Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 33 – September 2016

 Busy times at the gardens

What a busy summer we’ve been having at the walled garden!   Preparations for the Real Ale event meant that we were not able to do all of the work we’d have liked to do on the gardening side of things.   After the clear up, it was all hands to the pump to prepare things for the 2 weddings we have hosted since the festival.   The consequence of that was that some areas of the garden were looking a bit neglected (we thought) then the heat and dry weather of August hit us and we spent valuable volunteering time watering distressed plants!   Needless to say, the ‘weeds’ coped brilliantly with the weather, produced masses of seed and now we have a mountain of weeding to do.   Sometimes, it seems that you just can’t win.

Dig this!

The allotments are looking great this year thanks to a lot of hard work being put in by allotment holders and volunteers on the 2 project allotments.   Soft fruit has done well, as have all manner of vegetables and it has been difficult to keep up with harvesting the crops!   We now have a regular group who visit the produce table to take away the fresh goodies.   The plums were good this year and apple harvest will soon be upon us.

The allotments looking better than ever this year.
The allotments looking better than ever this year.
Here's Reg trying to keep on top of the runner bean harvest ........No chance!!!
Here’s Reg trying to keep on top of the runner bean harvest ……..No chance!!!

If you haven’t yet tasted stuff from the produce table then give it a try – it is fresh, free from chemicals and generally we grow varieties that aren’t normally available in the shops and which are known for their taste.   Shoppers generally leave a donation in the box and their generosity helps to keep the garden running.

Around the Garden

When the Royal Horticultural Society judges came this year they said that they were ‘blown away’ by the progress we’d made in 12 months. This is always nice to hear as we don’t really notice fully our progress because we are here every week.   We will get the results of our judging before the end of the month.   Fingers crossed!

Work inside the house has been put on one side while there is better weather and much to do outside.   The library seems to be operating well and is appreciated by visitors.   It has been nice to see grandparents and their grandchildren enjoying the garden and especially the library. The needlecraft group continue to work on their Elford tapestry and will be delighted if more villagers decide to join them.   Ring Sue on 01827383592 for more information.

Julie hard at work dead-heading the roses.
Julie hard at work dead-heading the roses.
Echium Snowtower attracted a lot of attention from visitors (and the bees!).
Echium Snowtower attracted a lot of attention from visitors (and the bees!).

Right above, we see Julie Cox dead-heading roses in the rose garden – a bit like painting the Forth Bridge!

Above left, is one of our giant Echiums.   These have attracted many questions this year and seed should soon be available if you fancy growing your own. Below left is Thelma’s stumpery which is now looking good and below right is part of the giant’s jungle bed – living up to its name as you can see!   Peter Kennedy, with granddaughter Lara and friend Lily, has undertaken a refurbishment of the Giant’s matchbox now in glorious Technicolor and back in the giant’s garden for all to admire.   Laurence (below) has been making willow fencing to finish off the area around the boathouse.

Thelma's stumpery taking shape.
Thelma’s stumpery taking shape.
The Jungle looking healthy in the sensort garden.
The Jungle looking healthy in the sensort garden.

Laurence - resident willow weaver.

Scarecrows invade Elford

It was that time again and the people of Elford turned out nearly 100 scarecrows for the annual (and highly successful) festival.   Sue Watton worked her magic at the walled garden and produced an army of stuffed specimens to delight visitors.   Right, we see the BFG who settled himself at the entrance to the Giant’s Garden once all of the visitors had gone home and life returned to what passes for normal in Elford! The marquee now houses several scarecrows in an arrangement reminiscent of a doctor’s waiting room.   Say aaaaaarh!   The Walled Garden Wailers even turned out to sing at the Village Hall on the Sunday, thus ensuring a rapid turnover in people occupying the tables at the outdoor café!

The BFG guards the sensory garden these days!

The BFG guards the sensory garden now!

Work has begun on tidying up the area between the barn and the house.   This badly drained area has been improved by the laying of a limestone ‘road’ surface and left over material is now being used to improve the wheelchair friendliness of the path through the woods by the river.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road
Follow the Yellow Brick Road




Looking forward

Meetings will soon begin to set up the 2016 Bonfire Spectacular which I hope you’ll be attending on Saturday November 5th.   It will be the usual great evening out for the whole family (if the weather gods smile on us).   In a few weeks we’ll also be having a forward planning meeting to look at future plans and needs and I’d welcome your ideas and suggestion about what direction you’d like to see the walled garden moving in and how you think we can improve on what we have already achieved.   We have some ideas already but you can’t have too many good ideas so get in touch!

You may have noticed that our volunteers are now wearing bottle green shirts with the walled garden logo nicely embroidered.   I tried to get Tom Daly to model one for a photo for the newsletter but he was too busy!   If anyone out there would like to buy one for £5 to help promote the garden then please contact me and I’ll see what I can do.

Best wishes, Roger


Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 32 – July 2016


Once again, the weather gods smiled on Elford and the Family Music & Real Ale Festival passed off without interruption and without incident.   Over 70 volunteers turned out to support the day (many thanks to them) and the audience were entertained all day and into the evening by musicians who had given their services free of charge in support of the project.  What heroes!   The amazingly well stocked bar was a hive of activity all day and the BBQ team produced a feast of food to keep everyone well fed up!   Hot drinks and cakes were served from the Bothy and the whole scene was lit up by lovely sunshine and a warm wind.   We’ve heard lots of complimentary comments since the event but it’s important to remember what a great team we have to help make the magic work.

Some of the bar team during a sober moment
Some of the bar team during a sober moment

The event was held inside the walled garden for the first time and many agreed it was a better venue for the day
The event was held inside the walled garden for the first time and many agreed it was a better venue for the day
The musical event was opened with style and confidence by students from St Mary’s, Richard Crosse and Howard Federation Choir. Thank you for the music!    The Fradley Community Choir made their second Festival appearance and sang as well as ever despite the blustery wind.

Festival regulars – the Walled Garden Wailers – battled through early technical problems to entertain the audience with a range of popular songs and newcomers to the Festival, Vintage Rhythms gave us a flavour of high quality jazz music – the first festival jazz but not the last…they’ll be back in 2017!    Pro Tempore entertained the crowd with their usual panache.   Morag & Co gave a polished performance as usual.   How lucky we are to have such talent at our disposal.    Great performances from all of them.

Headline act Brindley-Hunt take to the stage
Headline act Brindley-Hunt take to the stage

Headline act, Brindley-Hunt were superb and had the audience on their feet and dancing!   A big thank you to all of them.

Around the garden

Preparation for the festival and cleaning up after it is a major task but work needs to be kept going around the garden as well – the grass and the weeds just won’t stop growing and we try to keep the garden looking tidy for the many visitors who come around at this time of the year.

The allotment team are keeping up their good work and the produce is now being picked for the produce table.   Sue Watton and her team of helpers look after the many groups who visit during the summer and Dave (mostly) gets to do the guided tour of the garden.   These group visits are the best advertising for the garden.   Visitors spread the word and often come back with friends again and again.

The herbaceous border and the sensory garden are a delight at the moment thanks especially to Sue & Pat and Dorothy’s  raised bed by the boules pitch is a riot of colour.   The rose garden is slowly recovering from the battering it took from the heavy rain storms.

Barbara and Mike are busy behind the house tending the old gardener’s garden and laying new paths.   Thelma’s plant nursery is producing a supply of plants for the produce table and people taking these and the vegetables on offer are generally very generous with their donations to the produce.

The library continues to function well.   It is still filled with books and other goodies available for you to take away and enjoy.

Visit to Attingham Park in Shropshire

Peter Stubbs kindly organised a day out for Friends and volunteers to see the walled gardens at Attingham Park. We were met and given a guided tour by head gardener Katherine Dowd, who was great!   Being National Trust, experienced staff were on hand to uncover details of the history of the garden and the gardeners and a paid staff of professional gardeners meant that the gardens were both beautifully and authentically maintained.   We learned a lot and came back with great ideas to apply here in Elford.   The tour lasted about 2 hours and was extremely thorough, thanks to the knowledgeable Katherine!   As the tour ended, the weather deteriorated to leave us ‘enjoying’ our picnics in a cold, drizzly wind!   Despite that, the day out was excellent and most of us toured the house before we set out for home.   Thanks to Peter for his organising.   All of us agreed that it was a really good experience.   Look out for the next ‘day out’ and come along.

Katherine Dowd discusses the finer points of gardening
Katherine Dowd discusses the finer points of gardening

Needle Art in Action

In the past few weeks, a new village venture has blossomed in the Gardener’s House.   A small group has set itself up initially to produce a fabric wall hanging depicting scenes from the village, showing things like buildings, nature, wildlife, scenery and people by using a variety of needle skills.   The group has met 3 or 4 times to enjoy a social afternoon working together in the house and aim to produce a collage to hang on the wall in the gardener’s house on completion.   They meet again on August 1st at the Gardener’s House at 1.45pm so if you fancy coming to join the group or just to see what they are up to then why not call in on August 1st – there will probably be a cuppa on offer!   Ring Sue Thompson on 01827 383592 for more information.

Needlework group in action
Needlework group in action

Coming soon to a walled garden near you!

We have a busy time at the garden over the next few months with visiting groups and a couple of weddings so volunteers will be hard at work keeping the garden looking tidy.

On Saturday 30th July at around 10.45, the RHS judges will be arriving to assess our progress for the ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ award.   Why not come along and meet them?   The award is for Community Activity linked to gardening so the judges will be keen to talk to members of the community about how the walled garden contributes to local life.   Come and have your say!

Next, on August 27th & 28th, the village will be celebrating ‘Scarecrow Weekend’.   Much hard work has gone into making the weekend a success and there will be plenty to see at the walled garden, I’m sure so come along and support.

On September 17th, we have loaned the walled garden to Tamworth Arts who will be running a garden party for the afternoon where talent from the local area will be showcased so expect music, dancing, theatre of all sorts with a fun filled atmosphere.   See local press for details.   The village will benefit by a share of the gate takings and local groups and individuals will be able to approach the Parish Council with ideas about how to spend this unexpected income!

And finally ……. On Saturday November 5th we will be celebrating Guy Fawkes Night with our usual enthusiasm!   In addition to an excellent pyrotechnic display and huge bonfire, there will be food and drink a-plenty.   Tickets will be available soon via the website where you can now purchase via  PayPal.   More details will follow as the date approaches.

So, lots to do as you can see.   Why not get involved?   New volunteers are always welcome, especially on Saturday mornings…..

That’s all from me for now.   Best wishes to you and yours. Roger

Fun in the Sun


FAMILY MUSIC & REAL ALE FESTIVAL – July 2nd 1pm onwards
Roll on Saturday!   Everyone has been working SO hard at the walled garden in the past week to make sure that the Family Music & Real Ale Festival is a success. The weather forecast, though not brilliant, IS improving so we are hopeful of a good turnout of people keen to enjoy the day. It might be worth bringing a brolly, but there is a lot of space under canvas should the forecast afternoon showers prove heavy!
There is a great range of beers, lager, ciders, wines and soft drinks. We’ll be serving hot drinks and cream teas, pancakes, BBQ treats and there will be a hog roast from 7pm. There will be lots to do for children – all free of charge. There will be music from 1.30pm until we close – all provided FREE by talented local groups. A good time is almost guaranteed so there will be no excuse for not enjoying yourself!
Funds raised at the event will help us to keep the gardens open to visitors FREE of charge, so please come along and support us. There will be tickets on sale at the entrance.
Please pass this message along to all of your friends and encourage them to come along. Details of how to get to the gardens can be found on this website

Rebirth of a boathouse

Saturday 23rd April saw the official opening of the restored boathouse at Elford Hall Gardens.

When the project began in 2009, there was not much remaining of the once elegant boathouse on the River Tame. Restoration of this particular boathouse was not high on the project list of priorities and efforts were inevitably directed towards buildings that were immediately more valuable in the overall context of the project. The boathouse restoration was also fraught with difficulties as mature trees were growing within the boathouse and across its entrance! Not to mention the tonnes of mud and silt that had filled the boathouse over the years and buried the fallen roof timbers and tiles.

Boathouse ruins in 2009
Boathouse ruins in 2009

The decision was taken to put the restoration of the boathouse on the back burner. Volunteers were fully occupied on other tasks, not least the general maintenance to keep the garden looking presentable for our increasing numbers of visitors. The boathouse would have to wait….

Out go the tree stumps Dec 2014
Out go the tree stumps Dec 2014


Fortunately, no-one told Laurence Watton that the boathouse was not to be a priority, so, with commendable initiative he began digging out the silt by hand. In his mind was the prospect of creating a wildlife hide within the boathouse, while still letting it maintain its original function. Dad Dave Watton was soon drawn into helping out, as were other volunteers from time to time and soon this restoration was well underway, financed by a generous donation from one of the project volunteers. Work began in November 2014 and was completed early this year with much of the work being a Watton family effort. Much credit to them!

The craftsmanship on the restoration is of a high standard. All volunteers involved have had their names carved into the roof beams for posterity. It is a functioning boathouse, but the addition of two windows and a wildlife pond have created a dual function for watching wildlife.

The restored boathouse in 2016
The restored boathouse in 2016

The ceremony on Saturday opened with some words of welcome from Roger Thompson, as a crowd of some 75 locals, friends and volunteers gathered. The ribbon was ceremonially cut by long –serving volunteer Julie Cox and project patron Matthew Ellis made some very nice comments about the project as a whole, having been a close supporter since 2006, before the project got underway in. The assembled group then retired to the marquee to celebrate in some style with a bring and share lunch and some well received entertainment from the Walled Garden Wailers and long-time supporter Alun Davies. Needless to say, a good time was had by all!

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 30 – February 2016

Please make a note of this date:   Last year we held a very successful social afternoon as a kind of ‘thank you’ to all Friends of the Walled Garden and to all volunteers.   We plan to do this again this year but to combine this with the official opening of the restored boathouse/wildlife hide.   Please note the date in your diary or on your calendar: 23rd April at the boathouse.   Start time will be confirmed later.

After the official opening at around noon we will then repair to the marquee for an afternoon of relaxation and conviviality!   As last year, the Walled Garden Project will be providing liquid refreshment and a small amount of food (by small, I mean Sue Watton’s idea of small, not mine!!!).   You might want to bring along a picnic to share – though not too much please!   There will be some ‘musical’ entertainment by the Wailers and hopefully others.   Attendees will be invited to perform their party pieces….

 It should be a great afternoon.

Watch out, there’s a weather warning about!

The early 2016 weather seems intent on being unseasonal and endlessly surprising.   The grass hasn’t stopped growing (or the weeds) and we were forced to mow in mid January!   The weather is certainly confusing the plant life!   Currently, we have loads of snowdrops out – but we also have crocus, daffodils and primroses scattered about in full flower.   Birds are a-courting and nest building, and our almond trees are in flower.   Let’s hope we don’t get a late cold snap to shock them out of their comfort zone!!!

January brought us more wind and rain than was welcome, then it snowed and then it really rained as the string of dying hurricanes tracked towards us across the Atlantic from America.   I’m sure that ‘nice’ Mr Trump will put a stop to all of that when he’s President!

Boathouse flood P1000055

The snow, when it came, transformed the garden in a trice.   I was lucky enough to be first there with my camera before footprints spoiled nature’s artistry.   In a few hours the snow was gone and the magic along with it.   No sooner had the snow disappeared when the next storm brought a deluge which almost made the boathouse disappear too.


The flood plain towards Stubby Leas was a huge lake, the water board worked frantically on the village flood pumps and we kept our fingers crossed that the River Tame would not rise any further.   The newly restored boathouse was a picture – all we needed was a submarine!   The water rose to the top of the viewing windows.   There is no truth in the rumour that Laurence Watton continued his bricklaying wearing sub-aqua gear.                    He used a snorkel!

An amazing amount of silt and debris cluttered the boat house when the waters subsided.   Sue Watton, power hosed it out (well, most of it seemed to end up on her) but another flood quickly followed and brought it all back!   Joe Dugas did the dirty work this time.

Despite the vagaries of the weather, our volunteer gardeners have managed to keep working, despite somewhat soggy soil conditions.   Muck has been spread, land prepared for spring planting and we have been able to put artichokes, celeriac, parsnips and other goodies onto the produce table for discerning shoppers.  Pete Stubbs and Pete Coggins have been doing sterling work getting ready for the season and have their plans for 2016 well sorted.


On the floral side of things, the ladies have been busy pruning the roses and training the climbers.   Lurking behind the house, Thelma continues to pot up plants for the produce table in her little potting paradise and Barbara & Mike have transformed the rear garden into a tidy wallflower wonderland.   Sorry, I’m getting a bit carried away with the flowery language.   I’ll just stop here and give myself a good slapping.

There.   That’s better.   There is already plenty to see in the garden even though it is only February.   If you can visit while the frost is still on the plants then it’s a real joy.

Housing Benefits for all?

Indoor jobs have been at a premium during the past 2 months and it’s been great to be able to keep busy and yet avoid the worst of the weather.   Pete and Owen have kept busy in the barn doing winter maintenance work and repairing things.   These sorts of tasks are never-ending but always important and there doesn’t seem to be much that Peter can’t turn his hand to!

The really flashy stuff has been going on inside the house where a complete transformation has been achieved thanks to the decorating team of Batur, Brian, Roger & Sue and others.   One of the downstairs rooms was the first on the list – more of this later – then, flushed with success and bubbling with enthusiasm, the team moved upstairs, where Angela’s office was stripped, re-decorated, carpeted and returned to her, to give her somewhere more comfortable and cosy to work in at long last!

The small back bedroom, now looking presentable, has become our first aid room (particularly valuable during events) and was the next to be finished before the team moved back downstairs.   We might offer B & B (only joking!).


Steve Eyley was working hard downstairs removing and rebuilding the sash window and Dave Watton was still working on installing the second fireplace in the remaining downstairs room.   The  room was in chaos but the painters managed to squeeze in  work around the muddle of bits and pieces and as soon as Steve had finished the window, we were able to get to work on 3 of the walls…..

P1000102 P1000141

Above right, Brian peers around the doorway, looking for a space to slip into!   Conditions weren’t ideal but we were determined to keep the decorating juggernaut moving onwards.   Above left, Steve finishing off the window work.   Note the condition of the walls before the team get to work.   Once finished you may see a difference.

Why only 3 walls?   The central wall has a troublesome damp issue and will need dry lining now the fire has been fitted and the plastering done (this work generously donated by TCI Interiors).   The internal walls of the house seem to have no damp course at all so moisture is rising from below!   Ho hum.

Swap Shop

The finished and furnished front room looks great.   Most fittings and furnishing are donated and Sue Thompson (seen here in cleaning mode) has developed the room as a Library with donated books.   The idea is that books, magazines and CDs can be taken away and kept for a small donation or swapped for free with something left by the swapper.   Essentially it’s a free service available for anyone to use on volunteering days (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday).   We even have curtains to hang (material donated by Bill and Margaret McDougall and made into curtains by Thelma’s daughter Sharon!)   We hope the room will be a hit with villagers and visitors alike.


This room is available now for villagers to use for other things too!   There may soon be a sewing group meeting regularly there, so watch this space.   Maybe you have an idea to put forward?  Users will be welcome to make themselves a cuppa in the Bothy for a small donation.   There is already a good selection of fiction and non-fiction, magazines and a few music CDs with more donated goodies arriving daily.   Why not pop in and see what is available?

Fun at the forward planning forum

Annually we have an informal forum for volunteers, to give them the opportunity to put forward their ideas and suggest priorities for the coming year and as usual it was well attended.   We now have a long list of ideas to work on during 2016 which will keep us busy.   We are optimistically setting out a programme which includes re-roofing the potting shed and block paving the rear path; decorating the hall, stairs and landing; improving the drainage by the barn; painting the outside of the house and fitting a Belfast sink in the potting shed amongst other things.   On top of this there will be the usual on-going maintenance and gardening plus work towards the 2 major events – the Beer Festival on July 2nd and the bonfire on October 29th (dates for your diary!).   Plenty of ambition there then!   If you think you can help out then please come forward – even if it’s only for half a day – every little helps and many hands make light work, as they say.   The full list of tasks and ideas is displayed in the Bothy so come and have a look – you may find something there to float your boat and I can guarantee that you’ll be amazed how good it feels to be doing something fantastic for the village in such a friendly team.

Well that’s about all from me for now.   Hopefully, I’ll see you around at the garden or at the boathouse opening day….

Best wishes,