Reveley Lodge

A Victorian house and garden

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Thoughts from the Gardener’s Bench – Late Winter 2018

For certain this winter has been full of surprises, with three different periods of snow and a lot of frosts and chilly winds. I don’t know about you, but I am ready for some warmer weather. Never the less, we have been busy here in the garden. And here is a wee taste of what we have been up to…

Last summer in the vegetable garden, it became quite noticeable that some shrubs and a few of the trees along the back fence were stealing a lot of the morning sunlight.  In fact direct sun doesn’t appear in the sky overhead till after 1 o’clock.

 As time goes by we often miss the gentle developments in a garden, and within a few years things are not going so well. It is a common problem: plants start to struggle in the garden and you are scratching your head wondering why! This situation is normally pointed out to most of us by somebody else who has a pair of fresh eyes!

So throughout January and February, the team reduced a lot of laurels and the tree surgeon took off a small limb from a large beech tree, to improve the light levels. So hopefully this year, we will have better results from the veg patch.

The ongoing project in the Rose Garden has kept us busy too. Here the tree surgeon took down two trees in February, to open up the rose garden to a lot more light and increase the air flow. This work hopefully will reduce some of the dreaded black-spot we suffer and has opened up a new vista into the Mulberry Beds and beyond.

And lastly just to say, next time you are in the gardens, you can’t miss the fact that the limes surrounding the main lawn have had a bit of a ‘hair cut’. The Limes have been pollarded in the past with two very different styles. One side has a pole style and the other created by Nick Boyes, more of a framework approach. You can decide which style you like best.

Rory’s Blog

22 March 2018

Thoughts from the Gardener’s Bench – Winter 2017/18

From time to time you may be wondering  ‘what to do gardeners do in the middle of winter? Pouring over seed catalogues armed with endless mugs of steaming hot tea! Sounds good to me! But no, it is a very busy time of the year and we are very much out and about.

Today for example, with the help of my chums, the garden volunteers, we planted 3,000 bulbs, before lunch into the garden here at Reveley.

The weather was a bit “dreich” as we say in Scotland, but that didn’t stop us or dampen our spirits. And it’s amazing how a cup of coffee and a piece of cake at half time can do to spur you on.

The day was only possible thanks to the very generous gift from our friends at Jacques Amand International at Stamp Hill, just on the other of Bushey.

We still have quite a few to go in but we’re nearly there.

The team are looking forward to seeing the fruit of our labours sometime in the spring, when we hope to be seeing many of you!

By the way: Dreich (a very Scottish word) has several meanings when applied to weather, including wet, dull, gloomy, dismal, dreary, miserable or any combination of these. Today it was all of these!

Rory’s Blog

15 January 2018

Thoughts from the Gardener’s Bench – Autumn 2017

It seems the sunny weather has gone south of the equator once again, it’s foggy outside today as I write, the Foxgloves have all been planted out, tulips chosen and pumpkins harvested, so it must be autumn!

Here is a wee look back at just a few of things that have happened in the garden here at Reveley Lodge.

You may remember I mentioned in the Spring blog about the Straw bale method, and why I was trying it out. And although we didn’t get massive harvests from our pumpkins, most of the plants did produce several fruits, which given their less than perfect situation, I was quite happy with. I used my favourite French heirloom variety ‘Rouge vif D’Etampes’. And now the plants are all gone, the bales continue to useful, as I am left with some great mulching material of around the garden.  So perhaps I will  try it again next year.

Regarding the weather, it has definitely been a tale of 2 summers, with the first part quite warm and dry, but the second was mixed to say the least, with subsequent harvests.

But despite the variable weather, we had some really good event days. The Canada had exceptional weather, the National Garden Scheme Day was again very well attended, and special thanks to all those behind the scenes who made them happen and to those who came to support them. And then there were the memorable Open Air Cinema Nights which were fun with dancing on the lawn, in the dark, to the Mama Mia musical! I wont forget that in a hurry.

If you were at any or indeed all of these events, it can’t have escaped your notice that the main lawn was in very poor condition. And so would you be, if you had hundreds of people walking all over you in a day!

So immediately after the second Film Night we set to, to renovate the lawn. It has been a big team effort with Barry, myself and my trusty team of volunteers.  We levelled out hollows and hills, scarified, aerated, fed  and reseeded the lawn. It is starting to look more the part ready for next year.

This autumn we will be doing some more Laurel bashing to increase the daylight into key areas. We are continuing with our Rose Garden Renovation Project, and planting out the tulips.

Enjoy your garden this autumn.

Rory’s Blog

18 November 2017

Thoughts from the Gardener’s Bench – Summer 2017

Well things never stand still in the garden, especially in the summer time sometimes at the speed of a snail & sometimes as fast as the wind as we will see! Here are just a few highlights of what’s being going on in the Reveley Lodge gardens this summer so far…

We have had a good year in the rose garden, and although the first flush with it’s heady perfumes and soft colours has already past, but we are awaiting the second flowering. Although the Rose Garden was planted with mostly old rose varieties, the rose garden was carefully planned to have a number of the later Old Roses which were developed to produce the much desired second flush! Such as the Portland & Bourbon roses. So there is still much to look forward to.

We are trying to develop the rose garden by underplanting with Stachys byzantina  and Stachys lanata with their soft “touch me“ leaves. We grew these  from seed in the greenhouse. Also adding Nepeta “Six Hill Giant“ and “Six Hill Gold“ for a softer fill look.

The vegetable garden is in full swing as you would expect. We have tried to pick varieties for both colour as well as for taste, for example a red tasselled mini sweet corn beside Purple French Climbing Beans. And although much has been relatively fast growing, one of our snail harvests has been our garlics, which was started in October and lifted at the beginning of July and won’t be available till August.

We tried 4 varieties: Carcassonne Wight, Solvent Wight, Vallelado Wight and Elephant Garlic. At the moment they are all curing in the potting shed and will be ready for sale later in August. It is always interesting to see which plants do well in a garden and which, for whatever reason, don’t. Vallelado Wight was our clear winner, each head producing big fat cloves, but as they say, the proof is in the pudding, so we will just have to patiently wait till they are ready.

And finally sadly in the recent summer storms we lost the very old apple tree beside the ‘Secret Garden‘ , it collapsed very unexpectedly. I think it must have been over 100 years old. It had rot issues which couldn’t be seen externally, but also it was having a bumper crop of apples. Added to this, the weight of the very heavy rains was just too much for the old tree to cope with.

Sad but true. I hope you continue to enjoy you garden and the rest of the summer.

Rory’s Blog

9 August 2017

Thoughts from the Gardener’s Bench – Spring 2017

Well… Spring has definitely sprung once again, and as all good gardeners are aware, that also means the arrival of our arch enemies the slugs and snails! Due to the exceptionally dry past few months there has been little sight of all these guys, but now they are out en masse. You can almost hear them as they dine at all the local salad bars in Bushey! 

I am very excited about the new season ahead. Over the course of last winter and the early spring I have been working with volunteers, both local and from further afield, to carry out a lot of background work , particularly with the laurels. We also had the tree surgeons in, taking down a large dead sycamore in the Rose Garden. The hope is that with the removal of this tree there will be a lot more light available, so hopefully more and better blooms.

One of the nice things about the taking down of this tree was that we were able to create five seats that are now hidden in the Rhododendron Dell. And if you are wondering where the dell is, you will just have to come and explore a bit to find it! The Rhododendrons are looking magnificent at the moment.

Over the Autumn and early Spring we have also been busy in the treated part of the Clay Lane beds. The replanting is almost complete but we are waiting to see if we have managed to completely eradicate the Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) before completing the planting.

One of the systems that we have put in place to prevent the Ground Elder from returning was a plastic membrane (or wall), which was dug into the ground. It is something similar to that used to prevent bamboos or Japanese Knot Weed from running amuck.

A highlight of the Spring so far for me has been the Tulip terrace display. People have remarked on it and it seems it gave pleasure to many this year. Of course, like all gardeners, there is something I would have changed or tweaked. We are never satisfied are we!

Another highlight of the Spring was the great success of the St George’s Day celebrations. It was wonderful to see so many people enjoying the gardens, the weather and all that had been laid on.

Something new at Reveley this year will be the trial use of a straw bales within the Vegetable Garden. I first saw this in Germany and then also at a display at RHS Harlow Carr.

The Straw Bale gardening technique has been around for some years. It is very popular in America, and is now used in France. It is being taught in Cambodia to help the poor farmers raise extra food crops during the monsoon season, to feed themselves and their families.

My particular reason for trying The Straw Bale technique here at Reveley is because we have another weed problem, this time called Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana ).  It was treated in the early autumn to no avail, so rather than just spray again, we are trying a more organic approach by covering over the ground with a Mypex membrane and creatively continuing gardening over the top while the Nightshade dies off.  That is the theory anyway, ask me if it worked this time next year!  

So…  you are warmly invited to come and explore what’s new, what’s in bloom, see what’s hopefully not growing where it shouldn’t and what is growing in the Straw Bales.

Rory’s Blog

20 May 2017

Thoughts from the Gardener’s Bench- 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 backing onto the secret garden and bee hives

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…

Rory’s Blog

28 November 2016

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. 

12 April 2016

Spring of 2016 – 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. 

March 2016

Spring of 2016 – 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. 

February 2016

Winter of 2015- 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!!

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