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!
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
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.
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.
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.
- What is the British name for these vegetables?
2. What vegetable do these varieties belong to?
- Pentland Javelin
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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!