Thursday, 31 October 2013

October Garden Notes

About a month ago I heard them; but couldn’t see them, it was night time and they were overhead calling…..’seep’  ‘seep’  ‘seep’. Flocks and flocks of Redwings are pouring into the British Isles escaping the harsh winter conditions of Scandinavia and Siberia, where they breed in the summer. These dapper little Thrushes can be seen in quite large groups hopping over fields looking for worms or raiding fruit on Hawthorns, Rowans, Dog Roses and Apples. Easilly recognised by their cream eye stripes as well as the chestnut/red undersides to the wings that only become visible when they take flight, these birds are the harbingers of winter. At this time of year they are on the move so flying at night is necessary so even if you can’t see them you most probably can hear them. Another much bigger Thrush flies alongside the Redwings; although this is less vocal at night. The Fieldfare  comes to us from the same places as the Redwing and eats the same food so they are generally seen together; the Fieldfares chattering especially when flying during the day, a real winter sound. The Fieldfare has a grey rump and head with black around the eyes, a very handsome bird.

I love these seasonal markers these timely reminders that anchor me to the world I live in. Spring is giving, it’s optimistic it’s full on, Summer is hot and dusty and filled with chasing tasks that need to be repeated again and again, Winter is more giving than you think; walk the fields with a dog, your senses taught with anticipation, winter is grounding. Autumn is my favourite season, it gives and it takes.
Grass around the vegetable beds was white with frost this morning, framing rows of colourful Chards, beds of Celeriac, Cabbages and Cavelo Nero Kale as well as diminutive lines of filigree salad leaves and Radishes. Winter Squashes have been safely gathered in, the frost would have rendered them useless; they sit on greenhouse staging waiting to be summoned by the Chefs, two varieties…the bright orange ‘Uchi Kuri’ and the pale grey ‘Crown Prince’.

Autumn is the productive climax to the growth of spring and summer bringing with it the afore mentioned produce and the spectacle of ‘Autumn Colour’; but with it comes remorseless frost and tree stripping wind. Gloucestershire escaped lightly with the storm in late October, the gardeners greeted by fallen leaves and a couple of small pieces of deadwood on the Monday morning. Gathering the leaves may seem a thankless task as it’s done on a daily basis; but it does provide us with the raw ingredients of next year’s velvety leaf mould. It is a popular misconception that Autumn is a gardener’s ‘downtime’, just a few leaves and a bit of digging. The reality is…. Leaf gathering at Barnsley House and grounds, Village Pub and Home Farm Cottage. Planning and collecting the material for this year’s Christmas decorations at Barnsley House, Village Pub and Home Farm Cottage.

·         Hotel life…exciting, unusual sometimes spontaneously; but always interesting.
The most important job of cutting back, digging up, splitting and replanting, bulb planting and any re-organising of beds and borders in the garden. This Autumn/Winter I hope to concentrate my efforts on the Winter Walk and Bed 3. Over the last few years we’ve tackled Beds 1, 2 and 4, the Pond Garden, the Broad Border, The Pub, Suite 11.
·         It’s a unique place to work especially if you’re a gardener.
My favourite part of the job is the ‘bed work’ where you get the chance to influence the way things look for the next few years, the Broad Border  had an overhaul a couple of years ago and new plants cosy up to old favourites, Ground Elder has almost been eradicated and just this week we’ve started planting Tulips ‘Westpoint’, ‘White Bouquet’ and ‘Evergreen’ in the gold section along with Narcissus ‘Avalanche’. Working up to that layered approach, perfected here by Mrs. Verey , takes time and is never quite finished with tweeking here and there every year. The autumn flowering snowdrops Galanthus reginae olgae are flowering in the Broad Border at the moment, this recent reorganisation showing them off better as they had become hidden by taller plants that had crept forward, the Anemone ranunculoides will be visible once again next spring too.

It has been a good display in the garden late summer/autumn and now even after  a couple of frosts, heavy rain and wind there is still plenty to see. 
Bed 4 next to the Pond Garden boasts monstrous Ruby Chard, red Persicaria, white Rosa ‘Prosperity’ as well as the rich foliage of Staphyllea colchica.  The Salvias in Bed 2 are hanging on ‘Bethellii’, ‘Purple Velvet’ and ‘Indigo Spires’ the last one putting in a particularly defiant display. Perennial Ageratina ‘Chocolate’ has dark bronze leaves and pure white flowerheads, best I’ve seen it flower. The Honesty seed heads are exceptional in the Cornus mas bed, a very underrated plant and dare I say it people can get quite snooty about it; but it’s purple flowers followed by mother of pearl discs, this biennial works hard!
Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ was a favourite of Mrs. Verey’s and she planted one in the Wilderness about fifty years ago, this has since died; but we have a replacement in the Broad Border, it’s yellow berries soon to be accompanied by red autumn leaves. Also in the border are a couple of Cotinus (Smoke Bush) one is ‘Royal Purple’ and the other is ‘Grace’ which will turn from  purple to fiery orange soon.
·         Red Treviso Chicory and fine Chervil grow side by side in the Potager.

Back to the pub now, squash have been summoned! Then cutting back in the Broad Border.

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