Gardening Volunteer at Tatton Park Kitchen Garden, Knutsford, Cheshire

The first Tuesday in September was absolutely glorious, warm sunshine and in the morning what I call an Australian Sky – no cloud. By late afternoon we were wilting somewhat, but revived by an ice lolly. The Pear Rust is harder to find, but still present, especially on the branches too tall to reach. The Pear and Apple espaliers have all had their extension growth tied in. No sign of summer bird visitors.
Next, Raspberries. On another gloriously sunny day two of us commenced pruning out the fruited canes of the summer raspberries; unfortunately for me, as chief pruner, there were lots of hidden nettles amongst the canes, the seeds of which had obviously been brought in on the manure used to dress the rows, so I ended up with arms a-tingle. Flailing with nettles is supposed to be good for arthritis, so I await the result whilst smoothing on antihistamine cream. Other team members picked veg and lots of tomatoes for the shop, restaurant and tea room, together with the bounteous autumn raspberries, filling punnet after punnet, the harvest not diminished by the avians.
Yet again a glorious day but time to tackle The Vampire Plant. This is, of course, the Marionberry, a loganberry cross, six plants to be precise, with rampant vines that extract blood before they let you bend them to your will. For the last 12 years I have had to use two lines of post and rail fencing, the posts only being about 3ft high; I use one line for the fruiting vines, the other for the vines to fruit next year. This means in theory that the fruited vines are simply cut away from one wire, and the next year’s ones trained on the other, as the year progresses. Unfortunately for me the National Trust in 2001 insisted on the small post arrangement, which does not work however hard I try. The ideal arrangement would be for a single line of posts of at least seven feet, with several lines of wires, so that I could Serpentine the long and vigorous vines; not only would it be easier to manage, but it would look professional, pleasing and could even be considered a modern art installation instead of an awkward tangle.
The Equinox (equal day and night) was on 21 September; now we gently slide into Autumn with its stunning colour show. The six Marionberry vines are tamed (for now) after two full days of pruning and thinning. We are promised rain tonight, which will swell the John Innes Blackberry fruits, but will not soften the vicious thorns which are reluctant to relinquish their grasp of anything and anyone.
This has been the warmest and driest September since 1910 and ideal for tying in summer raspberries: four double rows, takes several full volunteer days, but worth the effort to protect the canes from wind damage during winter.
The first Sunday in October sees our Apple Tasting Day, so volunteers were busy picking and labelling apples and pears for such a delight; any left over will be named and put into storage in the Support Building, in view of passing visitors. Pumpkins and squashes of many varieties are also stored therein, waiting for Halloween.
Oh dear, a very very wet Tuesday spent tying in raspberries – other members of the team were in the Fig Houses picking figs and tomatoes and generally making the houses shipshape. The gardeners were in the support building, making shelving for the apple, pear and veg crops storage. These will be used by the shop, restaurant and café over the winter months. The constant downpour has not dampened the ardour of the stags in the Rut; the sheep are sheltering under the trees.
The last week of October, the clocks have been turned back. I spent the day side-stepping like a crab, edging the lawns surrounding the large soft fruit beds, the espaliers, the central pergola between the soft fruit beds and the orchard lawn, and the orchard lawn itself. Being a crab for the day took a good four hours, and the slip beds by the walls, equally long in length, will have to wait for another day. As I can’t get down on my knees, I hope some lithe volunteers on the other days will stoop to the challenge of picking up the cut edgings. It is half term and the Gardens are awash with children on the Halloween Ghost Trail, excited after looking at the many pumpkins and squashes lining the passageway of the support building leading to the garden entrance.

Assistant Head Gardener

JOB DETAILS: ASSISTANT HEAD GARDENER (Responsible for Walled Garden) An enthusiastic individual with a passion for walled gardens is sought for the position of Assistant Head Gardener on a historic 23 acre private estate in Berkshire, recently renovated in collaboration with the garden designer Dan Pearson. The primary responsibility of the gardener will be the effective running of a 1 acre walled garden, supporting glasshouses and cold frames. As part of the management team, the role also involves strategic involvement in the broader estate and applicants should have the confidence to cover for the Head Gardener if required. The walled garden provides diverse produce for the house, and is justifiably considered to be the heart of the Garden. It is also a garden room in its own right, with a contemporary aesthetic nestled within the embrace of the historic Lutyens walls. Experience and confidence growing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers along with plant propagation and glasshouse management are essential, along with excellent plant knowledge and good technical skills. It is expected that the person appointed will have an exceptional eye for detail and be able to maintain the walled garden to the highest possible standard. Applicants should therefore possess a Diploma in Horticulture, OR a minimum RHS level 2/3 Horticultural qualification (or equivalent) coupled to a proven track record. Candidates need to be highly organised, able to plan and prioritise their workload and have a flexible approach to work. Excellent communication skills are essential as the successful candidate will be expected to help present tours of the gardens to invited guests, supervise a full time member of staff and liaise closely with the Head Gardener, Chef and House Manager. Other key requirements include good I.T skills, as you will be required to maintain and work with electronic sowing/harvesting records and planting plans, and a willingness to oversee floral displays for the house. Some weekend watering duties will be required on a rota basis. ACCOMMODATION: Recently renovated 3 bedroom cottage SALARY: Circ £30k depending on experience LOCATION: Berkshire CONTACT:  mcox@nyazengu.com


July and August Musings

Gardening Volunteer at Tatton Park Kitchen Garden, Knutsford, Cheshire

All too soon the Groundwork Team of the RHS have fenced off the Showground much to the annoyance of the flock of sheep, who see that the grass is greener on the other side, running back and forth along the fencing to no avail. The Deer are calving at the moment, so have moved further into the wooded part of the Parkland.
The last consignment of weeds has been potted up for the show garden WW1 Trench.
Lots of excited school parties are roaming the formal gardens; it is nice to hear the childish chatter and see them enjoying their end of school year treat. I hoed the gravel flooring in the Tomato House where I work, and gathered a barrowful of weeds. Some interesting seedlings I left for further scrutiny.
The weather has been very warm and enjoyed by all, even those toiling on the Showground. All too soon the Show dates arrive and the medals are announced. The Tatton Gardeners won a Silver Gilt for their Tatton Reflects garden, showing four timelines: before the War, during the War, after the War and the present day.
Two of us have been missing from our Tuesday volunteering for two weeks, visiting the WW1 Battlefields in France and Belgium. None of the trees in the countryside are more than 90 years old, many of the scars have healed, but trenches are still apparent although greened over, and shell holes and explosion holes have become ponds. The name Somme actually means peace, which the area was anything but.
The Showground has mostly been returned to grassland, much to the relief of the sheep. The walkways are still visible, but have been spiked, soil laid down and the areas reseeded.
The tail-end of Hurricane Bertha had winds of biblical proportions and sadly these damaged most of the 12 glasshouses here. The Tomato House especially is now in a dangerous condition, surrounded by red and white tape barriers, so I worked outside and firstly walked through the raspberry rows, tucking in errant raspberry canes back under the retaining wires, then tried to persuade the flailing vines of the Marionberry (Loganberry), which will fruit next year, to lie in the correct direction.
It is that time of year again when Pear Rust makes its presence visible. The fungus overwinters on Juniper then ‘leaps over the wall’ into the Orchard. I spent the entire day picking off the leaves with orange patches on. This year the Rust doesn’t seem as bad; maybe last year’s picking off the leaves has lessened the infection this year. I can keep an eye on further outbreaks as I tie in the extension growth on the espaliered pears in the next week or two. The apple espaliers will also be checked. The rooks and magpies attack the fruit on the top rows, by balancing on the straining wires; this ‘vandalism’ opens the fruit up for wasps and other insects to indulge and leads to rotting fruit which can cause other problems. Hopefully they will have left some for our Apple Tasting Day on 05 October.
St Bartholemew’s Day (24 August) is said to be the start of heavy dews and the change of seasons.
Another day in the Orchard, two of us picking off Pear Rust on the three rows of freestanding pears in the Orchard lawn, and also picking up fallen apples. In the Kitchen Garden the Box hedges were receiving their final trim; the Team are finally getting on top of the weeds there. I believe there is a good case for a weed suppressing membrane, through which we can plant, and then top up with a mulch so the membrane is not visible to the Public. Certainly the soft fruit area in the Orchard would benefit immensely from this form of weed suppressant, as even with the best will in the world, there is not enough volunteer time to keep on top of the weeds in such an ideal weed-growing season as we have had.

Garden wanted

Experienced professional gardener based in London four days a week would like to spend the rest of the time making a productive garden outside the city. Willing to take on a site in need of restoration. Some form of accommodation would be required but only a minimal amount of rent could be paid.
My experience has been in botanic gardens and particularly with medicinal and useful plants but I would like to grow more edible plants, fruit and vegetables as well to provide a source of income to help to finance the project.
Please contact Jane at jknowly@yahoo.co.uk

May June Musings

Gardening Volunteer at Tatton Park Kitchen Garden, Knutsford, Cheshire

Hurrah, Hurrah, for the First of May …. (I’ll let you guess what I was going to say!) The Hawthorn hedges lining the lanes on the way to work are a delight to behold. We can ‘cast our clout now the May be out’. However, in the 1700s May the month was still quite cold, so clouts weren’t cast until the end of the month. The word Hawthorn comes from the old English word ‘haga’ meaning enclosure (as by hedging). Hawthorn was thought to ward off evil and was hung by doors and windows.
Pricking out of bedding plants continues apace, and we are rapidly running out of room and nine-cell trays. Runner beans are being planted out in engineering precision rows of canes. (We have at least one engineer among our number on Tuesdays). Weeds are enjoying the moisture and warmth and are also growing defiantly well.
The red, white and black currant beds are being thoroughly weeded and will then be dressed with straw to conserve moisture to encourage good fruiting. The gooseberry bushes are next for the weeders to work their magic, followed by the raspberry rows.
A pair of ducks has nested in the damp corner of the Rhubarb Walk. Mother Duck and her entourage of nine/ten ducklings (moving too fast to properly count) patrol the Kitchen Garden and Orchard to the delight of the volunteers and visitors.
The Swallows and Swifts are returning, swooping over the Orchard and the Stable Yard. This Yard also houses a Carousel, originally steam driven, but now powered by a splendid diesel contraption which generates electricity to drive the ‘merry-go-round’ during school holidays. Whilst it is a delight to the day visitors, the staff hate it because the loud music, which is on a perforated sheet loop, has not changed in at least 12 years. We find it hard to chat when we are in the Bothy for lunch. We all wish the operator could find another sheet loop of different jolly music.
Whit holiday fun for the children sees a Bee Trail round the Gardens, organised by the Education Department. The squeals of the children when they find a large papier mache Bee hidden in the trees are a delight, and almost drown out the Carousel.
National Volunteer Week in June sees the National Trust Volunteers rewarded for 5, 10, 15 and 20 years service. The achievements of members of the other days’ teams of volunteers were recognised. This year several of the Tuesday Team (my team) received awards, including the special needs married couple, Kathryn & Stephen who received their 10 Year Award. They were so proud, as were their family and their fellow volunteers of their achievement. After the presentations the participants were given a conducted tour of the Formal Gardens by the Head Gardener.
Seeds for the American Garden plantings were sown; these will be over wintered and planted out next year, provided the rabbits are persuaded to go elsewhere. We have found that supposedly rabbit-proof grasses (Panicum) planted last year were no match for the Tatton nibblers. Hopefully they don’t like Echinaceas and Eupatorium.
The hedgerows on the lanes to work are now festooned with wild pink and also white Roses, plus Elder flowers, with skirts of Ox-eye Daisies and Cow Parsley. Blackberries are in flower, as is the pungent Ransomes, wild garlicking the warm air.
Good weather brings lots of school parties, visitors and organised garden groups and many seem to come to the Glasshouse at regular intervals to ask how to get to the Italian Garden and also into the Fernery, Show House and Conservatory. Either the garden maps are not clear or the signage, if we have to redirect a dozen or more times.
The Staff Midsummer Barbeque, to which the volunteers were invited, was good and some folk tried their skills at Segway driving; I’m banned due to my metal hips.
Tatton Park has been crowned Best Large Visitor Attraction in the country by the prestigious Visit England Awards. More than 300 attractions competed.
I spent a whole day potting up an assortment of weeds. No, I have not ‘lost the plot’; these are for the WWI Trench part of our Show Garden at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show next month. The Groundwork Team will soon be here and the deer will have to move to a quieter part of the Parkland

In the Parkland the Rangers’ survey revealed 30 large trees had been blown down by extremely strong winds, the sodden soil failing to provide an adequate anchor. Some trees will be left to rot down naturally, to provide a habitat for invertebrates and other creatures, as well as assorted fungi, thus increasing the wildlife diversity of the Park.

The Tuesday Team continued last month’s tasks by gathering up the rest of the brash brought down by the gales in the Formal Gardens, mainly in Charlotte’s Garden and along the Broad Walk leading to the Japanese Garden, the Tower and Rose Gardens. The Gardeners were advised not to stand still whilst the scarecrows from the half-term festival were being collected, otherwise they may find themselves gathered up, too.

I am back in the glasshouse, sowing seed, pricking out onion seedlings, and potting on plants for the American Garden. Help was at hand with my two petite and slightly older helpers, Sue and Gill.  For the Kitchen Garden they planted lots of peas in trays for starting off in the glasshouse, and hopefully these will avoid the attention of mice.   I planted 300 broad beans likewise; both these sowings should show themselves in the next week or so.  We also tidied and repotted some succulent greenhouse plants and therefore had a productive day.

Quite a few panes of glass have blown out with the gales, and hopefully they will soon be replaced so the glasshouse can reach its proper heat and the annoying draughts and drips everywhere will cease. It’s nearly as wet inside as outside.

The Daffodils are blooming, the weeping Willow is greening, the Pussy Willow has fluffy buds, the spring blossom trees including magnificent Magnolias are arrayed in their finery, the Peach blossom in the Peach Case is so lovely, and the sun is shining.

Six varieties of lettuce were pricked out by us three; for five we managed 15 x 9 cell trays, and the last one 10 x 9 cell trays, a staggering total of 765 seedlings. The Stables Restaurant and Gardener’s Cottage Café will be well supplied for salads!

Another week and the weather is ‘dreich’, so extra helpers appeared in the glasshouse, including Des and Graham, who manfully barrowed compost and filled trays of 18 x 3.5” pots, and even pricked out 108 cucumbers and a similar number of tomato plants. The rest of the team pricked out similar numbers of two sorts of cauliflower and one of cabbage as well as different varieties of tomato and planted runner bean seeds and winter squash seeds in pots. These will all be moved to other glasshouses in the Kitchen Garden and Nursery once they have settled in, as the space will be needed for more food crops and flowers for the beds in the Formal Gardens. The Gardeners have put an Easter Bunny Trail round the gardens, ready for the Easter Holidays, although as it is too early for English carrots, good plastic look-alikes may have to be used.

Another wet week and nearly the late Easter, but the Team worked gamely in the Orchard, hoeing winter moss off the espalier and glasshouse beds, and scarifying/ raking moss off the lawns. Red Baron onions, Aubergines and Schizanthus were pricked out, and more sowings of flowers made. The Fernery, the Conservatory (formerly the Orangery) and the Show House linking the two were picked over and weeded through, making a noticeable difference.

Pumpkins, summer and winter squashes have been sown; these will hopefully provide a good display for Halloween, as well as produce for the Garden Shop. Pricking out and potting up of bedding plants is now in full swing. Early potatoes are being planted, and the Fig Houses (which do have Fig trees) prepared for tomato plants, which funnily enough are not grown in the Tomato House (which is painted green): this is used for sowing and potting purposes, and for keeping an eye on newly sown/pricked out plants before they are transferred to other glasshouses for growing on until they are ready for planting out in the gardens.

My name is Liz and I’m contacting you from Silver River Productions, a TV company based in London. We are currently in production for a BBC2 primetime gardening show ‘The Big Allotment Challenge.’

The series follows a handful of talented amateur kitchen gardeners as they transform a plot of earth in our walled garden into a patch of beauty and reveal all the wonderful possibilities that can be unlocked from allotment growing.

We are looking for contestants to feature in the series, those who have the skill and dedication and who could dig their way to victory and be crowned the winner of ‘The Big Allotment Challenge.’ People who can cultivate the perfect carrot, make their green tomatoes into tasty chutney and turn their dahlias and sweet peas into floral arrangements.

So whether you’re an allotmenteer, a city living window box grower, or a gardening enthusiast, we want to hear from you. We are coming to the end of our application process so email grow@silverriver.tv for an application form today!


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