Signs of spring

With a very welcome rise in temperature this week and the garden suddenly showing signs of a spring awakening, we set about some winter tasks in the garden with extra gusto.

Having finished the relaying of the knot garden brickwork a few weeks ago, the conditions were just right to replant the Germander (Teucrium x lucidrys) and renew the charcoal infill.

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Here’s the finished result, viewed from the platform, only missing the obelisk in the centre and a bit more bushiness from the plants!

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We were in the Cullen garden at the start of the week and as usual at this time of year the winter flowering dogwood, Cornus mas, was looking glorious against a clear blue sky. Early flowering plants like this are such an important source of nectar for emerging insects when most other nectar rich, flowering plants are still slumbering.

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Another good nectar providing plant having its moment just now is the stinking Hellebore, Helleborus foetidus, which we have in abundance in the walled garden. A common wild plant of woods and scrubland on calcium rich soils and well known to Gilbert White, the eighteenth century naturalist, who saw it growing near his home in Selbourne Hampshire. He noted that local women gave the powdered leaves  to children troubled with worms, a rather violent, if effective remedy!

Here you can see the curious lime green flowers, inviting early pollinators, and standing out against the dark green leathery leaves.

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One of our less welcome jobs this week was installing deer protection for the wooden planter in the Cullen garden. We had the bright idea of growing flowers in a big half wooden barrel to keep them clear of our voracious rabbits, only to find we had provided a feast at just the right height for our equally voracious muntjac deer! They had nibbled everything, with only the bristly heathers showing any kind of resistance. Our effort to outwit them consisted of spraying everything with ‘Grazers’ an organic deterrent spray based on Calcium Chloride, and constructing a barrier out of coppiced hazel, which we are hoping they won’t find just as tasty as the flowers!

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Another welcome sign of spring this week was the sight of our bees, out and about in the warm midday sunshine.

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They will only venture out for short flights on warm sunny days at this time of year, mainly cleaning out winter debris from the hive and relieving themselves after a rather long winter time of ‘keeping their legs crossed’!

David and Jan had a quick peek inside to check the cluster and give them a sugar boost of fondant to help them last out these final weeks of winter before foraging can begin. This is a vulnerable time for bee colonies and many are lost in early spring when their food reserves have dipped too low to support them.

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Work in the garden can really get going again now and one job we have been waiting to do is replanting the border in the tea garden. The rotten oak fencing had been removed, along with some very woody and unproductive lavenders and rosemary. We have chosen to replace these with a rose hedge, hoping it will be relatively rabbit and deer proof and will provide a welcome show of flowers and scent for our visitors as they enter the site.  We went to local rose supplier, Cants of Colchester and chose a rugosa hybrid ‘Wild Edric’ described as a tough variety with pointed purple-pink buds gradually opening to semi-double flowers of a deep, velvety pink with shades of purple and mauve exposing golden-yellow stamens. Sounds sumptuous and makes me dream of summer!

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On quiet days at Cressing, when I am often on my own in the walled garden at the end of the day, I am frequently cheered with the company of our resident rook and their noisy commotion.

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The rook (Corvus frugilegus) is a large crow, recognisable by their bare face. Unlike many others in the crow family which feed mainly on carrion, rooks’ diet consists largely of insects, worms and grain. A 1593 Act of Parliament to protect corn crops ruled that any parish failing to set nets to catch rooks would be fined 10 shillings (50p) per day. Fortunately we regard them more favourably today and they can be seen as a gardener’s friend in their control of many soil dwelling pests. They have long had a reputation as weather forecasters:  a tumbling, very low flight, roosting at mid-day and remaining close to the rookery all indicate rain. They are the most gregarious of the British crows with rookeries often including huge numbers of individuals. The largest rookery in the UK is at Hatton Castle in Scotland with numbers once counted as approaching 65,000 birds. Thankfully, our Cressing rookery is a little smaller, or we would never hear ourselves think!

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