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A Walk in the Park – Attingham Park March – The Walled Garden

I shall post two reports for our March visit to Attingham Park, the first about the Walled Garden followed by one about the walk we followed, the Woodland Walk.

We walked our usual track beneath tall mature deciduous trees to take us to the walled garden. We had a detour to look at the nut walk, lined with coppiced Hazel trees and to have a look at Attingham Park’s famous old bee “building”, the Georgian Bee House. It is a very decorative wooden construction painted white and featuring fancy trellis-work.

    

On route we discovered naturalised Daffodils and native Celandines glowing bright golden-yellow beneath magnificent mature trees. The lawns and borders of the gardener’s cottage looked neatly prepared to celebrate Spring. A Clematis alpina displayed deep purple buds fit to burst. Species Tulips were already in flower among emerging growth of herbaceous perennials.

    

Approaching the gateway into the walled garden we noticed colour on the trained fruit trees, the white and pinks of blossom.

  

Once we were within the walls we could appreciate the extra warmth and protection afforded by the tall red-bricked walls. Leaf buds were opening on fruit bushes and canes and perennial plants were emerging strongly now the soil had some warmth to it. Bulbs were already flowering and sharing perfume.

   

We were sure that the gardeners, who like to garden organically, were delighted at the sight of emerging Ladybirds.

We were so pleased to find the glasshouse doors open to allow us to wander inside to study their structure and mechanisms as well as allowing us to check what the gardeners were up to.

             

The informal decorative and cut flower borders surrounding the glasshouses were most colourful, with Primulas and bulbs taking full advantage of the extra degree or two of warmth afforded by the walls.

 

A quick look into the gardeners’ bothy showed us that lots of seed potatoes were chitting nicely and we noticed that the volunteer gardeners had plenty of jobs to challenge them.

When we return next month we look forward to seeing big changes in the productive borders.

When we left the bothy we continued to walk beneath tall trees along the way marked track taking us towards the start of the Woodland Walk. This walk will be the subject of the next March Attingham Park post.

 

 

 

 

 

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My 2017 Garden Journal – January

It feels good to be back sharing my Garden Journal with you once again. So here is the first for 2017, my report on what was going on in our Avocet garden in January.

For 2017 I will share the beauty, the happenings and the stars of our Avocet garden month by month. I will consider the wildlife that visits and shares our garden with us and see what it is up to. I aim to record the birds we spot, the creatures which live in our pond and the mini-beasts who appreciate our plants in our borders.

I hope to set up my moth live-trap and carry out a pond dip regularly. I will record using words, photographs, paintings and drawings.

jan-03

My 2017 Garden Journal opened with a comment about the weather, the favourite subject of the English and particularly English gardeners, “We were well into the third week of January when we were pleased to get typical January weather, frosty mornings followed by bright glue skies. Fog joined in on odd days. Until then every day was dull and wet, dull to the point of darkness at times. Not a good start to a new year of gardening and enjoying our garden.

Extra colour and movement, and of course sound, is added to the atmosphere of our garden by the birds who visit. This winter we moved our main bird feeding centre closer to the house so that we could observe the birds in close up. Surprisingly this had the extra bonus of increasing the birds visiting, in particular the finches.

Birds of our January garden: 

Blackbird                    Goldfinch                    Blue Tit

Robin                           Greenfinch                  Great Tit

Wren                            Chaffinch                    Coal Tit

Dunnock                      Blackcap                      Long-tailed Tit

Jackdaw                       Siskin                            Collared Dove

Mistle Thrush             Song Thrush                Nuthatch

Turning the page finds me discussing scented shrubs starring in our January garden.

Scented shrubs add an extra element to enjoy in our Avocet garden all  year round, but winter-flowering shrubs are probably the most important of all. Their rich scents, warm and sweet and spicy, spread far to attract the few insects flying in the colder months. In January we are enjoying the welcome aromas of Mahonia, Sarcococca, Witch Hazels and Daphne. The local honey bees are drawn to the Mahonia and we can hear their gentle humming whenever the sun gives some unexpected warmth and brightness.

I used my watercolours to create a painting of a Honey Bee, Apis mellifera, and it was a very difficult painting to do.

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On the page opposite my bee painting, I included photos of the “Scented flowering shrubs of our January garden at Avocet, our home in Shropshire, a very cold county in winter.”, Sarcococca confusa, Daphne bholua “Jacqueline Postill”, Hamamelis Jelena and Diane and Mahonia “Winter Sun”.

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Over the page we look at “new” gardening tools, one brand new and one new to me which is a vintage tool.

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“Acquiring new tools to use in the garden is always a pleasure. Recently I have treated the garden, and myself of course, to a few interesting implements”. 

Firstly a pair of Japanese secateurs, with the unusual problem of instructions written in Japanese. As I had ordered them from Japan I should not have been surprised really!

I painted a picture of my new Japanese secateurs, which was a lot harder that it looks.

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“Okatsune secateurs are the favourite of  professional gardeners in Japan. They are manufactured from Japanese high carbon steel so they sharpen easily and well.”

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“My second “new” gardening tool is actually a vintage piece, a 1930’s turfing spade made in Birmingham by a company called Vaughan’s. The long handle is crafted from solid forged iron and the handle is made from Ash wood. The long wooden shaft reduces the workload and the beautiful “D” handle makes the tool comfortable to use. The shape of the blade makes it efficient at even lifting an even 1 inch thick slices of turf. The unusual shaped metal shaft increases the efficiency of this wonderful old tool. So my turf lifting spade is vintage circa 1936 but “new” to me.

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I moved on to show how Ian, our gardener, used the vintage turfing spade to replace the grass on some of our paths.

jan-08

“We bought the Vaughan tool specifically to use in our garden, to lift the turf paths in our back garden. Our gardener, Ian, loved using it and found it easy to use, a real joy. Now it is part of my vintage garden tool collection, a great addition.”

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“The old turf from our worn paths is soon removed and new rolls are soon down.”

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I next looked at a beautiful totally dried seed head of an Allium, which, with its spherical shape, tends to get blown around the garden with several others. We meet them at random times and places all overthe garden. We are always surprised by their simple beauty. I drew the Allium seed head using just a pencil. Looking and studying the Allium took much longer than the time spent with pencil moving on paper.

jan-09

“The dried spherical seed heads of all our different sorts of ornamental Alliums remain in the garden through the winter months. They act as our own Avocet “tumbleweeds” as wind takes them on journeys.”

I hope you enjoy the close ups of my drawing below.

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By turning the page we see little white birds and colourful bulb flowers. I wrote: “We bought three new stoneware sculptural pieces for our garden, three cheeky and chirpy Sparrows. We loved taking them around the garden seeing where they looked their best. We decided to keep moving them around as the mood took us. They, however, decided that their favourite place was our garden bench in “Arabella’s Garden”. Cheeky chappies indeed!

jan-13

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Opposite the photos of the sculpture birds are photos of early flowers, Irises and Hellebores.

“Iris reticula, the first bulb to flower in 2017.”

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“Meanwhile Hellebores are budding up strongly, so we will have flowers in Feb.”

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January frosts feature on the next double page spread.

jan-14

“On the early hours of the days following cold frosty nights, the flowers which give colour to our January garden, were topped off with cold, icy halos.”

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“Cold nights also gave our sculpture pieces a thin layer of icing sugar.”

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My next page was titled simply “January Frosts” and featured a series of photographs of foliage and seedheads covered in a thin covering of frost and icy crystals.

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Turn over to the next page and we leave the frost behind and take a look at one of our Birches, Betula albosinensis “Septentronalis”, one of the best Betulas around.

jan-15

“Plant of the month – Betula albosinensis “Septentronalis”. This Birch is an elegant tree with an open canopy so casts little shade. We grow it mostly for its colourful bark which peels to expose clean, more colourful bark beneath. This is best described as pale salmon coloured which peels back to show gingers beneath. This tree also produces beautiful long catkins.”

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I collected up some peeled bark from the tree and glued two pieces side by side to illustrate how different the layers of bark can be.

jan-16

Betula albosinensis “Septentronalis” is probably one of the best trees for the small garden and no garden should be without one. Larger gardens can host a trio of them!

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And that is it for my Garden Journal in January. Perhaps in February winter may be biting deeper or we may be experiencing one of our occasional February heatwaves when temperatures can reach 17 celsius.

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Croft Castle month by month – part three – March

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So back we went for the third of our monthly visits to the Herefordshire property of theNational Trust, Croft Castle where we had a wander to see what had changed since our visit in February. As usual we began our tour by checking out that the coffee and cakes were still up to our high expectations! To get there we walked past the parkland which features the ancient Sweet Chestnuts. These old trees were still showing no signs of spring, their buds tightly closed.

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Suitably refreshed we cut through a meadow area on our way to the walled garden, and in that meadow little patches of colour shone out, white Wood Anemones, the purple of Fritilleries and the yellows of Celandines and Dandelions. Amongst these the patterned leaves of Arum Italicum, our native Arum Lily clothed the ground. Fritilleries although dramatic flowers with purple chequerboard patterned petals were remarkably difficult to make out among the grass.

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The long, deep mixed border was showing colour too, mostly primulas and bulbs.

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We walked quickly along the long border trying to avoid the biting wind and reach the protection of the walled garden. When we caught the first glimpse of the doorway into the walled garden we were amazed to see that the little section of cobbled path the gardeners had recently discovered had now been exposed and restored right across the lawned area.

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Passing through the little doorway you can see in the photo below at the right hand end of the wall gave welcome relief. There was no wind within the walls and the temperature was so much warmer. It made the day feel comfortable to wander in so we slowed down and took time to look.

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The long border beneath the wall had a scattering of blooms such as these Pulmonaria and Muscari and the buds on a few of the shrubs were beginning to burst. The vineyard however was still deep in its state of hibernation.

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As usual we were tempted to go through the blue gates into the working heart of the walled garden. We discovered a newly created fruit garden and close by a Rhubarb plant waited patiently to take its place.

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In the greenhouse plants had been potted up ready to be sold later in the season, including this array of Pulmonarias.

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Back out in the main walled garden we found more Rhubarb and this looked well on its way to being ready for harvesting. There were signs of spring everywhere in the protected environment within the wall, fresh greens and reds of newly burst buds on willows and roses.

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We noticed as we wandered around the comfortable grassed paths that whenever we caught a glimpse of the garden buildings they seemed to be framed by trees and hedges.

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Leaving the walled garden behind we followed cobbled patterned paths beneath old fruit trees underplanted with Primroses and Daffodils.

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The enclosed courtyard garden was full of the contrasting colours of Primroses and Chionodoxa. A cheerful sight!

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We seemed to be at Croft on a day when many volunteer gardeners were working on site. They seemed to be enjoying their work and their time was punctuated with laughter and chatter.

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Bees, hoverflies and a few butterflies were out enjoying the early spring sunshine and a little unexpected warmth.

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Our next visit will be in April when we expect to see Spring in full swing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Wander around our Garden in August

Our garden in August is a bright, colourful place full of lush growth, rich scent and so much wildlife to enjoy. Our wild birds are mostly quiet at present as August is the time when they hide away as they go through their annual moult. They have gone to ground and gone silent.

Above our heads however avian activity is busy and exciting. The Swallows and House Martins are feeding up in anticipation of their migration south. The sky is full of them, but the screaching of Swifts is absent as they began their own long journey a few weeks ago. For a few days there is a gap in the sounds – we miss them for their excited calls and aerial displays.

The calls of the young Buzzards can be heard above the Swallows and Martins, as they excitedly search out thermals and discover the joy of riding them. The Peregrines have reappeared now that their breeding season is over so we can watch the adult pairs rising in ever-higher circles until they disappear from view. Our eyes become incapable of seeing them as they become smaller, become dots and are then gone. They have the luxury of far better long distance vision than us – they will see the movement of their prey from hundreds of feet up in the air. A real treat is to spot them as they stoop, travelling down at speeds of over 200 miles per hour with a pigeon in their sights.

Yesterday when deadheading in one of our borders we were surprised by a low-flying, high speed Green Woodpecker who zoomed close to us, just a few feet away. A real treat!

Insect life is flourishing. On any warm bright day a variety of insects can be seen hunting out nectar and pollen. Butterflies, bees and hoverflies are attracted to Buddleias, Alliums, Salvias, Nepetas, Lavenders and Echinops. There are so many Peacock Butterflies around at the moment but you can’t have too many of them. The Holly Blues are much scarcer and flit continuously rarely seeming to settle.

Bees and hoverflies are attracted to our Lavender hedge which borders the lane which passes in front of our garden.

The ponds are full of life with shoals of young fish basking in the shallows, diving Beetles and Boatmen moving up to the surface and back to the bottom regularly. On the surface Pondskaters pace out the length and breadth of the pond surface. Young newts regularly appear at the surface take a gulp of air and drop back down. When Jude the Undergardener nets the duckweed and blanket weed from the pond she catches newts every time. She is delighted with every newt that graces her net. I am convinced that removing the weed is an excuse for her newt catching exploits. In August the majority of newts Jude catches are youngsters.

The front garden is looking good! So much colour! The Hot Border is HOT!

The “Beth Chatto Garden”, our gravel garden, is full of interest with Agapanthus taking centre stage. These Agapanthus were actually bought from the Beth Chattos Gardens nursery.

Early in August the front garden was dominated by yellow – even Jude the Undergardener was wearing yellow – but after a few weeks all the other colours caught up.

In the back garden the growth in our Secret Garden is exuberant to say the least. The foxgloves are going over but the achilleas, lychnis and alliums are still giving us a full performance.

Elsewhere in the borders of the back garden the seedheads of our Snakebark Acer add rich reds, Crocosmias give every shade of yellow, orange and red, Achilleas add subtlety and the spiky Erigeron flowers provide silver.

In the greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers and capsicums are adding sweetness and freshness to the cut-and-come-again mixed leaves of ours summer salads.

The world beyond our garden is changing this month as in our borrowed landscape the hay in the paddock has been cut and baled and the wheat fields turn gold and are being harvested one by one. By the time my September garden wander comes around the skys will seem empty as the Swallows and Martins will be on their way to warmer climes, but the garden will be getting busier with mixed feeding flocks of titmice and Goldcrests, and others of mixed finches.