Flaming June?

Has all that hot weather in May made me go soft I wonder? How short the memory is – begging for cooler weather the week before and moaning about the cold and wind the next!

The weather might be less appealing for outside exercise this weekend but the garden flowers are doing their best to entice us out. The meadow area, or Tudor flowery mead,  is looking particularly lovely at the moment. At a distance it might look like a sea of oxeye daisy and grasses but on closer inspection it is a very diverse collection of species.

One wild native we have worked hard to introduce into the mix is yellow rattle (Rhinanthus major)  because of its ability to suppress the stronger, coarser growing grasses and allow the more delicate wild flowers to establish. This plant is a ‘hemiparasite’, taking some of its food from the grass roots where it is growing. The yellow rattle will keep the grasses in check by pirating some of their nutrients and preventing them from overwhelming everything else. This is the second year of establishment and already the grasses seem finer and more delicate.

Yellow rattle forms large papery seed pods for next year’s crop and the plant gets it’s common name yellow rattle or hay rattle from the way the seeds rattle loosely inside the pods when the wind blows. It is an annual and needs to disperse its seeds before the meadow is scythed or grazed.

I didn’t notice at the time but I seem to have snapped a passing shield bug, catching a ride on the yellow rattle seed pod and eager to get in on the publicity! I think it is the Southern green shield bug, an introduced species noted in the UK since 2003, although it is hard to tell from this side view.

While on the subject of insect life, here is another visitor spotted this week. The Mullein moth caterpillar (Shargacucullia verbasci – great name!) turns up on our mulleins each year between May and July so we have been watching out for it recently.

What a beauty, but oh so much damage! They can strip the leaves and flowers of our Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) in a couple of days leaving them in tatters.

The boldly marked caterpillars feed conspicuously out in the open during the day as well as at night. They are easy to spot, (providing we remember to inspect the plants), and are best dispatched by hand picking (and squishing!). If left to their own devices, the caterpillars are fully grown within about 30 days when they leave the food plant to pupate in the soil forming a very tough cocoon. The moth may not emerge for several years.

Those of you who have visited this week agreed that the community garden has come on in leaps and bounds recently, with the quantity and range of produce increasing week by week. One bed of new potatoes has already been dug, the broad beans are in full pod production, spinach leaves are huge, strawberries are enticingly red and juicy and the first courgettes are about ready. Soon we will be moaning about the glut, such is our inability to be completely happy with any gardening moment!

Our new fruit cage is doing a good job of protecting the fast developing raspberries, gooseberries, currants and hybrid berries.

This is the second year for our willow bed and it looks very healthy and  promises a better crop of willow. The plants are providing a welcome filter for the sharp wind that whips across Dovehouse field with little else to break its ferocity .

Even the no-dig bed is beginning to look more convincingly like a productive patch, with fleece teepees protecting the more tender climbing French beans and a protective cage for yet more broad beans.

Having arrived at the start of the lockdown, the new polytunnel has had to wait before it gets its big reveal but this week it has been unboxed and the assembly process started by Pete. Thanks Pete, I hope you are good at jigsaw puzzles!

All this hard work growing produce will ultimately help in raising money for the gardens. Destined to be displayed on our lovely new veg barrow, made by Allen Holman, complete with cut flower buckets at one end and trays for veg and fruit. The barrow will display everything beautifully and will be positioned alongside the plants behind the visitor centre, tempting our visitors away from their cream teas  (we hope!).

Another new arrival this week is the final piece in our trio of willow sculptures.

Mr P is yet to be installed in his final position in the walled garden but he had a little outing into the Cullen garden this week where he looked mighty pleased with himself! All three sculptures have been made for us by basket maker, Jo Hammond, and  funded partly through a grant from Braintree District Council. They make a special and unique addition to the Tudor garden, providing additional interest for our visitors, young and old.

This week has been National volunteers week so what a shame we have had no volunteers to share it with. However, their hard work is in clear evidence as this week’s blog photos show and we would like to send a huge thank you to each and every volunteer for all they have done over the past year. Although you haven’t been with us over the past couple of months, it is all in the preparation, as I am always told when we attempt any home decorating!

A big hurrah for all our volunteers and the varied work they do for us.

Quiz 

Anwers to last week’s vegetable quiz.

  1. What is the British name for these vegetables?
  • Zucchini  Courgette
  • Eggplant  Aubergine
  • Rutabaga Swede
  • Cilantro Coriander
  • Scallion Spring onion

2. What vegetable do these varieties belong to?

  • Pentland Javelin Potato
  • Alicante Tomato
  • Scarlet Emporer Runner bean
  • Ailsa Craig Tomato

3. Which vegetable was the first to be canned? Pea

4. Ipomoea batatas is the scientific name of which large, starchy, root vegetable? Sweet potato

This week’s quiz

Rather than a quiz, we are inviting you to participate in a ‘citizen science’ project being run by the Open University. Their ‘Pollinator Watch’ asks you to share your observations and photos of insect pollinators and discover more about them.  https://nquire.org.uk/mission/oupollinatorwatch/contribute

The project focuses on three groups of insects: flies; bees & wasps and butterflies & moths.

There are over 250 species of bee in the British Isles, ranging from 4mm to 25mm in body length. Over 90% of British bee species are solitary, with each nest the work of a single female.

bees

Why not take a break from gardening and spend some time studying the insect visitors to your garden? At Cressing our lovely meadow areas should be a good place to do some observing!

Plant of the week

Roses

The roses are looking (and smelling!) glorious at the moment. The area around the pool and nosegay gardens has a number of Gallica, Damask, Centifolia and Alba roses in shades of white and pink.

Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’ (Rosa Mundi)

These ‘old roses’ have been in cultivation for centuries and modern roses with a good scent often trace their lineage back to these roses. They only flower once during the year, but it’s certainly worth the wait!

The cultivation of roses originated in Persia, where an extensive rose-water trade began in the eighth century. Roses were held to be sacred to the goddess of love. The Romans placed a rose over the door of a public or private banquet hall, and each citizen who passed under it bound himself not to disclose anything said or done in the meeting. It then became common across Europe to suspend a rose over the dinner table as a sign that all confidences were to be held secret (hence the phrase sub rosa, under the rose), and the plaster ornament of a ceiling is still known as the ceiling rose.

One of the Gallica roses we grow is Rosa gallica var. officinalis, otherwise known as the Apothecary’s rose. This is thought to be the rose that Thibault IV (1201-53) brought back from the seventh Crusade in 1250 and grew at his chateau in Provins, where it was used to make a preserve that was popular for its medicinal properties. Known in northern Europe since before 1400, its scent retaining properties were much valued by apothecaries.

Rosa gallica var. officinalis (Apothecary’s rose)

Culpeper wrote of the rose, ‘It is under the dominion of Venus. Botanists describe a vast number of roses, but this (Damask), and the common red rose, and the dog rose, or hip, are the only kinds regarded in medicine… (the oil) is used to cool hot inflammation or swellings and to bind and stay fluxes of the humours, to sores and is also put into ointments and plasters that are cooling and binding’.

Jobs for the week

Cut back early flowering perennials

Many early flowering herbaceous perennials, such as Geranium phaeum or Brunnera macrophylla which have finished flowering are now looking rather untidy. Cut these back to ground level and give them a good water. In a few weeks you should get a nice neat mound of new foliage, and some will also produce a second flush of flowers later on in the year.

Roses

Dead-head roses to keep the plants looking tidy and to encourage a continual display through the summer/autumn. For multi-flowered roses, take off each flower from the cluster as its petals begin to fall, snipping with secateurs or pinching it out. This will keep the plant looking good while the rest of the buds open. Once all the flowers in a cluster have finished, remove the whole stem. When deadheading roses with single-flowers (eg hybrid teas), snip off the flower head and around 15cm of stem, cutting just above a strong, healthy leaf. Your next flower shoot will grow from that leaf joint.

Strawberries

Strawberry plants will now be producing lots of runners. Either remove them to allow the plants to put all their energy into producing fruit or peg some down if you need replacement plants for next year.

Thank you for reading our weekly blog over the past couple of months. As the site is now open to visitors and we are gradually easing the restrictions we will return to our monthly blog format. Come and see us if you want a more regular insight into the garden changes.  

Screaming for attention

It is almost as if the gardens knew they would be opening to the public this week and are screaming out for attention. The rose hedge (Rosa ‘Wild Edric’) greeting our visitors as they walk from the car park onto the site is in full bloom and full scent and what a welcome it makes.

In the walled garden, the honeysuckles on the trellis are flowering like never before. Look at me, look at me they seem to be saying, starved of attention for the past couple of months.

One of the lovely qualities of the walled garden is the juxtaposition of wild, informal areas with neat formal ones, as illustrated in these two photos of views through the nuttery and across the knot garden.

This is quite unusual in a walled garden of modest size (0.6acres) like ours, but makes it a garden of surprises and a good one to explore. Several of our younger visitors have been seen chasing around playing hide and seek this week, a perfect pastime in a garden with paths, hedges, bushes and so many choices for direction of travel.

Some people may have been missing the big events at Cressing this year. Not so our wildlife, and there is a bit of re-wilding going on in Dovehouse field, now awash with oxeye daisies which would normally have been mown to form the car park by now.  

The simple beauty of the oxeye daisies in this meadow scene is hard to beat in many ways but the Cullen garden has opted for the knockout, in your face glory of the peony ‘Bartzella’ this week, with its massive ruffled lemon blooms that are hard to miss.

This peony is one of the intersectional hybrid peonies, crosses between tree peonies and herbaceous peonies and said to have the best features of both. They were bred by Japanese horticulturist, Dr. Toichi Itoh, in the 1940’s but sadly he never lived to see them flower. The foliage of these plants dies back in winter to leave a low, woody framework. The flowers, largest of all the peonies, are produced over a long period and do not need staking and the foliage stays attractive until the autumn before they fall.

Equally stunning in my view are the Aquilegias and there are still some wonderful examples on show, this one in the Custodian garden behind the farmhouse.

Most of our roses are one time flowering old roses so how fortunate our gates have opened just as they are starting to flower. Another month of lockdown and they would be over! 

Our modern repeat flowering roses, being historical youngsters, are banished from the walled garden but appear in other places around the site. This David Austin shrub rose, bred in 2005, is called Gentle Hermione, a lovely delicate pink rose flowering along the bakehouse border.  It is described as having a strong, warm myrrh fragrance but the scent doesn’t carry in the air in the same way as the intoxicating roses of the walled garden.

Not everything in the walled garden is looking as lovely as the roses. Our bay topiary in the nosegay garden is looking like many of us at this stage of the restrictions, decidedly shaggy and dearly wishing for a good haircut!

Blossom of the week

Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)

This very common, rather unpleasant smelling shrub in the honeysuckle family was once regarded as one of the most magically powerful of all plants. If you burned it you would see the Devil, but grown by the house it would keep the Devil away! It could charm away warts and vermin and the branches were often used as switches to protect cattle from flies and disease and leaves attached to horse harnesses to do the same.

Elder has always been a highly regarded source of home medicine and it’s wood has many practical uses but nowadays most people know it for it’s flowers and berries. The flowers can be eaten straight off the bush but can also be made into fritters. Known in Market Harborough as ‘frizzets’ (a name we might currently adopt for our lockdown hairstyles!) they are made by simply dipping the freshly opened umbels in batter and frying for a few minutes. The sweet muscat flavoured flowers are said to contrast wonderfully with the crisp batter. Elderflower cordial is easy to make and elderflower champagne, though a little more tricky, is one of the best country wines. Later in the year the berries can be made into a rich, dark wine (reputed to be very good for sore throats), hedgerow jams and autumn pickles.

Not bad for for a straggly, short lived and foul smelling shrub!

Wildlife spot

For me, one of the delights of the past few months has been the extra time available to sit and watch the wildlife in the garden. This week it has been the dragonflies in our pond at home that have caught our attention.  First it was the emerging emperor dragonflies, which climbed out of the water early each morning, attached themselves to a vertical leaf or stem, and emerged as adults a little while later, leaving their rather ghoulish looking exoskeleton behind.

This weekend we saw the first adult visitors, flying over the pond, selecting the best place to lay their eggs. This one is a male, broad bodied chaser dragonfly, who patrols the area while the female lays her eggs, chasing off any rivals. He continues to patrol and guard the newly laid eggs for many days afterwards, perching on any suitable upright plant to keep a close watch with his 360° vision.

Plant of the week

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Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

There are some stately groups of foxgloves flowering in the medicinal border at the moment as well as some lovely white, pale pink and dark pink ones flowering along by the top terrace.

Foxgloves seem to have no end of common names, including fairy petticoats, fairy thimbles, witches’ gloves, fox bells, floppy-dock and dog’s finger! They are biennials (or short-lived perennials) which prefer a humus-rich soil in partial shade. 

It was used against scrofula throughout the Medieval period. Infusions were also made from the leaves to treat sore throats and catarrh, and a compress of leaves was made for bruises and swellings.

In 1799, physician John Ferriar showed that digitalis slows the pulse, and increases the force of heart contractions and the amount of blood pumped per heartbeat. The active ingredient digoxin is used today to treat some heart disorders.

Quiz

I wonder how many of you had a go at the hardy plant society garden quiz the other week?  The winner scored 123 points and Alison missed by a squeak with 121 points. It was way too hard for me. How well did you do? Here are the answers for those who want to check.

GARDEN QUIZ – Answers

Last week’s answers

These four species names indicate whether the plant originates from the northern, southern,  western or eastern part of the world (in relation to Europe), and we asked which was which:

orientalis/orientale means eastern

australis/austral means southern

borealis/boreale means northern

occidentalis/occidentale means western

Sometimes the name is telling us something about the smell of a plant. These plants are all grown at Cressing, and have species names which mean ‘sweet scent’, ‘very fragrant’, ‘strong smelling’, ‘musk-like’ and ‘bad smell’. Did you work them out?

Helleborus foetidus – ‘bad smell’

Malva moschata, Rosa moschata – ‘musk-like’

Myrrhis odorata – ‘very fragrant’

Ruta graveolens, Anethum graveolens – ‘strong smelling’

Mentha suaveolens – ‘sweet scent’

Other names refer to the location where a plant might be found in the wild, so they are useful for gardeners trying to adopt a ‘right plant, right place’ approach! In the following list the species names indicate ‘of the mountains’, ‘from marshes’, ‘near the sea’, ‘of woods’ and two of them mean ‘of the field’. How did you do with these?

Caltha palustris – ‘from marshes’

Knautia arvensis – ‘of the field’

Crambe maritima, Armeria maritima – ‘near the sea’

Malva sylvestris, Myosotis sylvatica – ‘of woods’

Centaurea montana – ‘of the mountains’

Acer campestre – ‘of the field’

This week we have a vegetable quiz for you.

  1. What is the British name for these vegetables?
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant
  • Rutabaga
  • Cilantro
  • Scallion

2. What vegetable do these varieties belong to?

  • Pentland Javelin
  • Alicante
  • Scarlet Emporer
  • Ailsa Craig

3. Which vegetable was the first to be canned?

4. Ipomoea batatas is the scientific name of which large, starchy, root vegetable?

Edible of the week

Oak (Quercus rober)

Apparently the leaves, bark, acorn and even the twigs of the oak have culinary uses. This recipe for oak leaf liqueur looked interesting!

Makes approximately 1 x 70cl bottle

You will need:

About 2 big handfuls of fresh pale-green young oak leaves

70cl bottle white rum

225g granulated sugar

Collect the oak leaves on a dry day, strip from the twigs, wash and dry. You’ll need a sealable glass container that’s big enough to take all the ingredients; simply pop them all into the container, seal, then leave for a month before straining the alcohol from the leaves into a clean sterilised bottle. Serve poured over ice, or with soda water. 

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So more of a ‘drinkable’ than an ‘edible’ this week!

The book also has a recipe for oak schnapps – but you have to wait 18 months for that to be ready!

Jobs for the week

Watering

Well, the principle job has been watering, watering and more watering at Cressing (and at home!) this week. With no rain forecast it looks as if next week will be the same.

Ideally water plants early in the morning, to avoid evaporation loss during the day. On warm summer days, evening watering is also likely to be effective, the dry soil soaking it in readily and low humidity at night reducing risk of disease. Because we have so much to water at Cressing we are having to water during the middle of the day too – not ideal, but needs must.

Weeding

One advantage of drier weather has meant that weed growth has generally been reduced (apart from in all the areas we keep having to water!). Weeds can be hoed off as they germinate, rather than letting them get bigger. In this hot, dry weather the weed seedlings can be left on the surface to dry out and shrivel up in the sun.

Tomatoes

Those being grown as cordons should have the sideshoots (which form at the leaf axils) removed. Do this when they are quite small, by rubbing them out with your forefinger and thumb and it won’t be such a shock to the plant. Once the first truss of flowers has faded and fruits are setting, feed weekly with a high-potash fertilizer.

It has been lovely to see some of you visiting the gardens this week and enjoying this lovely late spring weather. We have plants out for sale once again and the community garden is beginning to produce a good selection of fresh seasonal veg for you to take home, including the first of the new potatoes and strawberries. With more good weather on the way please consider paying us a visit this week. We and the gardens have missed you!