Just a quick reminder of things you can crack on with now to get a head start on the garden.
January is often seen as a month where there is nothing to do in the garden but far from it, theres a myriad of important jobs to do AND theres advantages to getting outside at this time of year.
Roses, wisteria, figs, apples and pears all benefit from a winter prune and this can be done right up till the sap starts to rise. Traditionally this was often march but these days you cant rely on that. Start this job on a crisp, cold, sunny January day and you wont get caught out.
Each plant has different needs and its worth making sure you’re approaching this in the correct way…. that said there are a million “Correct” ways and each gardeners will be subtly different to the next. Naturally the only really correct way is, of course, my way but a good rule of thumb is to check if the plant you are planning on pruning flowers on new or old wood. Make sure your secatuers/saws are sterile, clean and sharp. Pick a day when the risk of a really penetrating frost is low.
And a few videos I’ve made about apple pruning which may be helpful can be found here …. and here.
Sadly 2020’s ripples are still affecting this years plans so our usual Apple Pruning workshops have had to be cancelled. However we have everything crossed that we can start up again in early winter of 2021, I’ll keep you all posted on that!
Roses, especially climbing roses can be a beautiful challenge, you can become exceptionally artistic with these bare bones.
This is possibly one of the most important jobs you can do in a garden. It helps your soil retain water during the summer months, It improves the soils flora and fauna. Tiny brandling worms help to break down any compost, larger worms pull the organic matter below the surface. Nutrients are slowly released to your plants AND!! You dont even need to dig it in!
You can pile your mulch up quite deeply, a good 2 inches, Its best done on a frost free day and if you’re lucky you might still get a few of those in January, February is usually the coldest! A few plants wont thank you for a deep mulch though, trees dont like it piled up against the base of the trunk. Make tree circles bigger than you think then make donuts of mulch around the trunk. Peonys HATE being mulched and will have a proper sulk if their tuberous crowns are covered up. The same with Nerines and Agapanthus who will rot given half the chance.
Most herbaceous perennials will love you for it though!
If your compost heaps are still too young for this try turning them more often. You can also order in a delivery of Green waste from your local council or landscape materials supplier. I’ve been using this stuff for around 10 years now and its marvellous.
This is your opportunity to make sure your perennials dont fall over next summer. If you have access to coppiced hazel this is such a treat, you can create attractive structures that will last 2 or sometimes 3 years like the ones below.
Sometimes you can find someone clever at welding who can create bespoke structures for your garden, if you do treat them like gold dust as they are invaluable!
Plans are never under rated, yes you can wing it but only if you have enough plants to do that with and that takes a bigger budget than most of us have. With good planning you can look back over your records, see what did and didn’t work. How many plants it took to fill an area and how much it cost.
Theres a reason you get taught how to draw to scale when you get taught garden design and its not because theyre trying to pad the course out.
In a vegetable garden, unless you have an excellent memory, records are your ally. Even if your record keeping is only photos.
So sit down with a couple of seed catalogues, a mug of hot chocolate and if you have a roaring fire that too. Work out what you need, then what you want, then your budget. Somewhere in the middle of that is your plan for 2021!
Bearded Iris are superstars of our gardens, their elegant flowers have been gracing our borders for well over a century and luring us to try and extend their range of colours but what happens when you forget the name or inherit a beauty?
Here’s what I did…
Since working at Ulting Wick there has been an exceedingly prolific Iris onsite which has eluded identification. Not that unusual given that many Irises were bred by amateur growers that kept little to no records, but I am nothing if not dogged in my pursuit of all things garden plus I needed to occupy my brain which is receiving less and less of a workout these days!
I didnt realise exactly what I had committed myself to though when I decided to try this…
With lockdown continuing for all of us take a moment to see our hard work at Ulting Wick courtesy of the NGS film crew, its the closest we can get to having you visit! Stay safe and continue looking after each other ❤
Firstly happy Beltane to each and every one of you! The year is shooting past, the seasons are no respecters of what’s happening in our world and roll on regardless. Whilst we keep to our houses, looking after our loved ones and communities. Denying ourselves pleasures we had previously taken for granted to save the lives of those we care about and others we have never met. The plants carry on regardless, they have no need of our admiring glances to achieve what they set out to do. It is definitely us that needs them and this unforeseen situation is really bringing that home.
It was wet for months and the relentless rain now feels so very long ago, there have been a few other things which have challenged a positive attitude….
Mid March I decided the most positive thing I could do other than just do gardening in general was put some of my previous skills back into use and actually grow a serious amount of veg. I figured that I could use it to help my neighbours, barter it for things I didn’t have such as eggs and of course eat it myself.
One thing I didn’t figure on was getting floored by the virus myself!
A quick update as to what I’m up to in my garden at home and at work at Ulting Wick. To those of you who are being discouraged by the utterly vile weather we’ve been having I say hold on! In the words of Brandon Lee “It cant rain all the time”. Just a lot of it apparently!
I wrote the words above in the expectation that the weekend would bring more storms but as it turned out, for me at least it was bright and sunny for the most part. I gardened on the bits that werent squelchy, put some primulas I bought into pots, killed a few vine weevil grubs and generally pottered to my hearts content.
Warning plants want to kill you! Part 1 – the edible killers
We often hear dire warnings of plants toxicity on the internet but how bad are they really?
Heres some fun facts on poisonous plants you can eat and survive!
Ive been threatening to write this for a long while now, if youre easily disturbed, prone to nightmares, find it difficult to watch Day of the Triffids, Little shop of horrors or have an unfounded of fear of a plant leaping out of the border to wound, maim and kill you in a vicious, unprovoked attack then this will be your only warning!
There will be graphic scenes of killer plants malevolently growing!
Some of these vicious, psychopathic killers may be just outside your door. Worse! you may have even welcomed some of these murderous felons into your house! Stop, look very carefully at that plant on the windowsill, you’ve lovingly watered, repotted and fed it for years…. all the while its been sitting there, waiting for you to drop your guard so it can thrust its leaves down your unwilling throat and poison you!
The guys at STIHL have very kindly given me this kit to trial and review. I have received no payment from them.
There, now we’ve got that out of the way I can tell you all about it!
A while back, at GLEE, the lovely people at STIHL told me their battery powered kit was equal to any petrol driven kit on the market, including their own!
That’s quite a claim to make! So I went up to RHS Hyde Hall to see their Chainsaws in action, after all if you’re looking to challenge battery vs petrol a chainsaw would be one of the toughest challenges, right?
So on a chilly November day I turned up to see some of the STIHL products on demo… and see Matthew’s giant pumpkins obvs!
After watching an expert Chainsaw artist at work carving an owl, which really was a truly stunning display of skill – don’t try this at home folks! I got to see the battery powered option in action, ridiculously quiet in comparison.
The guys on the STIHL display stand were really happy to chat to me and take me through the pros and cons of battery vs petrol and reassured me that their battery options have come on in leaps and bounds since id last tried one out including various battery sizes to suit different needs.
I was asked if id like to try out one of their chainsaws but as im not licensed to use one I politely declined and instead went for something which doesn’t get as much visibility as it deserves, a brushcutter!
Most of us know about strimmers and they’re a handy bit of kit for gentle tasks around the garden but if you want something with a bit more ‘WOOF!’ what you need is a brush cutter.
How do they differ?
A strimmer has a nylon cord which feeds through the head and effectively whips things to death by revolving incredibly fast. The downside of this is when you come up against things that have a bit more structure to them, say for example a reedbed, a meadow or even small tree saplings. The strimmer cord wears away very quickly and you find yourself replacing it on a regular basis.
A brushcutter has a metal blade, this allows you to tackle pretty much all the same jobs as with a strimmer head, with small exceptions which ill come back to, and then go on to tackle some of the bigger jobs which a strimmer just isn’t built for.
I figured that if I was really going to test battery vs petrol it needed to be on the kind of work that would really challenge it. Something you normally associate brute strength given by petrol engines on. So they suggested I try out the FSA 130 with the backpack battery AR 1000
So I started it off on ‘Twist’, this is our annual wildflower meadow bit around the sculpture of that name. After flowering we would normally strim this down so the seeds get a chance to be dispersed but a strimmer isn’t great at scarifying which gives the seeds a chance to get themselves in a position to germinate, a brushcutter can do that. obviously you’re not looking to strip the ground, just cut into the top vegetation sufficiently to allow the seeds to get down to the soil.
At this point I had no clue how long the battery would last or how quickly I could get through the job. The backpack battery has a handy little readout on the back which when you press a button it will light up a series of indicator lights to give you an idea of how much charge it has. This obviously isn’t an indicator of time as there are many variables which come into play regarding how long your charge will last. You can also buy different battery sizes to fit your own needs which will fit the entire range of STIHL cordless products. So if we decided to get the cordless hedge trimmers in the future this battery pack comes with an adaptor to fit them and the backpack has the advantage of holding a larger charge and distributing the weight for the user better than a petrol model.
The backpack model I was using weighs just 5.5KG in total which genuinely is barely noticeable in use. I’m not a big person, I weigh 53KG wet through and stand at just 5ft3 so you really don’t have to be Jeff Capes to use this kit. On that note if I have one criticism of the backpack it would only be that its made for someone taller than me. As you can see from the pic getting it to sit right is a bit of a challenge for someone with a short body and a more curvy frame, shall we say, than your average bloke
It sits higher on my back than I suspect it is designed to do and it has an unfortunate placing on the chest webbing which I can deal with but I suspect if I was more buxom would become a serious problem. This is often a problem when it comes to power tools, and tractors for that matter, as traditionally it has been great big strapping blokes using them and its taking manufactures a while to catch up and take into account that some of us are more slightly built. I am lucky as I find ways round this but it might be something in the future which might be worth considering given that about 50% of the workforce in horticulture is female. Perhaps an option of harnesses could be given?
That said, this is a small criticism, and not one I would reject it over.
It took around half an hour to cut down this area and the brush cutter makes far less of a mess than a strimmer to clean up.
When I checked to see how much battery life I had left I was pleasantly surprised to find I’d barely dented the charge so I thought id give it a bit more of a challenge!
Around the edge of our pond we have lots of annoying reeds which have gradually moved further and further out into the grass, obscuring the edge and potential hazards, like tree stumps, when mowing. You can strim these but you go through cord like no tomorrow and it just doesn’t do as good a job. In order to weaken the reeds and re-establish the mowing line cutting them down is the most effective method. Yes I could spray them off but its less than 3M from a watercourse. I couldn’t use a broadleaf weedkiller as it wouldn’t affect reeds so my options on which chemicals I could use are severely limited and we just don’t have the time to physically dig them out.
The brush cutter made short work of these annoying invaders, allowing us to take the ‘edge’ of the grass right back to the more ornamental grass which lurks nicely on the waterline.
We ended up clearing about 6 trailer loads of debris away!
We can now decide how much of these guys to allow to creep back in for wildlife and aesthetics and keep them looking tidy.
Even at the end of this I still hadn’t managed to completely drain the battery despite running on full power for most of the time.
The FSA 130 has interchangeable heads available for different jobs, as I’ve said we chose the brushcutter attachment, a general all purpose blade, but you can fit a strimmer head. A choice of metal blades for different purposes and a circular saw blade!
This obviously makes it a very versatile piece of kit but it should also be treated with respect. There is always a danger of kickback and flying objects. When you’re using it it’s always advisable to walk the area first to ensure any hazards are noted and small animals such as hedgehogs or snakes have been ushered into a safer place. Also ‘don’t do as I do’ advice. Spot my deliberate mistake in the pics? As the weather was so hot I stupidly decided to wear shorts, something I wouldn’t normally do at work for H&S reasons… I got an excellent reminder why this shouldn’t be done! Not only did I get hit by bits of debris (which isn’t so bad till you hit a slug or something gross) but just as seriously I got bitten by a tic which I didn’t know anything about till a week or so later. On this occasion I think I’ve been lucky but it’s really not worth taking any chances over!
Overall I can say I’m honestly pleasantly surprised by its performance and I’m now looking for more areas we can used the FSA 130 in! I’ve gone brushcutter happy!
If you have any questions on it and want a brutally honest answer I’ll be happy to answer them from an end users point of view, if you’re looking for a more technical reply I’d advise talking to the lovely people at STIHL
Overall how happy with it?
It’s quiet, lightweight, powerful, holds charge for ages!
I’m bloody delighted with it and I’d recommend to anyone!
Its about time I gave you an update on whats been happening at the beautiful Ulting Wick. I’ve passed my years anniversary, its just flown by! Seriously, I haven’t felt so happy in my work like this in such a long time. Each day doesn’t seem long enough and Philippa is often urging me to go home but I love it here so much I just cant tear myself away. Its SO good to feel this way again about my job, good company and beautiful surroundings. I sing and laugh my way through pretty much every day.
The last time I updated you it was fast approaching Tulip time, right? I’m delighted to say they performed beautifully and the weather behaved, mostly, for the openings and you guys made it an excellent couple of days. I adore seeing peoples reactions to the garden, it makes all those freezing cold, wet winter days worthwhile.
The tulips now seem a distant memory, even if it was only April, since they went over most have been lifted in preparation for planting out the old farmyard, beds have been mulched and composted, weeded and spritzed. The veg garden is now in full swing, sweetpeas have flowered their heads off!
Most exciting, I started to clip the box, although since the intense sun kicked in I’ve taken a break, and planting out has been completed on the old farmyard. Now its a race against time and weather (for me) to get it clipped before the jungle sweeps over it and clipping becomes difficult. It going a lot quicker so far though and at a rough estimate each parterre will be the equivalent of 26,000 ‘steps’. That’s 104,000 times I’ll have gone ‘snip, snip, snip’ in total.
Of course we are all talking about this freakishly hot, dry weather. I was warned about the fact it was dry here but for 6 straight weeks we’ve had pretty much no rain… unless you count the MM we had the other day. Compare that to last year or the average and its ridiculous!
In fact its so dry the grass is now crunchy and brown!
Spoiler alert, I know some people don’t like snakes so fair warning, at the VERY END of this post I will show you our giant grass snake BUT I will warn you again before doing so.
Fortunately the roses have been loving this weather!
In the old farmyard planting the exotics out has been completed and its just starting to knit together beautifully, the paulownia is already about 6 or 7 ft high! and of course the Dahlias are doing their thing beautifully!
But its not just Dahlias that have been shining brightly as stars of the garden, once mote Nicotiana glauca is performing beautifully!
And the Canna australis are literally glowing, glowing I tell thee!
Various other beauties around the garden have captured my heart in the last 6 weeks or so, this Argyrocytisus battandieri below, sometimes called Morrocan broom, has put on a wonderful show.
The Duetzia, which is easily mistaken for a Philadelphus.
Lilium martagon, which I genuinely don’t remember last year, have been gorgeous popping up through the ferns.
Digitalis ‘Pams split’ has been insane!! topping out at 7 or 8ft they have unfortunately swamped out everything nearby but they have been truly magnificent.
Finally on the flower front but by no means least! Lysmachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’, silvery glaucous leaves with deep magenta/crimson spires of flowers that are just divine.
Something a bit different for me, an understated foliage plant, Osmunda regalis the royal fern and very regal it is too. reaching to around 4 – 5 ft high gentle, soft green foliage acts as a wonderful backdrop to weird reptilian fronds which are the ones that produce the spores. Ferns were around long before plants and this guy has a distinctly Jurassic look to him, love him!
I’m really hoping these drought conditions wont have a detrimental effect for our August bank holiday opening though! As were all working very hard to make it special. I’m hoping my pumpkin arch will be hitting people on the heads with a veritable rain of fruit and that we might even get a shower or two to make our crunchy, brown grass green and soft once more!
Talking of which…
Now if you’re not a lover of our snakey friends I shall warn you scroll no further as this bad boy is MAGNIFICENT!!
A quick gestimation puts him, or more likely her, at about half a metre long and it is seriously the biggest grass snake I have ever had the pleasure of seeing, I literally squealed with delight and ran across to get a shot. Understandably the snake wasn’t so keen to meet me and streaked across the grass for cover but what a magical moment it was!
Its hard to believe its been a year since I saw Ulting Wick in the flesh for the first time, having admired it in many garden publications in the past. I came to view it not just because its an excellent garden but also to see how I would feel about taking on the job as Head Gardener so I came with my professional head on to assess how I would fit in. I fell in love with it. Over the last year Ive seen it grow and change in an amazing way. My initial viewing seems so long ago now!
After what has been its safe to say, and has been much discussed, one of the hardest winters we have experienced in a long time and one of the slowest springs its fingers crossed for a more average April. Everything is still running at least 2 weeks behind as I write this but the sun is shining outside and I’m feeling hopeful.
The last 2 weeks it feels like it hasn’t stopped raining, I’m sure it has, in fact I know it has as shortly after the bank holiday I managed to get out of the house for a short walk. The wind was cold but the sky was blue, I however was pathetically weak. You see at the start of the bank holiday weekend I started to develop septicemia, thankfully I recognised the symptoms. I think this is my fourth bout? It’s easy to overlook, in my case it manifests much like the onset of a flu or a bad cold but it’s subtely different. It’s certainly one which needs dealing with quickly and I was lucky enough to get through to an out of hours doctor… anyway! I got my antibiotics, 2 sets, which I finished yesterday and I’ve been back to work all week… albeit in a much limited sense but my enforced week off had given the garden a chance to leap into action!
I last wrote about Ulting wick just before the beast hit, it feels like that was ages ago! In fact it feels like its been cold since forever but we carried on hammering through the various jobs on our list in the vague hope that spring would soon be on us.
In late January I headed up to Waterperry to see the wonderful Pat Havers, Head Gardener and hero of mine. She was kind enough to indulge my love of Snowdrops and give me a tour of some of Waterperrys extensive collection. I also picked up some bare roots fruit trees, Apples for the fruit pruning course I had coming up and Pears … I ended up getting the wrong ones like a numpty but more on that later!
Nick Black who ran the Fruit pruning course with me also gave me my first lesson in using a chainsaw. At present I don’t hold my ticket so can’t use one as a paid employee but it could be an incredible asset to a gardener to be trained and qualified so im looking into getting myself the proper certification.
Wendy’s gold was one of the first special snowdrops to show her face, despite the horrendous weather she showed up in mid January
Another grim job but well worth doing was cleaning and weeding the paths, this involves many hours with a path weeding knife groveling on the floor. Our brick paths and surrounding borders are way too delicate to be jet washed so this is the best method, even if a horrible one
Above is the before, below the after!
February, for me, was a good month in retrospect.
The malus trees got pruned, this is done in exactly the same way as you would an apple tree. The reason for doing this is to keep them loaded with blossom and fruit every year, otherwise they will have a tendency to go biennial. Fruiting heavily one year and not the next.
Despite being bitterly cold as you’d expect for February it stayed relatively dry and allowed us to carry on working. I also had a few treats!
I popped down to one of my old workplaces in Kent, Hole Park, partly to see friends and the beautiful garden which is expertly maintained by my old Head Gardener Quentin Stark and his team and partly to see the first Plant fairs Roadshow of the year.
Although Hole park is famous for its bluebells I can highly recommend a visit pretty much any time of the year and if you love snowdrops you wont be disappointed!
I also decided that I had, had my shoddy phone camera up to the back teeth (im pretty sure so had everyone else) since I dropped it in the pond this time last year it had never been quite the same and had in recent months been getting worse and worse. Id come to terms with the fact no amount of filters would make up for it and carrying round the Nikon just wasnt practical, so new phone it was!
I’m still a bit impressed by it!
Anyway, once id had my jollys at hodsock priory and been prevented from joining the Garden Press event by ANOTHER dose of snow it was back to the garden!
Mainly rose pruning, we started on ‘Breath of life’ and truth be told Philippa stormed through most of them without me. I didn’t duck out entirely… honest! I think in reality though I only got involved in about 6 though.
At the end of Feb I managed to get Salix ‘Mount Aso’ planted, the ground was like dairylea! It looks amazing reflected in the water and in the coming years it will only get better.
It feels like the end of Feb was the last time we had a serious dry spell, I took a bit of time to clean and rearrange the conservatory out in readiness for the Dahlia tubers. they’ve been stored in the barns throughout the winter, now growing strongly in the heat and light, there may even be a select few available on our plant stall on our open days!
Whilst moving everything around I caught this Aeonium leaf in the rain, it was so beautiful I had to share it with you
March started like a lion! Another dump of snow seemed destined to bury us, my heart sank. By now I was so sick of the cold I can’t even tell you! It didn’t last long but when it left us everything was soggy! Just soggy! Low light levels and still cold, everything sat and sulked… including me. Frustration abounded, it felt like all plans were continually scuppered.
I had a much welcome visitor though! Ben Jones (@thehortdoctor) came to work and together we tackled the Ballerina bed. His enthusiasm is infectious it’s hard not to have a smile on your face when he’s around and he was an absolute machine, we weeded, dug and replanted the border in record time. leaving me feeling buoyant and positive for the coming month!
In the glasshouses plants were waking up, this fuchsia, a particularly welcome sight and a myriad hyacinths in the border…
A short break from the rain meant I could set up the wires, finally, for our new espaliers! I’m hoping these trees will be a feature for many years to come so getting the structure right to support and train them is incredibly important. We have 2 new pears and an apple to grow on the outside of the swimming pool wall. Im hoping that in coming years they will time their blossom perfectly for our open days in spring, giving our visitors a wonderful display as they drive in and in the autumn provide us with gorgeous fruit. I’m trying out a new method, to me, of espaliering in the round rather than the traditional flat arms. I’ve seen it done with pears before and the seem to take to it incredibly well.
Some more lovely Muscari added to the colour that was starting to fill the garden…
and Philippa has been sowing like crazy, the glasshouses starting to fill up. This of course means we start shuffling plants around on almost a daily basis, the great plant jenga game has begun!
So we reached the end of March, the clocks had changed and gradually the light levels improved, despite the rains seemingly endless supply we did get the odd sunny moment.
As March drifted into April I sadly took ill, squandering not only my bank holiday weekend in patheticness (I’ve decided this is a real word) but also the following sunny week! My guilt at not being fit combined with my very real inability to do more than walk from the bed to the bathroom and back again made me feel worse. I hate being ill, im the worst patient in the world! Anyway by the next weekend I had started to feel well enough to drive and ventured down to Great Dixter for its spring fair. In retrospect I was a bit ambitious as I spent most of my time sat down either eating cake and chatting or pestering Graeme from Plantbase Nursery for his chair. After a few hours I gave up and came home but it was lovely to see familiar faces and meet a few in real life for the first time, have a chat with real people and buy a few more Auriculas!
The first Auricula has also opened at Ulting Wick! This is a new unamed seedling from Pops Plants which I’m growing on for them. She wont get a name till she’s won on the show bench and as its her first year she still has a while before she settles into her true form but early signs are she could well be succesful… either way I love her delicate colour.
Coming back to work after a week had given so many lovely things a chance to poke their heads up, there was still a few challenges regarding squishy lawns and beds but work on planting out the veg garden could continue apace… I say apace I appeared to have only one gear and that was ultra slow! By Tuesday afternoon I was utterly wiped and it must’ve showed, Philippa took one look at me and told me to come in late on Wednesday for which I will be eternally grateful!
I did however improve over the course of the week!
With the kitchen garden coming on nicely a quick look round the garden shows us that so many lovely things will be in store for you if you come and see us on our opening days this month!
Looking at the weather for the next week with temperatures rising consistently im feeling more confident that the 10,000 tulips we planted over the autumn and winter will catch up quickly with the already magnificent display of wallflowers and we already have some early arrivals!
If you are free next Sunday 22nd we’d love you to come and see us, Philippa has baked an amazing amount of cakes (trust me her baking is sublime) and the tulips are going to be incredible! Another amazing reason to join us is we have a very special guest, Barbara Segall will join us to sign copies of her wonderful book ‘The Secret Gardens of East Anglia’ which of course feature the beautiful pictures of the late Marcus Harper
For all the details check in with the NGS website for this and further openings
One fine day in May I set off for a truly wonderful set of NGS gardens I hadn’t seen in about 2 years. I last visited when I lived relatively locally and I remember the day was freezing. It was the 31st May but I had a coat & jumper on, so different to this visit!
This time I was in shorts and it was still too hot, I say too hot, I’m lying, there’s no such thing! I did worry that the heat would have sent the Irises I remembered so fondly over though, I needn’t have worried…. I’m getting ahead of myself though!
I met Philip Oostenbrink just before he took over as Canterbury’s Head Gardener, he has an incredibly dry wit and an easy smile. His love of plants shines through and working at Canterbury has allowed that passion to grow, his love of the Cathedrals grounds and the team he’s built up is easy to see. So I was keen to not only catch up and have a natter but also to see how the gardens had grown in the intervening 2 years.
We met just before his talk and he’s a mine of information now on the grounds history, of which there’s a lot!
One of the things I found interesting was the challenge of removing the Ivy from the stonemasonry around the grounds. It’s not just a case of pulling it from the walls as it can do so much damage to the old flintknapped buildings, pulling the mortar out from between stones, the work has to be scheduled to fit with the Cathedrals stonemasons… imagine gardening in that way!
Also it has been recently recognised there are some very special magnolia trees within the grounds. Bred by a now long gone local nursery its hoped the cathedrals collection can be studied more by the Magnolia society.
The Cathedral hold in its library one of the original prints of ‘Geralds Herbal’, those of you who have read some of my older blog posts will have head me talk about this amazing and sometimes hilarious book. Written in 1597 it has some very curious ideas about plants and often refers to the ‘Doctrine of signatures’. This was a method of divining what uses the plants had medically, it was thought a clue would be left by God somewhere in its makeup. Hence Spleenwort which resembles a spleen (if you have a good imagination) is used to cleanse the spleen. The wort part of the name signifies its beneficial. If you come across the word bane however avoid it as it is harmful. Hence wolfsbane (bad for wolves) and hensbane (bad for chickens). You can book an appointment to view this amazing book with the Cathedrals library!
The reason I mention this though is with relevance to the Cathedrals relatively new addition of a medieval style herb garden. Located where the monks dormitories once stood until a 2nd WW bomb flattened all but a few column bases and very near where the infirmary would have been. It has a snazzy little smart app where you can hold your phone near the label and view a page from the Herbal! I have absolutely no clue how this works so I suggest finding a small child and asking them!
After the talk I headed straight across to the plant stall, of course! I know Phillip has a love of unusual plants and was hoping to find something exotic. His staff didnt fail me, I was tipped off that the herb stall had a few coffee plants (possibly Coffea canephora?) and tea plants (Camellia sinensis) for sale so I hotfooted it over there before they sold out! By this time the gardens were well populated and the various stalls were doing a brisk trade My avarice satisfied I then returned to the gardens, with the plants snuggled in my camera bag, to No1 on the list, which confusingly is named No15!
There are 2 sections effectively to this garden a beautiful, quaint highly terraced backyard full of colour and very much on a domestic scale. Then through a lovely rose arbour into the main part of the garden.
The front of the house is festooned by a gorgeous climbing rose, pure white & highly scented. Absolutely covered in blooms!
Stretching away from the house and terraced up to the city walls is a fabulous herbaceous border with hidden paths. I loved this border on my first visit and it did not disappoint!
Next on the tour is the Memorial garden, a place of quiet contemplation which I think is open to the public at all times. at the furthest point to the entrance gate is a small doorway, down here you can find the entrance to the Deacons walk. Now gated and somewhat unused there is an attractive sprinkling of wildflowers giving it a secretive and wild feel.
The friends garden just outside the memorial garden is a lovely little space edged with borders containing a lovely array of plants, I was very taken with the oriental poppy’s. I think this one is Royal wedding but I could be wrong… either way its lovely!
Following the map past the ruins of stonework, which I believe are the infirmary ruins, into shady cloisters that surround north side of the cathedral you catch glimpses of the herbaceous borders that crowd up to the ancient walls. You continue through past the chapter house, above you beautiful ornate ceilings and in front the most exquisite stained glass frames the view of a large green. Secluded completely from the hustle and bustle of a city which surrounds you. It’s easy to forget how close the vibrant city of Canterbury is when you’re here!
This leads you to the entrance of the 4th garden on your tour, the Archdeaconry. The huge yew tree which dominates the garden also lends itself to the style of the circular way the grass is cut. It resembles when viewed from above a stone dropped into a pool, the ripples spreading outwards forever.
Everywhere you look are ancient walls, blocks of carved stone reminding you that this area is one of the oldest sites of worship in England. The history that is contained within these precincts is incredible. Princes, Kings & Queens of England have all sheltered beneath its roof’s, some of the most momentous moments in our fair land have taken place in this now peaceful oasis. Walking here you are walking on the same paths they have trodden and its hard not to think of these things whilst strolling and admiring these beautifully kept grounds.
Here also is the mythical Mulberry tree, supposedly the site where Thomas Becket’s murderers hid their swords before their heinous crime. This is of course a myth, the tree itself although hugely old can be no older than perhaps a 100 years at best, certainly not a 1000… but it could of course be a cutting taken and grown from the original Mulberry … lets say it’s that for the sake of romantic fiction!
The tree is in a little side garden to the main Archdeaconry, the garden itself is built in older ruins, the remains of flintknapped walls and columns are sympathetically clothed in plants. I lingered for a while admiring a large unusual Callistemon with lovely large pale yellow flowers, possibly Callistemon pallidus. In the process of writing this I’ve discovered another plant name change! Apparently Callistemons are now Melaleuca and the specific epithet pallida refers to the pale colour of the flowers. This drew the attention of many visitors and I found I was being something of an impromptu tour guide myself!
As you leave the Archdeaconry there is a display of classic cars and an excellent, and very popular, Tea/cakes pavilion with ample seating. It’s a good point in your tour of the gardens to take a break and reflect on the wonderful historical architecture and plants you’ve just seen.
I brought my Dad to Canterbury a few years back to see the Cathedral for his birthday, I pointed out some of the graffiti that adorns the walls. I love that there is so much! He could not be convinced of its legitimacy as some are dated back over 400 years, granted it is hard to believe that you’re looking at a mark left by a random person but in some small way they, notable for no other reason than the time they spent carving their initials and a date into the wall, have achieved a weird sort of immortality just by this very act.
Fully revictualled and refreshed your map directs you onwards to the last few gardens, next on the list is the Deanery. Its kind of mind blowing when you consider that a garden in the middle of Canterbury, which if you walk the streets outside of the Cathedrals grounds are a higgle piggle of houses and shops built atop each other, could possibly measure an acre! The building itself, in parts, dates back to the early 1500’s and the garden has a very naturalistic theme with a wildflower meadow and chickens wandering around.
It’s really worth taking a moment to appreciate the wealth of roses here, the deadheading must take hours! The scent though is incredible!
Having now thoroughly lost my way regarding where I was on the map I followed other wandering visitors and found the exit / entrance to the rear of the deaconry once more. I took a moment to appreciate the tiny corridor which, absolutely stuffed with plants, must be a marvellous place to spend a summers eve. The warmth of the day’s sun reflected back from the stone walls, the scent of the plants concentrated in this warm, still environment. It would be easy to imagine relaxing with a glass of wine and good company here.
It’s definately worth giving yourself a good few hours, possibly even a full day, to really appreciate the gardens here. Especially given that they’re not normally accessible to the general public. There are lots of little secret hidden portions which I shall allow you to discover yourself!
I shall however leave you with a few pics from around the grounds…