Damp and dismal

Sometimes it can be hard to keep one’s spirits high at this time of year. It all looks so sad and drab and the nights fall so quickly.

Every job we do seems to be a messy one and some days, when the wind is sharp and air damp, we really have to steal ourselves to make the extra effort that is always required of a winter gardener.

Nevertheless, take a little time to fully appreciate what is going on in the garden and there is still a lot to be cheerful about. Take the stunning display of the Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ in the Cullen garden:

Such an impressive sight in the gloom of a November morning is guaranteed to brighten the spirits. And, despite the cold, I saw a brave bumble bee taking advantage of this plentiful supply of nectar this week, reminding me that there are other busy workers around at this time of year too.

Mahonias are impressive winter shrubs, carrying flowers with a lily of the valley scent which last for many weeks. these are often followed by small plum coloured berries that are a useful food source for birds through the winter. Mahonias are close relatives of the Berberis, they are usually very hardy, unfussy about soil and are happy in the shade. What is not to like? Well, the spiky leaflets are hard to love I admit, but they are evergreen and shiny and set off the bright yellow flowers perfectly.

There are other valuable evergreens in the garden that come into their own at this time of year. When choosing plants for our gardens it is sometimes very difficult to choose an evergreen over the seductive lure of all those colourful summer flowers winking at us from the plant table, but how silly we are to neglect the evergreens, the stalwarts of the garden in the winter season.

And here is one of my favourites: Sarcococca confusa.

All right, I know it doesn’t look much but oh boy, you wait until you walk past it on a sunny winter’s morning and get hit by the most wonderful scent from the tiny but aroma packed flowers arranged all along the stems.

Like the Mahonia, Sarcoccocas are easy, obliging plants and are fantastic in shade and poor soil at the base of taller shrubs or under trees. Make sure you don’t make the mistake of putting them at the bottom of the garden where you will probably never venture just when they are giving the best of their scented flowers. I grow them on the approach to our front door, giving us a cheery welcome when we leave or return home in January and February.

But if aroma is not enough and you want winter flavour as well, then surely Rosemary has got to be the star winter evergreen. Who would buy dried rosemary when you can have your own ready supply all winter long by growing your own? This one, the straightforward Rosmarinus officinalis which has grown to about 4ft in the walled garden might be too large for most of our modern gardens, but rosemary grows very well in a container and is easy to grow from cuttings, so you can always have a manageable sized plant ready to replace one that has got too big.

This next plant in my winter hall of fame might look like yet another boring green plant to you, and Viburnum tinus does have an unfortunate reputation as a ‘car park shrub’  or as the ubiquitous new build front garden specimen, but I think it looks rather good, carefully shaped in this way, looking healthy and glossy and very permanent. It is the kind of plant that gives me faith and confidence that it won’t be blown away by winter winds, reduced to a soggy lump by winter damp, or frozen to death by winter cold.

And like so many evergreens, this one has a winter trick up its sleeve, in the form of rather pretty, pink clusters of flowers in late winter and the earliest part of spring. One of the best forms, and also the most commonly grown is ‘Eve Price,’ a real backbone of the winter garden.

You may be getting the hint by now. I have precious few flowers to show you this month. But the winter garden is all about structure and form, and as you can see from this picture of the forecourt garden, it can look appealing with not a flower in sight. Most of the flowery plants in the walled garden are herbaceous and if we didn’t have these evergreens, how uninspiring it would look at this time of year.

But there are a few flowering plants that simply refuse to give up, like this ever present and ever reliable marigold, Calendula officinalis. It might not have the same razzmatazz it had earlier in the year, but for sheer sticking power and relentless cheerfulness it has to get my vote.

Not many people seem to celebrate bonfire night so much these days but we decided to do our bit with a bonfire day. We thought it might keep us warm, only to find it was about the warmest day of the winter so far and very soon we were all sweltering! It was good fun as bonfires usually are, and had the added satisfaction of reducing the garden waste pile quite considerably.

Its amazing what we get to burn on these bonfires but don’t be alarmed. We do still have a car park (and a tea room!)

While some of us were getting hot and bothered over the bonfire, others were busy turning the last of our apple harvest into demijohns of potential cider. With expert instructions from Howard, each participant took home the beginnings of their Cressing home brew. We eagerly await the results and will let you know how the party goes!

Recent jobs in the garden have included felling a small Prunus tree in the Cullen garden. It is always sad to see a tree go but this one had suffered a major split to the main trunk earlier this autumn, leaving a weak and mis-shapen tree that we decided was better taken down to make way for something better. In fact this corner of the Cullen garden had been rather optimistically planted, with several trees and shrubs in close proximity. An easy mistake to make at planting time but a situation leaving difficult decisions once they all become grown ups. We have decided to replant this shady corner with tough, rabbit proof ground cover that can also provide a bit of colour, such as Bergenia and Geranium macrorrhizum with a more modest shrub for the back (another one of our trusty winter evergreens perhaps) . There is still a large silver birch and another Prunus very close by, so plenty of height and interest and perching places for the birds.

On the other side of this garden we have decided to plant some more Peonies, another tough and easy plant that the rabbits find unpalatable. I have chosen an intersectional hybrid peony, called ‘Bartzella’, which we are hoping will give us gorgeous yellow flowers in a couple of years.

Intersectional peonies are a cross between the larger woody tree peonies, like the pink one we have already in the Cullen garden, and the smaller herbaceous peonies that die back to the ground over winter. The intersectional types, first developed in the 1940’s, are said to have the advantages of both types. They have the sumptuous flowers and attractive leaves of a tree peony but the leaves die down in winter so you don’t have something looking like this all through the gloomy months.

Also, the flowers don’t need staking and the leaves persist much longer than the herbaceous types. I must admit they are new to me, a red rag to a bull for us gardeners, so it will be interesting to see whether they live up to their reputation. Knowing my luck they will be the only peonies tasty to our rabbits!

The Heritage Lottery project is progressing very well, with more interviews being added to those already done and our first glimpse of what the finished film might look like (make sure you take a look by clicking on the video link at the top of this page to see a teaser).

We are hard at work developing new ideas for garden interpretation and hope to revamp of the wellhouse to house a set of Tudor costumes for our younger visitors to try on in a spirit of getting to know what it was like in Tudor times. These costumes have been skillfully stitched by one of our multi-talented garden volunteers, mainly out of charity shop fabric, old sheets, blankets and mens’ shirts. A fantastic example of up-cycling. Visiting children will be able to choose from an array of aprons, jerkins, coifs and holbein hats and follow the instructions to dress like a Tudor.

As we move into December it is comforting to know that all the tender container plants are tucked up for winter, moved to the greenhouse, shifted closer to the garden wall or placed under the gardeners’ shelter or simply wrapped up in situ to wait it out. This was the only option for the large pomegranate (Punica granatum) in the knot garden. It looks quite happy wrapped up in its oversized fleecy bag and is starting to feel festive! I think I will join it and open the first door on the advent calendar.









Heritage Lottery project

Take a look at this sample video:

Part of our Heritage Lottery funded project is to collect personal memories of Cressing Temple gardens. See how we are getting on.

The Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens were set up in 2013 to support the  gardens and Jubilee Orchard, at Cressing Temple in central Essex.  The Friends work with the garden’s horticulturalist providing financial and practical support for plants, materials and specific projects.  Their contribution is welcomed by Essex County Council Country Parks who manage the site.

The Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens became a registered charity in April 2016 (registered charity No. 1166431).

There is always something going on in the gardens. To find out the latest, read our regular snippets from the walled garden, Cullen garden, Jubilee orchard and Community garden.

Apple day 2018

The weather may have tried its hardest to dampen our spirits on the only rainy day in a fortnight but everyone seemed to agree – Apple Day was as enjoyable as ever and a huge success.

The day started reasonably fine and warm, encouraging us to think we may have got away with it and the forecast had been wrong. Our luck was about to run out! At lunchtime there was a sudden drop in the temperature, the rain started falling and it was downhill from then on. Hard to imagine the temperatures had been in the mid 20’s the day before with wall to wall sunshine and not a rain cloud to be seen. To make matters worse there has been nothing but glorious autumn sunshine ever since. But, if this was a conspiracy to spoil our day it didn’t succeed.

Cheered along by clog dancing, folk singing and the strains of a hurdy gurdy and gittern and delighted to see that so many visitors had turned out despite the appalling forecast, we juiced apples, sold apples, identified apples and tasted apples like there was no tomorrow.

This year saw the launch of our first ‘made at Cressing Temple’ apple juice, the result of many weeks of scratting, pressing, pasteurising and bottling of our precious and limited apple crop. We are very proud of the result, a concerted team effort which resulted in us reducing our apple wastage to an absolute minimum.

If you missed our Apple Day and would like to sample our home grown juice, we still have a few bottles available to buy from the Visitor Centre – and it will keep unopened until the end of next year (if it gets a chance!).

If Apple juice was not your thing, there were other Cressing products available on the day. Our Cressing Temple honey and beeswax candles proved very popular with our visitors who were keen to take a bit of Cressing away with them.

With plenty of other things on offer, from willow weaving to traditional woodworking to birds of prey to archery. You didn’t need to be an apple fan to enjoy the day. Traders, entertainers, volunteers and visitors created a warm and friendly atmosphere to combat the worst the weather threw at us and the day was another one to remember, and a handy boost for The Friends finances.

Thanks to all those volunteers whose hard work made it such a success.

One of the eye-catchers at Apple day was our colourful assortment of pumpkins and squashes, many of which were taken home to be roasted or made into tasty soups or curries. We have grown a wider variety than ever at Cressing this year and they have drawn surprise and many comments and questions from our visitors, not to mention a few raised eyebrows at the stranger shapes!.

Pumpkins, squashes, gourds – what is the difference and what can be done with the different varieties?

All pumpkins are squashes, but not all squashes are pumpkins (with me so far?). Gourds are from the same family as squashes but the term generally applies to the inedible kind which can be dried and used for decoration or as containers. Pumpkins (or winter squashes) have hard prickly stems and thick leathery skins.  They mature slowly and we harvest them when fully ripe. They store well and can be kept in a cool, dry place for use later in the winter.

Squashes have smoother, softer stems and thinner skins which means they do not store so well. They mature quickly and we generally harvest them through the summer, when still immature and soft. They can be used rather like a courgette, which is itself a type of summer squash.

All squashes, pumpkins and gourds belong to the same family:Cucurbitaceae. Within the family there are various species including  Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita cucurbita, Cucurbita laganeria, Cucurbita mixta, Cucurbita pepo (most pumpkins, courgettes and sqashes) and Cucurbita moschata (butternut squash).

Whether or not you know your pumpkins from your squashes there is no denying they come in a glorious range of shapes, colours and sizes, are fun to grow and perfect for a decorative autumn display this halloween. Visit our Spooky Fun event this week to see them for yourself and maybe  take one home.

Progress continues with the heritage lottery project, with the arbour rebuild nearing completion.  And very smart it looks too!

The roses have been waiting patiently, after being unceremoniously pulled and pushed,  tied and shoved out of the way while the construction was in progress, but will soon receive their annual prune and be reattached to their new structure. The new, sturdy structure looks splendid and it is very reassuring to think that the roses will no longer be on a framework that  is liable  to collapse under their weight!

We have been collecting oral histories from people who were involved with the development of the garden over 20 years ago. Several interviews have now been filmed and recorded and are making fascinating viewing/listening.  We were particularly pleased to interview Stephen Morant recently, the designer of the bronze fountain heads.  Stephen had braved the A1  in his little VW camper all the way from Leeds, to tell us about his memories of what was a very special project for him.

Once compiled and edited, all these accounts will be sent to the Essex Records Office for archiving and will also be made into a film to be played at Cressing as part of our improvement to the interpretation. It promises to be very interesting and an invaluable record.

Adding to the volunteer experience has been another objective of this project. To this end we took a group of volunteers on a day trip to two London gardens recently, the medicinal garden of the Royal College of Physicians and Chelsea Physic garden.

Unbeknown to us we chose a day when the London underground was on strike, which meant battling with hundreds of other disgruntled tube travellers to get through London on a reduced service. The day ended up being a rather long one but was well worth it.

At the Royal College of Physicians we were treated to a very informative guided tour by Professor Henry Oakley, whose long career as a psychiatrist and equally long interest in plants have combined to produce an unrivalled knowledge of the use of plants and their constituents in medicine through the ages.

Just take a look at the fascinating history, uses, dangers and potential of this one plant: Physalis alkekengi, better known as Chinese lanterns


Dr Oakley had so much to say about all the plants in the garden  we were all left wishing we had better memories. But fortunately the website for the Royal College of Physicians has plenty of information on the plants we had seen. I was particularly interested in one called scurvy grass (Cochlearia officinalis), that I might introduce in our Cressing garden. As the name suggests, scurvy-grass – cochlearia – was used as a treatment for scurvy. This was long before the cause of scurvy was understood, but the leaves rich in vitamin C made the plant popular with sailors.

The second garden visited was the well known Chelsea Physic garden that has occupied four acres of land on the edge of the Thames since 1673. This is London’s oldest botanic garden, first established by the Apothecaries, and contains a unique living collection of around 5,000 different edible, useful and medicinal plants that have changed the world. We enjoyed it very much and gathered some useful ideas for the interpretation at Cressing.

They were growing an impressive array of chilli peppers.

And had assembled a wonderful autumnal display of harvest fruits and seeds.

I particularly liked an area where they were exhibiting textiles hanging next to the plant from which they were made, such as this piece of nettle cloth. Really made me think how dependent we have been on plants over the ages.

We arrived home tired but satisfied after a day that had given us so much to think about and many good ideas. Its good to get out from time to time!

Now, I know this is a classic shot of our garden and you have all seen it before but I couldn’t resist putting it in to celebrate the end of this year’s box hedge cutting! It is always a marathon task and a back breaking one, but most satisfying when it is completed. This was taken on one of those wonderful warm sunny evenings we have had so many of recently (except the one on Apple Day!), and it is a view of which I never tire, with the great Wheat Barn towering in the background as it has for over 800 years. What a privilege to be part of this historic place.













Time flies

It may have been holiday time but things have been busier than ever here and August seems to have passed by in a flash.

On one of the hottest days of summer we enjoyed a visit from Wickham Bishops Horticultural society who had booked a tour of the walled garden. With umbrellas and hats to shield faces from the hot sun and a drinks station set up half way round for a rest and chance to rehydrate, we sweltered our way around the garden for a little over an hour. There were lots of lively and interesting questions and many generous compliments on the garden and nobody fainted. I call that a success!

Work on our new arbour is progressing very well and there has been lots of interest from the public, many taking the chance to stop and chat to Joe Bispham about the traditional construction techniques and materials being used to build the structure.

Volunteers helped to disentangle the growth and pull it off the old framework. We did wonder if it was just the plants holding it all up and a few bits did drop off in the process, but the structure was still standing!

The new sections of arbour are being constructed off site in Joe’s workshop, brought in when ready, to be slotted into the same ground fixings as the old one. The posts are of slightly larger dimension so they overlap the iron shoes, allowing the water to drain outside rather than into them, resulting in less chance of rot. This is one of the minor changes to the original design which we hope will make the new arbour more robust and longer lasting.

Joe has also modified the the joints in the new design, to avoid several sections being joined at the same point, as in the old structure, which made them weak and liable to failure, as this picture shows.

The whole structure will stand slightly higher than the old one and be visible from outside the wall as people walk across the chapel lawn, tempting them to have a peek inside the garden perhaps. And the roses? They have been carefully laid back, out of harms way, and will be re-attached to the new arbour once it is finished. Any old oak posts and beams that are still sound will be saved for other projects. The end result will be an arbour that looks good and lasts well for many years to come.

Another strand of the Heritage Lottery project was to investigate new interpretation ideas for the garden. With this in mind, 13 volunteers and staff visited the Tudor High Summer event at Kentwell Hall recently to see their living history interpretation . We explored the still room, the dairy, the gardens and the kitchens, all decked out in Tudor style and brought alive by numerous re-enactors in Tudor dress and demeanour, giving us all a realistic impression of Tudor daily life.

We saw some fantastic old espalier fruit trees in the garden.

some delightful topiary shapes..

and fascinating displays of everything from natural dyeing to candle making to basketry and alchemy.

In addition Lyn experienced what happened to Tudor volunteers who didn’t tow the line..

…and we all felt rather grateful for 21st luxuries like the tea-room and flushing toilets. We had a lovely day!

We will be visiting other gardens in the coming months and sharing the ideas gathered before deciding how we can incorporate some of the ideas into our interpretation at Cressing.

Back at base, our topiary shapes might not be quite so intricate as the ones we saw at Kentwell, but the Bay estrade in the nosegay garden was very glad to be given it’s annual haircut recently.

These creatures know how it feels! More of this later.

We will be cutting the rest of the box hedging, in the nosegay garden and the knot garden, in the next few weeks, now the weather has cooled down a bit and there has been some rain.

Honey production has been a major operation this summer, as our beekeepers, Jan, Howard and David extract the sweet delights of this year’s busy bee activity. Unfortunately, word got around in the wasp community that we were pressing the honey out of some old honey frames this week, and they all decided to visit us in the dairy for a taste! We learnt the painful way that it is better to keep doors and windows firmly shut when extracting honey at this time of year.

Learning from our mistakes, and assuming the wasps would be just as attracted to apple juice as they were to honey, we decided to use the farmhouse kitchen for our first apple juicing and bottling venture later this week. It was an exciting day, with all hands on deck, resulting in our first 27 bottles of pasteurised juice by the end of the day.

We are hoping to do one or two further pressings each week from now until Apple Day (14th October), which will mean far less wastage of our precious crop and more people getting to taste the lovely juice that can be produced from heritage East Anglian varieties of apple.

The apple harvest is particularly poor at Cressing this year, with the majority of trees having none or very poor fruit set. This was due to a long and particularly cold spring, followed by very cold winds at the end of April, just as much of the blossom was opening. Added to this, the long, hot summer, has left much of the fruit small and lacking in juice and resulted in premature dropping from the trees. Meanwhile, the codling moths and sawfly larvae seem to have had a very successful year which has left much of the fruit infested with the voracious grubs, which in turn has attracted a lot of attention from foraging wasps and lead to early dropping of fruit.

Hey ho, such are the challenges of gardening and I don’t want to sound miserable because, despite all this doom and gloom, we are optimistic we will have a sufficient quantity and variety of fruit to make plenty of juice for apple day and a selection of apples for people to taste. Next year will be better!

In the Community Garden we had some children visiting this week for the launch of our gardening club. They were creative with some of the veg (see below), enjoyed digging potatoes and searching for hidden pumpkins and went seed collecting and information gathering in the walled garden. Everyone seemed to have a great time and it will be something we hope to build upon next year to get more youngsters joining us in the great outdoors. The club will be called ‘Full of Beans!’

Thanks to Lynn, who organised it all,  Lesley and our community gardeners for guiding the children through the activities and to the children for coming to try it all out.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to visit the community garden stall for your freshly harvested veg  where there has been plenty to dig and pick over the past couple of weeks, thanks to the recent rain.

Visitors seem delighted to see the plot and talk to the gardeners as well as being able to choose a selection from the tempting array of seasonal produce. The stall is re-stocked on a Tuesday and there are signs to direct you to the plot from the carpark. A tin for donations can be found with the veg, all helping to make this project self sustaining and very enjoyable to those involved.

All our volunteers were treated to a brilliant demonstration of natural dyeing by Howard. Using plants grown in the walled garden, he explained the process and history behind medieval dyeing and before our eyes transformed plain, un-dyed sheeps’ wool (see above) into glorious shades of red, with madder (Rubia tinctoria), yellow with weld (Reseda lutea) and most impressive of all, blue from woad (Isatis tinctoria). Howard’s talk was informative, entertaining, with fascinating and often very smelly facts about the dye industry,  and much appreciated by the many volunteers who came along. It left us all wanting to know more.

The hard work of our volunteers is going on in all corners of the site, and none less than in the much neglected and secluded area of garden behind the farmhouse. Three volunteers, all from the same family, have taken on the task, started by Bob earlier in the year, to transform this delightful area into an attractive, cottage style garden with flowers, fruit and shrubs. There are many challenges to overcome, not least our population of hungry rabbits, who thought it was all being done for them! The work will continue over the winter, with re-laying of paving, controlling wayward raspberry canes, levelling the lawn area and adding more colourful plants, to make a sheltered and productive little space for staff in the farmhouse to enjoy (not the rabbits!) when they need five minutes out of their busy day.

Enjoy the chance to get out in your gardens in this lovely late summer weather. The conditions are perfect for planting, with lots of time for plants to settle in and get growing strongly before the cold of winter slows things down. And there are plenty of plants on our table for you to choose from if you have gaps to fill or drought stressed plants to replace. Happy gardening.













The heat is on

and on and on and on…..When will it end, this relentless hot summer weather and lack of rain? One thing I usually like about gardening is the variety of tasks, but I am beginning to wonder – all we seem to be doing is watering! And while this can be a relaxing and contemplative activity for a while, it soon becomes monotonous when it is similar to painting the Forth Bridge!

Despite the unforgiving weather there is still lots to celebrate. The next phase of our heritage lottery project has been completed and the paving under the arbour is now repointed and looking much smarter.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the rest of the paving restored in a similar fashion? Not only does it mean the use of far less weedkiller, it also makes the paving less of a hazard for our high heeled wedding guests!

Our volunteers went on a very enjoyable outing to Green Island Gardens near Ardleigh recently. The gardens are professionally designed by its owner Fiona Edmond, and are laid out as a series of structured gardens displaying a huge range of unusual trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs. The weather was, guess what, hot and sunny, which meant we could have a warm, leisurely stroll around the grounds before ending at the tea-room for lunch. This lovely shady pergola next to the pond provided the perfect spot for a photo.

An added bonus is the little nursery where we could choose a choice reminder or two of our visit. A very enjoyable day and a thank you to all our hard working volunteers.

Back in the gardens they have been getting on with plenty of work to keep everything looking as fresh as possible, none more so than in the community garden where the crops are looking perky and beginning to produce an abundance of delicious fresh veg for us to take home.

The sweetcorn just loves the heat and, providing it gets enough moisture, will soon be giving us plump, juicy cobs for our barbecues.

The French and runner beans are also just about ready for harvest and there will be the usual glut I am sure.

This year we have tomatoes growing in a raised bed within the polytunnel which has been very successful compared to growing them in pots. The roots have more space to expand and the greater quantity of soil means more water holding capacity. The super hot, dry conditions have resulted in a red spider mite outbreak this year but it seems to be affecting the cucumbers rather than the tomatoes.

The onion crop has been very good and there are plenty available. Don’t forget, you can visit the community garden on a Tuesday between 10.30 and 4.00 if you would like to see what we have growing and take some home. The veg stall will be stocked with produce every Tuesday for our visitors to sample local, super fresh, chemical free vegetables in return for a donation to our funds.

We are also very pleased with the progress of our no-dig pumpkin patch.

The plants have romped away in the deep organic base made for them over the winter and they seem to be coping well with the drought conditions as a result. It was a bit of a struggle in early spring when the weeds and the encroaching grass threatened to engulf the beds with the rich conditions we had created!


We tried various ways of keeping it all under control.

But once the pumpkins got going there was no stopping them and the broad leaves provide a very effective weed suppressant.  It became hard to see where one plant starts and another finishes, hence the canes to help target the watering cans!

In the walled garden the two main tasks, aside from watering, have been cutting back the meadows and trimming the box and other topiary.

The box maze was the first to be clipped with beautiful technique on display here from our volunteers. This poor little hedge maze is much loved by our youngest of visitors and has to suffer many a misplaced foot as they negotiate their unsteady way into the centre.

In the hottest, sunniest weather we avoid cutting the box as it can scorch the cut leaves and the open wounds made by cutting can make the plant more susceptible to blight. The RHS recommends delaying box cutting until August, when the new growth has hardened off and slowed down and the hedge should remain neat through the winter months.

Scything of the meadow grass is a task we carry out between the end of June and the start of August. I always offer the volunteers a go at using the scythe but it is strictly a one person at a time activity!  Some take to it more enthusiastically than others but it is surprising how quickly the job gets done with a tool that has been around in this country since at least Roman times.

An interesting account of the scythe’s origins is given by Simon Fairlie, supplier of Austrian scythes (the lightweight continental style we use):

By Simon Fairlie. First published in the Tools and Trades History magazine 2006 also windrow 2, 2011

“Much of the world’s farming land can be divided into two zones: the machete zone and the scythe zone.  The machete is a formidable implement — a skilled  user can peel an orange, halve a wasp in mid flight or  open up a coconut with one swing. It is even used to  mow lawns; but the machete is most comfortably swung  at hand height, and hence is particularly associated with  vegetation which is tall, such as tropical forest or sugar  cane, and with regions such as South America and Indonesia,  where that kind of vegetation predominates. The  European equivalents of the machete are the billhook,  and the faghook, or sickle  The scythe is a tool specially adapted for cutting  vegetation at ground level. There is no other reason  for its existence: it is useless at hand height and (unlike  the machete) very unwieldy as a weapon. Initially it  was probably designed for grass; but as pasture became  harder to find, and livestock were increasingly fed on  different kinds of straw, the importance of cutting oats,  barley and other grains close to the ground became more  important and the scythe began to replace the sickle as a  way of harvesting crops.  The scythe is therefore found in most areas of the  world where grass and grains such as wheat, barley, oats  or rye are the predominate agricultural crop.”

For those of you with areas of meadow grass to cut, the period from July into early August is generally the best time for mowing meadows for both wildlife and practical hay making considerations.  Evidence suggests that this is the optimum time for maintaining floral diversity and balance and it is best to complete hay cutting by the end of August

After the main cut, additional mowing or grazing during late summer and autumn is very effective in removing excessive grass growth and encouraging flowers -particularly on more fertile sites.    Ideally cut at least twice from the time the hay is removed to the end of November, aiming to leave the grass short through winter. The amount of mowing required will depend on the fertility of the site; areas can be mown regularly (weekly) if a more tidy appearance is wanted.

In all this heat it has been hard to find the energy to do anything strenuous but some jobs just needed to be done and thanks to our youngest volunteer, our garlic harvest is complete and the bulbs are hanging to dry for storage all winter if need be. Hot work though!

We welcome younger volunteers to help out in our gardens, so long as they are accompanied by an adult. We are hoping to set up a gardening club for kids during school holidays too – contact Rebecca if you would be interested.

The Friends of Cressing Gardens were delighted to host a visit from Mark Carroll this week. Mark is Executive Director for Economies, Localities and Public Health, the ECC Directorate within which Cressing Temple is place. He was escorted around the site by the Trustees and shown the Jubilee Orchard, the Community Garden, the Community Shed and the Walled Garden. Volunteers were on hand to answer questions and explain their role and we all congregated in the Martin Room at the end for tea, cake and a discussion session. Everyone was keen to show what has been achieved over the years and give suggestions on what could be achieved in the future. It was a congenial, positive and thoroughly enjoyable afternoon which sets the tone for a closer relationship between the Friends group and Essex County Council in the future. many thanks to Mark for his time and his interest.

As we head into another unrelentingly hot week maybe the best thing to do is to find a pond  and do some wildlife watching, where there will always be something going on and something to see. The birds have been frequent visitors to our pond at home this weekend, desperate for a drink or a cooling ruffle of the feathers.

This young blackbird wasn’t too sure what to do as she fumbled her way to the water’s edge, frequently tweeting for some adult support and guidance! Teenagers eh!

This lovely goldfinch had more of a clue, but didn’t stay long, wary of possible lurking cats and other dangers.

The star of the show this weekend was a lovely Emperor dragonfly who chose our water lilies to lay her precious cargo of eggs.


Most of the dragonfly’s life is spent underwater as larva. It emerges as a winged adult for a few weeks a year to mate and lay eggs.  The female uses her ovipostor (a special egg laying organ) to lay them. To protect her eggs from being eaten by fish, she places them into slits that she has cut into stems of pondweed which is what you can see her doing in the picture above.

The eggs develop in about 3 weeks, depending upon the temperature of the water. The larva, or nymph, that hatches is wingless and lives in the water. It molts (sheds its skin) ten to fifteen times during the 2 years it takes to mature. Almost all of its growth occurs in summer months. In the last stage of development the larva crawls out of the water and dries its skin in the sun. As the skin splits, the adult dragonfly emerges. Once its soft wings have hardened, it can fly. The adult dragonfly lives for only a few brief weeks.

What an amazing creature. All that effort for just a few weeks of adult life!

Here are a few more interesting things about dragonflies.

Did You Know:
Dragonflies always rest with their wings spread open.
Dragonflies and their larvae are a popular food in some Asian countries.
There are over 30,000 facets in a dragonfly’s eye.
Very few birds can outfly and hunt down dragonflies. The fast flying, agile hobby is a match.
The dragonfly’s front and hind wings beat alternately, not together, as with most insects. This gives them better flight control.
















Midsummer already

I always arrive at the longest day on 21st June with mixed feelings. While I relish the long hours of daylight and the peak of the flowering season in the garden I am also surprised at how quickly we arrive at this midsummer day; too soon, it seems, after the memory of the short cold days of winter.  I want to linger at this moment before we turn that corner, once again, towards those short days and longer nights.

The Midsummer Solstice, a celebration of the longest day of Summer, is associated with many ancient Midsummer traditions, and surrounded by mythical tales of fairies and supernatural visitors. But after the religious reformation in the early part of the 15th century, the church became increasingly uncomfortable with the Pagan celebrations associated with Midsummer and started to ban many of the rituals in favour of a more Christian festival. The celebration was then renamed to mark the birth of St John the Baptist and, appropriately, was called the Feast of St. John the Baptist.

The plant that is most closely associated with this time of year in the walled garden must be St John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum with its golden yellow, star shaped flowers, slit shaped perforations on the leaves and red staining sap.

A perennial, native to Britain, Europe and Asia, this plant was believed to have infinite healing powers, the red juice produced by the leaves representing the blood of St John. It was once known as Fuga demonium, devil’s flight, and was believed to give powerful protection against Satan. The house that had St John’s wort hung above the door was safe from thunder, lightning and fire. Neither witches nor the devil himself could cross the threshold. On account  of its red juice and the perforations on its leaves it was interpreted by the Doctrine of Signatures  as a wound healing herb and an oil reddened with the juice was sold in apothecary shops as a treatment for burns.

Another plant greatly enjoyed in the garden at this midsummer-time, for its colour, beauty but most particularly it’s exquisite scent is the rose, and a fine example is the vivid striped Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’ or ‘Rosa Mundi’ we have growing in the nosegay garden.

Gallicas are the oldest of the garden roses, having been grown by the Greeks and Romans and later being used as a parent for many of our more modern cultivated roses.  Rosa Mundi is the earliest known stripped rose dating back to the 1500s. Legend has it that Rosa Mundi was named after Fair Rosamund, a mistress of Henry II, England’s monarch from 1154 to 1189. Henry’s wife, Queen Eleanor is said to have poisoned the lovely Rosamund by breaking into the house Henry had built for her at Woodstock in Oxfordshire. This legend is depicted in the oil painting by Evelyn de Morgan (1855 -1915) shown here.

(Courtesy of The De Morgan Foundation)

The stained glass window above Rosamund shows two lovers in an embrace. The Queen carries a small flask of poison, plus the thread that has led her through the maze to the house. She brings with her shadowy evil forms of dragons and apes, while blood red roses lie at her feet. In contrast, winged cherubs and shadowy doves of peace accompany Rosamund and white roses, symbolising purity and innocence, lie at her feet. Rosamond stares at the flask of poison held by the Queen, recognising her doom.

This legend makes an attractive picture, but is contradicted by historical fact. Henry actually imprisoned Queen Eleanor from 1174-1189 for supporting the rebellion of two of her sons against their father. Rosamund entered a nunnery in 1174 or 1176 and died there in 1176. At the time of Rosamund’s death, Queen Eleanor was a prisoner in Winchester.
Moving from a strange tale to a strange plant: I am always delighted when something pops up in the garden that I have never seen before and we all reach for the wild flower books to see if it can be identified. This specimen was discovered by a volunteer while weeding the North wall border the other day.
It is called Lesser Broomrape (Orobanche minor), a very curious looking parasitic perennial that lacks chlorophyll, feeding on the roots of the pea and daisy family. This clump was found growing very near to the oxeye daisies growing in our meadow grass. It belongs to the Broomrape family (Orobanchaceae) which includes another similar native plant called toothwort (Lathraea squamaria), an unearthly looking parasite which grows on the roots of trees, especially hazel, elm, alder and willow. The tiers of flowers resemble dirty, mauve stained molars, giving rise to the common name.
Back to more everyday matters, we have reached the busiest time of the year and our community vegetable garden is in full swing.
This smart new banner draws attention to the plot and there is plenty to get the taste buds tingling when you get there.
Strawberries are cropping well, helped by our newly installed seep hose system.
the rhubarb is having a riot….
 …and ingenious ways are being invented to keep the crops well watered.
Gardeners (and helpers) are busy…..
Veg are available to buy from the stall….
And we have even been out and about in the local community, representing the Friends Group at Witham Community Day on 9th June.
Visit on a Tuesday and one of the volunteers will be happy to show you the community garden and offer you some of the harvest to take home.  The best buttery new potatoes ever tasted,  freshly dug and on your plate in no time….tempted?
The Heritage Lottery project is making great progress and we are pleased to announce the completion of stage one – repair of the viewing platform. Joe puts the last few fixings to the floor before work on the steps can begin.
And with a final coat of preservative to the oak boards, all is finished, and very lovely it looks too.
The next stage was to repoint the paving that runs under the arbour. A volunteer away day group from a charity called ‘Trees for Cities’ were the unlucky victims for this laborious task. After a demonstration from Joe they applied themselves with enthusiasm and seemed to enjoy the change from their usual day jobs.
What a difference. No more high heels getting stuck in the gaps!
In the meantime, two time lapse cameras have been installed to capture a year in the life of the garden. Here is a sneak preview of what the camera can see. It will be taking 6 frames per day, each of a split second duration. This will be edited, after the year is completed, to give a fascinating insight into the seasonal changes in the garden.
We have an opt out scheme for anyone who would prefer their image not to appear on the final version, although, as you can see, identification would be very difficult at this range (ask in the visitor centre for more information).
Plans are also well under way for the oral history interviews. We are contacting people who have had a connection with the gardens over the past 30 years and asking them to contribute their memories of the garden. We hope this will form a valuable and interesting record for posterity and added interest for our visitors. If you have memories of the garden, know somebody else who has, or if you would like to help us with this piece of historical recording, please contact us.
None of this would be possible, of course, without the generous support of The Heritage Lottery fund.
Enjoy your gardening in this lovely warm weather, but keep up the watering!

Volunteer week 2018


We have just celebrated National Volunteer week for 2018 and would like to pay tribute to all our wonderful volunteers at Cressing Temple, who tirelessley dig and snip, weed and clip, plant and sow making everything grow in the gardens. Without them, the gardens would not be as they are today:


We are always getting appreciative comments from our visitors about how wonderful the gardens are maintained, how lovely they look and how pleasing it is to be able to buy the produce grown on the site. So much of this is thanks to the strength of our volunteer team.

As a mark of our gratitude, we had an extra special tea-break this week, with lots of goodies and extra time to linger and chat.

I wish every tea-break was like this!

We were able to show off our new banner for the community garden.



Tell a tale….

Share a joke…..

And have just one more piece of cake. We won’t want to go back to work at this rate!

ECC notice and appreciate all the hard work of our volunteer team, as this recent comment from the new Head of Culture and Green Space about the walled garden demonstrates:

“it looks absolutely fabulous!

Please pass on my thanks to all the volunteers.”

Volunteering at Cressing Temple is all about feeling part of something and contributing your time and effort for the good of the local community. Everyone does as little or as much as they are able and everyone is valued. If this sounds your kind of thing, if you like being outdoors, would like to meet new people, share your skills or learn new ones, perhaps you could come and join us? It isn’t all about gardening: we do beekeeping, we sell plants, we create displays and information for the public, we do woodwork and DIY and there are opportunities to do historical research and garden tours. If you would like to know more, please email us

or phone to leave your contact details at reception on 03330 132738

Join the team and be part of a place that has been growing things for at least 800 years!