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My Garden Journal 2018 – January

Welcome to another year of my garden journal. This first post is all about a very cold January, but we decided to defy the weather and garden anyway. So let’s see what is going on at Avocet and share with you our jobs successfully achieved.

On my first double page spread I share the new materials I will be using this year and mention that my journal this year will be created in a larger, landscape format a Daler-Rowney art book.

I will keep my notes in a beautiful blue notebook, a gift from a friend and will write my monthly musings with another fine gift, this time from daughter, Jo and son-in-law, Rob, an Art Pen by Rotring. My notes will be written using a bamboo mechanical pencil and pen a gift from Jude’ sister, Pauline and brother-in-law Steve.

  

During 2018 I aim to try out different art media and techniques to help illustrate my written words, tubed watercolours, soft pastels and acrylics. I may also use two of these media together, and perhaps try some collage pieces. Over the page I shall get this 2018 journal started by looking at our many cultivars of Ivies.

“We always consider Ivy to be a stalwart of the Winter Garden, they cheer us up with their silver and gold variegations. They keep our wildlife happy too providing shelter, berries and their late flowers which appear when few plants are providing pollen.”

       

On the right hand page I painted foliage of some of the varieties we grow around our garden, using tubed watercolours.

Over the page I take a look at some of our wildlife and the habitats and shelters we provide for them. I wrote, “We hope that the different shelters we provide for our garden wildlife helps them through the Winter months. We look at each shelter hoping all is well but really we can’t tell at all.”

        

“Enjoying winter chores in January improves our mood, as it feels so good to be outside in touch with Mother Nature in her stripped-down bare glory. Enjoyment is enhanced by the sound, sight and movement of birds feeding on both the food we grow for them, as well as sunflower hearts and “no-mess” bird seed mix we put out in feeders. Birds arrive in flocks, flocks that give some security from predators, that give a chance to share intelligence concerning availability of food and to give extra heat and insulation during bleak winter weather.”

Turning over the page to the next double-page spread, on the left I looked at some fruits we grow and opposite a look at some scented plants.

“Rose hips and Ivy berries are two very different fruits of our Winter garden, the fruit of the rose is flagon shaped changing from green through to red whereas the Ivy transforms from green to black and brown. The rose hips are created from the death of blousy, double or single colourful flowers, the Ivy berries transform from the tiny, insignificant dull yellow flowers.”

 

“Scent becomes a powerful feature of the winter garden season in our garden. Small shrubs can fill the garden with their aroma and early bulbs add gentle scent at ground level. There are few pollinators around at this time of year so the flowers need strong scent to attract them.

The sweetest scent of all belongs to Daphne bhuloa “Jacqueline Postill”, but Sarcococca gives a good performance too. The Witch Hazels are far gentler and need you to put your nose close to appreciate their contribution.”

Hamamelis is the star of my next page and in particular Hamamelia intermedis “Jelena”

“Hamamelis, a winter flowering shrub we would never be without, with its brightly coloured and scented flowers in yellows, oranges and reds. Each flower is a burst of delicate ribbons bursting from a purple centre. We grow the deep orange flowered “Jelena” and the deep red flowered “Diane”, with Jelena  flowering early at the beginning of January and Diane coming into bloom weeks later.”

    

” There are still plenty of jobs to enjoy in the garden here in January. Nothing is more satisfying than wrapping up warm and defying the weather, going outside with a mug of warming coffee in gloved hands. It makes us true gardeners! We are helped by a Robin who accompanies us enjoying any grubs we unearth and his watery winter song is constantly in the background.

We prune climbing and rambling roses this month and tidy up Acers and Betulas. Perennials are left until early March but now we remove any that collapse or go slimy. As we do this we mulch the borders with a few inches of compost to slowly feed the soil and improve its texture. Wood ash from our wood-burning stove is scattered around all of our trees and shrubs. Group 3 clematis are pruned down to a foot just above strong, healthy buds which are already showing green colouring. The rich aromas from the winter-flowering shrubs lift our spirits and put smiles on our faces.”

I will be back soon reporting on my February ramblings from our garden.

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The insect hotels in our garden

We recently made a new insect hotel and revamped one of the older ones, so I thought I would share them with you. This post is particularly for the follower who asked about insect hotels and adding green roofs to them. Apologies for not getting back to you sooner and more personally – no excuse except a bad memory.

This is the first one we built in our garden and it has proved very successful with plenty of minibeast visitors but it also gave us some surprises! Last year a Dunnock nested on one of the layers and at the end of the year we discovered that a Goldcrest had nested in one of the holes in a brick.

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We then built a second hotel for our garden critters in our Spring Border and this one was created from an old wooden vegetable box. This one had a surprise for us too as at the end of last summer we found an old nest of a Dunnock.

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We next made a smaller insect hotel from a wine box and placed it in the Crescent Garden. So far no bird has nested in it but there are lots of “minibeasts” especially Ladybirds living in it and hibernating there through the colder months. Sitting on top of it though is one of our pieces of sculpture, a thoughtful young girl.

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And then this spring we added yet another insect hotel, this time we constructed it in our Freda Garden and placed two small log piles on each side of it to attract Violet Ground Beetles who we hope will eat the slug eggs in the ground.

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On our allotment we made an insect home with a green roof to add further interest and another habitat. We grow succulents, Sedums and Sempervivums on top of our insect hotel as they have tiny flowers loved by insects especially bees. The secret is to make a tray which sits on top and supported by 4 posts banged into the ground at each corner of the hotel. This means the posts support the green roof rather than putting weight on the insect hotel itself.

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Each spring on warm, calm days we enjoy seeing the Ladybirds emerging and resting on the driftwood pieces to absorb the warmth of the sun.

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Croft Castle Month by Month – October

October was a month made special by a bright, colourful Indian Summer. It made our tenth monthly visit to the gardens at Croft Castle special. Without realising it we had chosen the week when the property were putting on a Halloween trail for the children. The trail sheet encouraged the youngsters to search for clues, so naturally we had to do the same.

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The first change we noticed on this visit was how autumn had taken over the garden, with most trees changing their green cloak to one of yellow.

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The first border we pass on our way to the walled garden is the long mixed border alongside the drive.

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We reached the walled garden which is the best part of the grounds, wondering what changes we would find there. Even though some borders were being cleared there was plenty left to attract my camera lens, whole borders of interest …………

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………… and plenty of single plants still looking full of colour.

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We were amazed by the simple beauty of these Japanese Anemone flowers which had just dropped their petals.

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Plants can find their own niche however inappropriate it may seem to us. This bright red poppy chose a spot close to equally blue fencing.

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When we made our first of this year’s monthly visits to Croft Castle we found an unfinished insect hotel, bearing the label “unfinished project”. We looked forward to its completion each month but nothing changed, but on our October visit we noticed it was finished at last.

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We didn’t expect to see much colour in the Rose Garden but we were pleasantly surprised by delicately scented Rose blooms and the supporting cast of perennials.

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The veggie beds were still providing late season crops with leeks looking particularly tasty. On the old apple trees clumps of Mistletoe had found a home.

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We found this extra bright colour combination which lit up the whole walled garden.

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Another Halloween activity for the children was to find big pumpkins hidden around the gardens. Naturally the children in us tempted us to find them too.

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As the seasons move on towards the year’s end signs of plants closing down have appeared. Seed heads are so beautiful at this time of year. They look even better if touched by the hand of Jack Frost.

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Our next visit will be the penultimate visit of the year. By then the effects of autumnal weather will cover the garden.

 

 

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The wildlife pond and hide at BAC – part two

As promised we make a return visit to see the work we have been doing on the development of our pond and hide at our allotment site, Bowbrook Allotment Community. In this part we shall look at our hide, some tree surgery and our new duck tube.

So first let us return to our new hide. If you remember those pictures of us rolling the battered and rather shaky old shed you will be surprised by the photos of it finished. So how about a before and after pair of pics? We made the hide for our allotment youngsters, our Roots and Shoots group, to give them the chance to secretly and quietly watch the life of our pond. With this in mind we set to work on our renovation which took an amazingly large number of volunteer hours.

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Whenever we go by the pond we can’t help but smile at the transformation! As you can see the old hide was firstly repainted outside by my young apprentice Thomas before we handed it over to two volunteer helpers Sean and his Dad Vince. They are great carpenters so brilliant volunteer helpers to have on board. They put fresh felt on the roof and fabricated a strong framework inside the shed. They made a concrete and slab base and placed the newly strengthen shed on a framework of wooden struts.

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Thomas returned to give the shed another coat of wood preserver and I added a sign I created from wooden letters. It began to look the part from the outside but even more so once the two men added a new sheet of perspex to the window and added two hatches for clear viewing on dry days. These can be seen in the photo below.

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Within a few weeks Sean and Vince with extra help from Sean’s children had put up a noticeboard, made a kneeling bench and shelf for leaning on when the children used the hatches and window. The pictures below show first the bench and secondly the view the children get from the hatch.

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This is the view our Roots and Shoots youngsters will get as they open the hide door. You will see that Jude and I have added identification charts for birds and dragonflies and damselflies and a poster displaying the life on and under the surface of a pond. We also made a little bookcase from a vegetable crate and placed in it some wildlife books for youngsters. We also mounted a whiteboard on which we are inviting the children to note their observations. The final touches are a pair of binoculars a notebook for children to jot down their nature notes.

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Last job of course was a celebratory cup of coffee perching on the children’s bench and admiring everyone’s handiwork and great efforts.

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Now let us enjoy a bit of tree surgery carried out so professionally by some more of our volunteers, Pete and Mike. As mentioned in part one we have a few elderly Ash trees around the pond which for safety sake need remedial work. Earlier on we managed to pull down broken branches that had rotted but got tangled in the lower branches as they fell, but this day was a day for the chain saw attachment on our strimmer head to get in the action. One large branch hung right over the pond to the far bank and was slowly splitting so getting lower and lower. The final cut shows the weakness.

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First Mike and Pete looked and stared and studied! They needed a strategy!!

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This strategy involved rope thrown up and over a much higher and stronger upper bough, with which they could keep control of the branch once it was sawn through.

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Attachment attached and they were off!

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The cut bough hanging obediently could then be pulled in and dealt with on dry land. It will soon be seating for the youngsters, edging for borders and parts of insect homes and log piles and brash heaps to help attract ads shelter wildlife. We discovered an awful lot of rot within the bough so it was great relief to see it down. Trouble is there are a few more going the same way.

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Finally we need to look at our duck tube! The photo below shows why we need one! A pair of Mallards patiently waiting!

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Just follow the picture sequence below and watch Mike’s adventure. Before we made the dam and changed the drainage around it to gain depth for wildlfie the pond was rarely more than 6 inches or so deep!

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He is a good chap is Mike! What would we do without him? And below the duck tube in pride of place in the pond in a position where the children can watch activity from their new hide. Brilliant!

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We still have further work on the pond mostly planting but we have a plan for a floating island to give wildlife somewhere to find safety and shade. Pete and Mike have a plan as you might have guessed! But of course that may be the subject of a future post visiting our super wildlife pond! One piece of info I have not mentioned are the dimensions of the area, useful I think to put things in perspective and to emphasise the size of the project. The pool is 22 yards long by 11 yards at its widest point, and the marsh area at the one end is 9 yards by 7 yards at the widest point. Around the pool and marsh between the pond and the fence, the walk around together with the planted areas vary from 3 yards to 5 yards. Quite a size!

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The wildlife pond and hide at BAC – part one

When Bowbrook Allotment Community first opened we had a old farm pond on our boundary fence but it was fenced off and we had no access to it. After a few years though as the site was extended on the pond side it was integrated into our gardens and the town council put a low security fence around it with a lockable gate. We then had to wait for it to be released into our care which finally happened early in the winter of 2014. This is the story of what we have done to it so far and about our plans for its future.

Diggers came in and scooped out all sorts of rubbish thrown into the pond by the farmer over the years, rusted coils of barbed wire, rotting fence posts, old metal fences, branches and boughs of trees. The old puddled clay layer was exposed and smoothed off. The aroma was disgusting! Sadly there was little sign of plant or animal life in the pond. At least all this disturbance didn’t upset the wildlife, the birds soon returned to the trees.

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As a community garden determined to increase the biodiversity in our 6 acres there was no question that it would become a wildlife pond. To begin with we had to recontour the area between the pond itself and the fence to make passage around it easier and safer. It was hard graft and took a lot of volunteer hours to get it done.This will enable us to keep a path mown all the way around the pond for maintenance and enjoyment. But first we must rotavate the pathway to prepare it for grass seed sowing as soon as the weather allows.

You can see from the group of photos below the area we have to work with and the work we have done so far, the lopping of the trees, the path leveling and the preparation of the bog garden. The pond itself is about 20 x 10 metres and the marshy patch about 8 x 7 metres so pretty impressive! And then there is a margin area varying in width between just over a metre to about 4 metres. W have set ourselves a mammoth task! But we have allowed ourselves a year to get it right. So far things are moving along much more quickly than anticipated as opportunities have come our way.

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The next photo shows the bog area at the end of the pond where the drainage pipes from adjacent farm land brought the water into the pond. This was a steep sided marsh area with a tiny stream meadering through it. We have piped the water below the area now and re-contoured the sides to make it safer. This area will be planted with native and other wildlife attracting plants such as King Cup, Liatris, Yellow Flag and Flowering Rush.

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We have recently started the planting and will soon be adding far more. Some we will get as donations from our members and neighbours but others we will get from local nurseries once they have got their stocks out. So far we have planted different sorts of Irises, Water Mint, Water Forget-me-Not, Bog Beans and oxygenators. The first pair of pics shows Jude collecting plants from our pond at home and the second pair shows Sherlie planting some in the new pond.

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Several mature Ash trees surround the pond so some surgery was required to let more light in and help plants grow healthily. The bough below was slowly collapsing right over the water across to the far bank so caused us great concern. We had to cut it before it fell! We need to look after the health and safety of our members. I shall show this work in part two.

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We have put up nest boxes, created a bird feeding station and are creating lots of mini-beast and amphibian habitats. Several are up in the group of Ashes that border one end of the pond.

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We have created extra wildlife habitats and shelters along the perimeter fence creating them from recycled items and natural materials. 2015 03 16_99872015 03 16_9988 2015 03 16_9989          Probably one of the most exciting elements of the whole project has been the creation of a bird hide for the children to use. This began as a battered old shed donated to us by a plot holder and transformed into a rather fine hide complete with a noticeboard for recording,some identification charts and a small library of identification books. Two plotholders, Sean and his dad Vince volunteered to carry out the conversion and soon other family members joined in. The finished hide was way beyond our expectations as they managed to fit a kneeling bench down the one side to enable children to look through the hatches they had constructed. For wet days when the hatches need to stay closed they added a perspex window. All this from my very simple plans and drawings!

Here we are moving the old shed from one side of the site to the other in true Roman style, rolling it along on round stakes. It proved a great adventure as it kept trying to change shape and the door constantly flew open.

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And here is the shed now transformed into a hide, just like the ugly duckling turning into a swan. The rest of the story of how the transformation came about will be in part two.

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Wherever the pathway gets close to the bank we have planted a low boundary hedge from willows harvested on site and have woven whips of different coloured willows from the brightest yellow to the darkest black  through it. Similarly at the outlet end where water drains to prevent flooding, we have a steep area bank which we have given a similar low willow fence and we are slowly planting up the slopes with small ground covering shrubs that also attract bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

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We stored the willow prunings we had after coppicing and pollarding our “Withy Bed”. The photo shows these awaiting action and illustrate just how many colours of willow we have to play with

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A recent job was to make barley straw pouches to drop in the water to help keep down the growth of algae and blanket weed – a good organic solution. Look closely at the picture below to see if you can spot one.

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We know there are some critters who are looking forward to us finishing or at least being somewhere near a livable place for them. the resident group of Weasels, our Mallard families and the site’s frogs. We must pamper to their needs as they entertain us and do much of our pest controlling.

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The bird in the fourth of the above photos though arrived amid mixed feelings from us all. Our Grey Heron is most definitely a handsome bird but he is a threat to our fish. We have a small population of native Rudd in the pond brought in as eggs on the feet of the ducks. Sadly until we get some plant cover for them to seek refuge beneath they will soon be wiped out by the Heron. The photo was taken on a member’s mobile phone through our green fence.

In part two we will look at details of how the hide ended up, some of our tree surgery work and the adventures we had putting in our duck tube.

 

 

 

 

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Wildlife Homes and Green Men

When we opened our garden last August under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme and appeared in its famous Yellow Book we included in our details that we welcomed children. We were aware that few gardens make this obvious so we decided to reverse the trend. We made a few quiz sheets available for them to encourage them to look closely. They were very popular and most youngsters had a go. Some were very determined to find everything on the sheets. Great fun!

One quiz sheet featured our little collection of “green men” which we have scattered around the garden, some of which are hard to find.

The other invited our children visitors to seek out the large variteies of wildlife homes, shelters and nesting places.

I thought you might like to see the photos of the green men and our wildlife features. Amongst the green men is a definite intruder who lives in our Japanese Garden on the trunk of the Salix flexuosa.

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So now to our huge variety of wildlife features all designed and carefully placed to welcome all sorts of creatures, large and small.

Places for our feathered friends to roost and nest ………………

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Places for beetles, invertebrates and amphibians ……………………….

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Places for bees, lacewing and ladybirds ……………..

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Places for all sorts of beneficial creatures – whoever wishes to drop in ……………………

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We will have to think up some more quizes for our young visitors later this year.

 

 

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A Wonderful Community Garden

Returning from a few days away down south we made a diversion from the direct route home to visit a community garden in the Wiltshire town of Swindon, a town renowned in its heyday for manufacturing everything to do with railways at their peak in the era of steam.

As Jude, aka The Undergardener or Mrs Greenbench, and I are involved in running an allotment community garden we were keen to see what was going on at TWIGS, another community garden which like us open under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme.

TWIGS stands for Therapeutic Work in Gardening in Swindon, which proved to be a perfect reflection of what goes on in what we discovered to be an amazing and caring enterprise.

It was hard to find even though the directions in the NGS’s Yellow Book made it look simple. We navigated our way around the bypass searching for the right exits and often failing, until we found the right district. We wriggled through industrial and business parks in search of a garden centre which shared its grounds with TWIGS.

When we successfully arrived were welcomed by this cheerful planter alongside the gateway in. Once inside we immediately spotted colourful borders and rows of busy polytunnels.

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Come around with us now as we wander the paths of TWIGS discovering their wonderful work.

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The staff and volunteers here help their clients who have problems of all sorts, to regain their pride and confidence through raising plants, looking after chickens, making bird boxes and insect homes, creating gardens and crafting sculptures and much more. The plants raised are used both in the gardens and for sale in the little nursery and the nestboxes and insect homes are found around the site to encourage wildlife as well as for sale to visitors.

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The gardens themselves are peaceful places, calm and quiet and great places to relax in or retreat to. The gardens are managed using organic approaches and in partnership with nature. They must have such a strong effect on those who care for them or like us just visit them.

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There were some original ideas here too created by the clients, such as this sedum planter.

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We found wandering around TWIGS a most enjoyable, relaxing and enlightening experience. It shows what can be achieved by dedicated people who want to use gardening and working with nature to improve the lives of others. It was good to visit another community garden which proved to be very different to our own at Bowbrook Allotment Community.I shall finish with this set of pictures which illustrate what TWIGS is all about. A sunken retreat had been designed by an artist in residence and built by the TWIGS clients using all recycled materials. It is a peaceful place to sit and widlife has found homes within it.

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A Garden in January – Trentham – Part Two

Welcome back to Trentham in January where we find ourselves in the part of the garden featuring the Italian Garden re-designed by Tom Stuart-Smith.

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From the raised terraces of the Italian Parterre we can see how symmetrical and rigid the structure is. Tom Stuart-Smith has designed a brilliant garden within this structure using grasses and perennials similar to those used by Piet Oudolf. If anything the planting is more varied. The impressive thing about his design is the way soft flowing plant combinations can look so good in a formal setting.

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I always particularly like these corner beds with their plantings of low grasses, sedum, phlomis, marjoram and knautia. The little box edging is a most effective foil for the softness of the planting.

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Our walk around Tom Stuart-Smiths plantings was interrupted by a shower of freezing rain accompanied by cold winds. We sheltered in the loggia conveniently located nearby. This afforded us a good view over much of this area.

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We managed another five minutes exploration of this garden when the heavens opened once again. Conveniently by this time we were close to the coffee shop which is always our half way stopping point so we retreated to enjoy a welcomed beverage and slice of something sweet. The cafe is housed in a beautifully designed modern building based on a semi-circle. It sits snuggly within a clump of trees. The seating fits all around the floor to ceiling windows giving great views over the Tom S-S gardens.

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The wind was moving the grasses around and skewing the water in the fountains. It illustrated how important grasses can be in any garden, as even the slightest breeze sets them waving.

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Within the grasses the seedheads of the perennials were the stars of the show.

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The garden team were busy cutting down the perennials in the beds which had been worst effected by the winter weather. If you look carefully you may spot the one gardener’s amusing headgear! When she bent over it looked as if it was Yogi Bear doing the work!

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We made a diversion into the area beyond the cafe and tall trees where the show gardens are. We found a few new gardens including a “Stumpery” (a favourite garden feature of Mrs Greenbench) and this row of colourful dogwoods, Cornus Midwinter Fire.

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The glass panels in one of the gardens looked brilliant alongside the russet coloured grasses.

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Close to the cafe is an area for children’s play with climbing frames, a maze, a bare foot walk, road ways for sit-on toys and these superb sandpits. Because of the poor weather they were sadly deserted today but they are usually very popular. It is so good to see children absorbed in play that does not involve screens or batteries!

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As we neared the end of our wander we walked beneath the metal archways of the “Trellis Walk” running alongside the David Roses border. Here there were roses still trying to bloom and others with hips on. The gardens are maintained organically so within these borders we found lovely insect shelters and clumps of Phacelia plants both designed to bring in beneficial insects. Four beautiful relief panels were spread out along the border depicting different garden movements  from the past. We could see through the trellis walkway back to the “River of Grasses” and in the ever-darkening late afternoon light the grasses really seemed to glow. We now look forward to re-visiting in February to see what is going on.

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