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