Pretty much all the annuals and dahlias are planted and it’s all hands to the pump to keep on top of the weeding and the deadheading so the displays keep flowering. It is calming down now as everything settles down from spring growth madness into a steady summer beauty. I love walking round the garden first thing, listening to the bees in the border and enjoying the full glory of the colour and scent that abounds in the Garden at this time of year.
I realised I hadn’t spoken before about one of my gardening heroes (there are a few and I will introduce you to them over time). The hero in question is Beth Chatto creator of the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex and a highly influential plantswoman. Mrs Chatto died in May at the age of 94 after a lifetime of working with plants and creating beautiful gardens reflected in ten successive gold medals at the RHS Chelsea flower show.
She brought a more naturalistic planting style to design promoting an ecological approach using natural plant groupings. Her philosophy was always ‘right plant, right place’ and this is perhaps the greatest lesson she has taught me as a gardener. It sounds so simple now but at the time it was revolutionary. Look at the area you are planting up? What is the soil like? Is it sandy and free draining, or clayey and prone to waterlogging in winter and drying hard as nails in summer? Every plant has a preference and it’s up to us to take heed.
I once spoke to a couple in the Garden who were visiting from Arizona. They took great delight in our roses and bemoaned the fact they could not grow them in Arizona despite trying many times. I felt slightly faint when I thought of what Mrs Chatto would have said; poor roses. Mind, I did feel for the couple as well as it’s very hard when you love a particular plant so much but the conditions in your garden are against you.
The Gravel Garden here was inspired by Beth Chatto’s work at her garden at Elmstead Market near Chelmsford. Mrs Chatto turned their heavily compacted car park into a garden of sweeping curves and relaxed and colourful planting. The ground was given a good dose of organic matter, every plant was given a thorough soaking when it was planted and then covered with a thick mulch of gravel. The premise was brutal; that was all the care they were getting and if they didn’t do they would come out. Nothing has been watered since except by rainfall and it is spectacular.
We have never watered the Gravel Garden since it was planted and it has grown vigorously. It reminds me of two things, the first is just how much water can be lost from bare soil. The other is to always give thought to what you plant, how you plant it and where. Happy gardening.
Tricia Harris July 2018
We are absolutely in the thick of it here at Helmsley Walled Garden. It’s that stage of the year (I feel sure you’re familiar with it) when everything grows like mad, including the weeds and there are still lots of plants to go in the ground; annuals, dahlias and so on. The ground is like concrete and there are simply not enough hours in the day to do everything you need to never mind want to.
Things are incredibly busy but even for us it is important to stop and admire colours and shapes. At the moment the Laburnum Arch is just going over and the alliums that have been blazing balls of purple all along the Hot Border and under the arch are slowly tuning into seed heads. The combination of purple and yellow is always spectacular and it is one we repeat throughout the year.
In the borders at Helmsley you’ll see Salvia nemorosa ‘Lubecca’ and Anthemis tinctoria ‘E C Buxton’ at one stage and Lythrum virgatum ‘Dropmore Purple’ and Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’ at another. Or Iris sibirica ‘Shirley Pope’ against Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fens Ruby’. Thinking about colour combinations helps to hold your borders together and keep them full of colour and interest all through summer. Blue goes from everything from pale lilac to a dark purple that is almost black and yellow goes from cream to tawny, something like Dahlia ‘David Howard’ flowering later in the year.
You can find yourself with almost too much choice so go for three colours plus white and of course green. Think about flower shape as well as colour. The gorgeous clumps of yellow daisy-like flowers on Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ will make a very different display to Phlox paniculata ‘Mount Fuji’ with its tall stems of star-shaped white flowers. Likewise the round heads of Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation are very different to Lobelia cardinalis ‘Queen Victoria with its dark purple foliage and bright red flowers.
Consulting your plant books is a good idea and the internet is always useful. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) have a useful website where you can search for a plant and get information on when it blooms, how tall it will get and what conditions it likes.
It takes a bit of effort but it is worth considering all these things as you can plan a beautiful display which will misfire if you don’t time things correctly. I once had a brilliant idea to plant black and white tulips at home. I picked ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘White Triumphator’. I found out why the usual suggestion is to plant ‘Queen of the Night’ with ‘Maureen’ as they are both single late tulips. ‘White Triumphator’ is a lily flowered tulip and flowers later. It was a lesson well learnt to do my homework.
So I hope that has given you a flavour of what is around. If you fancy a bit of inspiration, the borders here are really starting to fire up. I’m now inspired to get to the plant centre to see what might fill the gaps in my own garden: happy days.
Tricia Harris June 2018
Well the sun has finally come out after a very long holiday and we are all pleased to see it here at the Garden. Everything has been so behind but is now thankfully starting to catch up. It always does in the end.
One of the highlights of May for me is the flowering of our Laburnum Arch. Now it’s fair to say it’s not as grand or as long as the famous archway at Bodnant in Wales but it is pretty special. Sometimes I stand underneath when it’s in bloom and the only thing I can hear is the buzzing of myriads of bees as they collect nectar and pollen. It is beautiful in full flower, but it does take some dedicated work to keep it looking fabulous.
One of the jobs you never see being done because it’s done in January or February when we are shut is the pruning and shaping of the trees over the archway. This was done this year by our Head Gardener Lisa who stood up a ladder with a saw and loppers for hours at a time in freezing winds to shape the trees and tie in all the new branches. It’s a cold job so we thawed her out regularly with hot drinks and biscuits and telling her it will look brilliant in May.
Apparently, the smooth green wood was once used in cabinet making and inlaying and also in musical instruments. Recorders, flutes and bagpipes were made from the wood in the past although cheaper hardwoods have now taken over sadly.
Anyway, I’d like to see more of these beautiful trees around so if you fancy having a go at growing a Laburnum or maybe even training it over an archway, here’s a few tips.
A fully grown Laburnum can reach up to 7m (22ft) with a spread of around 6m (19ft) taking about fifteen years to get there. It’s not a long-lived tree, the average life span being around 30-40 years. It flowers in late May or early June and will grow well in almost any soil but doesn’t like being waterlogged. Extremely hardy, it’ll cope with temperatures down to -20c. in 2010, the temperature here in 2010 was a minimum of -10c overnight for a month and the trees didn’t even blink. Happiest in full sun it will tolerate partial shade.
Perhaps best of all they are very independent trees and require no special looking after unless of course you are training them over an arch. Once established they don’t need feeding and would only need watering in a serious and prolonged drought.
The three most popular varieties grown are Laburnum anagyroides, Laburnum alpinum and L. x watereri ‘Vossii’. You’ll find these at any reputable nursery. A rule of thumb is the smaller the tree, the more easily it will establish, and it will be cheaper. So, splash out on some beautiful colour for your garden this year, It will make you smile and the bees will love you.
Tricia Harris May 2018
Well hasn’t the weather been putting a crimp in our gardening year? Here the ground has either been under snow, frozen solid or waterlogged and it has at times been impossible to do any work in the Garden. Still, there has been plenty to do with chitting potatoes, seed sowing and pricking out and potting on.
Now we have had some nice days and so everyone has been out weeding and hoeing and raking and getting the Garden prepared for the season ahead. I have been in the Physic Garden, our tribute to plants with medicinal purposes featuring plants used by medieval herbalists.
The winter has left it looking somewhat bedraggled so I’ve been cutting back and weeding and generally tidying. It got me thinking as it often does how people worked out which plants could help with which conditions. I can only shudder to think how herbalists worked out that rhubarb was edible but the leaves were poisonous. But then one had more leeway in a world where people felt that everything that happened was God’s will including whether you lived or died.
But herbalists such as the twelfth century abbess Hildegard of Bingen who wrote several works on herbal medicine were often right and some of the remedies she and others used are still in use today.
For example, a tea made from powdered cowslip root was prescribed by Hildegard as a cure for colds and depression. Whilst we would not use it as a first port of call for depression, research has shown that cowslip tea is helpful in alleviating a persistent cough. You’ll find cowslips in the coughs and colds bed of the Physic Garden.
Lavender is another herb used in medieval times: to scent linen, keep moths from woollens, relieve the symptoms of colds and aid insomnia, all ways in which we still use lavender today.
The flowers of the cornflower, once familiar on the edges of every field would be made into a decoction to use as an eyewash and parsley was used as both a tonic and as a remedy for rheumatic pains. Angelica would have been used to aid digestion and mint as an inhalant for heavy colds and in an infusion for digestive problems, uses we would still find familiar today.
I find reading through the old herbals absolutely fascinating and researching for this article I’ve found another book by Hildegard I didn’t know about. So I’ll be ordering that to add to my collection of herbals. I’m not a herbalist by any stretch of the imagination but I find it fascinating and looking after the Physic Garden a real joy.
So come and enjoy the fruits of my labours and see how many plants you recognise in the Physic Garden. Not all of them would be recommended in modern medicine but you may be surprised at just how many are things we all grow in our gardens. Until next time, I’m off to plant some rosemary and sage, happy days.
Tricia Harris April 2018
Well things are really hotting up here, everywhere I look someone is cutting back old herbaceous growth, someone is jet washing benches. The sound of clipping comes from the Garden as all the hedges are trimmed back. I can hear the tapping of a hammer as someone else makes some lovely new planters for the entrance. New trees are being planted, I’ve cut back and tied in all the clematis and ordered some new ones for planting next week and am moving on to sorting out the Physic Garden and the Garden of Contemplation.
There is an extra air of urgency as this year we open on Monday 26th March, a little earlier than normal but as Easter is also early we wanted to have all the fun of welcoming you to the Garden over that weekend.
One job I must get done at home as well as here is pruning back the dogwoods (Cornus sp.) next to the Physic Garden. I’ll cut out any dead, diseased or damaged wood, followed by the oldest, thickest stems. You can of course coppice the whole bush if you wish. Coppicing is when you cut the woody stems of the plant right down to the ground and is a traditional way of harvesting plants such as willow and hazel. You get really fresh, vibrant stems that way and they make a fabulous display of colour in the rather monochrome months of winter.
Traditionally, shrubby Cornus were pruned in February or March but now recent studies have shown that pruning annually in late March to mid-April (as the new growth is just beginning to develop) is preferable. This later pruning allows the winter display to be enjoyed, but doesn’t seem to have any negative consequences for the bush from bleeding or the cutting off of some of the new growth.
These types of Cornus species are not fussy about soil conditions and can take moist soil in full sun or partial shade. It is a good idea not to prune too frequently if the growing conditions are poor. Every two to three years is often enough if conditions are very shady. Newly planted Cornus should not be pruned for the first two or three years whilst they get established. Start to prune once it’s clear they are growing away strongly.
If you really want to make a splash in the winter garden the following cultivars are good. Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ has bright red stems in winter, red autumn leaves. C. alba ‘Kesselringii’ has dark purple-black stems in winter and purple foliage year-round.
C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’ has lime green winter stems and we have a good stand of them next to the Physic Garden. Or try C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ which has yellow-orange-red winter stems. They all make great bases for Christmas wreaths as the stems are quite bendy when they’re first pruned.
So even though this winter hasn’t quite let us out of its grip, think ahead to making next winter more colourful and plant one or two of these beauties in your garden.
Tricia Harris March 2018
Well hopefully we’ve seen the last of the snow here although it has been useful to have some cold weather. Some plants, including apple trees, need a spell of cold weather to go into dormancy and later to kick-start their flowering process, this is called vernalization. Plants with vernalization requirements need a certain number of days of cold temperatures below a certain threshold. The required temperatures and lengths of chilling differ according to the plant species and variety. Without it they can’t prepare properly for the following year and may not flower or produce fruit.
We are busy pruning our apple trees now because it’s easy to see the shape as the branches are bare. We prune out the three d’s: dead, diseased and damaged wood with the aim of opening up the centre of the tree to allow free air circulation, keeping the tree healthy and free from disease and damage.
The aim of pruning is to promote the formation of fruit buds. But it is also a chance to look at the tree to see if it is having any problems. Are there any ominous looking sunken dark spots with shrinking and cracking in concentric rings? Or are there any bright coral or orange raised pustules appearing on dead wood in the tree?
These cheery sounding conditions are some of the more common problems for apple trees. Apple Canker – the sunken pits in the bark, is caused by the fungus Nectria galligena . This is spread by wind-borne spores getting into the tree through wounds in the bark from pruning, cracks and leaf scars (where the leaf has fallen) to name but a few. If you find it, using clean tools, prune out the spur or branch in its entirety. For bigger branches or on the trunk, carefully pare away all diseased bark and wood, cutting back into clean wood and then painting with a protective wound paint, available from your local garden centre. Don’t compost prunings, dispose of them at your local recycling centre or burn. Improving the growing conditions also helps, if the tree is a bit underfed or in wet conditions this will make it more vulnerable. Give it a good mulch and a balanced feed to help it get back to full strength.
Coral spot is the small bright orange pustules you see on dead wood and is frequently a sign that the tree is struggling. This is caused by the fungus Nectria cinnabarina, spores are dispersed by water splash, usually by rain or irrigation and the fungus enters the bark via a wound. Prune out all the dead and dying stems you can see and burn them. Clear fallen leaves and any other plant debris that may be giving a home to the fungus and as per Apple canker give the tree a bit of tlc with a feed and a mulch.
So it’s all about keeping an eye out and catching things as soon as you spot them. Fingers crossed for a bumper crop for us all.
Tricia Harris February 2018
So here we are, new year ahead of us full of possibilities for the garden. In the Garden, we are manuring and digging and pruning apple and pear trees, of which we have over one hundred. We are also cleaning out our terracotta pots and cleansing the greenhouses with sulphur candles to try and get them as pest free as possible.
We used to have terrible trouble with whitefly and aphids in the Orchid House. However, it’s now pretty much clear due to the cleaning regime and also good plant hygiene.
Over in the Vine House we have spent the past few months pruning the vines back whilst the sap was low and stripping back the old bark on the vine rods. Mealy bug and scale insects love to burrow under the old bark to lay their eggs so in order to clear them out before they hatch, we peel the old bark off. It’s a slow and painstaking job but worth the effort in terms of plant health.
So there is still much to do. One thing we might try here if we have a bit of time is to force some rhubarb.
We have some traditional terracotta forcing pots but you can use a bucket or a big pot. Stems grow more quickly if you can be sure you have excluded all light. So you can either put some black masking tape (efficient but not very elegant) to tape over cracks or holes. Or you can just encase the whole thing in bubble wrap, carpet or even straw as long as it is firmly anchored round the pot to act as a layer of insulation and a barrier against light.
Before that, dig round the stems and add some well-rotted manure or maybe some good garden compost. Make sure you remove any weeds as they will compete with the rhubarb for nutrients and you want to make sure the plant gets everything.
Generally it will take around eight weeks to get stems ready to be harvested (they should be about ten to twelve inches or 20-30cm tall) but in a colder winter it might take a bit longer. The stems will be pale pink, thin and very sweet. Harvest them as usual and enjoy the champagne like flavour of early home-grown rhubarb.
One important thing to remember is do not harvest from any plants you’ve used for forcing either this summer or the following year. Forcing takes a lot of energy from the rhubarb crown and it needs time to rebuild its strength. It’s also more susceptible to disease so keep an eye on it and if it looks sickly as the year progresses you can try giving it another good feed come winter. Or you can remove and replace it although best to avoid the same spot for replanting. You might want to try growing some new plants from seed. So have some fun and enjoy an early rhubarb crumble. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
Tricia Harris January 2018
Well the wind and the rain and the frost have all duly arrived. The dahlias, cut down by the first frost are all now lifted and being washed and wrapped up ready for overwintering in the Orchid House. Leaves are wet underfoot and plants are dying back, ready to reappear next spring. Although my personal plant of the month, Hesperantha coccinea (formerly Schizostylis coccinea or Crimson flag lily) is still flowering away in the Long Border.
So it is a huge temptation to tidy the garden within an inch of its life and get rid of the old foliage and leaves. Here at the Garden, work goes on chopping down the Hot Border and I have worked steadily to completely overhaul one half of the Long Border. But, and I take a deep breath here, we do this because we are a Garden open to the public and we need to be ready for them when we open again next April. We are gardening throughout the year so that we can provide a show from April through to October.
However, I don’t do this at home in my own garden and I’d like to make a plea to you all not to be overly rigorous in the tidying department either. Leaving plant stems standing, or heaps of leaves at the back of borders or perhaps making a bug hotel (more of that later) can help wildlife to make it through the winter. Hedgehogs hibernate under clumps of leaves or in compost heaps over winter. I had a surprise one year clearing up leaf debris in the Hot Border when said clump started to move and grunt! I put the leaves back and apologised and no more was said.
Ladybirds, lacewings and other useful insects shelter in hollow stems and under bark over winter so leaving plants uncut over winter provides valuable habitat. Or you could build a bug hotel from offcuts of wood. We have one on the wall here at the Garden and as you can see they are easy to make and you can let your imagination run riot. If you need help then a quick trawl through the internet will give you plenty of ideas and know how.
Even your compost heap has a part to play, providing shelter for hedgehogs, toads and maybe slow worms. So take care if you are turning it or perhaps leave turning it till spring. If you can, leave a part of your garden wild and tussocky , or plant it with some native wild flowers and grasses such as foxtail, cock’s-foot, yarrow, oxeye daisy and lesser knapweed. This provides great habitat for invertebrates such as beetles, butterflies and dragonflies. Carder bumblebees will make their home in an area like this and leaving the clover in your lawn will provide a rich source of nectar for all bees.
This is just a tiny selection of things you can do to support diversity in your garden. So instead of going outside in the cold, why not put your feet up with a cuppa and a seed or bulb catalogue safe in the knowledge that by doing nothing you are keeping your garden rich in wildlife. Happy Christmas.
Tricia Harris December 2017
There’s a bit of an idea that things slowdown in the garden as we go into November. Well I don’t know who suggested this but it certainly isn’t true. There’s still lots to do and we are out at Helmsley every day we can get on the soil. It was pretty wet at the end of October but we work where we can, from the edge of the border if that’s all we can do. We don’t want to stand on the wet soil as it ruins its structure. Soil has a crumb structure; open spaces between soil particles that allow free movement of oxygen. Treading on it compresses it. Soil that has been heavily compressed can become completely waterlogged, and anaerobic. This means the amount of oxygen used exceeds the amount of oxygen available and the soil becomes smelly and well, rancid. It’s a poor growing environment and needs to be avoided.
But there’s no shortage of other jobs to get on with. Pruning and training the currant bushes against the south wall (note to self, bushes at home need pruning too), pruning back the climbing roses on the walls, getting on with pruning the apple trees and perhaps one of my favourite activities of this time of the year, getting stuck into seed and bulb catalogues.
Here at the Garden we are thinking about next spring and summer now. The displays you see in the Orchid House and the bedding around the Dipping Pond and in front of The Vine House Café need planning now so that we can order the seed and bulbs required. For some parts of the garden, such as the Kitchen Garden or the Cut Flower Border we might sow seed of Sweet william now to have a good early display next year.
So we sit in the office and make up mood boards of the different plants that catch our eye. Exclamations of delight – and sometimes of disgust if a plant doesn’t meet the exacting requirements of the garden team – can be heard as all the catalogues are pored over. We have ordered up our tulips for the Orchid House and are now onto thinking about the bedding. For those of you who have been to the Garden this year, the mixture of Dahlia ‘Purple Haze’ and Nicotiana ‘Whisper Mix’ has been a winning combination. One of my favourites around the Dipping Pond has been Dahlia ‘David Howard’. Whopping flowers of the most beautiful bronzy gold and yellow. It looks fabulous en masse in sunshine, but perhaps better still at this time of year it glows on dark days and lifts my heart every time I see it.
So if you haven’t before, why not think of getting some bulbs or maybe growing something from seed for your garden next year. Or just try something new. There’s lots to choose from and lots of advice available. And make sure you come and tell us how you get on. Enjoy your garden.
Tricia Harris November 2017
Did you know that apples float because they are 25% air? Or that in Ancient Greece tossing an apple to a girl was a proposal of marriage and catching it was a response of ‘yes’?
Many such myths and stories about apples exist. In Ancient Rome, Pomona was the Goddess of fruit trees, especially of apple trees, and was also known as the “Apple Mother”.
In more modern times it’s said that if you want to ensure true happiness in your relationship, you should cut an apple in half and share it with your loved one. A great reason if ever there was one to eat an apple.
However, there are far more varieties of apple than you ever see in the supermarket. Here at Helmsley Walled Garden we have over a hundred apple trees and 92 named varieties.
Many have wonderful names such as Dogsnout, Catshead, Flower of the Town, Khoroshavka Alaya and Bloody Ploughman; so named because the ploughman was shot for stealing apples. The bag of apples he’d collected were given to his widow. It’s said that in disgust she threw them on to the rubbish heap and the first tree sprouted from there. If you cut a Bloody Ploughman open the flesh inside is streaked with red.
We’ve chosen to train some of our trees in traditional fan shapes against the Garden walls. When this was the Kitchen Garden for Duncombe Park the walls would have been similarly clothed.
Helmsley Walled Garden isn’t a faithful reproduction of a Victorian kitchen garden but we like to keep some of the old traditions going. It shows how the old gardeners used every bit of productive space, gardening up the walls as well as along them. They even used some of the space outside the walls. On the outside of the north wall was a pineapple pit in which was grown this very expensive fruit. It was the aristocratic version of keeping up with the Joneses to be able to offer pineapple to your dinner guests.
We have an apple orchard as well as espaliers, cordons and step overs as we want to be able to show visitors all the ways in which apple trees can be trained, some of which take up very little room. So unless you have only a balcony most of us can fit an apple or two in our gardens.
If you are thinking about maybe getting an apple tree you could do no better than to come to our Amazing Apples Day on Saturday October 21st. We will have workshops on training and pruning along with apple juice tasting. Our good friends from R V Roger Nurseries will be on hand to give advice on the best tree for your garden. We will have an apple-themed trail and apple bobbing for children and there will be apple dishes in The Vine House Café. So do come and share in our celebration of amazing apples and enjoy this wonderful fruit.
Tricia Harris October 2017