Gardener's ramblings: August

The sun shines through a tree in the misty parkland at Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Published : 13 Aug 2018 Last update : 15 Aug 2018

This month, Gardner Anna Tolfree takes a reflective look back at what has made her job special during her time at Stowe and throughout her childhood. With each of us taking different pleasures from spending time pottering to redesigning and landscaping in the garden, there's something to be said from sharing your handiwork with a companion.

Finally we have some rain in this area!  As it was a decent amount of rain, it means that for the time being we can hold of watering newly planted areas for a few days. You’ll notice in a few days to a weeks’ time your grass will hopefully start to green up again a bit. Don't cut it! There hasn’t been enough water to help it recover completely and the forecast for the coming month looks like we’ll still have long spells of hot sunny weather with very little rainfall.

For the rest of the garden apart from watering, we’ve been mowing our long grass areas to smarten them up. Weeding is carrying on at pace, although thankfully the weeds haven’t been growing much because of the heat.  So enjoy your gardens and the continuing good weather. If you do some gardening don’t forget to have plenty of water yourself and also put on sun protection.

And now for something completely different:

" To the Memory of Signor Fido, an Italian of good Extraction; who came into England, not to bite us, like most of his countrymen, but to gain an honest Livelyhood. He hunted not after Fame, yet acquir’d it; regardless of the Praise of his Friends, but most sensible of their love. Tho’ he liv’d amongst the Great, he neither learnt nor flatte’d any Vice. He was no Bigot, Tho’ he doubted of none of the 39 Articles. And, if to follow nature, and to respect the Laws of Society, be Philosophy, he was perfect a perfect Philosopher: a faithful Friend, an agreeable Companion, a loving Husband, distinguish’d by a numerous Offspring, all which he liv’d to see take good Courses. In his old Age he retir’d to the House of a Clergyman in the Country, where he finish’d his earthly Race, and died an Honour and Example to the whole Species. Reader, this stone is guiltless of Flattery, for he to whom it is inscrib’d was not a Man, but a Grey-Hound."

The above quote was placed on the Temple of British Worthies at the request of Lord Cobham after his beloved Greyhound passed away. I ask the question, knowing how I’d answer it - do dogs mix with gardens and the pastime of gardening? Some people would resoundingly say no and others whole heartedly say YES!

As a child we always had a dog so I know no different. We would play in the garden with the dog and have a lot of enjoyment throwing a ball and watching her retrieve it.  When she was a puppy however, if my mother decided to do any gardening, the puppy would help by digging up any plants that my mother had just planted and ‘retrieving’ them for her by placing them at her feet once she had gone back inside.

Years later when I joined Stowe as a gardener just over five years ago, I came across another dog. His name was Dan. He was a Kooikerhondje or a Dutch Water Spaniel. He was born in December 2004 and was bought by the National Trust to demonstrate the art of decoying duck at the Boarstall Duck Decoy (one of our lovely little gems we also look after and manage in the Aylesbury Vale).

National Trust Decoy Dog Dan spent much time working with the gardens and park department at Stowe.
A brown and white dog sits on the step to a low level tractor
National Trust Decoy Dog Dan spent much time working with the gardens and park department at Stowe.

Jim Worgan, the warden at the Decoy and his wife Rosa cared for and trained him. As a working dog he lived in a kennel and was there to show how the seventeenth-century Duck Decoy would have worked. As time went on it was decided that Dan was ready for retirement and so he was bought to Stowe shortly before I started working for the National Trust.  All of us would take it in turns to feed him, clean out his kennel and walk him every day. Over a matter of months I grew very attached to him and was given the opportunity to take him home to live with me to continue his life as National Trust dog.

Jim Worgan trained Dan as a young pup to be the last decoy dog at Boarstall.
An older gentleman stands above a young puppy at Boarstall Duck Deocy
Jim Worgan trained Dan as a young pup to be the last decoy dog at Boarstall.

So for the next four years he travelled nearly every day to work with me and we’d go out into the gardens together. I’d tie him to a bench in the Sleeping Wood and while I weeded and pruned he would sleep and just enjoy his surroundings. Many visitors always commented on how pretty he was, his good nature and if he saw anyone coming up the path would walk to the middle of the path and proceed to lie on his back asking for a belly rub. The volunteers adored him as did I. The unfortunate thing was that for whatever reason he preferred not to lie on the lush green grass path but on my lovingly tended flower beds. Try as I might, he would move back again once I settled him on the grass again. I don’t think my plants were particularly happy either with the amount of weeing he did over them or the lying down on them.

What better way to admire your colleague's handiwork than to sit amongst it, up close and personal.
A brown and white dog lies amongst the flower beds
What better way to admire your colleague's handiwork than to sit amongst it, up close and personal.

But all this is outweighed by the enjoyment we both shared of the garden together. He loved nothing more than going for long walks around Stowe and just being in the garden with me. I in return immensely enjoyed the companionship we had together and believe he furthered my enjoyment of the garden. Indeed my husband and I have been to many other National Trust properties on holiday with Dan that are dog friendly and because we could take him with us he enjoyed the surroundings as much as us.

A hard day's work requires a well-earned rest, Dan the Decoy Dog.
A brown and white dog relaxes in his basket
A hard day's work requires a well-earned rest, Dan the Decoy Dog.

Unfortunately at the distinguished age of nearly 14 he passed away last week. I’m heartbroken. I don’t think that unless you have a dog or a pet you can truly understand the sense of loss you have when losing them. I think Lord Cobham knew some of the pain and how they love unconditionally without any judgement, which is why he wrote the above quote. Dan attended many of Stowe’s monthly dog walks we hold and was quite a well-known presence amongst the whole team at Stowe and the Boarstall Duck Decoy, not to mention some of our frequent visitors. So whilst I mourn the loss of him I would encourage many of you to enjoy our lovely dog friendly properties of Stowe and Boarstall just as Dan did.

Happy Gardening (with your four legged friends).