Mar 31, 2008

Sustainability in England

Sustainability........ This is one of the subjects that i was interested in seeing and learning about while abroad. So what is it? There a multiple ways to desribe it such as it is a way to make the most of the land but making sure that the land is in good, or better condition in the following years to come. It is a way to think about our own, and others' current and long-term needs and improving our quality of life while leaving the environment as we would hope to find it.
This can be done in many ways such as buying local seasonal food(fruits and vegetables are fresher and tastier at farmers markets) which in turn the money goes back into the local economy, making the home more energy efficient, using fuels from renewable sources and cutting down on the use of cars. So what does this all have to do with England?
Behind Great Dixter you have woodlands called the 4Acre Shore. This an ancient woodland with its forest floor that is covered with the wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa). It is known that it is an undisturbed ancient woodland forest because the wood anemones grow so slowly (only 3cm a year) and the ground is just carpeted with them. So what do these woods have to do with sustainability?
The woods here a full of Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) that normally have a large single trunk and grow up to be handsome and sinewy trees. These trees do not get to mature that way though. They are part of a coppiced woodland which is an important traditional woodland management technique.
Once the Hornbeams become mature, the trees are harvested for their wood- to be burned in the fireplaces of many homes here. The stumps are left in the ground where multiple stems are then allowed to regrow from that one cut tree. You would let this regrow for the traditional 13 years before you are able to cut from the same area of the woods again. Typically you have 13 different sections in the woods to rotate through so you are never depleting the one section of wood before you have to. Above you will see how these thin trees all grow from one area.
This is not only good for the fireplace but it also creates a unique habitat and biodiversity. It is known that alot of British flowering plants, mammals and insects flourish in this rotational system. Some rare species of flora and fauna are only found in woodlands using the rotational coppicing systems. The wood below is what you would use to start your fires and keep them burning. Hornbeam wood burns very bright fires too. Another way to try to be sustainable is to eat seasonally. Mark, Aaron and I decided we would try to do this. We have already had wild garlic soup which Aaron picks in the mornings and cooks up for dinner- delicious and full of vitamins and minerals. So we decided to get a little more daring. After getting a Wild Food Cookbook we thought we would try Stinging Nettle soup and tea. It is a horrible feeling to touch this plant- my hand stung for 3 days after grabbing it unkowingly while weeding. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is commonly found throughout the British Isles. These are the proper tools for collecting..... It is best to collect when the shoots are no more than a few centimeters high. These plants contain iron, increase hemoglobin in the blood, improves circulation, purifies the system and has a good general toning effect on the body. It is also known to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels too. The soup itself consisted of onion, potatoes, 2 gloved handfuls of nettle heads, olive oil, salt/pepper, chicken stock and cream. The soup was very good and think i will be eating it again. The tea on the other hand was not so good......... It tasted like dishwater but if made again i might have a glass.

I find these new ways of thinking about sustainability, for me at least, to be very exciting. I know i may not have the access to woodlands when i get home but will try other ways to continue this way of life.

Meanwhile, back at Great Dixter, the pot displays are beginning to take off. The displays of pots get rotated in and out depending on what is in bloom. The front door always looks like a color bomb went off.......... This weeks star is the vine called Tropaeolum tricolorum.

Mar 24, 2008

Spring, Sissinghurst and Hastings.....

After a month(!) of being in England, buds on the trees are finally beginning to open. The bulbs will soon be taking a backseat to some of the Malus and the Magnolias that are getting ready to bloom. The temperature was getting a bit warmer but there was soon a drop and the weather went from sun to snow.... Even though some plants in the garden are just waking up from their long deep sleep, Fergus' magic is obvious and apparent by putting them straight to work.
Here is the emerging colored foliage of Spiraea japonica 'Gold Flame' underplanted with Hyacinthus orientalis 'Delft Blue' in the Barn garden. Regal jewel tones combine with only the use of two plants.

The unfurling of the fern fronds, otherwise known as crosiers, stretching upwards to get energy from the sun. Some ferns are edible in this stage of growth, though i have never had them. Has anyone? Are they good?
Here is Mark watering in some bedding plants that were tucked into the Tulips so the succession of color will continue on... Ladybird poppies will soon flower adding large splashes of red to continue on with garden succession. Anyone have any good suggestions for spring combinations that they like to use in their garden? We took a ride to Hastings which is a 20 minute drive south and is right on the coast. This was an important fishing port for centuries and you can still see the buildings where the fisherman would hang their large nets to dry. One of the many quaint side streets. We had to purchase 'wellies' which are rubber boots. These were necessary because with all of the rain comes mud and it just gets everywhere.
These little guys were seen in one of the windows of a bakery. This is the first view of the English Channel that I have had yet. I hear in summer it is still really cold to swim in though. I'll take their word for it.
Sissinghurst garden is right in Kent which is only a short drive away. It was created by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. She bought Sissinghurst as a ruin and took it on, while he was in the Diplomatic service and this was where they retired too. Vita was a writer (who was lovers with Virginia Woolf) and had her study in the tower which she allowed no one to visit. The more I walked through the gardens the more it was understood. There are many pockets and rooms throughout with many vistas to see. There were always details to enjoy like these tulips on display. This may seem strange for some to do, thinking why not just plant them into the garden, but once they start to decline you just move the pot out of view. Smart... One of the many flowering Quinces that were espaliered through out the walled gardens.
Another lovely and striking spring combination of Helleborus orientalis (purple/mauve flowered) and with Scilla bithinica underneath. One wonders what the next plants to come up are? The meadow with their beehives. And just another vista....... I am very interested in following this garden through the seasons.....
This is the silhouette of the European Robin, smaller and rounder than the ones at home. They are very curious birds and will fly within a foots distance to watch what you are doing in the garden . When worms come out while weeding, I usually toss them in the direction of the closest bird. They snatch it immediately and are always happy for a free meal.

My cousin Cathy came to visit this weekend, she had an interview at West Dean for their furniture restoration program. Congratulations on being accepted Cathy!!

Mar 13, 2008

On Saturday morning Aaron and I picked Mark up from Heathrow airport. He said he breezed through customs in less than a minute. Go figure, huh. Mark and I went through the Professional Gardener Training Program together at Longwood Gardens. Once we got back to Great Dixter Mark kept looking around in awe. (A few people have asked me questions about Great Dixter and I feel though I can explain what it is to a certain degree, I would like to send you to their website. This will do justice to what Great Dixter is and what it stands for. Here is the link: )

And now a few words from Mark: Great Dixter is absolutely stunning- both the gardens and the house. I have been here five days and I am still having 'wow' moments. Despite all of the pictures I have seen and all of the descriptions I have heard, I still was not prepared for how amazing it is here. Whenever I need inspiration, I simply look up at the house and count the chimneys! I am thrilled to be here and look forward to the coming months. On Sunday I took Mark on the footpaths to show him the surrounding countryside. I purchased a Collin's Wildflower Guide while at Wisley, so we took that on our walk and started keying out flowers on the way around. Right now in the coppiced woodland (more on this great idea later) the wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) are carpeting the ground. The English bluebell is not far behind with it's foliage creeping through the forest floor. We came across this plant on the side of a dirt road. It's a native Orchid and we are not sure which one yet. There are a few early blooming Orchids here so we are keeping an eye on it to see the bloom. A back roads sign that brought images of feral children to mind. It started to rain, again, while out walking but caught sight of not one but a double rainbow forming. I could see the beginning and ending of both rainbows but couldn't get it in the photograph. The one was alot brighter than the other and they only lasted a few minutes.
On Monday there was a study day with Fergus talking about Succession Planting in the Mixed Border. It was in Yeomans Hall in the house. Many notes were taken and diagrams drawn in my notebooks. It was a great talk, with amazing slides, in the sense that it helped me understand what to expect with the Long Border in the coming months. It gave detailed ideas on how to really maximize the use of your garden space. This is through the use of different perennials and bedding plants, self-sowers, and climbers.
Fergus talked about Pea sticks to grow climbers up. These are younger branches of Carpinus betula (something that won't root into the soil) that are used to build a structure for the plants to grow through and look almost similar to a shrub. I built this one earlier in the week while working with him in the Long Border. It was built for different types of Clematis sp. some perennial peas too. The one built below was to get the vine to grow up into the tree. I learned about the importance of succesion with plants such as Allium neopolitano and Begonia grandis. When one is active above ground, the other is dormant below and then they switch while never leaving an empty space in the garden bed. Here tulips that are planted in the border are pulled out once they start to go, they are dried on racks to go dormant, are counted and then stored to be used again the next year in a different area. Many great things were learned and Fergus was such a great speaker. The talk and the slides kept many smiles on the faces of the gardeners who participated. The ominous Gunnera manicata awakening from it's winter sleep. The leaves of this plant are huge and extremely tall. Once fully emerged I will show the scale of this monstrous plant.I wanted to say that I have gotten some emails from friends sharing stories about plants they are growing and what is happening back home. A good friend of mine, Joseph,
wrote to tell me about the excitement of the first Galanthus coming up in his backyard in Harlem. He was excited to see the Monkey Puzzle tree I wrote about since he had planted some in his backyard. Since he has Southern Magnolia already flourishing there he figured why not try the Monkey Puzzle. There are alot of microclimates in urban environments where you can sometimes grow things that normally you wouldn't be able too. This email came at a good time because I will be doing my first interview soon with a gardener who is gardening in a microclimate in London. It's a beautiful garden, a great gardener, and if you do have any questions or curiosties please let me know. I will gladly ask her.

And now, since it is dark and cold out, a few of us will be sitting next to the fire with some food and special cider.......... (there is a gardener here who knows the recipe of the cider......... i promise to interview them too to get that recipe...................:)

Mar 6, 2008

What a first week it's been and it's not over yet............

It could not have been a better first week and there's still a few more days to go.... Here are some photos I have taken around the garden. My room is where the two double windows are in the yellow part of the house on the second floor (right below the roof). And as you can see all of the bulbs are going nuts right now......

Here is a closeup of that madness..........

A beautifully done espalier against the wall........The front meadow again with a clipped hedge......Simple pink Camelia blossoms in a simple pink vase in the pantry kitchen........
On the way to Peasmarsh to get some groceries I saw this view down someones driveway. I thought it was pretty appropriate to show that I have officially "landed". There are trails that you can take throught the countryside called footpaths and pedestrians have the right of way even though they go through private properties. I followed some and kept waiting to get shot at but never did. There are so many fields you get to walk to and so many beautiful views. There is a windmill that I plan on walking to and also a castle. So far these guys are the only living things I have encountered....
Another foot path that I call the "scary footpath" because it was dark from all the pines and huge, massive doves kept flying out and startling me, and it was also getting dark. I plan on going back to this spot though to see the ferns when they awaken (they are the brown on the lower right).This is my favorite neighbor so far, his name is Ringo and he calls and calls when I come to visit. You will love my new friend......On Tuesday I had the pleasure of going to Wisley Gardens with Fergus where he was to judge some perennial plants with others. These are the trial fields of Wisley where all of the plants are available to the public in the trade. It was great to see all of the information regarding the plants. And here is my first sighting of our favorite celebrity tree, the Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana). It seemed he didn't want his photo taken as he kept flipping me off.......
Wisley is well known for it's fruit orchards and programs...... I know one fine lady gardener who has been looking into this program.....................The beautiful hillside garden with it's many glorious conifers........And the new glass house at Wisley, a beautiful shape. I also went sheep herding with Fergus' sheep too............ I am now a country boy. And here with any further ado is Ringo...............