Are we safe to call this Spring?

Some of us are all ready for Spring…..

But the weather has had other ideas lately……

Perhaps the birds should hold back a while before they get on feathering their nests. Mind you, we have provided a few extra desirable residences for our birdlife to consider this year. You may remember us growing bottle gourds (Lagernaria sisceraria)  in the walled garden last summer. We thought they might make an interesting alternative to the usual boxes – we will see what the birds think!

On 6th March some of our volunteers  attended a study day offered by Share Museums East at Gainsborough House in Sudbury. The day was offered to volunteers working in museums in the Eastern region and was called ‘Gardener’s Delight.’

They thoroughly enjoyed it and made us feel envious when they told us about it! Here is a summary of their day.

“A short update on an amazing study day with fellow volunteers from all over the region, including English heritage, stately homes and museums, altogether about 30 of us!

We enjoyed a full day of interesting presentations from a history of Gainsborough House to Cedric Morris and how irises influenced his painting, to a talk from a horticulturist blogger who recently published a book on the Secret Gardens of East Anglia.

Following a wonderful lunch and leisurely stroll around the gardens which contains a 400 year old Mulberry Tree and a small collection of irises collected by Cedric Morris. We had free entry to Gainsborough House which housed paintings of himself and Morris also a small exhibition of Constable.

We returned to an inspiring talk from a Professor of history at UEA on the current biodiversity changes in orchards since 1600. An amazing speaker and enthusiastic landscape historian.

Altogether a great opportunity to share knowledge with fellow volunteer gardener’s and to meet like minded people.”

So who was Cedric Morris?

Before the Second World War, Morris was a well-known painter and breeder of irises, which he admired for their ‘elegance, pride and delicacy’. In 1940 he moved to Benton End in Suffolk, where he cultivated a garden inspired by Claude Monet’s at Giverny. He grew about 1,000 new iris seedlings every year.He ran the East Anglian Art School with his partner Arthur Lett-Haines for more than 40 years and was an avid gardener who bred irises to award-winning standard.

He raised his seedlings  by hand-pollination; sifting and assessing them for vigour and form and using his artist’s eye to produce painterly colours, including pioneering soft pinks and muted yellows. His painting Iris Seedlings is one of his best known.

Iris Seedlings 1943 Sir Cedric Morris, Bt 1889-1982 Purchased 1981 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03230

The Mulberry (Morus nigra), is a native of Oriental countries but has been grown in this country since the early part of the 16th century, for its fruit and as a food source for silkworms. It is of slow growth, eventually reaching 20 – 30ft, with spreading branches usually wider than the tree is high, as shown by this example. A wonderfully, rugged and picturesque tree, but not one for our smaller modern gardens perhaps.

Another oriental, growing in the Gainsborough garden, this is Hamamelis mollis or Chinese witch hazel, a lovely early flowering shrub discovered in 1879 by Charles Maries from the famous Veitch nursery on one of his plant hunting expeditions in the Far East. It is an exotic relative of the American Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) introduced in 1656, which became a popular medicinal plant due to the astringent action of the tannins it contains. It remains a well known herbal remedy, used for varicose veins, skin inflammation and for healing wounds and burns.

Back in the gardens at Cressing we have made the most of the few nice, fine days to get some planting done. In the tea garden we have been adding more hedging roses, Rosa ‘Wild Edric’, a strongly scented, strongly coloured rugosa type, bred by David Austin. In a few years it should make a cheerful welcome to visitors as they enter the site.

In the same area we have planted clumps of a very vigorous, tall grass. It is one we dug up to make way for the hedging roses and I have no idea of its name. But it is tall and sturdy, making a lovely sight in late autumn, into winter and we thought it would look good here with the moat as a backdrop.

Other jobs have included replanting the water lilies, with Pete drawing the short straw for the plunge this time!

Take a deep breath Pete…..

And go for it!

We are hoping to get a better water balance this year, with less murky green and a clearer view of the fish. More oxygenating plants, a higher density of surface covering plants and possibly a lower density of fish should help the situation.

The Friends Group had a very successful AGM on Sunday, despite the inclement weather. About 30 people braved the snow and came along to hear news of the a very busy year for the Friends and listen to a fascinating talk on Essex apples and orchards by Neil Reeve. He has collected all 34 varieties of Essex apple tree – amazing there were once so many varieties in this County when today you would be hard pressed to find that many in the whole of the UK!  Neil told us of his ambition to see more of these varieties, maybe the entire collection, growing in our Cressing Temple orchard. An exciting thought and something for the long term. We already grow the wonderful varieties D’Arcy Spice and Chelmsford Wonder, but how about adding Braintree Seedling, Maldon Wonder or even Eros! There is currently a Heritage Lottery Funded project run by Orchards East to support and stimulate interest in orchards and orchard fruit growing. In Essex alone there has been a loss of 75% of our traditional orchards over the past 30 years, more than any other Eastern County, so it would be a great achievement for us to do our bit to reverse that trend.

Today was the first day the ground seemed dry enough to get in and do some good spring clean up tasks. We were working in the Cullen garden and had a very satisfying morning snipping back, weeding, clearing debris and rearranging things.

Now we need a bit of sustained warmth to make it all grow. What was that? talk of more snow over Easter – never!

And if this warmer weather has made you all think about getting into your own gardens, our plants are out on the sales table to tempt you. Garden plants have gone up to £2.50 this year, with the herbs staying at £2.00. Both really good value and they are strong, healthy plants that will grow away quickly once planted. Members of the Friends Group will get 50p off every plant, so well worth the membership fee.

This weekend sees the start of our season of events at Cressing Temple with the Oakleigh Food and Home Fair. Some of our volunteers will be working in the gardens to talk to the visitors and others will be selling plants on the stall.

We’re off for another year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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