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.
What a strange year it has been in so many respects and autumn has come around quicker than ever and we seem to be storming our way through it (literally) quite quickly. The rain has been most welcome, (planting bulbs in concrete is rather challenging!), but you can have too much of a good thing and already we seem to be squelching and slipping around where only a few weeks ago we were looking at desert like cracks in the ground!
Great progress has been made adding snakes head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) and wild tulips (Tulipa sylvestris) to one of the flowery mead patches recently. Looks like Dawn and Fiona are clearing up after a bad mole attack but by next spring it will be transformed and all this hard work will pay great dividends.
September and October would normally have us all preoccupied with the apple harvest-picking, sorting, storing, checking, juicing and bottling. All in preparation for Apple Day. This year has been very different and not just for reasons of coronavirus and the lack of any events at Cressing. Our apple harvest has been the worst I can remember in my time at Cressing, with many trees woefully short of fruit and others bearing fruit of poor quality which dropped early. This was not the case for all trees, with one or two apple trees and both our pear trees having bumper crops of large, good quality fruit. These are growing in the walled garden which is more sheltered than the orchard and they are fed with a mulch every year. Perhaps this made the difference. It is all a bit baffling, but we are thinking it may be down to the very wet winter followed by an exceptionally dry spring. As with so many situations in horticulture, the number of different variables makes it very difficult to say.
We were fortunate to be invited back to Easton Lodge in September, for the only apple day event in the region. Having picked every good apple we could find we loaded up the apple press and de-camped to the walled garden at Easton Lodge and had a very enjoyable day, juicing non-stop and giving bottles of our fresh juice to a very appreciative public. It was a lovely day and a welcome reminder of more normal times.
If the apple harvest has been poor this year, we have made up for it with the success of the community garden produce and the appeal of fresh, home produced veg and fruit on our new veg barrow.
We have gathered some regular customers visiting our veg barrow and on many days it has emptied almost as soon as it is filled.
It is all too easy to miss courgettes as they are developing and suddenly come across giant ones that have turned into monster marrows, but this year the radishes gave us a bit of a surprise when we found some hiding under the butternut squash leaves. Just shows what a radish can become if it is allowed to grow up! Probably a bit woody for a salad though!
The selection of veg and fruit has been further enhanced by cut flowers, honey and willow artwork for the garden, all adding to the general appeal and giving an extra point of extra interest for visits to Cressing Temple.
The colours of autumn always seem richer and deeper than those of high summer and these Dahlias with their wonderfully symmetric flowers in a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes are certainly making a great show this autumn.
The pumpkins and squashes growing in the walled garden, also make an eye-catching spectacle and attract much comment. This year we have grown ornamental gourds and a selection of edible squashes, including varieties called Sweet Dumpling, Honey Bear and Goosebumps.
This autumn looks like being a particularly good year for berries and seeding plants. The holly tree in the walled garden is putting on a grand show already and the hawthorn and rowan trees are catching the eye of many a hungry bird.
The construction of our first new polytunnel was an exciting and positive event in a year rather short of such things.
Looking a bit like a caterpillar, the tunnel was a bit of a challenge to erect but with Pete’s expertise and determination and the willing help of several volunteers it was soon completed. The spots on the side are actually air vents which we hope will make ventilation and temperature control more manageable.
The next step is to construct and fill the growing beds inside and make a plan for early spring crops next year. The purchase of this tunnel was made possible by a generous grant from The Essex Community Foundation and will help us to grow fruit and veg all year round and raise more money for the site.
Now don’t be alarmed by the next picture. There really is nothing too dangerous about our garden volunteering, despite appearances!
Thanks to a grant from Heritage Lottery to assist charities affected by the pandemic we were able to purchase new cleaning and safety equipment, along with extra tools and garden equipment. Lisa and Mike are modelling a selection of the items purchased, at a careful 2m distance naturally.
The Heritage Lottery grant has also given us funds to develop additional ways of generating income. One option we want to develop is the running of courses. Possible topics might include beekeeping, gardening for wildlife, care of fruit trees and propagating plants. We decided to begin with running sessions on making willow items for the garden and the grant allowed us to buy the tools and materials we needed. Alison has run two pilot sessions on willow weaving for the volunteers. Once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted we plan to run further sessions which will be open to the public.
Here you can see our new polytunnel being put to good use to shelter us from the wind and the rain during the two successful willow weaving sessions making bird feeders and dragonflies!
Grant money has also been used to purchase a second polytunnel, this time with the aim of growing a range of Cressing Temple herbs to sell on our plant stall. Work has already started on construction, but the weather hasn’t been on our side and the going was very wet and sticky!
With so much else being restricted or on hold it is very encouraging to have projects to work on and future plans in the making. Thank you to our funders, the Heritage lottery fund and the Essex Community Foundation for their support and making this possible.
Another impact of the pandemic and the need to remain socially distanced, has been a change to our group jobs briefing and all important tea break. The porta cabin, which was a cramped space at the best of times, has become unusable, with a one person at a time rule. We have been quite happy sitting outside during the lovely summer weather but as temperatures drop and winter weather hardens, the waterproofs and thermals will become an essential part of our kit! Our jobs briefing is also conducted outside, rather than in warmth and relative comfort but, ever resourceful, we have rigged up an outdoor, all weather whiteboard from bits and pieces we had lying around which gives volunteers a chance to choose their tasks from the magic ever replenishing list!
As we move towards winter and many of our showy summer favourites in the garden retreat under ground to wait out the cold weather, it is the evergreens in the garden that come to the fore and really earn their place in the garden. This applies none more so than our impressive rosemary bushes in the walled garden.
Ros maris, from which the name Rosemary is derived, means ‘dew of the sea’. This could originate from the white-blue flowers that give the appearance of dew on the branches of the shrubs, which originally grew along the Western Mediterranean coast. Recently however, the scientific name has changed. It used to be Rosmarinus officinalis, meaning that Rosemary was in the genus Rosmarinus with the species name officinalis, meaning a plant used in medicine or herbalism. But a phylogenetic study has found that Rosemary is more closely related to the Salvia genus than to the other species of Rosmarinus. The scientific name of Rosemary has therefore been changed to Salvia rosmarinus (it could not be renamed Salvia officinalis because that is the scientific name already given to Common or Garden Sage). Are you keeping up? How confusing! I think we will continue to call it rosemary.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
One of the longest and most traditional uses of Rosemary is to aid the memory. Gerard, in his Herball, says that the Arabians and other ancient physicians used it in this way. He also recommends making sugared Rosemary flowers to ‘…comfort the heart, and make it merry, quicken the spirits and make them more lively. We could all do with a with a bit of that at the moment!
Due to the use of Rosemary for improving memory it was used historically, as a symbol of fidelity for lovers, as well as being used at weddings, funerals and for decorating halls for banquets and other gatherings. Apparently, Anne of Cleves had it in her wreath on her marriage to Henry VIII (making a mockery of its love and fidelity claims!) and Rosemary branches decorated with silk threads were given to guests at weddings to represent love and loyalty.
The cosmetic uses for Rosemary mainly used the essential oils in hair-lotions. It was highly regarded for its pleasant smell and ability to stimulate hair growth so preventing premature baldness. The dried leaves and flowers were combined with borax to make a rinse that reportedly made one of the best hair washes known (not to be recommended today!). Rosemary was also used as an effective treatment for dandruff.
Whatever the merits of rosemary in terms of its medicinal, cosmetic or symbolic uses, for the gardener it is just one of the best herbs for the winter – ever green, ever fragrant and ever tasty!
Winter wildlife spotlight
The Latin word for hedgehogs is Erinaceus and our own British hedgehog is scientifically known as Erinaceus europaeus; it is the same species that occurs throughout most of the continent of Europe. In Britain it is found almost everywhere except some of the Scottish Islands, but tends to be scarce or absent from wet areas and pine forests. Uplands and mountainsides are not popular, probably because they lack both suitable food and suitable nesting places. Hedgehogs are well established in our urban habitat and can, somewhat surprisingly, survive very well in our cities, making extremely good use of cemeteries, railway land, wasteland and both public and private gardens. Shakespeare mentions hedgehogs in ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and he refers to ‘hedgepigs’ and ‘urchins’.
Naturally solitary, hedgehogs only come together to mate. They reach sexual maturity at around 12 months old. Hedgehogs have been known to live for seven years, but a lifespan of two to three is more typical. Baby hedgehogs are called hoglets.
At the risk of disappointing some people, it is worth mentioning the fact that hedgehogs tend to ‘do the rounds’ and visit several gardens within an area. Ten or more different individuals may visit a garden over several nights, which could mean that ‘your hedgehog’ is in fact a number of different individuals visiting at different times.
Test your knowledge of hedgehogs. Here are some further facts about them. All are true except one but which is is?
Baby hedgehogs leave the nest after three weeks, by which time their spines have hardened, their eyes are open and they are able to follow their mother in search of food.
Apart from worms, insects and snails, hedgehogs also eat frogs eggs, lizards, mice and even snakes
Hedgehogs hibernate all winter
Hedgehogs are immune to certain plant poisons. After chewing these plants they lick their spines, covering them with the toxin. This is thought to protect them from predators.
There are fifteen species of hedgehog found across Europe, Asia and Africa
Hedgehogs can swim
The clocks have gone back and we are officially moving into the winter months but that doesn’t give us any excuse to stay indoors and put our feet up apparently. Here are the 10 top jobs as recommended by the RHS for the coming month
Clear up fallen leaves – especially from lawns, ponds and beds
Raise containers onto pot feet to prevent waterlogging
Plant tulip bulbs for a spring display next year
Prune roses to prevent wind-rock
Plant out winter bedding
Cover brassicas with netting if pigeons are a problem
Insulate outdoor containers from frost – bubblewrap works well
Stop winter moth damage to fruit trees using grease bands around the trunks
Put out bird food to encourage winter birds into the garden
Use a seasonal bonfire – where this is allowed – to dispose of excess debris unfit for composting
Apparently Essex has a lower rainfall than both Jerusalem and the Sahara desert! We can certainly believe that at the moment as we are having to grapple with hoses, sprinklers and watering cans on a daily basis. Here is the rainfall we collected in our rain gauge over the past few weeks – hardly enough to fill that watering can!
Despite the challenging weather conditions work has been continuing as normal and there has been much to admire and give us pleasure.
The artichoke (Cynara scolymus) flowers were huge!
The Bears Breeches (Acanthus mollis) flowers were taller than ever and the Cardoons are easily able to peer over the garden wall with growth they have made in just four months – quite incredible!
The Betony (Betonica officinalis) flowered its socks off!
The round headed leeks (Allium sphaerocephalon ) were a top pick for the bees.
July was a good time to split some of the Irises (Iris germanica) in the pool garden, something we do on a 5 or 6 year rotation to envigorate the clumps and keep them flowering well. We also wanted to correct the mistake we made the last time when we inadvertently put the wrong colour in one of the sections! After flowering, all bearded irises look identical so it is vital to label them carefully when they are lifted. Of course you don’t realise your mistake until a year later when they flower again!
Hopefully we have got it right this time, with the pale flowered Iris germanica ‘Florentina’ in two sections and the much darker purple Fleur de Lys in the other two. Time will tell!
Thanks to the hard work of our volunteers, the Box hedging is all clipped, a mammoth task each year and more time consuming this year as we knew we needed to be on the look out for signs of box caterpillar damage. The pheremone traps did the trick of alerting us to their presence and the eagle eyes of Bethan spotted the first few of the nibblers at work!
We gardeners are often caught out by our tendency to recognise our plants better than our insect wildlife and can easily fall into the trap of thinking that anything crawling on our plants must be bad! We found a different caterpillar in the Nosegay the other week and for a moment thought it was the dreaded box moth.
In fact it turns out to be the toadflax brocade caterpillar, at first glance difficult to distinguish from the two other more troublesome pests, mullein moth and box moth caterpillars.
mullein moth caterpillar
Box moth caterpillar
It shows how important it is to check before we squish and to remember that the blue tits and other predators will happily clear up a lot of these ‘pests’ for us if we give them half a chance! Here’s some yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) flowering merrily in front of the purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and not caring a jot about attack from any toadflax caterpillars.
Another task we always try to complete by the beginning of August is cutting the meadow grasses.
We wait until it is browning off and all the flowering plants have gone to seed.
We use our continental scythe to take the whole lot down to a mowable height.
The cut grass is left to lie in windrows for about 7 days to allow any ripening seed to fall back into next year’s seed bed.
The final stage is to rake the hay into stooks and carry it away to be fed to the hungry livestock. Oops, no that last bit was a fib – no livestock at Cressing and the gardening team prefer biscuits!
In the fruit and veg garden the cordon apples have had their summer prune (see jobs for the week below).This regular pruning is to encourage the establishment of ‘spurs’ (fruiting growths) along the main trunk, restrict the growth of these closely planted trees and keep them in shape and to allow light to reach the ripening fruit.
The fruit and vegetables are growing almost faster than we can pick them and the veg barrow emptying faster than our ability to restock!
We have grown Aubergines (Solanum melongena) for the first time – not award winning in terms of size, perhaps, but an interesting plant to grow (in the same family as the potato) and an attractive addition to our sales display.
Another first (for me at least) was to grow melon. Just two I’m afraid, in the scorchingly hot polytunnel.
It’s the sort of thing you feel very proud of when it succeeds and you can’t wait for it to ripen. We won’t rival Tesco’s for the size or number of fruit but it was certainly very juicy and tasty, freshly picked, still warm and enjoyed during a very hot teabreak sat under the Sycamore tree (the only shade we could find)!
There are plenty of other more humble veg we have had in profusion, such as the courgettes, including this very attractive yellow variety, which has the added bonus of being very visible when you go to harvest amongst the green leaves!
Our yellow tomatoes are also a favourite – this variety is Golden Crown, very sweet and bitesized.
The first of the sweetcorn has been picked this week. It is one of several crops, along with french beans that have done well on our no dig plot. This plant needs wind to pollinate the flowers rather than insects (no shortage of wind out on the field!) which is why it is planted in a block rather than straight rows. You can check for ripeness of the cobs by peeling back the husk around the silky tassles at the top of each one to check if the kernals are plump and yellow. Piercing one with your finger nail is another good test, with a milky juice indicating ripeness.The sugars in sweetcorn start turning to starch the very moment the cob is picked, so freshly harvested cobs have a sweetness you’ll never get from shop-bought ones.
The eagerly awaited runner beans are now much higher than we are. Very soon we will have the inevitable glut and we will all be sharing tips on freezing, making chutney and anything else we can think of. Runner bean ice-cream anyone?
With all this talk of positive growth and bountiful harvest it was also good to congratulate Yvonne, our WRAGS trainee, who has finished her year of horticultural training with us this week. We have been very lucky to have the help of Yvonne two days a week since June 2019 and she will be greatly missed by all of us at Cressing Temple. She has become a much liked and valuable member of the gardening team and has contributed so much to the gardens. We wish you all the best in your next venture, Yvonne, and hope you will come back to visit us often and see how the things you have planted are growing!
Plant of the week
One plant which has appreciated the recent spell of hot weather is our pomegranate, and it currently has a number of rather exotic looking orangey-red flowers.
The pomegranate is mentioned in the Bible, the Jewish Torah and the Babylonian Talmud, where it was regarded as a sacred fruit conferring powers of fertility, abundance and good luck. It featured in the ceremonies, art and mythology of the Egyptians and Greeks and was the personal emblem of the Roman Emperor Maximilian. It was adopted as the heraldic device of the ancient city of Grenada in Spain, from where it gets its Latin species name granatum (in Spanish granatus means seeded). Pomegranate means seeded apple. In France the pomegranate is called grenade and that is the origin of the name of grenade (as in weapon) which were thought to resemble the fruit.
Pomegranate fruits, separated into individual fruitlets, are a favourite Middle Eastern ingredient of salads and desserts. The juice is equally important, both as the syrup grenadine, and as a thick paste or molasses, which is often used in Middle Eastern cooking as a flavouring for meat dishes. Even the dried seeds have their uses as an ingredient in stuffings and chutneys. Unfortunately the fruit rarely achieves sufficient size or ripeness in our climate – so we are unlikely to be adding Cressing Temple-grown pomegranates to our veg barrow!
Answers to the last quiz
Violet ground beetle. A large (3cm long), fast-moving and aggressive beetle with a powerful bite that hunts worms, small slugs and other invertebrates. It roves at night in woods, meadows and gardens and has a distinctive purple sheen to its carapace. If alarmed, it gives over a rank smell.
Soldier beetle. A raft of handsome species found on summer flowers (particularly thistles and umbellifers) and are fantastic pollinators.
22 spot ladybird. The brightest lemon-yellow of any British beetle, this always has 22 round jet-black spots on its cheerful wing cases. A mildew feeder, it grazes on mould and fungal hyphae.
Wasp beetle. This has deceptively wasp-like colours, plus striking red legs, jerky movements and hawking flight. Larvae feed in dead wood; adults are often seen in sunshine running on stacked logs, or buzzing over bramble flowers.
Stag beetle. The UK’s largest beetle spends most of its life out of view. The larva feeds on dead wood below ground for five years before emerging as an adult. Only the male possesses the ‘antlers’, which are infact enlarged jaws. The stag beetle has declined due to a loss of dead wood habitat.
This year we have been growing more flowers which can be dried, such as statice (Limonium sinuatum) and strawflowers (Helichrysum bracteatum). We have also been looking at flowers which have attractive seed heads, many of which can also be dried and added to bunches of dried flowers. Can you recognise these plants by looking at their seed heads? They may not all be suitable for floristry, but they can all be seen at Cressing Temple at the moment. To give you a helping hand, here is a list of the plants shown below – but can you work out which is which?
Jobs for the Week
Summer prune apples and pears
If you have apples (or pears) trained as restricted forms, such as cordons or espaliers, now is the time to think about pruning them to maintain their intended form and to let more light reach the ripening fruit.
Cordons should be pruned every year around mid August. Your cordon is ready for pruning when the new side shoots from the main stem(s) become woody at their base. Shorten all of this new growth from the main stem to 3 or 4 leaves above the basal cluster of leaves at the base of the shoot.
Where a shoot from the main stem has a side shoot coming off it, prune this also – to one leaf above the cluster of leaves at its base.
Cut back perennials
Many early-flowering perennials and are looking rather tatty – especially in this hot, dry weather. If they are cut back to the ground now and given a good water they will soon put on some nice fresh growth. Some may even flower for a second time later. Plants such as campanulas, hardy geraniums and delphiniums are some of the plants which are suitable for this treatment.
Cut evergreen hedges
Evergreen hedges such as holly, yew and box can be pruned/trimmed now. We should have reached the end of the nesting season now, but of course always double-check before starting work on the hedge.
That concludes our roundup of news for this month. I don’t know about ‘drier than Jerusalem’, in the course of writing this blog it has become wetter than Manchester!