Apparently Essex has a lower rainfall than both Jerusalem and the Sahara desert! We can certainly believe that at the moment as we are having to grapple with hoses, sprinklers and watering cans on a daily basis. Here is the rainfall we collected in our rain gauge over the past few weeks – hardly enough to fill that watering can!
Despite the challenging weather conditions work has been continuing as normal and there has been much to admire and give us pleasure.
The artichoke (Cynara scolymus) flowers were huge!
The Bears Breeches (Acanthus mollis) flowers were taller than ever and the Cardoons are easily able to peer over the garden wall with growth they have made in just four months – quite incredible!
The Betony (Betonica officinalis) flowered its socks off!
The round headed leeks (Allium sphaerocephalon ) were a top pick for the bees.
July was a good time to split some of the Irises (Iris germanica) in the pool garden, something we do on a 5 or 6 year rotation to envigorate the clumps and keep them flowering well. We also wanted to correct the mistake we made the last time when we inadvertently put the wrong colour in one of the sections! After flowering, all bearded irises look identical so it is vital to label them carefully when they are lifted. Of course you don’t realise your mistake until a year later when they flower again!
Hopefully we have got it right this time, with the pale flowered Iris germanica ‘Florentina’ in two sections and the much darker purple Fleur de Lys in the other two. Time will tell!
Thanks to the hard work of our volunteers, the Box hedging is all clipped, a mammoth task each year and more time consuming this year as we knew we needed to be on the look out for signs of box caterpillar damage. The pheremone traps did the trick of alerting us to their presence and the eagle eyes of Bethan spotted the first few of the nibblers at work!
We gardeners are often caught out by our tendency to recognise our plants better than our insect wildlife and can easily fall into the trap of thinking that anything crawling on our plants must be bad! We found a different caterpillar in the Nosegay the other week and for a moment thought it was the dreaded box moth.
In fact it turns out to be the toadflax brocade caterpillar, at first glance difficult to distinguish from the two other more troublesome pests, mullein moth and box moth caterpillars.
It shows how important it is to check before we squish and to remember that the blue tits and other predators will happily clear up a lot of these ‘pests’ for us if we give them half a chance! Here’s some yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) flowering merrily in front of the purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and not caring a jot about attack from any toadflax caterpillars.
Another task we always try to complete by the beginning of August is cutting the meadow grasses.
We wait until it is browning off and all the flowering plants have gone to seed.
We use our continental scythe to take the whole lot down to a mowable height.
The cut grass is left to lie in windrows for about 7 days to allow any ripening seed to fall back into next year’s seed bed.
The final stage is to rake the hay into stooks and carry it away to be fed to the hungry livestock. Oops, no that last bit was a fib – no livestock at Cressing and the gardening team prefer biscuits!
In the fruit and veg garden the cordon apples have had their summer prune (see jobs for the week below).This regular pruning is to encourage the establishment of ‘spurs’ (fruiting growths) along the main trunk, restrict the growth of these closely planted trees and keep them in shape and to allow light to reach the ripening fruit.
The fruit and vegetables are growing almost faster than we can pick them and the veg barrow emptying faster than our ability to restock!
We have grown Aubergines (Solanum melongena) for the first time – not award winning in terms of size, perhaps, but an interesting plant to grow (in the same family as the potato) and an attractive addition to our sales display.
Another first (for me at least) was to grow melon. Just two I’m afraid, in the scorchingly hot polytunnel.
It’s the sort of thing you feel very proud of when it succeeds and you can’t wait for it to ripen. We won’t rival Tesco’s for the size or number of fruit but it was certainly very juicy and tasty, freshly picked, still warm and enjoyed during a very hot teabreak sat under the Sycamore tree (the only shade we could find)!
There are plenty of other more humble veg we have had in profusion, such as the courgettes, including this very attractive yellow variety, which has the added bonus of being very visible when you go to harvest amongst the green leaves!
Our yellow tomatoes are also a favourite – this variety is Golden Crown, very sweet and bitesized.
The first of the sweetcorn has been picked this week. It is one of several crops, along with french beans that have done well on our no dig plot. This plant needs wind to pollinate the flowers rather than insects (no shortage of wind out on the field!) which is why it is planted in a block rather than straight rows. You can check for ripeness of the cobs by peeling back the husk around the silky tassles at the top of each one to check if the kernals are plump and yellow. Piercing one with your finger nail is another good test, with a milky juice indicating ripeness.The sugars in sweetcorn start turning to starch the very moment the cob is picked, so freshly harvested cobs have a sweetness you’ll never get from shop-bought ones.
The eagerly awaited runner beans are now much higher than we are. Very soon we will have the inevitable glut and we will all be sharing tips on freezing, making chutney and anything else we can think of. Runner bean ice-cream anyone?
With all this talk of positive growth and bountiful harvest it was also good to congratulate Yvonne, our WRAGS trainee, who has finished her year of horticultural training with us this week. We have been very lucky to have the help of Yvonne two days a week since June 2019 and she will be greatly missed by all of us at Cressing Temple. She has become a much liked and valuable member of the gardening team and has contributed so much to the gardens. We wish you all the best in your next venture, Yvonne, and hope you will come back to visit us often and see how the things you have planted are growing!
Plant of the week
One plant which has appreciated the recent spell of hot weather is our pomegranate, and it currently has a number of rather exotic looking orangey-red flowers.
The pomegranate is mentioned in the Bible, the Jewish Torah and the Babylonian Talmud, where it was regarded as a sacred fruit conferring powers of fertility, abundance and good luck. It featured in the ceremonies, art and mythology of the Egyptians and Greeks and was the personal emblem of the Roman Emperor Maximilian. It was adopted as the heraldic device of the ancient city of Grenada in Spain, from where it gets its Latin species name granatum (in Spanish granatus means seeded). Pomegranate means seeded apple. In France the pomegranate is called grenade and that is the origin of the name of grenade (as in weapon) which were thought to resemble the fruit.
Pomegranate fruits, separated into individual fruitlets, are a favourite Middle Eastern ingredient of salads and desserts. The juice is equally important, both as the syrup grenadine, and as a thick paste or molasses, which is often used in Middle Eastern cooking as a flavouring for meat dishes. Even the dried seeds have their uses as an ingredient in stuffings and chutneys. Unfortunately the fruit rarely achieves sufficient size or ripeness in our climate – so we are unlikely to be adding Cressing Temple-grown pomegranates to our veg barrow!
Answers to the last quiz
Violet ground beetle. A large (3cm long), fast-moving and aggressive beetle with a powerful bite that hunts worms, small slugs and other invertebrates. It roves at night in woods, meadows and gardens and has a distinctive purple sheen to its carapace. If alarmed, it gives over a rank smell.
Soldier beetle. A raft of handsome species found on summer flowers (particularly thistles and umbellifers) and are fantastic pollinators.
22 spot ladybird. The brightest lemon-yellow of any British beetle, this always has 22 round jet-black spots on its cheerful wing cases. A mildew feeder, it grazes on mould and fungal hyphae.
Wasp beetle. This has deceptively wasp-like colours, plus striking red legs, jerky movements and hawking flight. Larvae feed in dead wood; adults are often seen in sunshine running on stacked logs, or buzzing over bramble flowers.
Stag beetle. The UK’s largest beetle spends most of its life out of view. The larva feeds on dead wood below ground for five years before emerging as an adult. Only the male possesses the ‘antlers’, which are infact enlarged jaws. The stag beetle has declined due to a loss of dead wood habitat.
This year we have been growing more flowers which can be dried, such as statice (Limonium sinuatum) and strawflowers (Helichrysum bracteatum). We have also been looking at flowers which have attractive seed heads, many of which can also be dried and added to bunches of dried flowers. Can you recognise these plants by looking at their seed heads? They may not all be suitable for floristry, but they can all be seen at Cressing Temple at the moment. To give you a helping hand, here is a list of the plants shown below – but can you work out which is which?
Jobs for the Week
Summer prune apples and pears
If you have apples (or pears) trained as restricted forms, such as cordons or espaliers, now is the time to think about pruning them to maintain their intended form and to let more light reach the ripening fruit.
Cordons should be pruned every year around mid August. Your cordon is ready for pruning when the new side shoots from the main stem(s) become woody at their base. Shorten all of this new growth from the main stem to 3 or 4 leaves above the basal cluster of leaves at the base of the shoot.
Where a shoot from the main stem has a side shoot coming off it, prune this also – to one leaf above the cluster of leaves at its base.
Cut back perennials
Many early-flowering perennials and are looking rather tatty – especially in this hot, dry weather. If they are cut back to the ground now and given a good water they will soon put on some nice fresh growth. Some may even flower for a second time later. Plants such as campanulas, hardy geraniums and delphiniums are some of the plants which are suitable for this treatment.
Cut evergreen hedges
Evergreen hedges such as holly, yew and box can be pruned/trimmed now. We should have reached the end of the nesting season now, but of course always double-check before starting work on the hedge.
That concludes our roundup of news for this month. I don’t know about ‘drier than Jerusalem’, in the course of writing this blog it has become wetter than Manchester!