Friday 11 May 2012

Grounds Update May 11th 2012

Out in the grounds and gardens at Compton Verney, time has been in very short supply of late, and an update/record of some kind, for the progress in the grounds is long overdue. As ever, the main subject of late has been the weather, unsurprisingly, for it controls, effects and shapes each and every one of our living days, and this spring has proved particularly challenging. With such a mild late winter and early spring, we could have been forgiven for thinking summer was underway – albeit an early one, but a downward slide into what amounts to a rainy season proved otherwise, and we are now into the last month of spring with no current sign of a let up. At the risk of sounding like just another Englishman rambling on about the weather, I think for once, it could do with a little expansion - so please forgive me!

Rainy Days at Compton Verney. Gary Webb.
Obviously we have no control of the weather, unfortunately, but even though it ultimately directs a gardener’s day, I don’t tend to worry about it or let it overly change my mood – it is what it is, and sometimes we just need to get on with it – come rain hail or shine. Naturally, I pay each weather forecast close attention, as it can influence the type of work we can effectively tackle, consequently the forecast can be vital for work planning, especially where that work involves soil; be it digging or travelling over. Soil, or more correctly, the level of moisture held within, is the governing factor, and the deciding factor as always in a garden is the speed at which the surface drains.
As with many workers in their gardens, I have learned what areas retain water, and where the soil drains freely. There are areas of the lawns for example, especially the site of a removed pond that disappear beneath puddles for some time, and there are areas within the woodland that can still be worked without ill effect; even during periods of rain. Remains of the late 18th century footpaths, as a point of interest, are situated inches below the grass surface in many locations; and these areas also retain moisture in varying amounts. Some locations shrug off the water and remain solid, and can therefore be driven across any time, yet other locations can be damaged even by foot traffic.

Nevertheless, in spite of so much attention given to the weather, and whatever it chooses to send our way, I can assure you that on any given day there is plenty of work to be tackled. Also, there is a great deal more to alter the course of a smooth work day than just the weather; as I’m sure you’re all aware… Thinking back, there was a fascinating visit by a falconer to test the grounds for its 'flight' shows an amazing 15 minute diversion!

Compton Verney test flight, or landing to be precise.
On a more positive note, we have managed to forge ahead with work, the most engaging subject for me being planting. Many of last autumns planting has settled in nicely, with Tulips grabbing the limelight for the last few weeks; it has been enquired about frequently. With its delicate appearance and bright yellow head, the ‘Wild’ Tulip calmly calls for attention in the woodland clearings and I hope it will settle and spread over the coming years. Lily-of-the-valley, Snowdrops and English Bluebells have also established well, and I’m hopeful of a good show next year.

Compton Verney Ice House Coppice Develops. Gary Webb. 

A selection of shrubs have been added to baulk up the planting throughout the coppice, and I shall enlighten you as to the fascinating variety that is now to be found in this part of the garden in a future post. For the time being however, I can promise a fruitful and floriferous future with strawberry trees, orange ball and guelder Rose, bird cherries and snowberry amidst many others. In addition to the shrubs, perennials are being trialled in the coppice to see what thrives and proves resistant to foraging animals. I’m quietly confident that the newly planted hearts tongue and male ferns are quite resistant to rabbits, and the Geranium macrorrhizum, with its smelly foliage is so far untouched and presumably quite safe. Maybe you can tell me if the Stinking Hellebore will also resist attack or can advise of any other woodland plants that would be worth a try? It’s worth remembering; I’m trying to stick to native, naturalised or pre 1800 plant varieties.

Staying in the coppice, the woodland wildflowers introduced along the path margins last year are establishing nicely, and I’ve spotted several species within the grass sward that can stay. The more leafy specimens will be relied upon to not only keep the grass at bay, but to add all important interest for insects and us woodland lovers. I am of course, with some voluntary help removing the nettles and hedge garlic (Jack-by-the-hedge) nearest the path, as there are great swathes of them farther back, and these are to be permanently retained as they are attractive to our butterflies – see link below.

Compton Verney - Growth shoots forth in the Coppice.
Moving across the lake to the rear of the mansion, or the west lawn to be precise, the grass sward is now lush and growing away. Despite having eighty odd acres of parkland down to wildflowers, the west lawn, being particularly species rich, thankfully provides room for more. An area of around an acre, (imagine a football pitch most people say,) is left to grow wild until mid summer, and has for some while resembled a duvet studded with Dandelion buttons. Today the little seeds were drifting across the lawn towards the lake, catching the sunlight beautifully. The colourful Dandies have made way for the Cowslips, which have enjoyed a good season standing above the grass, and a variety of other plant species are competing to stay above the grass sward. Footpaths through and around the west lawn allow all the associated butterflies to be seen close up, and if you do make time to visit Compton Verney, do try and make it across to the west lawn – the short walk will surely be worth it. (The footpath around the lawn now follows the line of the Capability Brown footpaths which give beautiful views across the flowers to the mansion!)

Compton Verney - Cowslips - Primula veris. Gary Webb.

Finally, at least for this post, I need to point you towards the chapel, which is receiving much attention thanks to a push for funding, this is required so that we may continue its restoration. We’ve been working on the borders near the chapel with particular attention directed towards the shrubs and open spaces, pruning to control vigour, promote lower growth and help the shrubs knit together more effectively. We’ve also began the first wave of planting to areas previously left bare, and have picked up on the herb theme nearby to bring some much needed interest to the banks with a variety of foliage forms and textures. Jenny, one of my treasured grounds volunteers has done the planting and repaired the clematis supports, and will hopefully be keeping an eye on progress, having a hand in the development. Anyhow, I think I’ll finish up now, and leave you to follow up some of the links added below. There are the two main locations I look to for weather information – hopefully this will be handy for local folks, and another site that is worth a look if you need justification for a nettle patch or three – wink wink!

Don’t forget, I’m now doing a monthly grounds tour of an hour long covering many aspects of the grounds and their management. Next one is June 7th at 1pm and is included in cost of admission - how good is that!

Bye for now, Gary.

Met Office Weather - Stratford
XC Weather Forecast - Compton Verney
Butterflies and nettles 
Grounds Tours


Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

What a place to be / to work!

And what would we do without football pitches to measure things by?

Gardener Gary said...

It is quite a place isn't it! And yes, at least football has come in handy for something!