Rory's Garden Blog - thoughts from the Gardener’s Bench


Newsletter Autumn 2016

What a summer it was. It started slowly, damp and cool but developing into a lovely long  warm season. I can only remember 3 or 4 really wet days. And coming, as I do, from the West of Scotland, it has been amazing. What a blessing!

 For my first summer here at Reveley Lodge, the weather has afforded me a great chance to spend a lot of my time out of doors, working in the borders and beds, cutting the grass and getting to know the garden a bit better. I have moved garden several times over the past years and have come to learn that it doesn't matter how brimming over I am with ideas, you need to be patient! It takes a full year for a gardener to just start to get to know a new garden. Learning the different soil types in the various beds, where it's windy, what is the hottest area of the garden and so on . . .

 I am very thankful to Nick, who retired earlier in the summer, for all his patience and humour as he handed over the gardens to me. The garden at Reveley Lodge has some great structural ideas and some wonderful plants, it's quite an inheritances to take over. It is a big responsibility to take over someone else's work, when they have worked so long and hard at developing something wonderful.

 I started at the beginning of July and the months have flown by and now we are in November. Part of taking over a new garden includes asking questions like "Where do you find…?”, “Who do you ask…?” or “What’s the chances of...?”. And so I would like to say a big thank you to all those who have been so patient with me as I have been learning.

 Perhaps one of the highlights of the Reveley garden’s year has been the successful National Guard scheme Day in August. All of the volunteers and trustees worked tirelessly to help to make it a great day. And thankfully the weather lent us a helping hand too, as it was a beautiful sunny day. Many people enjoyed the gardens and helped raise funds for the different charities and met and made new friends that day.

the hedge 1

As you can imagine all large gardens have ongoing projects and challenges. One tall challenge for me has been the high hedge belonging to the Secret Garden. Behind the hedge lies the bee hives. We had the job of significantly lowering the high hedge this summer as sadly last winter three of the four swarms were lost due to the cold. It seems the high hedges had kept out the essential warmth of the low winter sun which helps keep the bees  alive over the cold season. Now the job is done, you will see the hedge is looking a bit sad at the moment but that's okay as it should bounce back soon.

 Another challenge has been the pernicious problem of ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) which has been running through the two Clay Lane flower beds. The main problem with Ground Elder is it chokes out the other plants in that area. So if you can forgive the pun, we decided to grasp the nettle and deal with one of the beds.

 This involved digging out as many good plants as possible and putting them into a stock bed. Firstly the plants were removed then the roots were washed clean and inspected, removing all of the ground elder roots which were mixed in with the good roots. Then we transferred the plants to the stock bed to rest and be watched to see if any cheeky wee roots of the elder have been missed and pop their heads up again! Only after this can they be put back into the main garden next year. We'll have to wait and see if this will be an ongoing project or not! Again without the help of the volunteers it couldn't be done. Thanks folks.

 What lies ahead for the next season? A lot of leaf lifting from the lawns . . . and of course planning for next year. Whatever you are up to today enjoy your garden . . .

Nick’s Final Blog

YOU WON’T SEE ME

You may have heard already that I have handed in my notice and am off to become a man that visits and sits in gardens rather than working in them. On the morning of the 17th of September 1968 I opened the front door of my family home where 17 years previously I had been born, cycled 300 yards down the road, turned left into the park and then right entering the local authority parks department nursery, and began my horticultural adventure. In those days parks departments were at the top of the league of good horticultural training and opportunity, and this nursery, as well as propagating and growing all of the bedding plants used throughout the borough, also had a vast collection of exotic potted plants and trees used for floral decoration for civic functions, school prize days etc.

When Heseltine and Thatcher swept my future parks career away I left and joined the private gardening sector where skill and good horticultural practice were still encouraged and where I have worked ever since.

At Reveley I have strived to provide visitors to the gardens a restful and enjoyable environment away from the daily hubbub of life, in which, if they care to look more closely, they will notice many interesting and unusual plants which hopefully may lead to thoughts that the gardener does know what he is doing. Thank you to the trustees and garden volunteers who have helped me during the past 10 + years in making the garden the jewel it now is, and leaving such a solid foundation for the next gardener to move forward with.

I won’t miss the traffic on Elstree Road, the various local residents groups whose sole purpose is to block any attempt by the trustees to secure the long term future of Reveley Lodge and the often asked and the most irritating visitor question ‘are you the lucky person that works here?’

Having an ever growing record collection consisting of every disc and cd I have ever bought, the blog title track comes from the very first album I ever bought in 1965 - The Beatles Rubber Soul - on vinyl of course - and in glorious mono as it should be heard. I am unconvinced that with age comes wisdom but I do know that some of my favourite wine improves by lying on its side in a cool dark place so I’m off to try that. Take care and Goodbye. 

Spring 1

BUS STOP

Spring is the time of the gardening year when things get going, but it’s often difficult to determine when it starts or makes way for summer. A look at any seed packet or gardening article will state 'sow in the spring', 'prune in the spring' , 'plant in the spring' but when is the right time ? At Reveley I have nearly convinced myself not to sow any seed inside until at least the 3rd week of March. In the greenhouse this prevents young seedlings needing more space than there is, and by sowing a little later they can be shifted into the cold frame quicker. A much worse dilemma for my friend who has no greenhouse and lost the battle with her teenage daughter that all window sills in the house including her bedroom were seedling growing on areas. Outdoors I have a much easier decision. I never sow anything directly into the ground out in the ornamental areas and in the veg garden until the soil has been turned over, and I allow the sun to warm the surface before sowing with the minimal amount of cultivation. If there is a flush of weed seedlings which shows the soil has warmed up, I hoe these out on the previous day. Spring pruning is done as the plant sap is rising, when the buds are just beginning to break. Mind you, even plants aren’t too sure when to start growing. As I walked along Elstree Rd this morning, one Horse Chestnut had its leaves uncurling while the two beside it have their buds firmly shut. With all pruning you need to know the flowering and growth characteristics of the plant so as not to end up with a non-flowering , non-fruiting blob. A general rule is shrubs that flower before July are pruned after flowering, those that flower later are pruned in the winter - but of course, this being gardening, there are exceptions. The perennials plants have all been cut down. I like to take them right to ground level rather than leave those little stubs which always get me when I kneel on them or scrape my knuckles when weeding later in the year. After some serious cutting back of trees and shrubs in the last few months, I have hopefully retired the loppers to the shed, which will not only be a relief to my shoulders but also to the returning nesting birds who have discovered they are homeless and will have to find alternative sites in the garden. Hope to see you in ‘Mabel’s’ soon for a nice cup of tea and a wander round the springing-into-life garden. 

I know I’m struggling a bit to keep the song references as titles for this blog , this one from the Hollies (horticultural ?) but we now have a new bus stop and raised kerb beside the entrance to Reveley. 

Winter 2

WILD IS THE WIND

One of the results of the mixed up weather conditions of this winter is that Daffodil ‘ February Gold’ is actually in flower here in the first week of February. Since I planted the group of bulbs under the Bushey Grove apple trees, and in my previous garden, February Gold has been determined to flower in March so it is pleasing to see it live up to its name. The primroses and a couple of flowering cherries are also out and along with the witch hazels, hellebores and snowdrops there is a fair amount of bloom in the garden to brighten any dull day.

I have begun working through the borders cutting back last years herbaceous growth and pruning some shrubs, it’s fair to say my winter list of jobs to do is longer than my winter list of jobs done, probably always the case at this time of year but if I finished everything there would be no need for a gardener!

I was having a discussion with a friend about the difference between soil structure and soil fertility and said my aim here was to vastly improve the structure of the soil by adding as much garden compost as we can and avoiding too much walking on bare ground, whereas fertility is much easier by feeding with any garden fertiliser. I likened structure to a victoria sponge which should be light with lots of air spaces which falls apart if you over-wet the mix and then stand on it (well this was after a few beers). It still amazes me that after covering the bare ground with a thick mulch it only takes a couple of years for the earthworms to work this all away underground. Another pleasure for me is a few rich red flowers appearing on Salvia gesneriiflora growing in the conservatory, a monster of a plant from Mexico which was not identified when I was first given a cutting 2 years ago.

I’m now looking forward to some warmer and drier weather when I might see a few more of you up here in the garden.

The title is a song from a 1957 film of the same name originally sung by Johnny Mathis but covered by Nina Simone and the recently departed David Bowie. 

Winter

When I’m Sixty Four

There are not many things to celebrate about the ever rapidly passing years, but at least for a year I am now a Beatles song, and from the iconic Sgt Pepper album.

Those of you who jog, cycle, drive or even stroll past Reveley Lodge along the Elstree Rd will have noticed its recent full exposure to the outside world. I have been reducing the screen of privet, laurel and holly mostly to ground level. There is always a pleasure to destructive gardening, however moving the resulting branches across the road and into the field has been a challenge considering the numbers and speed of the vehicles along the road. This new exposure may reduce the number of times visitors comment ‘I have lived in Bushey for X years and never knew this was here’. I have added this to the other banned statements list which include ‘Are you the lucky person that works here‘ and ‘What do you do in the winter’.

One pleasant consequence from my pruning efforts is that for a short while Reveley Lodge has become official Hazel stick supplier to the Woodside Morris Men. I used to morris dance myself at one time, now retired due to an increasing inability to leave the ground to an adequate height, and know how quickly a side can get through sticks especially as the vigour with which the sticks come together increases as an evening progresses, no doubt directly proportional to the amount of beer consumed. 

 At this time of year many of the gardening writers and pundits talk about reviewing what did well last season and plans for next year. Oh that I am that organised or decisive. I know I’ll order too many seed packets lured by browsing too many catalogue , although I order online I still would not want to be without the hard copy. In fact my Desert Island book would be a Thompson & Morgan seed catalogue. Even with the knowledge that the flowers pictured will not always be true to colour or that some flowers look better in closeup than in the garden, I’ll be ticking the order box. With vegetables it should be easier to disregard things that do not grow well here but I’ll probably give them another try, step forward carrots, sweetcorn and aubergine but I am definitely not trying to grow okra ever again (I think). The outdoor tender plants succumbed to the couple of ground frosts we had last month, so I have begun to bring the Cannas into the greenhouse. I divide and pot them straight away without drying, then they sit under the greenhouse staging before a watering in early March starts them back into growth. By this method I get earlier flowering. The Dahlia tubers I treat differently, they spend a few weeks drying out in the boiler room before storing dry in the shed. They are then potted in March in the cold frame. With most of the other tender perennials I have taken cuttings in August so they are now young plants seeing out the winter in the greenhouse and providing an occasional snack for our resident mice. I’m never in a hurry to clear the remaining vegetables and accompanying weeds in the vegetable garden as this protects the soil surface from heavy rain, and I have convinced myself that the rampant sea of chickweed is self sown green manure. Which is a good thing he says !! 

Late summer

Who Knows Where The Time Goes

On starting to write this blog I realised that I’ve completely missed out the summer, not that I was unaware of its passing, probably more due to fact that in July I have been working at Reveley for 10 years. Time for another rolling 10 year programme then.

In fact horticulturally it was good summer, the new plantings of hydrangeas in the woodland and the mixed perennials under the lime trees have flowered particularly well. There is always a surprise and this summer, having bought Castor Oil plant seed ( Ricinus ) from a different supplier, it responded by towering over 6 ft with massive leaves and is still growing - shame for the smaller plants I had planted alongside which were not shade lovers.

As a gardener whose training enables me to fill the garden with plants from all over the world with interesting (to me anyway) backgrounds and history it is inevitable that the plant most asked about by garden visitors was a self-sown weed in the vegetable area. Thorn apple ( Datura stramonium ) is an annual with purple trumpet flowers and curious egg-size green prickly seed heads , it’s poisonous and my very tongue-in-cheek answer on the reason we grow it is to keep visitor numbers to a manageable level was accepted with a smile I think! I allow quite a few self sown plants to wander about through the garden, the most noticeable at present being the tall blue Verbena bonarensis in the Mulberry garden. Because I mulch with our own compost and do not hoe through the borders, these ‘free’ plants often appear in different areas year by year, and usually in more numbers than from sowing for a seed packet. It’s very much easier to watch plants grow than try to grow them.

When you buy a newly published book on Salvias, the bulk of which is 150 Salvias for the garden, it sets a bit of a challenge. To date we have 22 species and varieties flowering their socks off here at Reveley. Apart from a long flowering season, and some with scented foliage, the bees and hover flies love them .

Certainly when the sun pops out after a misty morning - leaves on the trees are beginning to colour,  it seems to be a good year for berries plus the late summer flowering perennials are still at their best - out in the garden is a good place to be. (Until the gardener gets that infernal leaf blower started).

See you in the garden soon. Title is Sandy Denny’s magnificent song from Fairport Convention’s ’Unhalfbricking’

Spring 1

MELLOW YELLOW

It has been some time since I have penned a blog , I have been concentrating on the other patch of grass dear to to my heart located at Vicarage Road and now that the Hornets have secured promotion to Premier League I can now focus my attention back to Reveley matters . Mind you this almost ensures that next years tulip pots will be in the Watford colours of yellow and red.

May is now upon us and the greenhouse and frames are full to bursting point with plants jostling each other for space before they are planted outside for the summer display . Several cold nights at the end of last month meant abandoning my customery evening glass of wine to go back into the garden to cover the frames and move pots back into shelter.

I usually start planting the more tender plants outside during Chelsea Flower Show week . The vegetable garden is the only area where I sow seed direct into the ground , preferring to sow even hardy annuals into plug trays or small pots as the soil here takes a long time to warm up for successful germination. Patience is a horticultural virtue and many an early planting gets done by a late frost , still it keeps nurserymen in business.

There is a lot of colour at present, self sown mysotis (forget-me-nots ) and celandines , which are a bit of a weed here, have stunningly filled in the gaps in the borders and the regal pelargoniums in the conservatory are very day-glow , there is also a second flower spike on the bird of paradise plant which is very tropical and almost worth the 4 years of tending to get it to flower. One of the garden robins carrying on the robin tradition of nesting in the most awkward places set up its station on a cabinet shelf in the potting shed and managed to rear its young despite my presence on many occasions. I did retune the radio from Talksport to 3 Counties so at least the youngsters would know where they were born. Rockin’ Robin indeed.

Winter 2

BABY ITS COLD OUTSIDE

It certainly has been, and as I write we have a light covering of snow up here at Reveley. This winter I have been attempting to sort the areas of the garden that cause minor problems during the year. Shaping some of the edges of the borders so that the mower will cut evenly round the bed without leaving uncut areas that have to be done by hand. I have also been reducing the height of the boundary hedges to make future hedge cutting quicker, a warm job due to a combination of wearing protective chainsaw clothing and fear. I bear the scars from a fateful hedge cutting session many years ago.

All the seeds for this season have arrived and the plug plants ordered. Although I order online I still like the to have the physical seed catalogues to pour over with a big cup of coffee, quite literally in some cases. Not in a rush to begin sowing yet apart from the sweet peas which I have my own tradition of sowing on the first day back at work after the new year. They are nestling in the cold frame but don’t tell the mice.

I have always loved seed packets reminding me of going with my Dad at this time of year into Woolworths to buy Carters seeds for his allotment.

Winter 1

There are more questions than answers

To end the year a list of things I know about working at Reveley Lodge:

I will struggle to keep the musical titles for these musings next year ( the above is from Johnny Nash ).

Mice will eat the first sweet pea sowings. 

The fallen leaves I pick up tomorrow will look the same but be different ones to the ones I pick up today

The longer you work in a garden the more autumn leaves there are (trees grow).

There will be rats .

Garden machinery only breaks down when you use it. There will be foul and abusive language directed at garden machinery.

Mobile phones and petrol leaf blowers while very useful are the invention of the devil. 

I will frequently bang my head on the machinery store door frame. 

There will be foul and abusive language directed at the door frame. 

I will never be able to grow a decent crop of carrots or celery

I will lose a pair of gloves, secateurs and a hand fork , the secateurs and fork will turn up later in the compost heap, gloves gone forever. 

I will walk the full length of the garden to the tool shed and then forget what I came to get.

The pallet of potting compost (50 bags) will be delivered at lunchtime, left in the entrance gateway and it will be raining. 

I will frequently have one way conversations with goldfish, robins and the visiting tabby cat. 

The main lawn despite lots of care and attention will only be poor grass. Why? is very, very hard horticultural question to answer. 

Garden visitors are lovely people and it’s a pleasure to talk to them and answer questions apart from the one just before you who has put the gardener in a bad mood. Grumpiness is an art form.

May I wish everyone who reads these thoughts a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and look forward to seeing you in the garden next year. 

No trustees were harmed in the making of this production.

Autumn 1

Autumn Almanac

Anyone with trees in or surrounding their garden will know that leaf collecting time is upon us . Here at Reveley we gather the leaves in a loose stack which is added to until all the years leaves have fallen and then occasionally re-piled (is that a word ?) during the following year as they rot down. This heap is usually ready to use as a mulch after 3 years. By then the heap resembles a solid ‘cake’ which is broken up spread on the top of the borders and the worms do the rest. The only downside is the birds do tend to chuck it back on the grass and paths and we have 3 massive piles of leaves somewhere in the garden.

We are lucky enough to have several largish trees that usually colour well and along with late flowering herbaceous plants and shrubs with coloured stems or berries, on a bright sunny autumn day the garden positively glows. I try hard to start preparations for any new or replanting areas as the soil is warm and any new plantings will be watered in and settled in by the time the winter really begins, a good intention that doesn’t always happen.

October is also a favourite month for me as it’s usually when I can take a holiday as the watering becomes less onerous , and so hopefully add another botanic garden to the visited list and another grape variety to the wine list. For those under 50 reading this the title is a Kinks song .


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