Spring has sprung and it is such an exciting time of year when everything really starts into growth and the change is palpable by the day. I was in the Physic Garden the other day and I could see the Pasque flowers (Pulsatilla vulgaris) were shooting up and Bears Breeches (Acanthus mollis) were spouting up everywhere. Note to self, NEVER plant that anywhere again, it is an absolute thug. Its use as a treatment for sores and wounds is so historic it’s mentioned in the Bible, but it’s an absolute heathen when it comes to taking over one’s garden.
Pulsatilla vulgaris also has a long history of use as a cure for amongst other things coughs and bronchial spasms and for period pains and the menopause. Interestingly modern herbalists and homeopaths still use it for these things today showing that the ancients knew a thing or two about plants and healing. We’ll gloss over the cure for the plague which needed a unicorn’s liver!
It is fair to say that plants have a long and noble history of use in medicine, ancient and modern. Herbalists of old knew that Digitalis, derived from foxgloves could be used to treat ‘congestion of the heart’ as they would have known it. Or that salicin (the active ingredient of aspirin), extracted from the bark of the willow tree eased aches and pains including headaches. Both are still used today but they are now manufactured using synthetic active ingredients (although you can still buy willow bark tea from health food shops).
The first herbals came from ancient Greece with the works of Galen and Dioscorides making their way into monastic libraries for use by their herbalists. More ahem, modern works came with John Gerard in 1597 and John Parkinson in 1640. But they included lots of expensive drugs that needed to be imported. The breakthrough came with the publication of Nicholas Culpeper’s herbal in 1649. He insisted on using plant medicine that grew in Britain and on using English common names, telling his impoverished patients where they could find such plants. To help further, he translated the London Pharmacopoeia from Latin into English. His work made the available remedies accessible to people in the newly burgeoning towns and cities.
I find old herbals fascinating and plant lore can keep me glued to my armchair for hours but I don’t think I’ll give up on modern medicine. Last week Madame Molly our garden cat bit me. I can only assume she had been eating rat fricassee or pheasant parfait previously as quicker than you could say “mine’s a tetanus jab” my hand was the size of an udder. A quick trip to the doctor ensued and I came away bearing a packet of antibiotics that resembled horse pills such was their size. Anyway, a week later and my hand is back to normal and I’m back in the garden. I’m glad that I live in an age where such treatment is available. Happy gardening everyone.
Tricia Harris April 2019
How is it that the days just swoosh past as it gets nearer and nearer to the 1st April? Work in the garden has really ramped up and we are sowing seed like it’s going out of fashion.
I need to get my planting design in plants and in the ground. The Cleveland Way National Trail is 50 this year so there will be much cake and rejoicing (well any excuse for cake). One of the ways in which we will be saying Happy Birthday Cleveland Way is to plant the familiar acorn logo of the trail by the side of the track as it divides with one arm going to our front door and the trail proper going off to Rievaulx. I know where it’s going but I need to get on and plant up as the actual day is 24th May. Come and check on my progress.
Other than that we are also sorting out events and courses. You can find full details on our website but I would just mention two things. One is on 30th and 31st March when the garden will be open to all and we’ll have a sale on in our shop. The second is our wildlife weekend on 6th and 7th of April. I’m getting as many organisations together so that visitors can learn about the wildlife and nature on our doorstep and also find out a bit about what they can do to help protect our environment; and hopefully have some fun too.
I do find this time of year exciting, when colour starts to come back. Well in truth it never goes away but it is more, well, muted in Winter and I get to the stage where I crave yellow and red and orange. I have some lovely orange crocuses at home that put joy in my heart every time I look at them.
Back at the garden we are busily composting the cuttings and debris from the Hot Border. A new volunteer is dedicated to composting and he is rapidly making himself worth more than rubies. As you will know, the smaller things are when they go into the compost, the faster they break down. So he is chopping long stems up and creating the layers needed to make a good compost heap; not too dry, not too wet, small pieces and nothing too woody; and getting the whole thing big enough to get a really good high temperature to kill off any weed seeds and pathogens. As I said, worth more than rubies.
As I write this and stare out of the office window it‘s a beautiful day but it is still a bit too wet in some places to really get on and in the soil. So some of the planting will have to hold fire for a little while longer and I may not get out the office just yet. But the Alphabet Garden wall is completed and looks marvellous. Special thanks to everyone who helped build it. Happy gardening.
Tricia Harris March 2019
Well February’s here and of course it is the usual maddening weather where it’s too cold or too wet or too something to be able to get on as one is itching to do.
Here at the garden is no exception and we huddle in corners comparing notes on how far we got the last time the soil wasn’t like concrete or treacle and doing seed swaps so that we can have as many cheery annuals as possible in different parts of the garden.
However, there are things we all can do in February. This is the perfect time of year to do any bare root planting. By this I mean a plant that has quite literally been dug up from the ground rather than gown in a container. Bare root plants for sale are generally things like roses, shrubs and trees.
One tree I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t come across before I worked at Kew Gardens was Amelanchier canadensis or the Juneberry tree. From North America, it’s a lovely hardy tree growing to around 6-7 metres or fifteen to eighteen feet in old money. With beautiful white spring flowers, reddish-purple berries in summer and beautiful orangey-red foliage in autumn it earns its place in the garden. It can be grown as a multi-stemmed shrub and kept smaller, either way it fits nicely into the smaller garden.
Spare a thought for the wildlife in your garden. We leave plenty of our tough-stemmed plants standing over winter. If we have to cut stuff down we leave a certain amount as this is prize ladybird hibernation territory. Some stuff will look a bit sad but if you can bear it, please leave it. However, if you have plants that have collapsed and turned to a nasty slime, then remove it to your compost bin toute de suite. Plants hate rotting material on their crown and it is also a major winter resort for slugs so it’s best to take it away.
If you’re lucky enough to have apricot, peach or nectarine trees then cover the blossom as it comes out to protect it from frost. The old-fashioned way was to weave a blanket out of corn and barley stalks and they do look wonderful. But you need either a lot of gardeners or a lot of time to weave the blankets and put them on of a night but also raise them in the morning so the trees get the light. Much more practical these days to get some horticultural fleece to do the job.
Lastly, do feed the birds. They are our best defence against the bugs and beasts we don’t want like greenfly, slugs and snails. Nuts, seeds and fat balls will all be gratefully received in this weather. I have some of the biggest, fattest blackbirds in my garden at home who I think hit the seeds before they ate all the snails. I’m not complaining, always happy to help a blackbird and clear up the snail shells afterwards. Happy gardening.
Tricia Harris February 2019
So the presents were opened, the Christmas dinner was eaten, the Christmas films were watched, the walks taken, the sofa snuggled in and now it is all over for another year and the whole of 2019 stretches ahead.
Here at the walled garden we are focusing on clearing and cleaning. All the glasshouses need a darn good clean to help get rid of any lurking unwelcome bugs. A good wash with horticultural soap, Jeyes Fluid or a sulphur candle are all ways in which you can clean your greenhouse. We’ll also take the opportunity to give all our terracotta pots a bit of a scrub. It’s hard work and when it’s old it can be murder on the hands but it is both worthwhile and important.
There are more and more non-native insects coming into Britain in various ways and they have no natural predators. We’ve probably all seen Red lily beetle and it’s disgusting offspring by now as well as Horse chestnut leaf miner. Less visible up here and if at all possible even less welcome would be Oak processionary moth a real threat to our native oaks, entrenched down south and heading our way.
Now more than ever we are really thinking about plant hygiene and the threat of pests to the Garden. We stopped accepting plant donations about four year ago after a disastrous winter where we had to dispose of everything in the Orchid House after a pathogen from a donated plant infected everything. We also no longer accept donated plant pots for the same reason although that of course is the subject for a whole different column on plastic and how we all deal with it. Good news, nurseries are starting to act and black pots will hopefully become extinct!
So what can we all do at home? Well a few tips: only buy plants and seeds from reputable providers or UK nurseries (which hopefully amounts to the same thing). Personal garden disclosure here, we get all our plants from UK nurseries and we plan to propagate more of our own plants in the coming year. Check plants you buy carefully and reject any that look sick. If you must buy them, keep them in a quarantine area away from your garden for at least six weeks. And please, please, please don’t bring anything back from abroad in your bag. It really does matter; even if it looks ok. A lot of the bugs are miniscule and just not visible with the naked eye. But get them under a magnifying lens and it’s like some sort of dog eat dog Armageddon in there.
So if you make one new year’s resolution make it to buy gorgeous healthy plants and seeds and have a beautiful garden. It’s the perfect time to put your feet up with a seed catalogue so make your plans and purchases now for a colourful and pest-free 2019. Happy new year to you all.
Tricia Harris January 2019
Ladies and gentlemen let me take you on a little time travel as we go back to the middle ages and the time when plants were both the only form of medicine and also had myth and legend attached to them. In an age when only wealthy people could read and church services were in Latin, people learnt the stories of the bible through pictures painted on interiors of church walls and through stories attached to flowers. Here in the Garden we have our own medieval physic garden with each bed containing plants to heal specific ailments of a particular part of the body.
Lady’s bedstraw – Mary’s bed in the stable
Lungwort – was thought to help complaints of the lungs and with its polka dots of white on a dark green background bookends the life of Christ. The white splashes represent the milk that Mary fed to Jesus and the flowers that open blue and turn to pink represent the Virgin’s blue eyes which turn red with weeping at his death.
Star of Bethlehem Ornithogalum Umbellatum – According to this legend, God created the Star of Bethlehem to guide the wise men to the Christ Child. Once the star’s purpose was completed, God thought it was too beautiful to banish from the earth. Instead, the brilliant star burst into thousands of pieces and descended to the earth. The bits of the Star of Bethlehem gave birth to beautiful white flowers that blanketed the hillsides. They became known as the Star of Bethlehem flower.
Daisy represents the innocence of the Christ child
Iris and white lily represent the Virgin Mary
Tricia Harris December 2018
As a special Christmas treat I thought I would give you an extra blog piece. This is a guest blog by Julien de Bosdari of Ashridge Nurseries, a mail order plant nursery, specialising in hedging, trees, fruit, roses & shrubs. Julien has written about something close to all our hearts here at the garden, how to attract bees to your garden by planting fruit tree and which might be the best trees for your garden. Sit back, relax and enjoy.
The best fruit trees to attract bees and how to plant them effectively
Bees are not only a beautiful addition to any garden but a welcome and necessary one. The role they play in the environment as pollinators make them fascinating little creatures. We need bees and other useful insects and pollinators to produce colourful garden displays and tasty fruit.
Planting fruit trees not only gives you homegrown food but also provides a natural habitat and food source for wildlife. Pollinators, particularly honeybees, love fruit trees so think about adding some new fruit trees to your garden to help its ecosystem.
The best fruit trees to attract bees
Bee-friendly fruit trees are a great addition to your outdoor space which both you and the bees are sure to love. Avoid using pesticides if you can as bees are very susceptible to them and can cause damage to the species.
Apple and cherry trees
During the warm, summer months apple and cherry trees are a fantastic choice for attracting bees. The majority of varieties perform well during the hotter weather and will keep bees interested during the earlier part of the growing season. Cherry trees, in particular, make for a brilliant addition as they are usually quite large with lots of flower buds, attracting a large number of bees.
Peaches, plums and nectarines
To keep bees busy all year round, planting fruit trees that bloom and fruit at different times help to provide a more sustainable source of food. You’re also more likely to receive visits from a variety of bees as they can eat and be active at different times. Plum trees tend to bloom in late winter to early spring with fruit ripening from early May all the way through to September. Nectarine and peach trees tend to flower early in the year with fruit being ready in July for early varieties. Later varieties will see fruit produced through August and early September.
Plant bee-friendly plants
When you’re thinking about planting a fruit tree, you need to think about cross-pollination. Some fruit trees require a pollination partner to produce fruit so this needs to be a consideration. If you’re not sure where to start, this fruit tree pollination checker tool will help you find the perfect cross-pollination partner for your fruit tree.
To attract more bees and encourage pollination, grow some bee-friendly and colourful plants. Planting flowers and shrubs that blossom at different times will keep bees interested throughout the seasons. Bee-friendly plants include hyacinths, crocus and asters.
How to plant a fruit tree effectively
Now, you’ve chosen your fruit tree and are ready to plant it. When buying the tree, they can be bought in either a container or bare-rooted. For both types, look for roots that have well-developed fibrous roots and show no sign of disease.
How to prepare the fruit tree
Bare-root trees can be planted from late autumn to early winter, be sure to soak the roots before planting. Avoid planting the tree during a frost. With container-grown trees, they can be planted at any time of the year. Again, avoid planting during a frost or when the soil is very dry or wet.
Planting the fruit tree
Think about the positioning and growing conditions you have available for your fruit tree. A sunny yet sheltered position is ideal and can help maximise the time your fruit has to ripen. If you’re planting a container-grown tree, water the container thoroughly and leave to soak for an hour or so.
Next, dig a hole a third wider than the roots and the same depth. Insert both the tree and the stake. Try and dig the hole on the same day as planting so that it doesn’t get filled up with rainwater. Fill the hole in with soil and shape into a small bowl at the base, attaching the tree to the stake.
Watch – How to plant a fruit tree:
Maintenance and aftercare
After planting, apply water and mulch around the base of the tree. Make sure you keep any grass or similar vegetation away from the base. If you’re planting in the spring and the ground is dry, water with a large bucket of water.
The first spring is a key time for your new tree. Remove any weeds that could stop your new tree establishing. Don’t use herbicides on a young tree, instead make sure the mulch you use is dense and prevents weeds from growing near it. Always be sure to follow your trees planting and aftercare instructions when choosing a fruit tree.
Julien de Bosdari of Ashridge Nurseries, December 2018
In the Salad House yesterday I heard a strange noise. It took me a moment to realise what it was which was the contented snoring of a sleeping hedgehog.
One of our hedgehogs has set up a nest in the second bay of the glass house. Hedgehogs often have more than one nest as they often travel distances of up to two miles in a night and generally have a range of around four miles in which they will search for food.
We have four hedge pigs here. GP (short for Greedy Pig, he is huge and until we got wise to it, often ate all the cat food as well as anything we put down for the hedgehogs), Blondie, Hogsley and a young ‘un, newly hatched earlier this year. The presence of so many in a relatively small space of five acres means we do put special hedgehog food down as well as letting them hoover up slugs, beetles and the like. They are also partial to apples so I do wonder if they end up drunk in September munching on windfalls.
They really are excellent pest controllers and I’m pretty sure that the reason we have such low populations of slugs and snails is due to their hard work. So we make sure that we have some areas that are particularly hospitable for them, like the wild area right at the bottom of the Garden next to the chickens.
Of course, the best laid plans and all that. Last winter I was tidying up the Hot Border, clearing leaf litter and other plant debris when the pile I was shifting suddenly made a very loud grumbling noise. I practically leapt out of my skin I was so surprised. Realising what it was, I apologised profusely to the now gently moving pile. Fortunately it was clearly only a stretch and the pile settled down again. So we put a notice up next to it reading ‘Please do not disturb’.
All in all our hedgehogs are very welcome here and, given they are in steep decline through growing urbanisation if we can all leave part of our gardens a little wilder it will help them. Leave some leaves and logs they can nest in and that will also house the invertebrates they love to eat.
Make sure you leave a small gap at the bottom of any fencing so that they have a big enough area to roam.
Feed a special hedgehog food like Spike or cat food (but not fish-based) which will encourage them to return to your garden. Don’t give them milk as it gives them the runs. Do check your bonfire before you light it and check any areas of long grass before you use a strimmer or mower particularly near the bottom of hedges.
And please, no slug pellets: they are poison to hedgehogs. They’ll get rid of the slugs on their own, given the opportunity. We need our hedgehogs so let’s give them all the help we can.
Tricia Harris November 2018
I’ve just got back from two weeks holiday with a little garden visiting thrown in – I know, I know it sounds like a busman’s holiday and in a way it is. But, and it is a big but, getting out and seeing what other people do in their gardens is both interesting and informative. It’s a bit like being shown round other people’s houses in that there is always something you can learn. Even if the décor is not to your taste there is always something as in what they’ve done with that difficult corner, or how they’ve brought light into that room.
It works exactly the same with gardening. Going to another visitor attraction helps me to gauge how we are doing, what else we might be doing and is there an idea maybe that we can take and develop to make it work for us. I then talk with Lisa, our head gardener and together we start to build ideas for the next stage of garden development.
So, filled with ideas I returned to work this morning. But of course, I have been away for two weeks and the list of things I have to do has doubled before I can so much as blink! The Physic Garden and the Garden of Contemplation have not stayed still whilst I’ve been away and there is now a green carpet of weed seedlings that need my urgent attention. The dahlias in the Hot Border have been hit by an early frost (hmm, note to self, it’s a bit early for frost damage. Does this mean a hard winter?) and I need to go down the border and cut back the frost-damaged stems and leaves.
We are still furiously apple picking and pruning. I need to walk round the Clematis Garden with Lisa as we are planting a lot of bulbs in there as part of our new winter display and they need to go in VERY soon. We will be open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday up to the end of December this year so keeping things colourful, even in the muted tones of winter, is important. I need to produce the apple facts trail and the apple quiz for children this week as Apple Day is coming up fast on Saturday 20th.
So lots happening and the air is getting chillier. I do love this time of year even though it means that summer is over and winter and (eek) Christmas is coming. But the smell of autumn is one of my favourites and I need to remember to stand still and enjoy it. The days can be so warm (I wished I’d packed shorts for Northumberland last week!) but the finger of frost is never far from morning and evening.
So if you do one thing for your garden this week, get some bulbs for next spring. Even a few snowdrops, crocuses or some winter aconites will cheer a winter garden and remind you that spring is not too far off. Treat yourself and enjoy your garden.
Tricia Harris October 2018
September is the start of autumn – if you are guided by the meteorological calendar as opposed to the astronomical one. So we are now in full harvest mode both in the Kitchen Garden and with the apples. Courgettes are turning into marrows the minute I turn my back and the beans, greens and beetroot are all huge. We have a lovely range of tomatoes coming out of the Salad House; my favourite being Citrina a lemon-yellow tomato shaped rather charmingly like a lemon!
But it is the apples that are taking most of our attention as there are so many of them. It has been a bumper crop in a bumper year. Amazingly when the trees were in blossom there was no frost so the trees became laden with fruit. The very hot summer led to a massive June drop as the trees realised they couldn’t hang on to so many fruit in such a dry season.
But still they are laden and we are propping up branches all over the Garden to stop them from breaking under the weight of fruit. We are harvesting them constantly for juicing and for sale. So if you fancy trying something different come and buy some apples from us.
We have over a hundred trees here and nearly as many varieties ranging from New Bess Pool to Lane’s Prince Albert: Catshead to Dogsnout and Worcester Pearmain to Laxton’s Superb. They all taste and look different. I grew up when the choice in the supermarket was Golden Delicious or Granny Smith. I had no idea that apples could be anything from palest yellow to deepest burgundy with pretty much every variation between and as many different flavours and textures, Egremont Russet anyone? Did you know that the Bramley apple is so popular because it is a heavy cropper with big fruit that cooks and stores well. But there are dozens of other good cookers you don’t see in the supermarket because they don’t keep as well or bruise easily or any number of other reasons that don’t make them viable for commercial growers. There is so much choice in Britain when it comes to apples so it is understandable but a real shame.
However, you can see and try some of them here at the Garden on Saturday 20th October when we will be celebrating all things apple at our annual Apple Day. As well as opportunities to taste apples, we will be running juicing demonstrations with tasting running alongside. There will be apple fact and apple quiz trails for children as well as apple bobbing. If you are inspired to have an apple tree in your garden you can also look at the different ways to grow and train a tree here. From espalier to step over, from free growing to cordon you can see that however small your space you can train an apple to fit it. Enjoy the fruits of the season and hopefully we’ll see you soon.
Tricia Harris September 2018
What a year this has been so far. Winter seemed as if it was never going to end and it rained so much I thought we would be living in a sea of mud forever. Fast forward to the end of July and as I write the ground is parched and we are desperate for rain.
We’ve got all the annuals and dahlias in the ground now and some of the dahlias are flowering already, scarily early but hardly surprising. We are seeing a lot of unripe apples dropping from the trees. Unbelievably there was no frost when they were in blossom so a bumper crop was the result. Now of course they can’t sustain that many apples so they’re dropping like flies.
All of which is a long way of saying it is a challenging year for gardeners. But we are gardeners and so used to the challenges the weather throws at us. Watering is not necessarily the answer although it may be for some things, especially if they start to look sad and crispy.
I found myself looking at the borders to see what was not showing any sign of strain and I got one or two surprises. I was very pleased to see that Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is flowering it’s heart out in a burst of colour at the foot of the Hot Border. I was also impressed by the Rudbeckias.
There is a rudbeckia for all seasons, annual, biennials and hardy perennials and they come in a range of great colours. From the gold of the hardy perennial Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii Goldsturm to the claret glow of the annual Rudbeckia hirta ‘Cherry Brandy’ rudbeckias come in shades of orange, bronze and lemon. It’s been really exciting to see the hardy perennials in particular shrug off the hot weather. However, they are well established. I’d be wanting to water anything I’d put in new this year until it was established.
Of course there are also all the wonderful drought tolerant plants such as Lavender angustifolia: all the salvias, especially hardy perennial Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’ with its rich deep blue flowers that will always manage drought conditions.
But there is also Lychnis coronaria (Rose campion) and Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s-ear). Basically any plant that has a greyish felt-like leaf will do well in conditions such as we are experiencing. The thick layer of hairs on the leaf which gives it its felty-feel helps to conserve water, stopping the plant from losing too much water through transpiration.
All these plants benefit from being in the ground rather than a pot. They have questing roots, searching for water in their native Mediterranean habitat so they don’t like to be constrained. They can get too wet in a pot which they hate. Same with sage and rosemary.
We need not fear the hot weather. There’s plenty to keep our gardens in flower and full of colour. Mind you I’m still hoping for gentle overnight rain from say 11pm till 4pm every night for the next month. Gardeners eh, never satisfied!
Tricia Harris August 2018