Cold….but so beautiful

I have always had a dislike of the cold.  I thrive on the sun and the heat so on days like these you are likely to find me wrapped up in at least five layers of jumpers and still complaining about numb toes and fingers. But, I have to say, there are so many things I love about this time of year, it is well worth putting up with a few winter challenges just to be outside on one of the rare but beautiful frosty mornings, seeing the bare outline of trees silhouetted against a blue sky and taking in the exquisite scent of winter flowering shrubs – its enough to lead one to poetry!

I never tire of these classic shots of the walled garden as they change in each season. Our time lapse cameras have been taking shots regularly for the last nine months so it will be very exciting to see a whole year in the garden unfold before our eyes. These are shots from my mobile taken from the platform this week, showing the mist hanging in the air and the frost crisping every surface.

Winter is such a good time to see the bare bones of a garden. Time to appreciate the strict formality and precise geometry of the walled garden design rather than being distracted by the colour of its plants.

We try to feed the wild birds throughout the winter period but they must be admired on days like these when the work is tireless to find enough food to keep up their body temperatures and maintain sufficient energy levels for sustenance through to spring. I feel extra generous and give them a bigger portion of sunflower seeds on the most frosty of mornings.

Even when there is little gardening to be done, one of our volunteers has been hard at work preparing for the season ahead and making sure everything is ready to tempt our birdlife to choose Cressing as Location Location once the urge comes to make a nest and raise the next brood. This robin box is tucked safely behind the broom (Cytisus scoparius) where there will be ample cover and perching spots on departure and arrival at the nest.

This new Blue tit box has been positioned in the mulberry tree (Morus nigra), complete with woodpecker guard just in case the wrong kind of prospector comes around.

Before all that happens, however, it is the winter visiting birds that catch our eye and none more so than the eagerly awaited Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris – some names are so unfortunate!).

Roughly a million of these birds arrive in the UK each winter from Scandinavia and sometimes it can seem as if they are all at Cressing! Arriving at work on a cold winter morning to see vast numbers of these tough birds spread across Dovehouse field hunting for invertebrates or suddenly seeing them take flight in a flourish of silvery white underwings are sights not to be missed. So far this season they have been seen in small numbers but as the rowan and hawthorn berries in their northern habitats become depleted we hope to see many more of them through February.

Fieldfares are on the RSPB red list of endangered species, meaning there has been a severe (at least 50%) decline in UK breeding population over last 25 years. This clearly wasn’t a problem in Chaucer’s day when they were regularly trapped and eaten, a time when their highly gregarious nature was a distinct disadvantage. Thankfully today we prefer to admire their tough, robust character, shrugging off the challenges of the harshest winter landscape.

‘Fieldfares are strong purposeful birds. I have watched them leave a thicket roost at daybreak in a gale – the wavering curtseying flock bored its way forwards with ease, with a zest in overcoming difficulty, and they flew high, while bigger birds, gulls and woodpigeons, sought advantage by keeping close to the ground’

Eric Ennion The British Bird 1943

Colour is such a rarity at this time of year, it stands out and catches the eye wherever it is found and there are precious few sights more delightful than the disarmingly delicate looking blooms of cyclamen (Cyclamen coum) as they pop up above the leaf litter.

No winter hat needed here. It is as tough as old boots, despite its delicate looks, leading to the following description by Vita Sackville- West in The Garden 1946  ‘The little frightened cyclamen,with leveret ears laid back…’

It thinks nothing of temperatures down to -10ºC, providing the soil is not waterlogged, and being native to the coastal areas of the Black Sea and the mountains bordering the northeast Mediterranean it is happy growing in regions with cooler, damper summers and plentiful winter rainfall, such as we have in Britain (hmm… are they a thing of the past?).

Many different explanations have been given for the name Cyclamen, deriving as it does from the Greek Cyclos, a circle. The most probable that it was given on account of the characteristic spiral coil of the stalk after flowering. ‘The head or seede-vessel shrinketh downe, winding his footestalke, and coyling it selfe like a cable’, so said the 17th century herbalist John Parkinson.

Another star of the garden in January, though not for its colour as much as its magnificent show of catkins, is the cobnut (Corylus avellana). This tree, the central feature of our nuttery, is laden with catkins this winter. Several years ago I made the decision to start coppicing the four outer trees in this collection of cobnuts, leaving just the central specimen as a standard tree. The five trees in this tiny area had grown to a size where they were competing heavily for available light and none had fruited well over the past four years. Coppicing the four corner trees has allowed extra light to reach the central tree and the result in flower power is clear to see. Hopefully this will also improve the understory of spring flowering bulbs and flowers as they, too, benefit from the extra light afforded by the ancient coppicing routine. An added bonus will be the hazel poles produced, which will be used as supports around the garden, as they would have been by the Tudor gardeners four hundred years ago.

Now some dates for your diaries. Coming soon:

The Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens annual quiz


Friday 15th February 2019



Cressing Temple Visitor Centre


Teams of 4-6 people, £5 per head.

Tea, coffee provided

Bring a bottle/snacks


Book your table (space limited to 10)

Tel: 07747670058

A date to reserve for later: What promises to be a fascinating talk by….

Tom Hart-Dyke

Plant hunter and gardener with passion


Come and hear his tales of……

Growing up at Lullingstone Castle

Kidnap in the Columbian jungle

The making of a ‘world garden’ at Lullingstone Castle

Cressing Temple Wheat Barn

June 9th


Details of ticket booking to follow later this month.

Free Arbour Talk 18th January 2019

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, outdoor and nature

Friday 18th January 2019, 13.30 – 15.30 at Cressing Temple Barns

Our new arbour is now finished! This is an important milestone in our @heritagelotteryfund project ‘Celebrating the History of Cressing Temple Garden’. Come along to this free talk given by Joe Bispham, the historic joinery expert responsible for building the new arbour. Joe will talk about was involved, the techniques and materials used and the challenges faced along the way. Weather permitting there will also be a chance to look at the arbour itself.

The lecture is free, but please contact to register your interest so that she knows how many people to expect.

See you there!
#NationalLottery #HLFsupported

Happy Christmas

As we all retreat indoors, ready to spend a few days away from the garden it is comforting to know that everything has been left neat and tidy and the plants that need a bit of extra TLC at this time of year and all safely tucked up somewhere. Our gardeners’ shelter comes in very handy for those plants that don’t mind the winter cold but really resent getting too wet.

Dear Myrtle (Myrtus communis) has the extra cosiness of a layer of hessian and bubble wrap.

One of the winter jobs is to remove the tender bedding plants from containers and replace them with a winter display instead. Well, having left it a bit late to plant anything new in the oak barrel planters by the tea-room we settled for a couple of seasonal oblesiks instead.

As we go into the coldest part of the year and the shortest days I always watch with added admiration as the birds busily flock to the bird feeders in a heroic effort to keep warm and maintain their energy levels through winter. No sitting by the fireside with a glass of ginger wine for them! And one of the birds we are very likely to see at this time of year and one that is a constant companion of the winter gardener is the much loved Robin (Erithacus rubecula). It surprised me to learn that the robin is part of the Thrush family, closely related to the Nightingale, Redstart, Blackbird and Fieldfare. Also, it is the only bird in this country that you are likely to hear singing at night in winter time. The nightingale also has a reputation for nocturnal singing but this is a summer visitor so if you are lying awake at night this Christmas and hear bird song, it is most likely the robin.

I wonder how many of you have had cards like this one this year?

The robin first became a popular feature of Christmas cards when the fashion of sending cards through the post took off in the 1860’s. Early examples often portrayed the robin with a letter held in its beak possibly associating the red breast feathers with the bright red uniform of the Victorian postman. But its reputation as a bird of winter cheer long pre-dates the 1860’s and its association with Christmas might even have pagan roots along with many of our other Christmas traditionjs. Whatever its origin the splash of bright red colour on the robin’s breast, and  the holly berries, is a welcome hint of winter cheer in an otherwise dreary winter scene.

There is plenty in the winter scene at Cressing Temple that is far from dreary and there is nothing I like better than arriving for work on a cold, frosty morning and admiring some of the most beautiful natural images of the year.

As with all seasons in the garden, winter is a time to look ahead and plan for what is to come next, and with this in mind work has continued in the community garden with further development of the no-dig bed area. Thanks to a surplus of straw from Spooky Fun and yet more from our visitation from Rudolf for the Christmas Grotto, the whole area has had a generous addition, which will slowly rot down over the winter and become incorporated with the compost and manure that has also been applied this autumn.

The plan for 2019 is to plant the extended section with pumpkins and gourds, which did so well on this patch in 2018, and use the remaining space for the start of soft fruit garden. the posts and wire being erected here are for a thornless blackberry, in front of which have been planted autumn fruiting raspberries, gooseberry bushes and some strawberry runners from our existing plants. We are looking forward to offering this fresh berry fruit along with all the other produce next year and with the price of such things being so high in the shops we would expect them to be popular.

The news of our Heritage Lottery project is that the arbour rebuild is finished and looks very splendid indeed. Once the weather has done its business of blending in the new timber and our roses have done their business of scrambling over their new structure, it will take on the look of something that has always been there and we will have the added confidence that nothing is going to drop off unexpectedly and know it will stand for many years as one of the focal points of the garden and something to be admired and enjoyed by all our visitors.

To mark the completion of this part of the project, there is to be a free lecture for anyone interested in hearing more about its construction. this will be given by Joe Bispham at 1.30 on 18th January in the conference room at Cressing Temple.

Anyone interested in coming along can find out more details by looking at the  website for the Traditional Building Skills courses offered by Essex County Council.

If you would like to attend this free lecture please phone 0333 013 2738 or email

Of course we mustn’t forget how this has all been possible, thanks to the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

While on the subject of celebrations, the volunteers celebrated the end of the year in time honoured fashion with a morning of willow weaving followed by a Christmas party. There were  some creative 3D reindeer….

A variety of Christmas trees….

And a few festive stars.

It all took some serious concentration at times but was enjoyed by all I hope.

For the Christmas party we had the use of the farmhouse kitchen which was far warmer than the garden and we managed to fill it to bursting, with people and food!

It was a very jolly occasion, a chance to chat to people you don’t always see, wish each other complements of the season and round off the end of the year in the company of Friends.

I like this time of year for the chance to reflect back over the past 12 months and remember all the good times and the many things that have been achieved. I feel particularly fortunate to be surrounded by such a supportive and enthusiastic group of helpers and would like to thank you all, wholeheartedly, for everything you do for Cressing Temple and the gardens. So many of you give your time, quietly, reliably with the minimum of fuss or need for recognition and it is this steady, regular commitment that makes such a difference and is truly appreciated.  It is quite amazing how much time is given voluntarily by so many people who care about Cressing Temple and the community created there. Although it is sometimes hard to measure these things objectively, the results of your hard work show: in the look of the gardens, the positive comments of visitors and the reputation of Cressing Temple as such a special place to be part of.

Thanks to you all, have a well deserved rest over Christmas and the New Year and I will see you all in 2019.






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

Memories of Cressing Temple Gardens:

Oral history project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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.