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Our work in the garden at The Firs

Man and woman standing side by side in the garden next to a bed of lavender
The garden at The Firs | © National Trust Images / Chris Lacey

Here at The Firs, the garden really is a hive of activity. Our gardener and her team of volunteers are always hard at work, making this a beautiful and relaxing place for all to enjoy, including the various animals and insects that make their home here. Here are some of our most recent projects.

Creating a woodland habitat

With the help of a team of qualified tree surgeons the dead trees in the area were cut down. We ensured that all dangerous overhanging branches were removed and a beautiful clearing emerged. Larger limbs were cut into stumps to create seats then the smaller straight branches were broken down and made into drumsticks for our wooden musical instruments in the Sound Garden. All the small brash was chipped and kept on site to be used as a base for the walkway for the children. Come and feel how spongy it is to walk on.

Making a home for nature

Our gardener and the team make sure the birdfeeders are always topped up with a variety of different foods like fat balls and niger seeds. We also hang apple strings between the trees to make sure there is always enough for birds to eat.

By opening up the woodland floor to the daylight, it’s prompted new seedlings and saplings to grow. It’s also the perfect environment for toadstools. In summer the stinging nettles that surround the woodland clearing are the red admiral caterpillar’s favourite find. The ground litter is full of beetles too, which local robins love.

We’ve placed a variety of different bird boxes around The Firs, including some in the woodland, so that as well as plenty for the birds to eat, they also have homes here.

Hedgehog habitat

The gardener and our house steward also made a hedgehog house, recycling timber furniture then covering it in foliage and logs to create an inviting home. We make sure the inside has plenty of warm and dry bedding, and when we see signs of the bedding being disturbed we know that it is being used.

The Firs is home to two bug hotels: a large one by the cottage and a smaller, more boutique hotel in the woodland itself. Again, it was created from recycled drawers and broken terracotta pots providing a varied habitat for many creepy crawlies.

Hedgehog standing at the base of a dry stone wall
Hedgehog | © National Trust Images/Dougie Holden

Dead hedge – our corridor for wildlife

If you take a stroll into the woodland you can see we’ve been busy building a ‘dead hedge’ around the perimeter.

This is a hedge made from piles of branches, twigs and leaves, arranged and constructed to form a barrier. It has uprights that are driven into the ground, and branches and twigs are laid within these and entwined to create a very strong and durable structure.

What is it for?

The benefits are numerous: as we’ve been using the branches from the orchard winter pruning and woodland clearance, no green waste has left the site for landfill. It also cuts down on the number of bonfires required.

The hedge is a perfect habitat for mammals and birds, as it gives them somewhere to shelter that is protected from the rain, wind and predators.
We already have bug houses on-site and we hope that some of the little bugs will find a new home in the dead hedge too. As the dead hedge rots, beetles will munch away underneath – we’ll soon have a balanced eco-system as brambles climb through the dead wood to create a live hedge.

Summerhouse restoration

Elgar’s beautiful historic summerhouse, nestled in The Firs’ cottage garden, has been lovingly renovated and restored.

The summerhouse was initially situated at Elgar’s last home, Marl Bank in Worcester, where he passed away in 1934. When Marl Bank was knocked down in the 1969 as part of the Worcester Regeneration Project, one Elgar enthusiast rallied against the destruction. He was unable to save the house, but he was gifted the summerhouse from its garden as consolation.

In the 1980s his family donated the summerhouse to the Elgar Birthplace Museum, since when it has been enjoyed by many visitors as a shady spot on a scorching day, or a cosy shelter on the more common rainy days.

Emergency repairs

However, it was recently discovered that the summerhouse was structurally unsafe and had to be closed off to visitors. Funded by the Elgar Foundation, carpenter and restoration expert James was tasked with fixing it.

The summerhouse was top heavy with thatch and three of the eight upright poles had completely rotted at ground level.

‘The whole thing swayed rather alarmingly. The roof was only attached to the uprights with between eight and 16 nails.’ said James.

First the roof was supported with scaffolding, then the seating and cladding were removed.

The Summerhouse, a thatched wooden hut in the garden behind a bed of wildflowers
The Summerhouse | © National Trust Images / Trevor Ray Hart

Strangely the three poles that had rotted were made of cherry wood – an interesting choice for an outdoor structure as is more commonly known for its beautiful colour rather than its longevity. Therefore these were replaced with sweet chestnut poles, which the existing posts were made from.

Crafting replacement features

Having taken all of the nails out, James reused as much of the original cladding as possible. However, a shortfall meant that more was needed, so he had to source more sweet chestnut wood which then had to be shaped in his workshop to replicate the existing cladding.

Unfortunately, the bench was beyond a state of repair due to woodworm attack that had made it flimsy and unsafe. Therefore, more sweet chestnut needed to be sourced and crafted to emulate the original seating.

Now the summerhouse is there to be enjoyed by all visitors, just as Elgar enjoyed it in his final years. So come and sit a while in the peaceful Worcestershire countryside and see what will inspire you.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

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