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Garden Newsletter: June

I know it’s not quite June yet, but as you may recall, the Sunday meeting is a week earlier than usual this month, and as the newsletter always just precedes this meeting, well, here it is! The last month has been a very busy one, and many thanks to all of you who have helped keep the garden vegetation under control. We have had a great many compliments about the garden, so we can be justly proud of our achievements…. But we need to keep up the hard work!

We had a most enjoyable outing at Rousham, near Oxford. This garden was constructed by William Kent in the late 1730’s and early 1740’s, and consisted of a cleverly designed route around 16 acres opening up a number of vistas (or view line) and having objects of significance to conjure up various moods- and underlying theme was that of melancholy, as General Dormer knew he was dying. So can we presume that Gilbert White would have known about it, as he was at college only a few miles away in Oxford.? His garden design certainly had similarities, (although it would seem, nothing melancholy!) if on a much less lavish scale. Gilbert had around seven acres to the 16 of Rousham, but this had to fulfil other functions too- agricultural fields, orchards, kitchen gardens, flower borders…so although he tried to construct vistas they had to fit in with these uses as well. One particular point about Gilbert’s garden is that there is no record of any particular route around it- was there ever one? In this case it would involve a walk around the village, as White took over hanger, hills and lythes as his landscape. Certainly White’s description of the garden to his friend Mulso (sadly the letters are lost) wouldn’t have necessarily solved the problem, as Mulso replies ‘clear me up…. for I am lost in ye grandeur of your outlets & ye multiplicity of your improvements’. White is certainly using land that he doesn’t own as part of his landscape effect, as indeed did Kent for General Dormer, agreeing with a neighbour to erect a two dimensional arch in a suitable vista in a field on a distant hill. Just as White erected hermitages, alcoves and a Turkish tent on land that didn’t belong to him! I suppose you could construct mutual vistas between houses, so that viewed from either direction you had a striking vista? I wonder if that was ever done? But I digress.

The vegetation of the Dining Room Shrubbery has expanded! All to the good in this case, as it was looking rather untidy towards the back, where we had taken out the viburnums, but now it’s full of columbines, yellow summer jasmine (Jasminum fruticans) and the purple and white rocket: this should be succeeded by a plentiful supply of both pink and white rose bay willow herb! Also promising well are strong clumps of campanulas, and martagon lilies in bud at either end of the bed. The Groundsel tree is now about 6ft tall after its drastic pruning. Columbines are also flowering amidst the six hills giant catmint, quite a happy combination to my mind, but one that will need to be controlled! Bright clumps of the long flowering yellow fumitory, or corydalis brighten corners by the door.

Sadly the bulb border has now finished flowering, and Mike has carefully cleared the rows of bulbs out- all that is except the Crown Imperials, which are planted deeply and we leave in as they resent disturbance. We also want to collect the seeds, which are not yet ripe. Nearby, by the fire-escape we have a good selection of plants for sale, and have even been selling some of the smaller pots of auriculas. I went to the Chelsea flower show today and purchased some more fancy varieties. A consolation for all those seedlings I lost to the slugs! Also at Chelsea we chose some more striped tulips for next years display- this years lasted well until the hotter weather arrived! Miller lists 41 early varieties of tulip, but says the later blooming sorts ‘are so numerous, that… it would be no purpose to attempt to give a catalogue of them’ The current Plant Finder lists well over 1,000 types- species, varieties and cultivars: it certainly is, and has been, a very variable plant! Also here in pots is a fine display of Venus’s navelwort, Omphalodes linifolia, self seeded in last years pots. It’s a very pretty, dainty white flower and a favourite of mine.

There are also some roses out already: in particular the York & Lancaster rose on the wall next to Wakes cottage is covered in bloom. This rose, also known as Rosa damascene ‘Versicolor’ has blotches of pink on white petals, or vice versa and dates from about 1629. Graham Thomas suggests that ‘possibly this was the rose that played so prominent a part in the brawl… in the Temple garden between Yorkists & Lancastrians, which factions apparently later adopted Rosa alba maxima & Rosa gallica officinalis as their emblems. Both of these roses grow today at the Wakes. Just over 250 years ago, on March 23rd, 1758 Gilbert White planted

‘among the Holyoaks next the street in ye New Garden 2 Austrian Briars, 1 black Belgic rose, 1 York & Lancaster Do,1 Monthly Do; from Mr Budd’

This rose then, is not far from it’s original position, as The New garden next the street was very likely to be the garden where the plant sales area now is- in those days the walls were lower and right on the corner of the main street (Gracious Street was part of the main street). The cottage (called Parsons initially) next to the Wakes had been purchased by Gil White’s Uncle Charles, probably in the late 1740’s, and this narrow strip (shown on the tythe map 1842) was adjacent to Parsons yard and cottage.. This would, then, have been one of the most prominent gardens in the village- so no wonder he was proudly planting fine roses there. Later in the 1760’s he calls this the ‘Best garden’. We don’t know much about Mr Budd, from whom the roses were purchased, but he seems to have been a nurseryman used by Gilbert on several occasions. He paid his bills late- Budd’s bill for spring 1757 was paid on November 21st of that year, and the bill for these roses and others in 1758 was paid in March 1759- 15 shillings and sixpence. That’s about £95 in today’s money. This bill seems to have been for 9 roses and some ranunculus, so not terrifically different from todays prices.

The park beyond the Haha is looking absolutely splendid with buttercups- a sea of tall yellow flowers amongst the grass, a truly beautiful sight at this time of the year, with the close mown path winding its way through it making an inviting walk out to close to the hanger and Hercules. In the HaHa ditch there is plenty of red clover and a single plant of purple loosestrife about to flower.

In the orchard we have planted one of two special Damson trees given to us by Delma- of Delma’s seeds – in the marquee of the plant fair most years. This is probably a very old variety discovered by chance by Delma growing in her garden, and is a very sweet and early cropping variety. The original tree is thought to be over 150 years old, and is similar in some ways to the eighteenth century Damascene or Shropshire Damson grown by Gilbert White. The other tree has been planted in the top orchard near the car park. Thank you Delma! Cow parsley now dominates the long grass on Bakers Hill, with flowers persisting on the scorpionsennas. There are a few early flowers on the autumn damask roses Quatre saison given to us by Peter Beales many years ago.

We have been working hard in the kitchen garden, cabbages have been planted and netted, and the potatoes have been earthed up. The new asparagus is emerging, and the row of onions on top has germinated. Mandy continues her excavation to remover the Jerusalem artichokes, which she has been waging war on for quite some time! Jan, Janette and Ian have built us a fine second hot bed, and Amanda has made us an amusing little video of the procedure- you can see it on the museum’s website,  Note the important role taken by Pickle, my dog! Very many thanks to Amanda for all her hard work and her technical skill ! Nearby, we are starting to knock the cutting beds into some sort of shape. Lisa did Trojan work clearing weeds, digging and planting out sweet Sultan (Centaurea moschata) We now have cornflowers, Saffron thistle, Calendulas, Clary and painted lady sweet peas planted. Lots more to come!

We have purchased a towed water tank or bowser, complete with electric pump so we can now water more easily parts of the garden remote from a water tap. This includes the newly thickened hedges around the car park and a potential new overflow car park. The holly plants are doing very well at the moment, but will need watering in the summer, as will the quincunx and the pond garden. The purchase is being funded by a garden grant. As you can see, there is a great deal going on in the garden, and this can only happen with your continued support. And, of course, we need you at the Plant Fair, our biggest fund raiser! So, I’m hoping I will see you all this month- no excuses!

Best wishes & Good Gardening

David Standing

So here is this month’s selection of the hundreds of jobs to be done in the garden  

  • Cutting bed clearing & planting
  • Grass edging throughout!
  • Prune & train the greengage on the Fruit wall
  • Give Chelsea chop to tradescantias in six quarters
  • Stim weed under yew hedges, esp by ex Laburnum arch
  • Clear tulips from fruit wall border
  • Remove ivy from wall on corner by house/six quarters
  • Continue Hoeing & Weeding veg garden
  • Bindweed patrol throughout six quarters
  • Couch grass patrol in six quarters
  • Weed & water Ranunculus by house
  • Remove brambles under yew tree
  • Continue to re-organise Compost heaps
  • Weed pits in Orchard walk
  • Continue to make illustrated labels for plant stand
  • Purchase new gate to replace broken one of six field gates
  • Continue planting/design work in pond garden: add water tub and bee skips
  • Plant up next hot bed, water plants in both
  • Continue to clear cutting beds & plant marigolds, etc
  • Pricking out plants for sale!
  • Plant new herb garden arch
  • Train new laburnums as they grow…

And much, much more!