I have never visited the Botanical Garden at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, but the gardens have recently become the subject of some controversy with factions divided over the way in which the gardens are currently being managed (or not). The significance of the garden lies in its situation in a micro-climate which makes it ‘the hottest garden in England’ and the previous head gardener gained a reputation for bringing in plants from far flung regions. From its foundation in 1970 until it was sold to an American businessman, John Curtis in 2012, the garden was publicly owned, and run by the Isle of Wight council, but as the council struggled with significant financial losses the garden was sold.
Over the course of the next few years a number of visitors noted what they described as a decline in the gardens – weeds were appearing and there seemed to be a general feeling that it was no longer being managed properly. John Curtis defended the garden arguing that the methods being used supported gardening in a time of climate change. Unlike a typical botanic garden, plants are no longer labelled which the current head gardener, Chris Kidd describes as creating an ‘immersive experience’ and the idea is to garden with nature.
With opinions sharply divided on both sides, ultimately, much seems to depend on what one describes as a ‘natural garden’ and the nature of a ‘botanic garden’. What is wild gardening, or gardening with nature? How natural is a natural garden? Ventnor’s dilemma seems to embody much of current horticultural conversation.
At the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic, with a new garden inherited from someone who had focused on gardening with concrete and weed suppressing membrane, I took advantage of the RHS Members’ Seed Scheme. I selected 15 packets of seed from their list of varieties collected from RHS Gardens, including annuals, herbaceous perennials and rare shrubs, and I paid my £10. Some were more successful than others but I was sufficiently encouraged to try it again this year. You have until the end of February to join this year’s scheme….
As a former allotmenteer, I’m used to growing plants from seeds. Over the years, I developed preferences for unusual varieties and for seeds that are open pollinated (non-hybrid) so you can collect and sow your own seed in future years. How should I choose flower seeds and which seed suppliers should I use? I came across a recent article in Gardens Illustrated about seed suppliers. This reassured me by referring to some of the suppliers I have used for vegetable seeds but shows what a massive choice there is, for both flower and vegetable seeds.
Must be careful not to let the seedlings get out of control!!
Just before Christmas I posed a question for everyone, asking what you think make Charlton House Gardens unique. I had a good number of replies, and I’m pleased to report that most of you DO think they are unique! But I have had a real challenge trying to consolidate them into a single idea.
Here are just a few extracts from your replies:
“The gardens are rooted in their sense of time and place, where you can imagine them as Jacobean gardens but where you can also see modern day planting. There is a passion and desire to keep these gardens relevant for future generations.”
“The House is an architectural gem, whose early inhabitants played a significant role in the revolutions of the seventeenth century; today, the gardens are an oasis of beauty and peace in the midst of the urban sprawl of London.”
“The gardens are small but contain as diverse and exciting planting as you might expect from a much larger space.”
“The gardens are public but very community focused, beloved of local gardeners creating fabulous displays and running special events.”
“Not unique, but certainly rare, in that they still have the atmosphere of the Jacobean age. Planting with a “nod” to the Jacobean era.”
“An unexpected historic oasis in a desert of modern housing”
“They play to a sense of history and yet have a contemporary design adapted to change of climate.”
“Unique because they are community-run but following professional design principles.”
So, at then end of all that, let’s go with:
Charlton House Gardens: an historic oasis of beauty and peace in the midst of the urban sprawl of London, where local volunteer gardeners work together to ensure the gardens stay beloved and relevant for future generations.
As a Garden Volunteer at Charlton House Gardens, I was recently asked to explain what makes the walled gardens and estate “unique”. The question was born of a genuine desire to understand and perhaps help the gardens become better known. Of course, it’s one of those questions that you go away and carry on thinking about.. and wonder what you should have said.
I asked our regular Volunteers what they thought (they keep on coming back, so they must love it for some reason!)
Lots of great ideas came up around biodiversity and pollinators and sustainability. But you could argue that every garden is unique – what makes this particular combination of place and plants so special? We kept coming back to community spirit – particularly as the gardens have had only a tiny amount of external funding – the majority of their transformation has come from community fund raising and effort, and crucially, the use of a professional garden designer.
A good point was made that if you compare Charlton House Gardens with, say, Greenwich Royal Park, Charlton attracts mostly local people and not your average tourist – so there is an great feeling of ownership and responsibility. They may attract the discerning tourist in future (we certainly hope they do) but for now they are in “our” Trust.
We often call the Old Pond Garden the “Secret Garden”, after Frances Hodgson Burnett’s childrens story, but one Volunteer suggested the Lost Gardens of Charlton (Heligan) might be a better comparison now, as we re-discover and re-imagine the original spaces.
What do YOU think? Send in your ideas of why Charlton House Gardens are unique, we would love to hear from you (anyone, not just members) to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will encapsulate your ideas into one “unique” statement in the New Year – and hopefully answer that question.
A useful DIY way to heat up the greenhouse! You just need two terracotta pots, a large nut, bolt and washers, a couple of bricks and a nightlight candle. Watch the video on YouTube to find out how (skip the ads!). Remember, this is for the greenhouse only and be careful not to have fleece or anything flammable near it.
The video suggests using small nightlights, but they don’t last through the night – better to use 8-10 hour nightlights.
Kathy’s post about Gardening for the Bees was interesting – particularly because I love honey! But it made me want to encourage a similar interest in Moths. There are at least 2,500 species of moths in Britain and very few will eat your clothes!
Joe and I have been monitoring moths for the Garden Moth Scheme since 2013 when we were invited to enter a raffle for a moth trap. We think we were tricked! One of our fellow Volunteer Rangers at Jesmond Dene in Newcastle is a GMS Regional Coordinator and he was looking for new recruits! We didn’t win the raffle but he lent us a trap and a book and, as they say, the rest is history. We transferred to the South East Branch when we moved south and now we even continue through the Winter Moth Scheme…
The moth trap is a simple box with a light above it. The light attracts the moths and they end up in the box below with lots of egg trays to rest in. They are not harmed. In the morning, we open the box and identify and count the different species, taking photos of unusual ones. How different are our moth records here and in the North? For the last full year we were in Newcastle (2018), we recorded 290 moths of 61 species. Last year here, we recorded 844 moths of 143 species. Moths that hadn’t reached the North at that time were the Jersey Tiger and Box Tree Moths and we get more migrants here – some moths fly over the Channel!
My husband ( a beekeeper) recently treated me to a visit to the National Honey Show, which is sort of like going to RHS Chelsea if you are a beekeeper. Apart from an enormous number of jars of honey, there were talks available, and we attended one from Dr Nick Tew on “The role of gardens in supporting Insect Pollinators”. It was a really good talk, with scientific research explained in easy terms.
A few slides stood out for me – for instance, the time period for flowering plants in a garden, compared with a hedgerow or pasture. Most gardeners love to have something in flower all through the year, so although the volume of nectar/pollen in a garden might not be as high as in a meadow or hedgerow in full swing, it is available for a much longer time span. So in fact such a garden is more useful to insects.
There are some downsides to a garden – Nick calls it “horticultural bling”, a lovely phrase which unfortunately can be applied to a few parts of my garden (but luckily not many!)
A version of the talk is on Youtube, the link is below, it’s a good watch.
The Show was held at Sandown Park racecourse, and it was huge. It reminded me of a Horticultural Show in that it not only had classes for honey, but also eg craft and baking classes. The sunflowers shown here are made of wax!
I bought some sparkling mead from one of the stalls, took down a recipe for “Gin & Tonic Honey cake” and bought a couple of seed packets to convert my lawn into a meadow at some point in my dreams. The final stall we visited worried me a little, as it is giving my husband ideas!
We will have our usual stall at the Horn Fair at Charlton House this Sunday, October 16th, from 11am. This year we will be outside in the gardens, by the Peace Garden gate – hopefully in some lovely Autumnal sunshine!
Members have been very generous with their plant donations and we also have some great plants grown on by the Volunteers in the walled gardens. As well as plants, there will be lavender bags (from the Peace Garden), and seeds for sale, as well as some Notecards featuring the Old Pond Garden, painted by local artist Amabel Barlow. https://www.amabelbarlow.online/my-portfolio-1
Head Gardener Jason Sylvan will be running tours of the garden on the hour from 12, there will be loads of activities for kids including Bouncy Castles, Autumn crafts with Montessori Moments, and our very own Spooky Spider Bat and Pumpkin trail.
Vita Sackville-West wrote that “Of all fruits the pomegranate is surely one of the most romantic.” I would be willing to bet that most people walk through the Peace Garden gate at Charlton House without realising they have just passed under two “most romantic” pomegranate trees.
When the Volunteer scheme started in 2020, these two trees were deeply entwined with ivy, choking them very UNromantically. I wish I had taken a photo of our volunteers, wrestling and chopping at the ivy around the base of the trees! It was one of the team’s early successes, as the next year the trees were covered in their startlingly bright orange flowers and looked very happy. We have yet to get the flowers to “set”, so no pomegranate fruits yet. But of course as gardeners, we live in hope.
This summer’s heatwave feels like a distant memory now, but it was a good one for ripening lots of tomatoes! However, if you’ve got green ones struggling in the cooler temperatures, here’s BBC Gardener’s World Magazine’s advice on the best way to ripen them: How to ripen late tomatoes.
Using the ethylene released by bananas to help ripen other fruit is a well known method, but while Which? Gardening agree with GW on most points, they differ on the banana:
You may have heard different techniques recommended for ripening green tomatoes, including putting them with a banana, but when Which? Gardening magazine tested different methods we found that putting them in a dark place indoors, such as a drawer, works best. Tomatoes left with bananas were one of the worst methods for causing the tomatoes to rot.