The Garden in May
Well this is it- my last Wakes Weeders newsletter, exactly 34 years after the first one was issued in June 1983. I would never have dreamed all would go on this long! It has been a monthly diary of sorts, and as such an interesting record although, of course, not comparable in quality or detail to Gilbert White’s notes. White kept notes at first in his Garden Kalendar, and later in the Naturalists journal, spanning the years 1751 to 1793, 42 in all. It would have been nice to beat that record, but it was not to be.
I would like to thank the very many volunteers- and staff too- who have helped me over the years develop the garden into it’s present condition: it has always been my ambition to re-create White’s garden as closely as physically possible, and that job is by no means done: may be it never will be. When I think of what we started with, we have come a very long way, and none of it would have been possible without volunteer input. I know I’ve said it again and again, but it is absolutely true: volunteers have been the essential ingredient in making substantial progress!
Somehow the paint of the hoarding at the back of the (ex) Dining Room Shrubbery doesn’t seem quite as bright and bad, but it’s probably me getting used to it! All that remains of the old field studies centre is a pile of rubble in the car park! No regrets about that anyway! The groundsel bush has gone at last (thank you Nick!) and I know a couple of cuttings of it have survived for use somewhere in the garden. The border has turned into a semi-wild garden: perhaps the kind of ‘wild’ envisaged by William Robinson in his book of the same name (1890’s) where exotics spread in a ‘natural’ sort of way. In this case sweet Rocket, violets and rosebay willowherb have done the spreading, with a smattering of cow parsley. The Persian lilac, Syringa persica, is in full pretty flower with delicate pink blooms.
Down by the house the catmint is now about 2ft high and there is a fine display of columbines here. The Ranunculus have been covered with straw to protect them from late frosts (we did have a vicious one recently, damaged young shoots on many plants, including Astilbes and Hydrangeas.) The Banksian Roses are in full flower and look magnificent: if anything there is more flower on the one that was severely pruned last year, than on the one that still needs pruning. It’s still on the list. The border by the shop doors has become lush and luxuriant, but without much colour yet. The dragon arums are 3ft tall with fine foliage, but no unfurling flower. This unusual (and unpleasantly smelling!) plant has been around since the middle of the 16th century. I like the description of it in Sir Thomas Hamner’s garden book (written in 1659 but not published until 1933) a copy of which I discovered (to my delight) in a local bookshop:
of Dragons, or the Great Serpentaria: Dragons have great round and high stalkes, much spotted with red spots, and with some very deepe cutt or jagged greene leaves on the tops of them, amongst which, on another long stalke, comes a long smooth tawney pestle out of a hose, greene on the outside and shining purple within. Unles the root bee old this pestle appears not, which is all the beauty of the plant, for it hath no flower besides. This pestle comes forth in June. Dragons require a rich garden mold, and to stand unremov’d under some warme wall, and are encreast from the roote, which is white’
All correct- then as now Gardeners knew their stuff- but the foliage seems unappreciated… and no mention of the smell!! Opposite the dragons the bulb border is now largely over, the spell of hot weather brought on most of the flowers together- only a few double jonquils remain, with some vestige of colour in the Rembrandt (broken) tulips. Rose has a new plan this year; a change from the much castigated ‘Stockport roundabout’- it features Cannas rather than Sunflowers.
The six quarters are at that green and luxuriant stage without much colour, but a lot of promise. Once the Sweet Rocket comes into flower, the scene will change- there will be masses of purple and white: at least in the wall border, the newly designed SE (first) quarter has many other plants in and less rocket. It would be nice to try and establish again the double flowered white rocket, as White refers to it three times in the Garden Kalendar, and only mentions the single form (possibly) once (in Flora Selborniensis ) Once again to quote Thomas Hamner
‘Hesperis,rocket: or the Quennes Gilliflower, beareth a stalke full of very sweet Double White Flowers in May, and requires good earth, and to stand in a warme place all winter, otherwise to be kept in pots… their sent in hott yeares and countreys very sweet’ (Hamner 1659)
The SE Quarter has some fine purple irises (Kharput) some dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris) and some fine clumps of larkspur to flower later.
Sweet rocket is in flower in the wall border, as is the greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) which many would regard as a weed (including Philip Miller in the Gardeners Dictionary) although he does pay tribute to its medicinal qualities ‘[it] is esteemed aperitive and cleansing, opening obstructions of the spleen and liver, and is of great use in curing jaundice and scurvy’ but says in grows naturally on banks in most parts of England. It has yellow flowers and a mass of finely cut leaves, ours may be the form ‘Laciniata’ which I grew from seed many years ago. Most of the roses are now in bud after that warm spell of weather we have just had, but now will be held back by the colder spell we are now having. In fact a hard frost last week did a lot of damage to young shoots in several gardens in the neighbourhood. At the far end of the wall border there is now a sea of blue from the (ever)green alkanet (Pentaglossis sempervirens) which we may despise for invasiveness but looks marvellous at this time of the year.
The bulbs have been cleared from the annual garden, except for the tulips in the largest section, which still show some colour. In the North Rose bed there is a fine white & yellow which is Iris latifolia or xiphium, which may be English, Spanish or Dutch iris, anyhow it’s a bulbous iris! Here also are the first flowers on the early monkshood (Aconitum napellus subsp napellus anglicum group- snappy little scientific name eh?! Linnaeus would turn in his grave!). Also here is a very interesting Honesty plant (Lunaria annua), as well as nice dark purple flowers each bloom has a white stripe- may well be worth saving the seed – L.annua var (Gilbert)Whiteii???!!) Most of the quarters have been mulched but there is still some to do.
The herb garden is in good order with mints and marjoram being replanted in new soil to overcome the Mint Rust. There’s a new magnifying glass styled sculpture hereto- ‘Look and you shall find’ certainly an appropriate theme relating to Gilbert white’s careful observations. The new laburnum arch is starting to flower! It will need careful training, tying in and pruning after flowering, it mustn’t be let to get too big as Laburnums should never be cut back into thick old wood- they quickly get diseased and die back. Thinking of Dieback, no ash die back reported in Selborne yet, but it’s nearby in Bentworth & Greatham I understand. Susan’s cottage borders are in fine neat order- she’s even added some tiny French marigolds which have braved the frosts! In the corner, one of her collection of 18th century roses the Old Blush China (One of the stud roses brought from Far East and bred with European roses to lengthen flowering period) is in flower!! Neatly illustrates the longer flowering period of these ‘new’ roses. Mind you Sir Thomas Hamner in 1659 said that roses were in bloom in May- was he mistaken, or was it warmer then?
The nearby Bee border has good clumps of motherwort, red campion and the startling greeny yellow blooms of Alexanders (Smyrmium olusatrum) It always surprises me how well this plant does here, as it’s generally thought of as a coastal wild plant, growing ‘up to 20km from the sea’ (Garrard & Streeter wild flower book 1983) are we that close? I estimate we’re nearer 30km to the nearest sea (however, does that really matter??!!) The pond water looks quite clear but the level would benefit from some topping up I think. The Abraham Isaac and Jacob (Trachystemon orientalis) is now out of flower but very much in leaf. Under the Gingko the leaves are 2ft or more tall! The Bladder nut (Staphylea pinnata) is in flower nearby, with creamy white pendulous blooms. There are some English bluebells in the coppice area, but we need more. There are some fine king cups on the margins of the pond.
The purplish tulips (especially chosen by Rose last year) are still looking good in front of the fruit wall, and careful weeding has allowed a good crop of opium poppies to survive and flower later, hopefully before the Marvel of Peru tubers go in in late May/Early June.. In the park the strips of dandelions have turned from yellow flowers to whitish grey ‘clocks’, the yellow colour being perpetuated by buttercups now.
In the orchard walk the scorpionsennas (Hippocrepis) are covered with yellow pea flowers, which they have been for several months. The Service tree, given in the 1980’s by Pauline Mahany is now huge, but the shining sumachs now rival that in height. Sadly though the upper pair of sumachs have died- probably from honey fungus, which killed the walnut tree on top of the hill.
In the kitchen garden Keith and volunteers have been very busy sowing crops. Each drill is now marked with a length of string, which makes identification of where seedlings are coming up very straightforward and therefore hoeing less likely to have accidents. I use twiggy sticks for the same reason. I hope there won’t be a problem disentangling larger plants/seedlings from the twine later? Or does one take it off before that stage? I’m sure Keith has worked this one out!! New netting protection in terms of a cage for the raspberries and a lower net protection for the strawberries has been put in place. And all is in good tidy order!
The Basons are well weeded and have the Persian Lilac in bloom, both colours, purple & white. The name Jasmine is confusing, it was also known (later) as Persian Lilac, which is more understandable… In the 17th century they weren’t sure if it was hardy or not, but by Gilbert’s time they realised it was hardy.
There are thriving cucumbers in the hot bed, but sadly no melons. The cutting beds are looking more orderly, with most of the dumped compost now gone, and orderly lines of flowers well weeded. But this area, like the kitchen garden, needs continual attention.
I hope you have all enjoyed these newsletters, as much as I have enjoyed writing them, and that Rose continues this communication in one form or another. I am sad to be leaving after 38 years, but nothing stays the same and I have moved on to activities new. Not taking on the shape of my armchair!! Thank you all once again for your solid support over the years, for which I am tremendously grateful. I have spent more of my life working at the Wakes than time spent away from it, so it will be missed, although hopefully I shall return from time to time to note progress.
A final Best Wishes & Good Gardening, Farewell