• Pitfalls of nature

    Friday, October 20, 2017 - 16:45

    I recently enjoyed a (free) talk on “Life in the undergrowth, a safari through a typical Norfolk garden” at Bawdeswell Village Hall given by Mark Webster of The Conservation Volunteers, sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

    He was raising awareness of the less obvious, diminutive dwellers just outside our back door: butterflies, bees, moths, ladybirds, hoverflies, beetles, woodlice, worms, centipedes, millipedes, bats, newts, frogs, reptiles and more.

    What a valuable resource our domestic gardens are, principally because our desire for variety and pretty flowers for an extended period for our own enjoyment also provides a useful, indeed vital, habitat for a wide variety of wildlife.

    It is interesting to set up a pitfall trap: just a small container with smooth sides set in the soil at ground level, which will catch night-time wanderers you wouldn’t see unless you had plenty of time to sit, do nothing and just watch.

    Let them go, of course, when you have identified them, and if you need help with identification then google “iSpot”.

    Also try “Wild About Gardens”, which is an online resource organised by the Royal Horticultural Society and the Wildlife Trusts, and has lots of practical, tried and tested information to help you make wild visitors to your garden comfortable and more likely to linger.

    Yet more information can be found on the Buglife website.

    Here are two, easy, practical ways in which you can help these tiny creatures survive and even thrive now: avoid chemicals and provide a watery place in your garden, however small.

    Even a tiny pond made using an old tyre as a base, and PVC or butyl will be quickly inhabited.

    I am frequently shocked by the senseless and unthinking way seemingly intelligent people consider it fair, right and normal to kill any insect impinging on their life.

    This needs to change. We must rethink our attitudes and learn to be amiable and supportive of all the tiny lifeforms, not just the attractive and colourful butterflies and bees, but the inconvenient caterpillars and ugly beetles, slugs and earwigs.

    • At 11.15 am on Friday 10 November at Foxley Wood, Norfolk’s largest ancient woodland, there is a free talk about mosses with Robin Stevenson.

    Victoria Plum

  • Summer show full of capabilities

    Thursday, August 17, 2017 - 19:20

    Reepham and District Gardening Club held its regular Summer Show on Tuesday 15 August. It was well attended as ever and many gardeners were keen to show off their fruit, flowers and vegetables.

    It’s been another unusual year, weather wise, but there was plenty of stiff competition, particularly amongst the tomatoes, beans and soft fruit.

    This year the cup for the Gardening Club plant (a geranium) was awarded to programme organiser Jeff Johnson, who also won the overall cup for winning the most classes.

    This very democratic club has a self-judging policy: members judge each exhibit and then the committee add up the points gained.

    One of the advantages of this system is that each member really needs to look at each exhibit in order to allocate their points, whereas if a formal judge does the work, one only tends to look at the winning item.

    While the committee were sorting out the winners, the members took part in a very testing quiz, which necessitated a tie-breaker question to which luckily our team knew the answer. This was “because he used to talk about the ‘capabilities’ of a landscape”, so perhaps you can guess the question.

    Don’t miss next month’s meeting on 19 September, which looks as if it has a very interesting subject, and also think about which perennial plants you might be dividing up when you tidy your garden, so that you can bring the surplus to sell at the bag sale on 17 October.

    Victoria Plum

  • Konik ponies on Booton Common

    Monday, July 31, 2017 - 14:38

    Further to my recent post about Booton Common and its maintenance as a wildlife habitat, you might like to go down and see the newest residents: four Konik ponies, which are rare and come from Poland.

    A herd are “working” at Norfolk Wildlife Trust Hickling Broad, and I think the new residents at Booton might be from the same herd.

    They can tolerate wet ground, which is crucial at Booton as this is low-lying and always wet, and they do an excellent job of keeping rank vegetation down by nibbling and trampling.

    We have the Heritage Lottery Fund to thank for helping with this work.

    Victoria Plum

    Konik ponies at Hickling Broad in the spring

  • July outing to Jordans Mills and Knebworth House

    Thursday, July 20, 2017 - 20:35

    Reepham & District Gardening Club hosted a full coach-load of members and friends for the July outing to Jordans Mill near Biggleswade. This is a working mill and the centre of the Jordans empire (you might know the name because the family business now owns Pensthorpe Natural Park at Fakenham).

    Situated predictably across a river, we learned how the mill worked and could explore the building, which has been cleverly designed for visitors to enjoy.

    The modern café (good cake) is a fascinating building built as a huge barn with massive exposed timbers and has a terrace beside the river.

    There are well-planned and maintained gardens, not huge, and a wildflower meadow that is cut and cleared of litter twice a year to keep fertility low to encourage the flowers and insects, which then thrive.

    We went on to Knebworth House near Stevenage; the fabulous gothic pile appeared through the clouds and trees.

    I had never been there before and only knew the name because of publicity associated with huge pop concerts. We discovered that the concerts and many other events were started, pioneered in fact, to raise money to maintain the house.

    The resident Lytton-Cobbold family (links with the Earle and Bulwer families at Heydon) have lived at Knebworth for 500 years and the obligation of up keeping an ancient Grade II listed building is onerous.

    We enjoyed an interesting tour of the house by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. And we followed our map of the gardens, which were reputably designed by Lutyens and Jekyll.

    Some of us felt they needed a little more help with general maintenance and weeding and it made me realise how the National Trust has raised standards and how high our expectations now are.

    The expertise shown in turning a working site, Jordans Mill, into a visitor attraction could be used to good effect at Knebworth.

    Victoria Plum

    Above: Knebworth House. Below: Jordans Mill, new building

     

  • Conservation volunteers give nature a helping hand

    Friday, July 14, 2017 - 17:20

    By Victoria Plum

    Founded in 1959, The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) is a social enterprise group. Its aim is healthier and happier communities; it sees mutual gain not just for the natural area undergoing conservation, but also for the people volunteering and working to make something better.

    Mark Webster gave a fascinating talk at the Reepham & District Gardening Club focusing on the work undertaken locally by TCV in many little secret “reserves” close by, including Foxley Wood, Mayfields Farm at Themelthorpe, Sparham Pools, Bawdeswell Heath and Guestwick churchyard.

    The main message is that “nature” needs a little help to maintain specific habitats that have evolved through usage but sometimes fall into disrepair – and that is what TCV provides.

    An example to clarify this is a photo we saw of what looked like a lush hay meadow that had been planted as a wildflower meadow, but not maintained.

    You would think that a wildflower meadow would look after itself with no effort because nature looks after itself. However, the law of the jungle (the survival of the fittest) soon takes over.

    Therefore, the meadow must be cut every year and the cut foliage raked off so that soil poverty is maintained, which enables the wildflowers to flourish.

    If you don’t remove the litter it puts fertility back into the soil, encouraging the lush grasses, which smother the wildflowers, and you lose your meadow.

    Another example is Booton Common, which is essentially a wet area that has for a number of years had the naturally occurring alder and birch cut low because of the electricity cables that pass overhead.

    As a result, the light gaining access to the whole area has enabled much flora and fauna to flourish. This is maintained by TCV – if it was just left then the alder scrub would take over, completely easing out the orchids, comma butterflies and much else besides.

    Above: A wild area to the edge of Booton Common, which shows what it would look like if left alone. Below: A cleared area of Booton Common where the power lines pass, which is full of flowers and insects.

  • Another successful annual plant sale

    Friday, May 26, 2017 - 09:01

    The Reepham & District Gardening Club’s annual plant sale in Reepham on Saturday 13 May was a huge success (regularly the second Saturday in May every year), raising more than £400. The Committee thanks all those who donated and bought plants.

    The money raised goes towards the running of the club and covering the costs of the excellent speakers the club attracts for its monthly meetings, which non-members are always welcome to attend.

    So, thinking ahead in the long term, as all gardeners must, perhaps you could pot up any “extras”, self-sown seedlings or surplus stuff ready for next year’s sale? Well-grown and settled plants will always make a better price than those crammed into a pot the night before the sale.

    This year’s day trip is to Knebworth House and Jordan’s Mill on Thursday 13 July. Please speak to Celia Else at the next meeting on Tuesday 20 June (7.45 pm) to book, or check the website for details as there are a few seats available.

  • If you go down to the woods today

    Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 20:14

    For 30 years I have walked or ridden past the mausoleum at Blickling Park and wondered what the dark and mysterious interior was like, so I was very pleased when walking there, on a Friday morning, to find the building with its heavy iron doors open.

    The dark and forbidding mausoleum was inspired by the Grand Tour in Rome, and is a four-sided pyramid, its height and breadth being of equal proportions, built in 1794.

    You will notice that the Caen stone blocks used to build it appear smaller as they get higher up the edifice, a perspective device to imply a bigger structure than is actually there. (Gardeners employ the same device by planting small-leaved plants at the end of a “walk” to provide the illusion that actually the plants were large-leaved, which just appeared small because of the huge scale of your landscaping – I do this.)

    But inside, the shape changes to a beautifully echoing and airy dome with walls rendered, and then painted, over brickwork (locally made bricks, of course), but sadly damp has done damage and rendered the render and plaster very delicate.

    The atmospheric building houses three magnificent ornate marble sarcophagi to John Hobart, his first wife Mary Anne and his second wife Caroline, which stand empty because the remains are actually interred within the brickwork behind each one.

    A staunch volunteer is on duty on Friday mornings this summer, from ten to two-ish to allow you access.

  • Inspirational economy at Blickling Estate

    Wednesday, May 3, 2017 - 21:41

    In March, the Reepham & District Gardening Club enjoyed a fascinating talk from Mike Owers, instigator of the extensive five-year plan to regenerate the walled garden at Blicking Hall.

    This area was in constant use for 400 years until it fell into disuse in the early 20th century when ownership went to the Marquis of Lothian, who was an infrequent visitor and therefore did not require the garden to be productive.

    Uses have been various and years of neglect have had to be remedied. Now crucial groundwork has been completed, the area has been drained and an irrigation system installed, the last utilising part of the redundant Blickling Hall sewage system for water storage.

    The greenhouses (south-southwest facing for maximum light) use kiln-dried cedar wood, and the original Boulton and Paul fittings have been re-erected on the original brick work-bases, which have been neatly repointed.

    Years ago the clay for these bricks came from digging out Blickling Lake and were made on the estate. This displays the same neat economy as the way that an amount of funding for the current garden project comes from the profits (£126,000 last year) from the second-hand book shop located in the Lothian Barn.

    Detailed records of garden use in the past are patchy, but extensive listings of East Anglian fruit varieties are providing inspiration for new espalier, fan and cordon-grown apples and pears, plums and gages against the walls and also lining the newly laid paths.

    Historically, three men were needed to work each acre, and that acre would feed 12 people. However, many part-time volunteers are now called upon for their labours in addition to the full-time professionals, and as much produce as possible will be used in the hall café, providing another example of the neat economy which a microcosm, in this case the Blickling Estate, can illustrate.

    I look forward to seeing the progress of this interesting project over the next few years.

    Don’t forget the Gardening Club’s annual plant sale from 8.30 am on Saturday 13 May. Take your spare plants to be sold to the Bircham Centre on Friday 12 May at 6.30 pm.

  • Stop these immigrants spreading

    Monday, April 24, 2017 - 23:28

    It's late March and my fritillaries (Fritillaria imperialis) are growing inches every day, but already there are holes in the luscious leaves – and the culprit has to be the lily beetle (pictured). Bright red and rather attractive, they are little blighters.

    When I first discovered them I could not believe such gorgeous creatures could be the bad guys, but their voracious gobbling will strip the leaves of fritillary and lily before you can reach for the most noxious poisons in your cupboard.

    And you would be wasting your time because what you must do is to pick each beetle off the plant and slice it in two with your fingernail, or grind it under foot with your heel to really destroy it.

    The lily beetle has a cunning strategy: when it senses danger (which of course is you bending over to get a closer look) it will throw itself to the ground, upside down so that the black underside, so well camouflaged that you will never see it, allows it to escape and when you have gone it will climb back up the plant to start chewing again.

    So adapt your technique this way: creep up quietly and cup your hand beneath the beetle. Reach for it gently with your other hand and if it is quicker than you it will throw itself down, but will be caught in your cupped hand so you can then kill by your chosen method, nails or heel.

    Poisons do not work, and it is really important to catch these beetles every day as they bask in the sun on your best plants. This pest has no predators in this country and none of our poisons affect it.

    I naively thought my early vigilance would rid my plants of this nemesis, but the breeding cycle is quite quick so you must keep at it as long as you have breath in your body or the snow begins to fall, because brood after brood will be clambering up your stems without cease.

    Do not be tempted to throw it over to your neighbouring garden. We all have a duty to do anything we can to stop the spread of this immigrant, which is moving north at nine miles a year.