Thinking outside the box

One of the things I like best about RHS Wisley is how useful it is – beautiful to walk around, pleasant to visit, but also how just being there can answer a multitude of gardening questions: ‘Will this plant survive outside?’ ‘Just how big can an Indian Bean Tree get?’ or ‘How best can I display alpine plants in my small garden?’

But one of the most useful parts of RHS Wisley helps to answer a question that has become louder and more frequent with every passing year, especially here in the South East:

‘What can I use to replace my ravaged box hedges?’

'Thinking Outside the Box' garden at RHS Wisley May 2022
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Coach trip to RHS Wisley

On Wednesday 11 May, a coachload of CABAHS members went on a much anticipated trip to RHS Wisley. This was my first experience of a CABAHS coach trip and it was brilliantly organised by Anna (thank you Anna!).

RHS Wisley May 2022
Just before the rain started… RHS Wisley May 2022

After experiencing dry weather for weeks, the forecast was for rain mid-afternoon, so it felt important to pack as much in as possible before the rain started. Several members had signed up for a tour with a Wisley volunteer, but as the tours started, so did the rain – several hours earlier than forecast! We were, however, undeterred.

Continue reading Coach trip to RHS Wisley

May 2022: Val Bourne on ‘Butterflies in Gardens’

CABAHS welcomed Val Bourne to speak at our May meeting, sharing her photographs, experience and knowledge of butterflies in the garden. She emphasised that she is not a butterfly expert (but she knows one!), she’s an organic gardener who has spent a lot of time observing butterflies, their habits and preferences – and, sadly, their decline in recent years.

Photograph of the FSC's Butterfly ID chart

As a starting point, Val recommended a book and a tool: ‘The Philips Guide to Butterflies’ and the Field Studies Council’s butterfly identification chart. Butterfly Conservation also provide a range of identification guides online. Photographs of a wide range of species – 24 different ones have been spotted in the Spring Cottage garden – showed us the beauty of even the smallest, brownest examples!

Val explained how useful even a small meadow area is for many species, how some species rely on quite a narrow range of plants for nectar, and how the timing of a butterfly lifecycle is intrinsically linked to the lifecycle of their food plants. She stated that climate change – causing plants to flower at different times – is demonstrably messing up this synchronisation, so as gardeners it’s important to grow a wide range of butterfly-friendly plants to try to mitigate that situation.

Some examples of butterfly-friendly plants, and the butterflies that particularly need or enjoy them:

Continue reading May 2022: Val Bourne on ‘Butterflies in Gardens’

A photo a day

Clockwise from top left: lady's mantle, cucamelon, Virginia creeper, ornamental grape vine and dogwood, chillies, Japanese blood grass - or - Alchemilla mollis, Melothria scabra (cucamelon), Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Vitis vinifera 'Purpurea' and Cornus alba 'Sibirica', Capsicum annuum 'Cayenne' (chilli),  Imperata cylindrica
Clockwise from top left: lady’s mantle, cucamelon, Virginia creeper, ornamental grape vine and dogwood, chillies, Japanese blood grass – or – Alchemilla mollis, Melothria scabra (cucamelon), Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’ and Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Capsicum annuum ‘Cayenne’ (chilli),  Imperata cylindrica

Late in 2020 Ali H set herself a challenge: to take one photo a day in her garden for a year, and post it on Instagram. Her purpose was mainly to notice and appreciate how the plants develop and change, also to have a record of what is there and when (she’s always surprised to look back and see the bulbs in flower, or a covering of snow!). She tried not to set too many other conditions as she knew she wouldn’t get round to doing it otherwise – so they don’t have to be ‘good’ photos, they don’t have to be plants in flower, they don’t have to be anything other than a photo of a plant in her garden – including fruit and vegetable crops. She likes individual plants and looking at things close up, so that’s what they tend to be – but occasionally there’s a view or a combination. Here are a few photos from September (above) and October (below). Ali’s not sure what 2022’s challenge will be. She might just carry on!

Clockwise from top left: dogwood, cabbage palm, myrtle, oak-leaved hydrangea, Persicaria, maidenhair fern - or -Cornus alba 'Sibirica', Cordyline australis, Myrtus communis, Hydrangea quercifolia 'Burgundy', Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon', Adiantum venustum
Clockwise from top left: dogwood, cabbage palm, myrtle, oak-leaved hydrangea, Persicaria, maidenhair fern – or –Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Cordyline australis, Myrtus communis, Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Burgundy’, Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’, Adiantum venustum

A tour of Avery Hill

On Thursday I joined a tour of Avery Hill Park with the Mottingham Horticultural Society, who had extended an invitation to CABAHS members. It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny afternoon and the park looked gorgeous. Our guide John, from the Friends of Avery Hill Park, told us about the history and prehistory of the park before leading us around the extensive area.

Some members may be familiar with the Winter Garden, a glasshouse currently undergoing renovation work (therefore closed) and about to pass from the hands of the University of Greenwich back to the local council. I look forward to seeing it after renovation is complete!

Recently cut meadow area and former hedgerow (with dozens of cross country runners!) Avery Hill Park
Recently cut meadow area and former hedgerow (with dozens of cross country runners!)

There are two main areas of the park, historically and now. The more manicured, grassed parkland associated with Avery Hill Mansion (which is currently being converted into a school), and former farmland, with field boundaries and drainage ditches. The Friends are working to make the latter areas more wildlife-friendly by negotiating a meadow-style mowing regime (ie: cutting only twice a year, removing the mowings once seed has dropped, and sowing wildflower seeds) with some mown paths. Even after just a year, it’s possible to see that the range of plant species is extensive. The increase in butterfly numbers and activity in summer 2021 was notable. It is hoped that a general increase in biodiversity will also encourage an increase in bat numbers, which have declined in recent years.

Looking toward Great Stony Acre – field boundary trees and drainage ditch
Looking toward Great Stony Acre – field boundary trees and drainage ditch

The former field boundaries are still visible, and what would have been hedgerow has grown into rows of trees and scrub, which is excellent for wildlife. A new mixed hedgerow has been planted where one had disappeared, and the drainage ditches have been cleared by volunteers. Another historical feature which lives on through the Friends is the old field names, such as Henley’s Meadow, Little Stony Acre, Grey’s Field and Great Stony Acre. The latter is being planted with native tree species – oak, hornbeam, birch, hawthorn and field maple. Around 1500 trees have been planted over a five year period, and there are plans for a natural drainage pond in the centre as the area is at the bottom of a slope, is mostly heavy clay and becomes very boggy in winter.

Young trees in Great Stony Acre
Young trees in Great Stony Acre

It was a very enjoyable afternoon and I appreciated the chance to visit the Park with a knowledgeable guide.

Looking across Avery Hill Park, late afternoon October 2021
Looking across Avery Hill Park, late afternoon October 2021

Ali

A year in the life of the Old Pond Garden, 2020-21

At the AGM a year ago, I nervously stood in front of the packed Long Gallery at Charlton House and gave a talk about the Old Pond Garden walled garden.

Old Pond Garden, February 2020

The Society has been meeting once a month at Charlton House for over 30 years, and yet a large proportion of our members (myself included until a couple of months prior to that) had no idea the walled gardens existed. Local Charlton members knew of course, but our membership is drawn from a wide area of South East London, so this was news for many of them.

We proposed that a volunteer scheme should be set up to help renovate and maintain the gardens, since the RBG gardeners were too stretched to do more than trim and mow. We had the support of Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, and with their help had applied for some funding from the Greenwich Neighbourhood Growth Fund.

But it was a bit of a leap of faith- CABAHS has only ventured into volunteering once in its history, back in the 1990’s, when members helped run the garden and greenhouse at Greenwich Hospital. So in February we launched the volunteer scheme in the garden, on the weekend of Storm Dennis, with our carefully prepared flyers flying about everywhere, and everyone taking a quick look at the garden and running for cover (and coffee and cakes) in the House. But apart from the weather it was a success as we had 34 interested people sign up on the spot.

The volunteers started work very enthusiastically on a lovely sunny Sunday in late February, tackling the early weeds and brimming with ideas of what should stay, go or could be donated from their own gardens. So many discussions about what is a weed, whether the giant Phormiums should be kept, and whether forget-me-nots are invasive! We developed an Old Pond Garden committee, to administer and run the scheme (and deal with the interesting Health & Safety issues– eg don’t eat the plants). Volunteer sessions were very well attended, even as the nastier weather set in, and a tea and homemade cake routine developed alongside the weeding.

While enjoying our time in the garden, of course world events were catching up with us and we had to close the scheme on March 21st as the first Covid-19 Lockdown hit.

During that first Lockdown, the weather decided to become unseasonably hot, which was nice for all of us stuck at home, but totally fried the primroses and snowdrops we had planted in the garden. Behind the scenes, the Old Pond Garden committee carried on planning. Melanie and Kay filmed a 2 minute clip of the garden for the Greenwich & Bexley Hospice Open Gardens, which raised our profile tremendously and helped with funding for the Hospice.

June 30th and we were back on track! But by now we had even more volunteers, and they included local garden designer Jason Carty. The very professional and lovely planting plan that Jason came up with was quickly adopted and the Volunteers set to with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

Old Pond Garden planting plan - Jason Carty

After the March-June shortages of compost and seeds, it was great to be able to swap plants again, and the garden became a useful exchange point. We had to add antiseptic hand gel to our Health & Safety rules, but most gardeners wear gloves anyway and we learned all about the importance of hand cream after a grubby planting session! Homemade cakes were replaced with cellophane wrapped biscuits, and work carried on.

By August the garden beds were clear enough to be able to hold a Plant Sale with all plants grown and donated by members (THANK YOU!). There were also displays of the gardens in past times and our plans for the future. The public turned up in droves and we sold out by 2pm. Even the Mayor of Greenwich visited just in time to pick up the last of the plants, and we made over £1,000, for the garden fund and Hospice.

Other creative achievements: Some volunteers cut the remaining lavender in the garden, to dry, and other volunteers made bespoke CABAHS Charlton House Lavender Bags (applying for copyright!) for sale. The old cherry tree stump was dug up, after Herculean effort from David, and made into a wildlife area for the Stag Beetle larvae we disturbed. A leaf store was built, in readiness for Autumn leaf fall, to recycle the goodness back into the garden. A “Grand Designs Luxury Shelter” has been built, unbelievably from old building hoardings though you would never guess, and is now hidden in one corner of the garden. With coat hooks for volunteers’ coats, so practical!

In September we received £6,000 funding from Greenwich Neighbourhood Growth Fund, a huge boost for our planting plans. The committee negotiated a 50% trade discount with Provender Nurseries and went on a shopping spree.

The CABAHS 70th Anniversary bench, Old Pond Garden Charlton House, December 2020

In October we took delivery of a new bench seat, to commemorate CABAHS 70th Anniversary, kindly funded by members subscriptions. We also received interest and some practical help from students from the University of Greenwich Landscape Architecture department. By November the second Lockdown had hit, but this time the weather was being more normal and plants were becoming dormant anyway. We got back to work in December, and carried on planting in the mild weather. There was a wonderful surprise from the Worshipful Company of Gardeners, who awarded us £500 to buy some special plants for the garden (big thank you Melanie for applying!). In the week before Christmas, volunteers fashioned stylish wreath decorations forthe gates from leaves and berries from the garden itself and a socially distanced mince-pie-fest, courtesy Charlton Bakehouse, concluded the year.

CABAHS Christmas wreath and decorations, Old Pond Garden Charlton House, December 2020

January came and brought the Third Lockdown, but the garden is coping fine with two local volunteers a week popping in to check it over. The tree surgeon Amber Treecare paid a longawaited visit in the first week in February to give the garden a haircut. So much better and lighter, with a lot of overgrown Pyracantha removed and the ivy trimmed to the top of the walls. You can see the House properly again!

Tree surgery and pruning in the Old Pond Garden, February 2021. Before and After

As we await the vaccine roll out, lots of virtual planning has been going on, with a new application for funds to extend the Volunteer scheme into the Long Borders garden in 2021. We hope to include the fabulous ancient Mulberry Tree enclosure in our care too, keeping it weed and rubbish free. Such a lot to look forward to and be grateful for.

See you in the garden soon, more volunteers always welcome!

Kathy

Grateful thanks to all our Volunteers, and the Old Pond Garden committee: Vija, Terry, Kay, Angela, Mandy, Melanie, Juli and Jason. Also to Tracy, Edward and the staff at Charlton House.