Stowe gardener's ramblings: December 2017

The Palladian Bridge at Stowe covered in snow.

Expert Stowe gardener Anna Tolfree discusses the restoration of the Labyrinth and all things Christmas, giving some insight into what goes on behind the scenes when looking after a landscape garden such as Stowe.

Tea… sometimes you can be utterly desperate for a cup of tea and nothing else will do after a hard days’ work in the garden.  I have literally just sat down with one after a mad few days.  Why? I hear you ask….well for the last 18 months or so I have been restoring a large part of the Western Garden, known as the Labyrinth.  It was part of Stowe Gardens in the period of 1739-1760 and contained large evergreen shrubberies with grass alleys winding in between, along with a skittle alley and swing area. 

Eighteenth century plan of the Labyrinth in the Western Garden of Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Eighteenth century plan of the Labyrinth in the Western Garden of Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Eighteenth century plan of the Labyrinth in the Western Garden of Stowe, Buckinghamshire

With the help of my colleagues and my amazing team of garden volunteers we have removed trees, cut down laurel to regenerate, limbed up all the trees to allow light in, installed drainage, put gravel and grass paths back in their original position, marked out the evergreen shrubberies, planted up one area of shrubbery and completed a planting plan for the rest of the area….phew!

The garden and volunteer team in the Labyrinth at Stowe, Buckinghamshire
The garden and volunteer team in the Labyrinth at Stowe, Buckinghamshire
The garden and volunteer team in the Labyrinth at Stowe, Buckinghamshire

It is this last job that has given me a hectic few days.  Once the planting plan had been completed I ordered the plants….all 3300 of them.  They arrived on Monday and as most of them were bare root (not pot grown) they all had to be heeled in until I am ready to plant them in January (it’s taken me a few days!).  To ensure none of the plants have any pests or diseases they are being quarantined for 6 weeks away from the garden.  As gardeners we all know that bio-security is becoming more and more important as we hear of pests and diseases being brought over from abroad to our shores on plants bought in to this country. 

Preparing a delivery of new plants at Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Preparing a delivery of new plants at Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Preparing a delivery of new plants at Stowe, Buckinghamshire

It is all our responsibility to ensure we keep an eye out for these new problems otherwise we could end up losing our most precious plants and trees.  Here at Stowe we have many ancient trees and some of the original shrubberies from the 18th Century, so I feel it is vitally important for me to do what I can to protect what’s left of the original garden by quarantining my new plants to ensure they are healthy and do not spread anything into this beautiful Grade 1 listed landscape garden.  I cannot wait to plant them all out into the garden (I’m hoping the weather will be milder for the time of year so I can put them in) and watch them grow into the shrubberies that would have been there originally as this will be the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle in restoring this part of the garden.

Christmas Elves…have you seen them?  They usually start appearing in late November around Stowe…normally around the Temple of Concord and Victory in the Grecian Valley.  This is because myself and a few of the Gardens and Park team put on a display inside Concord and Victory for the Landscape advent calendar.  Whilst putting it altogether we dress up as elves…who wouldn’t?! 

The Stowe Christmas elves creating festive magic at the Temple of Concord and Victory
The Stowe Christmas elves creating festive magic at the Temple of Concord and Victory
The Stowe Christmas elves creating festive magic at the Temple of Concord and Victory

Last year was hard to follow with a fantastic 25ft Christmas tree covered in 2000 lights inside the temple with hundreds of presents filling the floor.  So what could we do to top that this year?  A Woodland in a Temple of course.  This time multiple trees, 3200 lights, four types of snow and a signpost later and you have a beautiful winter wonderland to walk around in Concord and Victory.  It’s a lot of hard work but good fun and all the trees come from the garden as we use trees that need to be removed as they’ve grown into views or need to be thinned out.  It’s great to see people’s faces when they see it, especially as we plan what’s happening at Christmas in July! It takes a while to pull together and I don’t think people can really grasp how it will look until it’s finished.

The lake pavillions at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, in the snow
The lake pavillions at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, in the snow
The lake pavillions at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, in the snow

I hope you have had a great year and will enjoy walking around Stowe’s monumental landscape advent calendar. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Happy Gardening!