Re-opening

The exciting news for this week is that the site has re-opened to the public and just in time for everybody to see the garden as it reaches its peak! For the time being, public access is to the grounds and walled garden, with the tearoom, visitor centre, barns and other buildings remaining closed. Opening times are 9.00am – 5.00pm.

It has been lovely to welcome our first few guests to the gardens, including Jan, our beekeeper and Mike, another beekeeper who will be joining us as a volunteer soon. Our willow lady looks a little alarmed at Mike’s failure to observe social distancing!!

Keeping our visitors and staff safe has been our top priority while getting ready for re-opening. We have had a shuffle round of the plant tables to allow more room for people to browse and to prevent a bottle neck at the entrance to the walled garden.

Plenty of benches are available for people to sit, enjoy the garden and contemplate at a safe social distance.

We also have a smart new bench installed in front of the farmhouse, donated by a visitor in memory of a loved one. The Cullen garden provides a further choice, with benches or the picnic tables if you want to bring your own refreshments.

We have been less excited about the discovery of some other, rather unwanted guests to the walled garden this week. This is the caterpillar of the box tree moth, Cydalima perspectalis.

Needless to say, this one won’t be getting a bench in its memory! It is a rather beautiful and striking caterpillar but has a voracious appetite. Where larval numbers are high it can disfigure ornamental Box and topiary and can defoliate plants completely. We have lots of box hedging in the walled garden, as those of you enlisted to do the annual clipping will agree!

The thing to look for is patches of cobwebby leaves like this:

Hard to spot at first, the black headed caterpillars wrap themselves in this silky webbing as a protection while they set to, munching the leaves.

The moth is also attractive, although we haven’t seen any or caught any in our pheromone trap yet.  Catching the male moth in a pheromone trap is a very good way of monitoring how many are around and indicating when further action is needed. We have spent some time examining our box hedging this week and squishing any caterpillars or leaving them for the birds. Blue tits are very fond of them, apparently, and we think at least one family is taking advantage of our predicament.

Holes in Tudor walls come in handy sometimes!

Box moth has almost certainly been introduced with imported Box (Buxus spp) plants for our nursery market. An Asian species, this moth was first recorded in Kent in 2007, since when the species seems to be gradually increasing in frequency. In recent years it has gained a strong foothold in Essex, Surrey, Hertfordshire and parts of Berkshire. The moth has now been recorded widely over large parts of England and the first sighting in Scotland was in 2018.

UK imports of live plants have increased by 71 percent since 1999. There are now more than 1,000 pests and diseases on the UK plant health risk register. Plant pests and diseases have become more ferocious and more persistent in the UK over recent years. Diseases such as ash dieback and those caused by Phytophthora, as well as pests such as box tree moth and horse chestnut leaf miner are causing significant changes to our landscape and horticultural practices. The risk of new plant pests and diseases is associated with increasing volume and quicker movement of traded plants and other material, imported from an increasing variety of sources.

One thing we, as customers can try to do, wherever possible, is to buy UK grown and sourced plant material. This is difficult and often more expensive when faced with the tempting array of exotic imported species offered cheaply by our local garden centres. Another thing we can do is to promote the growing of UK native species as we do at Cressing. Growing your own, from seed or cuttings, is another option and one many of us have been turning to in this lockdown while garden centres have been closed.

Other news, if you can call it that, is that we have started tackling the next section of path pointing, in a effort to find a more effective solution to path weeds than spraying. We have stopped using Glyphosate weedkiller in the walled garden and its use is being discouraged across all the country parks. We have been using a new weedkiller based on acetic acid (vinegar) which has been partially successful but needs frequent re-application, is not without it’s own risks and is expensive for the expanse of brick paving we have in the walled garden. Re-pointing is a far more permanent, though back breaking, option so we will attempt it in stages over the next year or so (please don’t let that put you off returning to volunteering!).

For other weeding work we are pleased to have Wilf, our willow gardener helping out in the pumpkin patch after his long winter rest in the wellhouse. You are doing a good job Wilf – faster faster!

Still on the subject of artistic willow work, Alison has added a rustic feel to our potager with this support for the narrow leaved pea (Lathyrus sylvestris).

Blossom of the week

Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus spp)

Such a beautiful flower, such vicious thorns, loathed and loved in equal degree, the blackberry is a plant known to us all, with the tradition of blackberrying going back thousands of years (blackberry seeds have been found in the stomach of a neolithic man dug up at Walton-on-the-Naze!). The blossom is a promise of fruit later in autumn when, if we are still doing our walks in the countryside, we will be taking our baskets and risking scratches from thorns to gather enough for the odd blackberry and apple crumble in the winter.

We are doing things a little easier at Cressing. This blossom is from a thornless variety called ‘Loch Ness’ growing in our new fruit cage, supported by wires strung between posts. The fruits are larger than the wild variety and they are said to have a lovely flavour. Picking will be  very easy from the thornless upright canes and it should crop from mid-late August to mid-late September. There are many new cultivars of thornless blackberry on the market and some have been bred to take up less space, making them an option for smaller gardens or allotments.

Edible of the week

Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus)

This has been on my ‘must try’ list for years but somehow it has never appealed, looking for all the world like a roadside weed and failing to tempt me.

However, I am told it is an excellent spinach substitute that is perennial, unfussy and unfazed by pests or diseases, so here goes, time to find its hidden charms!

Also known as poor-man’s asparagus or Lincolnshire spinach, Good King Henry is a close relative of the weed Chenopodium album, which as its common name – Fat Hen – suggests, was used to feed birds. More aristocratic family members include the trendy Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) and it is in the same family as spinach and amaranth.

The name, good henry, may be to distinguish it from Bad Henry (Böser Heinrich in German) who was a malevolent spirit described by the Brothers Grimm. Bad henry is also the name given to Mercurialis perennis, generally known as Dog’s Mercury. The Good Henry of German folklore performed household and other domestic chores in return for a saucer of cream (he can come to my house any day!). Bad Henry, of course, would turn milk sour like Puck or Robin Goodfellow in English folklore.

This plant becomes increasingly bitter as the season progresses so now seemed like a good time to try it. The young spring shoots (that appear from April) can be eaten much like asparagus. Cut the first 20cm growth, remove any leaves and steam it as you would asparagus. As the seasons progress eat the leaves and the unopened flower buds as a broccoli substitute.Some recipes suggest soaking it in salty water for a time before cooking to draw out the bitterness, as done with aubergines.

I went for a simple steam of the leaves, stems and flower tops, which we ate with some baby broad beans from the Cressing plot and a mushroom curry. The result doesn’t really deserve a photo (cooked, they looked like a any other pile of greens!) but the taste was pleasantly acceptable, if not remarkable. I can imagine the bitterness being too strong for our tastes later in the season but I might give the salting technique a go.  Given the ease with which it grows, and the fact this is a perennial vegetable with far less work involved than its closest rival, annual spinach, I think it is worth a place in the perennial veg patch. Good old Henry has gone up a notch in my estimation!

Plant of the Week

Flax 

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Flax (Linum usitatissimum) has been grown since 5000BC for its stems, which yield linen fibre, and for its seeds, which contain 30-40 per cent linseed oil. The sails of ancient Greek ships were made from linen, and the words linen, linseed and line are all derived from the Latin linum and Old English lin, meaning flax.

In ancient Egypt, linseed oil was important for cooking and burning in lamps, but today its main use is as a fast-drying oil in paints. Over the centuries, two strains of flax have been developed: a tall one with few branches and flowers, that yields long fibres; and a shorter one with numerous flowers and seed capsules for oil production.

Culpeper wrote ‘The seed, which is usually called linseed, is emollient, digesting, and ripening; of great use against inflammations, tumours, and impostumes (pus-filled sores), and is frequently put into fomentations and cataplasms for those purposes. Cold-drawn linseed oil is of great service in all diseases of the breast and lung. It likewise helps the colic and the stone.’ Modern scientific research has shown potential for extracts from flax being successfully used to treat cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal disorders. There is also interest in the use of the oil against breast and prostate cancers.

At Cressing we actually grow the perennial form of flax (Linum perenne) rather than the annual form (Linum usistatissimum) as it looks similar but is a bit easier to grow! Although the seed, oil and fibre of the perennial flax can be used, they are inferior to the products of the annual flax.

Quiz

For this week’s quiz we are looking at plant species names, and how they can often reveal something about the plant’s origins, habitat or appearance.

These four species names indicate whether the plant originates from the northern, southern,  western or eastern part of the world (in relation to Europe), but which is which?

orientalis/orientale

australis/australe

borealis/boreale

occidentalis/occidentale

Sometimes the name is telling us something about the smell of a plant. These plants are all grown at Cressing, and have species names which mean ‘sweet scent’, ‘very fragrant’, ‘strong smelling’, ‘musk-like’ and ‘bad smell’, but which is which?

Helleborus foetidus

Malva moschata, Rosa moschata

Myrrhis odorata

Ruta graveolens, Anethum graveolens

Mentha suaveolens

Other names refer to the location where a plant might be found in the wild, so they are useful for gardeners trying to adopt a ‘right plant, right place’ approach! In the following list the species names indicate ‘of the mountains’, ‘from marshes’, ‘near the sea’, ‘of woods’ and two of them mean ‘of the field’. Can you work out which is which?

Caltha palustris

Knautia arvensis

Crambe maritima, Armeria maritima

Malva sylvestris, Myosotis sylvatica

Centaurea montana

Acer campestre

Answers next week.

Jobs for the Week

Greenhouses

Under glass temperatures can get very high so it’s vital to shade young plants, open ventilators, windows and doors whenever possible and damp down to prevent the air becoming too dry.

Cuttings from shrubs

Softwood cuttings can be taken of most shrubs from now until July. Cut shoots about 8 – 10 cm long, cutting just above a bud or leaf. Put them in a plastic bag straightaway to stop them wilting. Trim the cuttings below a leaf joint and remove the lower leaves. Five or six cuttings can be put in a 12cm (5 inch) pot which has a 50:50 mix of compost and vermiculite or grit. Water the pot, them cover it with a polythene bag (held off the foliage with sticks). Put in a sheltered spot out of direct sunlight. The cuttings should root within six to eight weeks.

Plant out tender vegetables

Plant out runner beans, French beans and courgettes now that the risk of frost is hopefully past. If you don’t have any, we’ve got some for sale at Cressing Temple!

Now we have opened our gates again many of you can come and visit, to see for yourselves what is going on. We would love to see you and have a chat at a safe distance. We look forward to catching up with all your news.

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