be thanked for helping maintain such a healthy, diverse and species rich garden for them to feed upon.

There is still one bucket of honey to be put into jars, so if you have missed your chance to sample some of our award winning honey take a look in the well house when you next visit and snap up the last of this year’s harvest.

We are well and truly into the autumn jobs now in the garden. Mary has been tidying up the fading Iris leaves and planting out Pulmonaria in the pool garden.

Howard has been adding mulch to the culinary beds and removing all the unripe figs from the fig tree.

Denise, Carol and Lisa were cutting back the spent flowers of the Germander and giving the knot garden a good leaf clear up.

For myself and Pete, the week has been spent grappling with pond plants and pond sludge as we attempt to give the pond a major autumn clean up. We removed all the plants, dredged some of the silt, cleaned up the filters and then pumped out a proportion of the old water.

Yuck! Not a pretty sight, or smell, but hopefully will result in vast improvement in the appearance of the pond next year. We might even be able to see the fish!

I was so up to my neck in the pond waders and pongy plants I forgot to take any pictures of the messy proceedings. But for any of you interested in such things, here is the pond pump, which is situated in the garage. You can see the yellow stretch of hose being used to drain the water from the outlet  valve. All very simple now we have discovered how to do it! No such things would have troubled the Tudor inhabitants of the garden of course, but it does mean we can have the fountain running continuously for our visitors rather than having to pump furiously by hand whenever the need arose!

Work on the veg plot is slowing down now but there are still veg to harvest, as Becky was pleased to discover the other day when she called in for some supplies.

As you can see, the bunting is still flying, celebrating our success at the Garden Soup Day on 21st October, which was a blustery but dry occasion  when about 40 people visited to talk about community gardening and share some soup. We came second in our bid for the pot of donated money. First place was awarded to  a great new community project to renovate a garden behind Earls Colne library. This is just getting started and needs anything and everything going in the way of tools and equipment. The other beneficiary was another fantastic project in Dunmow, called Get Diggin It. All three projects went away with some very valuable winnings. Our £261 will be used to purchase our own apple press to turn some of next year’s apple harvest into our very own Cressing Temple apple juice. Thanks to all who came and supported the event which was a most enjoyable and successful occasion.





Apple Day 2017

A fantastic day, with record numbers of visitors and a lovely family atmosphere. Here is a medley of photos to remind you of the event or show you what you missed.














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!