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.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Flickering Field Maple leaves amidst scarlet Spindle line the route through the Hairy Hedge, an elderly track that ends prematurely.  I have a hunch that it used to slip into the Welsh Way before hitting Akeman Street, the Roman Road that linked St Albans (Verulamium) in Hertfordshire with nearby Cirencester (Corinium). These days the traffic is Muntjac, Rabbit, Pheasant, Badger, Fox, gardeners and their dogs.
Galanthus reginae olgae. An Autumn flowering Snowdrop in the leaves on the way to the Spa.

Friday, 21 October 2016

A fiery Euonymus on the Ribbon Beds.
The gnaw of the Maize harvester is the sound of October in the countryside and then you realise that the year is into it's fourth quarter! How did that happen? October is a great month for countless reasons.....great light, turning leaves, clement walking weather, bonfires, chilly nights, roaring fires, hearty food from the fields, last year's Sloe Gin, strong dark ales and the opportunity to attack those areas of the garden that need attention. Bed 3 is our main project this year and we've started, in our hunt for Bindweed and a perennial Chicory, forking over the soil and picking out offending roots whilst transporting 'must save' perennials in a barrow to the potting bench. These must saves include Lysimachia clethroides, Aster ericoides, Aconitum 'Sparks Variety', well at least I think it is. This particular Monkshood ticks all my boxes.....late flowering, deep tone blue and no staking!
Seven of our Copper Blacks seeking safety in numbers at Barnsley.

Yesterday morning I visited Oxford Poultry near Kidlington and met proprietor Sarah Smith, I was picking up ten Copper Black Marans. A hybrid Hen, glossy black plumage and Magpie iridescence, some show varience with copper 'capes'. They also lay chocolate/mahogany eggs that will complement the warm brown Welsummer eggs of the young Hens the gardeners hatched out and reared this spring and summer. Next spring we hope to get another ten birds from Gavin and Sarah; but ones that lay blue/green eggs. This is a project started earlier this year to have a flock of birds, up to forty maximum,  that produce a colourful array of eggs for breakfast boiling. I have also fallen in love with the White Leghorns at Oxford Poultry and I think I'll be back to supplement our flock soon. The White Leghorn is a stylish, perfectly poised little hen, out of Tuscany, that lays a surprisingly large porcelain white egg. In the meantime we have a twenty strong flock goverened by Cockerel Kurt and matriarchs Freda and Greta (parents of our young Welsummers) and may have, if it goes to plan, some egg production before Christmas.
Two Copper Blacks, one playing it cool; the other keen to know more about the Welsummers' dust bathing facility.

Friday, 23 September 2016

A great afternoon, on Saturday, spent mooching around friend Julie Dolphin's Miserden Nursery. She's obviously been hard at work with vineries cleared out  and healthy stock now holding court on the benches. It was also really nice to see and catch up with Ed' Alderman, who Julie has enlisted. Ed' worked at Barnsley House and then got a scholarship to work at Great Dixter, he's been back in Gloucestershire for a couple of years now and is a passionate plantsman and propagator. Julie is keen on her Pelargoniums and Ed is particularly fond of Salvias, Julie generously gave me some (quite a lot actually) cutting material of Salvia x involucrata 'Bethellii', a beautiful plant with bright felt tip pink blooms. Ed' proudly showed me a new propagating unit for cuttings which works on the 'dew point' principle, it's throbbing polar light signifying it's presence in the dark recesses of the potting shed like a scene from Professor Quatermass.
Clematis viticella 'Mary Rose' growing at Miserden...stunning!

Monday, 5 September 2016

Summer is over now with dewy mornings; but days still capable of producing a warm glow on exposed limbs. Early Autumn could, quite possibly, be my favourite time of the year, comfortable temperatures, leaves still on the trees and a lower, less fierce sun that casts shadows and lights up subjects from behind and through. Fruits too start to eclipse blooms as points of garden and hedgerow interest, Sloes, berries and hips. 
Rosa 'Frau Dagmar Hastrup'
The vegetable garden is ready for our harvest festival lunch on the 7th, Eleanor and Francesco have discussed a menu and, weather permitting, we will be able to dine outside. Mulberries have already been picked as an addition for a dessert ....there will also be Flower Sprouts, 'Crown Prince' Squash, Purple Carrots, 'Zebrune' Shallots.
3lbs of Mulberries.
I think I find walking across stubble one of the most enjoyable 'perks' of my life here at Barnsley. Stubble means many things to draws a line under summer, gives greater access to the land, holds Snipe and Plovers in Winter and re-awakens ghosts of Blue, Tam, Whistler and Walter,  companions of the past. 'Every dog has it's day' and each corner of a field prompts a particular memory of a past glory, a turn, heart in mouth acceleration, a near miss and the sheer joy of fast dogs being fast.

Walter the Deerhound....a very special, once in a lifetime, dog.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

A busy bank holiday weekend with vegetables going to both House and Pub.

Barba di Frate (Monk's Beard), a terrestrial Samphiresque Italian greens, tastes quite salty and we'll definitely grow a lot more next year, very nice. Latin Salsola soda.
Carrots 'Jaune du Doubs'
A fine 7lb 'Crown Prince' Winter Squash between Sprout Tops & various Summer Squash with their flowers. Francesco's favourite Squash, with bright orange flesh that quickly cooks to a soft, creamy and sweet ingredient for Ravioli fillings or a base for a hearty Risotto. For me I like it roasted in large slices in olive oil with garlic, sea salt, pepper & finished with a knob of butter!