The Lost Garden of Heligan

Lost_Garden_of_HeliganThis garden has received great praise but I’m not really sure why. My first reaction on visiting it, and one I haven’t change was “they dug up the body but they haven’t brought it back to life”. I think the problem is Tim Smit is extremely good at visitor attractions, and for that he should be admired, the problem is he’s not a gardener at heart. By training he is an archaeologist and anthropologist and this comes through in his treatment of the garden. Heligan is about the social history of the garden and not the horticultural history; as a result, the plants seem to get pushed to the background.

Heligan was never a terribly important garden historically, in part due to its geographical location. It’s heyday was the Victorian era, as with many gardens, and the Tremayne family who owned it managed to secure some very garden worthy plants for it. Unfortunately, the first World War and the social and political upheavals that followed it made the estate uneconomic; as was the case with so many of the large country house estates. The garden was therefore abandoned and the house ultimately converted into flats and sold off.

When the gardens were rediscovered by Tim Smit and John Willis in 1990 the gardens had been derelict for decades and the house was now separated from the garden. This is one of the main problems with garden. The house had been the focus of the gardens and this connection was irrevocably broken leaving a collection of disjoined bits of garden with nothing to pull them together to form a whole. Originally the garden was there to set the house and support it both visually and nutritionally but now the house is there but separate the result is disjointed. Some garden can survive this; at Nymans the house remains as a burnt out shell but is still eternally woven into the design and at Studley Royal the scale and strength of the design can stand on its own. Sadly, Heligan can’t pull this off. Possibly with a more horticulturally centred management the garden could be better, it took the National Trust quite a while to get to grips with looking after the gardens in its care and Heligan, because of the problem with house, will always be difficult; until then it won’t come to life for me.

Mark McNee liked this post

The Master’s Garden at Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick

Masters_Garden_WarwickThis is another one of those gardens that take a little finding, I only found it by serendipity, but it is worth the effort. Set in the middle of the Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick; it’s enclosure by medieval timber frame buildings gives it a sense of being old but no one seems clear about its origins. Parts are clearly old, there is an Egyptian urn in the garden which is listed and the site dates back to the 12th century but the garden in design feels much more contemporary.

Hospital in the title refers back to an earlier use of the word meaning “a charitable institution for the housing and maintenance of the needy, infirm or aged” and it can trace an unbroken history back to a chapel in 1136. It can therefore be guessed that gardening has occurred on this site over eight centuries as plants would be grown for the treatment of any sick visitors. The location of this is now lost but the concept of a peaceful area of greenery amongst the bustle of a town lives on with the present garden.

The garden as it is now, is a pleasant collection of features and make an oasis of calm in the bustling town centre. It therefore it is still serving an important function of the Hospital and its visitors.

Liz McNee, Mark McNee liked this post

Trevarno gardens

Trevarno#1This garden is sadly no longer open to the public following its sale in 2011, but as I visited it in 2010 and it is a very attractive garden I’ve chosen to include it in any case. You never know it may reopen in the future, but that is purely speculation.

There has been a property on the site since at least 1246 and has passed through the hands of many notable owners. In 1874 the property was bought by William Bickford-Smith and the family retained the ownership until the estate was finally broken up and the house and gardens where sold and closed to the public. It was this family that are responsible for the appearance of the garden today. When William Bickford-Smith bought it the house already had a well-developed Georgian garden that he supplemented with the fashion of the day to create a merger of the Georgian and Victorian style, itself an important intermediate stage in the development of gardens.

Garden-detail-at-Trevarno-gardens-#-2The gardens included a lake (complete with listed boat house), grotto rockery, pinetum, lakeside terraces, a bog garden, Victorian walled garden, Italianate sunken garden, yew tunnel and woodland walk. It also provided a home for the National Gardening Museum which, though small, contained an interesting collection of displays. Sadly, I don’t know what became of the exhibits after the gardens closed to the public.

The best part of the gardens was thought the range of plants, many rare and tender, that the garden contained; helped by its very south-westerly location. These included rhododendrons, magnolias, flowering cherries and part of the national daffodil collection. What has become of these and the gardens in general I don’t know but hopefully they are being maintained and at some point in the future some form of public access will be allowed again.

Mark McNee liked this post

Wakehurst Place

Wakehurst_placeThough the house dates from the 16th century this is a 20th century garden dating from 1903 when Gerald Loder (later Lord Wakehurst) purchased the property until 1963 when Sir Henry Price bequeathed it to the nation. Two years later Kew Gardens leased if from the National Trust and they still run it. Covering an area of approximately 500 acres it allows Kew to grow a greater range of plants than it can accommodate in its 300 acre Kew Garden site.

Though a garden for the first half of the 20th century its management by Kew has meant it has become more of a living botanical collection. It is though very different in feel to the London site, part due to its size but particularly its rural location. It is a terrific resource with beds laid out of different species and cultivars for comparison.

Where Kew Gardens feels like an oasis of peace in the noise and rush of London Wakehurst Place has a more relaxed and informal feel. Though not a great garden in design terms it still is a very nice garden and a fantastic resource.

Mark McNee liked this post

Alnwick Garden

Alnwick_gardensThis is not a garden; but a visitor attraction, not that there is anything fundamentally wrong with visitor attractions per se. A garden though is created as a personal folly in purely personal search for pleasure through the manipulation of nature, l can’t help but feel the motivation for Alnwick Garden was of a far more financial nature. That aside; the garden doesn’t work as a garden.  The centre piece is the large and very elaborate waterfeature which is far too big for the site and is only missing the Disney Princess Castle at the top. Any large cascading water feature is going be compared to the Chatsworth cascade but if that was the inspiration behind this one the creator clearly didn’t understand how the one at Chatsworth worked. Any garden water feature has to be in scale with its surroundings and add to them not try to visually swap them. Why it was seen fit to chlorinate the water I don’t know but the smell of chlorine assails you before you reach the water. Such a move prevents any aquatic life, plant or animal, surviving in the water feature which says a lot about the attitudes of the people behind it.

The other dominant feature is the “poison garden” and much is make of the dangers this garden contains. The whole thing it treated with great drama even though most of the plants are common and normal practices, like washing your hands before eating and not eating any plants you are not sure of, have protected us all from for years. Somewhere behind the showmanship there are one or more valid messages but they are drowned out by the ringmaster!

There is no doubt that Alnwick Gardens are controversial, you only have to mention it to an UK nurseryman to see their blood pressure rise, the important question is; has it done anything to assist the development of gardens and the plants grown in them? Personally I can’t see it, which is a shame as the site has plenty of potential and a lot of money was spent on it.

Mark McNee liked this post

Viscum album

Viscum album

Viscum album subsp. platyspermum on limes trees at Hampton Court Palace, London

Mistletoe has fascinated humans for millennium, many plants have superstitions attached to them but mistletoe seems to have attracted more than most. It’s not hard to understand that a clump of evergreen leaves growing out of dormant tree in midwinter would grab the imagination. The druids are said to particularly venerate mistletoe growing on an oak tree, something it rarely does, harvesting it with a golden scythe on the 6th day after a new moon. Consisting that the plant is woody and gold is an extremely soft metal I not sure how true that is and as they left no written records of themselves this could just be dramatic invention. It still plays an important part in culture with the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas but the plant is poisonous with a few berries bring on stomach ache though serious poisoning is rare.

Viscum album is wide spread across Europe and it has over the centuries been seen as a cure of a vast range of ailments right up to the present time. Diokorides (the 1st century AD Greek physician) reported that Hippocrates (in the 4th to 5th century BC) believed mistletoe could be used in the treatment of complaints the spleen and menstruation. Over the following centuries it has been recommended as a treatment for swellings, tumours, epilepsy, infertility and ulcers. In more recent times people have tried to use is to treat hypertension and cancer.

Viscum album

Viscum album (Mistletoe)

The genus Viscum L. contains about 100 spices but only V. album L. is native the UK and then mainly in the south and midlands. In naming Viscum album L.. Linnaeus took the Latin for mistletoe as the genus and album, no doubt referring to the distinct white berries, for the species name and listed it in volume 2 of his Species Plantarum. The genus Viscum L. is presently in the family Santalaceae along with 6 other genera. The common name Mistletoe comes from the old English mistel and many semi-parasitic plants around the world have the same common name. It is also known as including All-heal and Masslin in England and has many other names across Europe, Germany having a particularly large collection of names for it.

Mistletoe is notoriously difficult to establish and the species is now divided into 3 sub-species depending on the host plant it lives on.

Viscum album subsp. abietis (Wiesb.) Abrom. which grows on Abies species.

Viscum album subsp. austriacum (Wiesb.) Vollm. which grows on pine trees and very rarely on spruce.

Viscum album subsp. platyspermum Kell. (subsp. album) which grows on hard wood trees.

This goes in part towards explaining why it is so difficult to establish mistletoe as the sub-species are very specific to their chosen host but there also appears to be genetic factors as not all potential host can be infected with equal ease. For example, oak is rarely infected but even then there is a wide range of how readily a plant will be infected with a particular oak species. Therefore, where a plant has only a few mistletoe plants on it not become host to a lot and only specimens with a lot of mistletoes will host a lot.

Mistletoe is evergreen with tiny flowers that are insect pollinated and would never be noticed; the insects are attracted by the sweet smell . The male and female flowers are on separate plants with about 4 times as many female plants as male ones. The plants flower between the end of February and April  and the fruits (or berries) appear from October to May with Mid-March to mid-May being the best time to sow the seed, making sure to brake the outer coating and allowing the sticky contents to help the seed adhere to the bark of the host tree.

Mistletoe is a parasite, all be it a partial one, taking water and minerals from the host tree and this weakens the tree. Infected apples trees will yield between 7% and 56% less depending on how vigorous the rootstock is, with the plants growing on the more vigorous rootstocks affected the least. Once established the Mistletoe shoot doesn’t divide for the first 3 or 4 years then each year the shoot divides in two, ultimately reaching about 1 metre across, so giving a very rough and ready guide to its age.

 

Mark McNee liked this post

Strawberry Hill

Strawberry_hill

Horace Walpole first found Strawberry Hill in 1747 and having purchased the house in 1749 set about rebuilding it in the Gothic style with a garden that developed as the house did.  A very well connected and influential man of letters he was an important character in the development of gardens in the 19th century.

The house he built at Strawberry Hill is regarded as a classic example of Rocco regency design and the accompanying garden received a stream of visitors during Walpole’s life. Sadly, the garden was allowed to deteriorate over the years until virtually nothing was left and a large part of it was sold for building. In recent years a gardener has been appointed and volunteers marshalled with the hope of recreating at least part of the garden.

Mark McNee liked this post

How to clean mortar stains off paving

This involves using a concentrated acid from a builder’s merchant and so all the manufacture’s safety advice must be carefully followed.

Equipment:

  • Brick acid
  • Hose pipe
  • Cheap plastic watering can with a rose
  • Stiff broom
  • Wellington boots
  • Safety equipment (read and follow the safety recommendations that come with the brick acid).

Summary:

 

  1. Check the paving is suitable and read the safety instructions carefully.
  2. Get all the equipment ready and put on the safety equipment.
  3. Wet the paving with a hose pipe.
  4. Pour the cleaner over the paving.
  5. Scrub the paving with the stiff broom.
  6. Rinse the paving with lots of clean water.
  7. Repeat if necessary.

 

  1. Check the paving is suitable and read the safety instructions carefully.

Brick acid is not suitable for all paving so read the manufacture’s information for both the paving and the acid. If necessary, try using it on an area that doesn’t matter to check its suitability prior to starting.

  1. Get all the equipment ready and put on the safety equipment.

Get all the equipment together before you start and get yourself ready before you start. You don’t what to have acid everywhere only to discover the hose doesn’t work or you forgot your wellies and you have two very wet feet.

  1. Wet the paving with a hose pipe.

Wet all you paving with clean water from a hose pipe. You may feel you are watering the cleaner down but it works much better if you apply the acid to wet paving. This is to stop the acid soaking into the paving rather than spread the dissolving the mortar stains.

  1. Pour the cleaner over the paving.

Spread the brick acid over the paving, a cheap plastic watering can with a rose is as good a way as any. Do not use a metal one and the acid will attack it and keep it just for jobs like this.

  1. Scrub the paving with the stiff broom.

Scrub the paving with a stiff broom. The small bristle ones they sometime sell as deck brushes are ideal, but back sure they have a shaft and it is securely attached. You may find some larger lumps of mortar need a tap from a hammer and chisel as you go.

  1. Rinse the paving with lots of clean water.

When you feel the acid has worked rinse the paving with lots of clean water from a hose. This will stop the acid and cleaned the surface so you can see how clean it is.

  1. Repeat if necessary.

Once you have cleaned the paving down you will probably see a few persistent stains and you can now re-treat these areas with the acid in the same way. If you have done the first treatment properly it is though very unlikely that you will have to re-treat the whole areas a second time.

How to prune a rose bush

Equipment:

  • Secateurs
  • Long armed pruners (parrot bills)
  • Strong gloves

Before you start:

  1. You are going to get scratched even with gloves on.
  2. Use good quality tools which will give a clean cut and are safer to use.
  3. Cut the stems just above an outward pointing bud. You will see these if you look carefully just above the scar left where the leaves fell off.

Summary:

  1. Traditionally done in mid-winter.
  2. Remove damaged or diseased stems.
  3. Remove any crossing braches.
  4. Remove any very weak stems.
  5. Shorten the remaining stems to one third of their length.

 

  1. Traditionally done in mid-winter.

Traditionally this is done in February in the United Kingdom when the plants are fully dormant but unlikely to be forced into growth too early and be damaged by frost.

  1. Remove damaged or diseased stems.

Any stems that are diseased, pay a particular look out for coral spot, clearly are going to be a danger to the long term health of the plant and must be removed. Make sure you cut out all of the diseased parts. Damaged parts are never going to be viable in the long term but also they provide an easy site of entry for diseases.

  1. Remove any crossing braches.

There are two reasons for this, first you want an open branch structure which is more stable, shows the plant off well and allows the free movement of air through the plant which discourages diseases like mildew. Second where branches cross through the bush soon or later they will end up rubbing against other branches as the plant moves in the wind. This will quickly damage the bark and provide an easy entry point for pests and diseases.

  1. Remove any very weak stems.

These are never going to give you a strong bush which can carry a good show flowers.

  1. Shorten the remaining stems to one third of their length.

By shortening the remaining stems by a third you should balance way you remove with what you can expect the plant to put on in the next growing season.

Leckmelm Shrubbery and Arboretum

Leckmelm-Shrubbery-entrance

The entrance to Leckmelm Shrubbery and Arboretum from Google Maps

This takes a little find and is a world away from the highly commercialised gardens usually open to the public. It is situated on the north east shore of Loch Broom 3 miles down the A893 south of Ullapool. The post code IV23 2RH will get you close but you will still have to hunt a little, look out for the high stone wall set back from the road.

Originally started in the 1870s by Mr Alexander Pirie, who owned the Leckmelm estate and had made his money in the family paper manufacturing business in the Aberdeen area. The location made good use of its sheltered location on the west coast of Scotland where tender plants can benefit from the protection of the warm gulf steam. This allowed Seats-at-Leckmelm-Shrubbery-and-Arboretumthe planting of many rare and tender plants which have now had time to grow to impressive sizes. Covering about 12 acres the garden is criss-crossed with paths and initially the garden flourished with a staff of 12 gardeners by 1910. The garden also had a walled kitchen garden with greenhouses and utility buildings. Of this only the wall by the road still exists and the carpark is found through an arch in this wall.

Sadly; the garden was abandoned in 1945, many of these large Victorian gardens became unsuitable around this time, and the garden was left to grow wild until 1985 when it was decided to salvage what was left. Fortunately, the amenable climate and location meant many of the plants had flourished and there is now an excellent collection of mature trees and shrubs growing in the garden. The people working on it only have limited resources they can bring to the project but what the garden is none the worse for it and clearly the garden has enormous potential.

Mark McNee liked this post