Thursday, 2 April 2015

Planting the 'new' Laburnums

In late February I sharpened the chainsaw and, with jaw set, walked the long walk up the lane into the garden, finally reaching my destination. Standing on the cobbles and looking up into the tangled Laburnums, the pre requisite boxes of the due planning process ticked this was the moment the talking stopped. Some days earlier Mark had removed all the wires from the arch and very tidily rolled them up into, inadvertently and quite ironically, a wreath of  grey and rust. It's a beautiful object in it's own right and will be hung with pride in the potting shed where we gardeners keep our 'finds' or what an ex Barnsley gardener coined as 'objet daft'.

Late Winter/Early Spring with work yet to start.
Many people will have their own memories and emotions connected with the Laburnum Walk at Barnsley House......  iconic, jaw dropping, romantic, horticultural alchemy. For me it was a place of solace where light and shade played out on the cobbles, a church like arcadia that could be visited and the day re -booted, John Evelyn's scripture putting life back in perspective. Cutting the Laburnums was upsetting; but it had to be done and I wanted to be the one wielding the blade, I didn't want contractors professionally and clinically laying it low. It was important that the gardeners of Barnsley House invested in the garden and did their bit for it's future; not only the routine important tasks of brush and dust pan, sowing and planting but the hard bit too.

On the 3rd of March Ben' and John cut out the metal arch and then the really hard part....the digging out of the trunks, mud and bullets gardening. The frustrating process of exposing roots with a spade, severing with an axe then onto the next root and again and again, then the undermining and searching for the root that keeps the trunk rigid balanced by the relief when the momentum swings the burrowers' way is exhausting. It's an ancient process that goes way back beyond the dawn of machinery, where tools were king and skills passed down. I couldn't bear a digger being any where near the place, imagine the chaos?! We did have one bit of help....a knot. Some times called a Carter's Hitch or a 'Dolly', it's like magic and increases the pulling power of the team by 2. Attach the rope to the top of the trunk (important point..... if you're going to dig a stump out then leave the trunk attached or there's nothing to lever with) and by the use of this knot you have a pulley that creates two Bens, two Johns and two Richards. My arboriculture teacher David Ford taught me this knot in 1986 and gamekeeper John Brown taught me, in the same year, the Timber Hitch that we tied to the top of the trunks. Even without the digger it was a bombsite and the end didn't look anywhere near, just mess, I was twitchy.

A very useful knot.
Townsend and Dacey take the strain.
With the old arch gone and the Laburnums out we spent a day tidying levelling and making it look respectable; but not 'finished tidy' as we had the new arch to put in and there'd be a little bit of mess, so a 'junior tidy' (Mrs. Verey term) was done. It was important that the new metal arch would not upstage the Laburnums; but over the course of time merge into the background and Michael Clifford, a blacksmith based at the bottom of Birdlip Hill understood perfectly.  He produced five beautiful mild steel arches, simply constructed and etched with his special mordant solution to take the galvanised shine off making them look immediately time worn. Firstly we put an arch at either end  then the rest were sighted in and after much standing back, jiggling about and more sighting in all five were put in and we were feeling quite smug....all the predrilled holes for the wires lined up!

The arches arrive in style

All lined up.
Already that week we had taken delivery of ten Laburnum x watereri 'Vossii' from Kingsdown Nursery, a local nursery based on the northern edge of Swindon. They were perfect.. tall enough to be above the arch uprights and 'willowy' enough to be gently eased onto the start of the curved sections with lots of twiggy bits to be tied in. Larger trees with huge root balls would have been difficult to get close to the path as well as being too big to grow into the arch; also the bigger the tree planted the more effort to keep it alive needed, small trees establish quicker. With the wires threaded through, we planted the new trees on the Friday afternoon as well as one hundred 'Apeldoorn' Tulips that we'd kept growing in pots to save them from spades and boots. The following week the final tidy was completed and  John gently washed the path, it was pristine, even flecks of mica and iron pirites were sparkling in some of the pebbles.

The last Laburnum goes in.
It's hard to believe that all of the mud, holes, noise and upheaval actually took place when today I see a light and airy arch with thrusting Leucojums, Tulips and Alliums at it's feet as well as some flower buds swelling on the Laburnums. It wasn't just about replacing the trees; but also about keeping the garden youthful and this particular project will have a major impact on the beds and borders in it's locality. Afternoon light now spills onto the wall and the major competition from the old Laburnums has now gone which will benefit the Hostas, Fuchsia and resident perennials so I expect the planting here to 'inflate' with it's increased light levels. We also took the opportunity to have a serious go at the Wild Chicory and Ground Elder in one of the Bob Dash Beds that some of the Laburnums are planted in, thereby another tough; but vital job completed.

An opportunistic picture of the new arches taken whilst pruning the Lime tops. Lots of growth can be seen made up of Alliums, Narcissus, Leucojums and other spring species.
Sixteen years ago I could not have imagined that I'd be making the decision to completely replace trees and arch, was I still going to be here in sixteen years? The decision came towards me and finally became inevitable; but it has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my career and given me a lot of satisfaction seeing the team rising to the challenge and investing in the garden. Hopefully the Laburnum Walk is set for the next  fifty years.

Leucojum vernum

1 comment:

  1. Wow. What a responsibility, completely gutting and re-making perhaps the world's most iconic garden feature. Just wow. I'm glad you had the temerity to do what had to be done -- Thanks for ensuring that it will continue to be there for future visitors. -Beth