Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 63 – July 2022

Wot sa scorcher!

What a summer we are having!   Here at the walled garden it has been a real challenge to keep everything watered in these hot, dry and often windy conditions.   The size of the site means that often watering has to be done by hand using watering cans.   The allotments have access to taps which bring water from the water tower in the corner of the walled area but this is gravity fed and once one tap is open, the pressure drops and water flow slows down.   If two taps are open, the flow slows to a trickle so considerable patience is required if you have a large area to water!   Places like the sensory garden are so far away from the water tower that at the best of times the water supply is lamentable and watering cans become the only viable option.   Consequently, some of the plants are beginning to look a bit distressed!   However, a week of rain would soon repair the situation and, with school holidays approaching, the weather is almost certain to break!!!

The Royal Jubilee

Celebrations in June saw the unveiling of a commemorative plaque of a suitably rustic nature (see if you can find it next time you visit) and Alan Hayes, our fruit expert has grafted a special apple tree from an original tree called Queen Cox which is currently in its second year of growth and looking strong!  A mere whip – persnapper, in fact!  Pun intended.  Speaking of apples, it looks likely that there will be a bumper crop this year, which will be welcome news for our cider makers and – later on – for our cider drinkers!   Last years vintage will soon be on sale!

Can you smell the roses?

If you plan to visit soon, you can’t fail to be impressed by the roses in the rose garden.   The colours are brilliant and the scent is amazing.   Hot weather is taking its toll and individual flowers aren’t lasting long but there are fresh buds waiting to burst forth!

The new gates to the materials store area are now completed and fully painted thanks to Steve Clarke.   Whilst he was away on holiday recently, a new sign mysteriously appeared on the gates so now everyone knows whose fault it is if anything goes wrong with them!

No smoke without fire!

Work continues on the cart restoration programme.   The necessary bits and pieces are slowly being gathered together ready for re-assembling.  The wheels are now all constructed and awaiting their steel rims.   All of the work done on the cart has presented volunteers with a steep learning curve but rising to the challenge is a walled garden speciality!   Fitting the first rim to the first wheel involved a bit of trial and error, it has to be said.   The team assembled and a fire was lit beneath the steel rim before it was carefully lifted over the waiting wheel and eventually it was eased into place, burning the wood as it slipped into place.

There were some anxious moments, and first attempts did not go entirely to plan but the rim was re-heated and  was eventually got into place before being dowsed by much water.   This not only made the metal shrink into position but it also put out the flames in the burning wheel!   The original cart, when it was in general use, carried school children around the village for Mayday festivities.   2023 is a special anniversary of this event so the plan is to have the cart finished by May 2023 so that it can be used to re-enact the celebration.

Another brick in the wall….

Phil Kellett continues his expert restoration of the vine house.   The old Victorian lime mortar had become much degraded over the years so the old brickwork has to be carefully taken apart, cleaned off and the bricks can then be sympathetically replaced using fresh lime mortar.   Phil is being supervised by the Flowerpot Men (the older amongst you may remember them!) and, of course, they are being closely watched by Little Weed.   Happy days!

As well as the Flowerpot Men, other unusual items have begun appearing at the garden!  Down by the river a strange sea creature has materialised! We now have our very own seahorse, sculpted by Tony Devitt.  It’s quite hard to miss and is a made from local oak and commissioned in memory of Jayne Griffiths (1959-2021) who spent most of her life living and working in Lichfield. Jayne loved spending time at Elford Hall Walled Garden – and being by the sea.   An information sheet about seahorses can be found on the produce table near to the Head Gardener’s House.   They are really fascinating. Here’s Tony at work adding the final touches to his artwork.

I’m sure that all readers are well aware of the threats that Global Warming bring to the natural world right across the globe.   We’re trying to do our bit here in Elford by offering sanctuary to a threatened species from cooler climes.   Our new arrival from the north is far from its natural habitat but he is settling in well.   He’s friendly, likes a bit of fuss but is finding this month’s heatwave a bit challenging.   So, here he is!  He’s currently living in the barn with another friendly old growler – Pete Kennedy – and they seem to be getting on quite well.   Pete says the bear’s craft skills aren’t up to scratch yet – but he’s a quick learner!

The bear doesn’t have a name yet (suggestions on a postcard please!).

Anyone for Boules?

This weather is great for boules, of course.   June and Roger send a reminder that the very social Boules evenings are continuing in the Walled Garden on the following Friday evenings: 22nd July, 5th August, 19th August, 2nd September, and 16th September.   Everyone is welcome.   It is free.   No experience or equipment is necessary, but do remember to bring your picnic and favourite tipple along!

Judgement Day

A few days ago we had a visit from the Royal Horticultural Society judges who were assessing the project for their ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ award.   In recent years we have always done really well in this assessment and this years judges seemed really impressed with what they saw and with what is being achieved by this volunteer led community project, so we are hopeful of a good result for 2022.   We will find out in September!   Despite the dry conditions, there is plenty of colour and lots to be seeing at the garden, as the next photographs will show.   They do look better if you can get here in person, of course!

The project is ALWAYS looking for more volunteers to help out with maintaining this free community garden.   Fresh air, good company, gentle exercise can all be yours and all it costs is a little bit of your time every now and then. 

What’s not to like?

Well, that’s about it from me for this issue.   I hope you have enjoyed reading it!   Best wishes to you,   Roger

 

 

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 62 – April 2022

April News

March brought us a taste of ‘proper’ spring with temperatures close to what would be appropriate for Maytime, but as the month drew to a close,  cooler, wetter, windier days returned with a vengeance.   This pattern has continued into April with unfortunate flurries of snow to add to the picture.   Plants and wildlife will have been tested by the return to the coolness – magnolias and camellias looked glorious initially but didn’t fare well in the frosts.   Our garden hedgehog took to wondering when the warmth arrived but hasn’t been seen since the frosts returned so I hope she’s hunkered down somewhere safe and warm!   At least the sun – when we see it – has some warmth about it.

Smashing Spring Splendour

In these miserable times of rising prices, rising virus infection and rising tension in Europe, it is uplifting to wander quietly through the walled garden and to imagine some normality in life (as we used to know it).   Spring is a great season for lifting the spirits and for offering some hope of better things to come.   Strolling through the garden last weekend was delight for me and the camera was really busy!   A sample of the sights on show can be seen below.  Not visited recently?   Get down there if you can as these delights will soon be faded jewels!

Above left, in the riverside woods, the wild daffodils are putting on a great show – soon to be followed by bluebells.    In the Giant’s Garden the forsythia is in full bloom, early tulips are about to flower and the hyacinths have been spectacular in their colour this spring.   Everywhere, plants are waking up and readying themselves for summer .

The daffodils around the orchard (above left) have again been great to see.   Here you see them beneath a mass of catkins, which have also impressed this year.   The early plum blossom is beginning to colour up and the remaining trees in the orchard will be in full flower within the next few weeks and will be attracting our busy bees.   It really will be spectacular!

During my stroll around,  I experienced a new delight!   I have recently had my  hearing aids replaced so I was able to enjoy the beautiful cacophony of birdsong again.   Butterflies were in evidence already and the insects were being busy around the early flowering plants.   I came away with a spring in my step (please excuse the pun!).

Craftsman Still Turning Cartwheels

Building an ancient farm cart virtually from scratch using traditional methods can’t be rushed and is a treat to be savoured during the process.   I think it’s fair to say the Dave Watton is really enjoying the challenge – and rising to it!  The 4 wheels are now rebuilt and some have already had their steel rims fitted.   New leaf springs have arrived and await fitting and work has begun on the wooden flat bed of the cart.   I’m not quite sure what function this part below plays but the hand carving is both creative and impressive.   Well done Dave!

Everything’s coming up roses…

Well, in truth, it’s the daffodils that are creating the spectacle at the moment but the roses are shooting strongly and the first flowering promises to be good!   The tables are in place in this perfumed sun-trap waiting for visitors to enjoy coffee from Vicky’s Camioncito which is now at the garden every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 -2.30 and until 3.30 on Sundays.

Ex-seedingly – good work

Behind the house in the plant nursery, Carol and Dorothy are working their green fingers to the bone sowing seeds, getting seedlings ready for planting out and rooting cuttings for sales or for planting out.   It’s a busy time for everyone…..

The grass is growing now that it’s a bit warmer, so mowing is beginning to take up some of Sue Clarke’s time and this will demand more input as the weeks roll on.   The rose garden above has already had its first cut and looks much smarter for it!

Having constructed the new gates to the materials store area (above left), Steve Clarke is now putting the final touches to make it look the business.   Can’t wait to see the mural when it’s finished!

As the soil slowly warms up, allotment holders have been busy preparing their plots.   With soaring prices, their produce this year will not only taste better but it will be cheaper too.   We try hard to be organic and environmentally friendly here at the Walled Garden.   Allotment organiser Terry Jones reminds me that the government ban on metaldehyde slug pellets came into effect at the end of March 2021 and a ban on use in March 2022.  This is because metaldehyde poses a serious risk to birds and mammals.  The toxins can also find their way into rivers,  posing wider harm to the environment and other wildlife. There have even been cases of dogs ingesting pellets leading to sickness and even death.

Good News from the RHS

Regular readers will know of our annual entries in the Royal Horticultural Society ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ event (where we do really well).   As a result, I’m now being sent a monthly news bulletin which is really interesting and informative AND IT’S FREE!   If I can keep my wits about me, I’ll attach the latest edition to my email.   At the end of the bulletin, it offers you the chance to sign up for your own free copy so if you are interested……

Another Brick in the Wall…..

Volunteers bring with them all manner of skills and knowledge to add to the project team.   A case in point is Phil Kellett who is a skilled bricklayer, which is exactly what is needed at a walled garden.   Now that frosts are less likely, Phil has been able to turn his attention to the crumbling brickwork in the vine house.   It is an interesting historical feature and Phil is blessed with the skills to do a ‘proper job’ of restoration.

Above is just a sample of his excellent work ‘in progress’.   The walls at either end are now secure and looking tidy and the steps are safe for volunteers tending the plants to use with confidence.   More of this in future editions….

And while we are mentioning special skills, to the left is Charlie Smith who is one of our Duke of Edinburgh’s volunteers.   He chose woodworking skills as one of his DofE elements.   Having already made a nesting box and a bat box, he has just finished restoring this old tool chest which belonged to his great great grandfather.   I bet the old chap would be proud as punch!

Keep your eyes on the boules…..

June and Roger have just announced the dates for Boules evenings this year.   Anyone is welcome to attend – equipment is available to borrow – and usually attendees bring a picnic.   It isn’t a serious affair – it’s basically a social evening with a bit of petanque thrown in – so no expertise is expected!   Come along and give it a try any time after 6pm on these Friday evenings:

29th April,  13th & 27th May,  10th & 14th June,  8th & 22nd July,  5th & 19th August and    2nd & 16th September

June writes “We will be very pleased to see you all again, with your drinks and nibbles for an enjoyable social get together, say from 6.00 pm onwards.   Please remember, you are of course free to use the boules courts at any time, not just at the suggested dates/times”.

That’s all from me folks….

I hope that you have found this contribution both informative and interesting.   More from me in June but in the meantime, try to get down to the garden and enjoy what our volunteers have created.

Best wishes,    Roger

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 61 – February 2022

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 61 – February 2022

With the slightly warmer days, the walled garden at Elford is beginning to come back to life.   To be fair, the winter weather hasn’t been too bad (yet) which is perhaps just as well, what with the rising heating costs these days!   The sight of snowdrops always lifts my spirits, renewing of hopes of good things to come.   Well, you don’t have to travel far to see snowdrops – there are masses of them at the walled garden – so it’s a good time to visit.

The snowdrops here improve their display year on year and they are already providing a sight to gladden the hearts of visitors.   Also beginning to appear are early crocus and some really early daffodils so there’s plenty to see and to raise a smile for those who venture forth.   Other things on show are the lovely catkins, many flowering hellebores and the birds are putting on quite a performance too – so they must think Spring is on the way!

Whilst the weather is still a bit on the cool side, visitors can always take cover in the bothy where they can make a hot drink for a small donation in the honesty box, and maybe find a biscuit or two!

Whistle while you work…..

As you would expect, our loyal volunteer workforce are keeping busy – and there is always plenty to do!   Behind the house, Carol and Dorothy are working hard in the greenhouse preparing plants for spring planting and for summer sales on the produce table.   The plant nursery area is looking neat and tidy and very business-like!

The allotments always look a bit bleak at this time of the year but much preparation work is underway to ensure a good harvest for 2022.   Much of this is down to Christine, Alan and Peter.   Similar activity is underway on many of the rented allotments too.

If a job’s worth doing …..

Winter provides volunteers with the time to catch up on general maintenance tasks that are impossible to keep on top of during the busy growing season.   Furniture needs to be weather-proof and is often a task done by our Duke of Edinburgh’s volunteers.   Harry and Charles Smith (featured in the winter newsletter) and Oliver Malcolm (below left) have been busy rubbing down and repainting things under the watchful scrutiny of Pete Kennedy.   Oliver isn’t actually slumped exhausted over the table here, he’s just sanding it!

Similar sterling work is being done by brickie Phil who has taken on the task of repairing and restoring the vine house brickwork (above right).   It will be a lengthy job but it’s important for us to maintain as much of the history of the walled garden as we can and with skills like Phil’s on site, we can hopefully achieve this target.   The photo above isn’t one of my best but you can probably see that there’s a lot of crumbling mortar to replace and collapsed areas to rebuild.   Good luck Phil – looks like you’ll need it!

In the old mushroom house, you’ll probably find Steve Clarke doing a general tidy up and sort out.  At first, it seemed like a fairly straight-forward job, but, scratch the surface ……He could be there for weeks, having found a rotten wooden floor that now has to be replaced!

Steve’s wife Sue is, meanwhile, lurking in the brick store.   Well, trying to tidy it up rather than lurking really – there’s no time to lurk when you have the spring cleaning bug!   Annual leaf fall buries wood, bricks and slabs and, Sue will tell you, some volunteers have a talent for not putting things back exactly where she’d like them!

Above left, Steve is assessing the job – or, as we like to call it – where the hell do I start this?   Right, Sue is thinking ‘ I’m sure I tidied this up last week but just look at it now!’

Turning cartwheels

In the winter newsletter I mentioned the generous donation from Michael Connolly which has enabled us to buy the materials needed to start work restoring  the historic cart.   This cart had been used in the past to take children around the village from the village school on May Day and is featured in several old photos.   It had become unsafe and was rescued for the village playground where it sat unprotected for many years.   Playground redevelopment saw it transferred to end its life at the walled garden where it continued to fall apart until now!

Above right you see the cart remains alongside the cider trees.   Most of the wood is too rotten to save but the metal parts are mostly all reusable and are being restored locally.   Colin, Dave and Chris  are getting to grips with the framework of the cart and the metal parts while Dave has been putting his skills to the test rebuilding the 4 cartwheels from oak.   He now has 3 finished wheels (above left) which are looking just fabulous and fit to last another 100 years!   I’m not sure that the cart will be finished for May Day – at least not for May Day 2022 anyway!

Fishy goings on?

To complement the dolphins on the main drive, we now have 3 flying fish on the door of our version of the famous TV Repair Shop.   These 3 beautiful oak trout are made from the cut offs from the new cart wheels and this was the shape they came in straight from the cutting bench.   Check out the new wheels and see if you can work out where exactly they came from!   Betcha can’t!!

And speaking of fishy tails (tales), here’s Uncle Lawrence with Ollie Watton.   This was Ollie’s first pike – caught in the boathouse just recently.   What a whopper!   Anyone can fish in the river alongside the walled garden.   There are 3 pegs set up and waiting.   There is no charge but a donation to the project is always appreciated!

Goodbye to January 2022!

I’ll just finish with a few photos I took during January on a cold frosty misty morning – even the bleakest of months has its beautiful moments!

Well that’s about all from me for this issue.   When next I write, we will all be thinking about the approach of summer but don’t miss the delights to be found at the Walled Garden between now and then, visit us soon and reap the rewards to be found in this peaceful haven.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this edition!

Best wishes, Roger

 

 

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 60 – Winter 2021

So far, the early winter temperatures have stayed pleasantly mild so the trees are still beautifully dressed in their Autumn golds and there are still quite a few brave flowers looking bright and cheerful.   This may change with this week’s forecast of snow!  All seasons have their delights so there is still a lot to admire at the Walled Garden.   There are places where you can sit in the dry and out of the wind when you come to visit.   The library in the Gardener’s House is still open and bursting with books which you can take away to read in a cosy corner at home.   It’s a swap library, so bring a book and take another is the order of the day, but you can also just take away a book if you put a donation in the box!   Remember also that the bothy is always open so you can make yourself a hot drink and possibly find a biscuit or two remembering, of course,  to put your donation in the honesty box!

The roses are still putting on a show in the rose garden.   We have had flowering roses on Christmas Day in past years and hopefully again this year!

There’s a cosy corner at the end of the tractor shed where volunteers (and you) can hide away and enjoy a coffee so there’s no need to be concerned about the weather – not yet, at least!

It’s time to party….

Christmas is approaching quickly and it’s not too late to stock up with a few bottles of Walled Garden Cider for your discerning visitors and family.   There are still a few bottles of the 2021 vintage left so stop by the barn and collect a few.   If you have empty bottles then please recycle them by returning them to the walled garden for use with the 2022 bottling.

Above right, you can see the results of this year’s harvest all stored away waiting for bottling in Spring 2022.

Below, some of the volunteers are taking what I like to think of as a ‘cake break’.   There is seldom a day passes without a supply of completely calorie free cake appearing from somewhere, usually provided by one of the volunteers or by a thoughtful ‘Friend of the Walled Garden’.   Cake is always enthusiastically received by the grateful team, as you might imagine!!!

Ouch! my back hurts…

Autumn and winter work often involves a fair bit of digging in preparation for Spring sowing.   Here, Alan is getting stuck in on one of our allotments.   At least the ground is soft now and the weeds are growing less quickly so it is satisfying work – providing you take a rest occasionally!

The Duke’s legacy lingers on…

So, a big welcome to Harry & Charles (Smith) – two volunteers with Princely names – very appropriate for lads following the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme by helping out at the Gardens.   There’s always plenty to do in the garden at any time of the year and so they have begun the winter job of re-proofing and re-painting our wooden items to help protect them during the next 12 months.

Good work, lads.   Keep at it ‘cos Pete’s got his beady eye on you!

Of course, a lot more has been going on behind the scenes at the garden but I’ve been off work injured for a while so I’m a bit out of touch – so my apologies if I’ve missed anything out or anyone out that deserves  mention.

                     Three wheels on my wagon, I’m still rolling along…..

Michael Connelly, a Friend of the Walled Garden and a regular visitor made the project a very generous and unexpected donation which we wanted to mark by doing something extra special.   After some deliberation, it was decided that the donation could be used to begin restoring the old farm cart that can be seen amongst the cider trees at the edge of the orchard.   The cart is part of village history and is, we think, over 100 years old!   It has been slowly decaying for many years but all of that is about to be reversed!

First, what was left of the wheels had to be removed.   There was one wheel in fairly good order but there wasn’t much that hadn’t fallen away from the other 3.

Back in the barn, the one good wheel became the template for the remaining 3 and it was a very interesting task trying to work out exactly how the original craftsmen had constructed the wheel.

The centre piece of each wheel was a work of art in itself, worthy of display in a gallery!  When it comes to woodworking challenges, you can rely on Dave Watton to be up for the task.   Working out the circumference of each bit of the outer rim took a lot of know-how and endless checking and re-checking of the dimensions before the first cuts in the oak were made.   Thereafter, there would be no going back…

Well, can you see what it is yet?   It’s a bit curvy!   I struggle to cut a straight line with a saw, let alone a curve!

To the right, Dave has laid out the components of the reconstructed wheel to make sure that it looks OK before the gluing begins.   It does look like a wheel, doesn’t it?   It’s taken a good deal of time to get to this point and this is only the first of 4 wheels!

It could be a week or two before he’s finished so it makes a journey to the garden an interesting prospect for visitors.   It’s not every day you can stand and watch an old cart wheel being made (or an old craftsman at work, for that matter!).

Allotments update.

 Winter work is well underway on many of the allotment plots.  Our allotments continue to be an important and integral part of the Garden Project. As some plot subdivision has taken place over the years, there are now 20 plots with in excess of 45 people working on them. All lay out their plots to suit their needs and grow a range of different produce. This all adds variety for the visitors to enjoy. Being on the plots over the last 18 months has been fantastic and has helped many peoples mental and physical health. We are all looking forward to productive next season.

 That’s all from me, folks ……

My best wishes to you all.   I hope that you have enjoyed reading about what’s happening at the walled garden but it’s always better to see it first-hand.   Sunday is always a good day to visit, as Vicky will be there with her fabulous coffees and cakes from 11am to 2.30pm.   If the weather looks iffy, probably it’s best to give her a ring on 07934197351 just to make sure that she’ll be there.   On other days, you’ll just have to make your own drinks in the bothy!

Stay safe and healthy in this run up to Christmas.  Enjoy the festive season (don’t forget to stock up with Walled Garden cider!)

 Roger

 

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 59 – November 2021

Here’s the latest newsletter from the newly certificated ‘outstanding’ community garden project in Elford.  In the last few weeks, everything has turned rather Autumnal but there is still plenty to see at the garden.   The autumn flowering plants still bring colour, the allotments are looking good and the late fruit and veg is still finding its way to the produce table.   Last year’s cider is still available and work is well advanced at producing the 2022 vintage after a really good apple harvest this year.   While it’s so mild, why not make another visit?

You will have read that we are now having to lock the walled area each evening and we are also having to invest in a security system following the theft of our koi carp and the theft of produce from the allotments.   This is a sad indictment of some in today’s society and their selfishness when a free-to-all charity is targeted and abused like this!

One of the positive additions this year has been the appearance of Harley’s Camioncito serving drinks, cake, ice creams and other delights.   Access to quality drinks has been much appreciated by our visitors and it has been nice to have been able to support a local initiative.   As the weather deteriorates, Vicky’s services will not be available so often but she hopes that the Camioncito will appear on Wednesdays (11 – 2.30) and Sundays (11 – 3.30) weather permitting!   If in doubt, ring first on 07934197351

Boules season ends….

The Friday night boules crowd has enjoyed better weather this year and player numbers have increased (even if skill levels haven’t!).   It has been a lovely social atmosphere – boisterous at times and with lots of laughter.   Keenness was such that a few extra nights were scheduled in even after the official season ended!   A really big thank you to June Watkins and Roger Litchfield who have ably undertaken the organisation of the evenings.   Well done, you two.   Roll on next season!

All fine in the vine house?

Work continues to ‘beautify’ the lower section of the old vine house.   Half whisky barrels have been planted up to complement the pots of bright geraniums and petunias.   They should grow to become quite a feature in the future.   The next task will be to repair the crumbling brickwork so if there are any of our readers with skills in this area and who would like to offer help then please, please get in touch!

Peter the Painter presses on…

Pete Kennedy will turn his hand to almost anything!   Currently, he’s on a marathon painting mission to preserve and to add colour to the garden furniture.   A quick splash of paint won’t do for Peter.   He has an engineer’s standards to uphold so every piece gets the full rub down and repair before the paint gets anywhere near to them.   He’s been busy, as you can see and may well finish the job soon!   Pete’s other great quality is to engage our visitors in conversation as they arrive and pass the barn.   Many of the new ‘Friends of the Walled Garden’ have enrolled thanks to the friendly welcome they get from Pete, who is always ready to offer ideas on what to look out for in the garden – and he’s been known to sell the odd bottle of cider too!

Can you help?

In the early days of the project, Sue Thompson created a number of mosaics in the sensory garden.   These have lasted really well but time has begun to take its toll and now repairs are required if the mosaics are to survive.   Sue has retired as a volunteer but if there is anyone out there that fancies having a go at some repair work then please get in touch.   It would be a shame if they were to simply crumble and disappear.   No talent required – just a willingness to have a go!

How observant are you?

So here’s something to test yourself on.   Can you find these items as you walk around the garden?   One is easy, the others a bit more tricky!   Here’s a clue to help you: none of them is very far from the ladybird mosaic pictured above.   See how you get on!

Nature’s bounty

As with every harvest, some crops do well and produce well while others are a little more disappointing but nothing comes without a lot of hard work.   On the volunteer’s allotment, much of this work is done by Peter, Christine (seen here) and Alan.   The last of the 2021 crop is being harvested now.   Look out for items on the produce stall by the Head Gardener’s house.   Once this is done, the annual cycle of work will begin again, clearing the ground ready for spring planting.   There is always a lot to do and our gardeners work really steadily at their task but the results they get are amazing and the superb ‘home grown’ taste is rewards for their diligence.

A fond farewell

Michael & Barbara Sadler have volunteered for many years, concentrating their efforts mostly behind the house in the plant nursery & rear garden.  Recently they have taken the decision to ‘retire’ again and the project owes them a real debt of gratitude, not only for the work they have done but for the support and friendship they have given to other volunteers and for the welcome they always give to visitors.   They will be much missed by all of us and we hope to see them often in the future as visitors.   The project can ill afford to lose such a hard working couple but the passage of time cannot be denied and we all reach the point where we need to throttle back!   Fortunately, this year has seen the arrival of a number of new volunteers who can take on the challenge of keeping the garden ‘outstanding’.   Watch out for more about these new helping hands in future editions….

 

Well, that’s all from me for now.   Enjoy autumn in the crazy world of Covid and Fuel problems.   It can only get better.

Best wishes to you all, Roger

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 58 – June 2021

Well, here we are almost at the longest day of the year and summer has finally arrived after the unusually wet May.   I used to think I understood our weather but now it’s joined the long list of other things I find confusing!   The virus (or one of several mutated versions of it) is still with us and, although lockdown has been eased to an extent, any further hope of more relaxation is now delayed till late July so still not much light from the end of the tunnel (or Downing Street, as it’s sometimes known!).

Here at the Walled Garden everything is looking green and healthy and growing at an alarming rate.   Currently, the irises are looking fabulous and the raised vine house bed is a riot of colour.  The rose garden is bloom, the vegetable plots are looking tidy and full of promise and, if we can keep on top of the weeds and the rapidly growing grass then I think that visitors will be well impressed by what they see in our

At this time of the year, the garden changes by the day and the recent hot weather means that some of the plants are ‘over’ very quickly if they don’t get the water they need and with volunteers only being on site on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday they can go ‘thirsty’ so visit soon (and often) to see them at their best!

Insects are busy everywhere.   We’ve even had a bee ‘swarm’ take up lodgings inside the Gardener’s house in between the floorboards!   Help!!!

Pandemic Progress?

So what’s been going on since the New Year?   Well, a surprising lot really!   Our gardeners have been busy preparing allotments, in the nursery area plants are being prepared for sale and everywhere it has been all hands to the pump to keep on top of mowing and weeding.    The old tractor shed has now been re-floored and Dave has almost finished restoring the ancient workbench that used to live there, ready for its imminent return.   In the barn, Peter is steadily working through his list of repairs and Steve, Carol, Andy and others have been working hard to bottle this year’s cider (which is now on sale).   John Shaw has almost finished his furniture painting marathon and Loz and Jess continue their marathon work on restoring the old Orangery.

Above left  – this year’s cider and perry now on sale and ready for drinking at 2020 prices.  Above right – Dave has almost finished restoring the ancient DIY work bench which we found in the old tractor shed.   Bottom right – Peter Stubbs showing off the first of the season’s broad beans.   Bottom centre – Gordon keeps to the shade and does battle with the long grass.   Bottom left – Alan continues his expert tree training in the sensory garden.

Extra Sensory Activity!

Much tidying up has been done in the sensory garden.   The spring flowers have ended and we are patiently waiting for the spring sown wild flowers and pollinators to appear – but they need rain now!  Roger, Nathan, Darren, Alison, new volunteer Iwan and Duke of Edinburgh’s trainee James and a host of others have done most of the work.   Paths have been tidied, the red bridge and benches all repainted, the pergola re-proofed and the lettering on the marble table has been re-touched.   Pruning, weeding, repairing and tidying completes the list!   I think the results have been worth the effort!

Right  is the marble table after the restoration after much patient painting by James and me.    For no conscious reason, the first 2 words I re-painted were ‘beautiful garden’ – spooky that!      The text is a quote from Oscar Wilde’s ‘Selfish Giant’ tale, which can be read in full on one of the story boards in the sensory garden for those of you who don’t know the story!  What a difference a bit of paint and patience makes!

Above left – Darren’s giving the bridge a much needed lick of paint!

The Plot thickens….

The allotments have been a great source of comfort for many over the last 15 months. We now have 20 plots as a couple of the bigger plots have recently been subdivided. As a result there are about 45 people working the plots and participating in the project.   It’s great to see how the plots have improved over the years as holders hone their skills and knowledge base.   It almost goes without saying that the weather has been strange this year — although gardeners say this about every year! — and our arms are growing longer from carrying watering cans.  It’s great that the allotments can provide a different aspect to the garden experience for visitors and we receive no end of questions from the curious — some we can actually answer!

And now more good news!

The Walled Garden has been a popular retreat for many people during the Pandemic which is great, as it indicates that our efforts are appreciated by many.   As a consequence of this, we have increased the number of ‘Friends of the Walled Garden’ who help to support us by their annual contribution of £20.

Better still, we have gained an extra dozen volunteers to share the work load and this is great news for our aging volunteer family.  Long may this continue!

The almost daily grind?

New for this summer is the appearance of Harley’s Camioncito serving drinks, cake, ice creams etc on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday from 11ish till around 3pm so give them your support and enjoy their wares as you relax in the garden.   Their coffee is a bit special !!!   Fussing the dog comes FREE

Coming soon to a walled garden near YOU!

  • The boules season has started and everyone is welcome – and it’s FREE.   Boules can be played at anytime but a group of us meet on some Friday evenings from 6.30ish for social boules. This involves a picnic, a little lubrication to your taste, a lot of laughter and chat and a few games of fun boules. This year’s meeting dates are July 2nd, 16th and 30th; August 13th and 27th and finally September 10th.   Come and give it a try why don’t you?
  • On Tuesday 29th June from 10am we will be putting up the marquee.   Many hands make light work so if you are free to help…….
  • On Friday July 9th at 9.30 we are being judged by the Royal Horticultural Society for their ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ competition. The judges love talking to visitors and ‘Friends’ when they are judging so, if you are free, why not come along and join in?
  • On Saturday July 10th at 2pm we will be holding a much delayed (due to Covid) AGM outside in the garden. All Friends of the Walled Garden are welcome to attend.
  • On Saturday July 17th at 11am we will be holding our Volunteers forum where we explore how the project might be developed in the future. If ‘Friends’ have any ideas they’d like to promote then this can be done at the AGM OR by emailing your ideas direct to me.

Left – some kind soul introduced some knitted mice to Mr Badger’s house in the Woods.   Nice to have visitors…   Right – amazing blossom on the cider tree – next year’s brew in the making!

That’s about it for this issue.   I hope that it has been an enjoyable read for you .   Don’t forget to note down the dates above and come to the garden again soon

Best wishes,   Roger

Elford Hall Gardens – Newsletter 57 – Spring 2021

 

Welcome to the Walled Garden Spring edition.   The weather has been so sunny of late that I have been putting off spending time at the computer but today is dull and a bit damp so I have no excuse!

Have you been to the garden recently?   No?   Well, now is a good time to visit.   At the moment, the orchard is full of blossom and bees, the tulips are spectacular this year and the bluebells are just starting to come into flower so get your skates on before the show is over!   It’s also good to see the trees beginning to green up with so many spring-fresh shades.   Volunteers, now back on task, are working hard to keep the garden looking nice for your visit – so add us to your ‘to do’ list.

Everyone seems so happy now that lockdown restrictions are relaxing a bit.   Let’s hope that the extra freedom doesn’t backfire on everyone!  The walled garden has been a safe escape during lockdown, so visitor numbers have been higher than usual throughout and it has been nice to hear the happy sound of children enjoying themselves during their Easter holiday.

Around the garden

Volunteering virtually stopped after the Christmas lockdown and, now that everyone is back on site, there has been a lot of catching up to do!    Luckily, we have had a few more volunteers joining us to share the work.   John and Peter have been busy on the outdoor furniture – Pete repairing and John painting.   Thelma and her team have been busy potting up, setting seed and getting plants ready for the sale table.   I’ve been working with a team in the sensory garden generally getting it tidy for the summer.   Christine and Peter’s work is well advanced on the two allotments and Alan has caught up on was needed in the rose garden – all of the pruning and he’s now planting up soft fruits for summer treats!   

Jean and Ron Chamberlain make loads of jams to help us with fund-raising.   Here is their marmalade mountain contribution.   Look closely and you will see Paddington Bear, stripped and ready to get stuck in!    Volunteers always appreciate their contributions and also the many welcome donations of cake to keep us going while we do our socially distanced work.

In the orchard, we now have Rob, a new man to look after our bees and he has introduced several new hives.   Apparently, he likes to give each of his queen bees a name and so one has been named ‘Sue’ after Sue Watton – so good luck to the worker bees!!!

In the barn, work is already advanced with work on this year’s cider – something to look forward to.   The ever-resourceful Loz has built himself a pole lathe and is finding time to become a ‘bodger’ and add yet another skill to his list of accomplishments!

Groundwork

A bigger project has been started in the old tractor shed where a team have dug out the old compacted soil floor with a view to replacing it with something more substantial.    It involved quite a large team.   Gordon, Andy, Mick, Darren and Dave all provided the muscle, as around 30cm of packed earth and brick rubble was removed to reveal an old brick floor. After giving this a protective cover, a block paved floor was added to bring the new floor up to level with the surrounding paths.   We removed the old workbench that had sat in the corner for countless years.   It was crumbling and riddled with woodworm but we aim to restore it as much as we can before returning it to its place.   Once completed, the area will most likely house the restored pony trap which is nearing completion.   Chris is currently working on the leather fittings and then there as just a few final touches and it will be ready to move into place.

Weather watching

The clouds have lifted now and the drizzle has stopped and so shall I!   Our weather is a source of constant interest, isn’t it?   The soil in the sensory garden is dry as dust and we are needing to water plants that are looking a bit limp!   It’s hard to imagine that only a few weeks ago we were facing snow showers and a flooding river here at the gardens.

Here at the Walled Garden project, things are looking really positive.   The garden is quickly coming back to life, butterflies are adding their colour and the noisy birds are adding their contribution too.   It’s probably my favourite time of the year here as the winter blues are being shaken off.   With new volunteers and new ‘Friends of the Walled Garden’ things are looking very healthy.

Why not come down and join the party?   There are plenty of books, jigsaws and plants to be collected for a donation and jams too, of course.   We have a few bottles of cider for sale and there is a limited amount of honey available.   All donations are very much appreciated and important for the future of the garden, particularly since Covid has robbed us of fundraising activities for the past year.   Maybe think about joining us as a volunteer – many hands make light work and every little helps.   You can give it a try without making any commitment and you will find our volunteers a friendly bunch!   You can contact me by email for more details if you are interested in giving it a try.

In the meantime, my best wishes to you all.    Stay safe

Roger

 

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

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