Hi everyone, its been ages since I posted! Apologies for that, since January of this year life has felt relentless and I just haven’t had the energy to write. I have tried, I have 3 unfinished posts in my drafts which I may or may not come back to at some point but I figured if I wasn’t finding it fun to write others may not find it fun to read!
So whats been happening at work? Those of you who follow Team Ulting Wicks twitter accounts of Phillipa, Rachel and Myself will perhaps be up to date on some of the more momentous things that have occurred but lets think back to January when we were still fully into the pruning and the tulips hadn’t even showed their faces!
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!
The year has gone by in a blink and what a year it’s been. As I sit here, nursing a glass of sherry in the twilight zone between xmas & new years, and reflect on everything I’ve done, the places I’ve been and the wonderful people I’ve met im quite amazed. If you had told me at the start of the year I would probably have laughed and asked you when I was supposed to take a break!
And the plants! Oh my, the plants!
Now I realise that it’s almost impossible for one person to see, let alone remember every plant it’s possible to grow in the UK but I’m afraid I had become somewhat smug and complacent in recent years, something I’m not ashamed to admit. This year has been a wonderful and humbling reminder that although I have a good knowledge, and this is something I will happily say, I don’t know everything.
I have my skills, things which I count myself as very competent in, others which I have a working knowledge of, an interest in… but an acceptance, a willingness to learn is paramount to who I believe I am. It keeps me enthusiastic…. And what a learning curve its been!
When I first saw Ulting Wick I fell in love with it, I could see the beauty which has been created here and mentally I compiled a list of things I felt could augment it. Thankfully Philippa is wonderfully open to ideas, obviously she knows her garden well & often has already tried some of the things I’ve suggested but equally she has been willing to either let me retry those ideas or given me permission to go ahead and change things altogether. In my experience this is the hallmark not just of a good boss but of a good person. She also has a vast plant knowledge and introduced me to many ‘new’ plants. Ones that I have seen grown nowhere else in the UK, which is incredibly exciting! Her enthusiasm for experimentation is infectious and has led me to search out plants which I think will compliment her vision. Since joining here I’ve come across some lovely new plants to me and reacquainted myself with a few others …
We’ve also gone through some vast changes here in the last 6 months, over and above the normal change from tulips to tropical and back again. Over the course of the summer some of our background structure, mainly trees, has altered significantly. Some of it has been planned work but a few have caught us unawares. I’ll be honest, I’ve come to dread the sound of snapping wood, first to succumb was the giant remains of ‘pooh tree’ a huge willow stump which had guarded the entrance to the pond and Philippa had fond memories of her children climbing on. We viewed it sadly listing and the decision was taken to remove it entirely, a sensible one as it was almost entirely rotten through despite having some regrowth. This did of course open up a huge area for replanting which is of course incredibly exciting. I literally cant wait to see the results of this!
A section of hawthorn which had died was removed at the other end of the pond in the Spring bed, this was a huge education to me personally as to the soil type that is peculiar to Ulting Wick, where the ground hasn’t been worked or improved in the last 20 or so years the soil type is…. Stone…. Just stone
Honestly I’ve never come across anything like it in my life!
More suited to a mattock than a fork and spade, its ridiculous, and a testament to Philippa and her gardeners through the years. I now understand why there is a huge pile of stones in the meadow… which in its own way has turned out to be quite handy for repairing the track in preparation for our visitors in the spring… so, swings and roundabouts!
We also had an enormous poplar removed, planned work this time, around 80ft high it had been planted originally as part of a fast growing shelter belt, its presence now though was starting to cause all the other trees nearby to suffer and struggle for light including the beautiful tulip tree very close to its base. Full props to the Arb guys who took it down, given its height and proximity to more precious trees they did so little damage it was untrue!
With this work out of the way I breathed a sigh of relief thinking that surely this was the last of the tree work that would be occurring for the year… well, the big stuff, I had my eye on some jobs for the winter and into 2018 but nothing me and my trusty silky saw couldn’t cope with… or so I thought!
On the neighbouring land and a beautiful part of our borrowed landscape stands a coppiced oak, well most of it still stands… a huge branch, 1/3 of its canopy sheared off whilst in full leaf! The oak is anywhere between 500 and 800 years old. It’s difficult to tell due to the effect of coppicing and although damaged it will carry on for probably another 300 years easily, gradually and gracefully declining.
As I sat admiring the sunrise one morning I heard the sound I now dread!
I leapt up, peering across the pond trying to work out what had gone, I was still hoping it was a large branch, it had gone down slowly whatever it was but I was dammed if I could spot it!
With this, I decided it couldn’t possibly have been a full tree so went inside to get dressed and then investigate… I quickly realised on investigation that the reason I hadn’t seen what it was, was because it had been hidden by one of our magnificent willow trees… it had been a full tree, kind of, another poplar! It was a large 60ft plus, multi-stemmed one. The last of the really big ones. One of its stems had broken off right at the base exposing quite significant heart rot, leaving 2 other large uprights which were now doubly unsafe. The falling trunk had in the process taken out 3 other smaller trees and had got itself neatly hung up in a nearby willow, nightmare!
The Arb guys were once again called out and once again impressive work, the hung up trunk, damaged branches and the other 3 trees were quickly despatched, leaving the 2 uprights… I spoke to the climber after and he said if hed known how badly the base was rotted through he would’ve thought twice about climbing it and fair play. They lowered the large trunk section by section, very carefully as it stood right above a prostrate yew (very unusual) and of course the precious tulip tree! The last large upright was felled in one section and this I was incredibly impressed by! They managed to get it so it fell in exactly the right spot, awy from the precious trees and straight into a 1ft gap between 2 other boundary trees, hardly breaking a branch in the process!
The entire base was rotten through, that’s the thing with heart rot, it’s almost impossible to spot and is totally unpreventable sadly… but on a positive note we will now have lots of lovely light flooding in which will help our remaining trees to grow straight and healthy!
We have lost a few more branches since in the snow and winds but fingers crossed no more like that!
I have been enchanted too by the amount of wildlife I’ve seen in the last 6 months, its felt at times like I’ve been transported to a Narnia type world. I’ve seen Muntjacs chasing pheasants. Cormorants, herons, moorhens and ducks. On my very first day here I saw a hare race across the lawn, there’s a resident stoat that gambols on the lawn, water rats swim in the pond, a fox even wanders past me some mornings. At night Tawny owls serenade each other and the occasional barn owl screeches its presence, I’m pretty sure I’ve even heard a little owl. Twice I’ve seen the amazing sight of a kingfisher, its high pitched pip, pip, pip call giving its presence away. The second time I stood gaping, open mouthed as it hovered in the waving fronds of the willow searching for a place it could fish in the frozen pond. It’s the clearest view ive ever had of this fast moving reclusive bird, magical! For a few short weeks in the summer we also gained 2 swans on the pond, incredible!
Someone else who has been appreciating the wildlife, maybe not in quite the same way as me, is Phil. He has settled in ridiculously well & his territory encompasses the entire garden and he’s encroaching on neighbouring lands! That’s approx 11 acres! A ridiculous amount of space for one cat who doesn’t like to share… hes really antisocial regarding anything other than people! When we find a place of our own I’m expecting him to be somewhat resentful..
Now as the wheel of the year turns, we start to consider the coming season, this is both thrilling and terrifying in equal parts. I’m still relying heavily on philippa’s & my assistant Kwab’s knowledge of the garden. To do anything else would be arrogant madness! You can read all the books you like, study and educate yourself but familiarity of the area is something that only comes with time, experience of how plants react to a locality can only be learnt through experience and what may work in one area might not work in another. We will also be welcoming a new member to the team! We will be welcoming our WRAG trainee, so exciting! WRAG’s is a fantastic way of learning, an apprenticeship open to people from all walks of life and any age group… and despite the acronym is open to both men & women!
I’ll leave you with a few pics of Ulting Wick from throughout the year & I’d like to say thank you to you all for reading my musings and adding your thoughts. Also a big thank you to everyone who has helped make this year very special, I hope you all have a marvellous 2018 and life gives you everything you need…. sometimes that’s better than what you want…
Hard to believe I’ve been here 3 months already! The garden has grown & changed so much in such a short time. We’ve had so many visitors, raising huge amounts of money for the NGS who in turn donate to lots of worthy charities.
Soon we will be doing the change over from summer planting for the spring display of bulbs, an incredibly exciting time. Ulting wick is a dynamic garden which I am still learning about. Very different to any other garden I’ve ever worked in, I know it will take me a year of watching it through the seasons to get to grips with.
For me this is both slightly daunting & also challenging in a very positive way. It’s very easy to become complacent as a gardener, going through the routines which become habit. Ulting wick doesn’t allow for that due to its ever-changing nature.
Of course there are the jobs which need to be planned in as with every garden, pruning, training etc. But Phillipa’s enthusiasm for trying new things is bottomless, as is her energy!
Already plans for the next year ahead are multiplying and new planting in the beds has started. We cleared an area of rampant vinca a month or so ago. Some dead hawthorn hedging was removed opening huge possibilities. Last week we started to actually create in that area, adding exquisite Epimedium ‘spine tingler’, Geranium ‘splish splash’, G. Pheum & lots of thalictrums, ferns etc which when viewed from the opposite bank will create an amazing display!
We also noticed that sadly another tree has taken a blow in this year’s climbing tree toll! The old pollarded oak just across the boundary had succumbed to rot and one of its main limbs has ripped the trunk to the base, heartbreaking! Measuring just over 6 metres at the narrowest point of its base (making it between 5 & 600 years old!). This of course isn’t a death knell for this tree even if it’s a significant event, the tree will happily carry on for another 100 years at least but some of its perfect symmetry has been lost.
Other things that have been happening, I went to GLEE & to Kew (see previous posts!) Next week a lot of us are going to the Cotswold’s wild animal park, Harriet Rycroft (The guru of all things pots, colour & form) has very kindly organised us a tour with the HG & it coincides nicely with Roy Lancaster being there, so books shall be bought & signed! Exciting to meet such a gardening legend!
I was invited to do a talk on organic gardening for Tottenham flower and produce show, competing for volume against a steel drum band was a challenge even for someone as loud as me! Thankfully I had an incredibly receptive & interested audience who asked so many questions I ended up talking for far longer than planned which was lovely!
Phil cat has thoroughly settled in an honestly I haven’t seen him so happy in years! A few territory spats out of the way & an uneasy truce (on Phil’s part) with Bobby the spaniel, who is absolutely convinced he can make Phil love him if he just wags his tail a bit harder!
Although Phil’s reputation as a killer of all things rodent may be challenged given his reaction to the new residents in the cottage roof space the other morning… his face was a picture when he heard the skritching, scratching noises coming from above us! Hilarious!
The big hedges are now fully done for the year too, leaving only a bit of box to be completed. The weather has been utterly frustrating me on this front though! I’m beginning to think the whole “drier than Jerusalem” thing is a myth! We fitted irrigation in my first week here and since then it’s rained consistently and at times biblically! But hey ho! These things are sent to try us & I’m hoping next week for a few days of dry so I can crack on & finish up the parterre in the old farmyard.
Our meadow was cut & bailed for hay last week, done with a flail on the back of a tractor it took literally half an hour to cut. A few days later they came back to bale. To do this manually would have taken days!
The garden still has lots to offer in this beautiful autumn light so I’ll leave you with just a few of its delights to peruse until my next Ulting wick update…
Last of all, possibly one of my most favourite ever pics of Phil & I ever…