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