Sunday, 25 November 2018

Parsnips, Christmas, Voles, Mice and Guinea Pigs.

We grow a strip bed of Parsnips for Christmas; just a strip bed, they take up so much room and have a long season of growth, sitting around until the Christmas weeks. This week Morgan and I lifted the Parsnips and put them in trays of sand, ready for the festivities; they’d been there too long. The problem is that to leave any root crop in the ground, in the colder months; especially in the field is asking for trouble, it’s a banquet for voles. If you do leave them in the ground then it pays to give them a little regular attention, let the Voles know you’re about, remove old leaves, keep them weeded and generally fuss around them. Complacency will result in the shoulders of the roots hollowed out by the perfect chiselling of Voles, confident that they won’t be disturbed. We now have four large trays, heavy with Parsnips and coarse sand, in the polytunnel which is now consistently cold enough to keep them in suspended animation until roasting. However danger is not far away, as the tunnel and glasshouse are Woodmouse territory; a beautiful white bellied Mouse with large dark eyes and quite big ears, that likes Parsnips too; so fussing about is still part of our duties. To help the situation, our trays of Parsnips are placed on some staging that is isolated from other benching so that if they are to be successfully raided, it would take an SAS style mission by these mice.
Photo, Morgan James.
The variety of Parsnip we grew this year is ‘Gladiator’, the world’s first hybrid  Parsnip, a variety familiar to me as it was one commonly found in the Gatenby vegetable garden of the 80’s, chosen due to it’s resistance to the disease canker. This morning was frosty; but the rising sun turned the paths of the vegetable bed into oozy mud making the harvest a little sticky; however we didn’t wash the roots. When preparing to store, washing the roots of any root vegetable seriously shortens it’s shelf life, rub the thick off for practicality’s sake; but don’t wash. Put them in paper sacks, trays of sand or compost and keep them frost fee; but cool. From about 1977 until 1985 I used to visit the fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Middlesbrough, very early on Saturday mornings in winter, to collect a large paper sack of carrots. The unwashed carrots keeping, unbelievably, so much longer than the washed ones. Why would a teenager need so many carrots? To feed my Guinea Pigs, another root loving rodent.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018


Gingko near the Potager.
It's pointed out many times that gathering leaves is a tedious business; but I like to think of it as a harvest  of a valuable resource. Leaf mould is a valuable commodity, quite often under-rated these days; but here we love it, so much so that we even accept extra loads from the Dower House at the other end of the village when it's generously offered by Howard. There's a tradition in the garden of mulching beds with it after the autumn/winter bed work, sometimes it's a luxury ingredient of our compost and our Hepaticas love a dressing of it.

Cotinus 'Grace' on the Broad Border path.
You must tell yourself, whilst it's raining leaves when you're clearing them away that you're making an improvement..."what would the place look like if you hadn't cleared them?". Wind loosens the leaves and places them in an informal order of drifts, lines and eddys; a calm frosty night results in an in-discriminate blanket of leaves. My favourite view of fallen autumnal leaves is immediately post clear-up, when a light leaf confetti garnishes a path or mirrors the tree that dropped them.

Sorbus 'Joseph Rock' on the Broad Border path.

These photographs were taken by Morgan James, a member of the garden team.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018


Galanthus reginae olgae  in the Broad Border this week.

";but if anyone should have so perverted a taste as to desire the sight of a Snowdrop in Autumn, there is Galanthus olgae, which comes from Mount Taygetes, near Sparta, and flowers in October". (Sackville-West, V. 1968). So wrote Vita Sackville-West in 'GARDEN BOOK', twelve, monthly, chapters gleaned from her contributions to The Observer. The unofficial precursor to Mrs Verey's 'A Country Woman's Notes', published in 1989, and taken from her writing in Country Life.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018


30th September 2018

Often, these days, a milky mist associates with the course of the Thames as it oxbows and meanders through the dewy cobweb festooned water meadows of Buscot and Radcot. 
Wellingtons or well-oiled boots are a pre-requisite; but the dogs plough on through it regardless, the damp earth and vegetation tantalising them with scented tales of the night. 
At Barnsley this dew transforms the lawns into exquisite beaded silver pools, the scars of the summer sun’s fierce glare healed by dew.  
The ground is still dry and we take advantage of this layer of water. If we leave it the sun will evaporate the dew; instead we take a very wide brush and ‘knock’ the water off, breaking the droplets which then fall to the soil. This is a small act; but a useful cultural tactic in getting every last drop of water down to the roots of our lawns. 
Dews are infrequent in summer, the nights too warm; but at this time of year they appear, as do Ralph or I with ‘the big brush’, in our efforts to re-direct the water and do our bit to preserve the reputation of the slightly bonkers Englishman.

Thursday, 20 September 2018


20th September 2018
Photo: Morgan James

Probably my favourite season; especially the start. Lots of lovely things to look forward to....perfumed fruit, amber days, wet dogs, golden stubble, the wood burner at the end of the day and the arrival of the winter Thrushes.

The change of season has been more than welcome this year. It was a savage Summer, the quote when you're going  through  hell keep  going seemed appropriate. The garden team kept  going, putting in the effort and hoping that it was enough..... effort and hope. 

Proof that their labours during the tough period of late June into late August were not wasted is apparent in the garden now. Late blooming of many Roses such as Buff Beauty’, Susan William Ellis' Cecille Brunner climbing and Prosperity' with most accompanied by pearlescent, fluttering Honesty (Lunaria annua). Scarlet hips of the Eglantine Rose are displayed on thorny bending branches in the Temple Garden.

Sweet Peas are now fading, but close by sooty Dahlias Rip City' and Arabian Night' are accompanied by Salvia Armistadt', bright pink tassels of Love Lies Bleeding and Salvia Jezebel'.

It's an ill wind that blows no good with the productive side of the garden being very successful; exceptional Tomato crops , Pears and Apples planted fourteen years ago with their first proper crop and almost 200kg of Crown Prince' Squash gathered in this week. Francesco's reaction to the news that this superb culinary leviathon of the vegetable garden is heading for his kitchen is similar to mine when I see the first Swallow, the thrill of the changing seasons.

Grape 'Black Hamburg'. Squash (Grey Pumpkin) 'Crown Prince'. Apple on left 'Egremont Russet' & similar sized apple to its right, flushed red is 'Winter Gem'. Large Pear with re-curved stalk is ‘Margeurite Marillat', smaller Pear is 'Williams Bon Chretien'. Yellow Quince on right is 'Vranja'. Small red Crab Apples are a variety called 'John Downie’.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Fieldfares lift off stubble and grass or decorate iron grey hawthorn hedges, perfectly colour coordinated, often accompanied by Redwings, that dapper little Thrush. These are the birds of open winter country, only dropping into gardens when rural supplies dwindle; in gardens they'll tidy up windfall apples and dine on food put out by generous bird feeders. In the meantime their constant chatter and high pitched 'seeps' punctuate top farm. Down by Poultmoor Copse I once saw a Sparrow Hawk swoop over a hedge and ambush a Fieldfare, whilst the hawk tackled the large thrush, a Buzzard dropped down out of a nearby tree and tried to take the Fieldfare for an easy meal. In the melee the Fieldfare escaped, hedgerow theatre!
In the garden yesterday, it was a different soundtrack....Nuthatch, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robin; we'll have to wait a little later for Chaffinch and Blackbird. These birds tend to shun the open country and made it feel almost spring like; but Laurie Lee puts it perfectly.....'The first imitations (of spring) come as early as January, several months ahead of their time, when a sudden breath of warm air can release a quick prelude of birdsong, valiant; but half deceived'. Rosa, one of my daughters, bought me a collection of Laurie Lee essays for Christmas, it's a real gem and I also had a good frosty walk in the Slad Valley followed by a couple of pints in the Woolpack last week too.
However in the soil spring has started, Winter Aconites are erupting and everywhere the thrusting shoots of bulbs puncture soil and grass. Plants of interest range from Galanthus (Snowdrop Genus) 'Rodmarton' and 'Elwessii' as well as the softly spicy fragrant shrub Winter sweet (Chimonanthes praecox). On it's way is our magnificent Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) with it's tiny scarlet sea anemonesque flower.

Chimonanthes praecox or 'Winter Sweet'. This one against the South/Eastish side of Barnsley House.

Well, I confess, the preceding words were written some weeks ago and now seem slightly tardy; but we have had a very mild winter (up to now) and the next couple of weeks could prove more seasonal. The Redwings and Fieldfares are still about in great numbers and geese graze the fields that flank the Thames. Chaffinches and Blackbirds are now singing.


Sunday, 27 November 2016

We've had a lot of rain over the last few weeks or you would think that? The pond at the top of the field is still very low and although I got loamy hands planting Tulips in Beds 1& 2 the other day; once I'd got past two inches it was dry. At least it's stopped raining and the week ahead is going to begin brighter, colder and drier; leaves too have eased off, allowing us to get bed work done and spread the result of last year's leaves on the borders. 
Another Snowdrop on it's way....Galanthus 'Elwessii', flowering around Christmas time, followed by large grey/green strappy leaves in early Spring. A few clumps around the garden, this particular one in Bed 2, just to the right of the steps as you leave the dining room and enter the garden.
The battle of Barnsley House...'war map'.
"What do you do in the Winter?" A common question and the answer is quite simple.....we direct the garden using the 'dormant' months to make changes that the growing season won't let us. Growing and dormant seasons are both busy periods; but different tasks performed e.g the growing season is a high speed cycle of mow, edge, water, clip; whereas dormant periods are spent moving plants around within the borders, tackling perennial weeds, removing shrubs that have grown out of scale as well as planting bulbs. As can be seen from the potting shed white board above the jobs are varied, all gardeners encouraged to write notes for themselves relating to their jobs which also gives some idea to other team members, it also allows the head gardener to give information such as planting locations of bulbs etc with sketch plans.
Sorbus 'Joseph Rock', a yellow berried Mountain Ash and particular favourite of  Mrs. Verey's planted a few years ago in the Broad Border. Has good orange autumn colour too.
I would also like to welcome Jennifer (Jen') Danbury to Barnsley House, she is at the end of her first month as the new Barnsley House Deputy Head Gardener and we are very happy to have her here. She came to us after five years at  Highgrove where her title was 'Ornamental Gardener (House)'. I'm sure she will bring another layer of experience and knowledge to an already knowledgeable and enthusiastic team, helping us to propel Barnsley House, vibrantly, into the next few years.