Now that autumn really has arrived, we can see changes in both the weather and the gardens. The last of the autumn harvest is ready to be gathered in and for the original gardeners at Cressing, the produce grown in the gardens would have been essential for a more comfortable winter. Work doesn’t stop in the colder weather however, the gardens are worked on throughout the winter to prepare for next year; more details can be found below.
Before we start, a very big thank you must be given to all those members who have spent time over the summer to volunteer in the garden, man the plant stall or bake cakes for events.
As we move into autumn it is time to prepare our two colonies for the long stretch through winter. The final honey crop was removed in June and jars of honey can be found for sale in the well house; the bees have given us 29kg honey this year and they still have plenty left for their winter store. David Andrews, our chairman, has been recruited to the bee team and is busy learning more about the care of bees.
September is an important month for bee husbandry. Good preparation is essential to ensure that they survive the colder months and on our recent inspection it was gratifying to see that we have two strong, healthy colonies. The Varroa status of both hives was checked and two MAQS strips were laid across the frames of each for over a week – this is a treatment based on formic acid which kills the Varroa mites. To ensure that the bees have sufficient food to last the winter a feeder containing sugar syrup in a ratio of 2:1 was placed in each hive to supplement their honey stores. It is important to get this done in September before the temperatures drop when it becomes difficult for the bees to evaporate enough excess water from the feed and produce the wax to cap the honey cells.
Oakleigh Food Fair
The Oakleigh fair is being held over the weekend of 18th and 19th October this year and we will be hosting our annual apple tasting event as last year. Fruit from all of our productive trees has been picked (some have done very well this year, others have hardly any fruit) and will be displayed in the walled garden for tasting and to be taken home. There will be information on all varieties. Other harvest fruits such as medlars, pears and grapes will be on show too.
Plants can still be purchased from us (remember that members get a 25% discount) and it is a good opportunity to buy a few jars of Cressing honey – great for Christmas presents.
Essex Gardens Trust AGM
This year we are pleased to be hosting the AGM of The Essex Gardens Trust at Cressing on the 18th October, the same day as our apple tasting. The AGM will take place in the conference room at 2pm and will be followed by a lecture by Dr. Twigs Way, entitled ‘Before Brown: The formal and geometric garden’. The cost is £10 for EGT members/£12.50 for non-members. Following the conference the delegates will move to the farmhouse, where afternoon tea will be served by our Friends Group.
The walled garden
We have had a very busy summer in the walled garden and have made considerable progress.
It took us several weeks to cut all the box hedging and there has been a worrying decline in the health of this plant due to box blight, a fungal disease which causes bare patches to develop and dieback. We have decided to remove a few sections of box and replace it with a low willow hurdle. After buying the willow and a few practice sessions we have some acceptable small stretches of fencing in the potager and by the well house and learnt much in the process. Where next? Perhaps we will be up to a hurdle making workshop by next year!
More repairs are planned for the fountain this month. Bakers of Danbury will be lining the rill and repairing some brickwork to the star pool. We are crossing our fingers this will cure the leak!
The rotten bed edging strips are being now being replaced. This job will be ongoing throughout the winter. If anyone has a leaning towards DIY they would be very welcome to join us on this one!
The progress in the Cullen garden over the summer has been very pleasing. The group from Mid Essex Mind visit once a month and one of their volunteers has been coming in regularly in between to keep things tidy and make an even bigger impression. We have decided to make wildlife the focus of this area of garden. The new picnic benches are being well used by the public and we have two lovely new birdfeeders, purchased by the MIND group. The Friends are supplying the feed and the birds seem very grateful!
Another new arrival in this area of garden is a rather smart looking scarecrow, made by one of the MIND group and her Dad. We don’t want it to scare the birds away but it can have a go at the rabbits gladly.
Our Open day this year took place on a glorious summer afternoon in July. Cream teas were served in the farmhouse whilst in the well house there was a spinning demonstration and a dye display. Outside activities were accompanied by the lovely sound of Lynne Creasey’s harp. In the walled garden, experts on paper making and beekeeping were available to give advice and answer questions, whilst jams & chutneys made from local ingredients could be purchased. Outside the farmhouse were our traditional plant tombola and raffle stalls as well as an interesting stall run by the Warner Textile Archive in Braintree. It was a very pleasant afternoon for all who attended.
Our first rural crafts and general interest workshops began this autumn. In September local willow artist, Jo Hammond led a course on basket making. Nine people attended and all went home with a very respectable egg basket. The day was great fun and very rewarding. Here is what one of the attendees said about it:
We all went home with a basket (of sorts!). My family were rather surprised at the success of mine, which says a lot about their confidence in my artistic ability.
The second workshop was an introduction to medicinal herbs led by Monika Curry, a qualified medical herbalist. The day was very informative and interesting. We learnt about the background to medical herbalism and some of its basic premises. Monika introduced us to a number of well-known herbs and we were able to sample her special blends of herbal tea. We made an herbal antiseptic ointment to take home and were given a herbal tea specially prepared to be effective against colds and flu, perfect for the season!
Our third workshop is on 6th December, when Jo Hammond will return to Cressing to show us all how to make a festive wreath out of willow and natural materials. There are still spaces on this half day course; there will be one session in the morning and another in the afternoon. The cost to members is £15 & £20 for non-members. Contact Rebecca by email firstname.lastname@example.org or text her on 07747670058 if you haven’t yet booked your place.
Plant Profile: Mespilus germanicus (medlar)
Medlars were a popular fruit in medieval times. Chaucer called them ‘homely trees’ and placed them next to plums, pears and castaynes (sweet chestnut) in the list of trees in his Roman de la Rose translation. The fruit, which ripens in October, resembles a small brown skinned apple and would have been stored in straw until November, when it was eaten decayed and soft, (or bletted which softens the cell walls and sweetens the fruit) either raw or pulped into a sweet puree with honey. Alexander Neckham (English scholar, teacher and abbot of Cirencester, 1157 – 1217) classified medlars together with cherries and plums as fruits that were to be eaten when they had ripened to the point of rottenness. Not something we would necessarily consider today!
Dates for your diary
Apple tasting day – 18th October
Christmas wreath making – 6th December
AGM – 25th March 2015
Thank you for supporting the Friends of Cressing Gardens. Further events will be advertised through our email list and in the next newsletter. In the meantime, do contact any of us if you have any queries about the gardens, Friends or events.