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.
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!
There are times when we are really glad of a walled garden and the extra warmth and shelter it provides. Not this week! Working outside in an environment with little shade has been challenging to say the least, but we have cooler conditions to look forward to next week thankfully. We have also passed the midsummer solstice, when growth starts to slow down and gardening feels less like a frantic game of catch up. A bit too soon to put our feet up though!
Vegetable and fruit production on the community garden is in full swing and we have been loading the new veg barrow with fresh produce each morning. It is proving very popular with our picnicking visitors, although most of what we have on offer requires a bit of cooking before it can be added to the hamper!
It has been lovely to welcome back our WRAGS trainee to the garden in the last couple of weeks. Yvonne has been extending her lockdown hairdressing techniques to the Bay estrade in the Nosegay garden.
Ah, much better! This was one of the first tasks Yvonne tackled when she started with us in June 2019 so it is great for her to get a second go as her year’s training has been extended a couple of months due to the shutdown in April and May.
Topiary and various methods of training and staking plants was a very important practice in medieval gardening. It was understood that to produce fruit and flowers the natural exuberance of plants had to be quelled by judicious pruning of ‘superfluities’. Pruning and shaping for aesthetic reasons reached great heights in medieval topiary in the form of a tiered ‘estrade’ or cake stand shape, like our bay tree.
Controlling the exuberance of vines through careful staking with Alder poles and pruning excess growth was just as important to medieval gardeners as it is to us today. Cutting the excess growth of the pole vines back to two leaves past the last fruit cluster has been another job that Yvonne has helped us with recently.
Midsummer is a good time to inspect fruit trees for pests and diseases and carry out fruit thinning if necessary. The apple crop in the Jubilee orchard looks to be very poor this year, with many trees bearing little fruit and several suffering from bad attacks of winter moth.
Winter moth caterpillars eat holes in the leaves, blossom and developing fruitlets of many tree fruits, ornamental trees and shrubs in early spring. Severe attacks can weaken young trees and extensive damage to fruit trees can affect crop yield and quality.
Winter moth is a name that can be used for a number of species that have adult moths that emerge and lay eggs between November and April. These moths all have wingless females that emerge from pupae in the soil and crawl up trunks to lay eggs on branches. The caterpillars of these moths hatch in the spring as buds are opening, feeding on most types of tree fruit and many deciduous trees and shrubs.
In an organic garden a certain level of such pest damage should be tolerated because the moths are an important part of the garden ecosystem, with many birds, especially tits, relying on the caterpillars to rear their chicks during the spring. Encouraging predators and natural enemies into the garden such as birds, hedgehogs and ground beetles is an important method of natural control but in years of bad infestation it may be necessary to take further preventive action in the form of sticky grease bands or barrier glue applied around the trunk of each tree in October to trap the wingless females as they ascend to the canopy. It looks like this may be necessary for our trees this year, to break the cycle of infestation.
I am sure a peacock would be a useful form of control for soil dwelling pests but I’m not sure our willow peacock will be much use in that regard! He does look rather fine though, now he has taken his position as guardian of the knot garden.
He is best admired from the vantage point of the viewing platform where the beautiful tail can be seen to best effect.
The peacock joins our other two willow sculptures to help evoke the spirit of the garden 400 years ago. Peacocks were a familiar sight in grand Tudor gardens but not purely for their ornament as our one is. Peacock Royal was a popular dish at high society Tudor feasts: a peacock was skinned, stuffed with dried fruit and spices, cooked and then placed back inside its feathered skin and placed as a centrepiece of the feast table. I expect our peacock thanks his lucky stars he is made out of willow! Our Tudor sculptures were made by talented willow artist Jo Hammond from Suffolk. See Jo’s website if you are interested in her other work.
Whilst checking for pests and diseases on your fruit trees is a good thing to do at this time of year, fruit thinning is another important task (if you have any!). The apple trees in the walled garden are doing far better than the ones in the Jubilee orchard and many are heavily laden with overcrowded fruit.
Trees naturally undergo a period of fruit shedding following flowering and this can be over a prolonged period up until mid July. In some trees there is still a heavy crop of fruit after the June drop, the extra weight pulling down on the branches considerably and risking them breaking. A tree is unable to support a really heavy crop and the resulting apples are likely to be small and of poor quality. Deliberate thinning of the fruitlets produces better-sized, ripe and healthy fruits, albeit in smaller numbers. The idea is to leave just one or two fruit per cluster, removing any misshapen, blemished or poorly positioned fruit and leaving the strongest and best shaped.
When explaining our type of gardening to visitors I sometimes describe what we do as ‘growing weeds nicely’ and this phrase came to mind when I was working in the potager this week. Take this plant for example:
It is Prunella vulgaris or self heal, a plant you are most likely to know as a weed in your lawn, which you either mow off each week which results in no flowers or you pursue it with your lawn weedkiller. But grown in a border in good garden soil and treated to an occasional watering it can reach two feet in height and look rather attractive, as it did with a bit of backlighting in this picture. Called self heal or all-heal from its reputation as a panacea for a wide range of medical conditions, it was the primary treatment for diseases of the mouth and throat, whether sore tongues, swollen glands, tonsillitis, mumps, goitre or laryngitis. John Parkinson (1567- 1650, master apothecary, herbalist and gardener) recommended self heal for headaches, mixed with oil of roses and rubbed on the forehead and temples. In modern medicine it is effective against viruses including HIV and viral hepatitis and has an antibiotic effect against a range of bacteria. One wonders what ‘weeds’ might be out there that could assist in our struggles against more modern viruses.
Another common lawn weed looking rather fine in our potager beds is the plantain, in this case Plantago major rubrifolia.
This has a long history as a healing plant, especially for pain relief. One of its common names ‘ Englishman’s foot’ comes from its wide oval leaves and the ease with which this vigorous weed sprang up in any place to which colonists unwittingly carried its seed. Another of its common names, Waybread, comes from eating the leaves and roots before a journey as a means of filling the stomach. I wasn’t desperate enough to try it this week!
Around 40% of the UK’s insects species are beetles with over 4000 species! With bees and butterflies often getting the headlines, perhaps it’s time for us to pay more attention to this fascinating group of insects which have a major part to play as pollinators of numerous plant species, predators of garden pests and decomposers of organic matter. See which of these common garden beetles you recognise.
When coming across caterpillars in the garden it can be useful to know what they will turn in to before deciding whether to feed them to the birds or not! The following photos show 4 from this list of 6 moths, but which is which?
And now here is a list of 6 butterflies, 4 of which are shown in the photos. Can you match them up?
Speckled wood, peacock, comma, small tortoiseshell, large white, swallowtail
Plant of the Week
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)
The much-loved hollyhock was brought to Britain from the Orient at the time of the Crusades. This cottage garden favourite pops up in various places around the garden and they are a glorious sight at the moment.
It is a member of the mallow family and its common name of hollyhock is believed to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘holi-hoc’ or holy mallow. It was used medicinally against lung disease and bladder inflammation.
The hollyhock also has a history as a dye plant. Deep red/black varieties give good green dyes. Red coloured flowers give deep orange dye. Pale coloured flowers give pinky-yellow and yellow dyes. Leaves give yellow and lime green dyes. All have good light and colour fastness.
Hollyhocks prefer a fertile well-drained soil in full sun. They are susceptible to rust disease and plants should be replaced after a few years, to prevent a build-up of disease. Collect all dead and diseased tissue at the end of the season to reduce the carry-over of rust spores to the next year. There’s just about time to direct sow seeds now, or wait until the autumn.
Jobs for the Week
It’s your last chance to plant out vegetables such as runner beans, peppers and squash which will enjoy the summer heat – provided they get well-watered!
Many roses have finished their first flush of flowers now. After deadheading, give the roses a feed to boost growth and encourage more flowers later in the summer. Use a fertiliser specific to roses, or one high in potash (such as a tomato food). A fertiliser high in nitrogen will result in soft, sappy growth that is more prone to attack from pests and diseases.
Herbs which have finished flowering may need cutting back now (unless it’s something you are growing for the seeds of course). Chives can be cut back to the ground to get fresh leaves. Lightly trim thymes after flowering to encourage a bushy growing habit. Rosemary should also be pruned now to keep its growth bushy and compact.