Sizzling summer

What a scorcher! We chose the hottest day of the year so far to hold our summer volunteer BBQ  and we sizzled almost as much as the sausages!


It was a very enjoyable event and a chance to sit down for a change and celebrate the hard work and achievements of the year so far.

We feasted on some of the first produce from the plot, including a couple of mammoth onions wrestled from the ground by Paul, as well as broad beans, lettuce, radishes and strawberries.

It was also an opportunity to christen our brand new, fabulous extension to the potting shed, funded by our Big Lottery award and built with lots of hard work and great skill by our maintenance officer, Peter Eplett.

This building is going to be so useful, not least giving us a bit of shelter from the searing sunshine and a place to serve the party food.

We can’t thank Pete enough for his efforts. He even reclaimed an old butler sink that has been languishing in the nursery for years, to give us somewhere to clean up all our lovely veg.

Thanks Pete. It will make a big difference.

Before the BBQ we held a recruitment event for volunteers and managed to attract four new members, for the gardening, for shedding or for both.  I was particularly impressed by how many of our existing team turned up to chat to the potential recruits and encourage them to sign up. It is quite amazing to consider there were just two or three volunteers only  a few years ago  and now we have a strong and thriving group of 27!  You only need to visit Cressing to look at all the work that has been done to appreciate the difference they are making and in these hard pressed times of a reduced workforce we certainly couldn’t achieve much without them.

In the gardens we have reached that time of year when the list of upcoming jobs seems  longer than the ones ticked off, and with this hot summer weather, when watering becomes the number one priority, it can feel as if we are chasing to catch up all the time. It is hedge trimming time of year so the shears have been sharpened and cleaned all ready to begin the box hedging and topiary trimming.

Where was that Bay tree topiary?


Oh yes, here it is after a much needed haircut and standing proud in the Nosegay garden with a lovely blue sky backdrop.


The sweet laurel (Laurus noblilis), ancient symbol of victory, was a common feature of medieval gardens.  Better known as Bay, the Old English word for berry, it was also a symbol of evergreen constancy and man’s failure to achieve the same. A single, central tree, reminiscent of the central tree in Eden, grew in many medieval romance gardens often placed next to a well, casting shade and providing a place for the ardent declaration of medieval love and devotion.

While we bask in the heat and sunshine this weekend it seems hard to remember the downpours and damaging wind of the previous week. But life goes on whatever the weather and we certainly can’t choose sunshine just when we want it. So it was unfortunately on the rainy week, sandwiched between two very sunny ones, that we paid host to a couple of groups of hardy garden tourers. The first was Braintree Rotary Society who refused to have their summer evening ruined by summer storms and carried on regardless, brollies in hand.

The hard rain was held at bay for most of our tour around the garden but the summer Pimms had to be served in the farmhouse. In true British spirit they were determined to have  a good time whatever the circumstances and it was lovely to have them visit.

The second group, Action for Carers from Maldon, were luckier later in the week and were able to enjoy both a tour of the barns and a tour of the garden, followed by tea in the Tiptree tearoom without getting wet.

Here they are, watching me demonstrate the wools dyed from plants in our dye border. The golden flowers of broom (Cytisus scoparius), smelling of vanilla, are particularly dazzling in that border at the moment and have produced a clean but subtle yellow dye.

Broom, along with other plants such as gorse, heather, holly and butcher’s broom was once used for sweeping, and the long whippy, thornless stems of this plant made it one of the most effective for the purpose. But the flowers were also used, in bud or fully open, raw or pickled, as an ingredient in salads, particularly in a popular seventeenth century version of twenty or thirty different ingredients, known as Grand Sallat, or Salmagundies. The green tips of the flowering branches have long been used in herbal medicine, and were gathered during the Second World War for use as a mild diuretic to counteract fluid retention.






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