Apple day 2018

The weather may have tried its hardest to dampen our spirits on the only rainy day in a fortnight but everyone seemed to agree – Apple Day was as enjoyable as ever and a huge success.

The day started reasonably fine and warm, encouraging us to think we may have got away with it and the forecast had been wrong. Our luck was about to run out! At lunchtime there was a sudden drop in the temperature, the rain started falling and it was downhill from then on. Hard to imagine the temperatures had been in the mid 20’s the day before with wall to wall sunshine and not a rain cloud to be seen. To make matters worse there has been nothing but glorious autumn sunshine ever since. But, if this was a conspiracy to spoil our day it didn’t succeed.

Cheered along by clog dancing, folk singing and the strains of a hurdy gurdy and gittern and delighted to see that so many visitors had turned out despite the appalling forecast, we juiced apples, sold apples, identified apples and tasted apples like there was no tomorrow.

This year saw the launch of our first ‘made at Cressing Temple’ apple juice, the result of many weeks of scratting, pressing, pasteurising and bottling of our precious and limited apple crop. We are very proud of the result, a concerted team effort which resulted in us reducing our apple wastage to an absolute minimum.

If you missed our Apple Day and would like to sample our home grown juice, we still have a few bottles available to buy from the Visitor Centre – and it will keep unopened until the end of next year (if it gets a chance!).

If Apple juice was not your thing, there were other Cressing products available on the day. Our Cressing Temple honey and beeswax candles proved very popular with our visitors who were keen to take a bit of Cressing away with them.

With plenty of other things on offer, from willow weaving to traditional woodworking to birds of prey to archery. You didn’t need to be an apple fan to enjoy the day. Traders, entertainers, volunteers and visitors created a warm and friendly atmosphere to combat the worst the weather threw at us and the day was another one to remember, and a handy boost for The Friends finances.

Thanks to all those volunteers whose hard work made it such a success.

One of the eye-catchers at Apple day was our colourful assortment of pumpkins and squashes, many of which were taken home to be roasted or made into tasty soups or curries. We have grown a wider variety than ever at Cressing this year and they have drawn surprise and many comments and questions from our visitors, not to mention a few raised eyebrows at the stranger shapes!.

Pumpkins, squashes, gourds – what is the difference and what can be done with the different varieties?

All pumpkins are squashes, but not all squashes are pumpkins (with me so far?). Gourds are from the same family as squashes but the term generally applies to the inedible kind which can be dried and used for decoration or as containers. Pumpkins (or winter squashes) have hard prickly stems and thick leathery skins.  They mature slowly and we harvest them when fully ripe. They store well and can be kept in a cool, dry place for use later in the winter.

Squashes have smoother, softer stems and thinner skins which means they do not store so well. They mature quickly and we generally harvest them through the summer, when still immature and soft. They can be used rather like a courgette, which is itself a type of summer squash.

All squashes, pumpkins and gourds belong to the same family:Cucurbitaceae. Within the family there are various species including  Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita cucurbita, Cucurbita laganeria, Cucurbita mixta, Cucurbita pepo (most pumpkins, courgettes and sqashes) and Cucurbita moschata (butternut squash).

Whether or not you know your pumpkins from your squashes there is no denying they come in a glorious range of shapes, colours and sizes, are fun to grow and perfect for a decorative autumn display this halloween. Visit our Spooky Fun event this week to see them for yourself and maybe  take one home.

Progress continues with the heritage lottery project, with the arbour rebuild nearing completion.  And very smart it looks too!

The roses have been waiting patiently, after being unceremoniously pulled and pushed,  tied and shoved out of the way while the construction was in progress, but will soon receive their annual prune and be reattached to their new structure. The new, sturdy structure looks splendid and it is very reassuring to think that the roses will no longer be on a framework that  is liable  to collapse under their weight!

We have been collecting oral histories from people who were involved with the development of the garden over 20 years ago. Several interviews have now been filmed and recorded and are making fascinating viewing/listening.  We were particularly pleased to interview Stephen Morant recently, the designer of the bronze fountain heads.  Stephen had braved the A1  in his little VW camper all the way from Leeds, to tell us about his memories of what was a very special project for him.

Once compiled and edited, all these accounts will be sent to the Essex Records Office for archiving and will also be made into a film to be played at Cressing as part of our improvement to the interpretation. It promises to be very interesting and an invaluable record.

Adding to the volunteer experience has been another objective of this project. To this end we took a group of volunteers on a day trip to two London gardens recently, the medicinal garden of the Royal College of Physicians and Chelsea Physic garden.

Unbeknown to us we chose a day when the London underground was on strike, which meant battling with hundreds of other disgruntled tube travellers to get through London on a reduced service. The day ended up being a rather long one but was well worth it.

At the Royal College of Physicians we were treated to a very informative guided tour by Professor Henry Oakley, whose long career as a psychiatrist and equally long interest in plants have combined to produce an unrivalled knowledge of the use of plants and their constituents in medicine through the ages.

Just take a look at the fascinating history, uses, dangers and potential of this one plant: Physalis alkekengi, better known as Chinese lanterns


Dr Oakley had so much to say about all the plants in the garden  we were all left wishing we had better memories. But fortunately the website for the Royal College of Physicians has plenty of information on the plants we had seen. I was particularly interested in one called scurvy grass (Cochlearia officinalis), that I might introduce in our Cressing garden. As the name suggests, scurvy-grass – cochlearia – was used as a treatment for scurvy. This was long before the cause of scurvy was understood, but the leaves rich in vitamin C made the plant popular with sailors.

The second garden visited was the well known Chelsea Physic garden that has occupied four acres of land on the edge of the Thames since 1673. This is London’s oldest botanic garden, first established by the Apothecaries, and contains a unique living collection of around 5,000 different edible, useful and medicinal plants that have changed the world. We enjoyed it very much and gathered some useful ideas for the interpretation at Cressing.

They were growing an impressive array of chilli peppers.

And had assembled a wonderful autumnal display of harvest fruits and seeds.

I particularly liked an area where they were exhibiting textiles hanging next to the plant from which they were made, such as this piece of nettle cloth. Really made me think how dependent we have been on plants over the ages.

We arrived home tired but satisfied after a day that had given us so much to think about and many good ideas. Its good to get out from time to time!

Now, I know this is a classic shot of our garden and you have all seen it before but I couldn’t resist putting it in to celebrate the end of this year’s box hedge cutting! It is always a marathon task and a back breaking one, but most satisfying when it is completed. This was taken on one of those wonderful warm sunny evenings we have had so many of recently (except the one on Apple Day!), and it is a view of which I never tire, with the great Wheat Barn towering in the background as it has for over 800 years. What a privilege to be part of this historic place.













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