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