Spring 2014

As we move rapidly through our second year, the Friends have helped to make the future of these important gardens more secure. Thank you to all of you for supporting the Friends and we hope you will all continue to do so in the future. This newsletter is to let you know what has been happening at Cressing and to show you how valuable your support is to the gardens.

Bees and honey

The bees were recently moved back into the walled garden. Hives would have been a common sight in Medieval and Tudor gardens; sugar being expensive, honey was essential for sweet dishes as well as making mead and some ingredients used in medicine. Our visitors can see the hives on the top terrace and watch the bees busily working throughout the site. With all those wild flowers to feast upon, numbers built up rapidly earlier this year and there were so many swarms that we were running out of hive boxes to put them into! We have now reduced numbers back to two colonies for the winter, which is plenty for us to deal with.

Our first extraction of honey amounted to 64kg, which was sold at the Cressing Country Fair on 30th & 31st May. All proceeds went to the Friends, so thank you to our hardworking bees! If they produce more honey this season we will let you know, but it is vital that we leave them enough to survive the winter. Antony Stark, our volunteer beekeeper, is kindly giving Rebecca lessons in beekeeping to enable her to take over most of their care next year. It is a fascinating subject which becomes even more interesting as you learn more about them.

Plant sales

In March we resumed selling a wide variety of plants from stands outside the walled garden and the results have been most encouraging. They are very popular at weekend events, with coach parties and children visiting on school trips who seem keen to go home with a pot of Cressing herbs. The curry plant has been a big hit!  The plants are a mixture of home grown and bought in; the perennials from a local business in Great Tey and the herbs from a specialist herb nursery in Norfolk.

All proceeds from plant sales go to the Friends and are reinvested in the garden; for example the charcoal and cockle shell mulches in the knot garden were replenished recently and a number of plants and containers have been replaced. At the current rate of sales the Friends look set to make a significant contribution to garden funding this year, which is fantastic news.

At the AGM in March it was decided that all Friends are eligible for a 25% discount on plant sales, making them a bargain price of £1.50. Do come along to Cressing and see what we have on offer. The range of plants is constantly changing and there is bound to be one to fill a little gap in your garden!

The Walled garden

There is so much to report about the gardens over the last year that all we can do here is to include a number of points of interest from the current season.  Now that we are into the summer the walled garden is really beginning to fill out and is full of colour. The roses were in bloom since early June and this year they had a trellis to climb against! Twelve months ago they were tied to the posts, to each other and to anything else available because the trellis work was still in progress. They look so much better with a proper structure to climb against and the whole of the nosegay garden seems to be flourishing in a show of support.

The flowery mead has had a greater diversity of flowers than in previous years.  At present there is a profusion of Oxeye daisy, red clover, bird’s foot trefoil, buttercup, ragged robin, kidney vetch and plantains. The bee orchids have been particularly prolific and a patch has popped up in the knot garden lawn where they have little competition from other more muscly neighbours. We aim to increase the diversity of species in our different meadow areas by adding extra plants and seed this autumn. We shall also be sowing the semi parasitic plant yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor), a grassland annual which will reduce the vigour of the grasses and allow the wild flowers to thrive.

Various sections of meadow have already been cut, beginning with the nuttery and orchard which are our spring meadows. The summer meadow beside the arbour will be cut in late August/September. We are hoping to buy our own Cressing scythe next year and do some demonstration scything for members.

Please contact Rebecca on rebecca.ashbey@essex.gov.uk if you would be interested in coming along to a scything demo.

There has been a lot of planting in the potager and culinary beds but the pigeons were waiting in the wings and have had a feast on the cabbages and kale. Trying to protect them in Tudor style, we have laid hazel branches carefully over the young plants which should give them light and space to grow but deter our persistent thieves.

The Cullen garden

Since March, Mid Essex Mind have had a therapeutic gardening project running in the Cullen garden next to the farmhouse. The group visits on the first Wednesday of each month and have really made a difference. A couple of seats and a picnic bench tempt visitors into the garden and the group have been busy planting lots of new things. It is an experiment to see which plants can survive the rabbit onslaught. This year we are growing the sweet pea ‘Winston Churchill’, one of the varieties developed by Frank Cullen. Protected by some netting at the base, they are just about holding their own. They smell divine and a bunch picked in the morning fills the farmhouse with a wonderful aroma throughout the day.

Structural improvements

All the trellises have been repaired or rebuilt over the winter.  Bakers of Danbury repaired the old oak gates to the garden, and carried out some repairs in lime to the Tudor walls, the first time any repointing has had to be done since 1991.

Repairs have also been made to some areas of the brick paving, where it had subsided or the edges had become loose so that it is now safer.  Moss and lichen has been cleaned off the viewing platform by Elphin Watkin, so that it looks like new and is no longer slippery.  A continuing problem, which awaits satisfactory resolution, is the loss of water between the fountain and the still pool, probably because of leakage from the rill.

Plant Profile

Acanthus mollis or bears breeches

Native to Italy and Greece, it had been introduced into Britain by 1547 and was well known by 1551.

The leaves of Acanthus mollis are said to be the source of the curling foliage at the top of Corinthian columns. According to Vetruvius, the idea came about by happy accident; a basket covered with a tile having been accidentally placed over an Acanthus plant, the leaves grew up through the basket, but were bent back by the tile. The famous architect Callimachus chanced to see it, and used the idea for the pillars of a temple he was building at Corinth.

John Parkinson says “you may somewhat marvaile, to see me curious to plant Thistles in my garden, whenas you may well say, they are rather plagues than pleasures, and more trouble to weed them out, than to cherish them up’

Philip Miller in 1754 warned gardeners against their propensity for swamping, however tastefully, any plants growing nearby- a warning worth remembering today.

John Evelyn lists Acanthus among his plants for a physic garden. He says ‘ it had alwaies been used Physically, as a mollifying herbe and also for ailments such as gout, burns or scalds and members out of yointe’


Events continue to be held at Cressing. The gardens can of course be seen if you visit the site for any of them. Future events include the Car Show on the 13th July and the Essex Food and Drink Show on 19th and 20th July.

On Saturday 2nd August the Friends will be holding an Open Day in the Garden from 2pm to 5.30pm. A number of stall holders will be in attendance; paper making and painting demonstrations, a dye and weaving display, a jam and chutney stall, games, raffle, plant tombola and a chance to find out more about the garden and the bees. Lynne Creasey will be playing her harp for us once again. Everyone is welcome, but members will benefit from a free cream tea. If you want to come, we would appreciate it if you could let us know – Paula on paula.dellamura@btinternet.com  If you haven’t paid your subscription for 2014 Jane will be available to take subs, hand out membership cards and answer any questions you might have. Membership rates are the same as last year.

Given some nice weather, it should be a lovely afternoon in the garden and it would be great to see as many of you there as possible. Many of you will remember our garden party of last summer when we were not blessed with the best of weather but nothing dampened our spirits and a good time was had by all.


Thank you for reading this. Further events will be advertised through our email list and we hope to set up a website and Facebook page in the near future, but in the meantime, if you have any questions about anything in this newsletter, about the gardens or the Friends, or wish to help in any way, do contact one of us and we will direct the query to the right person:

Rebecca: rebecca.ashbey@essex.gov.uk

Paula: paula.dellamura@btinternet.com

Jane: eanswythe@btinternet.com

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