Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 56 – February 2021

It’s 2021 …. and lockdown grinds relentlessly on towards its first birthday!

Firstly, a belated ‘Happy New Year’ to all our readers!   I hope that you are all in good health and managing to cope with the continuing problems related to the pandemic.   Isn’t life strange at the moment and a touch worrying for those of us of a certain age!   We moved house just before Christmas.   The move was fine but it feels so odd not to have had the opportunity to spend time getting to know our new neighbours.

Persisting pandemic…

As I write, we’ve just received the gloomy news that schools will stay closed until at least March.   Once schools are back, Boris has promised that there may possibly be  an outside chance of some modest relaxation of lockdown restrictions but ONLY if the scientists figures add up to a positive!   Consequently nothing much has changed at the Walled Garden with regard to our Covid restrictions.   We are still open to visitors but parking is very limited (park by the church and walk!) and there is no access to any facilities like toilets.   However, visitors are welcome and there are still things to see so we are still getting a steady flow of locals using the site.   I called by, a few days ago following the recent snowfall to take a few photographs.   I didn’t see anyone there at the time but there were plenty of footprints in the snow!

A white blanket transforms everything!

I remember a recent news item predicting that in the future, snow would become a rare sight in the UK but obviously no-one told the weather gods!   The recent snowfall was not only heavy for this area, but it also stayed long enough to be appreciated – not only for its beauty but also for the opportunities it offered to parents and their children for having fun outdoors.   It must have been a real bonus for beleaguered families who were able to combine physics, PE and art outside, knowing that few children would be complaining on that day!   Snow had been quickly rolled up to make snow figures of every shape and size.   I even saw a snow Viking long ship.   Amazing creativity.   Snow makes everything look so beautiful when it settles and stays around for a while to build up and I love the way it makes everything seem so quiet.

Down came the rain…

Lots of rain has fallen since Christmas – you might have noticed!   Then, of course there was the run-off from the snow melt. The vine house where I was working through most of the autumn, now has 2 linear pools where the rising water table has flooded the sunken path.   Down by the river, the River Tame has once again invaded the lower terrace and flooded the bird hide/boat house.   This happens fairly regularly at this time of the year but always looks spectacular.  It will dry!   Eventually….

So, above, we see the excavated area of the vine houses under around 30cm of ground water.   Perhaps we should plant watercress!

What’s up Doc?

There are signs of spring – nice to know.   There are bulbs pushing through in the orchard, the sensory garden, amongst the trees and all around the edge of the wall.   In the orchard (and elsewhere) the snowdrops are making a brave display and are always worth a closer inspection.   There will be some pots of snowdrops on the produce table soon so you will be able to take a bit of the garden home with you (for a donation, of course!).   There are also perennials on the produce table and more will appear every week as the temperature rises.

Currently there are not many volunteers on site because of  Covid restrictions so it’s lucky that not much is growing during this cold damp start to the year.   Hopefully, we will all soon be back on site working again.

Transformation of the Orangery

Below you can see what has happened to the Orangery since 2009 .

‘Dealing’ with the orangery was one of the first tasks we tackled in 2009.   The glass and the structure had collapsed and plants had colonised the base – including a couple of substantial oak trees .  The group set about trying to tame the orangery and several weeks of hard graft left it looking tidier.   Then, we moved on to other jobs, so nothing much happened to the orangery for a while.   We were busy clearing the walls so that  the restoration work could begin and after that, the team moved on to laying down the garden paths.   Those were busy, busy times!   Our gardeners planted out a nice bed of shrubs along the front of the orangery wall, but that was about it!

Time passed and the orangery lay relatively tidy but unused until, on a stormy December day in 2013  the remaining oak tree blew down (see above).   Luckily, it fell away from the main wall and the bothy beyond it.  Unfortunately, it all but destroyed the outer low wall of the orangery!   The storm made us focus on the orangery again and the tree was removed, the soil was cleared of glass fragments and planting began.   To the left above, you see Nathan, Jonathan and Mick who did a lot of the initial planting.  Soon the plants settled in to become an attractive area (see below right – 2016).

There was a brick lined reservoir within the raised bed which Peter & Roger (above left) set about  emptying (in 2014), and once lined, this became our first fish pond – a real attraction to our younger visitors.   Despite the shrubs having established nicely, the wall needed some repair work so the shrubs and soil had to be removed.   Eventually this area became a second pond, now home to koi carp, once the supporting wall had been stabilised and re-pointed (below left).  Below, you see the second pond, up and running by 2019 and the restored pathway – completed in 2020.

By December 2020, Loz had finished work on repairing the walkway and had moved on to repair the remaining inner wall.   This meant giving the last rites to the remaining shrubs in the far bed, as much of the soil had to be removed to give access to the loose bricks (below left).   The onset of cold damp weather plus lockdown has meant a delay in replacing the bricks so this is work we will aim to complete in spring.   Right below: the orangery team begin attempting to straighten the wall knocked over when the oak fell way back in 2013!

So that brings us up to date with the evolution of the orangery so far.   It has been really interesting for me to look back at progress in one small area of the project and to see what can be and has been achieved.   I hope that you have found it interesting too!

Gratefully received….

Carol, one of our volunteers, hails from Clifton Campville.   Through her good offices, we have been able to establish a contact with a garden centre near to her home and they have been kindly donating unwanted plants to us at the project.   Once the gardening girls and boys have worked their magic and brought the ailing plants back to life, many of the plants will end up on the produce table where they are available for a donation to the project.   Look out for these over the coming months and find a home for them in your garden.   During this pandemic and lockdown, we are really grateful for these donations coming, as they do, at a time when we are not able to fund raise in a conventional way.

Above an interesting aerial photograph taken just a few days ago

Spring is just around the corner!

Snowdrops are in bloom, witch hazel is in flower and smelling lovely, other bulbs are poking their heads out of the winter ground – there is much to look forward to!

Hopefully, I’ll see you at the garden sometime soon.   In the meantime, stay safe, keep positive ….

With my best wishes,    Roger

Walled Garden Update January 6th 2021

During this current period of severe lockdown, trustees have decided to close access to the car parking at the walled garden in response to the government’s request to restrict travel.   There will still be pedestrian access but none of the usual facilities will be available.  Any members of the public using the garden area MUST adhere to the strict government safety guidelines.

There is currently no access to the bothy, the house or to toilets

National guidelines for ensuring personal safety are being updated on an almost daily basis.   At the walled garden, our priority is to do what we can to establish a safe environment for all garden users.   Many of our volunteers, allotment holders and visitors fall into the ‘vulnerable’ category and each user should take whatever steps are needed to protect their own health and that of other garden users.

As in all areas of England, everyone should remember the ‘Hands. Face. Space’ rule

  • hands – wash your hands regularly and for 20 seconds
  • face – wear a face covering in all settings where social distancing may be difficult, and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet
  • space – stay 2 metres apart from people where possible

With regard to volunteering, the Trustees wish to comply as fully as possibly with the new stricter guidelines announced this week by the government.  By increasing the restrictions in force, the government hopes to bring the spread of the latest coronavirus strain under control and the Trustees support this stance fully.

The Trustees take the safety of volunteers, allotment holders and other garden users very seriously.   Trustees acknowledge that the walled garden is a relatively safe environment for volunteers and that volunteering brings with it both physical and mental benefits but for the foreseeable future volunteering will not be encouraged.

Watch this space for further announcements!

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 54 – November 2020

Here we go again!

Just when we were beginning to think that life was returning to something like the old ‘normal’, the coronavirus has gathered up its strength again and decided to have another go at us!   So here we are again – back in a November version of lock down, hoping that a period of sensible self-discipline will see us through to a Christmas we can all enjoy together.   Let’s hope it works!

I hope that you, your family and your friends have come through unscathed so far and will continue to keep well.

During this strange year, the walled garden seems to have been a much appreciated haven for visitors, allotment holders and volunteers alike.   We have been able to welcome 8 new volunteers to our team and visitor numbers have definitely been up – all following government guidelines, I’m pleased to say.   Many people have praised the efforts of our volunteer team and it’s been nice to hear ‘thank yous’ from many visitors.   Below is an example…

August 2020

To everyone involved with Elford Walled Garden…

We would just like to say a very big THANK YOU for enabling us to all share in this wonderful space during the past spring and summer.   It has been a joy of a venue to visit and to smell the wonderful roses and to share the sensory and allotment gardens.   Many families have had picnics by the river and our grandchildren have played boules on your pitch.   We love the fish in the Orangery area too.   Many thanks for keeping it all so lovely for us visitors.

Delicious marmalade!!

Regards,

Denise & Colin Beresford (Lichfield)

Carry on regardless

We had 2 months when we decided it was safer to ask volunteers not to work but as soon as we were back on site, it was all hands to the pump again to make the garden fit for visitors to enjoy.

The usual summer maintenance – keeping on top of the mowing and the weeding, was replaced by the lovely task of harvesting our fruit and vegetables – the fruits of our labour!   The apple harvest was brilliant this year and we are still picking fruit now and leaving it on the produce table for you to try.

Cider with Rosie?

Early in summer, we began the bottling of the cider made from the 2019 harvest.   Diligently overseen by chemist Steve Eyley and assisted by a team of keen teetotallers the bottling process steadily continued and soon we had bottles of the 2020 vintage ready for sale.   The 2020 cider is every bit as good as last year’s vintage and has been selling very well.  There are a few bottles left if you are interested in celebrating the US presidential election results or in surviving the current lockdown in a state of alcohol induced relaxation!   We also produced our first Perry this year.   It’s fair to say that reports have been mixed – some love it and some don’t.   I think the secret has been to be patient and to allow it to clear properly – I hated my first bottle but, 6 weeks later, the second was great!

Above right you see Andy working on the hydraulic press.   It’s a bit of a messy job, not helped by the clouds of wasps that are attracted to the apple juice smells.   Amazingly, no-one was stung!   Below, Steve and Carol Eyley are using the manual press which is equally as efficient!

We still have a few bottles of cider so don’t delay if you want some For Christmas!

The whole cider making process is really labour intensive and has taken about 2 months to complete stage 1 – the picking, pulping and pressing.   Collecting the apples takes an age.   After washing, the apples are pulped and then we have 2 presses – one hydraulic and one manual – to remove the juice (which, incidentally, is delicious fresh).

After several weeks of pressing, the juice is stored in large containers while it undergoes the fermentation process until it’s ready for bottling.    Quite a lengthy process but one that has been bringing excellent results and not a little enjoyment to those who enjoy the occasional tipple!   Long may it continue, I say.

Loz’s World in Miniature

During lockdown, many workers have been furloughed.   This means that we have been seeing a bit more of volunteers like Jess Henty and Loz Watton.   They, together with Saturday volunteer Jamie, have been making progress on re-laying the floor tiles in the Orangery (see above).   It’s been hard work, what with digging out stubborn oak tree roots  but it’s been worth it and this week saw the last tile laid.   Good work guys ……so what’s next?    Oh, of course ….. lots more miniature buildings for the young at heart to find around the site.   And why not dig out the soil in the remaining orangery bay?

Missing Persons List?

During this strange year of restrictions, a couple of our long serving regulars, Nathan & Darren, have been complying with government guidelines and unable to get to the garden due to their lack of transport.   We have really missed their cheerfulness and their help.   Darren is back on site now, thanks to Mum’s Taxi Service but Nathan is still stranded in Tamworth.   We’re missing him and I’ll bet he’s missing us too!

Darren’s first task was to finish off the restoration work on the pony trap given to us by Neil & Jane Batchelor before they left the village.   Darren had worked with Roger over last winter to renovate the trap but Coronavirus lockdown in March prevented us from finishing the work.   Now, here it is – all ready for a horse.   Oh well……can’t find a horse?   A Darren will have to do, then!

Down below ground

After some seasons of neglect, Roger decided that this winter would be the time when we did something about the shabby state of the below ground section of the Vine House.   Sue Watruss had diligently weeded it for a couple of years but it had then been ignored until it was weed filled again and had become an eyesore.   Something had to be done – and deliverance day had arrived…..

 

 

Operation ‘sort it’

The first task was to clear out this summer’s healthy weeds and to clear out the ‘hole’ of plastic sheeting, broken bricks and miscellaneous rubbish.    The existing block paved floor was, we think, original, but many of the paviours were broken.   We took the decision to remove unbroken paviours from one end of the bay and to use these to make good the floor at the other end.   So many of these fragile paviours were too far gone to be useful unfortunately.

Whilst Roger got to work on this, a team of helpers tackled the raised border that you can see on the left of the first picture above and on both pictures below.

This border was filled with columbine and removing it ALL was essential as the tiniest piece of root left behind would grow into a new plant.   Nathan, Isaac, Julie and Roger set to removing the soil, riddling it and reusing it elsewhere.   Left, we were joined by new volunteers Emma & Sam to boost the team.

This back-breaking work is still in progress – there is much to do to get rid of the pernicious roots.   Some of the soil was used to plant up spring bulbs in pots which will live in the finished sunken garden!

Whilst this work continued, Darren began the task of re-flooring the remaining area – a slow and exacting task but one which we should finish this week.

‘So what comes next?’  I hear you ask.   Well, much of the old brickwork is in a poor state, the lime mortar having decayed over the years.   This will have to be tackled in spring once the risk of frost has passed.   We then need to make a decision about how to use the restored bay.   I quite like the idea of a few shrubs in large pots on the paved area but I’m not sure what we can do with the narrow soil border which hardly gets any sun at all.

Any suggestions from our readers?

Autumn is well advanced and winter draws on, as they say.   Apples are still being harvested, as are vegetables from the allotments where Peter and Christine work so hard.   Dorothy, Sue, Mary and the rest of our gardening team are beginning to tidy up for winter, dead heading the roses continues and Thelma, Carol and Chris are already thinking about plant sales for 2021.   Some early pots of spring bulbs will be on the produce table before Christmas, I think, so keep an eye open for bargains and last minute presents.   Barbara & Michael have tidied the gardens at the rear of the house; Pat and Hilary are on top of the herbaceous border and Gordon has really got a grip on the riverside.   All of this hard work leads to breakages so Pete Kennedy looks like having a busy winter repairing things!   John Shaw has revealed a new talent.   He has been busy painting things like garden furniture before winter sets in but having completed this task, he’s turned his hand to painting signs and is showing great promise!

Here are a few shots to finish off the issue:

This year, the harvest has again been good and especially with the range of squashes that have been produced.   Great for Halloween and afterwards, for making great soups.

Sue & Steve Clark are heading up the site clearance team.   You can always count on them to keep the bonfire piles high!   The buzz from Steve’s strimmer lets us know that they are on site and busy.

Autumn colours are always wonderful at the garden and this year has been no exception.   We probably get more keen photographers in this season than in any other.

Well, that’s about all from me for now.   Hope you enjoy the read and continue to enjoy the garden that our volunteers work so hard to maintain.

My best wishes,   Roger

Coronavirus.

Walled Garden Update November 3rd 2020

During this current second period of lockdown, we hope to be able to keep the walled garden open for people to continue to enjoy safely.   The paddock parking is closed at present due to poor ground conditions but extra parking space has been made available by the Head Gardener’s house.

There is no access to the bothy, the house or to toilets

Currently, national guidelines for ensuring personal safety are being updated on an almost daily basis.   At the walled garden, our priority is to do what we can to establish a safe environment for our volunteers and visitors.   Many of our volunteers and visitors are in the ‘vulnerable’ category and each person should take whatever steps are needed to protect their own health and that of other garden users.

As in all areas of England, everyone should remember the ‘Hands. Face. Space’ rule

  • hands – wash your hands regularly and for 20 seconds
  • face – wear a face coveringin indoor settings where social distancing may be difficult, and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet
  • space – stay 2 metres apart from people where possible
  • where you cannot stay 2 metres apart you should stay at least 1 metre apart, as well as taking extra steps to stay safe by wearing a face covering in indoor spaces or by moving outdoors where it is safer. If meeting indoors then make sure that rooms are well ventilated by keeping windows and doors open.

You can still travel to other areas, but you are advised to limit your trips as much as possible.

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 53 – August 2020

 

Since I last wrote, the Walled Garden has experienced extreme heat and drought conditions followed by thunderstorms and intense rain, then severe winds and now, in midsummer, autumn seems to have arrived already!   All of this has stressed many of the plants we tend – but not the weeds, which seem to thrive in any conditions.   The trees seem to be losing their leaves early this year due to the drought but, in the rose garden, the next flush of flowers is underway.   We have harvested an excellent crop of plums and the apple crop is weighing down the trees – so good news for 2021 cider production.

Currently we are still Corvid19 compliant which means that no access to the house (or the toilets) is permitted for the present.   For volunteers, it means we have to bring our own food and drink.   This is fine for the moment as the weather is generally warm but it will become more of an issue if the restrictions extend into the winter.   It also means that we have to sacrifice our cosy social time in the bothy, which we are all missing.

Busy, busy, busy…..

During this strange time of restrictions, the walled garden has been really busy with visitors.   People have clearly been attracted by the open space and the peace and quiet of the garden and daily numbers of visitors has steadily increased.   It has been rewarding for volunteers to see the fruits of their labours being enjoyed and appreciated by so many.   To have a FREE place to relax within your social bubble has been a bonus to many and as a result, several have become Friends of the Walled Garden or have begun to volunteer.   Great news for the project!

Nature’s Bounty

Currently on the produce stall you will find a range of fresh vegetables grown by our diligent gardeners – all healthy and chemical free.   There are several varieties of beans, potatoes, courgettes and zucchini and other delights.   The last of the soft fruits and the first of the apples are available, plus some late plums and greengages so there is plenty of choice and all for a donation to the project.

On the plant stall you will find a range of hardy perennials and herbs and fairly soon there will be a range of primroses and primulas ready for winter colour.   Thelma, as usual, has been busy, with her green fingers!   She has a small but dedicated team of helpers these days …..

Around the garden…

A lot has been happening around the garden to keep it looking trim and cared for – volunteers are working really hard (as usual).

The 2020 vintage cider is now available for collection and, a first this year, there will be a limited number of bottles of perry made from our own pears.   The perry is a bit stronger than the cider, so be careful if you try it.   Please bring any empty cider and perry bottles back to the barn for recycling for use next year.

Steve and team have already begun the process of turning this year’s apples into next year’s cider.   I’ve tasted some of the pressed apple juice already and it is amazing!   Pressing apples surrounded by hundreds of wasps is really quite interesting!!!

A brand new weather vane now stands proudly above the bothy.   It’s a permanent project reminder of the contribution made to the garden by the much missed Jean Chamberlain.

Stand still for any length of time and you might get painted!   John Shaw has been busy with the brushes, painting and preserving picnic tables, seats, doors – you name it and it’s had the treatment, as you can see below.

Down by the river, Gordon continues to landscape the area by the compost bins.   We must plant some winter bulbs down there soon.   Also tidying up are Sue & Steve Clark (and their grandchildren!) who have set about the brick store area to good effect!

Elsewhere, Loz and Jamie continue to work on relaying the floor of the Orangery.   It’s slow progress but will be worth it when it’s done!   Otherwise, it’s all hands to the pump to keep on top of the rapidly growing grass and ‘weeds’ and to harvest the fruit and veg – now a daily task to keep our produce table full and our apple pressers busy!   There’s always something to do at this time of the year…..

Hopefully, we will be rid of this pesky virus eventually and will be able to get back to normal (whatever that was!).   Till the next time, stay safe, take care and come visit us soon.

Best wishes,  Roger

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 52 – June 2020

We’re back!

After an absence of 9 weeks, volunteers again return to the walled garden to lick it back into shape after weeks of neglect.   During lockdown, a few hardy souls decided to use the walled garden as their permitted exercise, so a certain amount of ‘volunteering’ continued and plants were watered, grass was cut and weeds were tackled – at least to an extent.   The hot dry weather – a boon to a nation on ‘garden leave’ – also meant that grass growth (normally a problem in May) was kept to a minimum which certainly helped keep the gardens in order, awaiting our return to duty.

It has been really good to meet up with other volunteers again.   Our volunteers are a friendly group and all get on well together so the lockdown has seemed extra strange.   However, we seem to have avoided the virus so far and everyone looked pleased to be back and doing things.   Some volunteers are still self-isolating for health reasons, but most are now back and working hard again.

Weather permitting…

The weather during the worst of lockdown has been extraordinary.   The wettest winter on record was followed by the hottest, driest May on record.   This has been great for everyone forced to stay at home – doing those jobs that we all put off for as long as possible!   At least, those of us with gardens have been able to put them to good use.   Returning to the Walled Garden, the ground was baked so hard that it was difficult to get tools into the soil in many places.   Luckily, the June rains have worked to soften the soil a little, even though the rain only seems to have penetrated a few centimetres into the ground.   It’s a start!

Looking good?

Despite the challenges, the garden has flourished and looks bloomin’ good.   Above are a few photos taken last week for you to enjoy…..

The dry hot May has meant that plants have flowered well, but dropped their blooms quite quickly due to lack of water for their roots.   However, the recent cooler wetter weather will help to improve this.   The rose garden is currently looking fabulous and there is a lot to look at and enjoy.

Above right, we see one of the statuesque garden Echiums.   These towering plants are biennials and the thousands of tiny flowers are a magnet to insects.   You can actually hear the plant buzzing with life!

A place of safety and pleasure for all…

During the pandemic, the walled garden has been a boon to villagers and visitors alike.       Whenever I’ve been around there lately, there have been loads of people enjoying and benefitting from our lovely community garden.   I’ve seen families enjoying their picnics, dog walkers doing their daily circuits, joggers and power walkers taking their exercise and people simply soaking up the ambience.   The quietness, the space, the birdsong, the perfume from the flowers has all been an immeasurable benefit to the mental health of visitors in this time when personal freedom has been so restricted.   I’ve even seen parents conducting their family ‘home education’ from the benches in the garden!   Wonderful.   How lucky we are to have such a jewel on our doorstep.   We’ve even been able to host the village art group.

Love your (allotment) garden

Lockdown came at a very unfortunate time for allotment holders.   Just as holders were beginning to get to grips with preparing their allotments for the season, the garden was closed down which meant no access to the allotments for fear of cross-contamination via tools, barrows, toilets etc.   This tight control was relaxed a few weeks ago and since then, allotment holders have been very busy setting seeds and clearing weeds and many of the allotments are looking really ship-shape.

Allotment holders and volunteers are diligently following government guidelines on social distancing and we hope that our visitors are doing their bit too.   The need to thoroughly clean items after use means that access to toilets and the Bothy is still limited and volunteers are currently bringing their own  refreshments.   While the weather is warm, we are able to sit outside at a safe distance while we rest and catch up on ‘gossip’ or talk about work that needs doing and plan for future developments.

Around the garden

The recent rains have freshened up the garden quite a bit even though the water hasn’t penetrated very deeply yet!

Above left, the rockery Gordon built and which Roger planted up in the autumn has begun to fill out well and the alpine plants are beginning to flower.   Behind the house in the plant nursery, Thelma’s hard work is bearing fruit and she and Carol are keeping the plant table well stocked.

Bee happy!

The warm weather has brought out the pollinators in large numbers and on some plants you really get the buzz as the busy bees go about their work.   I heard on Countryfile that a honey bee produces a teaspoonful of honey in its lifetime so we should appreciate their work fully!

Stone the Crows!

I’ve noticed that there are a number of strange but beautifully decorated stones appearing around the garden.   They seem to move around from place to place when I’m not looking!   Someone has obviously been rather busy ….   Maybe ‘lockdown’ has been bringing out the artistic flair in some households.   Anyway, they are most welcome additions to the garden so keep them coming!!!   Mr Mole has also been getting mail delivered to his tiny front door.   How nice is that!

Watch out…there are more artists about!

It isn’t just stone painters at work.   Left, you can see some of the village art club (properly spaced out!) talking about doing some art in the garden!

Goodbye to Jeannie

Today, Thursday 11th June, volunteers assembled on Church Avenue to say their ‘goodbyes’ to Jean Chamberlain, our eldest volunteer.   I’d known Jean for over 30 years but she became a regular volunteer at the Walled Garden in 2014.   She was a vigorous gardener who refused to use her age as an excuse to ‘take it easy’!   She was a real trooper and will be missed by everyone.   Illness had kept her away for some months but she was always fully intending to get back to ‘work’ as soon as she could!

She and I would pass remarks as our paths crossed in the garden.   Usually my banter would include some comment about her amazing flexibility and how I envied her ability to weed straight-legged.   She could easily touch the floor while I could barely reach my knees and once on my knees, I generally need help getting up!   Her response was usually along the lines of ‘you wait till you’re my age!’   Her ‘youthfulness’ put me to shame.

Under present lockdown guidelines, the service was held at the graveside, the heavy rain thankfully having stopped just in time.   A poignant moment occurred when a robin arrived at the graveside and perched on a neighbouring headstone to watch the proceedings.  Jean would have loved that!   It reminded me that she frequently commented about the ‘cheeky robins’ at the walled garden, so how nice that one had come to see her off!

Jean was a valued volunteer at the walled garden.   Always cheerful, always busy, always happy at her work. She was loved and respected by all and she will be greatly missed by those of us lucky enough to have known her.

Well, that’s all from me for now.  Stay safe, keep smiling and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel!

Roger

 

 

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 51 – April 2020

 

We live in strange times!   As we come to the end of our third week in lockdown, it’s hard to remember what ‘normal’ life before Coronavirus was like.   Everything that I did before the virus hit us has gradually been shut down, one by one, and now I’m confined to barracks for the foreseeable future.   I’m managing to keep busy – just!   My own garden has never looked better;  I’ve cleaned almost everything – even the cars.   Amazingly, I’ve actually wax polished the cars!   I found an unopened tin of car wax which I’d bought some years ago in France at a Super U supermarket.   To my shame,  its ‘use by’ date was 1987!   However, most of it has gone now…

Another hard day in the garden!   As you can see, Sue & I are trying to be good and keeping out of everyone’s way and following the national guidelines and there are kind people in the village who are offering to do our shopping – which is really lovely.   We are well at the moment and hoping that it stays that way.    We still have a little toilet paper left – but the alcohol is going down quickly!

We send you our best wishes and hope that you are managing to keep positive and that you and your family are all healthy.   Once this unpleasantness is over,  we will all be able to reflect on how well most areas of society have pulled together to see this thing through.   There are so many people who’s place in society has been undervalued in the past and has been taken for granted and I hope that now we will all better appreciate their importance to us after the way they have supported us since the virus hit.   It’s hard to believe just how quickly this nasty virus has demolished life as we know it.   Hopefully we will turn a corner soon and life can then return to how it used to be.

Garden Update

The walled garden has been closed off for a few weeks now, which is sad.   Isn’t it ironic that we struggled through the wettest winter on record and as soon as the weather improves, we have to shut down!

I’ve been around on my bike (doing my permitted exercise) and it doesn’t look too neglected yet, thank goodness.   Obviously, the allotment preparations have been badly hit and it hasn’t been possible to sow seeds or plant potatoes as yet, but there are plenty of good things to see around the garden for those still taking exercise or dog walking on the site. ….

Let me take you on a virtual walk around.   The signs of spring are everywhere as you enter the garden.   Trees and hedge plants are greening up and noisy birds are everywhere.   Heading across the paddock, the woodland floor is beginning to look blue as the bluebells begin their flowering.   Past the water tower and towards the river,  you can see how quickly the daffodils have gone over but the bluebells are beginning to take their place as show stoppers.   Looking beyond the river, you can still see small lakes – remnants of the flooding – and on these temporary lakes you can see swans – probably searching for nesting sites.   From the boathouse, I could see a pair of ducks thinking along similar lines – well, it is that time of year!

Into the sensory garden and everything still looks relatively tidy with lots of fresh new growth.   There are patches of beautiful tulips to enjoy here – but be quick if you want to see them for yourself as they are almost over!   The tulips on site have been wonderful this year but their beauty is so transient and the warm dry weather this week has taken its toll.   The bright orange tulips (below right) in the rose garden have been especially fine this year.

Continuing through the sensory garden, the signs of recovery and fresh growth are everywhere.   I always think that winter exacts a heavy price in the sensory garden but then suddenly it is transformed and looking lovely again. There is work to do here but no volunteers to do it!   The statuesque banana plants have survived the winter damp and are showing signs of growth which is always pleasing.   In a couple of weeks, this part of the garden will be looking glorious.

Leaving the sensory garden,  I notice the crab apple in full flower and the Clematis Montana in full bud and ready to burst into flower along the wall.   It’s an exciting time to be there when nice things are beginning to happen everywhere.    And so on into the orchard.

The trees are alive with the noise of busy insects pollinating for all they’re worth!   The blossom on the plums is just going over and that on the apple trees is just beginning to open up.   Our ancient pear trees are simply covered in white flowers and looking fabulous.

Behind the house, the plant nursery is looking good despite the weeks of neglect.   Young geranium plants are almost ready to go onto the produce table so watch out for these once the last risk of frost has passed.   With fewer people being about for the past 3 weeks, a wren has taken the opportunity to build a nest inside the potting shed!

Passing the house, I notice that there are still plenty of plants on the produce table – an opportunity for those of you who are spending your lockdown time sorting out your own gardens.   More will appear daily as they become ready for planting so don’t miss out!

Popping my head inside the walled area, to my left there is a fine display of primroses growing alongside the wall.   To the right, the central border in the rose garden is looking splendid with its display of tulips edging the path and the roses are putting on lots of new growth already.    Due to ‘lockdown’ the allotments have not been worked on for a few weeks, so there is much to do, which must be a great frustration to allotment holders who can’t get onto their plots during this lovely spell of sunny weather.   Let’s hope that this will soon be resolved.

Back through the gate and down along the herbaceous border. This is now full of colour from both flowers and leaves.

Above left – In the rose garden, daffodil splendour has given way to beautiful tulips.   Above right, blossom along the herbaceous border.

Below right – blossom on a cider apple tree – a promise of a good harvest, perhaps, and then more great cider for 2021.

Well, that’s about all from me – I suppose I’ll go and mow the lawn again now!   I hope you’ve enjoyed the virtual tour of the walled garden and that you will be able to get down yourself and feast your eyes on nature at work.

Stay safe, keep well and stay in touch and pass on these wishes to your friends and family.   Hopefully, we’ll meet again (to quote HRH) post virus. In the meantime, stay healthy.

My best wishes to you,    Roger

 

Elford Hall Gardens Newsletter 49 – November 2019

Well, here we are, fast approaching the Christmas period.   Already, carols are playing in the shops and TV adverts have a ‘spend, spend, spend’ feel to them (sadly).   At the walled garden we are working at tidying things up for winter and are looking for indoor jobs wherever possible so that we can avoid the almost constant rain that has been falling since autumn set in.   Even at this time of the year we find ourselves busy – trying to catch up on the jobs we didn’t manage to do in the summer!

The rain it raineth every day…

I’ve never known so much rain to fall this side of Christmas.   Everywhere is soft underfoot and we have had to close off the paddock because cars were getting stuck in the mud!   It has also been quite mild, so the grass has continued to grow but has been too wet to cut.   Hopefully, recent frosts will slow things down a little. The river has flooded onto the lower terrace countless times and the boathouse has been inaccessible for long periods of time, as you can see from the photos.

If what they say about global warming is true then I suppose that we will have to get used to wet conditions like these in the future.   Fortunately, despite the weather, volunteers are still turning out to keep on top of the jobs that need doing.   Well done, guys.   You are doing a great job and it IS appreciated.   Plans have been drawn up to build an ark so if you fancy joining the team, then come along and share the fun.   Who knows…. you could be first to reserve your berth!

O-R- O- R- A.

Are you a cider drinker? Do you drink it all of the day?   I feel a song coming on…. We have a lot of Wurzels locally who are cider fans it seems, as most of the 2019 cider has been sold.   There are just a few bottles left for Christmas, so if you are interested then don’t delay!   The cider making team has been busy this autumn under the watchful eye of Steve Eyley, getting ready for the 2020 vintage.   A better hydraulic press has been installed and we have also put down some pear juice ready to make into perry.   Reports back on the quality of our cider have been encouraging and it’s certainly a good way of using the orchard windfalls and the extra income really helps the project funds.

If you have empty cider bottles at home, please remember to bring them back to us for re-use in 2020.   Below, Laurence Watton is demonstrating the new hydraulic fruit press to thirsty onlookers.

Scary Crows?

After the superbly successful scarecrow festival in August, the walled garden was grateful to receive donations of unwanted ‘crows’.   This year, joining our fabulous Gruffalo we have acquired a Gingerbread Man (still smiling despite the rain!), Dumbo and several leaping Dolphins (who seem quite at home in the wet conditions) and several others.

Autumn arrives and leaves fall

Autumn is a lovely time of the year (when it isn’t raining!).   There are still plenty of flowers giving a late splash of colour – in the rose garden for instance.   The crisp early mornings are a delight, with mist rising from the river while squirrels are scampering about storing food for the winter. The trees have now turned to gold and their leaves are beginning to cover the ground rather than their branches.   This year, our sweet chestnut by the heavy horse stable has produced chestnuts big enough to roast and enjoy.   This is the first time in the 10 years I’ve been involved in the project that the chestnuts have been this big!   It truly is the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ as someone once wrote.

When you look around at the leaf covered ground you can understand why the season is called ‘Fall’ in some parts of the world.   We now need to get them all raked up before they block the sun from getting to the grass.   It’s one of those annual jobs that is important even though it seems to take forever.

As always, the autumn colour has been glorious – especially on the odd occasion when the sun has shined!   Unfortunately, the leaves all need to be raked up before they begin to kill the grass and we have a huge area to clear.   If you fancy giving a helping hand one Saturday morning then that would be hugely helpful and will guarantee you a bacon sandwich.   It can be a tedious job but many hands make light work and we do have a bit of fun working together.   Give it some thought – please!

If you want to get ahead, get a hat!

With the ‘crisper’ winter mornings approaching, the day HAS to start with a cuppa and a huddle around the log burner.   Nathan, Mick and Darren are modelling the latest fashion extras this week and are well layered up to keep out the cold!

New Volunteers?

Mickey Moose is our latest addition to the staff – a rescue from a Tamworth skip.   He clearly hit the wall at some speed!   We’ve been lucky enough to get ‘hands on’ helps from a few new volunteers this year and they are already making a considerable impact.

Gordon and Andy are now an established part of the team, as is Sue Clarke who has been mowing grass regularly for a number of years but she has now been joined by husband Steve.   Carol Saunders and Sue Wattrus have recently joined Thelma’s team in the potting shed and Jayne Hoysal and John & Trish Shaw have put their energies to good use in various areas around the garden.   All are most welcome assets and seem to be getting a lot from having joined the volunteer team.   Why not take a leaf from their book and give volunteering a try yourself?

Autumn Gallery

From the top, left to right: frosted rose and hypericum – still bravely flowering!   Towering oak and happy hedge trimmers.  Pony trap being restored by Darren & Roger and finally, busy  local wildlife,

Best wishes to all readers.

Roger

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 48 – September 2019

This will be just a short newsletter – you will be relieved to know – but we have a bit of good news to pass on to all of our Friends, volunteers and supporters.

Outstanding Again!

You will know that each year we enter for a Royal Horticultural Society competition called ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ which is especially design for volunteer community projects like ours.   Judge Paul Ash visited us in July and a few weeks ago, volunteers Darren Lovett and Mike Collins went to the Award Ceremony to find out how we had got on.     The essential bit for us is the bit on the award certificate that says …. Level 5 – Outstanding!   Praise indeed from the nation’s leading horticultural experts.   Of course, we think it well deserved but it’s nice to have it confirmed by the experts!   The project achieved a score of 91/100 – so a bit of room for improvement for next year, I suppose!

Darren & Mike collect the Award

I received a copy of our judge’s comments this morning and in his introduction, Paul Ash wrote Elford Hall Garden is a superb project with a very enthusiastic group of volunteers.   Many surprises await you as you walk around the gardens.   It has a superb sensory garden –  giving you the Land of the Giants experience; the herbaceous border with all plants donated; the tranquil picnic area by the river.   A hidden gem”.

Well done to everyone who contributes to the ongoing success of the Walled Garden Project.   You should be proud!

Pressing ahead….

Our first foray into cider making has been a great success with significant numbers of bottles already purchased so  this year’s vintage has almost all been sold.   We have a small number of bottles left and will be bottling around 100 bottles which will be available for Christmas and then it will be all gone!   I’m not a great cider drinker, but reports back from those that are have been very good.   It’s certainly strong!   I heard today that legally to be called cider, the drink must contain a minimum of 28% apple juice.   Amazing how low that % is.   Well, our cider contains 100% apple juice so no wonder it’s 5.8 proof!

Vintage 2020 is underway….

Already we have begun to press both apples and pears to get production of next years’ cider and perry underway.   Currently, we are mostly using decent quality windfalls as the main apple harvest is not quite upon us yet.

The Project will be happy (and grateful) if you wish to donate any of your unwanted apples.  We can use them to make next year’s cider!  Please leave them by the barn at the walled garden and, if you want your container/bag back then please label it so that you can identify it.   If you bring along a clean bottle then you might be able to take some lovely juice home with you!

 Above, Loz Watton is drawing quite a crowd as he presses the apples destined to be the 2020 vintage cider.    Bring it on!

Let’s make a date for 2020……

We still have a small number of our limited edition 2020 calendars for sale at £5.   Ask about these on your next visit.   You can also order by putting your details and your money into an envelope and popping it into the donations box which we empty daily.   They’re perfect as small gifts for friends and family and you won’t find cheaper.

Fresh as you like – and fully organic too!

Produce is now coming thick and fast from our allotments.   Currently we have French and Runner Beans, potatoes, onions and roots and very soon the produce table will be groaning under the weight of fresh apples (some rare varieties) and pears.   There are also jams available – one villager on Facebook was telling us how delicious the damson jam is!   Thelma is working hard in the plant area so keep your eyes open for her plants which will soon be available too!

Best wishes, Roger

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 47 – July 2019

Phew, what a relief!

On Tuesday 16th, the Royal Horticultural Society judging took place.   We’d put in a lot of extra hours to try to make the gardens look tidy for the visit of Paul Ash so we’d hoped to impress him! Lots of visitors say nice things about the garden but it’s nice to have things confirmed by an expert and we think he was quite impressed!   It was the first time Paul had visited as a judge but he had been to the garden a few times before with friends from Fradley so he had the full picture.   In the autumn, we’ll get to hear how we’ve done and we’ll get some feedback on what we can do in the future to keep the garden moving forward.   Well done to all of those people who worked so hard to get the garden up to scratch.

A Blast from the Past

The weather proved perfect for the much awaited Summer Solstice party held almost on the longest day of the year.   Villagers turned out in fabulous festival gear reminiscent of the swinging seventies or even in wellies normally reserved for Glastonbury mud. Gary and Olivia (of Elford Crown fame) laid on the bar and an excellent BBQ and fantastic entertainment was provided by Ginesis, who got people up and dancing till late!

The orchard looked lovely decked out with lanterns and ribbons and the marquee was decorated with wall hangings in sympathy with the general festival atmosphere.   The evening was a brilliant success and congratulations go to the ‘production team’ ably led by Ben, Ursula & Colin. This could be the first of many such evenings, judging by the comments from the people who’d really had a great evening!    As you can see from the picture below, I really had no idea what Festival Gear looks like!   I don’t think festivals really existed when I was of ‘festival age’!   Clearly I need to get a life!!!    Luckily, most people had managed slightly better.

We get by with a little help from our ‘friends’

The walled garden relies heavily on the good will and generosity of many people during the course of the year and especially when it comes to events.   A good number of our ‘friends’ turned out for the annual ‘Thank You’ party on afternoon of June 1st and were able to tuck into a dazzling display of food and drink.   Everyone had a lovely afternoon at the sunny walled garden and it was good to see so many people there enjoying themselves. The walled garden only exists thanks to the generosity of people who donate their time or their cash to keep the garden running, so it was nice to be able to say thank you properly. If you weren’t able to attend but have been a supporter of the project, then please take our thanks as read – you truly deserve it!

A special thank you to everyone who brought along such lovely treats for us to share and to Sue Watton and her team of helpers who always do us proud. Needless to say, Sue was the first person at the garden in the morning and the last to leave the garden after the event.   The Walled Garden Wailers put on a bit of light entertainment so thanks to them too.

The party was an opportunity for 2 launches.    First, we were able to taste Elford Press, the first ever Walled Garden cider – picked, produced and bottled on site at the walled garden under the watchful eye of experienced cider maker Frank Wood.   The cider is now in bottles and was first on sale at the Solstice Event.  Apparently, it tastes like the real thing (only stronger!!).   There are 3 different brews – one from a mix of apples from the orchard, which weighs in at 6.5 degrees proof.   There is also a pear cider and one made purely from cider apples, both of which are not quite as strong, but both are very drinkable.   You can pick up your bottles at the garden on any volunteering day or from Dave Watton at any time for £2.50 a bottle.

If you try our cider (and we hope you will) can you please return the bottles to us so that we can use them again next year.

The second launch was the inaugural Walled Garden 2020 Calendar, which is now on sale at a modest £5.   Produced by volunteers Mitzi and Alison, it is possibly the first (and best!) 2020 calendar on sale ANYWHERE!  You can pick them up at the garden anytime – just ask – or place an order in the donations box.

New kid on the block

New volunteer, Gordon, has really made his mark since joining the project a few months ago.   He began by deciding to tidy the main driveway, licking that into shape before moving down to the river to sort out and tidy up the compost area to great effect.

We will shortly completing his riverside work by constructing some composting clamps and planting up the area he has landscaped.   While waiting for materials to arrive, he turned his attention to the woodland area by the heavy horse stable, constructing a small rockery!   Not satisfied with this, he has now moved on into the woodland, clearing the undergrowth. Clearly not a man to let the grass grow under his feet!!   Talk about a ‘new broom….’ – he’s made a big impact already!

The rain it raineth… was it a Peak too far?

It isn’t always work for the volunteers, you know!   We are occasionally let out to enjoy ourselves – so a small group of volunteers took a trip into Derbyshire organised by Thelma to visit Lea Gardens, famed for its Rhododendrons and Azaleas.   Thelma has a knack with the weather – it’s nearly always awful!   Despite the continual rain, we had a good day out.   Many of the plants were past their best but there was still much to admire and we came back with ideas to try out at the walled garden. Our picnic in heavy rain proved to be an experience not to be forgotten!   Or, at least, not to be repeated!

Seeds of Thyme

And speaking of Thelma, she continues to beaver away in our plant nursery with great skill and success, keeping the plant tables topped up with healthy specimens.   A recent visit from Tamworth U3A members descended on the plant table like locusts and went away weighed down with plants to take home!   The garden at the rear of the Gardener’s House is looking really colourful under Barbara’s care and Michael continues his construction work, transforming the nursery beds.   It really is looking quite professional behind the house!   There are plenty of healthy plants still available at a rock bottom price so come along and snap up a bargain before they are all gone.   Fresh fruit and vegetables are now appearing on the produce tables, thanks to our hard-working allotment team.

What on earth’s going on with our weather?

First it’s scorching hot – too hot to garden.   Then it buckets down with really heavy rain that breaks all records.   Then the grass grows like mad.   Then it’s record breaking heat again.   I really don’t understand it all.   Is this what the global warming future will be like?   Last June, we were putting up marquees in ridiculously hot temperatures in the midst of a drought that turned our grass to golden straw.   This year, we have faced storms, winds and floods.   First, the warm wet weather prompted the grass (and the weeds) to grow with enormous energy and we really struggled to keep things looking reasonably tidy.   Then the ground became so hard that it was difficult to get a fork into it and consequently, Peter Kennedy has been spending time straightening out bent tools and replacing broken handles.   I had the pleasure of going into Tamworth Toolbox to ask for “fork handles” …. But the joke was lost on the lady who served me!

Classic Car fest

Did you get to see the fabulous cars brought along by the Midlands Austin Healey Owners Club for their annual judging and prize-giving.   There was much to admire in these lovingly tended elderly ladies.   Most were being buffed to a dazzle as the judges went round with their clipboards.   The engines were pristine, even though most of the cars had been driven to the venue.   You could have safely eaten off them. Brilliant.

Gallery for June & July

 

Clockwise – two varieties of English Rose in the rose garden, a beautiful Comma Butterfly,  lovely delphiniums in the Giant’s Garden and a feeding Brimstone Butterfly.

Well, I hope that you’ve enjoyed a good read, but now come along to the garden if you can and enjoy the real thing!   Best wishes … Roger