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Spring into April in the Garden

The Weeders have been working especially well over the last month, and with no rain for a fortnight or so and temperatures too low for rampant weed growth, we have made discernible impact on the garden! The soil is workable at the moment and it has been possible to tackle a good proportion of the garden beds: and area we have yet to start on is the bed near the Gingko, provided we are not inundated with rain over the Easter period this is an area several of us could turn our attention to.

The bulb border display by the shop doors is developing. The pots of tulips, removed from my greenhouse where they were protected from marauding squirrels, are now growing fast. They need to be kept well watered to give the best display in May. In the bed itself, the double blue and the double white hyacinths are pretty much out, and the stately crown imperials, both orange and yellow, are just opening their flowers. What is supposed to be a row of narcissus turn out to be either a snowdrop or snowflake (we await the flowers opening!)- at least in places. A labelling mishap I fear. The Keizerkroon tulips have started with very short, (almost non existent) flower stems bearing the beautifully curved red & yellow blooms, but these may well grow taller as growth progresses. All the bulbs are ordered in very straight, orderly rows and while some visitors dislike this (why don’t we plant in drifts?) others find the display unusual and interesting. It’s certainly how they planted in the eighteenth century, when paradoxically overall layouts became informal and naturalistic when flower planting remained formal & geometric.

Spring April Garden

In the six quarters garden all is looking pretty much up together. Weeds have not yet started into full growth, so this is our chance to get it looking the best it can be. The SE (nearest) quarter has now largely been planted, and the crocus Ard Schenke, planted in mud in the winter, now shines out in eye catching clumps of white. The sea holly, Eryngium bourgatii, is an interesting addition to the border. Although not the species mentioned by White, it was introduced in the 1730’s and prefers poor, well drained soil. Will it cope with our rich clay? The six quarters was at one stage a vegetable plot so the soil texture is lighter than many other parts of the garden, so we could be lucky. It will look splendid if it grows well. Four fine clumps of snakes-head fritillaries have been planted towards the centre section of the quarter.

The herb garden is looking neat and tidy due to many hours of volunteer input. Thank you everyone. I’ve been sowing herb seeds to fill the empty squares. The tiny path of chamomile has survived near the seat. Susan has been amassing a collection of roses- many of them species, that were introduced in the eighteenth century. As they arrive they are being planted by the sunny wall in the pond garden, near the black gate, and one or two in the herb garden. More on these as they grow and prosper! They may well form part of a national collection in the future! Rose & volunteers have been preparing the bed for the sowing of cornfield ‘weeds’ which should provide a bright and colourful display in the summer. The daffodils under the apple 7 mulberry make a fine show, fine clumps of yellow, whilst the pond water is very clear. Laurie has heard a frog croaking in the bulrushes! Hedge clipping here is all but finished and we need to start work on the bottom border near the Gingko, where one Daphne mezereon continues to be covered in tiny pretty pink flowers which have a wonderful fragrance.

Back in the orchard walk the Scorpionsennas are now in bright yellow bloom, contrasting with the young purple leaves of the honeysuckles. The snowdrops are now going over in the spring sunshine, but the clumps of daffodils take over the display. At the top of the orchard walk David (Blacklaws) has dome a splendid job taking out brambles that had become large and invasive- as most brambles do! There are over 400 micro species of bramble, but I have singularly failed to get enthusiastic about identifying them!

In the kitchen garden Keith and volunteers have been busy digging and manuring the ground, as well as planting onions and sowing broad beans. In addition to some fine plots of gooseberries and raspberries, we now have an extended plot of Rhubarb, mostly made from splitting existing clumps. The large yellow crowns had become enormous, over 2feet long and maybe a foot or so wide at their widest point. Some new crowns have also been added. The ornamental rhubarbs have started to sprout, Rheum palmatum has bright red young shoots. But perhaps the most dramatic change has been the removal of the wire stock fence dividing the first plot from the kitchen garden. We will replace a panel of rustic rail fencing each side of the gate, so that the gateway makes sense, but no more. Lots of room for kitchen garden expansion as needed in the future. New gates will soon be arriving to replace the very dilapidated ones, some of which have already been removed.

Len has been giving the Basons special attention, edging and weeding as needed. More rose pruning required here. The Melonry has one bed heating well- nine inches below the surface the temperature is now 40ºC!! the other hot bed needs attention, and Keith is busy glazing the final lights of the two single frames. The first bed is covered with the double frame.

The Dining room shrubbery is looking much tidier than last month: there isn’t a great deal of colour, but neither are there many weeds. It’s really on hold at the moment whilst we see what will be needed for the new tea parlour development in this location. This will be the first major change to the buildings since Mrs Bibby added the servants’ quarters in 1910. Admittedly the 2002-3 roof refurbishment project modernised the inside and repaired or replaced the roofs but made no great visual impact to the exterior. This project will; a new catering building and a re-surfaced yard, with a new entrance into the garden via the brick path alongside the house, and past Gilbert Whites well. In that latter respect it will be like turning the clock back, along a route that Gilbert would have known. How will I describe it when it all happens? Will it be clearer than Gilbert’s description of his yard improvements in 1759? This is when he announced:

‘Finished a broad brick walk through ye new wicket at the end of the dining room & carried a narrow one up by the side of ye pitching to the orchard walk. Rectified the broken pitching, & turned the gutter at the brewhouse door, so as to get a 12” border four feet long for a white muscadine vine’
Garden Kalendar October 19th, 1759
Pitching is cobblestone surfacing. However, the whole description doesn’t make much sense to us today, because there’s been so much subsequent building on the site- the yard is much smaller and even the Brewhouse may not be in the same position, as the plaque on it reads 1765. And where was the dining room before the present, (tea parlour)1794 addition? On the other hand, I thought there was little chance of working out the layout of the garden when I first approached the project in 1980! I do know that there was a little cobblestone path (evidenced from when we dug a hole to take out a deep rooted Portugal laurel) running through the middle of the present ‘Dining room shrubbery’ bed.

As you can see the garden is in a good state at the moment, but a great deal more remains to be done if we are to keep in control once the growing season starts in earnest. This month and the next is when we can easily lose control…

Best Wishes & Good Gardening

David Standing