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Autumn at RHS Harlow Carr – Part Three

I am back with my third and final part of my posts featuring the wonderful RHS garden Harlow Carr. In the first post I mentioned a willow trail so here are a few of the pieces we came across on our wanderings.

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Living fences made from willow and hazel featured strongly in the productive gardens and some included seats built in also made of willow. It was seeing these when they were being created at Harlow Carr during the renovation of the kitchen gardens, that gave us the idea of creating our fedge at our allotment community gardens.

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I promised a return to the prairie style borders and my favourite part of late autumn borders, the dried flower heads and seed heads of perennials and grasses. The subtlety of colour and delicate contrasts make for a most pleasing picture.

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We left the perennial borders to follow paths through the stream garden which would give us the chance for a second look at the winter garden. Willow is used along the water’s edge to secure the bankside using a technique known as spiling. Beautiful stone bridges take the path back and forth over the stream.

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So that is Harlow Carr the northern jewel in the RHS’s crown, beautiful whenever you visit with surprises galore alongside old favourites. It won’t be long until be come back again!

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A Garden in December – Trentham – Part Two

Back at the Trentham Gardens we moved into the borders designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. But first we passed through the formality of the Italianate borders with their strong structure of low box hedges. The view of these borders, which we get from the top of a flight of semi-circular stone steps is guaranteed to take our breath away. We looked forward to this moment every time we visited.

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Seed heads were the stars here too with a mix of tall grasses and structural perennials. New growth was appearing promising colour to come in the spring.

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Phlomis, having given bright sunshine coloured flowers in summer, were now starring again with their dark brown almost black spheres of seed heads spaced up the length of their straight stems.

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The tallest stems were of a plant we did not recognise. Tiny seed heads hung like Tibetan prayer flags from gently bowing stems.

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As we left the T S-S borders we looked back over them from the raised pathway. Dampness from earlier showers made the path surface glisten and reflect the blue of the sky.

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On the lawned slopes by the glass fronted cafe giant snowdrops powered over our heads. We  always love willow structures! These were made from willow, some stripped of their brownish green bark and were beautifully woven and shaped. They stood a good 10 feet tall.

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After our compulsory coffee stop which, was much appreciated on this cold December morning, we wandered back through the borders towards the Rose Walk. Again my camera snapped away at the wonderful structures of the perennials and grasses.

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Although most winter structure showsoff the many shades of biscuits and browns, silver seemed to dominate one area. Giant leaves of Verbascum hugged the cold ground in huge, soft, silver rosettes. The silver giants were the Onorpordum or Scotch Thistles which in winter take on strong sculptural shapes.

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The roses still persisted, producing occasional buds in gentler colours than in the summer. There was an added subtlety about them which gave them extra charm.

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The sculptures at either end of the Rose Walk were wrapped up snuggly against the ravages of the winter. The Japanese Acers along side the walk displayed their seeds like the rotors of helicopters. The Wisteria which had clothed the metalwork with blue racemes of flowers in the Summer was now showing buds and old seed pods.

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As usual I took a few photos looking through the arches across to the River of Grasses.

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We were amazed to see a clump of Delphiniums with fresh growth of foliage and strong flower stems with fattening buds. No doubt the weather will have the last say and bring them to a premature ending.

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The team of Trentham gardeners were, as always, beavering away in the borders. We have enjoyed seeing what they are up to on each of our visits. They have always greeted us with a smile and a few words of welcome.

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So there we have it – a year in the life of one of Britain’s best gardens! Even though we have made the effort to visit every month throughout 2014 it never seemed a chore. We loved every minute of the many hours spent here. And we shall keep coming back. It has to be our most popular garden destination.

 

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Stems of dogwoods and willows at BAC

Earlier in the winter I posted a blog about the value of coloured stems in our garden. We have lots more up in the community gardens on our allotment site, Bowbrook Allotment Community. Now we have a little sunshine brightening our days I thought it would be interesting to see the colours in Cornus (Dogwoods) and Salix (Willows) that we have accumulated in our 4 year development.

First though a look into my sketchpad.

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We put together a collection of stems of all the different Cornus and Salix  that we grow in the communal gardens and photographed them on a rare sunny day.

First the Dogwoods ….

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….and then the Willows.

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Willow Features at Bowbrook Allotment Community

At our allotment site, Bowbrook Allotment Community usually known as BAC, we feature willows in several areas of our communal green spaces.

The first to be created was a Willow Dome. Within the dome is a raised turf bench where children sit to have stories read to them and play with toys but the adults tend to use it on sunny days when a little dappled shade is needed as coffee break time arrives. They too enjoy reading books or magazines while resting there. Logs provide extra seats where youngsters can explore trays of rocks and search them for fossils. After two years the sides are getting taller and we wait impatiently for them to be tall enough to pull over, tie together and make our roof.

We built the dome just after the site opened and it was the first of the features we created for children. The willow all came from cuttings taken from a willow arbor we had over our bench on our previous allotment, with additional different stem coloured cuttings donated by other plot holders. We created the willow dome during a working party and as we cut out the shape into which we would plant the willows we turned over the turfs to start the raised seating.

The willow at the entrance has now grown enough to arch over into a doorway just right for children to enter through but adults need to bend down to do so. As the willow it is woven in to shape which strengthens it. We have created windows within the willow wall giving different views. The first photo shows the window that lets children watch birds on the feeders so the dome acts as a living bird hide as well, and the second shows the window with a view into the “Fruit Avenue”.

And here are some photos we took as we were creating the dome, showing “The Undergardener” in busy mode and a few as it developed later.

We then had requests to create a willow structure on the other side of the site,  so I designed a new area featuring a Willow Tunnel. We made the tunnel just tall enough for adults to walk through but quite narrow, so that it felt enclosed for children exploring it. As this part of our site is wetter the willow has grown much more quickly so already the tunnel shape has been formed.

Later we placed a picnic bench close by and surrounded it with a circle of five different varieties of birch, with varying leaf colour and shape and trunks with equally varied colours and textures. So now we can walk through the willow tunnel and discover a bench to sit on and enjoy the shade of our birch grove.

The third feature is all willow – a Withy Bed. Here we grow 17 different varieties of Salix, varying in stem colour from yellow and orange to deep green and black. We planted them as short cuttings, about a foot in length, known as “rods”. We planted the rods in the dampest area of the site which the willows would enjoy but we also hoped it would help reduce some of the winter flooding on the plots at this end of the site and act as a wind break. Eventually we hope to coppice some of the willows and pollard others to provide plant supports when cut. The willows are still young and small but we hope that soon we will be able to start harvesting them.

The following photos show the willow rods as they were delivered and Pete busy working on the withy bed creation.

As this year has been so wet and therefore loved by willows we hope to see massive growth on all these features. It is difficult to know whether we should classify these features as “land art” or “garden sculpture” – whatever they are, they are fun places!