Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Bourton House Topiary - before and after. Makita memory shtick. Will Gould in Yucatan

This has turned into another bumper  issue. Don't forget new posts are announced on twitter @pwhorticulture and just to let you know that I am leading a Cotswold garden tour this July as part of  Cotswold Walks 2013 programme and it takes in Bourton House which ties in very nicely with  this post's main feature. Be nice to see you there.

Right, here we go..........

I worked  as head gardener at Bourton House for eighteen years. As head gardeners will know get the right team and the job can be the best job ever.  At Bourton we had various gardeners come and go but for a period I had what I have always thought of as my dream team, a golden era! They were two people who had, in different ways, a huge enthusiasm and energy for the garden. There was an eagerness to learn and a genuine excitement when say something new would flower for the first time - they were a real pleasure to work with. They were  Heather Balhatchet nee Price and Will Gould. Will has contributed below to this blog with a piece on his trip to Yucatan.
One criteria for the professional garden photographers who came to the garden regularly was that they had to take a picture of the garden team for our records.The best  picture of them all was the one below taken by Marie O'Hara. I worked with Marie on several occasions and she had imagination, patience, great technical skill and always a great sympathy for the subject.

I am proud to present  my dream team


It is all too often the case that designers create a  garden  and then leave it in the 'safe' hands of the client and either  never see it again or see it again a few years later only to find that the no doubt well meaning  meddling of an inexperienced  gardener or the client themselves  has  diluted  their intention to the point where they want to disclaim ownership of the design. It is usually the planting that has been messed with or been badly maintained rather than changes to the basic structure of the garden.

At Bourton I had been in the fortunate position of being able to originate a project from a very elemental start - rooting the cuttings - then nurture it for a number  of years and  then leave it only  to come back many years later to a mature planting that except for minor changes has turned  out exactly as I hoped it would. The project had been to create an architectural feature of box and yew with  an  ironwork centre piece in front of the house.

.   We raised several hundred  box cuttings in cold frames.  Plans were drawn and work began. The topiary garden was developed in front of the house. We dug up the large expanse of gravel covering the space where originally carriages would have  drawn up  to the main entrance. A year or two earlier we had created a much smaller box garden which you can see was left in place to be cannibalised once the larger area of ground was prepared.

 First of all the pattern was marked out with small flower pots to see if it was going to work before  planting began. It all looked so skinny back then. The short sections of box were waiting to grow into a chunkier green version of the terracotta rope edging much loved by the Victorians.The thin wedges were box, the flanking columns - very small here- were yew and the lollipops were Portugal laurel. If I remember correctly the diagonals on the wall were Pyracantha. The picture was taken in spring with the Tulipa kaufmanniana waiting  for some sunshine before they  open their faces to the sky.   

Cuddly serpents.

Is it real?  

We had made a rod for our own backs when it came to clipping time.The  box has been expertly  and lovingly clipped by subsequent garden teams to superb effect.The topiary was established before Box Blight reared its ugly head in 1994 which has been an advantage and  scrupulous attention to hygiene and continual  vigilance has so far kept box blight  at bay. (There is a hint of a pun there)

An earlier 'box' project meant tackling the old rose garden. These images are from old slides and lack a bit of sharpness. Those with a nostalgic hankering  for the slightly fuzzier life of times gone by  might feel  more comfortable with  them.   

Hundreds of cuttings struck in the cold frames were grown on  in the reshaped rose garden. 

Early days and still some gaps but it is starting to shape up .
The impressive lattice basket  is cast Victorian concrete  and was  made for the Great  Exhibition of  1851

Getting there, and the old Indian swastika pattern  is becoming obvious. If you visit the garden  and you  are a keen observer you will notice all the swastikas swirl in one direction  except one. I did  not notice the mistake I had made when setting out the pattern until several years after planting. 

Whoa! Greens are good for you! 

Hair cut Sir?

 I would like to introduce you to Will Gould   It is hard to know where to start when describing Will and perhaps a simple list is the easiest way. He is gardener, poet, artist, teacher, enthuser, traveller, motorbiker and all round good guy.       Follow him on twitter  @green_ gould  

   ''Paul asked me if I'd like to post on his blog and since I've recently travelled  to Mexico to escape the January blues, I thought I'd pass on a few notes:
            I flew to the Yucatan, the home of the Mayan civilisation. The peninsula is the tail of Mexico's eastward curl into the Gulf. Bordering jungly Guatemala and Belize to the south, the soil is drier and the air less humid. Temperatures rarely drop below 20 degrees C and peak from 28 in winter to 35 in summer. The wet season from May to October is also the hottest. When I was there in January trees were losing their leaves in preparation for the dry months.  

            It sounds like good growing country but what prevents bountiful tropical jungle is the fact that the whole peninsula is a flat sheet of porous limestone with virtually no surface water. Only the larger forest trees can reach down to the groundwater which can be seen at Cenotes, where weaknesses in the limestone have eroded sufficiently to collapse, revealing bottomless pools of freshwater.''

Tradescantia spathacea  and Ficus dipping their toes:

The result of the climate is low scrubby forest that flourishes in the wet then lies dormant and mostly leafless through the dry months.
 Like much of the culture in Latin America, the flora today is one of importation, selection and  survival. Above the fading greens of January, bright yellow interloper Cochlospermum religiosum  (Silk Cotton Tree) pops out  Fremontedendron-like butter cups on bare 'winter' branches.

Along colonial town streets, African tulip tree Spathodea campanulata's waxy orange flowers drop daily on to pavements. Caesalpinia pulcherrima  and 10 ft Brugmansias light up dusty front yards along with Orchids and Bromeliads in typically nonchalant displays. In the corners of car parks, native cotton (Gossypium) and mimosa grows alongside escaped Ricinus. Roadside verges - usually the hotbeds of aliens were largely a tangle of native Ipomoea purples, yellow Bidens and pure red Stachytarpeta, false vervain or snakeweed:

 Just as the present culture and flora is a rich composite, the variety of present day Mexican food is largely the result of imports such as rice, wheat, pigs, chickens and cattle. These are combined with complex spices which were developed to enhance a bland staple diet.
            Traditionally the Mayans grew maize and beans through the wet season, planting crops at the spring equinox and harvesting at the autumn one. Practicing slash and burn methods, they would clear forest , grow for 2 years then leave for 8 to return fertility before the next cycle.  The cycle of rains and maize was so important to them that they held the belief that the gods first made the corn and then fashioned humans from cornmeal. Carvings at ceremonial sites show decapitated warriors sprouting corn from their necks, ironically it is thought that it was the winners of a ceremonial ball game who were given this privilege.
You could say growing maize was in their blood:

Helianthus microcephalus at the roadside:

Recently cleared forest and last years Maize:

The Mayans built pyramids whose height was determined by the forest canopy. At dawn on the equinoxes, those at the top needed to be able to see the approaching sun 'walking' towards them from the horizon. By building their own  mountains, the structures became the highest points on the entire peninsula.

Many thanks Will.

Crown Gall

Here's an ugly looking piece of stuff. Dave Feaver, a lecturer at Pershore College  brought it in to show the RHS group at our Saturday class. It is Crown Gall  on a  plant of Photinia. Galls can be caused by a range of organisms including fungi, eelworms and insects but this one is caused by bacteria. Crown gall  does not necessarily kill the plant but can certainly weaken it. The bacteria does not penetrate the  root cells but inhabits the space between the cells  and causes them to proliferate rapidly. It can affect both herbaceous and woody plants. There is not any practical control  particularly as it is only usually noticed when  the plant  starts to suffer and is dug up.  Club Root, which also causes swelling and distortion  of  roots  is a gall disorder of members of the Cabbage (Brassica) family and  is caused by a slime fungus. It can be controlled top some extent by raising the pH of the soil. Infected soil should not be used for Brassica  crops for seven or eight years  at least. 
All galls are not as ugly as this, take a look at more appealing  galls in 'Britain's Plant Galls' by Michael Chinery ( Wild Guides Ltd. ) and a lovely old book ' The Pocket Encyclopaedia of Plant Galls' by Arnold Darlington (Blandford)  my edition is dated 1968  and it is long out of print  but there are some available on

Makita memory shtick

 I am not in the thrall of  Makita and no money has exchanged hands ( Yet. Makita?) but I could not resist posting this picture of the memory stick I was given after a presentation of their landscape and grounds maintenance equipment. (you have to pull off the front of the miniature planer to get to the bit you push into your pc.) It's slightly soft and rubbery and its so cute.



I have figured out why  lawn scarification is so called - it is because  when you have  scarified the grass  the resulting look is an absolutely 'scary' mess. Here Barney is carrying out the sterling work on a very dreary day. 


Giraffe sticks

I turned back a pile of  garden rubbish to start a fire to find these sticks underneath  that had had their bark  gnawed by either mice or voles or shrews. I am sure there is someone out there that  is an expert on UK gnaw marks who can tell me which critter it was. 

Bits and Bobs.

There has been a series on   BBC TV  here in the UK   called 'The  Story of Music' by Howard Goodall which for me was an immense success. And while not wanting to trivialise it in any way at all one of the  things that sticks in my memory is the bit about Lurpak butter.  If you know the product you will know it has a silver wrapper with  the name Lurpak on it, of course, and above the name is what I have always thought of as a  rather quaint bit of  embellishing artwork. However it turns out that the curly bit of the logo with  a bossed plate on the end is in fact a representation of an early musical wind instrument the Lur.  Hence Lurpak. It is a Viking instrument played in Norway since a very long time ago.
 I hear shouts of 'little things please little minds'  and so they do but I don't care one tiny bit.


I have ruined two laptop keyboards  drooling over the site Paradis Express. It is a heavenly expression of all things beautiful in the garden. It is run by Delphine who gardens thirty or so kilometres north of Paris. Plunge into this site and you will never want to come out.

Another entertaining blog is that of the tatooed gardener. Lots of good info, good humour and if you are of a heavy metal bent lots of good music.
Another blog I read is that of Helen O'Donnell who gardens in Vermont USA. Helen has some great  pictures on her site and it is a very good read. She also seems to  have visited more gardens in the UK than I have.

In the  last issue we  had all manner of characters  getting together to create a rural idyll  and I suggested  Sandy Shaw should gather a few people about her to create a seaside scene. Here are a few of her recruits so far.

Michael Fish
Cliff Richard
The Lighthouse family
George Segal
Brian Ferry
David Harbour
Captain Haddock
Beach Boys
Desmond  Deckchair and the Aces
Piers  Brosnan
Jane Shrimpton
Jackson Pollock
Cod Almighty

It's that  time of year when you start looking out  for frog  spawn and I  found  this  in  the murky depths of my .............

...................mug of  chicken noodle soup!

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