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Garden Newsletter: December

The end of another year! Thank you all so much for your continued support! There’s still a lot of work to be done in the garden, and I know many of you are helping either decorate the house or during the Mulled Wine Weekend- yes, note weekend, it’s now, for the first time, a two day event.

Weeders days this month are Friday 5th, Sunday 7th from 9.30 onwards, Monday 8th , Friday 12th, Monday 15th, No meetings on Boxing Day or Monday 29th! Also no Sunday meeting on 4th January 2015, starts as normal again on Monday 5th January.

We have had some lovely sunny days, but many days have been cloudy, misty and wet. Very depressing. However, it hasn’t been very cold, with no penetrating frosts to freeze the ground hard. We had a good morning with the BBC for the programme called Flog it! I recorded quite a reasonable length piece about the garden with them, but whether this will land up on the cutting room floor remains to be seen! Ronnie also appears dressed as Gilbert White. The programme is due to be broadcast sometime next year, we will keep you all posted when we know a screening date!

There are flowers on the last remaining Laurestinus, (Viburnum tinus), the others being removed because they were so disfigured by the Viburnum beetle. The whole bed needs re-vamping, but whatever goes here will only be temporary as some changes are expected if we progress to the next stage of our lottery application. In one of the oldest pictures we have of the Wakes, dating from 1813, we see a paling or picket fence where the present yew hedge is, and double gates at the foot of the slope near the old kitchen. Also there was a walnut tree

near the stable’ ‘which is usually barren, but this year (1783) produces 5, or 600 nuts. The sort is very fine

Gilbert White’s Journals, 25th September, 1783

It would be good to plant another walnut tree!

Arnold has been very busy making the new display units by the shop doors, Susan has researched and purchased authentic Georgian colours and with Rose has spent very many hours painting them! It job has cost several hundred pounds, but the result is certainly a huge improvement in our plant displays. In particular, it’s a fine fitting place to put our new collection of old pinks, which were very kindly given to us by Elaine Trenear, widow of the late Mark Trenear whom I met when they attended one of our plant fairs many years ago. The Trenears were the keepers of a National Collection of Old Dianthus, many of which we now have so that we should be able to build our own National Collection in the next few years! A real coup for the garden and the Garden Team! Elaine has given us 23 cultivars, including 10 plants of the pink specifically mentioned by Gilbert White, the Pheasant’s Eye pink:

Divided out, & planted round the new garden Mrs Snooke’s fine double pheasant-eyed pinks

Gilbert White’s Garden Kalendar July 27 1763

Of the other pinks, in various numbers, usually five of each, sometimes just a single specimen, many have intriguing names like Bat’s Double Red, Fair Folly and Queen of Sheba. We have re-potted some of them I larger terra-cotta pots and put them on the sheltered display units, along with a specimen of Dianthus superbus in a large pot. The rest we have put in the poly tunnel in a mouse proof cage. I have built up a small library of books on the subject of old pinks, but it will be my pleasure to be on the look out for more titles! You will be having regular reports on the collection as next year develops.

To return to the garden, in the six quarters, because of the mild weather, weeds have sadly started to grow again, so our work is not finished for the winter. And there still remain plants to cut down, including the everlasting peas and some American asters. The tripods for the peas will need to be replaced. I have sown some sweet pea ‘Painted Lady’ in root trainer pots in a bid to make bigger stronger plants for next the centre of the first quarter: they have germinated and made some growth in my unheated greenhouse at home… we shall see how well this works. There are still bright red berries on the butchers broom in the tulip tree quarter, and a few such berries in the autumn (SW) quarter. Mabel & David have done a good job keeping the tulip tree leaves off the plant sales area, and David continues to do a wonderful job of keeping the front garden neat, tidy and weed free! Mabel has started work on the wall border in the six quarters, one of the most urgent weeding jobs.

In the annual garden we have finished planting the bulbs, including a bed of hyacinths and nearly 200 new Rembrandt tulips, which should make a fine show next year. Rose has been tackling the box blight on some of the low hedges here, and we are hopeful with an appropriate spray and careful removal of fallen leaves that we can keep the disease at bay. The vine has been pruned in the herb garden, where at this drab time of year the foliage of the sages, lavenders and wall germander give colourful structure to the scene.

The willow hoops in this garden need, to use a fifteenth century word, plashing. In case you were wondering how I came to this word, I was reading Phillip Millers Garden Kalendar, which unlike Gilbert White’s, is prescriptive rather than just plain descriptive, when I noticed for December the entry

‘You should now plash Hedges around your nursery or Orchard, and repair your other Fences; for now is the most leisure time of the whole year, in the nursery’

Millers Garden Dictionary, 6th edition

I’m glad he added ‘in the nursery as it’s very busy elsewhere in the garden. Although on the other hand, daylight hours are less, so perhaps labour hours were shorter in the eighteenth century compared with summer. But I digress. To plash, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (The shorter edition, in two volumes!)

to bend down and interweave stems, branches and twigs so as to form them into a hedge

Although this generally meant hedge laying, thus cutting through the biggest stems, it can also mean the inter twining of stems to make a thicket… etc. so I stand by my use of the word plash! The word has lots of other meanings too, some corresponding to Splash! How interesting, do I hear you say? Perhaps not!

We have planted a new set of tulip bulbs in front of the fruit wall which should produce a grand show in the spring. The passionflower is still looking green and healthy, and now that it’s got to this size it stands a good chance of over-wintering once again- unless we get one of the coldest winter’s known to mankind! The forecast is for a wet, mild winter, but the truth is no one can ever be quite sure.

I must here record a very important moment in the history of the garden: the re-erection of the sundial! After ten months lying forlornly in the coach house, the stone dial post has been replaced upon its base and is now even stronger than ever. The repair, carried out by stone mason Will Spankie was so expertly done that one has to look very carefully to notice the join! A post and base were very carefully drilled and a threaded steel rod was glued into place, making a very strong join- stronger than the original. The whole process can be seen in a short staccato video on our web site here. As you will see if you look carefully it features Pickle the dog (star of the hot bed video!) from time to time. Many thanks to Keith and Arnold who assisted in the process, Amanda who made the video, Laurie who located Will in the first place , and the Friends who financed the whole project. A similar disaster seems to have befallen the dial post in Gilbert White’s time- at least we didn’t take seven years to put it back up again! One thing I didn’t note in the history of the sundial is when the Haha was being repaired some years ago, and the sundial was temporarily removed, we discovered a huge base beneath it consisting of about a cubic metre of greensand rubble: perhaps an attempt by Gilbert White to make sure that the sundial would never subside. Perhaps that was part of the problem when it was blown over in a gale in 1781!

The weather has been so mild up to now that the grass has continued to grow- the last grass cut will now be finished in mid December! I think this must be a record. Perhaps this is not so surprising when it appears that this has been the warmest year in Britain since records began.

There are good flowers on the wild clematis or old mans beard this year, indicating perhaps that we haven’t been as vigilant as we might have been in controlling it ! Another name is Travellers Joy, which I used to use but seem to have forgotten, but was reminded of it when reading Millers garden dictionary. He has no bad words for this plant, which I’ve noted can become a pest in gardens on the chalk. He says

the branches of this being very tough & flexible, are used for tying up faggots; from whence in some countries it is called Bindwith

Garden Dictionary 1768

From my herbal I see that the roots & stems of the plant, boiled for a few minutes in water, and digested for a while in sweet oil, are made into a preparation to cure the ‘itch’. Mmmm, who’d have thought?! On the subject of fibres, Keith has very cleverly used linen twine to make a net for protecting vegetable crops: more authentic than plastic! More details are on our web site here. He has also made a neat cloche-like frame to mount the net on. The kitchen garden is now pretty much up together and many thanks are due to Keith for all his hard work on getting it to this fine condition again. The Labyrinth at the bottom of the kitchen garden has now been rescued- it had become rather overgrown and difficult to trace, but it has now been sorted out and peter has been trimming it very successfully with his little push mower.

It’s now all systems go for decorating the house for Christmas. Nick from Wylds farm has subsidised a fine 8ft tree for Bells Library, and as I finish this newsletter flower arrangers will be assembling at the Wakes to work their usual wonders around the house. Winter time is a real opportunity, especially whilst the ground is not frozen, to catch up on all those jobs around the garden we haven’t had time for in the growing season, so please come along and help out this month. It’s a very busy time for us!!

Best wishes & Good Gardening, and a very Happy Christmas!!

David Standing

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

  • Cut down American Asters & Lathyrus in Six Quarters, remove tripods
  • Remove green alkanet from bed around stone pedestal at base of fire escape
  • Cutting bed work continued!!
  • Finish construction and painting work on new display stands near back door
  • Grass edging continued
  • Six Quarters wall bed weeding and cutting down continued!
  • Check new Dianthus collection for damage, keep watering when needed
  • Treat box hedge for blight
  • Continue to process & packet seeds
  • Strim weed under all hedges, in pond garden under mulberry, and by kissing gate mulberry
  • Remove tulip tree leaves from Butchers Broom plants in NE quarter
  • Remove ivy from wall on corner by house/six quarters
  • Clear up last leaves in garden where needed- including front garden
  • Continue planting/design work in pond garden: add water tub and bee skeps
  • Continue digging Veg garden using hot bed manure
  • Continue work on Bakers Hill hedges
  • Check, de-slug & water plant stands regularly
  • Expand bed by Laburnum arch with new soil
  • Clear plastic sheet under Holm Oak in the park
  • Mend irrigation system & drain it
  • Train new laburnums
  • Complete new interpretation boards & start to print new stick in labels

And much, much more!