Monday, 3 June 2019

Sunday 2nd June 2019.

Box is an enigmatic plant in the garden, surrounded by myth, legend and uncertainty….box blight, box moth, when to clip; when not to clip; ooops! Derby Day was yesterday, the cut-off benchmark date for when all Box clipping must be completed, or so they say. I have been guilty of the same torment and when chatting with a fellow Head Gardener, who was a bit of a Box expert, quite a few years ago I asked that very same question…..”when do you cut your Box?”
His answer?.....”Whenever we get the time”. This made me feel human and realise that I was ok fitting it in and around the rest of the gardening tasks. For example clipping the individual Box edged Potager beds when the vegetables have been harvested and new plants are to go in is good timing. Similarly wading in to clip a Box ball that is surrounded by blooming Bearded Irises would be folly and only ruin the scene by the odd stomp of a boot, however careful, wait until the Irises have done their thing. My policy was to cut from mid-May all the way through to September; obviously avoiding cutting during extreme heat.
Weather conditions can sway the decision making process too, as mentioned I wouldn’t recommend clipping Box in extreme heat, you’d get terrible burn-back of the exposed stems and foliage and as for wet weather I clip if it needs doing. The other day I clipped a rose Planted Box parterre in constant drizzle, an uncomfortable process due to the fact that the foliage stuck to everything; but it needed to be done and my time-table was tight.
Blight and Moth strike fear in anyone that has Box and can make having this plant a liability; especially in gardens where it is the principal feature. The older I get the less inclined I am to use chemicals, in my own garden going for a more holistic approach with a soil up philosophy. Whether it be running dogs or plants, good nutrition is the foundation on which resilient health is built. I have three specimens of Box in my mixed border and along with everything else I apply mycorrhizal feed to the beds and soil, even planters too. Alongside this I spray regularly with a proprietary ‘plant invigorating’ potion that’s basically, after looking on the label, a mild soap spray, laced with sequestered iron and nitrogen. I spray once a week and it’s stopped the aphid getting out of hand; also I avoid ladybirds and if they get the odd drop it’s not going to kill them. The box gets this spray, to run-off level. I’m not saying these two measures will prevent and wipe out blight and moth; but good nutrition will help defend and make any shrub more resistant to attack and the regular soap spray will kill some of the pest and generally make life awkward for the survivors. Post clipping I’d also recommend one of the proprietary ‘Bordeaux Mixture’ sprays that are based on copper and lime, these are nearly organic and usually have a feed incorporated so it won’t do any harm after clipping to treat the clipped shrubs with this mild fungicidal tonic. In the end it’s all about finding a system that works for the ‘operative in the field’.  For me I have a Box clipping season between mid-May and early September that is dictated to by the day to day management of mixed borders. Good nutritional health is promoted and pests/diseases lives are made awkward by routine environmentally friendly sprays.

“the greatest facility that ever entered the garden was noticing” Davies.J, 1987. Taken from the book The Victorian Kitchen Garden.

I once asked another gardener, that seemed, to me a bit of an academic, why there were so many different approaches to gardening; but they all seemed to work whether it be Lunar, bio-dynamic, organic, ‘conventional’, companion-planting. Their answer was that all of these systems, when successful, are practised by individuals that believe in the system and are also constantly observing their ‘crop’, noticing irregularities and reacting to them by putting in timely measures, routine measures have a discipline to them. I’m going to leave it there as this is making me out be some sort of obsessive that stares at their garden; but that might be me being a late Leo on the cusp of Virgo!

Thursday, 2 May 2019

'A countryman's notes'

Since passing the Barnsley House Head Gardener baton to Jen Danbury, I’ve had some time to sort through my notes and reflect on ‘seasons past’ in the garden. Here are some spring notes I’ve dug out, from April 2005, which I hope are useful for anyone visiting the garden this year too if only to ‘spot the differences’…  

* Text repeated in larger font at the foot of the post

With thanks to Morgan James (Barnsley House Garden Team) for the up-to-date images

* Diary entries repeated


My father used to say “you’ve got to move fast to stay in the same place”; and nowhere is this saying more true than in the spring garden. There is much preparation for the season ahead as well as the daily routine of keeping paths swept and boarders presentable. The garden changes on a daily basis and it’s always astonishing returning to work on a Monday to see the difference that two days makes.
The first honesty flower has appeared, grass needs cutting, plummy Paeoni shoots are pushing above the soil and Blue Tits are nesting in the eaves of the close (the smaller house containing suites 7, 8 and 9). We are now spoilt for choice with every group of plants having at least one representative flowering. For shrubs we have two large specimens of the evergreen Osmanthus x burkwoodii smothered in fragrant white flowers; to the right of the Temple there is an Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) with its small pendants clusters of almond scented flowers and not to be forgotten is the Azara microphylla ‘Variegata’. This elegant shrub has strongly vanilla scented flowers; but to the casual eye they will not be seen as they are tiny green/yellow clusters situated on the undersides of the older wood. It can be found in the Temple, to the left growing in a pot where its graceful stems and small cream edged leaves compliment the pale Daffodils in neighbouring pots.

Perennials such as Lungwort’s and Primulas edge paths and walls; but most of the colours is provided by the bulbs. If I had to choose a favourite bulb or plants for that matter then Fritillaries would come high up on the list; their exquisitely marked nodding flowers being hard to beat. The Snakeshead Fritillary figures prominently here at Barnsley where it grows under the pleached Limes that lead to the laburnum walk as well as growing in quite a large patch at the back of the ‘Wilderness’, the interesting collection of trees and large shrubs that backs the lawn between the ‘Gothic Summer House and the ‘Hunting lady’. The foliage is grass like; but each stem is topped by a nodding flower some two inches long which can be any shad of rosy purple to pink or white. Whatever colours the flower is it is heavily chequered with a darker shade; even the white ones have a ghost like overlay of chequering.

However the work house of the mid-March to mid-April garden is the Daffodil or Narcissus, as it is botanically known. It’s difficult to know where to start; but here are a few of my favourites. There is a very good show of the Tenby Daffodil, Narcissus obvallaris, under the trees on the left of the drive. This particular Daffodil is not too small nor is it too big that it falls flat on its face under the influence of its first dew. For this reason it lends itself to a naturalistic planting and a thousand were planted last autumn amongst the resident Winter Aconites fade in late February the baton of interest is handed on to this lovely daffodil. Daffodil ‘Barret Browning’ has a shallow orange trumpet set off by a collar of creamy white petals. It looks particularly good in a pot with the blue Veronica peduncularis ‘GeorgiaBlue’ to the right of the steps to the restaurant as well as in a pot in the left of the Temple set off by the previously mentioned Azara. ‘W.P Milner’ planted with a very dark blue/purple polyanthus type Primula. During autumn 2003 the Primula was planted with an unlabelled Daffodil that we recycled from an old tub; however the resultant bulbs produced the brutish ‘Unsurpassable’, which swamped the Primula. So last autumn we removed them and put in ‘W.P Milner’, the result has been satisfying.

With its swept back clear yellow petals and a pure orange trumpet ‘Jetfire’ is aptly named and can be found planted en masse in a half barrel to the right in the Temple next to the Oemleria. It is also planted around the narrowest end of Bed 3; this is the large bed that is nearest to and runs in front of the pleached Lime walk. Lastly the Daffodil ‘St Patricks Day’ deserves a mention and as well as growing in the corner of Bed 2 it can also be found in pots located around the garden. Larger than the other daffodils described it has a relatively shallow trumpet that is ruffled and sulphur yellow, the collar of petals being paler; but over the whole flower there is a slight wash of green. The blooms of ‘St Patricks Day’ stay in good conditions for a long period.

Now, onto a seasonal task. If you walk along the stone path from the Pond Garden down towards the Laburnum walk you will come across pleached Limes. Pleaching is basically a pruning process that gives the result of a hedge on stilts. The sides of the lime walk are trimmed on a regular basis throughout the growing season to give access between them as well as to provide definition; but the top is only cut once a year. This is because these Limes have young shoots that are red and when the low winter sun hits them side on a stunning effect is produced. It is during March when the buds are swelling that we cut the top of the limes. This year we have taken more off the top than usual and we have even taken the sides in more than we normally would. The reason for this is that the Limes, over the years, have gradually got taller and broader, casting greater shade and obstructing views. We pruned the Limes with secateurs and a hand saw; not with a machine as this would smash and fray the ends of the branches. The whippy red shoots are not wasted as Anne uses them in her floral arrangements; the majority however being used in the Potager and Kitchen Garden as decorative pea sticks.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

'Meet the Gardeners'

It's with great pleasure we share the above photograph of our newest Garden Team gearing up for the summer ahead at Barnsley House.
With Jen Danbury (far right) as Head Gardener and Ellie Dunn (second right) as her deputy the ladies are well supported by (left to right) Catherine, Anna-Rose, Morgan, Ralph and Anthony with additional help from Ann & Hayley (not pictured).

We hosted a wonderful lunch and tour with the whole team in mid March - an annual event - attended by 40 garden enthusiasts eager to learn more about how the team work and manage the gardens  keeping them beautiful yet functional throughout the year.

'Summer Snowflake'

Summer Snowflake, Summer Snowdrop, St Agnes’ Flower, St George’s Violet, Loddon Lily: but more often than not it’s botanical name is used…… Leucojum aestivum
A plant of the moment at Barnsley House as it heralds the red, white and blue phase of the Laburnum Walk (blue Brunnera, white Leucojum and Mount Tacoma Tulipos as well as red Apeldoorn Tulips). 
Brunnera and Tulip are yet to hit their stride; but now the Loddon Lily holds sway. It is a jaw dropping plant of the utmost simplicity and purity. If it’s emerging foliage had the slightest hint of grey or a glaucous tone this could be mistaken for Narcissus; but it’s grass green and each dot at the end of each of it’s six white petals a brighter lime green. 

It’s always confused me as it flowers in spring; but is called the Summer Snowflake and there is a separate Spring Snowflake, Leucojum vernum; but the latter does have a broader shallower bell flower, is shorter and does bloom earlier, I think. It loves good garden soil that stays cool, and is not baked in summer such as the Laburnum Walk. These particular plants were split up and redistributed in this corner of the garden in February 2015 (just as they were emerging), when the old Laburnums were removed and replaced with young trees. 
Since their division and transplanting they have thrived once more and are no longer straining for light under the mantel of the scenescent trees, lanky no more they sit sturdily and only flop over when they’ve done their bit and go back into the earth well before autumn arrives.  
The books say L. aestivum is slightly scented; I’ll have to revisit the Laburnum Walk and investigate.

Friday, 8 March 2019

The Female Flowers of Hazel

Despite being at Barnsley House for quite a while and a gardener, before this for quite a while longer; it’s only since I left my post of Head Gardener that I have seen something totally new to me at Barnsley House. 
My basic botany is 'ok' and I know that some plants are monoecious i.e. male and female flowers on the same plant; but from a visual point of view we seem to focus on the more elaborate flower no matter the sex. 
At this time of the year we’re cooing over the catkins on the hedgerow Hazels, the pastel yellow male pollen factories that vape pollen when the time is right and the breeze strong enough. Female flowers?...I’d never given it a second thought until Jen’ pointed them out on Friday, it was a revelation and prompted my curiosity. 
Tiny cherry pink female flowers await the clouds of pollen, this bright; but absolutely miniscule piece of anatomy is the style, the platform pollen lands on that subsequently grows a tube down to the ovary where fertilisation and the mix of DNA occurs producing the nut. It has to be pollen from another Hazel tree for fertilisation to occur, this guarantees a greater mix of genes, wind being the vector and not bees. Hazel pollen is so smooth, almost repelling itself making it difficult for bees to collect.  

The picture below is not good quality; but one I took on the 1st of March and shows the olive coloured, bud like female flower with it’s bright style (not petals).

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Eranthis, Crocus and Galanthus ‘Merlin’

Friday was a good day for the Aconites, glorious sunshine flexed their blooms, offering pollen ‘on a plate’ to the bees that hummed and buzzed; the most transient of scents cupped by the mild, still air. Winter Aconites can’t help but brighten a dour day; however a blue-skied, softly tempered day emblazoned by the sun is the stage on which they present their best performance.

The bees have also found the pollen of Crocus tommasinianus, my favourite Crocus, it’s elegant and delicate blooms belying the fact that it can elbow it’s way to the front and impress.

It can be seen in violet, mauve and lilac streaks along the edges and corners of borders, it’s such a good doer, seeding about and never minds being un-seasonally dug up and re-buried as part of the collateral damage of gardening throughout the year; in fact it seems to thrive on the anarchy. Crocus tommasinianus does; however throw up lots of grassy foliage after flowering that can get to the psyche of the gardener that likes control and order; but we just ‘graze’ it with our hands as soon as it starts to pull away without the corms coming with it, later in spring. I’d forgotten how impressive it is, not only in beds and borders; but in the lawns, where it’s seeded under the Lime Walk (only moss grows here) as well as between the gaps in nearby engineering brick paving.

Galanthus ‘Merlin’, a Snowdrop with an almost entirely green center, grows at the base of the wall, near the gate into the lane.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

It's not 'Goodbye', just 'See You Later'!

The 30th of January, last Wednesday, was my last day as Head Gardener of Barnsley House. It could have been an emotional affair; but I’d been through that in the three months and more leading up to the day, instead I cleaned the pond out and then spent the afternoon with the team feeding a bonfire. 

At the end of the day I took the keys back to reception and walked out of the garden, by the quickest route, it’s no good getting maudlin; I had the best of Barnsley House, for me, and it’s now time for someone else to have the same. I’ll still be in, a couple of days a month, and the odd event, for the next year, to help guide and steer; but Jen’ (the new Head Gardener, my Deputy the last two and a half years) will soon get on with it in her own way, as it should be.

A week before my final day, Barnsley House out-flanked me, putting on a surprise afternoon tea, attended by past team members, colleagues and villagers, I very nearly showed my emotional hand; but I put on my best poker face. 
A quick count now reveals more than twenty five people have passed through the potting shed, many becoming long-term friends. I inherited the team of Ann Farnsworth, Tony Verey and Mark Bayston (friends) which morphed into the present one of Jen’ Danbury, Tony Verey, Ralph Moore, Morgan James, Catherine Blissett, Ann Farnsworth and Anna Rose Critchley (more friends), the team’s grown with the hotel. Through the years wonderful individuals have made up the team, of these I chat on Sunday evenings to Chloe (moved back to Essex), walk dogs with Jo to catch up, attend all you can eat Asian buffets with Joff or have a couple of halves in the Village Pub with Brian. 
Barnsley House gave me a lifestyle most would envy and continues to do so, due to the people I’ve got to know. To have spent twenty years married to a garden and not get to know the wider community, then leave, would have been sad.

I have much to be grateful for from the garden at Barnsley House, from tending Mrs. Verey’s fire, talking with her about Oemleria and Whippets to working for Charles, who stressed that good gardening required art. 
I came to Barnsley House almost twenty years ago, an intricately woven four acres, part of an expansive tapestry covering thousands of acres, soon to become mine and the dogs’ playground. 
I love the garden at Barnsley House, it has been the pinnacle of my career; but life is finite and there are other challenges I want to meet. 
There’ll be no bunjee jumping and seeing the pyramids, just me being a little more creative, having more flexibility in my life for my own garden, daughters and getting dogs fitter; my employers have been very understanding. 
The trade-off is that I’ll never again have the relationship with Barnsley House that is the Head Gardener’s privilege, those magical moments of alchemical immersion into the flora, fauna, scent and birdsong of that moment, the pure magic of the garden; this dividend of the job will have to be given away.

Almost exactly thirty years ago I was sat at Heathrow (feeling a little like I do now), with my climbing kit, eyes scanning for someone I’d never met or seen; but had promised me eight weeks’ work as an arborist in Frankfurt. That evening I shared a room in a hostel with Simon from Slough and two middle-aged Turkish gentlemen that were to disapprove of my coming in late at night; but by the end of the eight weeks we shared beer and pistachios. I lived in the hostel for over a year and I remember the communities within the larger hostel community that it housed; one floor had Yugoslavian gentlemen, another floor Italian and another floor Turkish. Each floor had a communal kitchen and a very spacious communal loos, shower and washing area where each nationality had their own ‘pop-up’ barber shop on Saturday mornings. I was soon billeted on the Italian floor and I remember walking in to wash being greeted by the subtle nods of twinkly eyed older men with great moustaches in grey suits and collar-less shirts reading la stampa. The three years in all spent in Frankfurt was a great period in my life, meeting people I’d never get to meet otherwise, all from making a jump with a little risk attached and it was the same coming to Barnsley with it’s immediate and wider communities that I have become immersed in.

The garden at Barnsley House is the jewel in the crown that is the village and fields of Barnsley, this little bit of England, where  I’ll  bump into Davina along the Hairy Hedge or wave to Austin, a field away, as his quad races on to Turks Barn. 
For me magical moments will still be found in my own tiny garden, or with Whippets, a Cocker Spaniel and a recently acquired English Toy Terrier, I quite fancy getting some glossy black Racing Pigeons from Johnny May. 
I’ve said, many times, that when I arrived at Barnsley House I had a five year plan and after this the world would be my oyster; but I’ve found that plans are only useful for short term stability, they stop the mind wandering too much and keep you on track for the job in hand. 
Three different owners, over nineteen years of flux, produced an evolutionary career path that meant I didn’t really need to change jobs to get that dream post and it’s still the same now in that I can’t quite tear myself away, I’ll still have my input at Barnsley House; but as a consultant. This has been a long winded explanation of where we’re at and normal blog service will resume! To end on the subject of dream jobs, I think I may have just landed the perfect job as (volunteer) Environmental Assessor for Church Farm....... in Barnsley of course.

Alchemical  immersion, hare prints heading to Rooksmoor.