Spring work begins

No sooner has March arrived than there suddenly seems to be a mountain of work to do. And this week I mean this literally!

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The mountain in this case was a lorry load of wood chip for the community garden all needing shifting up to the plot.

We soon realised our 10 cubic metre load was, in fact, far more, and it took us rather longer to shift than we had anticipated. On a cool but bright morning it was the ideal task to warm us up and loosen up any winter stiffness in the muscles.

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Some of it has already been spread on the paths and has made them look very smart. With our focus on renewable resources this one fits the bill as it is a by-product of the forestry industry.

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It hasn’t all been hard graft this week.  On Tuesday we had a firing of the bread oven and a do it yourself pizza lunch. After a cold morning working in the garden this was very welcome and those pizzas were pretty yummy. I can show you the pictures, I just wish I could send you the taste!

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With March only just started, we feel well ahead with propagation and preparation for another busy year of plant sales. The propagator, greenhouse and polytunnel are already bursting with the promise of a colourful summer.

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Work in the walled garden has begun in earnest, with rose pruning, weeding and lifting and dividing being key tasks  in the moments of spring sunshine between the showers. We like to make use of self sown seedlings where possible so Valerie has been busy collecting larkspur (Delphinium consolida), dyers chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria) and sweet williams (Dianthus barbatus). Fiddly work!

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Meanwhile, Mary has also been at the receiving end of a tricky, fiddly task, painstakingly renovating the paintwork on the knot garden obelisks which are painted in the livery colours of the Tudors,  vert and argent (green and white). Once completed, they will be replanted with honeysuckle (lonicera peliclymenum) and returned to the knot garden.

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I am particularly fond of the delightful flowers of Cyclamen at this time of year. Such depth and strength of colour is unusual in a flower this early in the season and they are surprisingly sturdy and resistant to all the late winter weather can throw at them despite the fragility and daintiness of the blooms.

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Hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen coum and Cyclamen hederifolium) have a long history as a medicinal root, the common ‘sowbread’ of the apothecaries’ shops being well known long before it was grown as a garden plant. Its uses were many:

‘In case that a man’s hair fall off, take this same wort and put it into the nostrils’ – so says the Herbarium of Apuleius c.550-625.

But its greatest value was to assist in childbirth, for which it was considered very potent. John Gerard, the renowned 16th Century herbalist, was at pains to fence in his cyclamen with a palisade of sticks, lest any good matron accidentally stepping over them should have a miscarriage!

Hardy cyclamen will gradually naturalise in your garden provided they are planted in a partially shaded spot in organically enriched soil that doesn’t get too dry. You can collect seed of most cyclamen species when the flower-stalk coils, drawing the seed capsule closer to the soil surface to release the ripe seed. Best sown fresh, seeds should be sown immediately after soaking overnight, in a mix of equal parts seed compost and sharp grit. Cover seeds carefully with a thin layer of seived compost as light can inhibit germination. Cover the container in a clear plastic bag and keep at a minimum temperature of 16°C (60°F) in light shade until large enough to transplant.

That might only appeal to the more patient of gardeners amongst us as John Hill noted in 1757: ‘A very little trouble and attention will serve to stock a garden with this humble plant, but there will require that patience which should be as much the characteristic of the gardener as of the angler. For it will be some years before the seedlings rise to flower’

If you are feeling inspired to get on with a bit of gardening yourselves this week, I am pleased to announce the return of our plant sales, still at the bargain price of £2 per plant. Cressing grown, spring flowering bulbs are available for £1.50, with a tempting selection of spring plants to be seen in the walled garden, including snakes head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris), the lent lily (Narcissus pseudo narcissus lobularis) and the wild tulip (Tulipa sylvestnis).

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