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.

Waste not want not

Here’s a classic picture to remind you all of Cressing Temple.

Looking like it has for 800 years, the Wheat Barn stands strong, sure and dependable. Thinking of all it has witnessed over the years, including more than a few dreadful epidemics, gives me great hope and reassurance that these troubling times will pass and life will return to some normality.

I know many of you have been getting out in your gardens this week, making the best of our home confinement and the beautiful spring weather. With all the changes to our normal routines, it seems impossible to keep track of the day of the week or the date in the month and what happened only a week ago feels like an age. Can you remember how we were, until recently, tiptoeing through the mud and scraping off our boots every time we went into the porta cabin? Well now look at the ground on the field…..

Looks like the middle of July and shows what a week or two of dry weather can do!

It has seemed eerily quiet at Cressing this week and I have been very glad of Alison’s company on Tuesday and Thursday (at a safe distance of course!). We have been very busy, prioritising jobs and trying to ensure there is plenty going on other than weeding for when you all get back!

We haven’t been able to cut the grass due to a ban on the use of all power tools as a health and safety measure. We will have to get sharpening that scythe! But there have been plenty of other things for us to do!

The dry weather has prompted the first serious watering of the season and all three of our new trees have had 20L of water this week. They are looking fine, waiting for some warmer temperatures before they dare open their first buds.

We have been spending quite a bit of time on the vegetable plot, determined to get it up and running, so you don’t return to bare beds and a lot of back breaking work! We have planted out some more broad beans, the first of the peas and some lettuce. As the nights have been so cold and the plants are still tiny, we have covered them with fleece for a bit of extra protection.

The broad beans are hardy enough without frost protection but have been netted to discourage the rooks and pigeons.

Talking of the rooks, they have been good company this week, busily thinking of the next generation and telling us all about it with their raucous cries.

Click here for sound effect! And here for some interesting rookie facts.

With no plant sales going on we are left with a stock of plants who are self isolating! We have planted some of them into the cut flower patch with the hope they will give us a riot of colour later on and we can split them next year and sell them on. Waste not want not….

Jobs in the walled garden included watering all the containers, lots of weeding and some replanting, including the chamomile bench, which is all set and ready to go.

I acted as stand in beekeeper this week, with instruction from Jan to put on a queen excluder. This is to keep her in the brood chamber so that no eggs are laid on the honey frames – isolation even applies to bees! I also added a super, which is an upper chamber where the honey we extract will be stored. This gives them more room to store honey as the colony expands through the spring.

One plant looking particularly pretty in the walled garden at the moment is the periwinkle along the top terrace wall.

A cheerful bright blue in early spring, hugging the ground tightly and suppressing most weeds. This plant has been grown in this country for a long time, possibly introduced by the Romans who wove its flowers into wreaths for ceremonial occasions. It makes a good choice for a difficult spot where nothing else will grow (like the base of our garden wall) but don’t plant it among other more delicate specimens as it is quite a thug! 

Plant of the Week

Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis)

This lovely plant is good to grow in a woodland situation. It likes a humus-rich, moist soil in full or part-shade. At Cressing Temple we grow the pretty European native species, but there are also lots of lovely cultivars for the garden with flowers ranging from white through to deep blue. 

In the past there was a widespread belief that some plants had been ‘signed’ by God to indicate their uses, ie that plants resembling various parts of the body could be used by herbalists to treat ailments of those body parts.The common name of ‘lungwort’ comes from the spotted leaves’ resemblance to diseased lungs. Lungwort was widely used in the 16th and 17th centuries for treating diseases of the breast and lungs.

Pulmonaria has many common names, including Jerusalem Cowslip, Soldiers and Sailors and Bethlehem Sage. It was also known as ‘Mary’s tears’ because the white spots on the leaves resembled   teardrops and the changing colour of the flowers from pink to blue represented eyes becoming reddened from weeping.

Composting

We know that many of you have found that local council green waste collections have ceased for the foreseeable future this week as local authorities face staff shortages during the current Coronovirus outbreak. This might be a good time to explore the benefits of home composting (waste not, want not again!). At Cressing we obviously have plenty of space for large compost bins, but composting is still perfectly possible for those of us with small gardens. Gary and I have a little garden but made a big effort last year to compost more of our garden waste. We ordered a compost bin through a discount scheme run by our local authority and ‘fed’ it with chopped up garden waste all through last year. We did succeed in making some compost which will be useful to mulch a couple of beds with. We have made use of an old water butt as a second compost bin for extra capacity this year!

Composting Top Tips:

  • Make sure there is a mixture of ‘Greens’ and ‘Browns’ in your compost heap
  • ‘Greens’ are things like grass clippings, dead flower heads, annual weeds with no seed heads, uncooked kitchen waste, fruit and vegetables, leafy plants
  •  ‘Browns’ are things like twiggy prunings such as hedge clippings or small twigs from a bush/shrub, woodchip, leaves, plant stems, paper (including shredded paper), card and straw
  • Keep a cover over the top of the heap/bin to help control the amount of water entering the bin so it does not become too soggy
  • Do not add perennial weeds that have fleshy roots as they may survive and regrow e.g. dandelions
  • If the compost is too wet, mix in some scrunched up newspaper, paper towels, cardboard or twiggy prunings to restore a good green/ brown balance
  • Do not add cooked food such as meat or dairy produce as this will attract vermin
  • Prunings which are too thick to compost could be put into a pile somewhere out of the way. These provide a good habitat for wildlife.

If you are handy with a saw and hammer and have some bits of wood you might be able to make a larger compost bin or two …

These two have been made out of a broken up pallet and bits of wood we had in our garage. A good bit of up-cycling and something useful for Keith to do to get out of the house and away from me for a bit!

Another form of composting we have started at Cressing is a wormery. This is a good way of processing your cooked kitchen waste which cannot be added to your outside compost bin. Worms  will eat anything that was once alive! Fruit and fruit peelings, cooked and uncooked vegetables and peelings, breakfast cereals, tea bags, coffee grounds and filter papers, bread, pastry, biscuits, cake, crushed eggshells, cardboard and even old socks, if made from cotton or wool. Now that’s what I call a balanced diet! 

You can find out more information about worms and wormeries here.

Not being too partial to old socks or cardboard myself, I have been trying another Tudor speciality from our walled garden  – Alexanders (Smyrnium olustratum).

This is a marvellous vegetable for being available very early in the year.  It grows abundantly in hedgebanks and waste places so you may have seen it when out on your walks. Brought to this country by the Romans as a pot herb, it was known as the ‘parsley of Alexandria’ and soon became naturalised in this country. The best part to eat is the succulent stem which can be simmered for about 10 minutes and then eaten like asparagus, with butter. We found them surprisingly pleasant, with a mild celery like flavour and similar texture to asparagus. Strange how many perfectly edible things have gone out of fashion.

Quiz

Answers to last week’s quiz:

  • Can you name a variety of lavender which is also a National Trust garden in Gloucestershire? Hidcote
  • Plant of the Erysimum genus (cryptic clue ‘A lone one on the border at social events.’) Wallflower
  • What is the county flower of Essex? Poppy
  • ‘Arran Pilot’, ‘Maris Peer’ and ‘Pink Fir Apple’ are varieties of which edible crop? Potato
  • Can you match the botanical names to the common names of these plants (all flowering at Cressing Temple now)?
Calendula officinalis Pot Marigold
Primula vulgaris Primrose
Pulmonaria officinalis Lungwort
Ranunculus ficaria Lesser Celandine
Vinca minor Lesser Periwinkle
  • The picture was a close up of Box (Buxus sempervirens) flowering.
  • Rebecca’s nettle soup!

This week’s quiz

Can you match up these plant pictures with the correct name and one of the Tudor uses for the plant?

Which is which?

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Iris (Iris germanica)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

Can you match the Tudor use to each plant?

Believed to remove melancholy, to cheer the heart and to improve the powers of memory.

The dried root was used in perfumes, cosmetic powders, toothpastes and breath fresheners.

Used for cleaning new wool.

A savoury ‘cake’ was made from the leaves mixed with egg and eaten at Easter to purify the ‘humours’ of the body after the restricted diet during Lent.

Bunches were hung up in chicken coops to deter flies, lice and fleas.

Jobs for your garden

Good things for you to be getting on with this week in your garden:

  • Split clumps of perennial plants that have grown too big. The ground is still holding a lot of moisture and the plants will be starting to grow strongly and will survive well. There is a lots of advice on how to do this on the internet. Here is an example.
  • Give your permanent container plants some attention. Scrape away the top layer of compost and give them a top dressing of fresh compost, with some added slow release fertiliser if you have any. Give them a good water. If you grow mint in a container, tip it out, divide it into 3 and replant one piece – this will stop it getting pot bound too quickly.
  • Plant some herbs and sow some veg. Plant up pots of herbs to give you a good supply all year long. Sow carrots, parsnips, beetroot, spinach, radish and peas and plant out potatoes. All can be grown in containers if you don’t have garden space for them. Sow tomatoes, chillies and peppers on a windowsill, or in a greenhouse if you have one. 

Enjoy your gardening while we have this extra opportunity. The health benefits have never been more relevant!

Silver linings

Every cloud has one of these, so we are told, and no matter how dark the clouds have been looking recently we are determined to find a silver lining or two.

It is good to be back on the blog and to be able to bring you news of the garden, even though you are not able to share the gardening with us at the moment. It seems very strange and eerily quiet without you all busily getting on with the jobs, chatting and drinking tea with friends in the porta cabin. A few volunteers were in on Tuesday but since then it has just been myself and Alison. Fortunately the gardens are all looking very smart and ship shape, thanks to all the hard graft that went on over the previous months for which we are really grateful. You have made it easy for us, at least for the time being.

Tasks in the walled garden have included weeding the beds – weeds are always the fist to get going at this time of year! The hop strings have been put up, as the first tender shoots of the hops (Humulus lupulus) have started searching for some support to cling on to – a bit like us in this current crisis!

The daffodils are the big story at the moment, as you can see from the photo above. This is their moment, and there is nothing, including a National emergency, that is going to stop them enjoying it!

We grow the native, wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) or Lent Lily in the walled garden. A far more demur specimen than the blowsy doubles along the top terrace, we have planted them on the wild flower bank and the flowery mead and they look very pretty and natural. This picture doesn’t really do them justice but take my word for it, they are lovely.

A close up might help: short stems, bright yellow trumpets and pale lemon petals which often have a slight twist.

A tough, vigorous species and once very widespread in Britain. John Gerard spoke of it as growing ‘almost everywhere through England’ and ‘so well known to all, that it needeth no description’. This demur native continued to be one of the most common and popular flowers right into the middle of the nineteenth century, when the explosion of more showy specimens from all over the world caught people’s attention. Like many of our wild flowers it gradually became a much rarer sight but continued to thrive in scattered locations, including a well known place on the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire border, around Newent, Dymock and Ledbury. This area became known as ‘The Golden Triangle’ and in the 1930’s, the Great Western Railway ran ‘Daffodil Specials’ from London for tourists to walk among the ‘golden tides’ and buy bunches at farm gates. Areas where they grew well acquired local names such as ‘Dilly woods’ or ‘Daffy Copses’. There is an area just North of Chelmsford in the village of Broomfield called ‘Daffy Wood’ which was known for its wild daffodil colony. I’m not sure if it is still there.

Apart from the wild daffodils in the walled garden, other areas of the garden are looking good and beginning to show their spring promise. The Cullen garden has had a good weeding and mulch recently and its border edges have been straightened up and clipped.

Early blossom is a cheery sight, and none more so than the beautiful Almond blossom (Prunus dulcis), taking its chances with the frosty nights in the hope of attracting early pollinating insects.

Work in the community garden has been picking up, with  now sown in the greenhouse, the first potatoes have been planted, more broad beans have been planted and the onions and garlic are growing away nicely. We have been harvesting purple sprouting broccoli for over a month now and have had the first pickings of rhubarb. Keeping the vegetable garden going while you are away on this volunteering sabbatical will be quite a challenge but Alison and I are determined to do what we can on the plot so maybe there will be lots of tasty things for you to crop when you return – and if not, there will be a lot of catching up to do. As the old gardeners say ‘ there is always another year!’

Great progress has been made with the rabbit fencing thanks to Pete and some of our heartier volunteers.

The  fruit cage is now in place protecting the raspberries, tayberry, blackberry, gooseberries, strawberries, whitecurrant and redcurrants so let’s all look forward to summer pudding!

The new polytunnel has been ordered and will need constructing once we have our helpers back again. So, much to look forward to and no shortage of jobs for my list when I see you again!

Alison and I have also been planting out lots of things in the walled garden. A great time to do this with the ground nice, soft and damp. They should settle in nicely at this time of year and be thriving by the time you are all back.

 

Plant of the Week

Giant Fennel was introduced to Britain from the Mediterranean in 1597. Its hollow dried stems were used to carry fire from place to place and as a kindling. It was used as a medicinal herb in ancient times but is actually toxic to both animals and humans.  Known as Fessoukh in Morrocco, it is known for its links with magic and sorcery. Fessoukh means ‘that which undoes spells’. Burning it is believed to ward off evil spirits. Its resinous gum is said to be one of the oldest used in traditional medicine. Its toxicity is well known to vets, causing a disease called Feulisme, which is common in North Africa.

Quiz

To keep the brain cells active we bring you the first Cressing Garden Quiz! No prizes, but answers will be in the next blog post.

  1. Can you name a variety of lavender which is also a National Trust garden in Gloucestershire?
  2. Plant of the Erysimum genus (cryptic clue ‘A lone one on the border at social events.’)
  3. What is the county flower of Essex?
  4. ‘Arran Pilot’, ‘Maris Peer’ and ‘Pink Fir Apple’ are varieties of which edible crop?
  5. Can you match the botanical names to the common names of these plants (all flowering at Cressing Temple now)?
Calendula officinalis Primrose
Primula vulgaris Lesser Periwinkle
Pulmonaria officinalis Pot Marigold
Ranunculus ficaria Lungwort
Vinca minor Lesser Celandine

    6. What is this plant from the walled garden which is in flower right now? (hint: it takes a bit of clipping)

    7. What have I been eating from the garden this week? (hint: it’s sting is worse than it’s bite)

Jobs for your garden

Although you can’t come to help with keeping the Cressing Temple gardens in shape for a while, we hope you will be able to spend time looking after your own green spaces. Here are a few seasonal jobs to keep you busy:

  • Weed and tidy borders. If you can add mulch afterwards, eg well-rotted farmyard manure or garden compost, it will suppress weeds and help retain moisture.
  • Prune shrubs which flower in late summer, such as Buddleja. https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/beginners-guide/pruning-plants/pruning-shrubs
  • Deadhead daffodils as they fade to concentrate the bulbs’ energies into producing next year’s flowers. Leave the leaves (and don’t tie them up!) for at least 6 weeks after flowering will also help to build up the bulbs for next year.

Enjoy your gardens if you can. Stay well, look after yourself and those around you and we will be back with another round up of garden news next week.

Community Garden news

WAR DECLARED IN COMMUNITY GARDEN….The last few weeks have been a constant battle against rabbits and assorted birds. We grow it, they eat it. The worst damage has been done by the rooks landing on and breaking down the broad beans, then carrying off the pods to feed their youngsters. I lay awake at night thinking up recipes for bunny burgers and rook pie!
On a less stressful note, the garden is picking up after a spell of dry weather followed by welcome rain. The winter veg have all finished and the ground prepared for new crops. Some spring cabbage and winter caulies still remain.
We’re now starting to see the fruits of our winter/spring work: asparagus and rhubarb provided early pickings, broad beans are plentiful and the first new potatoes dug on 6th June (“D”ig Day ). Strawberries are also showing the promise of a good crop.
Early June means that any tender plants can be set out in the garden ie courgettes, cucumbers, pumpkins and salads, whilst the polytunnel is well ahead with tomatoes showing two trusses of fruit and peppers, cucumbers and courgette all well advanced.
The “no-dig” bed already has strawberries, raspberries, blackberry and gooseberry plants showing promise, along with courgettes and soon to join them, pumpkins, big and small.
Watch out for the opening of the shop soon selling our produce. This year we have new signs which hopefully will make more people aware of out opening times on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

To Japan and back

Modern travel is such a strange thing. One minute I am here, at Cressing Temple, gardening away merrily, then within just a day’s travel I am over the other side of the world, seeing sights and having experiences that seem so far removed from the day before it was more like a dream. And just as suddenly, I am back here again, where all is the same as before, feeling like my trip was no more than an eyeblink! Did it really happen? Such things take some adjusting to. What a good job there are photos to preserve the memories.

Some highlights before I forget!

The simple beauty and fragility of paper lanterns.

Stone, water, bamboo – everywhere

Challenging cuisine!

Where to begin? And with chopsticks too!

Colourful costumes and cultural traditions every bit as ancient and important as our own.

This chap’s got wheels. Perhaps I should try it at Cressing!

A bit too late for the renowned cherry blossom but the clipped Azaleas were stunning.

Simplicity, cleanliness, lack of the unnecessary. Where do they keep all their ‘stuff’?

Topiary and training on a grand scale. Very little is left to nature. Gardening is all about taming the wild and exerting control.

 

I must be sad taking a photo of a gardeners’ trolley….

Not just a pond with rocks. A venerable pond, with venerable rocks, each one carefully placed with purpose and design and significance.

The colour red. Absolutely everywhere, used as an accent, as an eye-catcher and hugely symbolic and significant.

One spot of red in a sea of greens.

A handy boat for a bit of atmospheric effect!

Reflections in perfectly still water.

Where we might place an urn, in Japan it is a lantern.

Serious pruning takes a serious set of ladders!

A head for heights is obligatory.

The patience to thin all those pine needles – staggering!

Humble tasks – weeding the grass from the moss beneath trees in a park. Volunteers take heed….there are knot garden lawns full of moss at Cressing!

Kimono and handbags. Fashion fusion, old and new.

Emulating the natural landscape but in a precise and controlled way.

Perhaps one can see why when you live in a country where natural forces are an ever present reminder of our vulnerability.

Whilst the horror of the devastation of less natural forces are a poignant reminder of mankind’s mistakes – Hiroshima Peace Park.

Instead of churches and cathedrals, we visited pagodas, shrines and Torii gates.

As if there weren’t enough Torii gates up here, let’s just bring in one more!

The mountains, wild and beautiful. The flatlands, every square inch built upon or given to agriculture (paddy fields seen here). With a population twice the size of ours and a land mass not a great deal bigger, there is not much space per person.

Stepping stones, set at different distances to control the pace of passage around the gardens.

Bamboo forests – ethereal, majestic and so different to anything I have seen before.

The moss gardens. Hard to describe, impossible to convey in a photograph but utterly enchanting – cool, green, quiet oases.

The raked gravel and stones. So hard for us to comprehend or appreciate.

Bonsai for sale! Where we preserve our buildings and architecture, here it seems it is the antiquity of nature that is most revered.

One of most prized and ancient trees in Ritsurin garden and a fine example of Hakomatsu: Carefully cultivated black pine trees. It has been clipped to represent a crane taking flight over a tortoise (use your imagination!).

An exquisite flower, Pecteilis radiata, a species of orchid commonly known as the white egret flower. Such an apt name!

A transport system we Brits can only dream of!

Shopping malls that seem to go on forever.

A beautiful Japanese wedding.

With a more western style reception and two very proud parents!

What a trip. What an adventure.

It is good to be home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Easter!

Whilst we have been admiring the birds and wild flowers to be seen in the walled garden, today might be good day to reflect on what life would have been like at this time of year for people back in medieval and Tudor times.

Most medieval homes were cold, damp and dark. When spring came people welcomed the chance to enjoy time out of doors, away from the dark, smoky, crowded and sometimes bug infested homes and hovels.

 “Springtime is the time of gladness and of

love: for in the springtime everything seems

glad: the earth waxes green, trees burgeon

and spread, meadows bring forth flowers,

the heavens shine, and everything that in

winter seemed dead and withered, is

renewed.”

(Bartholomew the Englishman – 1260)

Spring Food and Drink

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Spring-cleaning started from the inside, and this was the time for brewing up ‘spring drinks’ and ‘green pottages’ (a thick soup or stew) to purge away winter ills and to revive jaded bodies. Noxious pests and parasites were treated with violent purging brews and laxatives containing a mixture of cleavers, sage, fennel shoots, yellow iris and redcurrant leaves. Southernwood, wormwood, tansy, gentian, pennyroyal and hops were specific herbs used for getting rid of intestinal worms – one of the hazards of medieval life!

Posies and Garlands

In medieval times Easter marked the start of the posy season. Posies and garlands were extremely popular, not just for their attractiveness, some were considered to work as anti-plague remedies. A posy was likely to have a mixture of fragrant, herbal and purely pretty flowers. A spring posy might have included lily of the valley, daisies, violets, primroses, cowslips, rosemary and sweet rocket.

Easter

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).

Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)

Hopefully you haven’t overindulged with the modern chocolate eggs this year! Happy Easter!

All a bit fishy

The AGM on 24th March rounded off another busy and successful year for The Friends Group. Following reports by our Chairman and Treasurer there followed the election of a new treasurer,  two new trustees and the report on the garden. We concluded the meeting with a presentation of the main achievements of the heritage lottery project so far, including the second teaser clip from the memories of Cressing Temple video:

The weeks either side of the AGM have been dominated with our efforts to solve the problem of our murky pond problems. The leak has been getting steadily worse over the past few years and frequent filling up with tap water had done nothing for the water quality – not so much gazing at our reflection in a clear blue surface. more like staring into a bowl of pea soup!

Something had to be done and we needed to empty the pond but how to catch fish when you can’t see them? We had no idea how many there were and nothing bigger than a child’s fishing net!

Never fear, the ever inventive Pete, the ever ready Paula and the ever willing set of Tuesday volunteers worked out a method and several hours later we had buckets full (about 60 to be precise) of healthy looking wonderfully golden goldfish. Having prepared for this eventuality by putting ‘re-homing goldfish’ notices in the Visitor Centre,  we managed to find new (and frankly much nicer) ponds for them all to go to. And we found ourselves a little richer too!

With the fish taken care of we could move to the next stage: draining and dredging. Oh boy, did it need dredging! Yuk.

Everyone put on a brave face and pretended it had been fun……

…..and it was a joy to see the fantastic brickwork  base for the first time in years.

So much for dealing with the murk, now to deal with the leak. Once again we have Pete to thank for spotting the corrosion on the fountain which had been allowing water to seep through to the centre of the brickwork column and out to the surrounding ground. The solution, we hope, is to line the corroded dish with fibre glass which will be completely hidden once the water is flowing. Not an authentically Tudor solution, but fingers crossed this will work and issue that has had us scratching our heads for years will be solved. I will let you know.

The final step will be to re-introduce the water lilies and fish (maybe three or four – all males!). Anyone wanting to see the water sparklingly clear and the pattern on the brick flooring had better visit soon before a more natural balance is restored and the lilies do their excellent job of covering the surface.

Phew, what an episode that has been!

After all the muck and grime of pond cleaning it has been rather nice to have contrasting moments to admire the stunning display of spring bulbs. Always such an uplift at this time of year.

The gentle, subtle charm of our native bulbs, the Lent lily (Narcissus pseudonarcissus), the snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris), the cowslip (Primula veris) and our native tulip (Tulipa sylvestris) are hard to beat.

But I must say a splash of the more exotic has been very welcome lately too.

We went for a combination of bright and cheerful tulips and the intoxicating perfume of Delft Blue Hyacinths to attract visitors to the start of our plant sale season.

 

We are hoping to do better than ever with our plants this year, with our new sales area near the Visitor Centre. It has long been a frustration to us that many visitors seem to visit the tearoom for their delicious offering from Wilkins & Sons but rarely venture further to see what temptations there are on the rest of the site. Maybe we could entice them out by having things for sale visible from the tea room.

We are not intending to sell Community Shedders! These are the kind gentlemen who constructed our new plant table and carried it to its new position.

Still a bargain at £2.50 per plant, our lovely range of perennials are ready and raring to get going in your gardens, so please visit to buy a few this Easter.

Part of the Heritage Lottery money was allocated to improving our interpretation and training  our volunteers. Three talks have been planned for this year and the first one took place on a cold but dry day in early March. The volunteers were treated to a fascinating and very informative talk by Hilary Mynott which covered the history of the Templar barns, the Tudor walled garden and folklore surrounding the plants grown in our garden.

In the second talk early this month, Mike Brown, the historic gardener, treated us to a very enjoyable slideshow of Tudor gardens, describing their main features and giving some good examples of Tudor gardens to visit around the country. He followed this with a demonstration of his diverse collection of Tudor gardening tools, including wooden spades, bird scarers and a Tudor rat trap!

 

Mary examining a tudor mattock, used for digging in the same way we might use a fork.

Later in the year we are looking forward to the third of these talks, which will be a demonstration of distilling and the uses of herbs in Tudor times. We will all be so well educated, courtesy of the Heritage Lottery Fund!

 

With Easter just around the corner we have been doing some research about the customs and traditions of Easter and the plants that can be seen in the walled garden this Easter time. A display of what we discovered can be seen in the wellhouse and it makes very interesting reading, including the significance of simnel cakes, the ancient tradition of dyeing eggs and the making of Tansy pudding in Lent.

We intend to update this table with a changing displays to give our visitors something new to experience on return visits. The next one planned will be about different textiles used in the Tudor period, followed by one on Tudor beekeeping. With the volunteers helping with the construction of these displays it promises to be an interesting and varied year.

Our native viola (Viola tricolor) is looking cheerful in the potager right now. The sixteenth century herbalist John Gerard was fond of the look of this flower, if not the scent ‘..of three sundrie colours…that is to say purple, yellow, and white or blew; by reason of the beautie and bravery of which colours they be very pleasing to the eie, for smell they have little, or none at all’

Several affectionate and very descriptive names were given to this plant including – Cull Me to You, Three Faces in a Hood, Herb Trinity, and Love in Idleness. But the one still commonly used today is heart’s ease, meaning tranquility or peace of mind. Altogether the flower is said to have sixty names in English and two hundred on the Continent. No wonder plant naming was confusing before Linnaeus gave us his straightforward binomial system!

For Shakespeare it was the plant he chose in Midsummer Night’s Dream, the juice having the power to make men and women fall in love:

Oberon:

Yet marked I where the bolt of Cupid fell.

It fell upon a little Western flower –

Before, milk white; now purple with love’s wound –

And maidens call it love-in-idleness.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, II.1.165-168

 

A fitting thought, as I jet off to Japan for my son’s wedding.

See you all in May

じゃあまたね

 

 

 

 

 

March in the Community Garden

What a difference a year makes! February saw nearly 3 weeks of unseasonably high temperatures and can you believe that on the 26th (a year after experiencing the Beast from the East) we had a temperature of 17 degrees and we had to water the whole plot! The temperature was so high that some seedlings in the greenhouse outstripped themselves and became too ‘leggy’ to use, but on the other hand it did bring the skylarks out singing and the first peacock butterfly was seen.
Everything and everyone reacts to an increase in daylight. Its a fact that plants react to the amount of daylight by changes in a light sensitive pigment called phytochrome. During daylight hours it’s converted to an active form and put simply the more daylight, the sooner it gets to become an active form and cause changes in plant growth. So as we have seen an extra hour of daylight in the last 3 weeks so we have seen growth spurts in some, not all, of the plants. Also, by covering some of our raised beds with old pond liner and tarpaulin, the soil temperature has increased by 2-3 degrees above the surrounding soil. This will give us a head start when sowing commences outside later this month.
As in any garden there are successes and failures. Last winter we were overwhelmed with sprouts but this year they have been poor. On the other hand the purple sprouting broccoli has been excellent, despite the wood pigeons best efforts to nobble it. Seed potatoes are ‘chitting’ and the forced rhubarb has produced a good crop of pale juicy sticks.
Early tomato, pepper and cucumber seeds have been sown, but only to produce plants for growing on in the polytunnel, as the temperature and soil conditions outside will not be suitable for tender plants to go out untill late May.
To finish, there is an interesting article in this months Saga magazine regarding the benefits of gardening. It confirms that gardening  can have a deep and lasting effect on a raft of health problems, from aiding recovery from illness and loss of a close friend or relative, improving your physical health through digging, raking etc. and giving you a sense of achievement. It can also help with managing symptoms of age decline, unlocking memories, socialising, even just standing and looking, touching and smelling.