It may have been holiday time but things have been busier than ever here and August seems to have passed by in a flash.
On one of the hottest days of summer we enjoyed a visit from Wickham Bishops Horticultural society who had booked a tour of the walled garden. With umbrellas and hats to shield faces from the hot sun and a drinks station set up half way round for a rest and chance to rehydrate, we sweltered our way around the garden for a little over an hour. There were lots of lively and interesting questions and many generous compliments on the garden and nobody fainted. I call that a success!
Work on our new arbour is progressing very well and there has been lots of interest from the public, many taking the chance to stop and chat to Joe Bispham about the traditional construction techniques and materials being used to build the structure.
Volunteers helped to disentangle the growth and pull it off the old framework. We did wonder if it was just the plants holding it all up and a few bits did drop off in the process, but the structure was still standing!
The new sections of arbour are being constructed off site in Joe’s workshop, brought in when ready, to be slotted into the same ground fixings as the old one. The posts are of slightly larger dimension so they overlap the iron shoes, allowing the water to drain outside rather than into them, resulting in less chance of rot. This is one of the minor changes to the original design which we hope will make the new arbour more robust and longer lasting.
Joe has also modified the the joints in the new design, to avoid several sections being joined at the same point, as in the old structure, which made them weak and liable to failure, as this picture shows.
The whole structure will stand slightly higher than the old one and be visible from outside the wall as people walk across the chapel lawn, tempting them to have a peek inside the garden perhaps. And the roses? They have been carefully laid back, out of harms way, and will be re-attached to the new arbour once it is finished. Any old oak posts and beams that are still sound will be saved for other projects. The end result will be an arbour that looks good and lasts well for many years to come.
Another strand of the Heritage Lottery project was to investigate new interpretation ideas for the garden. With this in mind, 13 volunteers and staff visited the Tudor High Summer event at Kentwell Hall recently to see their living history interpretation . We explored the still room, the dairy, the gardens and the kitchens, all decked out in Tudor style and brought alive by numerous re-enactors in Tudor dress and demeanour, giving us all a realistic impression of Tudor daily life.
We saw some fantastic old espalier fruit trees in the garden.
some delightful topiary shapes..
and fascinating displays of everything from natural dyeing to candle making to basketry and alchemy.
…and we all felt rather grateful for 21st luxuries like the tea-room and flushing toilets. We had a lovely day!
We will be visiting other gardens in the coming months and sharing the ideas gathered before deciding how we can incorporate some of the ideas into our interpretation at Cressing.
Back at base, our topiary shapes might not be quite so intricate as the ones we saw at Kentwell, but the Bay estrade in the nosegay garden was very glad to be given it’s annual haircut recently.
These creatures know how it feels! More of this later.
We will be cutting the rest of the box hedging, in the nosegay garden and the knot garden, in the next few weeks, now the weather has cooled down a bit and there has been some rain.
Honey production has been a major operation this summer, as our beekeepers, Jan, Howard and David extract the sweet delights of this year’s busy bee activity. Unfortunately, word got around in the wasp community that we were pressing the honey out of some old honey frames this week, and they all decided to visit us in the dairy for a taste! We learnt the painful way that it is better to keep doors and windows firmly shut when extracting honey at this time of year.
Learning from our mistakes, and assuming the wasps would be just as attracted to apple juice as they were to honey, we decided to use the farmhouse kitchen for our first apple juicing and bottling venture later this week. It was an exciting day, with all hands on deck, resulting in our first 27 bottles of pasteurised juice by the end of the day.
We are hoping to do one or two further pressings each week from now until Apple Day (14th October), which will mean far less wastage of our precious crop and more people getting to taste the lovely juice that can be produced from heritage East Anglian varieties of apple.
The apple harvest is particularly poor at Cressing this year, with the majority of trees having none or very poor fruit set. This was due to a long and particularly cold spring, followed by very cold winds at the end of April, just as much of the blossom was opening. Added to this, the long, hot summer, has left much of the fruit small and lacking in juice and resulted in premature dropping from the trees. Meanwhile, the codling moths and sawfly larvae seem to have had a very successful year which has left much of the fruit infested with the voracious grubs, which in turn has attracted a lot of attention from foraging wasps and lead to early dropping of fruit.
Hey ho, such are the challenges of gardening and I don’t want to sound miserable because, despite all this doom and gloom, we are optimistic we will have a sufficient quantity and variety of fruit to make plenty of juice for apple day and a selection of apples for people to taste. Next year will be better!
In the Community Garden we had some children visiting this week for the launch of our gardening club. They were creative with some of the veg (see below), enjoyed digging potatoes and searching for hidden pumpkins and went seed collecting and information gathering in the walled garden. Everyone seemed to have a great time and it will be something we hope to build upon next year to get more youngsters joining us in the great outdoors. The club will be called ‘Full of Beans!’
Thanks to Lynn, who organised it all, Lesley and our community gardeners for guiding the children through the activities and to the children for coming to try it all out.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to visit the community garden stall for your freshly harvested veg where there has been plenty to dig and pick over the past couple of weeks, thanks to the recent rain.
Visitors seem delighted to see the plot and talk to the gardeners as well as being able to choose a selection from the tempting array of seasonal produce. The stall is re-stocked on a Tuesday and there are signs to direct you to the plot from the carpark. A tin for donations can be found with the veg, all helping to make this project self sustaining and very enjoyable to those involved.
All our volunteers were treated to a brilliant demonstration of natural dyeing by Howard. Using plants grown in the walled garden, he explained the process and history behind medieval dyeing and before our eyes transformed plain, un-dyed sheeps’ wool (see above) into glorious shades of red, with madder (Rubia tinctoria), yellow with weld (Reseda lutea) and most impressive of all, blue from woad (Isatis tinctoria). Howard’s talk was informative, entertaining, with fascinating and often very smelly facts about the dye industry, and much appreciated by the many volunteers who came along. It left us all wanting to know more.
The hard work of our volunteers is going on in all corners of the site, and none less than in the much neglected and secluded area of garden behind the farmhouse. Three volunteers, all from the same family, have taken on the task, started by Bob earlier in the year, to transform this delightful area into an attractive, cottage style garden with flowers, fruit and shrubs. There are many challenges to overcome, not least our population of hungry rabbits, who thought it was all being done for them! The work will continue over the winter, with re-laying of paving, controlling wayward raspberry canes, levelling the lawn area and adding more colourful plants, to make a sheltered and productive little space for staff in the farmhouse to enjoy (not the rabbits!) when they need five minutes out of their busy day.
Enjoy the chance to get out in your gardens in this lovely late summer weather. The conditions are perfect for planting, with lots of time for plants to settle in and get growing strongly before the cold of winter slows things down. And there are plenty of plants on our table for you to choose from if you have gaps to fill or drought stressed plants to replace. Happy gardening.