How does the garden grow?
Every second Friday, throughout 2019, you can visit the website to find out what's been happening in the gardens; which jobs the team have undertaken, what wildlife they've spotted, what has caught their eye, what is shining in the gardens at that time as well as lots of other details and special moments. It's the chance to find out more about what it takes to maintain, grow and develop the beautiful gardens of Wallington that so many visitors enjoy. And if at any point you have any questions for the gardening team here, just drop them an email email@example.com and they'll be happy to get back to you. So without further ado.....
Friday 16 August
Head Gardener Simon has been searching for space and time to help inspire his plans for the garden. What did he get up to on his recent 'walkabout'......
It’s been a while, some would say too long but at the end of August I went Walkabout for a few days. The point of this trip was research so that I can guide the garden more effectively over the coming years.
Before and after I returned there were many that referred to my trip as a holiday, I can see the point of view and I did enjoy my time but as many of you will already know a journey away also allows thinking time and perspective, which can be in short supply when you’re in the thick of the action on site.
The purpose of the trip was to find some good quality peat-free nurseries that grow trees and shrubs, and to find some gardens with interesting woodland gardens and unusual planting styles that might help me move forward back at Wallington.
I’m telling you all this because that elusive process of clear thinking, gaining perspective and becoming inspired are actually easily attainable if you allow yourself the time and remove distractions.
We’re all different so are distracted by different things. For me, I thought it best to travel alone (that was a first) so for my days away it was just me and my thoughts.
My revelation about this process was that the days/nights mingled together to become one single narrative that built and became clearer with every step I took. By the end of the week, I’d almost forgotten how to talk to people, but I’m excited, there is a grain of an idea that is growing quite nicely now. I know the garden at Wallington well, and I know what it could be, my little “holiday” will play a fundamental part in the next 10 years of our garden.
I will end by saying we all need thinking time but we can only do it well if we know ourselves, clarity of thought is amazing when we achieve it.
When needed, I will try a version of this again its important. If I’m not clear where I’m leading the garden how can I expect others to follow?
The bike picture is my mode of transport for some of the garden visits, my thinking being a day that involves riding a bike is always a good day.
Friday 2 August
What's Beck up to at the moment down in the walled garden? You couldn't be thinking about winter already?
The garden is looking as full as possible, as everything has had a huge growth spurt with the warm, moist conditions we have had recently. The herbaceous plants are putting on a vibrant display, this time of year the softer pastels of early summer start to give way to the bold and brilliants; the Phlox, Achillea and Dahlias are unmissable. Sadly the weeds also really enjoy the weather and are doing rather too well! Summer is really rushing past as the whole team busily try to keep the garden in good shape. The place is alive day and night with pollinating insects!
In my world this also means everything is ripening and seeding and needs picking! In between the rain showers I am busy harvesting seeds from the garden ready for my wonderful volunteer, Jane, to hand clean and package - we rely on the money we make from selling seeds for helping to run the garden. I do keep some of the seeds back though - especially many of the annuals and tender plants, and use this seed to propagate next seasons plants.
I’m also picking flowers - not to put in a vase - but to hang upside down in one of the dark, airy sheds to dry. These will come back out as part of the Christmas display. I am tickled that last Thursday - when it was 28 degrees in the shade I was thinking of Christmas! The flowers I pick for drying as mostly specially grown for this job - they are often called ‘straw flowers’, and are often quite papery even before they are dried. I like to experiment a bit and try new ideas each year - so that Christmas doesn’t get too ‘traditional’! This year I am hoping that a lovely little annual called Ridolfia might look good dried - it’s a bit like fennel, but more delicate.
Then of course there is all the picking of dead-heading; picking off dead and damaged foliage and flowers from the plants in the conservatory; picking pests off the plants; and picking out tiny weeds as we hand-weed the borders.
So then I go home and pick the ripening fruit - I do wonder if pincers might be more useful than fingers at this time of year!
Friday 19 July
Some of the jobs that the Wallington gardeners get up might surprise you! This week, gardener Peter fills you in one of his more unusual daily tasks and gives you an update on some new garden residents.....
Whether it’s pouring with rain or bright sunshine there’s always plenty that we have to do in the garden. In fact we know all about the weather…
One of the gardener’s unseen jobs is to record weather details for the Metoffice and rain details for the environment agency. We are one of hundreds of places across the country giving information to improve their forecasting accuracy.
At 9am we check details such as wind direction and speed, visibility, temperature and humidity. We record yesterday’s rainfall quantity and maximum and minimum temperatures. I find this an enjoyable job, partly because the walk up highlights some of the best views that Northumberland has to offer, and also because getting to know the weather impacts directly what’s happening in the garden.
All weather stations in the country are built the same with temperature gauges housed inside a familiar white Stevenson’s screen. This allows air to flow through the instruments but protects them from rain and radiant heat. We also have a rainfall gauge and ground temperature thermometer here as well.
We’ve been recording this information for over 25 years and rainfall for over 50 years. So what stories does this tell us? We’ve started to analyse and soon will be able to show trends and changes, what we might expect to experience as well as exceptional phenomenon. Of course this information could be pertinent now to see whether Wallington is recording any of the effects of climate change.
Here are some examples of what we’ve found out so far:
Our maximum temperature was recorded on the 21st of August 1995 and was a scorching 29.1 degrees! Our coldest temperature was recorded during the same year- the 29th of December 1995 and was a chilly -14.2 degrees. Our wettest day was on the 12th of September 1976 where we recorded 65.1 millimetres over a 24 hour period. Do you remember where you were and what you were up to during on these days?
On another note it’s exciting to say that we are about to move our honey bees into the garden. We’ve been constructing a dead-hedge fenced area inside the nuttery area of the walled garden, which will house our bee hives. Honey bees can fly up to three miles, but if we move the hive less than three feet they return to their original site! So our relocation of bees requires us to move the bees over three miles and then back three miles into their new home. However, when they’re here I’m absolutely certain they’ll be happy in their new home and all will be welcome to come and see them…
Friday 5 July
This week, Head Gardener Simon fills us in on what July has in store for him and the garden team....busy times!!
Oh no it’s July!! July always scares me, until this month the garden can be very forgiving, we can rely on all those fresh green leaves and exuberant blooms; everything is new and perfect. The garden team work very hard but up until the end of June they have the “Spring effect” as backup.
From July onwards, Spring is a distant memory and it’s down to pure skill and determination from the team to prolong the magic. It’s fair to say that how the garden looks from July onwards is also down to a large amount of preparation from the team during those earlier months as well.
This takes me right back to skill and training again, without well trained and enthusiastic gardeners I’m in trouble.
Recently we’ve been advertising for a new Senior Gardener to join the team and by the end of a rigorous process I had the pleasure of promoting one of my existing team. This was very satisfying for me because my new senior gardener began her gardening career on a National Trust training scheme and through training, practice and shear hard work has become a gifted plants-woman and a valuable accomplice in my mission to reveal the full potential of our garden. From now on it’s all about detail; deadheading, pruning, weeding, mowing all need to be performed diligently, creatively and relentlessly. If we manage to achieve that together then maybe, just maybe, it will be alright and the garden will drift seamlessly into summer and our visitors won’t notice the effort it’s taken to get there.
So this year, with my Senior Gardener at my side along with my creative team of skilled gardeners, maybe I should try not to worry so much about July, although October keeps me awake at night, but that’s another story……
Friday 21 June
What's starting to grow on the south side of the House at the moment? Here's David to fill you in on what he's been up to recently.....
Hi. Part of gardening is about planning ahead as things don’t happen spontaneously like we would want them to. So back in May with the help of volunteers, we dug up the red tulips on the south facing borders. We then weeded the borders, dug them over but not too deep as wildflower seeds don’t root to deeply, then raked the soil until it was really fine and even just like you would have finely riddled compost in trays for indoor seedlings. This enables the wild flowers to root and bed in better to get a better hold.
The Red Tulips were called Il de France, apart from being a nice bold colour for that position, Charles Trevelyan used to hold labour rallies in the courtyard so it is nice to use plants to link up with and represent the history of Wallington and its occupants.
I measured and marked out the borders on each side in to quarters using canes. I used mugs full of seeds for each quarter and so that I could spread the seeds evenly, a bit like feeding chickens, so that you don’t end up with lots of wild flowers at one end and hardly any at the other.
Choosing a nice calm dry or damp day is always a good idea for sowing seeds; it is quite tricky sowing seeds when it is windy so if it is a bit breezy, it is best to sow with the direction of the wind. When the seeds are sown water them in to help to bed them into the soil. We have had rain lately so I have been lucky that way and have not had to water the seeds since. They took about a week to germinate.
I then put up hooped fencing using Hazel sticks, hopefully to keep little feet from going on the borders. After all a bare looking border can be fair game and seedlings can look like weeds. Unfortunately, those little four legged furry things with white tails have been doing a little digging but it is minimal and the flowers will cover those patches.
Working with the volunteers in another part of the Garden this week, I was asked the question why is it sometimes a bad thing to dig the soil too deep. After I explained, their reaction was a one of delight and they requested that I put the answer in my blog, so as requested here it is.
There are many things lurking and growing in the soil and not all of them are bad as one might assume. One of the good things growing in the soil is a fungus called Mycorrhizae. It spreads out in the soil like a gigantic root system and grows in to plant roots where ever they have any kind of damage or weakness. Rather than harm the plant it helps to prevent pests and disease getting in and the plant can use it to draw up water through the fungus from further away beyond where its own roots cannot reach when the ground is dry around its own root system enabling the plant to stay nice and healthy. When you dig up the soil too deep, you break up the Mycorrhizae and the extra support system to the plant. Digging shallow above the roots or tickling the soil as we like to call it is less likely to disrupt this set up.
Friday 7 June
It's all about the Hot Border for gardener Chris at the moment. Read how he manages the planting in this gorgeous, large border beside the Conservatory....
Hi again. Time marches on. Spring has definitely sprung and bounced away. The seasonal changes in the garden still have the power to take your breath away. Where once was bare ground a few months ago, six foot tall perennials are now flowering like mad. It’s almost hard to keep up with what’s coming on!
One of the biggest changes is in front of the Conservatory. The ‘Hot Border’ was a riot of Tulips and Polyanthus. A fantastic Spring display with bold blocks of colour. The Tulips, all 2000 of them, I treat as an annual. So they have to be dug up and removed. I use tender perennials in the design so they had to be taken out last Autumn and kept in a frost free place until now.
With the Tulips removed, the soil was improved with our home made compost and then planting began. The Canna, Dahlia and Begonia are the first to go in; big bold plants that flower all summer. Then the annuals. The annuals we use are all grown on site from cuttings or from seed. A very intensive thing to do, lots of space and care needed to make them look their best. Hopefully this year will be sunny and bright so they can put on a great show. Fingers crossed.
Friday 24 May
If you love to garden, you'll know all about pesky pests! Gardener Beck let's you know how she keeps on top of things in the greenhouses here at Wallington in this week's blog entry......
We are in the exciting process of appointing a new senior gardener to replace Alex (he left us a little while ago to go and be a head gardener in Devon) - so in the interlude I thought I would tell you some more about what we are doing down in the Walled Garden.
Last time I was admiring all the beautiful spring growth - and inevitably many creatures have had their hungry eyes on this too! In the greenhouses I wage a weekly war against the pest population - which includes all the usual suspects such as aphids, whiteflies, mealybugs - by spraying the plants with a horticultural soap. This seems to be the most effective and sensible way of trying to keep pest numbers in check here. The soap blocks the breathing holes of insects - spiracles - which is a grizzly way to die really! But at least it doesn’t poison the air or the water or the plants themselves. My greenhouse volunteers and I also do a lot of squashing and washing pests off plants. We accept that the plants will probably never be pest free - but as long as they look clean and healthy we are happy! And even inside you can watch the balance of nature trying to swing the right way - the spiders, the beetles and a resident wren - who seems to be nesting in the Ficus that creeps up the wall - are all helping to keep the pest populations under control for me.
We don’t use any pesticides outside - and in general nature finds a good balance. Of course - some years are better or worse for particular populations - last year we had so many ladybirds that I hardly saw any aphid. Some years we have hordes of frogs and generally we have a lovely big flock of birds who feed in the garden. We are also very lucky to have a resident population of hedgehogs who do their bit. They can sometimes be seen pottering about hunting at dusk. This one was doing his bit for Wallington the other night by hoovering up some of our insects! He was found as an autumn juvenile by a visitor last year. He was far too small to survive hibernation at that point - he was only 180g which is tiny- so we bundled him in a box and he lived in the shed and ate dog food and calciworms all winter. He was happy to potter off back into the garden in the spring, but he still has a taste for dog food!
Friday 10 May
However busy gardener Beck gets, she always makes sure she takes a moment to take everything in. Such a special time of year and so much to enjoy if you take the take a little time to look.....
This is a great time of year in the garden- as the place is so full of new life. All the spring growth is so lush and perfect - the new leaves are vibrant shades of green and are so fresh looking (good enough to eat you can hear some hungry little creatures thinking!) You can almost see things growing in the beautiful May light. I always find it amazing how the tiny little seedlings have their own character from the start - so when you prick out basil or coriander the smell you get leaves no doubt about what the little two leaves are going to become!
At the moment I am busy potting on seedlings, getting cuttings to root and potting on plants that are destined for the garden or woodland. The glasshouses and the nursery are getting fuller by the day.
No matter how busy I feel, I try to make time to appreciate the signs of renewal and new life that are appearing each day in the garden. I rejoice when I see the moorhen chicks, the first huge queen bumblebees emerging from their winter sleep, the swallows arriving home from their epic migration, the hedgehog poo on the mown lawns, which shows they are up and about after their long winter in hibernation... some of the new life is a bit less welcome - as the weed seeds are germinating well, and the slugs are also waking up - but I have to remember it’s all part of a bigger cycle where it’s all needed to feed someone.
One of the bits of working in the garden at Wallington that I really appreciate is the chance to get so close to some of the amazing creatures who share this special space. So while I am trying to fit another few plants into the propagator I am also busy rescuing butterflies who have been lured into the glasshouse by the gorgeous smells - but who can’t work out how to escape; while I’m watering I am avoiding tripping over the tiny froglets who are pottering about in the Conservatory - far too small to be out on their own!; and while I am weeding I am helping the cold, exhausted bumblebees get back into the air by giving them a little drink of honey and water.
Friday 26 April
This week the gardening team have been putting winter to bed in some parts of the garden. It certainly feels like a lifetime ago given the glorious Easter we've just had.....here are a few words from Gardener Peter...
Anybody who’s been experiencing the lovely sunshine over Wallington during the past few days would know that winter definitely seems over. In fact we recorded over 21 degrees at the weather station at the weekend- perfect for enjoying our garden!
It seemed apt then that in terms of jobs we would be cutting back the winter stems border and saying goodbye to this area for the summer.
Perhaps we don’t always appreciate the different types of ornamental interest that plants offer through the many periods of the year. Of course we all love beautiful flowers and the delicious scents and colours they offer. Or perhaps we like the design lines that lead the eye onwards to create that sense of intrigue and distance.
How about the ornamental interest offered by coloured bark or winter stems to brighten up the garden though? Here at Wallington we have both. One tree that certainly sparks attention throughout the year is our Acer griseum or paper bark maple, found in the orchard square. This tree with peeling papery bark, hence the name, is bright orange and soaks up the southern light during all seasons.
We also have a border whose theme is winter stems and includes plants such as willow, Cornus and ghost bramble (Rubus cockburnianus). When kept low even leafless their stems are bright reds, oranges and in the case of the Rubus dusty white and are perfect for brightening up a winter’s day. So it was these stems that it was time to cut back now.
By some canny pruning we allow these shrubs to regrow and for their fresh new shoots to provide the colour for next winter- and while we enjoy the sunshine we can also marvel at the cyclical nature of the gardening year!
Friday 12 April
This week we get a special insight into why Head Gardener Simon, chose the career he did. What is it about gardening that drew him in? Have a read, it's really rather lovely.....
So why do we garden? And why am I a gardener? I’m sure there are many reasons, but for me I think it’s about moments.
Being a gardener gives you the ability to create moments for the garden’s visitors and for yourself, if you’re lucky some of those moments will last a lifetime.
Within a garden these moments come in all shapes and sizes, it might be the day you see something that inspires you so much that it changes you and gives you the confidence to take a new path. It also might be the day that the world is too heavy and entering the garden space gives you sanctuary and in turn a better perspective with what’s important.
Creating places where this is possible is part of being human and it’s exciting trying to find different ways to create an experience that might produce a moment.
Last week I was reminded of this way of thinking twice. Firstly, I spent a couple of hours with a lovely family planting 2 memorial trees in Eastwood. Two of them had been visiting the garden for 60 years and the trees were a way to mark the past, connect with the garden, and then importantly as gardens do, look to the future. My time with this family was special, I explained my plans for the future of the planting site, they bought in to my dream and through that shared connection with place there was a moment…. this one will not be forgotten.
The second moment was entirely different, towards the end of the day I was strolling through the walled garden, trying to see through the work that was still to be done and enjoy the magical space, suddenly I discovered a tree, it’s always been there, on the lower terrace but today at this time it decided to let me truly see it. The tree is an Amelanchier and on that evening we had a moment, it brought on a simple but deeply felt smile; that’s why I’m a gardener.
Friday 29 March 2019
This week we introduce you to gardener David, who is celebrating spring with a stunning display of Daffodils on the West Lawn.....
Hi my name is David I am one of the gardeners at Wallington and this is my nineteenth year at Wallington! Last year I, along with a team of volunteers, planted two types of Narcissus (Daffodils) on the West lawn by our new path. We planted two types, Narcissus “Ice Follies”, which have creamy white flowers with primrose yellow cups, which fade to nearly white. These ones have now just begun to flower and are starting to look good. The second type is Narcissus “Poeticus Actaea”, which have fragrant white flowers with supposedly a red/yellow cup although the red part is closer to orange in colour.
You may have seen the hooped fencing we put up to protect the area. This was made from lengths of Hazel which is nice and flexible. If we need to use small amounts of fencing, we try to make it as subtle as possible and in keeping with the surroundings. The only downside is they are rather appealing to little hands and the temptation of a good stick can be too much hard to resist!
I hope you enjoy the colours as you walk past the West lawn towards the West wood. Daffodils are so gorgeous they brighten up the dullest day and the mix of the two Narcissus here looks to be a really good combination.
Friday 15 March 2019
Meet Chris, who this week talks about a project that is currently underway with one of the large borders in the walled garden….
Hi, I’m Chris the next gardener share my thoughts for our blog. I’ve been at Wallington for ten years now, working mainly in the Walled Garden. Working everyday within the garden, seeing it change and grow, not just seasonally but often daily, really gives you that emotional connection with the garden. Gardening without love just seems too much like a chore and no-one likes that. Continual assessment of the borders in my areas is a must. Not just the upkeep, weeding etc, but also their development. We are not a botanical garden so changing and enhancing sections if needed holds no problems.
Last year it was decided a big change was needed in one of my areas. The section from the Mary Pool towards the Blue and Yellow border was in need of some TLC. Plans were drawn up and approved, work began last spring. Conveniently the 100 meter long border is split in two so half was finished last year. A grass strip was removed and replaced with a flower border. Much nicer to look at and also much better for insects and beasties. The next half of this border revamp is underway right now! Plants and shrubs are being taken out and rehoused. Some will go back in later on this year. The boulder wall will be rebuilt and the grass removed. Hopefully plants in the ground by September. So watch this space.
Friday 1 March 2019
March already! In this week’s diary entry we meet senior gardener Alex, who gives us a bit more information on the recent snowdrop planting activity….did you come along and lend a helping hand?
In the spirit of introducing ourselves, I’m Alex – Senior Gardener here at Wallington. My role is quite varied and it’s that variety that originally enticed me into being a gardener for the National Trust. The core of my role is the daily management of the volunteers as well as responsibility for the woodland areas of the designed landscape that makes up the majority of the 65 acre garden.
As I write this, it’s half term. Coupled with the unusually fine weather, we’ve seen a fantastic number of families enjoying the grounds. Visitors to the garden have been invited to help us plant 100,000 snowdrops and if you’re reading this blog, chances are this was already on your radar.
For the last 5 years, we have been helped by the public during the February half term, to plant thousands of snowdrops ‘in the green’. This means they are actively growing and in flower when we plant them, which is fairly unusual for bulbs. This year, we will have planted a total of half a million snowdrops in the woods at Wallington. One advantage to planting them in the green is the instant effect you get. Another is that the chance of them succeeding and multiplying is greater over the long term.
The bulbs come to us from UK growers in trays of 1000, lifted directly from the fields. We received two deliveries of 50,000, spaced throughout the planting week so that we can get the freshest bulbs we can. We then split these down into smaller quantities that visitors can easily plant. The team of garden staff and volunteers then equip willing participants with gloves and a bulb planting tool, then show them to a suitable spot and give them a planting demo. Once happy they are left to enjoy being surrounded by nature while planting snowdrops that are slowly turning the woodland floor white in late winter.
Friday 15 February 2019
This week’s diary entry is from gardener Beck, who looks after some of the most fragrant parts of the garden, both inside and out….
This is Beck here, I look after a patch of the Walled Garden called the Cut Flower Border - which I will tell you about a bit later in the year - and the greenhouses.
I love this time of year in the Conservatory because it really is a different time zone you enter as you come through the door - almost like stepping off the plane into a mini-holiday destination! Outside is winter, but inside there is colour, warmth and most overwhelmingly scent! Many of the plants that flower this time of year put on an extra special effort to attract a pollinator - and pump out huge amounts of fragrance. I often wish I could bottle this scent - ‘Eau d’Wallington’ would be up there with Chanel No 5!
At the moment the combination of Cyclamen, Jonquil Narcissi, Heliotrope, Primula malacoides and Hyacinths is wonderful - and I just love it when visitors come in, get hit with the scent and go ‘wow!’
I could have put in a beautiful flowery picture -the yellow Hyacinths are so pretty! - but I thought I’d leave that to Chris and his Friday Flower slot - and instead turn this into ‘These are a few of my favourite things..!’ and share this picture of a squirrel who has been regularly visiting the feeder just outside. Actually maybe ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ would be a better choice?!
Friday 1 February 2019
This week’s diary entry is from gardener Peter. Seems some things just aren’t as simple as you’d like it to be….
Winter is always the time for projects in the garden, or catching up with jobs before the rush of spring. The project we endeavoured to undertake this week was to remove the stump of a lime tree at the bottom of the walled garden in the section I maintain and develop. The tree sadly had to be felled during the previous year due to disease. Removing the stump would also give a chance for a dead yew hedge to be cut back and the potential of new project planting within this year.
However, as no project is ever simple an electrical cable of course had to be found beneath the tree stump and all work has been stopped and the area closed by barriers until we can assess further. Frustratingly although safe the area won’t look at its best until we can refill this hole and start to consider planting.
My section of the garden has some really wonderful features- the Italian wrought iron Menagio gates, blue Himalayan poppies and giant Himalayan lilies naturalised in the borders, scented plants and an informal wall as protection. We have completed a lot of new planting so far this winter, undertaken rejuvenating pruning of shrubs, planned projects and improved the soil. The garden will look fab in the spring, and the sooner we complete this task from mine and the visitor’s perspective, the better…
Friday 18 January 2019
Today's entry is by gardener Iona and it just so happens to be her last day here. Thank you for everything Iona, good luck with your next adventure and make sure you come and see us soon!
It's been a whirlwind working the last six months at Wallington, but now it's finally time to say goodbye. It seems fitting to leave with a bonfire, baked potatoes and cake. A lot of my time here has been spent removing Rhododendron. This has cleared space in East woods for some exciting new planting. I will be returning to see; Cornus florida 'Rubra', Acer palmatum 'Tropenberg', Halesia Carolina and Amelanchier alnifolia 'Obelisk'. Surrounded by colleagues and volunteers I was struck with how friendly the team are, that keep the gardens developing and looking just lovely. Having spoken to lots of visitors, staff and volunteers during my time here I am aware how personal people's reactions to the gardens are. My favourite feeling is of walking past the infinite vista of garden pond, glimpsing the gate to the walled garden in the distance. My best experience has to have been meeting three otters walking up the same path towards me.
Friday 4 January 2019
So I’m Simon, Head Gardener here at Wallington (more about me another time). Wow, it's 2019 already, spring is round the corner, the garden here is poised ready for action and so are my garden team.
A garden is only as good as its team and I am lucky to have a bunch or troop (what is the collective term?) that are dedicated to the task of looking after this unique garden.
Over the coming year I’d like to introduce the whole team as they contribute to this regular column allowing us to give you a snapshot of our world and let you see what it takes to run our garden. As we tell our stories, we hope to make you our visitor feel part of the team too because without your feedback and participation, we wouldn’t be inspired and driven to develop and conserve this special place.
Well, let’s get on with 2019 then and see what we can achieve.