Gardening Volunteer at Tatton Park Walled Kitchen Garden & Orchard
March “many weathers” is named after Mars, the Roman god of war; so now we make war on weeds which have continued to grow through the winter. The Tuesday Team (a force to be reckoned with) barrowed many tons of manure (not all at once) in relays into the Kitchen Garden, as a change from the ‘rhodo bashing’ and ‘ivy stripping’ undertaken in previous weeks. The special needs couple have been tasked with cleaning out and refurbishing several large and overgrown cold frames in the old nursery. This worthwhile and useful project will be done entirely to their own satisfaction, but will keep them happy and feeling useful for several months. My ‘team’ are back in the glasshouse used for propagation purposes and we spent useful days repotting the begonia collection, plants for the Show House, etc. Seed sowing of vegetables and flowers is gearing up a notch, with increasing volumes of pricking out and potting on as a consequence – seeds sown in the glasshouse on Thursday afternoon were ready for pricking out Tuesday morning – all raring to grow. Hardening off in cold frames will wait until after the Blackthorn Winter this month. St Patrick’s Festival Week was good humoured ‘paddymonium’. I think we have a small patch of shamrock on the Rockery; it’s a form of Medicago.
“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare” (W H Davies 1870-1940) – I spent 10 fascinating minutes watching first a wren methodically going from pot to pot in the ‘cold acclimatising lean-to’, finding ‘beasties’ aplenty, then several varieties of titmice flitting about the orchard on a similar mission: coal, blue, great and long-tailed. Sparrows seemed intrigued by the raindrops on the Cornus stems, and spent some time chasing and drinking the drops. “If March gives a day of sun and heat, we’ll soon have one of snow and sleet.” The next day the drops were frozen like crystals as we experienced minus temperatures and mini blizzards, then welcome sun again. I also noticed Lesser Celandine, Windflower (Anemone blanda), Crocus, colour in Willow twigs – a welcome sight at the Spring Equinox. At this time in the distant past, loaves marked with a cross were made by Pagans, symbolising the four seasons to come. Frogspawn also seems to appear around the Spring Equinox. Lots of lovely leafmould was barrowed into the Kitchen Garden throughout the day.
April: the Roman month Aprilis, perhaps derived from aperire, (Latin to open, as in opening buds and blossoms) or perhaps from Aphrodite, original Greek name of Venus. A couple of days without morning frost brings forth the Hazel catkins and Pussy Willow as well as the Daffodils and Chionodoxa. The Peach Case ‘residents’ are in full blossom of which both the foreign visitors and ourselves were appreciative. The unused cottage once housing the head gardener is being converted into a tearoom; the cottage once used by the assistant head gardener at the other end of the support building has for some years housed the gardeners’ bothy and the garden office.
Digging has commenced in the Kitchen Garden; the rhythm of the season heard in the music of the spade and the soil – and more manure is barrowed in to feed the soil. The Gardens theme this year (running to the end of September) is Beatrix Potter, with a trail round the garden finding the various characters in her children’s books.
Planting of early potatoes, broad beans and peas is in full swing, the peas being ‘sticked’ to help them climb upwards. Soft fruit has been weeded and mulched. Wood Anemone, Spiraea (Bridal Veil), some Camellias and Magnolias are flowering in spite of the high winds, which tidied the park and gardens somewhat with neat piles of leaves in all the nooks and crannies. Some branches have also been ‘wind pruned’.
This year, on the last Tuesday of April we do no work at all as it has been designated a Volunteer Celebration Day – however, I noticed that yet more tons of manure awaits barrowing for the following week. Aaargh!