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Garden Newsletter: June

Summer has at last come- or has it? It’s still rather cold, but at least it’s been quite sunny. As the day length increases so the plants have more time to grow, and grow they are certainly doing!! It’s all hands on deck once again for the garden and the Plant Fair, so we shall need everyone to help this month please!

June is a glorious month, full of colour & scent, but as Christopher Lloyd has said, the trouble with it is the speed with which everything flashes by. One minute there’s just green leaves, and the next there’s a mass of flowers- and, quite often it seems, soon everything’s going over! There was not a lot to say about the Dining Room shrubbery in the May Newsletter- now, well it’s a mass of colour from the white & purple sweet rocket. The pink flowers on the Persian lilac, syringe persica, are just going over, and there are also dainty little flowers on the yellow (summer) jasmine, Jasminum fruticans., as well as the more familiar ‘granny night cap’ columbines in pink purple & red. They are, in fact, all over the garden, (seeding reliably without being too much of a nuisance) and certainly have been in all the years I’ve been tending the garden (currently 36!) interestingly, although they self seed easily in the garden, they can be tricky to germinate in a seed box- Thompson & Morgan, the well known seed company (established 1855!) suggest they benefit from chilling in a refrigerator for three weeks and then need to be surface sown and left in the light- even then germination can be irregular and take up to a month! Some of our Wakes garden saved seed has germinated well in a box in the greenhouse with no special treatment., although it has taken several weeks. Gilbert White mentions columbines seven times in the Garden Kalendar, the first time in 1752 and the last in 1768. He sows them in March in the borders.

The columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris, is a British native- a dark blue, although much variation is possible. Many different coloured plants were cultivated in gardens by the end of the 16th century:

‘These flowers are of colour sometimes blewe, at other times of a red or purple, often white or of mixt colours….’

Says Gerard in his 17th Century Herbal. The seed of columbine was thought to be a good medicine for ‘driving out measles, small pox and jaundice’ but the famous eighteenth century botanist Linnaeus (with whom Gilbert White’s brother John corresponded) warned us that he had known children lose their lives through an overdose. Mrs Grieve her Modern Herbal tells us quite firmly that, although it has astringent properties,

‘it is no longer used’

From a cut flower perspective, Sarah Raven tells us that

‘they only last three to four days in water’

but

‘they make elegant and delicate cut flowers’

although she is her referring to modern hybrids. The commonly found purple-black ones ‘are lovely mixed with black tulips and acid-green euphorbias’ now there’s an idea!

But enough of columbines, there is much else to report! The French willows or willow herb is about to flower, the pink ‘Stahl Rose’ being more forward than the white. Various campanulas have shot up and will be in bloom by the end of the month. Down by the house the six hills giant catmint is in full flower (it’s been doing this for at least forty years, despite being covered by scaffold planks for a good length of time in 2003 when the roofs were repaired.

The Ranunculus bed has been very disappointing this year, despite being planted with 250 rhizomes. It must be admitted they were not in a very good condition when planted, and cold (but not freezing) weather conditions can’t have helped. We do have a few fine pink, red, orange and white blooms, and some opium poppies have been left to bolster the display. There is room now to start planting annuals in between.

There is a definite wow factor as you enter the six quarters- this is because of the great drifts of purple and white sweet rocket- the white in particular having a great deal of impact- there’s some in every bed! The old shrub roses are just opening their buds- the York & Lancaster rose, with its pink and white blotches, is covered in blooms, and some of the old dark gallicas are also in flower. A self seeded teasel gives good textural contrast near the York & Lancaster. The pale pink double flowered Mannings blush is a very thorny rose at the far end of the wall border- it’s in full flower at the moment. I recommend it as a fast growing thorny barrier, with apple scented leaves after a shower of rain. At the moment (and for a good many weeks) I am enjoying the return of a good sense of smell (instead of absolutely no sense of smell!) and so I’ve very lucky to be able to smell all the roses and other scented flowers. I shall be consulting Roy Genders ‘Scented Flora of the World’!! In the first quarter Painted lady Sweet peas flower well as they begin to climb their tripod, and red valerian makes a splash next to the rocket. The columbines also make a fine show at this time of the year. The creamy white, red tinged blooms of the Dropwort (closely related to our hedgerow Meadowsweet) is also in bloom, although some sadly have been badly attacked by mildew, indicative perhaps of too dry conditions, or a lack of nutritious mulch.

In the herb garden there is a dotting of self seeded biennial Salsify- those purplish long petalled daisy like flowers never fail to attract visitors’ attention, and often they will go on and buy a plant, when they are available. It’s really a root crop , sometimes called the vegetable oyster. Although normally grown for the delicately flavoured roots, the young shoots and flowers can also be used in salads, according to salad garden expert Joy Larkcom. The roots prefer a light soil, so we are hard pushed to grow roots of a worthwhile size in our heavy clay- Keith, do you like a challenge?!! Elsewhere in the herb garden is a tremendous amount of growth, the flowers of the Angelica are very bold and the whole is a fine architectural plant. We certainly haven’t got the time to boil up the stems to make candied cake decoration, but if anyone would like to try….? June/July is apparently the right time to start on this exercise!- The roots, and in fact all parts of the plant, are also used in herbal medicine- it’s carminative, stimulant, diaphoretic, stomachic, tonic and expectorant properties are, apparently, appreciated. Time to grab a dictionary I think! The woad is in flower , that plant that painted on the faces of ancient Britons, turned their faces a scary blue- but the flowers are yellow not blue! However, according to Culpepper, if you chew the seeds, the saliva turns blue- but don’t do this, as it is a powerful astringent, far too strong to be taken internally!

I’m rapidly running out of room (and time!) to describe the garden this month, so let’s move on from the many attractions of the herb garden into the pond garden, where the laburnums are flowering and growing well, and where tying in is urgently needed! Elsewhere the wild flower meadow is growing well- one end contains mainly cornfield annuals, as well as the plot by the black gate and urn,- and a preponderance of corn chamomile in the main section (Anthemis arvensis). This along with other cornfield weeds, is endangered in the wild in Britain, so it’s good to see it growing so well. The other end is a mixture of perennial grassland plants which will be fun to identify as they emerge. All of this is of course, on the site of the old topiary hedge, which was removed a few years ago. Elsewhere the greeny yellow flowers of the Alexanders look good against the upper yew hedge.

The pond has good clear water, much reduced in bog bean which had invaded most of the surface area. Greater crested newt has been identified in the water as part of the ecological survey of the site, which is both exciting, re-assuring but also could be restricting to the proposed yard building works next year- we shall see what the experts say! Down by the stone seat Susan and Emily have cleared and started our little fernery. I have removed some Dane’s elder (Sambucus ebulus) from the site, this is the dwarf herbaceous elder mentioned by Gilbert White as growing on the ruins of Selborne Priory. We received a special request from Surrey University for some stems of the plant, which apparently Wisley could not supply. We have plenty and were pleased to supply. Apparently they are researching the medicinal properties which may be used in drug manufacture. In my herbal the properties of this elder are much stronger than the common elder, Sambucus nigra. We await news! To return to ferns, Whilst on holiday in Scotland this may I visited two ferneries, although these were in greenhouses, one on the Isle of Bute with what is reputed to be a 1,000 year old fern, and one in the Benmore botanic garden- a fine fern house with hundreds of different ferns. They certainly are a fascinating group of foliage plants. The double hawthorn, planted in Memory of local resident Pauline Gye, is growing nicely.

The park at the moment is a mass of golden yellow buttercups- and many other species, including orchids, and the winding walk through it very inviting- a world of long grass and beautiful flowers is very special. Arnold has been keeping all in beautiful condition- sadly we have to cut the meadow by the haha for the plant fair. In the orchard walk the quatre saison roses are opening and perfume the walk on a warm summer evening- we haven’t many of those yet! On the top of bakers Hill the quincunx Christmas trees are growing away well, although one with a dual leader needs attention.

In the vegetable garden all is in good order- Keith has got everything beautifully labelled and a good range of crops is growing- but sadly the deer, which have been sighted several times in the garden, as late as 9.30am, have been nibbling anything that takes their fancy. I shall be taking action!! The broad beans are particularly good but many other crops are healthy and growing well. There are two sorts of wheat, some bearded and some not, but neither has yet been flattened by the badger- is it just a matter of time?! All is noted on the clip board, a fine explanatory board which Keith updates every month. We hope also that some crops can be used in the tea parlour, especially for soups,

Len has been keeping the Basons in fine condition. The cinnamon roses are in full flower, and do definitely have a hint of spicy fragrance (My nose continues to function at present- long may it last!) the sort of smell that you don’t get by sticking your nose into the flower but you kind of detect as a general odour in the vicinity of the plant- does that make any sense?

The Melonry has been carefully watered and ventilated, chiefly by Susan- for which many thanks. The frames are full of melon vines with some flowers- there’s chance of a melon feast yet. The cucumbers planted later, and under linen, not glass, are less well developed but coming on nicely too..In the cutting beds we have a good range of flowers and it’s looking more up together than it has for a long time. Amanda, Emily, and Mike have all worked hard here.

The end of this newsletter has been necessarily shortened and so some parts of the garden has received rather sketchy coverage- perhaps next time my descriptive tour will work the other way round, and cutting beds, veg garden and orchard walk will receive more attention. But all in all there’s a lot to see and even more to do, so please come and help in the garden as well as the plant fair- we need you!!

Best Wishes & Good Gardening,

David Standing

Just a selection of the hundreds of jobs to be done in the garden this month

  • Weeding& Hoeing everywhere!
  • Prepare & plant annual beds
  • Carefully mow labyrinth
  • Cut grass edges everywhere
  • Prune rose arches
  • Label all roses, clearing around them
  • Clear tulips from fruit wall and plant annuals
  • Continue to plant tubs of annuals, put one on pedestal at bottom of fire escape
  • Tie in Laburnums on arch, cut grass at base with care not to damage trunks
  • Cut down sweet rocket in quarters after flowering to get a second crop of flowers later
  • Clean all interpretation boards of dirt & green algae, esp welcome to GW’s garden sign
  • Check new Dianthus collection for damage, keep watering when needed
  • Finish Cutting yew & laurel hedge by annual garden/plant sales area
  • Continue planting/design work in pond garden: add water tub and bee skeps bee and other wild plants, continue sowing veg seeds as appropriate
  • Check, de-slug plant stands regularly
  • Water pots and plant stands regularly in dry periods, esp the pots and front troughs
  • Continue to print new stick in labels
  • Remove nettles and make a path by taking out willow hoop to dipping platform at lower end of bridge
  • Ground elder control in pond garden

……………………………………..And much, much more!