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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Its time to say goodbye...

Thank you so much for following my blog over the last 7 years. However, this will be my last entry as my job as Head Gardener at Spetchley Park has come to an end. I have loved keeping you up to date with the facinating, annoying, funny and challenging incidents that have happened at Spetchley and hope that the entries have inspired you to take time out to visit the gardens when they open next season.

I will miss living in the gardens, seeing the early morning mist across the lake, going out in the winter snow to look for animal tracks, spotting the first snowdrops of spring, watching the fantastic collection of paeonies and roses as they open across the summer, and enjoying the late season colour of the acers, liquidamber and liriodendron (tulip tree) as they change into their autumn colour.

Many thanks for all your support over the 13 years that I have worked at Spetchley and I look forward to maybe meeting up with you again as I start out on new adventures.

Kate Portman

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

5 Calling Birds...

It is sunny and warm and Chris the estate forester had a barbeque at the weekend, hardly a seasonal October. The weather is set to change but it has been lovely and sunny whilst it lasted. It has enabled us to give the grass its last cut of the season. If the grass is nice and short it makes raking leaves so much easier. And there are so many leaves...

It has been such a dry, sunny season the Horse Pool is also really low, but we have some new wildlife that has taken up residence there. (see pic) There are 5 really pretty call ducks who don't seem to mind the slowly reducing water levels. 8 very young call ducks suddenly appeared about 2 months ago and we have no idea where they came from. There are rumours that they were left here in the night by someone who had too many. 5 have survived, and however they arrived here they are very friendly, noisy and rather nosey!

A new section of the south border has been planted up after being left clear for a season. We are hoping that we have eradicated the bindweed and ground elder but those types of weeds have a habit of sneaking back when noone is looking. There have been some lovely plants chosen to go back in the border and I am looking forward to next year when they have really settled in. We are hoping to lift the last section of the west end of the South border this season and repeat the process.

October Tasks

Prepare the garden for winter: keep drains and ponds etc free from leaves and debris, clean and store garden tools, ensure that greenhouse glass is clean, and that any shading has been replaced by insulation.
Feed roses with sulphate of potash to ripen the wood and make the plants more disease resistant.
Check tender plants for infestations of insects, and treat before returning them to their winter quarters.
Put frost protection round any plants that will be staying out for the winter.
Store undamaged apples and pears in a cool, dark well ventilated room such as a garage or garden shed.
Take hardwood cuttings of deciduous shrubs, and gather clematis seed for sowing in a cold frame.
place netting over ponds to catch leaves.
Change the plantings in hanging baskets for winter interest.
lift and divide herbaceous perennials

Friday, 2 September 2011

Hedges, hedges and more hedges....

The gardens are looking lovely this time of year. The picture is of one flower from the bank of cyclamen at the front of the house. I love cyclamen.

Hedge cutting has started again with gusto. The company that didn’t want our yew clippings last year has managed to find a buyer again, so we are saving the clippings and selling them on. Hedge cutting is a long and heavy task but one that is very satisfying. When I used to cut the hedges, several years ago now, I found it hard work but would enjoy looking back at the trimmed hedges at the end of the day. Then there are the box hedges to cut. Now they really are hard work, with all that bending down.

Thankfully this month has been kinder to the fish in the lake than last month. We have had rain and cooler weather. Although this hasn’t had any effect on the water levels it has increased the amount of oxygen available to the fish.

In the middle of the month the peahen finally gave up on her eggs and stopped sitting. This may have been just as well; she had been sitting on at least 9 eggs. I’m not sure what we would have done if they had all hatched...

The Armoured Picnic event was held in the middle of August, when reenactors of various eras get together for one big event in the fields at the front of Spetchley house. It is a fun event and the weather was very kind this year. Unfortunately, the following weekend we had a Caravan Club rally which, although very well attended, didn’t enjoy the same kindness from the weather. Thankfully the organisers had erected a very large ‘big top’ type tent so the caravaners were still able to enjoy themselves in the dry.

Best wishes


September Tasks

Keep cutting lawns, gradually raising the cut in preparation for winter.
Be particularly careful when picking tree fruit as wasps love windfalls and can become quite drunk, presenting quite a hazard.
Dead heading the herbaceous borders will prolong the display, but if you want to save seed, don’t forget to leave some flowerheads uncut.
Continue to pick runner beans etc. in the kitchen garden. It is not too late to sow quick crops of radish and lettuce.
It is not too late to cut back unruly wisteria, trimming off the wispy bits to 5 leaves, and tying in any branches to fill gaps.
Start taking cutting of tender plants such as salvias and penstemon, as insurance against the winter frosts.
Continue to trim hedges. Putting a sheet down first to catch the clippings will make clearing up a lot quicker.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Fish and Chicks...

This is a late missive. I know it would usually be posted on the first of the month but I have an excuse: I have been ill with a summer cold and was laid up in bed for 4 days. It was not a pleasant experience, but gave me an much needed opportunity to rest. We have had such a dry spell that when I returned to work the drought was very pronounced. The hoses and leaky pipe are out around the gardens. I have been speaking to Miss Berkeley who told me that in Yorkshire it has rained every day since the beginning of July. I have no idea whether this random fact is true but we do seem to have had less rain than the country as a whole.

It has also been so hot here that we were starting to worry about the carp in the lake, and the lake water appears really thick and green. This seems to a be a repeat of the drought of about 4 or 5 years ago when the lake became so airless that the largest carp started to suffocate and we called on the fire brigade to help aerate the water again. We have hired a couple of circulating pumps and run them when the atmosphere is particularly still.

We were out on the lake a few days ago paddling around in our Canadian canoe, sadly removing carp that hadn’t made it.
( Actually I didn’t: my husband kindly offered to take on the risk of falling into the green silty water and handling slimy, smelly fish. Needless to say, I fetched the camera but he didn’t oblige by falling in.) The land agent has arranged for the remaining fish to be netted and removed to a safer location.

The peahen is still sitting on what I think are 8 eggs. She rejected 2 eggs about 2 weeks ago. I was expecting the patter of tiny toes a few days ago now and am wondering whether the happy day will arrive or whether the eggs are infertile. Mum peahen is certainly very persistent however and very rarely moves off her nest. I’m not sure what I will do with 8 more peacocks to add to the 4 we already have. Any takers?...

August Tasks

Make sure you arrange for someone to pop in keep an eye on the greenhouse and veg plot if you are off on holiday. They will also need to check any veg that needs picking, such as runner beans and squashes.
Keep working with the hoe when the weather is warm enough.
Keep picking those sweet peas and remove seed pods if they form.
Continue to dead-head spent flowers, especially those of summer bedding, hanging baskets, and any remaining late flowering roses.
Start cutting hedges towards the end of the month. We start out yew hedges just before the August Bank Holiday
Continue collecting the seed from those annuals etc that you’d like to save.
Check tree ties and stakes for rubbing or constriction.
Now is a good time to start taking semi ripe cuttings of fuchsias, penstemon, pelargonium, salvia etc
Continue keeping an eye on fish ponds, and run aeration pumps during hot weather
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