Happy Christmas

So here we are, almost at the end of another year and time for another volunteer Christmas party. This time last year we had nothing but the gazebo to shelter us from the drizzly December weather. Do you remember it?

So what luxury it was this year, to have warmth, light and power in the porta cabin, potting shed and shelter. And all thanks to the Big Lottery grant we were lucky enough to receive this year.

It felt like civilisation had arrived at the Community Garden and we made the most of it by cooking three soups, hotdogs and potatoes!

All this was enjoyed around the campfire whilst catching up with friends.

We know how to party, us gardeners!

To top it all off, some of us braved the icy cold floor of the community shed to make willow bird feeders. Here’s me trying to remember how I made it.

And here’s everybody trying to remember how I made it!

And a happy result.

Let’s hope the birds enjoy their Christmas dinners.

It was a lovely way to round off an enjoyable year of gardening at Cressing. A  huge thank you to all our volunteers who have worked so hard, been so cheerful and enthusiastic and added so much to the life and events of Cressing Temple this year. It has been a fantastic year and so much has been achieved. A real team effort.

Much had been going on in the gardens before we got to party time. This week we have endured some dank and gloomy weather but for our apple trees in the Jubilee orchard they have never had so much light! The hedgerow had become completely overgrown, blocking light to the trees for many years. As a consequence, some of them were leaning desperately to one side in search of light and were struggling to produce a decent crop of apples each year. We decided the time had come to do some radical cutting back and with the expert help of one of our Country Parks Rangers we lowered the hedge to a more manageable 6 foot.

What a difference it has made. The trees look a bit shocked but will soon get used to it and we are hoping it will make them grow stronger, more balanced and with better fruiting ability.

Encouraged by our success we continued the process of letting in more light by cutting back the hedgerow adjacent to the main road, which has also improved access to the public footpaths running across the Cressing Temple site. Howard was a dab hand with the long handled pruner as you can see.

While we had ranger help we took the opportunity to take down a couple of trees that were dying in the Walled Garden. This Elder (Sambucus nigra) has been looking increasingly sickly over successive years, possibly as a result of the honey fungus we have in the garden. We finally took the decision to fell it this autumn, to be replanted with another tree, grown against the wonderful South facing Tudor wall.

Chris carefully inspected the tree before taking it down, in case it might be a potential bat roost. For those of you with an interest in chiropterology you can read about bat roosts on the bat conservation society website. Although there were a few small holes in the dead wood of this tree, none were large enough or deep enough to provide a suitable roost.

Our new community shedders are keenly interested in any tree felling that happens on site. What to us is an old diseased piece of wood might for them become a beautifully turned fruit bowl. What better example of recycling could you get?

Before the weather turned all Christmassy – mild damp and dreary! – we enjoyed a brief but beautiful few days of snowy weather, which is hopeless for gardening but great for photos.

Despite the inevitable slide into winter we have found plenty to keep us busy and there have been many trips over to the bonfire site with apple tree prunings. It was on one of those trips that several fairy rings were spotted in Dove House field.

These strange growths are caused by the fungi Marasmius oreades, a common fungus found in grassland across the UK. The genus name Marasmius comes from the Greek word ‘marasmos’, meaning ‘drying out’ which alludes to their ability to completely dry out in hot sunny weather only to reappear when the rains return. This and other members of the genus Marasmius are sometimes referred to as ‘resurrection mushrooms’ for this very reason. They are also commonly known as ‘Scotch Bonnets’. The ring is produced because the mycelium of the young fungus spread out in all directions using the nutrients in the soil, leaving none in the middle, so a ring with nutrient poor soil in the middle occurs.

I often mention how much of our time is spent trying to outwit or outmanoeuvre our rabbit population at Cressing and the last few weeks have been no exception! With great dedication and diligence, in the miserable rain, this little yellow garden elf (aka Mary) constructed a beautiful and colourful barrier out of red stemmed dogwoods (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’) to prevent the persistent digging and nibbling in the well house border. We are trying to beat their sneaky efforts without turning the whole site into a chicken wire fortress! These dogwood barriers look far more attractive.

What about these for a curious looking vegetable?

They are called Oca (Oxalis tuberosa), a South American tuber with a lemony taste that can be cooked like potatoes.  In warm climates Oca is a perennial herbaceous plant and can overwinter as underground stem tubers but in more temperate northern climates, it is frost sensitive and is grown as an annual. It is easy to grow and harvest, it can tolerate poor soil and would be ideal for a ‘no dig’ gardening system. This is the second year we have grown these unusual tubers and we can easily grow some more next year by saving a few of the biggest and best from this year’s crop to be planted out next spring. I thought I would go for  a bit of variety and serve these as part of our Christmas dinner this year.

For those of you who like something a little more traditional, have a very happy Christmas and enjoy your……

Have a peaceful, restful and warm Christmas. See you all in the New Year!














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