Heritage Lottery project

Memories of Cressing Temple Gardens:

Oral history project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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.

Re-opening

The exciting news for this week is that the site has re-opened to the public and just in time for everybody to see the garden as it reaches its peak! For the time being, public access is to the grounds and walled garden, with the tearoom, visitor centre, barns and other buildings remaining closed. Opening times are 9.00am – 5.00pm.

It has been lovely to welcome our first few guests to the gardens, including Jan, our beekeeper and Mike, another beekeeper who will be joining us as a volunteer soon. Our willow lady looks a little alarmed at Mike’s failure to observe social distancing!!

Keeping our visitors and staff safe has been our top priority while getting ready for re-opening. We have had a shuffle round of the plant tables to allow more room for people to browse and to prevent a bottle neck at the entrance to the walled garden.

Plenty of benches are available for people to sit, enjoy the garden and contemplate at a safe social distance.

We also have a smart new bench installed in front of the farmhouse, donated by a visitor in memory of a loved one. The Cullen garden provides a further choice, with benches or the picnic tables if you want to bring your own refreshments.

We have been less excited about the discovery of some other, rather unwanted guests to the walled garden this week. This is the caterpillar of the box tree moth, Cydalima perspectalis.

Needless to say, this one won’t be getting a bench in its memory! It is a rather beautiful and striking caterpillar but has a voracious appetite. Where larval numbers are high it can disfigure ornamental Box and topiary and can defoliate plants completely. We have lots of box hedging in the walled garden, as those of you enlisted to do the annual clipping will agree!

The thing to look for is patches of cobwebby leaves like this:

Hard to spot at first, the black headed caterpillars wrap themselves in this silky webbing as a protection while they set to, munching the leaves.

The moth is also attractive, although we haven’t seen any or caught any in our pheromone trap yet.  Catching the male moth in a pheromone trap is a very good way of monitoring how many are around and indicating when further action is needed. We have spent some time examining our box hedging this week and squishing any caterpillars or leaving them for the birds. Blue tits are very fond of them, apparently, and we think at least one family is taking advantage of our predicament.

Holes in Tudor walls come in handy sometimes!

Box moth has almost certainly been introduced with imported Box (Buxus spp) plants for our nursery market. An Asian species, this moth was first recorded in Kent in 2007, since when the species seems to be gradually increasing in frequency. In recent years it has gained a strong foothold in Essex, Surrey, Hertfordshire and parts of Berkshire. The moth has now been recorded widely over large parts of England and the first sighting in Scotland was in 2018.

UK imports of live plants have increased by 71 percent since 1999. There are now more than 1,000 pests and diseases on the UK plant health risk register. Plant pests and diseases have become more ferocious and more persistent in the UK over recent years. Diseases such as ash dieback and those caused by Phytophthora, as well as pests such as box tree moth and horse chestnut leaf miner are causing significant changes to our landscape and horticultural practices. The risk of new plant pests and diseases is associated with increasing volume and quicker movement of traded plants and other material, imported from an increasing variety of sources.

One thing we, as customers can try to do, wherever possible, is to buy UK grown and sourced plant material. This is difficult and often more expensive when faced with the tempting array of exotic imported species offered cheaply by our local garden centres. Another thing we can do is to promote the growing of UK native species as we do at Cressing. Growing your own, from seed or cuttings, is another option and one many of us have been turning to in this lockdown while garden centres have been closed.

Other news, if you can call it that, is that we have started tackling the next section of path pointing, in a effort to find a more effective solution to path weeds than spraying. We have stopped using Glyphosate weedkiller in the walled garden and its use is being discouraged across all the country parks. We have been using a new weedkiller based on acetic acid (vinegar) which has been partially successful but needs frequent re-application, is not without it’s own risks and is expensive for the expanse of brick paving we have in the walled garden. Re-pointing is a far more permanent, though back breaking, option so we will attempt it in stages over the next year or so (please don’t let that put you off returning to volunteering!).

For other weeding work we are pleased to have Wilf, our willow gardener helping out in the pumpkin patch after his long winter rest in the wellhouse. You are doing a good job Wilf – faster faster!

Still on the subject of artistic willow work, Alison has added a rustic feel to our potager with this support for the narrow leaved pea (Lathyrus sylvestris).

Blossom of the week

Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus spp)

Such a beautiful flower, such vicious thorns, loathed and loved in equal degree, the blackberry is a plant known to us all, with the tradition of blackberrying going back thousands of years (blackberry seeds have been found in the stomach of a neolithic man dug up at Walton-on-the-Naze!). The blossom is a promise of fruit later in autumn when, if we are still doing our walks in the countryside, we will be taking our baskets and risking scratches from thorns to gather enough for the odd blackberry and apple crumble in the winter.

We are doing things a little easier at Cressing. This blossom is from a thornless variety called ‘Loch Ness’ growing in our new fruit cage, supported by wires strung between posts. The fruits are larger than the wild variety and they are said to have a lovely flavour. Picking will be  very easy from the thornless upright canes and it should crop from mid-late August to mid-late September. There are many new cultivars of thornless blackberry on the market and some have been bred to take up less space, making them an option for smaller gardens or allotments.

Edible of the week

Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus)

This has been on my ‘must try’ list for years but somehow it has never appealed, looking for all the world like a roadside weed and failing to tempt me.

However, I am told it is an excellent spinach substitute that is perennial, unfussy and unfazed by pests or diseases, so here goes, time to find its hidden charms!

Also known as poor-man’s asparagus or Lincolnshire spinach, Good King Henry is a close relative of the weed Chenopodium album, which as its common name – Fat Hen – suggests, was used to feed birds. More aristocratic family members include the trendy Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) and it is in the same family as spinach and amaranth.

The name, good henry, may be to distinguish it from Bad Henry (Böser Heinrich in German) who was a malevolent spirit described by the Brothers Grimm. Bad henry is also the name given to Mercurialis perennis, generally known as Dog’s Mercury. The Good Henry of German folklore performed household and other domestic chores in return for a saucer of cream (he can come to my house any day!). Bad Henry, of course, would turn milk sour like Puck or Robin Goodfellow in English folklore.

This plant becomes increasingly bitter as the season progresses so now seemed like a good time to try it. The young spring shoots (that appear from April) can be eaten much like asparagus. Cut the first 20cm growth, remove any leaves and steam it as you would asparagus. As the seasons progress eat the leaves and the unopened flower buds as a broccoli substitute.Some recipes suggest soaking it in salty water for a time before cooking to draw out the bitterness, as done with aubergines.

I went for a simple steam of the leaves, stems and flower tops, which we ate with some baby broad beans from the Cressing plot and a mushroom curry. The result doesn’t really deserve a photo (cooked, they looked like a any other pile of greens!) but the taste was pleasantly acceptable, if not remarkable. I can imagine the bitterness being too strong for our tastes later in the season but I might give the salting technique a go.  Given the ease with which it grows, and the fact this is a perennial vegetable with far less work involved than its closest rival, annual spinach, I think it is worth a place in the perennial veg patch. Good old Henry has gone up a notch in my estimation!

Plant of the Week

Flax 

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Flax (Linum usitatissimum) has been grown since 5000BC for its stems, which yield linen fibre, and for its seeds, which contain 30-40 per cent linseed oil. The sails of ancient Greek ships were made from linen, and the words linen, linseed and line are all derived from the Latin linum and Old English lin, meaning flax.

In ancient Egypt, linseed oil was important for cooking and burning in lamps, but today its main use is as a fast-drying oil in paints. Over the centuries, two strains of flax have been developed: a tall one with few branches and flowers, that yields long fibres; and a shorter one with numerous flowers and seed capsules for oil production.

Culpeper wrote ‘The seed, which is usually called linseed, is emollient, digesting, and ripening; of great use against inflammations, tumours, and impostumes (pus-filled sores), and is frequently put into fomentations and cataplasms for those purposes. Cold-drawn linseed oil is of great service in all diseases of the breast and lung. It likewise helps the colic and the stone.’ Modern scientific research has shown potential for extracts from flax being successfully used to treat cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal disorders. There is also interest in the use of the oil against breast and prostate cancers.

At Cressing we actually grow the perennial form of flax (Linum perenne) rather than the annual form (Linum usistatissimum) as it looks similar but is a bit easier to grow! Although the seed, oil and fibre of the perennial flax can be used, they are inferior to the products of the annual flax.

Quiz

For this week’s quiz we are looking at plant species names, and how they can often reveal something about the plant’s origins, habitat or appearance.

These four species names indicate whether the plant originates from the northern, southern,  western or eastern part of the world (in relation to Europe), but which is which?

orientalis/orientale

australis/australe

borealis/boreale

occidentalis/occidentale

Sometimes the name is telling us something about the smell of a plant. These plants are all grown at Cressing, and have species names which mean ‘sweet scent’, ‘very fragrant’, ‘strong smelling’, ‘musk-like’ and ‘bad smell’, but which is which?

Helleborus foetidus

Malva moschata, Rosa moschata

Myrrhis odorata

Ruta graveolens, Anethum graveolens

Mentha suaveolens

Other names refer to the location where a plant might be found in the wild, so they are useful for gardeners trying to adopt a ‘right plant, right place’ approach! In the following list the species names indicate ‘of the mountains’, ‘from marshes’, ‘near the sea’, ‘of woods’ and two of them mean ‘of the field’. Can you work out which is which?

Caltha palustris

Knautia arvensis

Crambe maritima, Armeria maritima

Malva sylvestris, Myosotis sylvatica

Centaurea montana

Acer campestre

Answers next week.

Jobs for the Week

Greenhouses

Under glass temperatures can get very high so it’s vital to shade young plants, open ventilators, windows and doors whenever possible and damp down to prevent the air becoming too dry.

Cuttings from shrubs

Softwood cuttings can be taken of most shrubs from now until July. Cut shoots about 8 – 10 cm long, cutting just above a bud or leaf. Put them in a plastic bag straightaway to stop them wilting. Trim the cuttings below a leaf joint and remove the lower leaves. Five or six cuttings can be put in a 12cm (5 inch) pot which has a 50:50 mix of compost and vermiculite or grit. Water the pot, them cover it with a polythene bag (held off the foliage with sticks). Put in a sheltered spot out of direct sunlight. The cuttings should root within six to eight weeks.

Plant out tender vegetables

Plant out runner beans, French beans and courgettes now that the risk of frost is hopefully past. If you don’t have any, we’ve got some for sale at Cressing Temple!

Now we have opened our gates again many of you can come and visit, to see for yourselves what is going on. We would love to see you and have a chat at a safe distance. We look forward to catching up with all your news.

Jumpers on jumpers off

The last week has been such typically British weather – changeable! There have been moments when three jumpers were needed and moments of none. It made me think of one of the things I like best about going on holiday to warm sunny places (distant memory!), which is knowing that you don’t need to pack jumpers or raincoats!

This is a tricky time for us gardeners. We are desperate to get planting all those lovely summer tender plants – the tomatoes, the courgettes, the bedding plants, the exotic perennials. But it is still too much of a risk. This week we have had several frosts, something we found to our cost when we discovered some of the potatoes had been nipped by Monday night’s frost.

                                               

This blackening of the leaves is alarming and reminds us that potatoes are a tender crop, originating in the heat of South America, but this amount of damage is not too much of problem and these plants will recover. Not all the varieties were affected which is strange. Perhaps some are more susceptible or perhaps it is because these were the last to be planted. A couple of further frosts were predicted later in the week so we took the precaution of covering them with a bit of fleece which stopped them shivering all night.

Covering crops with fleece is a really useful thing to do at this time of year, even for the less tender veg. As well as the cold nights we have had gusty winds recently which many plants, especially young ones, hate. Giving them a bit of wind protection until they are growing away strongly can avoid a sudden slow down of growth and produces healthy, vigorous plants which are better at resisting pest attack.

Of course some vegetables love warmth and hate cold winds to such a degree, they are far more successful if grown in the protection of a greenhouse or polytunnel all season. This year we are growing melons, aubergines and chilli peppers in the polytunnel, as well as some of the tomatoes. It gets so hot in there we need both doors open most days just to stop everything drying to a crisp.

Melon (Cucumis melo)

Aubergine (Solanum melongena)

As we edge closer to the date for putting out tender veg such as the runner beans, it is a good time to put up bean supports. This year we wanted to make our supports in as sustainable a way as possible, so we used hazel poles coppiced from our nut bushes in January and tied them together with strong lengths of jute string which can eventually go on the compost heap and the compost can be used for next year’s beans – how about that for recycling!

The frame needs to be very robust to withstand the weight of beans in full leaf. Time will tell if we have done a good enough job!

To the left of the bean frame there is now a big space where we have taken out the purple sprouting broccoli that was so productive for about 4 months when there was little else to harvest. Successional sowing and having something ready to go into every vacated space is one of the great skills of vegetable gardening. I don’t know we have quite got the hang of it yet!

 

The ornamental side of the gardens are getting better week by week and would really appreciate an audience. And will have soon I hope……….! Various plants caught our attention, including this fabulous Mahonia in the Cullen garden.

This plant has stunning spikes of fragrant yellow flowers in winter. Once these have finished you get this lovely reddish new growth and a crop of purple/blue berries. You can see why it’s common name is Oregan grape. Many people dislike Mahonias because their foliage is very spiky and unpleasant to handle. It can also become tall and spindly if not pruned after flowering to help it thicken out. Personally, I am happy to put up with these failings to enjoy the very welcome winter flowers and this architectural display in the spring.

Other plants looking good at the moment include the sweet rocket or Dame’s violet (Hesperis matronalis)

The bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) in the vine border. The leaves turn a red colour in autumn which is the origin of it’s common name.

And the first of the Oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) along the top terrace. They will soon make such a show in the flowery mead.

As many of the plants get taller and taller, desperate to get as close as they can to the sun, our thoughts turn to staking and supporting them, to avoid the inevitable flop and disarray  which is so disappointing after all that promising vigorous growth in early spring.

Some plants, like this tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) are beginning to poke through the hazel supports we constructed a couple of months ago. Soon these supports will disappear from view and will provide just enough strength for the stems to avoid the need for any other type of support.

Other plants, which grow from a tap root and have a single stem, are unsuitable for this kind of twiggy support. An example is the teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) in the dye border. These look as though they need no support, with their strong vertical growth and thick stems, but later in the year, when the ground is very hard and dry and the flower heads make the stems top heavy, they can easily blow over in any strong winds so we give them a stake each, like a walking stick for them to lean on!

The stake doesn’t need to be the height of the plant. Giving it support low down  but the flexibility to wave about higher up is perfect. Other plants we treat in the same way include the Woad, the hollyhocks, the cardoons and the clary sage.

Blossom of the week

This week my blossom choice is the medlar (Mespilus germanica). A lovely, delicate but large blossom which has a simple, understated charm and looks lovely when the sun shines through the leaves.

Plant of the week

As you will have seen, we are getting to the point where there is more and more competition for the title ‘plant of the week’. This week’s choice is comfrey (Symphytum officinale).

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Whilst comfrey may not have the ‘wow’ factor of other plants it is an interesting and useful plant – and the bees love it! The species name of ‘officinales’ or ‘officinalis’ indicates that a plant has a long history of being used by people and could be bought in shops/pharmacies. It is derived from the Medieval Latin noun officina, a word for the storeroom of a monastery in which provisions and medicines were kept. When Linnaeus created his system for naming plants in the 18th century he used ‘officinales/officinalis’ for plants with an established medical, culinary or other use, such as Salvia officinalis (sage), Melissa officinalis (lemon balm), Calendula officinalis (pot marigold), Althaea officinalis (marshmallow) and Valeriana officinalis (valerian).

Comfrey has many common names, including knitbone, boneset, woundwort and bruisewort. It has been used for centuries for its bone-mending qualities, for its healing effects on ulcers, and for its general soothing effect on the mucous membranes. Comfrey has been well studied in modern trials, several of which support its efficacy in reducing back pain, inflammation caused by sprains, and for pain relief and increased mobility in osteoarthritis of the knee. Comfrey contains toxic chemicals that can cause severe liver damage if taken internally, so it is only recommended for external use.

Comfrey leaves are very rich in nutrients and can be used to make an organic liquid feed which is high in potassium (great for promoting fruit and flowers in plants). There are instructions here if you fancy giving it a try: https://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/grow-plants/how-to-make-a-comfrey-feed/

News from the beekeepers

Jan French, our head beekeeper, sent this update from our apiary.

This week we took delivery of two swarms of bees donated by members of Braintree Beekeepers’ Association.  I put them into small nucleus hives to keep them warm and safe until the colonies are big enough to be transferred into full-sized hives.   One of the swarms has a tiny black queen, named Queen Antoinette after Antony who caught the swarm.  The other is a beautiful big bronze queen called Queen Johanna after John who caught this rather large swarm.

Both colonies are doing well and to encourage them to stay at Cressing Temple, I fed them some liquid syrup so that they will start to build comb where the queens will lay eggs and the workers will store the honey.  Fingers crossed, we should have some honey later in the year!

Those of you who have been coming to collect vegetables may have noticed a small hive on top of the portakabin.  This is a bait hive to catch a passing swarm so we can restore our empire to three hives.  The idea is that scout bees will be attracted by the smell of old used comb and as their natural home would be in a hollow tree, they are more likely to favour somewhere high up.   If we manage to get a third hive, perhaps you would like to suggest a name for the queen.

So far both colonies seem to have nice temperaments and not at all like our usual grumpy bees!  I haven’t been stung once.

Edible of the week

Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus scolymus group)

                                     

This is another vegetable I have grown for years but never been brave enough to try! It is quite an intimidating looking thing, not really enticing me to eat it! I had to snip the spines off the tips of all the leaves before I brought them home – they are vicious!

Thistles—in the form of artichokes and cardoons—have been on the human table since at least the days of ancient Greece and Rome. According to Greek myth, the artichoke owes its existence to the philandering Zeus who—on a visit to his brother Poseidon—spotted a gorgeous girl, Cynara, bathing on the beach. He fell instantly in love, seduced her, made her a goddess, and took her back with him to Mount Olympus. Cynara, however, lonesome and missing her mother, soon took to sneaking home to visit her family. This duplicitous act so infuriated Zeus that—in a fit of temper he tossed Cynara from Olympus and turned her into an artichoke. The modern scientific name for artichoke—Cynara cardunculus—derives from this luckless girl.

According to the Roman naturalist and philosopher Pliny, artichokes had a number of beneficial medicinal effects, among them curing baldness, strengthening the stomach, freshening the breath, and promoting the conception of boys. Though Pliny doesn’t mention it, it was also purportedly an aphrodisiac. Well, I have nothing to report on that score, but the ones we tried were suprisingly tasty, baked in the oven with olive oil and salt and pepper. It is not a vegetable I would choose if I was hungry (Luckily I had made pizza as well) but it is certainly something we would try again and with a bit more confidence next time.

If you fancy having a go, there are more coming on the plants all the time and they should go on producing flower heads until July. The hearts have a creamy consistency and a pleasant, slightly nutty flavour. Apparently, if picked young enough, they can be eaten whole, stem and leaves, the lot. Why not try them like the Romans who ate them pickled in honey and vinegar, and seasoned with cumin.

Quiz

Answers to last week’s mystery garden objects

Secateurs, looking down at the open blade

Metal watering can, looking into the spout

The boot scraper outside the porta cabin (Give yourself a point if you put broom)

Hand fork

Our Community Garden shop sign

The knob of the tea urn (Vital garden equipment!)

This week’s quiz is something a bit different. It is a gardening quiz devised by the Shropshire hardy plant society as a fundraiser for Nursing and caring charities. Beware, it is fiendishly difficult but good for wiling away several lockdown evenings! Perhaps we should make it a group effort and pool our gardening knowledge? 

G A R D E N I N G Q U I Z

Jobs for the Week

Frost protection

Keep an eye on the weather forecast and be ready to protect any half-hardy or tender plants if we are forecast overnight frost. Some horticultural fleece draped over vulnerable plants should give them enough protection at this time of year.

Supporting plants

Give plants which might need it the support of a stake or some sort of framework now before they get too big. Something else which can be done now is the so-called ‘Chelsea chop’ (carried out in late May when we would usually be having the Chelsea Flower Show). Lots of herbaceous perennials can be cut back now by between a third and a half. This will have the effect of creating a more compact plant (so less need for staking) with more, but smaller, flowers. Flowering will also be delayed, so you can use it as a technique to stagger flowering if you have more than one clump of the same plant. Some plants which are suitable for this treatment include:

Achillea, Anthemis tinctoria, Echinacea purpurea, Helenium, Nepeta (catmint), Phlox paniculata, Rudbeckia, Sedum (upright, strong-growing forms such as ‘Herbstfreude’), Solidago (golden rod)

After cutting back remember to give the plant a good water.

Sow biennials

We have been enjoying the flowering of some of our biennials at Cressing, with the honesty (Lunaria annua) and the sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) looking good in the nosegay garden and the foxgloves just about to start flowering in the medicinal border. Now is a good time to sow biennials to get plants which will flower next year, and they are a really useful group of plants for filling the gap between the spring bulbs finishing and the summer perennials getting into their stride. Some other biennials to try include: Sweet William, hollyhocks (strictly speaking a perennial but better grown as a biennial), wallflowers and Iceland poppies. These can all be started off in a seed tray during the next month or so and don’t need to be in a greenhouse.

Hopefully you will be back at Cressing in time to help us harvest some of the seed from our biennials!

So that’s our round up for this week. You may be thinking it all looks grand and well under control in and to be honest we are quite pleased how well we have kept up with the jobs far better than we were expecting at the start of this. But however lovely the gardens may be looking and however neat and tidy we are managing to keep them, there is something missing. Cressing Temple has always been a place for people, a living, working, thriving community, and at the moment it is quiet, still and rather lonesome. What makes a garden is more than the plants and the design and the forces of nature. Cressing needs YOU, the people who love it, care for it and bring it to life. Let’s hope it won’t be long before you can join us again.

Spoilt for choice

May is such a glorious month. Most plants have woken up and now they are having a real stretch! If you stand still for long enough I swear you could watch them grow. And it is breathtakingly beautiful. From the cow parsley along the verges to the Irises in the garden and the fresh new leaves on the trees, it all looks so healthy, so energetic and so pleased to be strutting it’s stuff once again. How many of us would like to feel when we finally see an end to this lockdown!

For gardeners it is a time to enjoy the perfection of the garden before all the nasty things start happening – pests and diseases arrive, plants grow too tall and need propping up, early flowerers go over and need cutting back. Most of that is yet to come and we are enjoying the moment and  eagerly anticipating the peak, sometime around mid summer in a month’s time.

We are spoilt for choice in what to talk about this week. The walled garden is looking superb, as it always does at this time of year.

It has had an extra smart lockdown haircut, courtesy of Pete and his hedgetrimmer and Paula and her mower (I don’t recommend you try either for your own lockdown haircuts!).

How Pete gets the hedges so straight and level just by eye beats me! A very skilful job.

As a formal garden open to the public (in normal circumstances) we need to keep our hedges neatly trimmed all through the growing season but for the sake of wildlife and particularly nesting birds it is best to cut your hedges in early spring or later in the summer. The RSPB recommend not cutting hedges and trees between March and August as this is the main breeding season for nesting birds so if you are happy to have a less formal look to your hedges and shrubs it may be worth leaving that hedgetrimmer in the shed! Using hand shears to lightly tidy up shouldn’t be a problem but if you are aware of birds nesting it is better to leave until later.

The Cullen garden  is also looking smart with the tub of tulips just about hanging on and giving a splash of colour, the grass nicely cut and the borders weeded.

Paula has been busy helping us with various jobs around the gardens and has found that even weeding can bring a few surprises and new learning. Lockdown presents opportunities as well as restrictions.

Paula’s lessons from Lockdown

One benefit of the slower pace of life that we are currently experiencing is that we become more aware of our surroundings and can take time to study and appreciate things that we have either taken for granted or completely overlooked.

My recent discovery was a beautiful and rather delicate looking ‘wildflower’ found while weeding the community garden at Cressing Temple.  Fumitory, which according to Richard Mabey in his book Weeds, was named from its wispy, grey green leaves thought to resemble mist: fumus terrae or smoke of the earth. Excavations of Neolithic sites have shown evidence that fumitory could be found in Britain from around 3500 BCE, having arrived with Mediterranean settlers before the English Channel existed.

Although new to me, fumitory was well known to Shakespeare who included it as part of King Lear’s wreath, using the Tudor vernacular of fumiterIt was also well known to the poet John Clare who wrote of it in his poem The Shepherds Calendar (1827) describing the weeding gangs whose maids would gather the fumitory to use as a beauty aid after boiling it in milk and water. Historically the common fumitory was used by herbalists to treat conjunctivitis, skin diseases and to cleanse the kidneys. Alas it suffered the fate of many wildflowers, by wandering into the vegetable patch at Cressing and it became a weed and had to go. It does not possess the power of the Rampling Fumitory, a protected species on the Isle of Wight, that prevented development of an area once it had been discovered on it.

There is still an abundance of fumitory dotted around the rest of the site, which is good news for the Turtle Dove (Streptopelia Turtur), so named because its wing colouring and pattern resembles that of a turtle. Fumitory forms part of the diet of this Africa wintering bird whose population has unfortunately dropped by 98% since the 1970’s due to loss of habitat and the perils of being shot at and trapped as they make their way up through Europe each year.  A sad note to end with perhaps but discovering the fumitory lead me to the plight of the beautiful Turtle Dove, there are many such lessons to be learned and we all have time to do so at the moment.

There has been plenty of other bird life spotted around the Cressing site this week. A swift was swooping over the community garden and I have heard a cuckoo a couple of times. It took several attempts to get this shot of our busy residents in the community garden bird box. They don’t hang about!

The vegetables are coming on really well in the community garden. I was very excited to find the first cauliflower. They are a notoriously shy vegetable until all of a sudden they appear, all creamy white and begging for cheese sauce!

As Paul grew this one, he had first dibs but there are others coming along nicely so watch out for more on the produce list if you are a cauliflower fan.

The broad beans, onions, beetroot, potatoes and carrots are doing really well and it is good to see the plot filling up.

The peas have suffered bird attack so we added some netting around the base to protect them until they are big enough to fight their own battles.

News from the cutting patch

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The cut flower patch finally got some attention this week and is now almost full (or will be once these plants grow a bit!). Last year we experimented with growing some flowers which are good for cutting and drying, such as strawflower (Helichrysum). Dried flowers have apparently become fashionable again, so we are very ‘on-trend’! These types of flowers are a useful addition to the patch because we get two opportunities to use them: as fresh flowers or dried for later use in posies.

Last year’s dried flower selection came mainly from a mixed packet of seeds, so this year we have chosen some specific varieties/colours which we hope will give us a nice selection, including Limonium sinuatum ‘Pastel Shades’ (statice), Helichrysum bracteatum (strawflower) mixed and ‘Silvery Rose’

We are also growing some flowers which have interesting seed heads to add to bunches of dried flowers, such as Nigella damacena and Scabiosa stellata ‘Sternkugel‘.

The walled garden should also offer some opportunities to cut and dry more flowers/seed heads, including opium poppy, larkspur and honesty.

Once we have all this flowery bounty we just have to get creative with our flower arranging skills! Do we have any budding (so, no pun intended) flower arrangers out there?

Blossom of the week

This week I was really spoilt for choice and could not decide between the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) or the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) which is also looking glorious, but I think the hawthorn is the quintessential tree for May so we will go with that. The blossom on the hawthorns has been better this year than I can ever remember it. Just look at this specimen by the moat behind the Cullen garden. Every scrap is covered in blossom and the heady bitter-sweet hawthorn smell catches you from quite a distance.

In the sixteenth century, the May-tree, as it was known, was the ancestor of the Maypole and the source of May day garlands and decorations. It was also a popular choice of leaf for wreathing the faces of Green Men carved in churches and inns. They are the most frequent trees mentioned in Anglo-Saxon boundary charters and heads the list of trees mentioned in English place names. As a species it  has received more attention historically than just about any other tree – not bad for species normally associated with scrubland! Perhaps its combination of thorns and red berries explains its religious significance and the fact that it made such a perfect hedgerow specimen explains why its importance rose dramatically after the parliamentary enclosures Acts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries meant that over 200,000 miles of hawthorn hedge were planted.

It is not just the common hawthorn that has assumed such iconic significance. There is the most celebrated hawthorn, the Holy Thorn at Glastonbury, which produces flowers and foliage in winter as well as the normal time in May, giving it the botanical name Crataegus biflora. Local legend had it that Joseph of Arimathea, an uncle of the Virgin Mary, came to Britain with 11 other disciples some time between AD 30 and 63. He travelled to Glastonbury where he thrust his staff in the ground, where it took root and grew to become the original Christmas flowering thorn. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries pieces of the thorn were repeatedly cut off, either as souvenirs or cuttings to grow on. This was a good thing because the original tree was eventually hacked down by Puritans in the Civil War, who couldn’t stand any kind of idolatry, particularly of trees. But the cuttings grew and offspring of the Glastonbury thorn were spread all around England.

Then there is the woodland hawthorn, also known as the Midland hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata, which was much more common in the Middle Ages than the common hawthorn and was probably the original May-flower. This is the one I have growing in my own garden, a cultivar called ‘Crimson Cloud’ which makes a beautiful tree for a small garden and is a top choice for inviting wildlife in. It makes a valuable winter bird food for migrant thrushes such as redwing and fieldfare.

Edible of the week

Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

I have often tasted common sorrel by picking a leaf and munching on it raw when weeding in that part of the garden. When taking tours around the gardens it is a good plant to encourage people to try, due to its surprise factor. Perhaps the common names Sour docks, Vinegar leaves or Green sauce give you the idea, although sour doesn’t really express the experience. The taste of young sorrel leaves is sharp and astringent like lemon or green apple but it is surprisingly fresh and refreshing. It can be used in salads, soups and sauces and makes a very good accompaniment to fish. A friend of mine recommended sorrel pesto and said she preferred it to the more classic basil variety, so I thought I would give it a go this weekend.

Here is the result, with a decorative garnish of Cressing lettuce and radishes. I made the cardinal error of ‘too much garlic’ according to my husband but other than that I it was a pretty decent alternative, especially for these early months when the basil hasn’t even been planted out yet.

Plant of the Week

This week the choice really couldn’t be anything other than the gorgeous irises in the pool garden.

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The dried root provides the valuable ‘orris‘ root, scented of violet and used in perfumes, cosmetic powders, toothpastes and breath fresheners. Orris root can be obtained from Iris germanica and Iris pallida, both of which are native to Europe. Fresh roots have an earthy aroma. The smell of violets gradually develops as the roots are dried, taking about two years to attain its maximum aroma. The main constituent of orris root is oil of orris which contains a ketone called irone, which gives orris the odour of violets and has led to it being used extensively in perfumes. Orris has the power of strengthening and fixing the aromas of other fragrances. In Medieval times orris root was mixed with anise and used to perfume linen as early as 1480. Pieces of iris root were used to trim the edges of clothes to make them ‘sweete and pleasnt’. This was known as ‘swete cloth’ and was very popular in Elizabethan times.

Jobs for the Week

Last week’s welcome rain is starting to feel like a distant memory, so remember to keep newly planted plants well-watered until they are properly established.

Primroses and polyanthus can be divided either immediately after flowering or in early autumn. Dividing in May has the advantage of giving a longer growing season, but the divisions will need to be kept well-watered during the summer. Lift the plant with a fork, taking enough soil to avoid damaging the roots. Shake off as much soil as possible, washing it off if necessary. Tease the roots apart and cut out large well-rooted crowns for replanting. Discard the old woody centre of the plant.

Many of us may be trying some vegetable growing for the first time this year. One ‘top tip’ is to do successional sowing of quick-maturing crops such as carrots, salads and spinach. Sowing small batches on a regular basis will produce a continuous, fresh supply of these highly perishable vegetables.

Quiz

Last week’s answers

bird-quiz

  1. Pheasant
  2. Curlew
  3. Corn bunting
  4. Nightingale
  5. Spoonbill
  6. Kittiwake
  7. Toucan
  8. Kingfisher
  9. Nightjar
  10. Waxwing
  11. Nuthatch
  12. Magpie

For this week’s quiz we have a set of pictures representing familiar objects at Cressing. Can you identify them?

 

With a bit of a shock to our systems in terms of outside temperatures this week it is probably a good reminder not to be too hasty putting out our tender bedding plants (if you have any!) or tender vegetables such as tomato plants. As the old saying goes ‘Cast ne’er a clout ere May is out’  which may feel very relevant in the week ahead!

 

Time to get weeding

Having spent the whole of April longing for the merest drop of rain, mother nature has decided to dump what has felt like our whole months allocation in the last couple of days of the month! April showers have felt more like April downpours, making us very grateful for the gardener’s shelter and the polytunnel. Mind you, we found it was already occupied by two visitors who have not been excluded from the garden, at a safe distance of course!

The very welcome rain means less watering but more weeding (there is another side to every coin!). The weeds have come up like a rash and we are keen to nip them in the bud before they get big root systems which are more difficult to pull out and suck valuable nutrients out of the soil. The Tudor garden has a host of plants many people would consider weeds but we purposely avoid weeding them out because they were once had a valuable use. Weeding involves knowing which plant is in the right place and which is in the wrong place – the best definition of a weed. In our nettle patch a nettle isn’t a weed, in the veg plot it is!

Weeds, just like any other plant, can be beautiful things and have the funniest names. This one is called Silybum marianum. It has beautiful leaves, streaked with milky white veins, giving it the common name, milk thistle. The flowers are also beautiful, purple, thistle like and dramatic. It is the most well-researched plant in the treatment of liver disease. Silymarin, the active ingredient, has been used to treat alcoholic liver disease, viral hepatitis, and toxin-induced liver diseases. But here, next to the vegetable garden is a nuisance waiting to happen if we don’t do something about it!

Weeds are opportunists – they take advantage of any patch of bare soil and immediately colonise it. It is nature’s way of healing a scar, binding the loose earth and stopping it from washing or blowing away. Imagine a piece of bare ground left to itself. It would soon become dominated by grasses, nettles and thistles, then by brambles and briars and shrubs, later to be replaced by tree saplings. In just a few years we would have scrubland and in a decade or two, deciduous woodland. All we gardeners are doing is arresting nature’s inevitable progression and fighting a losing battle! Some seed can stay dormant in the ground for centuries. Others, like this milk thistle produce so many wind blown seeds, it takes only a few windy days at the right time to proliferate its seeds for miles around and years to come. If you remember the field of dandelion heads we showed you in our blog just a couple of weeks ago, by the following week they had all turned into dandelion clocks and by now they are long gone, nestling into bare patches of ground in our own gardens no doubt, ready to start the next generation! The key to dealing with these wind dispersed weeds is to nip the heads off before they set seed but the day I put deadheading the dandelions on Dovehouse field onto the jobs list in the porta cabin is the day you need to tell me to retire!

At this time of year it can seem as if we weed a patch of ground, turn our backs, and they have instantly returned! An endless task and why it is always something on the task list from this time of year until the end of the growing season.

Some of our hardest to control weeds are the ones that reproduce by their roots as much as their seed. Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) is one we look out for at all times and we never expect to eradicate it entirely. Learning to live with and tolerate some weeds is not a bad thing to do, and certainly makes gardening less stressful.  But this kind of perennial weed with very long roots that can re-grow from tiny sections left in the soil can be a real nuisance in a garden because of its growth habit of twisting around other plants to assist its progress. We dig it out whenever we see it, removing as much of the deep root as possible or keep pulling it out to starve it of energy.

However much we dislike our garden weeds and the perpetual job of weeding, without a doubt they are plants to be admired for their exuberant zest for life and tenacity. We may prefer to spend our time cosseting our slow growing, rare to set seed alpines and orchids maybe because it makes us feel like clever gardeners, but the real success stories are those plants which thrive and proliferate in the most inhospitable conditions without a moment of care from us. Take this clump of red campion for example, growing with gay abandon on our bonfire site, where we dump all our rubbish to be burnt. I couldn’t grow a clump like this in the garden if I tried!

Apart from weeding, several other jobs have been done in the gardens this week. The final stage of assembling the fruit cage was to attach the roof netting, a rather wet task for Paula and myself in the rain, and one where we greatly missed some of our taller volunteers!

The indoor tomatoes have been planted in the polytunnel. Thanks to Paul for growing these on at home for us.

The outdoor tomatoes are coming on well and the spares will be available to you in a couple of weeks time. To plant tomatoes outside you need to wait until the risk of frosts has passed or be ready with some fleece to cover them over if any frost is forecast.

Despite the continuing state of lockdown we have been thinking ahead to more normal times when visitors will return to Cressing. We are hoping that the community veg garden will be producing lots of crops by then and we will be able to make use of our fantastic new produce barrow to display it.

This has been handmade by our friend Allen and is a thing of beauty as you can see. It will look wonderful filled with our fresh veg and flowers and hopefully will attract many new customers to our site. Thank you Allen for doing such a good job for us.

With the rain, long days and warm sunshine, many of the crops are putting on fast growth now. We were able to take our first crop of cut and come again lettuce this week. These lettuces were sown as clumps in modules and planted out without thinning about four weeks ago.

The idea of cut and come again is to take two or three cuts from each clump of plants, leaving just a few centimetres to regrow as you see below. After about three cuts the plants will be exhausted, we will pull them up and by then should have others coming along to replace them in succession. Put straight into a plastic box or bag and put in the fridge, these mixed salad leaves stay fresh for many days.

Edible of the week

For my edible of the week I am returning to the subject of weeds. This is Orach or mountain spinach (Atriplex hortensis), a plant we grow every year in the walled garden, with the minimum of care (like all good weeds!) but I have never tried to eat it.

A member of the Amaranth family, orach is also known as Garden Orache, Red Orach, Mountain Spinach, French Spinach and Sea Purslane. A native of Europe and Siberia, it is one of the most ancient cultivated plants. It was commonly grown in Eurasia for many centuries until spinach became the more favoured leaf vegetable. It is  grown as a warm-weather alternative to spinach because it is more tolerant of heat and slower to bolt in warm weather. It is a hardy annual, producing thousands of seeds every year that survive the winter and come up each spring everywhere! We never have to sow this plant. It reliably appears each year and we simply weed out what we don’t want. And like so many weeds, what an attractive plant it can be. If left to flower and set seed it produces the most wonderful display of seed heads in the autumn.

So how to eat it? My choice was to make a mushroom and spinach risotto, using the Orach from Cressing and flavoured with home grown tarragon.

It was really rather tasty and something I would definitely try again. The orach turns green when cooked but it releases its red colouring into the cooking water, or in this case the risotto rice, which turned a rather attractive shade of pink! The orach has a nice flavour, mild and a bit earthy like spinach and was very easy to pick and cook.

It is so satisfying to cook with things home-grown. I couldn’t quite manage the mushrooms but I am working on it. With the new compost bins we made at the start of the lockdown I am trying to produce some high quality compost using horse manure to speed up the process. A couple of days after layering grass cuttings, horse manure and clippings from the garden into one of our bins, the temperature shot up to 72°C, hot enough to grow pineapples and too hot to hold your hand in for very long – not that I would want to plunge my hand into a heap of horse manure!

It stayed at this temperature for about a week while billions of bacteria and fungi multiplied rapidly to work on the organic matter. It has since come down to a still hot, but not so extreme 62°C, for a more gentle cooking for the next week or so. During these times when we have become much more aware of the devastating harm microscopic life can do to us, it is good to be reminded that much of it is far from harmful and indeed essential to the job of waste recycling. It really is quite remarkable that this huge pile of once living material will soon be reduced to something to support new life once again.  I will be using it to grow field mushrooms I hope.  I have some mushroom spawn bought from Kings Seeds waiting in the fridge and perhaps I will  be growing my own  mushrooms in the autumn. I will keep you posted.

Blossom of the week

Not having the wow factor of some of the other blossom I have been featuring, this week’s choice is that of the quince tree (Cydonia oblonga). It is sparsely produced on our little three year old tree and partially obscured by the rapidly expanding new leaves.

This is not the kind of blossom that grabs your attention from afar but it has a simple beauty and delicacy which is well worth a close up view. And probably by next week it will be gone, so it is one to watch out for and hope the pollinating insects have been doing the same.

We are well into nesting season and we have been enjoying watching the busy activity to and from our bird boxes, but many birds choose to be more enterprising and build their nests in less purpose made locations. We have a pair of blue tits who have taken residence in the eaves of our house and a pair of doves who have chosen a well sheltered spot at the top of our drainpipe. In the wheat barn this week Paula and I were surprised to see a huge pile of twigs piled up in the corner.

Looking up into the beams we saw what looked like the start of a twiggy nest.

We can only assume some poor couple have been assiduously collecting material for their new home, only to find they weren’t getting very far as it all tumbled off the ledge to the floor below! I wonder how long they will persist before they realise this wasn’t a good choice?

Jobs for the Week

The very welcome rain will of course have also been welcomed by the weeds! Try to keep on top of newly emerging weed seedlings before they have a chance to really get a hold in your garden.

Plant summer flowering bulbs such as lilies, freesias and gladioli in containers or in the garden. If you have lots of gladioli corms it can be a good idea to plant about 15 at a time every 2 weeks from May to July to get a succession of flowers.

Now is a good time to prune rosemary. To keep it nice and bushy prune it lightly after flowering. Regular pinching out of sprigs of herbs such as thyme and rosemary for cooking throughout the year will also help to keep them compact.

You might possibly have noticed some small beetles with metallic purple and green stripes on your rosemary. These are rosemary beetles; an insect that eats the foliage and flowers of various aromatic plants, such as rosemary, sage, lavender,thyme and some other related plants.

Light infestations do not seem to do serious damage to the host plant, but if you find that they become a problem then you can follow the RHS’s advice for control: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=555

Plant of the Week

Ajuga reptans

Ajuga reptans (Bugle) is looking good at the moment in the pool garden with its purplish-blue spikes of flowers. The species names of ‘reptans‘ and ‘repens‘ both indicate that a plant has a creeping habit of growth – such as Elymus repens (couch grass). Ajuga reptans is a good groundcover plant for damp soil in a shady spot.

In the Middle Ages bugle was regarded as a ‘cure-all’ plant with a diverse range of uses. Remedies made from bugle have been used for treating persistent coughs, ulcers, rheumatism and all kinds of liver disorders. One of its other common names is ‘carpenter’s herb’ as it can staunch bleeding and possibly heal cuts, because of its tannin content.

Quiz

Last week’s answers

Quotes from Shakespeare featuring plants:

The seasons alter: hoary headed frosts fall on the fresh lap of the crimson rose: And on old Hyem’s chin and icy crown an odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds is, as in mockery, set.

Midsummer Night’s dream

When daisies pied, and violets blue, and ladies smock all silver white, and cuckoo buds of yellow hue, do paint the meadows with delight.

Love’s Labours Lost

There is a man haunts the forest that abuses our young plants with carving Rosalind on their barks: hangs odes upon hawthorns, and elegies on brambles: all, forsooth deifying the name of Rosalind.

As You Like It

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance: pray you love remember, and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts. There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue for you and here’s some for me. We may call it herb of grace o’Sundays. There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father died.

Hamlet

Cesario, by the roses of the spring, by maidhood, honour, truth and everything, I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride, nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.

Twelfth Night

The newly emerging leaves were those of the walnut tree (Juglans regia)

The bee visiting our insect hotel was the red mason bee.Red mason bees are common and familiar throughout most of the UK. They get their name from their habit of nesting in cavities between brickwork, although they also happily frequent solitary bee hotels.

This week’s quiz

This week’s quiz involves some picture clues to the names of various birds – answers next week!

Into May, one of the loveliest months of the year and one of the busiest for us gardeners. Enjoy your garden tasks and experiments, whatever they may be.

Showstoppers

It is the tulips that have stolen the show this week, the glorious sunshine making them glow in all their rainbow colours.

Our mix of tulips for this year was Princess Irene, Couleur Cardinal and Havran. Somehow a Spring Green has sneaked in too, or maybe it was a leftover from last year. Either way I think they make a lovely combination, which we will repeat next year so you all get to see it!

The tulip originates in central Asia and was originally cultivated in the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey) as early as 1000AD. The name ‘tulip’ comes from the Turkish word for turban. In the wild tulips are found growing in an open, sunny position in soil which is very free-draining and so you need to try and replicate these conditions for success in the garden.

The flowers were introduced into Western Europe and the Netherlands in the late 16th century, probably by Carolus Clusius, who was a biologist from Vienna. When he wrote the first major book on tulips in 1592, they became so popular that his garden was raided and bulbs stolen on a regular basis.

In the beginning of the 17th century the tulip gained major popularity as a trading product, especially in Holland. The interest for the flowers was huge and bulbs were sold for unbelievably high prices. Hybrids and mutations of the flower were seen as rarities and a sign of high status. In the months of late 1636 to early 1637 there was a complete “Tulipomania” in the Netherlands. Some examples could cost more than a house in Amsterdam at this time.

In a culture that valued the exotic and unusual, tulips offered intriguing unpredictability: from one year to the next, and seemingly at random, a tulip might suddenly change into a plain or variegated variety. We now know that these flame-like streaks are the result of a virus infecting the plant, but in the 17th century these mutations seemed quite wondrous. Two of the most prized tulip varieties were the ‘Semper Augustus’, which was red with white striations; and the ‘Viceroy’, red with yellow flaming. Both of these can be seen in this painting from the time.

flowers in vase

Luckily nowadays we don’t need to take out a second mortgage in order to enjoy a lovely display of tulips!

And while on the subject of showstoppers we couldn’t resist putting in this picture of our pink peony even though it featured in last week’s blog. The blooms would fill a dinner plate and are real prima donnas!

Joining the peony and the tub of tulips in the Cullen garden, and about to take centre stage, is the lilac (Syringa vulgaris), a shrub which heralds the start of May with its scent and flowers in shades of lilac, pink and white. We don’t know the variety of this one but it could be ‘Katherine Havermeyer’ which looks rather similar.

While some of our shrubs are in full flower, other plants are still thinking about exposing their leaves for the first time. Our three new trees have their leaf buds just about to break, a relief to know they have made it through the long winter but a signal for us to increase their watering.

Planting large trees like these is always a risk and they will need careful looking after for their first two summers to be sure of their survival. The three trees will be given nine watering cans of water (60ltrs)  between them twice a week and increasing to once every three days in the height of summer. Thank goodness they are not large mature trees which may need between 700 and 1000ltrs water in a day! Still this is intensive care for our young trees and the gardener’s equivalent of being on the front line!

While the tulips and peony are the stars of the Cullen garden it is the woad (Isatis tinctoria) that was crying out for attention in the walled garden with its froth of yellow blooms.

For us, woad is little more than attractive flower with an interesting history but at one time it was one of the most valuable crops grown in this country and the only reliable source of blue dye. In the mid-1580s woad growing was restricted by the government as grain supplies were beginning to be threatened by woad over-production, which was six times more valuable than grain at that time.  Woad farmers, with their sheds and mills, moved about over the face of Europe, planting their hungry crop on leased lands, robbing them of their substance and moving on to new territory but becoming very wealthy in the process.

Something else that caught our eye in the walled garden this week was this damage on one of the apple trees. Clearly we have been visited by a woodpecker, probably the Great Spotted, in search of insects under the bark and inside the tree.

Greater spotted woodpeckers are one of the success stories in the bird world over recent years, showing a great ability to adapt to the man-made environment. It is the only type of woodpecker to thrive in inner-city parks and its colonisation of conifer plantations has helped its spread in Scotland. It has also become a recent attendant at many a bird table, taking a wide range of foodstuffs from peanuts to suet. Less endearing perhaps is its fondness for the chicks of other birds and it is relatively common for them to steal young tits from nest boxes, something you can avoid by fitting a metal hole surround, available from the RSPB.

Other wildlife spotted this week included some solitary bees investigating the bee hotel Paul made for the community garden.

A number of solitary bee species nest aerially, usually in old beetle holes, often sealing the nests with a saliva like substance, mud, chewed leaves, resin or sections of leaves which they cut with their jaws. These species are the ones most likely to take to artificial nests in gardens.  But which species do we have here? It is most likely to be a mining bee, flower bee, leafcutter bee or mason bee (I will include the answer in next week’s quiz answers – I might need some help here if there are any insect experts among you?).

Blossom of the week

Many of the solitary bees collect pollen in a similar way to honey bees and for this reason are often mistaken for them. The latest addition to the pollen feast for the insects at Cressing is the apple blossom, which is looking beautiful on a couple of early blossoming trees in the walled garden.

Not only does blossom mean food for hungry insects, it is also vital in guaranteeing the autumn fruit harvest, which is dependent upon pollen being transferred between trees because many of them cannot be pollinated by their own pollen. Apples will only pollinate other apples, pears will only pollinate pears, and so on. Amongst apples there is generally no distinction between crab apples, cider apples, and mainstream apples – they can all potentially cross-pollinate each other. For most fruit varieties, pollination is carried out by insects, often bees. Since pollination happens in early spring, good weather which encourages bees out of the hive can be a factor. Late frost can damage blossom and temperature is also important.  Pollen germination in apples works best at temperatures in the range 15C-20C but you only need 1-2 fine warm days during the bloom period for pollinating insects to come out and for flowers to be successfully pollinated.

Many, but certainly not all, varieties of apple require pollination from a compatible donor tree before they can set fruit. Apple trees blossom at different times depending on variety and most need pollen from another variety to achieve pollination and fruit set. This can seem like a baffling subject but if you are in an urban environment you probably won’t need to worry about a pollination partner for your apple tree. There will usually be compatible apple trees or crab apple trees in neighbouring gardens and hedgerows to ensure pollination of your tree.

If you know the variety of apple in your garden and are interested to check what other varieties might make good pollination partners, there is a useful guide from the RHS which you can find in the following link:

Apple Pollination Groups

Growth on the veg plot is gathering pace and with it, jobs for busy gardeners!

The peas have had their supports of twiggy sticks added, from our stock of hazel coppiced in January.

We dug over the area for runner beans and added organic matter, planted out cauliflower and cabbage seedlings grown under cover, pricked out seedlings of tomato, pepper and aubergine and did lots and lots of watering! The porous pipe on the raised beds is proving invaluable, keeping the young salad crops supplied  with a steady but gentle supply of water and leaving us free to get on with other things. Seep hoses are much more economical than overhead watering with all the water reaching the roots of the plants instead of evaporating off the leaves. It also keeps the leaves dry, a useful factor in preventing fungal diseases such as powdery mildew.

Edible of the week

This week I have chosen wild garlic (Allium ursinum), which is flowering (and stinking!) beneath the grape vines in the walled garden.

Also known as Ramsons along with a number of other evocative names which don’t particularly indicate an appetising plant: stink bombs, stinking nanny, stinking onions, Londoners’ lillies. With a characteristic and unforgettable odour for a couple of months in spring this plant has found itself into many English place names  where ramsons were common, including Ramsden and Ramsey in Essex.

When onions were scarce during the 2nd world war they were a welcome and abundant replacement, although not without drawbacks as this memoir from an evacuee from Liverpool shows:

‘Onions were rarer than gold when we were evacuated to Ayrshire in 1940, but this was no problem, as we just went up the banks of the River Afton and picked as much wild garlic as we wanted. It seemed a kindly thought to keep posting some back to our next door neighbour still stuck among the bombs in Liverpool. She was ever so pleased, but not so the postman. There were no polythene bags in those days, so his sack reeked permanently of the stuff till we returned three years later.’

I haven’t heard of onion shortages in the shops during the lockdown – just as well, or my children might be receiving stinky packages of ramsons from me any day now!

The taste of the leaf is actually much milder than you might expect and it makes an excellent substitute for garlic or spring onion in salads. The leaves can be chopped and added to sour cream or mayonnaise or cut into long thin strips and laid crisscross over sliced tomatoes and balsamic dressing, which is how we have enjoyed them this weekend.

Plant of the week

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The angelica (Angelica archangelica) is an eye-catching sight in the culinary and medicinal beds at the moment with its large umbels of small yellow-green flowers. Angelica has many common names, including angelic plant, angelic herb, archangel, Holy Ghost and angel’s food. These common names allude to the belief in medieval times that the plant could protect against evil and cure all ills. An infusion of the leaves was regarded as a ‘healthful, strengthening tonic‘. The sixteenth-century herbalist John Gerard claimed angelica ‘cureth the bitings of mad dogs and all venomous beasts’. During the time of the Great Plague in London in 1665 angelica was chewed to protect against infection.

Its long, thick and fleshy roots are the parts used in herbal medicine. Use the stems for flavouring stewed fruit or they can be candied and used to decorate cakes and desserts.

Quiz

Answers to last week’s quiz

Last week we showed you photos of a range of gardening tools to identify, some dating back to the Tudor period. They were (in the order the photos were given last week):

  • flower pot brush
  • clay spade
  • apple picker
  • asparagus knife
  • berry picker
  • potato screen
  • bird scarer
  • cucumber straightener
  • Wardian case (A forerunner of the modern terrarium. These were originally invented to solve the problem of how to bring back live plant specimens from overseas without all/most of them dying on the voyage home – see this page from Kew’s website for more information: https://www.kew.org/read-and-watch/the-wardian-case-a-history-of-plant-transportation
  • weed hook (Two long-handled tools, one with a curved cutting blade and the other ending in a small, two-pronged fork, were used to cut the weeds off above the soil. This technique offered the advantages  of actually harvesting the weeds for use as fodder or bedding whilst doing less damage to the neighbouring crop plants as the weeds were just cut off and not uprooted.)

This week’s quiz

This week marked the birthday of William Shakespeare who was born on 23rd April 1564, making him 456 years old! Shakespeare had a very good knowledge of plants and nature and not content with merely looking, he tried to find out the inner meaning of the beauty he saw and included them in many of his plays and sonnets. His works include mention of 180 plants, mostly using the old English names such as daisy, ladies smock or marigold but sometimes the Old French such as eglantine, fleur-de-luce and chamomile.

In this week’s quiz you need to match the following Shakespearean quotes to the play from which they originate.

The seasons alter: hoary headed frosts fall on the fresh lap of the crimson rose: And on old Hyem’s chin and icy crown an odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds is, as in mockery, set.

When daisies pied, and violets blue, and ladies smock all silver white, and cuckoo buds of yellow hue, do paint the meadows with delight.

There is a man haunts the forest that abuses our young plants with carving Rosalind on their barks: hangs odes upon hawthorns, and elegies on brambles: all, forsooth deifying the name of Rosalind.

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance: pray you love remember, and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts. There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue for you and here’s some for me. We may call it herb of grace o’Sundays. There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father died.

Cesario, by the roses of the spring, by maidhood, honour, truth and everything, I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride, nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.


Twelfth Night

Loves Labour’s Lost

Midsummer Nights Dream

Hamlet

As you like it

These are the newly emerging leaves of one of our new trees. Can you tell which one it is? The choice is Sweet Chestnut, Walnut or Mulberry.

Jobs for the week

  • Watch out for pests such as lily beetle in the current warm spring weather. The adult beetle and their larvae defoliate lilies and fritillaries. You can remove the beetles by hand (although they have a tendency to drop off the plant and lie on their backs, thus making them harder to see!). This week we have started to use a product called ‘Grazers’ to try and defend our lilies against lily beetle damage. This product contains calcium and is meant to make the lilies less appetising to the beetles – we will keep you posted!lily beetle
  • Train/tie in new growth on climbers such as roses and clematis. Many plants are growing quickly at the moment and it is important to get the new growth positioned where you want it for the best display later on in the year.
  • Prune early-flowering shrubs such as Forsythia and flowering currant (Ribes) after flowering. Remove any dead, damaged or diseased wood and any weak, spindly growth. You can also completely remove 2 or 3 of the oldest stems. This allows light and air into the centre of the plant and also encourages the plant to produce some nice fresh growth.

As much of our normal daily life remains in a state of limbo, and we all wait for the restrictions to be eased, there is plenty for us to be getting on with in our gardens.  For nature, the show goes on!

April showers

The only April showers we have had this week were the ones created by our garden sprinkler. Not to miss out on an opportunity, mother duck came in  for a taste of ‘virtual rain’ in our pond!

Refreshed and invigorated and maybe contemplating a bit of egg sitting next?

This lack of rain is becoming as tedious as the lockdown. Watering with the regularity of June or July is no joke but it is so necessary to get everything growing strongly and healthily at this time of year, ready to ward off all the summer pests and diseases which are still waiting in the wings.

One disease that has already shown its colours, quite literally, is the peach leaf curl affecting our almond trees this week.

Looking rather like an angry red blister, peach leaf curl  is a problem for several stone fruit, especially peaches, nectarines and almonds and occasionally apricots. Caused by a fungus (Taphrina deformans), it causes crumpled, thickened and distorted leaves, often red in colour, which then fall prematurely. It requires extra energy expenditure for the plant to make new ones and thereby reduces its vigour. It can be prevented by covering wall trained fruit with a plastic cage from about November to May as the fungus spores are carried in water droplets. Here is a link to a PDF document for any DIY enthusiasts worried about their peaches next year.

Peach-Leaf-Curl-Lean-to-Diagram (1)

Failing that, prompt removal of all affected leaves to prevent the disease being carried over to the following year would be a good thing to do.  Although this disease will weaken a tree  and may reduce fruiting potential, it rarely affects the fruit itself.

The crazy swings in temperature this week have been a challenge, for gardeners and plants alike. On Monday it was so cold I was back into thermals with about four top layers and still I was shivering in the biting wind but by Wednesday it was shirt sleeves and sun cream again! For plants that have enthusiastically put on their first flush of growth or burst into blossom, this sudden drop in temperature and strong wind can be a nasty shock. If you see brown leaf tips or wilted new growth on some of your plants, it is likely to be wind scorch or frost damage. Not harmful to the plant in the long term and it will soon make new leaves to replace the damaged ones.

There is so much promise of things to come in the gardens.  In the community garden the rhubarb and purple sprouting broccoli have been popular but it would be nice to have more to offer. A bit more waiting is needed! The potatoes are just coming through, radish and carrots have germinated, the autumn sown broad beans are in full flower, cauliflowers are growing well, the first spears of asparagus are poking through the soil and the strawberry plants are full of flower. All to come later. Patience is the gardener’s game.

This time of year in the vegetable garden is often referred to as ‘the hungry gap.’ As winter moves into spring the frost hardy veg like brussels sprouts, kale and hardy cabbage might be the only fresh greens available. Purple sprouting broccoli picks up in March and April but there seems a long wait for the first overwintered broad beans or peas and the fresh salad from spring sowings. It will be June before cropping starts to gather pace, gradually leading to the other end of the spectrum, the autumn glut. We gardeners are never satisfied!

To avoid the scarcity of the hungry gap, a polytunnel is extremely useful and planning ahead is vital. July, August and September are busy sowing months if you want plenty of fresh salad in May! Time for us to get our new polytunnel put up and get experimenting for earlier crops next year.

Apart from all the necessary watering we have been busy with several other jobs this week. The lack of rain has kept grass growth slow but the shadier areas are growing strongly and it helps smarten things up to run the mower over the grass areas every now and then.

If the grass is being slowed down by the lack of rain that certainly doesn’t apply to the dandelions as Paula discovered when she mowed the community garden. The dandelions on Dovehouse field are a sight to behold. Good job she doesn’t need to mow out there!

Cutting back the woody herbs such as thyme, hyssop, lavender, germander is a long job in the walled garden because we have so many of them. While we are all missing our trips to the hairdresser and bad hair days are becoming the norm, why not practice your hairdressing skills by giving your herbs a haircut instead? They will look much smarter later in the year and it prolongs their life. I wish you could say that for a human haircut!

Before and after a trim for one little thyme bush. I don’t think I will be practising on my own head just yet!

One good thing about all this herb trimming is the amount of perfect compost material it produces. A good balance of woody stems for carbon and fresh new leaves for nitrogen. Mixed with Paula’s grass cuttings and it should make wonderful compost in no time and with the shortage of bagged compost at the moment the more we can make the better.

Alison has been giving all the container plants some attention to set them up for the rest of the season. The permanent pots have been weeded and topped up with a top dressing of fresh compost with added plant food (see jobs for the week below).

They will be watered at least on a weekly basis from now on and this will ensure they have all the nutrients they need through the growing season. Other containers have been planted up for a summer display with herbs, pelargoniums and salvias. We are optimistic you will all be back to enjoy these summer pots even though you have missed our spring container displays.

One sad item of news for this week is the demise of our final bee colony, a great disappointment for Jan and all of us. They seemed to be doing ok two weeks ago but when Jan checked this Tuesday there was nothing but dead bees. It is a mystery what went happened and we will probably never know but it comes as a bitter blow after the loss of our other two hives last year. Our only option now is to hope for a swarm later this year. Jan has set up several bait hives which might attract a passing swarm and we are on the swarm request list of the Braintree beekeeper association. It is thought that a bait hive might have more chance of attracting a swarm if it is placed high up…….on top of the porta cabin!

Blossom of the week

This week my choice of blossom is the wild cherry (Prunus avium) which are completely laden with frothy white blossom at this time of year.

Just look at this cherry tree to the right of the Barley Barn. It couldn’t be trying harder to attract some attention and what a shame it isn’t getting any from our usual visiting public. No doubt the local insect population is very appreciative mind you.

Cherries are mainly a tree of the Southern half of Britain and they prefer chalky soils. It is a short lived tree but the timber is valuable, being reddish-brown and capable of being polished to a finish resembling mahogany. The fruits are a further asset, which are produced in great quantity in some years. They can be bitter but are perfectly edible from late July and are the ancestor of our cultivated cherries. They are the best type for making cherry brandy, following a recipe similar to sloe gin. A small bottle full of wild cherries and a couple of tablespoons of sugar, topped up with brandy and left for three or four months. In these times of culinary experimentation and greater self sufficiency, maybe some of us will be making a bottle or two!

In medieval times cherries were the only major fruit eaten raw for preference. Native wild cherries continued to be popular through the Middle Ages and ‘cherries in the rise’ figure in all sorts of medieval horticultural and literary records.

‘Hot peascods, strawberry ripe and cherries in the rise. Hot sheep’s feet, mackerel and rushes green‘ were the street cries of late fifteenth century London  according to a poem by John Lydegate 1370 – 1451.

The medievals liked their cherries ultra-ripe and picked them when they were ‘wine red’. Cherry red was next in popularity after ‘rose red’ and ‘lily white’ among medieval similes.

For my unusual edible this week I have chosen edible flowers from the walled garden and made a rather attractive looking salad.

Colours and presentation were extremely important at the rich man’s table, especially when demonstrating one’s wealth, and therefore power, to guests. Many types of edible flower were used, both for taste and visual appeal. Flowers were also set at the table to enhance the presentation of the food. Large and elaborate sculptures and settings of ‘flowers’ were even made of cut vegetables and herbs, if attractive flowers were not in season.

In my version we have primroses which were eaten to relieve aches and pains, cowslips which were added to wine and used to decorate desserts. There is heartsease (viola), eaten as a cure for ‘heart straitness’, borage which was once used as a flavouring for red wine and cider. Marigold petals which were put into stews and pottages as a sort of petal pepper, rubbed into cheese to keep its colour bright and sugared into a conserve. Finally the petals of rosemary and a scrawny looking dandelion (one that Paula missed!). Altogether very pretty and makes the lettuce look a lot more appetising.  I am not sure we could taste any of them except the rosemary flowers (which really taste of rosemary!) but it certainly looked nice. I found myself wondering why we no longer eat flowers in the way they did in Tudor times. The closest we come is cauliflower or purple sprouting broccoli, both types of flower of course!

In these strange time even our garden tools are practising social distancing, as we have our own sets of tools stored at opposite ends of the tool shed! Our quiz this week (see below) focuses on some curious garden tools from the past. Many tools which the Tudors used would in fact have been very familiar to us, as many have remained virtually unchanged in design for centuries. This illustration from Thomas Hill’s ‘The Gardener’s Labyrinth’ (1577) doesn’t look too dissimilar to us working on the community garden (although perhaps wearing rather different outfits!).

woodcut_gardenerslabyrinth

This illustration from John Evelyn’s ‘Elysium Britannicum’ (17th century) is fascinating to look at to gain an insight into how gardening was done in the past. I particularly like the object which resembles a small four-poster bed – an early form of cloche perhaps?

Garden tools, 17th century

Quiz

Answers to last week’s quiz

Last week we showed you a rainbow of Cressing Temple plants to identify:

Red: Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri)

Orange: Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)

Yellow: Cowslip (Primula veris)

Green: Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus)

Blue: Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica)

Indigo: Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) – we confess to using a bit of artistic license to use this to represent indigo!

Violet: Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

This week’s quiz

Can you guess what these garden tools are/were used for? A couple of them were used at least as far back as the Tudor period, whilst others were created by the Victorians.

Plant of the week

In full flower in the Cullen garden this week is the glorious tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa). Tree peonies are actually small shrubs, rather than trees, producing gorgeous, goblet-shaped flowers in late spring. Unlike herbaceous peonies, which die back each year, tree peonies are taller and retain a permanent framework all year round. We have found that the rabbits don’t seem to like peonies, so last year we planted some more! The new additions are another type of peony known as ‘intersectional hybrids’ which combine the best characteristics of tree and herbaceous peonies and flower in early summer.

Jobs for the week

Weeding

The lack of rain might mean that we have fewer weeds around at the moment, but it is still good to try and get on top of any which do appear. Annual weeds such as hairy bittercress, groundsel and common chickweed need removing quickly before they get an opportunity to set seed. They can be hoed off or hand-weeded and then added to your compost bin. Perennial weeds such as bindweed and couch grass have fleshy roots or rhizomes that make them harder to control, as they will re-grow from even a small piece of root left behind. In borders dig out as much of the roots as possible and then watch out for re-growth and remove that too. The roots of perennial weeds cannot be composted of course, but the top growth can safely be added to your compost bin.

Containers

Spring is a good time to give some TLC to any shrubby plants which you have growing permanently  in containers such as camellias, acers, lavenders etc. Remove any weeds and then topdress  by removing about 5cm of compost from the top of the pot and replacing it with fresh compost. Remember to use ericaceous compost for shrubs which prefer acidic soil, such as camellias, azaleas and pieris.

We hope you have enjoyed this week’s read. Another sunny (and dry) week ahead so keep on gardening or just enjoy the warm spring sunshine.

Easter greetings

It seems so hard to believe it is Easter weekend in so many ways. Firstly we are all locked away and unable to see our friends and families as we normally would and secondly this weather has felt more like mid June than the beginning of April! I can’t remember when it last rained and our gardens are crying out for water already.

Consequently, watering has been a major feature of our work this week. In both the walled garden and the vegetable plot we used sprinklers for the first time this year.

Apart from giving the plants a much needed drink, this also softened the ground and made it much easier for us to weed through the medicinal border the next day. The plants are growing fast in this area now but haven’t yet covered the ground sufficiently to smother the weeds unfortunately. The comfrey leaves are large enough for a first harvest to make some comfrey plant feed. Find out here if you have some comfrey and want to try it.

To make watering a little easier in the community garden we have installed some extra porous pipe which can be left gently dripping onto the plants while we get on with other things. It is very useful for permanent or semi-permanent planting such as the fruit beds and for young salad crops where slow, steady watering is desirable.

After a concerted effort on the rabbit fencing last weekend, Pete managed to get it finished, all except the backfilling of the trench. And very impressive it looks too.

With the area now secure, we could start the fist seed sowing on the no-dig beds, which included carrots, beetroot, spring onion and peas. The idea of the fleece covering is to increase speed of germination and to protect tiny seedlings from the harsh wind that whips across our field. It will be removed in a week or two and possibly replaced with a cover of fine mesh to protect against insect and bird damage. Unfortunately, fleece doesn’t keep slugs out so we will need to be vigilant for signs of the slimy creatures nibbling our seedlings over the next few weeks.

Another important job has been cutting back various herbs such as the curry plant, the lavender and the sage. This is necessary to prevent them become old and woody with all the new growth on the top. It can look rather brutal to begin with but the plants soon recover and put out new growth, covering the ugly bare stems in just a few weeks. So long as there are signs of live growth below the cut you can be confident it will regrow (honest!)

It has been really helpful to have Paula working with us in the gardens this week. Here she is, accompanied by a rather large family of hedgehogs, or so it appears!

She was cutting back the cotton lavender in the knot garden. As you can see, we cut it down to the bare stumps, which takes some courage, but prevents it from becoming too straggly later in the year and choking the box hedging. Not all herbs can be pruned as hard as this but it works well for our cotton lavender (Santolina chamaecyparissus). For more information on how to prune your herbs see here.

Apart from being smothered by overgrown cotton lavender, our box hedging is at risk from another problem this year.

This leafless section is the result of damage from the box moth caterpillar, noticed for the first time last summer.

A serious new pest of box trees, first identified in 2007 in the uk and particularly prevalent in the south of the country, the caterpillar can completely defoliate box plants and is a worrying prospect for many gardens with formal box topiary. We are on the look out for the first signs of this year’s caterpillars when we will be ready to take action. Read more about it, including current thinking on control methods here.

We have installed a pheromone trap in the nosegay garden and will be monitoring male moth numbers carefully over the coming weeks as an indicator of when further action is necessary.

Blossom of the week

On a happier note, my blossom of the week must go to the Pear (Pyrus communis) in the walled garden, looking very beautiful at the moment.

Pear trees are a member of the Rose family along with apple, quince, almond and plum. The pear is one of the oldest domesticated fruits, and the world’s second most cultivated deciduous fruit tree after the apple. The two main types of pear, Asian and European, both produce a similar sweet smelling blossom, but there are some ornamental pear trees that do not bear notable fruit and instead produce blooms with an offensive aroma. We grow one in the walled garden called the Plymouth pear (Pyrus cordata), a rare species only found growing wild around Plymouth.

Pear trees are an ancient fruit with cultivation that pre-dates the Christian era. In Tudor times they were the next most favoured fruit after apples. They were mostly eaten in tarts and pies but were also made into Perry, mainly by people who could not afford to make cider. Medieval pears were hard and sour and made a more vinegary drink than cider. Alexander Neckam, a prolific 13th century writer and theologian described them as ‘cold hard fruit’ without the colour and sweetness of apples.

With the gardens looking prettier by the day it is such a sadness that they are hidden from public view at the moment. They are trying their best to impress, so here are a few pictures to give you a glimpse of what’s happening.

The wild flower areas in the nuttery and flowery mead are at their peak with masses of cowslip, snakes head fritillary and native tulips.

The Cullen garden is looking splendid with its show of daffodils in the sunshine.

The walled garden orchard is looking smart after its first mowing of the season and the lovely fruit tree blossom.

The community garden is looking smart and full of promise for later abundance. The onion plot was weeded and watered this week and it looks like we will have plenty of onions this year!

While there is still some moisture in the soil and maybe the chance of some spring showers (fingers firmly crossed), we took the chance to reseed some patches on the knot garden lawns. Covering with fine mesh or netting prevents the seed being gobbled by hungry birds before it has a chance to germinate.

My incredible edible this week is the sea kale (Crambe maritima) which grows happily at the front of our pumpkin patch.

Considered a vegetable delicacy and once abundant along the south coast in the eighteenth century, sea kale is a rare sight in the wild today. For centuries it was harvested from the south coast beaches by coastal dwellers who would eat the young shoots, especially where they had been naturally blanched while growing up through the shingle or sand. In some places, locals would watch for the shoots to appear in the early spring and heap seaweed or sand over them to make the blanched shoots extend even further. It became so  fashionable in markets of Covent garden  and on the continent through the 19th century it was almost harvested to extinction and was in serious decline in the wild by the mid 20th century.

So, what was all the fuss about? I set out to find out this week by picking some of smaller shoots and steaming them to accompany our tomato pasta.

Verdict – rather like cabbage or what you might expect cauliflower leaves to taste like. Not unpleasant but I can’t say I would take a long trip to the seaside for the privilege! Maybe I should try blanching it next year.

Plant of the week

Whilst there are a number of contenders for this title it seems most appropriate to award the honour to this beauty:

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Pulsatilla vulgaris is looking lovely in flower at the edge of the nosegay garden, with its beautiful silky petals. They grow best in well-drained soil and full sun. The Pulsatilla flowers around Easter time and its common name ‘pasque‘ derives from the word ‘paschal’ which means ‘of Easter’.  Another of its common names is ‘Anemone of  Passiontide’; again reflecting its flowering time. We’re pleased to see that our little clump is flowering right on schedule this year!

This seems a good moment to look back to some aspects of how Easter would have been celebrated  in the medieval and Tudor periods. The marking of the seasons was a good excuse to make merry. Easter lasted for 17 weeks in medieval times, with Easter Sunday in the middle. People would have eaten the last of the salted meat, together with whatever fresh meat was available.

Eggs that were forbidden to be eaten during Lent became part of the celebrations again at Easter when they were used in the baking of simnel cake, which was decorated with 12 balls of marzipan to represent each of the apostles.

Giving eggs of varying sorts as gifts at Easter itself has a long tradition. In 1290 the household of King Edward I bought 450 eggs to be coloured, covered in gold leaf and distributed among his royal entourage. Amongst ordinary people pace eggs (from the French Pasque, which means Easter) were often exchanged. These were hard-boiled eggs, dyed with vegetables/plants such as beetroot (red), Pasqueflower (green) and onions (yellow).  If you would like to try this yourself (and have actually got some eggs to spare!) have a look at this National Trust guide https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/easter-crafts-how-to-guides

Jobs for the week

Now is a good time to sow seeds for tomatoes to be grown outdoors. The seeds will need to be sown in a heated greenhouse or on a windowsill inside and grown on under cover until mid to late May. Sow the seed thinly in a small pot and cover with a little more compost. Water carefully and then cover the pot with cling film or a plastic bag until the seedlings appear. If you do not have much growing space outside then there are many compact ‘bush’ varieties of cherry tomatoes which will grow really well in a patio container, or even a hanging basket!

You can also sow a range of summer salad crops now, such as lettuce, rocket and radish. Many of these can be sown outside now into a prepared seed bed or a patio container. Make sure the compost doesn’t dry out, and watch out for slugs and snails when your little seedlings appear.

We have been busy cutting back lavender, cotton lavender, hedge germander etc at Cressing this week, and now is a good time to cut back these and various other plants in your own garden. Plants such as Salvia and Penstemon which had their top growth left on for winter protection can now be cut back to strong growth lower down on the plant.

Quiz

Answers to last week’s quiz

Anagram solutions:

BEET

ONIONS

DANDELION

SKIRRET

GOOD KING HENRY

Vegetable origins:

Pumpkin originate in North America

Artichoke and Asparagus originate in Europe

Potato originate in South America

Pepper (as in the spice) originates in Asia. Sweet peppers and chillies originate in South America

This week’s quiz

This week’s quiz takes its inspiration from the many rainbows which have appeared in windows, on walls and even pavements as a sign of hope and togetherness during the current crisis. wp-1586613006009.jpg

Can you identify this kaleidoscopic selection of Cressing plants?

Plenty to keep us all busy over this Easter holiday weekend and beyond. Enjoy your gardens, stay healthy and have a very Happy Easter.