Spring warmth

This week has seen the first day when it almost felt too warm to be wearing a jumper in the garden and the spring sunshine really seemed to be bringing everything to life. It doesn’t take much to tempt the insects out of their winter hibernation to start exploring new nest sites and hunting for nectar and there seemed plenty of them around this week. The star attraction in the Cullen garden was this Prunus (possibly Prunus ‘Kursar’ or something similar) which was buzzing with bees early Thursday morning. No doubt they might have buzzed between this and the yellow flowering dogwood (Cornus mas) for their next visit, seen here in the background.

The walled garden had different things on the menu. This Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) was a top attraction. Spot the bee looking for a way in.

There was a new face at Cressing this week. Alison Airey started her year’s practical horticultural training, taking over from Alison Warwick, our first trainee. Alison 2nd! will be with us on Mondays and Tuesdays for a year, during which time she will participate in the full cycle of horticultural tasks and, hopefully, pick up lots of useful information and skills. We got stuck in straight away with some rose pruning on the arbour – a baptism of prickles! Meanwhile Alison 1st is staying on with us, to continue helping in the garden and concentrating on propagation and plant sales. We are very fortunate to have, not one, but two Alisons working with us this year, and it is all down to the success of The Friends Group.

March is a good month for pruning all kinds of deciduous shrubs and trees. The worst of the winter weather should be behind us but many plants are still dormant and buds have yet to break. Our wonderful fig tree (Ficas carica) had its annual prune this week, which consisted of thinning out to allow more light and air into the centre and shortening long, leggy branches, allowing for replacement growth. Our fig is certainly no textbook shape, being a relic from the old garden before the days of ECC ownership. Most of its root is crammed beneath the Tudor wall, which seems to be how it likes it, and it has grown into the most contorted and characterful shape. With the backdrop of the Wheat Barn and some glorious blue sky and sunshine, it looks rather grand I think.

Another task for this week was to transplant some of the winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) from under a tree on another part of the site into the walled garden under the mulberry tree. I mentioned these winter aconites in my blog a few weeks ago when they were in full flower.

Well now they have finished flowering and it is the perfect time to lift a few clumps, move them to another spot and get them naturalising somewhere else. Under deciduous trees, like the mulberry tree in the walled garden, is the ideal spot, where they can take advantage of the winter sunlight coming through the bare branches before the tree leaves emerge, sending the tuber dormant again for another year. We will look forward to seeing this new clump develop year after year if they are happy in their new home.

Another delightful flower I noticed for the first time this week is the sweet violet (Viola odorata),  used as a strewing herb in medieval Britain and their strong fragrance making them popular ingredients in perfume as far back as the Ancient Greeks. They were also important in herbal medicine, especially for insomnia, headache and depression and were often added to baths and used for washing to soften and fragrance the water. It never ceases to amaze me how, in medieval times, each plant was used  so extensively and given such importance and respect. The violet was a real favourite, a popular gift on birthdays and saints days, candied and used to decorate all manner of cakes and desserts and planted enthusiastically in the turfs of arbours, banks and flowery meads. The violet, like other early spring flowers, depends on those early flying insects to pollinate it and help it spread, but this flower has a back up strategy in case poor weather means too few insects around. After the main flowering is over, about late April, it produces a very different looking flower, a small green one with hardly any petals and short stems barely off the ground. This is called a ‘cleistogamous’ flower, which is self-fertile and will set seed without the need of pollination. A clever insurance policy! Look out for violets everywhere from now on, they can be purple, white, lilac or pink.



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