Swing time: April’s temperatures oscillated between 24 degrees one day to minus 2 the following, frost dazzling us in morning sunshine. The bluebells were just beginning to unfurl their heads, Knepp welcomed new calves and a pair of storks industriously constructed an impressive nest atop one of the long chimneys on the castle. They glide above the walled garden with a seemingly nonchalant air, a duo of managerial inspectors concerned with higher things.
Early in the month, Elizabeth Westaway and Mathew Adams from GRFFN [Growing Real Food for Nutrition], kindly gave us an hour of their time to explain in greater detail their plans for the development of a Bio Nutrient Meter. It’s a small handheld device using light refraction to measure the nutrient density of fruit and vegetables. They are running a Citizen Science Project to provide the meter with enough detailed sample data to calibrate the results in concise form. Mathew undertook a small UK study in 2019 using a BRIX test, which takes a more general measurement of the carbohydrate content of a crop. Some of the interesting discoveries he made were that non-certified organic produce scored higher than those from certified organic farms, and hydroponic grown crops, [grown without soil], came in last. In almost all cases taste was better in those with high nutrient density. It will be so interesting to follow their progress, and we’re particularly keen to see how results relate to soil health.
In the warmth of the greenhouse, seedlings of tomatoes, peppers and aubergines began to gain their first true leaves, while outside snow arrived, settling incongruously amongst the fresh spring greens of the kitchen garden beds. The Met office tells us it’s more likely to snow in April than November, but still, it makes the long warm evenings seem truly distant.
Graeme Lyons’ baseline invertebrate survey arrived and filled us with the vision of last summer, the report recording 333 species in total. We were surprised at the number, twenty-one of which held conservation status. Notable characters were an adult female Bee-wolf among the Pool Garden lavender, and some unusual Small Red-eyed Damselflies gathering around the top of the mature Catalpa bignonioides. The former specifically predates Honey Bees to feed its young by paralysing them and taking the stunned body into their burrows. He had roughly split the garden into four sections, and it was in the kitchen garden and the “scruffy vegetated edge” of the south facing Old Peach House wall where he found the most diversity. This mix of plentiful nectar source from the garden beds and warm, sheltered and undisturbed habitat at the paths edge is a lesson for us in garden rewilding; supply plenty of varied chemical- free flowers and resist the urge to weed and tidy in certain places.
Small Red-eyed Damselfly
After the snow, came dry days of sun. It suited our purposes, digging out some of the larger shrubs along the north facing wall of the stable yard bed, ready for the last phase of the Kitchen Garden planting. With the combined factors of Covid, Brexit and the huge surge in popularity of gardening and growing in the last year, it has been a challenge to source the plant list. Some of the species are more unusual or need to be the edible version of a genus to conform to the foragers theme of the design.
We had one eye on the Breedon gravel of the paths in the dry heat, watching them form a carapace resembling concrete. We were wondering how we might efficiently plant into those ‘dirty paths’ beneath the cap, without waking up too many weed seeds sealed within. A plan was formed, to thoroughly irrigate the surface, one person leading in Pied Piper style, ramming guide holes with an iron pike while the trowel bearers followed behind, burrowing out the cool earth in neat vertical tunnels.
The delivery day arrived: ten Dutch trolleys crammed with three thousand plants trundled into the garden to be checked and counted. Honor Reekie and Ed Shackleton from Tom Stuart Smith’s HQ swiftly followed, spending the day concentrating their brows and efforts on laying out predominantly nine-centimetre pots. They were following the loose waves of the gravel and soil mix beds beneath the gravel top paths from the plans; the central solid path indistinguishable from the beds until the planting takes hold and the winding walkway is revealed. There were eight species of Allium going in, six of lavender, a selection of oreganos, thymes and rosemarys from the fantastic Jekka Mcvicar’s Herb Farm. Tom finished off the whole picture adding larger shrubs like Cornus Kousa, [Japanese dogwood], Aralia cordata, [spikenard] Amelanchier alnifolia, [saskatoon], to the stable yard bed among currants and climbers, ferns and bugle.
A wonderful planting party ensued with extra hands kindly volunteering, joined in a single endeavour, spring sunshine toasting our shoulders. A picture unfolded behind the clusters of kneeling planters, the plans finally a reality, a vision of the plant’s potential in reach. After a long year of challenges, the sensation of arriving at a destination was welcome, the feeling of warmth and satisfaction equaling the sun’s rays.
Moy Fierheller Joint Head Gardener April 2021
What we’re reading;
2021 Programme — Garden Masterclass Post-wild landscapes: working with the natural process – Jo McKerr with Marina Christopher & Jason Mitchell