Under the icy surface of a frozen garden pond, plants and creatures adapt to survive winter's chill...
It is deepest winter, and the garden pond is buried beneath bleached ground. Sparse stems of robust plants jut through the pure white cover, as though reaching for warmer heights, their remaining leaves brittle and laced with frost. Settled snow hides the pool’s periphery, smoothing the edges as shoreline and surface are blended into uniformity.
The pond dozes through a seasonally imposed, cryogenic sleep. Aside the tracks of passing cats and birds pressed into the crisp covering, there is empty desolation. Yet still, life remains; it has just sunken. Below the surface, biological clocks tick and skeleton workforces continue to labour.
The upper levels are abandoned. As ponds cool, the life they contain relocates progressively deeper, an exodus from the surface ice to follow. Governing this are changes to the physical properties of water, brought about by the low temperatures. For aquatic life, these changes are essential for survival, as without them, the pond would freeze solid.
The main parameter altering the pond’s very dynamic is water density. Liquid water is most dense at 4°C. At temperatures below that, it thins again, until it solidifies as ice. This results in thermal stratification, where dense water sinks, and cooler water forms layers on top. This is partly why ice starts at the surface, instead of throughout.
For aquatic residents, the denser, warmer layer represents a safe oasis at the very limit of their temperature tolerance. This safety can be easily compromised. Depth is critical: if the pond is too shallow, then stratification will not occur. Small bodies of water, less than 35in (90cm) deep, can be hostile to even hardy life. Fish may need to be rehoused indoors while the worst of the season passes.
Fountains or circulation pumps can impact temperatures, mixing the various densities of water together and cooling them until ice starts to form at all depths. At a microscopic level, the pond becomes a semi-solid slurry, causing tiny frozen crystals to form within the tissues of plants and animals. The resulting physical damage can be lethal for anything using the pond as a home, as plant cells rupture, insect shells split, and gills and organs of fish are lacerated.
There are roughly three million manmade garden ponds in the UK. Many are a forced coexistence of native and imported flora and fauna. Among them, goldfish originating from East Asia rank as the country’s favourite alien inhabitants and for good reason. Their tolerance to temperature extremes helps them endure the wide fluctuations of a comparatively balmy British climate.
Wildlife that can avoid fish predation exploit garden pools in winter. Frogs and newts bury themselves in silt and slurry, part camouflage, part insulation, becoming dormant at 5°C. They remain so until the warmth returns, drawing oxygen from the water directly across their skin, known as cutaneous respiration, rather than inhaling atmospheric air.
Insects are found beneath the ice. Truly aquatic species, such as water boatmen and great diving beetles, are ill- adapted to living outside a body of water. They periodically roam the underside of the frozen sheet, seeking out bubbles of air. The young of some aquatic beetles overwinter in muddy ponds, living as larvae buried at the base. Others, in adult form, crawl out for drier refuge.
Crustaceans do not take a winter break. Many amphipods and isopods, such as woodlice, spend their whole lives among the substrate. They are leaf shredders, gnawing through food that has fallen into the pond, and mulching it into a fine detritus. The falling leaf bounty of autumn is sufficient to see them through long-drawn winters.
Microbes in the pond may still function at low temperatures. Some are even found after centuries of dormancy in harsh Arctic permafrost. Though activity levels are seriously compromised, they still use any available carbon, nitrogen and oxygen locked away in the pond’s waste, as well as oxygen in the water, to convert organic debris into a mixture of energy and effluvium.
The hermetically sealed box of a frozen pond presents a problem here. Bacteria feeding on debris produce carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen sulphide and a farrago of other noxious gases. With nowhere to escape, these gases accumulate, poisoning higher life. To avoid this, excess sediment must be removed with nets or aquatic vacuum cleaners before the winter sets in.
With the sun gone, plants divert energy from stem or leaf growth, focusing attention on their roots. By storing carbohydrates in their bulbs, roots or rhizomes, they have adequate reserves to subsist frugally until light returns and photosynthesis can resume. Water lilies stop any surface growth. New leaves will sprout in spring, and they are best left alone until then. Provided they have had a productive summer, they will return more strongly, year on year.
Many introduced plants, especially floating ones, stand little chance. Removing them to an indoor bucket may be their best hope for survival. Indigenous plants and those from northern climates, such as the spiky water soldier, will follow everything else to the bottom. Here, they adopt a submarine lifestyle until conditions improve. Where foliage has evolved this means of survival, it will adopt it without prompting.
Deeper oxygenating plants and algae stay minimally active. As long as some light can reach them, and carbon dioxide is available, they continue a lethargic photosynthesis, trickling out oxygen. Darkness forces them to respire, with plants dipping into their energy stores of sugar when the nuclear force of light is unavailable. This in turn causes them to produce carbon dioxide instead. In a smaller pond, this is avoided with the regular clearance of snow from its surface. Larger ponds will be too hazardous to stretch across.
Goldfish care in winter is easy: they are left alone without food. As cold-blooded creatures, unable to generate their own body heat, their metabolic rates are enslaved to water temperature. Feed rates need to be drastically reduced below 10°C, while sub-8°C digestion is entirely dormant. Feeding during a reprieve between cold snaps risks filling their bellies with indigestible fare when the temperature dips again. When snow and ice prevail, feeding is suspended.
Breaking surface ice to create breathing holes is often counterproductive. The pressure waves from any sudden impact are enough to shock fish, often to a lethal degree. Just as bad is the use of boiling water, which will cause acute damage to any life it meets as it mixes.
Floating pond heaters will help to the extent of clearing some surface ice, but do little beyond that. In the cold, oxygen travels approximately 2mm a day through static water. Given that pond life migrates to the bottom, it takes weeks or months for the gas to travel down that far. Breathing holes in ponds are superfluous, except where gases inside the pond need to be released. Unless excessive gas bubbles form on the underside of the ice sheet, or the pond is catastrophically overstocked, then holes are not essential.
Until spring’s thaw, it is wise to let the inhabitants of the pond continue to do what they have been successfully doing unaided for millions of years.
Words Nathan Hill
On a sunny day in October, a peaceful old orchard becomes a hive of activity. It is time to harvest the apples and pears weighing down the branches of the fruit trees at Hambrook House on the edge of the Cotswold Hills.
This four-acre walled garden produces a bumper crop of fruit every year, including many rare varieties. But some 20 years ago, it was a very different story, with the 300-year-old orchard overgrown and neglected.
“It was a wilderness of brambles, nettles and rubble, with a derelict hut and a roofless barn,” says Scott Carleton. He is the owner of the land, with Graeme Alexander. They bought the 17th century farmhouse 30 years ago. Then they discovered that the property had owned a neighbouring orchard for 200 years, until it was sold off after the Second World War.
Perched on a hillock in the orchard was a strange addition, a 30ft-high (9.1m) church steeple, sitting on top of a grassy mound. This had been erected by a previous owner of the house, the Rev John Pring, 150 years ago. It came from St Michael’s Church at nearby Winterbourne, where it was deemed unsafe after being struck by lightning. The Rev Pring had it dismantled and rebuilt in his orchard.
“There was no church to go with it,” says Scott. “Instead, a flight of steps in the mound led down to a door and a mysterious stone-walled chamber with the word Gerizim carved above it.” For many years this was generally thought to be a Georgian ice house. It is now believed to have been built as an apple store.
Graeme and Scott determined to buy the orchard back and return it to productivity. “We wanted to restore the house and its land as they had once been, as part of the history of the area,” says Scott. But two centuries of neglect were not easy to eradicate.
“Four or five cows which wandered round the orchard had made a path between clumps of bramble and coarse vegetation, such as thistles, dock and ragwort,” says Scott. “One of the bramble clumps concealed a car. Most of the others concealed agricultural equipment, including an old harrow and parts of carts, including huge wheels. On the positive side, it was a haven for wildlife.”
It was hard to tell that the approximately 50 remaining trees were even there, as there was considerable dead wood. Many were almost strangled by a crippling intrusion of ivy. “In some cases, there was only a few feet of growth at the very apex of the trees.
A disease called fire blight had ravaged them too,” recalls Scott.
The two men were keen to preserve as much wildlife as possible, while returning the land to being a thriving orchard. “We wanted to only gradually change an environment which clearly supported birds, bats, snakes and hedgehogs,” he says. “We were concerned about how much we would be affecting the food chain, so we decided to ask for help.”
Advice on planting and upkeep came from both South Gloucestershire County Council and specialists from the former Long Ashton research station (LARS). This agricultural and horticultural government research centre was created in 1903 to study and improve the West Country cider industry. It later expanded its work into fruit research, but closed in 2003.
Scott and Graeme consequently drew up a 10-year plan. “We commissioned two surveys from LARS, a year apart,” says Scott. “The first one was in September 1996, before we started work. A number of samples of fruit and leaves were taken to the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley in Surrey for identification. Most of the trees proved to be very tall pears, possibly dating back to 1853. There were some apple trees, but they tend not to live for more than 100 years, whereas pears can live up to 300 years.”
The couple were told they had a ‘Beurre Diel’ and nine
‘Dr Jules Guyot’ pears, and some possible ‘Wellington’ apple trees, also known as Dumelow’s Seedlings. “It’s actually not easy to identify fruit trees as there are variations even within a variety,” says Scott. “We had one expert telling us our pears were for perry-making and another who said they were culinary.”
The report advised against removing the dead wood wholesale. Insects feed on the dead wood and, in turn, provide food for birds. “It did say we should chop down any sizeable rotting branches in case they fell on anyone,” says Scott.
Clearing the land
It was suggested they begin by cutting paths with a mower to the individual trees and then a circle round them.
“The mowing was to be without a box so the grass cuttings could be left to feed the trees,” says Scott. “It was recommended that we gradually cleared all the existing overgrown material. The intervening areas between the trees should be allowed to grow annually to encourage wild flowers. It would then be cleared in the late summer or early autumn.”
They were advised to spread a good scattering of well-rotted farmyard manure evenly on the cleared area, at three ounces per square yard. If they did not have that, they could use a balanced fertiliser which is high in nitrogen and potash.
“We mowed where the five cows had meandered. Gradually over a decade, with some help, we cut down the coarse vegetation. The cuttings were left on site to rot down and become a habitat for creepy crawlies,” says Scott.
Once the trees could be accessed, the next step was to prune them. The dead and some of the living branches were removed to let in light and air.
Sadly, many of the trees were beyond saving and had to be taken out. However, they managed to keep 60 of both apple and pear. “We had a lovely time choosing our 40 or so new trees. These were mainly eating apples, because we were concerned new pear trees would get fire blight. We went for a combination of taste, historical association, disease-resistance and their names,” says Scott. “Who could resist such wonderful old-fashioned names like ‘Chorister Boy’, ‘Christmas Pearmain’ and ‘Gillyflower of Gloucester’? Then there is the ‘Leathercoat Russet’ mentioned by Shakespeare, the ‘Ashmead’s Kernel’ dating back to around 1700 and the ‘Court Pendu Plat’. The latter was possibly grown by the Romans, who are said to have brought apples into Britain originally.
“We planted many of them in a traditional quincunx pattern of five points arranged in a cross, with four of them forming a square or rectangle and a fifth at its centre,” he says. This pattern of planting allows each tree to receive equal amounts of light. It also allows easier access for mowing, weed control and fruit collection.
“They came with mistletoe implanted in them. We have two pairs of mistle thrushes who nest here and dine lavishly on the mistle berries.”
Among the new trees are rarer varieties. These include one called ‘Berkeley Pippin’, which was thought to be extinct and is now on the critical list, and one ‘Golden Knob’.
“The reason some apples are rare is that they fell out of favour,” says Scott. “Either the flavour wasn’t as good as new varieties, or they were disease-prone, or didn’t crop well, bruised easily or looked ugly. We love the taste of ‘Berkeley Pippin’, which is a dessert apple, and our ‘Golden Knob’, but its apples are tiny and not good-looking. The tree is small and doesn’t crop every year, so it isn’t practical for commercial growers.”
The new apple trees were one-year-old maidens, and looked like twigs. However, these maidens establish better than large trees. “It felt a long wait but, at the end of the 10-year plan, we have a productive orchard,” says Scott.
The orchard is now mown four times a year to help the wildflowers, such as buttercups, dandelions, bugle and lady smocks, which already grew there. “We also planted yellow rattle, but it doesn’t appear to be growing,” says Scott. “The
soil is so good that coarse vegetation grows quickly and overwhelms the wildflowers.”
As the site was improved, more trees were planted, including cherries, plums, quinces, hazels, a sweet chestnut, and a mulberry. The orchard is now snowy with blossom each spring and heavy with fruit in the autumn.
“An orchard is always one of the most beautiful and tranquil places to be,” says Scott. “It looks its best in the autumn when the fruit is glowing in the trees. We often find fungi like waxcaps, puffballs, field mushrooms and bracket fungus on the orchard floor or on the trunks.”
Bottling the juice
“Most of the apples are sent off for juicing. A proportion of the crop goes to a couple of Bristol restaurants who want unusual local varieties, especially from an orchard run on organic lines,” he says. “We don’t produce many pears, as the old trees are past production and we have only a few young ones. What we have also goes for juicing.
“Our reward is a number of bottles of apple juice from the farmer. These we label ourselves and use on festive occasions. A lot of it goes as Christmas presents.”
Windfalls are left on the ground for birds to devour, such as the redwings and the fieldfares, as well as bats, mammals and insects.
Over their two decades of labour Scott and Graeme have taken great joy in their orchard. “It was very satisfying to see the orchard gradually shape up and get back to how it must have looked in its heyday.”
Chamber of mystery
At first, Scott and Graeme accepted the consensus of opinion that the bee-hive shaped stone chamber beneath the steeple was an ice house. “An 1870s OS map described it as such,” says Scott. “And not far away was a long, stone-faced ditch which could have been a small canal, useful as a source of ice.”
This had seemed to convince writers Sylvia P Beamon and Susan Roaf, who included it in their book The Ice-houses of Britain (pub 1990). However, they did add that a surveyor who visited the orchard in 1977 thought the chamber was an apple store.
“This would explain the word Gerizim,” says Scott. “It’s a Biblical reference meaning fruitful mountain. It would fit in with it being the creation of the Rev Pring whom CHB Elliott, in his book Winterbourne, Gloucestershire (pub 1936), describes as a very keen gardener. It explains why there is neither drainage nor an insulated passageway normally found in an ice house. It also accounts for the iron mesh door and vents in the mound as ice houses would never need ventilation. Any gaps would have been stuffed with straw and hay.”
As for the steeple, it emerged that it had been struck by lightening at least twice before it was finally moved. Once was in 1583 when it was described as “piteously wrecked” and
again 10 years later. However, on the third occasion, in 1827, it had virtually expired.
The chamber has been restored and is now Grade II listed. An 18th century weather vane was regilded and placed on top of the spire during the year Scott’s parents celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. “And now we have put a memorial to my mother in the entrance,” he says.
Scott makes one last tantalising suggestion. “Gerizim was one of a pair of Old Testament mountains, so its twin, Ebal, may also still be around. Does anyone know?”
Seventy-five per cent of Gloucestershire’s orchards have been lost in the past 50 years. Changes in farming include the introduction of chemicals and intensive growing for high output. Many small, mixed family farms with sheep and cattle grazing in the orchards have gone. Grants were given to grub out the old orchards, to increase the amount of land for food production.
On top of this is a lack of demand for the type of apples grown. Supermarkets sell imported apples all year round, leaving many people unaware of the seasonality of fruit. It is no longer the practice to buy apples to store in sheds or a cold room.
The early 1990s saw a revival in the county’s orchards, when it was realised that those left were under threat of disappearing. In many cases, only one tree remained of some local varieties. In 1992, a Restoring Our Landscape grant was introduced by Gloucestershire County Council. This lasted for approximately five years and successfully resulted in more than 3,000 orchard trees being planted. The Gloucestershire Orchard Trust was set up, and now has 150 members. Its aim is both to conserve threatened species and revitalise the fruit growing industry. Over the last decade, a special effort has been made to locate and identify local varieties. These are grafted or budded on to other trees, to save them.
Words: Victoria Jenkins Photography: Will Goddard
Myriad early flowers and blossom fill a riverside garden in Kent, its planting a legacy of one woman’s vision.
On the outskirts of the ancient Kentish village of Yalding, a narrow lane leads across the floodplain of the River Medway to the daffodil-flanked drive of a former oast house. This is Parsonage Oasts, the home of Edward and Jennifer Raikes. In spring, the garden erupts into a haze of flowering trees and shrubs. White magnolia and Ribes sanguineum compete and blend with red and pink Japanese quince and camellias. All are under-planted with more than 30 types of daffodil, fritillaria, hellebores, lime green euphorbia and tiny tulips.
The early 19th century red brick and timber-clad oast house, originally designed to dry hops, occupies an idyllic position at the water’s edge. There are sweeping views in both directions of the Medway. “The river is a great asset. I like seeing the people and the birds on it,” says Jennifer. “It keeps the garden a bit warmer. But it also means that the soil is very light and full of gravel. It dries out a lot, so needs plenty of watering to encourage plants such as grape hyacinths and geraniums to get going.”
To this end, seven water butts are dotted around the ¾ acre plot to collect water from various roofs. Jennifer also relies on plentiful supplies of spring water pumped up from a small well. This is situated behind the house on a patch of lawn. Sometimes the river contributes too. Yalding hit the national news over Christmas 2013 when it was flooded after a deluge of rain. Parsonage Oasts did not escape and the garden was doused. The floodwater disappeared as quickly as it came and left no lasting damage to the plants, trees and shrubs. The main victims were the beehives Edward has kept for 30 years, although these have been replaced now.
The Raikeses are used to the river’s moods, having lived at Parsonage Oasts since 1968. They moved in to help look after Edward’s grandmother, Gladys, in her very old age. “It was Gladys who made the garden when she came here in 1954,” says Jennifer. “She bought the derelict oast and a parcel of land from Parsonage Farm and, with the help of her architect, turned it into a home. Aided by a local man with the lovely name of Mr Startup, she started to create the garden out of the farmyard, which was a complete bramble patch, all overgrown.”
Although Gladys was well into her 70s, she planted magnolias and apple trees. She also put in hedges of yew, box and shrubby honeysuckle. Lawns were laid out and low brick walls built, with gravel pathways that flowed around the garden. She put in a small rose garden and a variety of shrubs. “It was already a very nice garden when we came here,” remembers Jennifer. “But, as we spent most of our time looking after our three small children, it got quite overgrown and weedy. It was only after they got a bit bigger that we began to garden in a more serious way, at the end of the ’70s.”
An outside dining room
One of their first major additions was an arbour on the sun terrace outside the drawing room. This was created for a young strawberry vine, Vitis vinifera ‘Rembrandt’, to clamber over. “The vine is a cutting taken from an original planted by Gladys. That had died in 1971, the same year as Gladys died. We got some old water pipes from a junkyard and put them up.”
In spring, this wonderful old vine starts sending out new shoots, which result in masses of edible, bronze-coloured grapes in late summer. With its snug position against the house, the sun terrace is one of the Raikes’ favourite places to sit. As soon as the weather is good enough, they take their meals out here, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tucked into one corner is a favourite garden ornament, an armillary sphere. A pidgin Latin inscription translates as: “This garden is the fruit of the wisdom of Gladys Raikes.” It was made for them in 1975 to commemorate Granny’s creation of the garden.
To the left of the terrace is a low brick wall, beyond which is the river. Beneath it, a well-stocked herbaceous border is brightly lit with bold, orange-flowered crown imperials, Fritillaria imperialis. Its large bulbs are planted between the burgeoning lilies, geraniums and tulips. “Granny put some in to start with, but I do keep them topped up, and they carry on year to year,” says Jennifer. “They are scene-stealers, very dramatic.” There is a great deal of foliage as well, because Jennifer loves the soothing qualities of the colour green. “I like white, silver and green together, and contrasting leaf shapes,” she says. “These range from pointy such as fritillaria, and palmate, geraniums for example, to big sheaves of leaves such as tulips and daffodils.”
From the terrace, there is a picture-postcard view onto one of Granny’s best legacies. On the far side of the well-kept lawn, a huge Magnolia x soulangeana, or saucer magnolia, is covered in lightly scented flowers. “The magnolia comes in March,” says Jennifer. “It is at its best at the beginning of April, then has a second flowering in July. We mulch it every autumn with its own leaves and a bit of fertiliser, perhaps some hoof and horn.”
Next to the magnolia, and helping to set it off, is the tiny, snowy blossom of a delicate white flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum. Jennifer planted this to increase the visual interest in that corner of the garden. Beneath both trees are swathes of purple hellebores Helleborus purpurascens, white windflowers Anemone nemorosa, and drifts of daffodils. This underplanting seems to anchor the nut-brown trunks in a sea of gentle colour that enhances all the varieties of green Jennifer adores.
Another of Granny’s stars lies across the lawn to the right of the arbour. This is a large and prolifically fruiting ‘Gascoyne’s Scarlet’ apple tree. “It has the most gorgeous blossom,” says Jennifer. “Despite its age, last year we had 130 bottles of juice from it. Edward prunes it very severely in February or early March to keep that parasol shape. It’s quite a big job and takes a couple of days to do properly.” Approximately three decades ago, Edward attached a swing to one of the tree’s sturdy branches for their grandsons to use. It is still being enjoyed now by their youngest granddaughter, Etta.
Spheres of box
One of Granny’s introductions that did not stay the course was her rose garden. This originally led out from a back door, bisecting the lawn, in front of the apple tree. “By the late 1970s the beds were full of bindweed and the roses weren’t doing well. We took the whole thing out to replace it with something less high maintenance,” says Jennifer. In its place, they put down a simple gravel path, flanked by two rows of hardwearing Tunbridge Wells paviours, interspersed with box balls to create a focal point. “Each ball is made up of up to 30 plants that have grown together to form a mound. Edward always trims them on Derby Day [the first Saturday in June],” says Jennifer. The magnificent spheres are now 3ft (1m) in girth. They are teamed with pots of abelia ‘Sunshine Daydream’ and ‘Confetti’, chosen for their contrasting pale pink-green-yellow foliage.
At the end of the lawn, through a gate and down a few steps, is the wild garden. This is dotted with all manner of trees, including ash, oak, pine, willow, crab apple, alder and hornbeam. In 1999, they dug a pond on the side of the wild garden nearest the river to encourage frogs, though none have yet colonised it. “We bought a pocket of woodland in 1996 with the idea of having a managed wildness. This area is full of old-fashioned daffodils, bluebells, snowdrops, white Anemone blanda and hybrid whitebells. Someone gave me a sack of them, so I planted them all here.”
A hawthorn that was taking light from the area has been cut down. Instead, they have started to plant camellias, which like the shady, slightly damp conditions. On the little path above that looks into the wild area from the main garden, camellias in pots are putting their roots down to get established. So far, the collection has approximately 15 varieties.
Returning to the formal garden, beyond the apple tree, the flower beds running next to the house are punctuated with a variety of scented shrubs. There are wintersweet Chimonanthus praecox, and winter honeysuckle Lonicera fragrantissima. “You can’t beat natural fragrances,” says Jennifer. She is delighted to add another sensory element to her spring garden with shrubs such as sweet box Sarcococca confusa, and the deliciously scented daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’.
A host of daffodils
On the far right of the garden is a storage area in the shape of ‘the little barn’. Growing next to this former bullock shed is a striking Japanese quince, Chaenomeles speciosa, creating spring impact with its intense red flowers. In front of the bothy, the kitchen garden is now starting to burst into life.
From here, the path meanders through a gate round to the front of the house, past drifts of more daffodils. “We started putting in the daffodil bulbs about 20 years ago and now have over 30 varieties,” says Jennifer. They start flowering in December with ‘Rijnveld Early Sensation’ and finish in May with ‘Pheasant’s Eye’. Some of her favourites include the heritage variety ‘Baths Flame’, bred pre-1913, and the modern white daffodil ‘Thalia’. Other favourites include scented narcissi such as bright yellow ‘Little Witch’ and white and yellow ‘Jack Snipe’. “We don’t replenish the daffies because they last forever. We do get a few extra varieties every year from our local bulb specialist, de Jager,” she adds.
The Raikeses work in the garden all year round, planting, weeding, pruning, clipping, mowing, edging and mulching. Tasks include growing on cuttings from favourite plants such as Jennifer’s collection of pelargoniums.
The spring season, however, is a time of enormous pleasure and anticipation of good things to come. “The garden delights both of us,” says Jennifer. “It’s our hobby like other people play golf or have a yacht, and we’re out in it most days. But we don’t spend huge amounts of money on it. We have lots of plants given by friends, and I give away cuttings and bulbs too.”
Her favourite time in this season is between 4pm and 5pm. This is when she potters round to see what needs a bit of attention, such as feeding or tying in or deadheading. “Plants need help, of course they do, and the garden is very much a work in progress,” she says.
Words: Caroline Wheater Photography: Abigail Rex
Parsonage Oasts, Hampstead Lane, Yalding, Kent, ME18 6HG. Tel 01622 814272.
The borders of this Worcestershire garden are filled with old-fashioned flowers
Sitting on a Worcestershire hilltop, Highfield Cottage's borders are filled with the scents and colours of flowers grown in English cottage gardens for centuries. Behind high hedges, that protect from the winds, an abundance of roses bloom, here against a backdrop of birdsong, and softly buzzing bees. They scramble over trellis, sheds and rustic arches framing views of billowing borders filled with fragrant flowers.
Owner Valerie Mills moved here 40 years ago with her husband David and two daughters.Then the plot was open to the countryside and was completely over grown. Today it is a beautiful garden where paths meander past clematis, foxgloves, lavender and campanula to name but a few of the beautiful plants that flourish here. Majestic delphiniums line up, tall and stately. Around their tall blue spies, other colours flow freely in every direction. The main border is mainly creams, pinks, whites, blues and purples.
Many of the plants are allowed to self-seed, such as Verbena bonariensis and aquilegias. As well as allowing plants to self-esteem Valerie exchanges plants with other keen gardeners. One of the first she got this was was hardy Geranium x magnificum, with pretty blue flowers. This was joined by Geranium psilostemon, a rampant perennial with shocking-pink flowers. Valerie describes her geraniums as the glue that holds the borders together.
Photographs: Nicola Stocken
The full feature on Highfield Cottage appeared in the May / June 2016 issue of LandScape.
For back issues, click here.
With subtle tones and smooth curves, an Essex garden quietly celebrates springRead More
The yellow tips of Fritillary michailovskyi radiate warmth when set against the dun tones of an old wooden table. Whether displayed in galvanised watering cans, or even an old food grater, this daily flowers bring a golden glow to a garden.
They are one of 100 species of fritillary, and are among the oldest cultivated plants. With its narrow strap-shaped leaves, they grow to 8in (20cm) in height.
Photography: Richard Faulks
This craft feature appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of LandScape.
For back issues click here.
FRESH TURF BRINGS NEW LIFE TO A SPRING GARDEN
Large or small, a lawn provides a splash of colour in the garden all year round. It also gives a backdrop to set off colourful border plants and shrubs. Whether starting a lawn from scratch, or replacing a tired-looking patch of grass, laying good quality turf creates an immediate effect. Spring is the ideal time to do this, as the grass will start growing in the warmer weather.
For the best results, the ground needs first to be carefully prepared. Existing turf is removed. If this is severely compacted, a turf cutter can be hired. Perennial weeds such as docks and dandelions are eradicated either by digging out by hand, or with a specially formulated herbicide. Sufficient leaves need to be showing to soak up the chemicals, while time is allowed for weeds to die prior to laying the turf. If digging out by hand, care is taken to remove the long tap root, which can be more than 18in (45cm) in length.
The soil is then dug to a minimum depth of 6in (15cm), either using a fork or rotovator. The soil is broken down to a fine tilth using a rake, with new top soil or compost added to give the new lawn the best possible start.
Laying the turf
The ground is levelled with a rake, and then firmed either by treading the area several times in different directions on foot or using a roller. The longer the ground can now be left to settle, the more level the lawn will be.
Lawn turf varies according to the mixture of grass species used, so it is important to choose the correct turf for the situation. Fine-leaved grass creates a velvety but delicate putting green effect. Tougher, broader-leaved varieties create a resilient, hard-wearing lawn. At least five per cent more turf than required is ordered, to allow for cutting and shaping. The turf should be laid within 24 hours of delivery, but if work is delayed, laying the turves flat and watering will avoid discolouring.
Using a wide board to stand or kneel on when laying turves avoids indenting the soil. Starting from one corner of the area, as each new roll is unrolled, it is closely butted to the previous one. No gaps are left. To conceal the joins, they are staggered on each subsequent row, so that the grass knits together. The turf is pushed into the joins, never pulled or stretched as this damages the root structure. If unevenness is apparent while laying the turves, soil is added or removed. At regular intervals during laying, it is important to ensure that the underside of each turf is in firm contact with the soil. A scaffold board is laid over the surface, and walked evenly along to press down the turves.
Wherever the lawn finishes, the edges are finished neatly. In instances where the turf runs directly up to a brick wall or wooden decking, the turf is draped over the hard surface. It is patted down and carefully cut to fit with a kitchen knife. Once the excess turf is removed, the edge is pressed down on the inside. Matching the level of the edge and turf allows a mower to run over it easily, creating a clean edge. If the turf finishes at a flower bed, top soil is piled up to cover the bare edges. This prevents them drying out, curling up and dying. Once the turf has taken, a new clean edge can be cut with a turf cutter.
When laying is complete, the turf is watered thoroughly in the early morning or evening. It is kept moist for several weeks, until firmly established. Thereafter, the grass only needs watering during dry periods, with an occasional thorough soaking. Watering little and often only encourages shallow rooting.
Two weeks after laying, the turf is ready for its first cut. The mower blades are set high so as not to remove more than one quarter of the grass blade length. Thereafter, it is cut weekly, removing one third of the blade length. The direction of cut is varied, alternating straight with diagonal stripes on different occasions. This avoids ruts being created by the mower going over old ground every time. Finally, crisp, straight edges are cut using a string line and turf cutter.
Words and Photography: Nicola Stocken
The feature about creating a lawn originally appeared in the Mar / April 2016 issue of LandScape.
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