18 Jan 2015

Gardeners Hibernation?

I'm afraid its not true, as i mentioned in a previous post there is much to do in those autumn and winter months that encompass our closed season.  Patently our garden is not designed with winter in mind, perhaps it would be a waste of growing space that could be taken up by plants that display their decorative merits when the sun is shining and the garden is full of visitors.  However we do have a few jewels in the otherwise spartan winter crown. The Wintersweet (Chimonmanthus praecox) is often detected with the nose before the eyes, being a winter flowering plant it needs to use every means necessary to attract the few pollinators that are still around.

Plants are always paramount in our plans and these last few weeks have given us an opportunity to renewal prune the shrubs that haven't yet been looked at since the rejuvenation project began. 
The last building project that were have planned is underway and going well.  The soft fruit garden is around half way complete and should be complete within a few weeks (weather permitting).  This will allow us to add soft fruits to our produce list including Strawberries, Currants, Raspberries, Blackberries and perhaps even Blueberries if we produce the correct soil conditions.

Vegetables are still finding their way to the Hall although in the form of a less diverse selection as dictated by our season, still we have been sending Jerusalem artichoke, Kale, Chard, Garlic, Radish, Spring Onion, Onions, Garlic, Leeks, Celery, Celeriac and even the occasional Globe artichoke.
The volunteers continue to bring their much welcomed assistance helping clear the last few overgrown borders before the marathon mulching mission begins in the next few weeks.
The dark mornings afford the opportunity to witness the sunrise from the Hortus conclusus that is the walled garden, this is a real privilege and something i wish we could package up and save for our visitors, for now however a photograph or two shall have to suffice.

16 Oct 2014

Looking forwards.

The end of the visitor season is fast approaching and although most will think that the gardeners have it easy during this period that couldn't be further from the truth. This is the time we very much think forwards.  Although  plant related work is somewhat reduced it is upon closing that we can spring into action and crack on with building projects to push the walled garden toward its final identity.

The extension of the vegetable patch which was started a while back will finally be completed along with more work in our orchard area.  During the closed season we still endeavour to provide for the hall both vegetables and florists material on a regular basis which includes drying flower heads and bletting Medlars for use later.

Another major undertaking during closed season is mulching which is the application of a 10cm layer of composted material to our ornamental beds. This serves to reduce soil erosion, retard weed seed germination, warm the soil, aid moisture retention and add structure to the soil as the worms take it down into the soil profile. The mulching manoeuvre that will pay huge dividends in the summer, when we will be able to spend less time weeding.  The vegetable beds will receive a similar treatment with animal manure which will be dug into the soil in late winter.

Propagation is a great way of increasing your plant stock for next season, the children on the weekly visit from our local high school helped us with just that. We hope to raise a few thousand Box (Buxus sempervirens) plants to edge some of our productive areas. We took cuttings from disease free material at around 15-20cm in length with the lower 80% of leaves removed, next they were dipped in hormone rooting power before being planted and firmed in.

We have made some progress tiding our herbaceous plantings also. Cutting back the dead herbaceous stems is far from essential but necessary if aesthetics are important and we like to think we hit a good compromise. We remove the worst looking and slimy dead stems to stock our compost pile but keep the still firm and upright seed heads that will help nourish bird life throughout the winter months.

On the Veg patch we have planted lots of varieties of Garlic, we have Japanese and Welsh Onions, Winter Brassica and Salad leaves along with overwintering Cabbages and Broad beans for an early crop next year.

This time of year is perfect to reflect on your success and failures in your garden and armed with this knowledge while its fresh in your memory seize the opportunity to order bulbs and seeds for next season. 

Nearly all of the spring bulbs can still be planted while the soil is warm and if you want flowering Hyacinths for Xmas time is running out to get them potted up and stored in a dark place outdoors.

Its a perennial question. "What do you do in winter?" so please believe me when we say that
 we are just as busy as ever.

25 Sep 2014

Fair enough!

With just over a month left of our visitor season the garden is beginning to reveal more and more of the autumn hues that we are all so familiar with at this time of year.  Some of the less conventional plants are giving up pods and seeds offering excitement for the horticulturalists both on our team and amongst the visitors.  I takes just seven years from seed to flower for a Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), if you fancy a go at growing one ask one of our gardeners for a seed or please get in touch via our comments section.
A successful first year's growth of our Vines (Vitis vinifera) leaves us in a perfect position to prune a framework for future crops now that they have started to put down good roots. We are toying with ideas for signage in the vineyard, please let us have your comments regarding our prototype bottle sign. 

The Genus Asteraceae provide more than their fair share of flower at this time of the year. Rudbeckia, Helenium, Galardia and Echinacia to name but a few, if your garden is looking tired at the moment these are all good plants to add thinking toward the future. 
There are plenty of seed heads present in our perennial plantings which is great for the charms of finches that fly regular sorties to gorge on the botanical banquets. Try to leave some seed heads in your garden as they tend to look great in the frosts and help to feed the birds through the winter when food is scarce.  If you must execute an annual "hack back" bundles of stems tied up and dropped under a hedge make great homes for beneficial garden beasties.

If like us you are trying to wring every ounce of colour out of your plantings then I'm sure you will be aware how important dead heading is.  Sweet peas (Lathrys odoratus) respond brilliantly to the procedure and will keep producing flower right up to the frosts.  A good tip is to leave just a few pods perhaps out of view so that you can harvest them when dry and brown.  The seeds inside these pods can be sown immediately to produce plants to overwinter in cold frame, these should give you an early flowering.  Alternately you could save the seeds in a dry paper bag in your fridge until spring when they should be treated as the half hardy annuals that they are.
This weekend we host our annual Plant fair, this event is a must for garden lovers, we shall have a host of excellent local nurseries and growers in attendance to help inspire your gardening aspirations with their wares and wealth of knowledge. We hope to see you there.
 See the exhibitors list and details in this link Plant Fair

1 Sep 2014

How big do you think it will grow.

This is one of our giant pumpkins, growing happily in our vegetable patch at the walled gardens. How big do you think itis going to grow before Halloween? See if you can guess the weight. Leave us your messages. We will be running a competition to guess the weight in our Halloween event from 26th to 31st October.

19 Aug 2014


Working in and around nature is a great way to get in tune with the seasons, you tend to notice subtle differences to indicate the start of the next season. 

There's an argument to suggest our seasons are shifting or even becoming less distinguishable from each other with the gap between summer highs and winter lows becoming less pronounced.  With still a month to go until our autumnal solstice (when day and night are of equal length) its surprising to see signs of autumn already upon us.

As a child I remember collecting Horse Chestnuts from the trees in a local park and subjecting them to all sorts of treatments to try and make them hard enough to reign supreme in the playground.  I'm certain this ritual was always in late September early October yet here I am looking at Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) seed that I found on the ground in mid-August.
Autumn crocus in flower a whole month early.

There are lots of other signs, well developed beech husks (Fagus sylvatica) are evident in our parkland along with swelling Sweet Chestnuts (Castanea sativa).  A healthy portion of blackberries (Rubus fruiticosus) has been finding its way to the chef on a weekly basis much earlier than usual and certain to be followed very soon by pears. The later flowering plants are out in their full splendour and have been for some time, while the Delphiniums, Lupins and Foxgloves are a distant memory we can bask in the bold earthy colours of the Rudbeckia and Heleniums.  Some annuals are still happy to provide colour such as this Cleome and Sunflower.


Harvest is a favourite of mine and the time is upon us to start thinking about squirrelling away reserves of food to get us through the coldest of months when produce is at a premium.

Onions are in my opinion are such an underrated crop. Present in so many dishes regardless of culture these easy to grow and store bulbs are a staple of any winter storage cupboard. For an early crop next year plant Japanese overwintering onions in September to help bridge the gap between this years harvests and next.
The final curtain has by no means come down on summer yet but there is definitely reason to get excited about some of the joys that autumn brings with it.

It's in autumn we witness the unveiling of the clandestine pigments hiding in the leaves only to be revealed when the green chlorophyll has had its fill.

The lower more diffused light certainly puts a more romantic slant on everything and provides much more dramatic shadows than we've been accustomed to these last few months.
I for one will be making the most of the remaining long warm days before its time to split wood, make bonfires and dig out the Halloween costumes.

26 Jul 2014

Fruits of our labour

There is no denying it, harvest time is fast approaching, some early signs are evident in the walled garden.  The pears are very nearly ready and thanks to summer pruning will be ripening nicely over the next few weeks.  We have been regularly sending stone fruit such as peaches and apricots up to the hall and even the first few plums.
The allium bed on the veg patch has been lifted and left to dry on the surface, this is so we can make onion and garlic ropes to help store them.  Laid out flat like this helps you see the different colours of onions.
Herbs are reaching a peak in terms of aromatic oils at their best in the hot and dry weather.
We are very pleased with our vineyard and although not yet producing fruit we are certain they are establishing well to produce an abundance of grapes in the next few years. 
It's not all about the food though, there are still plenty of flowers in their full glory, many of which are not only used to please our visitors but also provide for our florists who expertly decorate the Hall with them.



Its really tough working in the walled garden at the moment as there is a massive temptation to just sit, relax and reap the rewards of the hard work put in by ourselves and our volunteers, however we strive to push on and make the walled gardens even better.

12 Jul 2014


One thing that has been very evident this week is the importance of children and extra help.

The week started off with very warm humid weather and we were treated to a visit from school children who attend Whitefriars, St Michaels Norwich and St Michaels King Lynn.  They indulged in a number of activities across the estate and were well received on the veg patch were they got their hands dirty lifting early potatoes and planting their very own bean seed to take home.  Next they were whisked off for a tour with the landscape manager to discus the history of the walled gardens. We have regular school visits and they are always a pleasure.
Our wonderful volunteers have done the business again this week, taking on the maintenance and care that can be overwhelming for our staff especially after warm and wet weather.  These guys come week in week out to do their bit for the walled garden and although the ranks are beginning to swell we still welcome new blood with open arms.  If you are interested in volunteering please get in touch.
We had an extra group of volunteers in the walled garden this week.  Writtle College were quite happy it seemed to camp near the walled garden through the occasionally very wet weather to help us start building our soft fruit beds next to the vegetable patch. Ben, Simon and Nigel led a group of fantastically enthusiastic young adults whom I'm certain will all go on to have fantastic careers.
Here they are doing the all important surveying and setting out.

It wasn't long before they were laying the bricks and casting an expert eye.
Lots of hard work.

And the end result was brilliant.
These beds will be home to this years winter vegetables to supply the hall.
Thanks Writtle.
p.s....................................There's always one isn't there?



6 Jul 2014

Growing and maturing

As you can see from the following picture and if you are a regular visitor to the blog here at Holkham you will be able to see all the work we have done over the last year and half is really starting to mature.

The next photo shows that since the school children planted the events room, the plants have been busy growing with all this sun and rain we have had. The transformation that is happening this week too will add to the room. ( A touch of Alice in Wonderland)

Next week we are hosting Writtle College for their end of term working holiday. Hopefully this will finish in the last of the pathways being built.
After all this, for the Landscape Manager all attentions are now turned to the next growing season planning the new beds and also how to improve the old ones. Alliums and tulips will be featuring heavily, plus hopefully a lot of soft fruit.

The cut flower room has now given us cut flowers for the Hall since the second week in May and we hope this will continue until late October.

Just for fun does anyone know the name of the plant below, which has been chosen by the Landscape Manager?

27 Jun 2014

Holkham nightlife.

Stunning Swallow Tailed moth.

Its a real pleasure to work in the walled garden at the moment, we have reached a period of stability where nearly every plant is doing something special, be that attracting pollinators with showy blooms and heady frangrance or forming fruits in preparation for the next generation. 

The Holkhm garden team are busy deadheading and mulching to prolong the floral festivities as long as possible. 

The Bees and Butterflies are in abundance, not to mention the timid Green woodpeckers feeding in the Vineyard or the swarms of Goldfinches that flee from their banquet on approach.  Swallows and  Martins pierce the still air with their shrieks and draw attention to their aerial excellence, however rewarding this is to us we have often wondered about the night time incumbents of the garden.

We know about the usual night visitors such as slugs, voles and rabbits as they often leave evidence of their visit, but who else comes to visit the garden under the stars?  Fortunately we have some budding Lepidopterists in our volunteer team and this week we set a moth trap overnight, here's what we found.

If you can excuse the sub standard photography (this was a little more challenging than the usual plants) one of the first things you will notice is the diversity between species, every shape size and colour imaginable can be found in the moth kingdom.  Each one of these moths are built to fit an ecological niche, for example the White Satin Moth below is immaculate white, its host plant is Alder and Salix which have white downy undersides to their leaves providing a perfect cool place to hide in the daytime. 

The next thing i noticed are the wonderful names awarded to these creatures.  If you are interested below is our list of species from this week.
Buff Tip, Swallow Tailed Moth, Common Wainscot, Heart and Dart, Brimstone, Dark Arches, Common Footman, Burnished Brass, Cinnabar, Light Arches, White Brown Eye. Beautiful Hook Tip, Beautiful Golden Y, Large Yellow Underwing, White Satin Moth, Brown Line Bright Eye,Varied Coronet, Snout, Double Square Spot and Shoulder Striped Wainscot.

I'm told that the moths have varied flying times between species so a regular sample is necessary to see the range of creatures over the season, we intend to sample our moths on a monthly basis, here is the list from last month.
Peppered Moth, Light Brocade, White Ermine, Triple Lines, Small Elephant Hawk Moth, Heart and Dark, Pale Tussock, Common Swift, Marbles Brown, Great Prominent, Oak Hook Tip, Small Square Spot, Nutmeg.

The diversity of life in the walled gardens is incredible if you look in the right places, i wonder what we will discover next?

21 Jun 2014


 Birds foot trefoil. Lotus corniculatus.

The garden team at  Holkham are very much focused on caring for cultivated plants and while this is an essential it is useful to remember where these plants came from.  Every single plant we grow in the walled garden has some "wild" ancestry in its linage at some stage.

We grow some species plants totally unaltered from how mother nature intended, however most of the plants we grow are ones selectively bred for particular characteristics such as flower size, colour or scent. The starting point for any selective breeding programme has to be wild stock.  Often a plant's definition as a weed is purely based on which side of the wall of the garden it has rooted.

Holkham has a real abundance of ecological niches which is great for finding a range of flora and fauna. Within a stones throw of the Walled garden we have, woodland, farmland, water, meadow, parkland, hedgerow and grazed Deer park all of which offer a slightly different environment for life to exist.

Here is a small selection of the flora we have at Holkham.

Yellowrattle. Rhinanthus major
This semi parasitic plant draws nutrient from the roots of neighbouring plants and is a good way to keep grasses from taking over a meadow.  When dry the seeds "rattle" around inside the pods in the breeze, this sound is taken by some as an indicator that it is time to cut the hay.
 Knapweed.  Centaurea nigra
Very popular with a range of insects Knapweed, offers stunning flowers over a good length of the season.  Folklore has us believe that a maiden can use the flowers to discover if she is soon the meet her future husband.
Hoary Plantain. Plantago media

Unlike its cousins the scourge of lawns of borders, this Plantain is not wind pollinated and because it uses insects to act as couriers it needs a much more showy and scented flower.
Sainfoin. Onobrychis viciifolia


 A member of the pea family capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen this beautiful plant is said to improve the yield of cows milk if used as fodder.  Its name comes from the french sain "wholesome" and foin "hay".

Musk Mallow. Malva moscata
A number of medicinal benefits are attributed to this plant such as a fortifier against aches and pains, a therapy for insect stings and even a hangover cure, its aesthetic value is there for all to see.

 Field scabious. Knautiua arvensis
This stunning pin cusion type flower stands higher than its neighbours and gets its name from its use as a cure for scabies and other skin disorders, it's coming into flower right now.

Red campion. Silene dioica
This plant commonly found in hedgerow and woodland will bear flowers of male and female on separate plants and is said to offer a treatment for snakebites.  Its close relatives White, Bladder and Sea campion are also found around the parkland.
Here we have only scratched the surface in terms of the wildflower to be found around the Holkham estate not to mention the Bee Orchid detailed in the previous post.  We have a wonderful nature reserve where Marsh and Early purple Orchids are abundant.  Its very easy to see wildflower wherever you live and you will often be surprised what you can find by just looking.
Please do let us know about your wildflower experiences both at Holkham or at home in the comments section below.