Has all that hot weather in May made me go soft I wonder? How short the memory is – begging for cooler weather the week before and moaning about the cold and wind the next!
The weather might be less appealing for outside exercise this weekend but the garden flowers are doing their best to entice us out. The meadow area, or Tudor flowery mead, is looking particularly lovely at the moment. At a distance it might look like a sea of oxeye daisy and grasses but on closer inspection it is a very diverse collection of species.
One wild native we have worked hard to introduce into the mix is yellow rattle (Rhinanthus major) because of its ability to suppress the stronger, coarser growing grasses and allow the more delicate wild flowers to establish. This plant is a ‘hemiparasite’, taking some of its food from the grass roots where it is growing. The yellow rattle will keep the grasses in check by pirating some of their nutrients and preventing them from overwhelming everything else. This is the second year of establishment and already the grasses seem finer and more delicate.
Yellow rattle forms large papery seed pods for next year’s crop and the plant gets it’s common name yellow rattle or hay rattle from the way the seeds rattle loosely inside the pods when the wind blows. It is an annual and needs to disperse its seeds before the meadow is scythed or grazed.
I didn’t notice at the time but I seem to have snapped a passing shield bug, catching a ride on the yellow rattle seed pod and eager to get in on the publicity! I think it is the Southern green shield bug, an introduced species noted in the UK since 2003, although it is hard to tell from this side view.
While on the subject of insect life, here is another visitor spotted this week. The Mullein moth caterpillar (Shargacucullia verbasci – great name!) turns up on our mulleins each year between May and July so we have been watching out for it recently.
What a beauty, but oh so much damage! They can strip the leaves and flowers of our Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) in a couple of days leaving them in tatters.
The boldly marked caterpillars feed conspicuously out in the open during the day as well as at night. They are easy to spot, (providing we remember to inspect the plants), and are best dispatched by hand picking (and squishing!). If left to their own devices, the caterpillars are fully grown within about 30 days when they leave the food plant to pupate in the soil forming a very tough cocoon. The moth may not emerge for several years.
Those of you who have visited this week agreed that the community garden has come on in leaps and bounds recently, with the quantity and range of produce increasing week by week. One bed of new potatoes has already been dug, the broad beans are in full pod production, spinach leaves are huge, strawberries are enticingly red and juicy and the first courgettes are about ready. Soon we will be moaning about the glut, such is our inability to be completely happy with any gardening moment!
Our new fruit cage is doing a good job of protecting the fast developing raspberries, gooseberries, currants and hybrid berries.
This is the second year for our willow bed and it looks very healthy and promises a better crop of willow. The plants are providing a welcome filter for the sharp wind that whips across Dovehouse field with little else to break its ferocity .
Even the no-dig bed is beginning to look more convincingly like a productive patch, with fleece teepees protecting the more tender climbing French beans and a protective cage for yet more broad beans.
Having arrived at the start of the lockdown, the new polytunnel has had to wait before it gets its big reveal but this week it has been unboxed and the assembly process started by Pete. Thanks Pete, I hope you are good at jigsaw puzzles!
All this hard work growing produce will ultimately help in raising money for the gardens. Destined to be displayed on our lovely new veg barrow, made by Allen Holman, complete with cut flower buckets at one end and trays for veg and fruit. The barrow will display everything beautifully and will be positioned alongside the plants behind the visitor centre, tempting our visitors away from their cream teas (we hope!).
Another new arrival this week is the final piece in our trio of willow sculptures.
Mr P is yet to be installed in his final position in the walled garden but he had a little outing into the Cullen garden this week where he looked mighty pleased with himself! All three sculptures have been made for us by basket maker, Jo Hammond, and funded partly through a grant from Braintree District Council. They make a special and unique addition to the Tudor garden, providing additional interest for our visitors, young and old.
This week has been National volunteers week so what a shame we have had no volunteers to share it with. However, their hard work is in clear evidence as this week’s blog photos show and we would like to send a huge thank you to each and every volunteer for all they have done over the past year. Although you haven’t been with us over the past couple of months, it is all in the preparation, as I am always told when we attempt any home decorating!
A big hurrah for all our volunteers and the varied work they do for us.
Anwers to last week’s vegetable quiz.
- What is the British name for these vegetables?
- Zucchini Courgette
- Eggplant Aubergine
- Rutabaga Swede
- Cilantro Coriander
- Scallion Spring onion
2. What vegetable do these varieties belong to?
- Pentland Javelin Potato
- Alicante Tomato
- Scarlet Emporer Runner bean
- Ailsa Craig Tomato
3. Which vegetable was the first to be canned? Pea
4. Ipomoea batatas is the scientific name of which large, starchy, root vegetable? Sweet potato
This week’s quiz
Rather than a quiz, we are inviting you to participate in a ‘citizen science’ project being run by the Open University. Their ‘Pollinator Watch’ asks you to share your observations and photos of insect pollinators and discover more about them. https://nquire.org.uk/mission/oupollinatorwatch/contribute
The project focuses on three groups of insects: flies; bees & wasps and butterflies & moths.
There are over 250 species of bee in the British Isles, ranging from 4mm to 25mm in body length. Over 90% of British bee species are solitary, with each nest the work of a single female.
Why not take a break from gardening and spend some time studying the insect visitors to your garden? At Cressing our lovely meadow areas should be a good place to do some observing!
Plant of the week
The roses are looking (and smelling!) glorious at the moment. The area around the pool and nosegay gardens has a number of Gallica, Damask, Centifolia and Alba roses in shades of white and pink.
These ‘old roses’ have been in cultivation for centuries and modern roses with a good scent often trace their lineage back to these roses. They only flower once during the year, but it’s certainly worth the wait!
The cultivation of roses originated in Persia, where an extensive rose-water trade began in the eighth century. Roses were held to be sacred to the goddess of love. The Romans placed a rose over the door of a public or private banquet hall, and each citizen who passed under it bound himself not to disclose anything said or done in the meeting. It then became common across Europe to suspend a rose over the dinner table as a sign that all confidences were to be held secret (hence the phrase sub rosa, under the rose), and the plaster ornament of a ceiling is still known as the ceiling rose.
One of the Gallica roses we grow is Rosa gallica var. officinalis, otherwise known as the Apothecary’s rose. This is thought to be the rose that Thibault IV (1201-53) brought back from the seventh Crusade in 1250 and grew at his chateau in Provins, where it was used to make a preserve that was popular for its medicinal properties. Known in northern Europe since before 1400, its scent retaining properties were much valued by apothecaries.
Culpeper wrote of the rose, ‘It is under the dominion of Venus. Botanists describe a vast number of roses, but this (Damask), and the common red rose, and the dog rose, or hip, are the only kinds regarded in medicine… (the oil) is used to cool hot inflammation or swellings and to bind and stay fluxes of the humours, to sores and is also put into ointments and plasters that are cooling and binding’.
Jobs for the week
Cut back early flowering perennials
Many early flowering herbaceous perennials, such as Geranium phaeum or Brunnera macrophylla which have finished flowering are now looking rather untidy. Cut these back to ground level and give them a good water. In a few weeks you should get a nice neat mound of new foliage, and some will also produce a second flush of flowers later on in the year.
Dead-head roses to keep the plants looking tidy and to encourage a continual display through the summer/autumn. For multi-flowered roses, take off each flower from the cluster as its petals begin to fall, snipping with secateurs or pinching it out. This will keep the plant looking good while the rest of the buds open. Once all the flowers in a cluster have finished, remove the whole stem. When deadheading roses with single-flowers (eg hybrid teas), snip off the flower head and around 15cm of stem, cutting just above a strong, healthy leaf. Your next flower shoot will grow from that leaf joint.
Strawberry plants will now be producing lots of runners. Either remove them to allow the plants to put all their energy into producing fruit or peg some down if you need replacement plants for next year.
Thank you for reading our weekly blog over the past couple of months. As the site is now open to visitors and we are gradually easing the restrictions we will return to our monthly blog format. Come and see us if you want a more regular insight into the garden changes.