A day trip to Gunnersbury Park

Inspired by Melanie’s wonderful talk to members about the various Rothschild gardens, Sharon & I accompanied her on a trip to see the restoration project at Gunnersbury Park. We had our volunteer project at Charlton House & Gardens firmly in mind throughout the day, and were pleased to find parallels – albeit on a much grander scale there! Gunnersbury was bought by Ealing & Acton council in 1925 (Charlton was bought by Greenwich Council in the 1920s) and used as a public park in much the same way that Charlton Park has been.  

In 2018 the “Large Mansion” was restored using Heritage Lottery and other funding and opened as a Museum housing the borough archive. Major parts of the park were included in the funding, the Orangery, lake and orchards for example. The Friends of Gunnersbury Park were instrumental in the restoration effort, and volunteers clearly play a large part in the day-to-day running.

Continue reading A day trip to Gunnersbury Park

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

August 2021: Amateur Gardeners Question Time “GQT”

Our amateur “GQT” was attended by over 50 members and OPG volunteers and was held outside, in the Peace Garden behind Charlton House.  Our president, Sir Nicolas Bevan, introduced the panel experts – guest panellist Joe Woodcock, plus Vija Vilcins and Pat Kane. It was an exceptional meeting.  As Sir Nicolas said, this was the first time members have met face-to-face since the beginning of the pandemic. To celebrate this it was also a social event with wine and nibbles provided – and appreciated!


Questions and Answers

Q1
Stella B: I would be grateful for some suggestions for a small or medium sized tree for my back garden. It’s a ’coming along’ garden begun a couple of years ago. There are now 3 apple trees (2 half standards and one espalier), so not another fruit tree. I really need it for some screening (it’s a terrace house) so maybe 12-15ft full grown? Not too wide a spread.

Q1 ANSWERS:

a) Joe: 

i) Although Stella was not keen on fruit trees the crab apple would be a good tree. e.g. Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ with its wonderful golden leaves.

ii) Japanese maples (Acers) e.g. Senkaki with  its yellow leaves in summer and its beautiful golden tints in autumn when its leaves become tinged with pink. Or Acer palmatum ‘Garnet’, a low growing acer.

iii) Rowans such us Sorbus acuparia and Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’,  yellow flowers with superb autumn colour.

iv) The Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata).  But maybe too large if the garden is small.

v) The Fox Glove Tree (Paulownia tomentosa).  Because it grows into a large tree, buy it young and coppice it. It will then grow into a low growing shrub with very large leaves.

b) Pat:

i) The Paper Bark maple ( Acer griseum) and the Snake Bark Maple(Acer capillipes).

ii) Amelanchier lamarkii.

iii) Prunus ‘Snow Showers’ which hangs down.

c) Viya:

i) Amelanchier.

ii) Cornus canadensis.

iii) Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ with burgundy leaf.

Q2
Chris B: I was given a Geoff Hamilton rose at the end of May and it flowered beautifully, but there have been very few flowers since then. It is supposed to be a repeat flowerer. Is there anything I can do to encourage more roses?

Q2 ANSWERS:

a) Joe:
It’s a modern shrub rose. If bought in a pot it needs time to establish. The roots need tweaking out before planting and it needs time to acclimatise  to the soil and develop the  energy  for flowering and will very likely  flower better next year  when it has had time to acclimatise. In spring give it a mulch  and feed it with Tomorite.

b) Viya:
Referring to roses in pots she said she had  kept an Emma Hamilton rose in a pot and it needed a regular feed  because the soil gradually lost its nutrients.

Q3
Pat K: I’ve got scale insects on the trunk of my Viburnum bodnantense Dawn. It’s planted in a pot as no room in the garden. The best way to get rid of it without any chemicals, please?

Q3 ANSWERS:

a) Joe:
Using cotton buds with methylated spirit, and squish them! Systemic fertilisers have been mostly withdrawn nowadays. Ants may form nearby which harvest them, but they are harmless.

b) Viya:
She said she has used a fingernail scrub. A labour of love. But they didn’t come back.

Q4
Carolyn H: My clematis (several varieties) are covered in black fly this year. The flowers are also being eaten. Are these two problems related? Is it a particular problem this year? How can I prevent it happening in future. Three questions actually!

Q4 ANSWERS:

a) Joe:
He said that his clematis were the best they have ever been this year! But the black fly problem may be due to the weather conditions this year. Use a hosepipe to wash them off or squash them with your fingers. If you use chemicals use a fatty acid one not a systemic . They may have been eaten by slugs and snails. Well known ways of getting rid of these include using egg shells, beer traps and   wool. Also there is the book ‘50 ways to Kill a Slug’ by Sarah Ford.

b) Pat:
Go out at night with a torch and pick them off.

Q5
Kathy A: Do you have any suggestions or rules for how to space perennial plants out in a herbaceous border? I always start off ok but by about now everything looks squashed and lots of fighting for space going on. I was always told not to leave bare soil between plants as then you get weeds, but I don’t seem to be able to find that happy medium.

Q5 ANSWER:

a) Joe: I do the same. I suggest you cut back the thuggish plants in summer and make space for others. If it is a new border plant in odd numbers e.g. 3, 5, 7 etc. Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter has produced a video showing how to space out plants.

Q6
Melanie A:  I would appreciate some suggestions for plants to go in a shared space. This is the scenario: our houses are fortunate to share a fairly large open space for which the householders are jointly responsible. We keep maintenance costs to the minimum by doing much of the work ourselves. Some of the trees planted many years ago by some householders help shield us from the horrors beyond, but they cast a lot of shadows. It would be great to have some thoughts  on how to put some items of interest in this space, something that can’t be mistaken for lawn by enthusiastic mowers.

Q6 ANSWERS:

a) Joe:
In shaded areas plant Mahonia, Camellia, Elaeagnus and in damp shade ferns e.g Dryopteris wallichiana and Dryopteris filix-mas. Also plant in groups: Epimedium , Pachysandra terminalis, Pulmonaria  ‘Sisinghurst White’. Foxgloves (Digitalis) and Japanese anemones(e.g.Honore Joubert) to show up in the shade. Spring bulbs like Tulip Red Riding Hood and Tete-a-tete.

b) Viya:
Miscanthus which initially only needs minimal watering just to get it going. Also Nandina domestica and Hydrangea ‘Vanilla Phrase’.

Q7
Angela B: Have you any suggestions for getting rid of pond duck weed?

Q7 ANSWER:

a) Joe: You can never get rid of duck weed. But use waders and a metal rake to clear it. Do leave it on the side for a day so that any organisms in it that need to live  in the pond can return to it. Also, if new, place your pond near a bit of shade. Put in oxygenators and pond plants that will help maintain a balance such as irises and marsh marigolds(Caltha palustris). Try to maintain at least one third cover with lilies and marginals. Also a fountain would be useful.

Q8
Anne R:  I have a Sorbus (Rowan)  which I think is Sorbus ulleungenis ‘Olympic Flame’.  It’s about 8 years old and still quite small and every year some of its growth dies back. It’s in a north-by-northwest  garden, so it gets some sun, on heavy clay but well drained. Am I doing something wrong or is it the wrong tree for the space. I know I’m not the only person with a die-back problem I saw a Sorbus in Greenwich Park recently with the same problem.

Q8 ANSWER:

Joe: The rooting of Sorbus is vulnerable to extremes of environmental conditions. It doesn’t like heavy wet soil in winter and cracked soil in summer. Take a garden fork and lift and reduce compaction around the roots. Waggle the fork in the roots (“terra vent”). Mulch in winter. Monitor the tree and cut out dead wood.

Angela

June 2021: Graham Dear on managing Greenwich Park and the impact of Covid-19

Graham Dear was welcomed to our meeting. He said he was pleased to talk to some fellow gardeners, though he hadn’t gardened himself for many years, as he had moved from being Manager of Greenwich Park to heading up the Greenwich Park Revealed Project (GPRP).  This is a 4-year project aimed at revealing, restoring, protecting and sharing the park’s unique heritage now and for future generations.

Graham said the pandemic had had a profound impact on Greenwich Park and the way it is managed. From March 2020 all recreational activities and events in all the Royal Parks ground to a halt, which resulted in an overall revenue loss of £20million, some 50 percent of annual spend. In Greenwich, the Pavilion Café, boating lake, tennis courts and even the rose garden had to be closed as its gates needed pushing and touching. There was no income from bandstand concerts, filming or car park fees or catering. The park was also unable to get insurance to cover events in 2021.

It had a particularly devastating impact on the GPRP which originally had had a £10m budget allocated to it.  £4.5m was funded by the Heritage Fund which had already begun to be implemented. Graham said he was faced with the challenge of making economies due to the loss of park revenue. He aimed to save £2m, so the GPRP budget has been cut to £8m. The cuts included the Nursery Yard reorganisation and the Sustainable Learning Centre.

Not all was bad though. Closing the through road and avenues was beneficial to pedestrians. Although the park no longer had tourists, there was a massive increase in local visitors to the park – who often arrived by bike or on foot – and used it for exercise and recreation.

Rubbish overflowing in Greenwich Park

Rubbish was an issue but the staff coped well with the challenge and more bins are now a feature of the park!

Visitors were naturally more spaced out because of social distancing needs. An informal poll showed they were much younger as well.  Ethnic diversity also increased by 5 percent.

Graham then went on to discuss the revised plans they had for the park and showed a range of slides to illustrate the programme. He said the GPRP had now begun again.

  1. They plan to preserve, renovate and manage the avenues of trees which have been decimated by diseases, pests and squirrel damage. The horse chestnuts are riddled with bleeding canker and the sweet chestnuts by ink stain disease.
  2. The area around the grand ascent giant steps and parterre banks is to be renovated. Recreating a series of grass steps on the hill leading to the Royal Observatory following the original 17th century design.
  3. The viewing space in front of the area around the statue of General Wolfe is to be increased and opened up. A café will open in the space behind.
  4. The Old Wilderness and deer park community facilities will be enhanced including a new classroom. The deer herd is to be sent on holiday to Richmond Park for 2 years.
  5. Vanbrugh Yard: The area in the SE corner of the park is to be reorganised.  There will be a cafe aimed at taking pressure off the Pavilion Café. The boundaries of nursery yard, will be shifted and opened up to the public.  It will feature a new glass house, kitchen garden, wildlife orchard, volunteer room and public toilet facilities.
  6. The seating in One Tree Hill will be improved.
  7. Car parking at the pedestrian entrance at Blackheath Gate will be removed and the pedestrian entrance will be improved.
  8. The Victorian bandstand is to be improved and a power supply for community events installed.
  9. The wildlife habitat is to be increased and mowing will use a meadow cut rather than an amenities regime.
  10. The Victorian drinking fountains to be reinstated.
  11. Two self-seeded mature trees are to be removed from Flamstead House to improve the view.

Finally, he discussed the park’s engagement with the wider community, including training schemes that were being introduced  such as three year apprentices  and  cultural events such  as the Tramshed and dance. Graham then answered members questions, and was thanked for such an interesting talk.

Angela


Graham Dear is Manager for Greenwich Park. His management has overseen Greenwich Park Revealed, ‘an exciting multi million pound project to conserve and to enhance Greenwich Park’s historic and natural heritage, putting the community at its very heart’.

The English landscape

I recently attended a lecture (on Zoom of course!) about Thomas Gainsborough and his connection to the English landscape. Many people will be familiar with his portraits, but the landscapes in the background are not always commented on so widely, unless it is the painting of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, which seems to be the subject of a huge range of interpretations (not all repeatable in a horticultural blog perhaps).

Heart of Oak - Royal Navy Anthem
Heart of Oak – Royal Navy Anthem

The 18th century was a period of great upheaval – the South Sea Bubble burst in 1720 triggering a financial panic; in 1721 the country had its first prime minister in Sir Robert Walpole; in 1739 Britain declared war on Spain; in 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland to claim the British throne; in 1756 the Seven Years war between Britain and France began; there was unrest both in America and at home and throughout this period, there was a Hanoverian king. It is all too easy to forget that two of the great names associated with landscape architecture, William Kent and Lancelot Brown, were working against this background, with Brown finding little favour with the ordinary person by uprooting and moving whole villages when they stood in the way of his designs.

It is also no coincidence that Brown, Kent and their peers were creating landscapes which came to be seen as quintessentially English. Reacting against the formality of the classic gardens which were inspired by those on the continent and France in particular, they designed gardens that were intended to reflect the ‘sinuous curves’ of the English countryside. Ironically, Brown, who never travelled outside the shores of his home island, was inspired by the paintings of French artists such as Poussin.

Nicolas Poussin Landscape with Figures c1646
Nicolas Poussin Landscape with Figures c1646

In the background of Gainsborough’s paintings, this same concern with the natural is evident. Even in his most famous portraits, for example the one of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and the actress Perdita. Both show an English landscape populated by English trees, most commonly the oak.

Apparently, as Gainsborough was not a ‘plein air’ artist, in order to remind himself of the shape of the oak he would arrange stems of sprouting broccoli in front of his easel!

This tension between what is an English garden and what is from mainland Europe has influenced garden design throughout history.

With the RHS encouraging people to plant a tree in their Roots for Remembrance, a nationwide memorial initiative, it seems an appropriate time to think about the role of the oak in English landscape culture.

Vija

Eat your Christmas tree!

One of my presents this Christmas was a fun book called “How to eat your Christmas Tree” by Julia Georgallis. As you would expect for a book with such a title, there are some bonkers ideas in it – but there is a serious message behind it and some quite intriguing recipes too.

The statistics are quite sobering: the author calculates that if we DIDN’T cut down one years worth of Christmas trees, the carbon emissions saved would be the equivalent of banning all global air travel traffic for a year, or taking all the cars in the United Kingdom off the road for the next five years.

On a much lighter note, here are a couple of her recipes:

Christmas Tree Tea!

Apparently pine, fir and spruce contain a lot of vitamin C, although pine produces quite a weak tea. If you have a go, make sure you wash all the needles thoroughly. (And never use Yew, obviously.)

Ingredients: A handful of pine, fir or spruce needles / Juice of a lemon / 30ml (1fl oz or 2 Tbsp) Honey

Method: Brew the needles in a teapot for 6 minutes. Add a dash of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of honey to each cup. Pour over the brewed tree tea and serve.

Christmas Tree Cordial

This tastes a bit like grapefruit juice according to the author!

Ingredients: Juice of 10 lemons, zest of 4 / 2 litres water / 700g caster sugar / 400g spruce and/or fir needles (you can also use some of the branches for flavour)

Method: Sterilise a 2l glass bottle. Bring the ingredients to the boil over medium-high heat, turn down low and simmer for 2 hours. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, a few times, to make sure no needles are left and pour into the sterilised bottle. Keeps for 2 weeks in the fridge.

Christmas Tree Mimosa

Ingredients: 70 ml Christmas tree cordial (above)/ 140 ml prosecco / Ice cubes and lemon

Method: Combine in a cocktail shaker, pour into a cold glass and serve!

How to eat your Christmas Tree by Julia Georgallis

Kathy