29 Sep 2015

Beyond the Walls

Last weekend hosted our annual plant fair, we used our recently planted events room to perfectly frame the 30+ exhibitors stalls.  The range of plants on offer was fantastic with some real inspiration for providing colour in those tricky early autumn months.  The weather was fantastic and no doubt contributed to the record number of visitors since the plant fair started four years ago.

We are very proud to have hosted our first ever PGG meeting this year, the event was very well attendended and involved tours of the Walled Garden, the William Nestfield Parterres and the Arboretum, it was a little nervy inviting a group of fellow professional gardeners round to scrutinse our work but they were very pleasent, encouraging and excited for our project. I hope they can visit again in a few years to see the fruits of our labour and cast their expert eye once more.

 'Professional Gardeners Guild Visit'

Fueled by the passion of our excellent volunteer team and dedicated staff we are gradualy continuing to improve standards and lift the quality of the walled garden from its previously neglected state.  To this end we have reviewed our Volunteer program and hope to make their role even more valuable and rewarding by adding informal horticultural workshops, plant identification and extra social events such as our Halloween themed 'Bake off' set for the end of October.  If you would like to join our friendly committed team please contact Dene Wood d.wood@holkham.co.uk 07557200311 for details.

In the garden we have been very busy deadheading to wring out the last possible splash of colour for our visitors to enjoy and to continue provision of cut flowers for decorating the hall - something we are very proud to do.  Our 2nd room is largely planted with herbaceous perennials which have just had their third full growing season, this tertiary term has promted us to start looking at editing our borders a little, taking the plants that have made a good clump of growth (from their humble 1 litre pot beginnings) and we have been lifting and dividing them to help full gaps and increase in size our drifts of planting.  In the main, we have been dividing plants that flowered early in the season and are now beginning to die back, we will repeat this exercise in late winter / early spring for the late flowering perennials such as Rudbeckia and Asters.

'Splitting perennials'

Mulching has been a regular theme in the walled garden, we recognised that our soil was inert, structureless and devoid of life in general this combined with a need to reduce man hours spent weeding spurred us on to a large mulching commitment.  NASA may not have found life on mars yet but our own small scale terraforming seems to be working.

'Its alive!'

The veg patch is beginning to run out of steam a little but we are still harvesting Beans, Squash, Carrots, Beets, Greens and Celery. Over the coming months we have Leeks, Parsnips, Kale, Broccoli and Cabbage to look forward to.

'Planting winter greens in the coldframes' 

Our Heritage Lottery bid is also gathering pace since the appointment of our Project Manager Helen Giles. Helen is currently working very hard to ensure we have everything covered to create a successful bid which will be submitted next summer.  This includes organising ecology, historical, access and audience surveys as well as looking for architects and lots of fundraising,
although I'm sure Helen could do a better job explaining this (the next blog post is yours Helen).

'Peeking for Pipistrelles'

We have a new website in development which will give lots of information about the project (named "Beyond the Walls") and new Facebook and Twitter pages which we invite you to like/follow.

At this time of the year the gardens definately take on a new persona with warm bright clear days filling the air with moisture which condenses during the increasingly colder nights, this dew picked up by the lower light levels really adds a strata of romance and drama, this is something noted by our visitors when surveyed over the weekend.  As light levels drop and the nights grow colder we start to say goodbye to the green Chlorophyl painted foliage as it receeds to reveal its lesser known friends Caratene and Anthocyanin which are responisble for the typical autumn colours we see around us offering crimsons and oranges.

Still plenty to do for the team this season with our thoughts now turning to lawn care, bulb planting, sowing half hardy annuals to overwinter, clearing herbaceous material to allow access for mulching and much more so I'd better get back to it!.

Dene Wood
Head of Park and Gardens

18 Jul 2015

Now's the time

If you were ever to visit the walled gardens at Holkham now is the time, our flagship planting in the "second room" is currently in its peak period and must not be missed.  Planted with thousands of herbaceous perennials the garden room is currently a sea of colour and movement.

Since the last post we have planted our events space where we host weddings, open air theatre and our annual plant fair in September. We have tried to use plants in this space that you won't find elsewhere in the garden, this will hopefully give a different ambiance than the typical cottage garden feel found in abundance throghout the rest of the garden.

We continue to produce fresh vegetables and cut flowers to the hall and with the help of our  increasingly valuable volunteers we continue to raise horticultural standards.

The plants in our vineyard march onwards towards their ultimate "Guyot" form which will give us an abundance of grapes in return for relatively low maintenance.

We even managed to find time to thank our team of volunteers for their efforts with an exclusive BBQ in the walled gardens where they work so hard.

We recently employed a new team member in Helen who is our new project manager.  Helen will work on our bid to achieve funding from the Lottery to restore our ageing glasshouses.  This is really exciting as the Walled Gardens project is really gaining momentum.  Exciting times ahead, we will keep you posted.

4 Apr 2015

Great news.

There is so much great news to report in this edition of the blog that it is hard to know where to begin.

The season has very quickly shifted from winter, marked by the clocks going forward the Walled gardens are again open to the public.  It's Easter of course and as school is out for a few weeks the gardens are alive with the sound of children, there is a marked contrast from the slumber of just a few weeks ago and fittingly the place feels alive again.  The Walled gardens are hosting a range of exciting activities including, face painting, story telling, an Easter trail and a "decorate your own tile" activity which collectively forms the verses of Holkhams' very own version of 'English Country Garden'

During the closed months we have been very busy building the last part of the garden, the picture below features the extension of our productive area built by our gardeners, this extra space will allow us to produce much more in terms of soft fruit such as Raspberries, Strawberries and Currants.

However this was not the only building work taking place, our new Education Centre is very nearly ready and a grand reveal shall follow on this blog in the next few weeks.  We are very happy with the (nearly) finished article particularly as it was built with estate sourced wood.  The build was lead by one of our hard working volunteers but fulfilled with the help of a diverse range of people, including gardeners, volunteers, our Chief Education Officer and i may have even seen the Head of Landscapes hammer a nail or two in.

The gardens are starting to perform, this Ribes and Chaenomeles offer an immaculate vernal treat and precede the emergence of leaves on the deciduous shrubs and trees, i like to think of the swelling buds as natures flat packed solar panels which once unfurled will fuel flower and fruit.

The Veg patch is starting to fill up with Peas, Broad Beans and Asparagus all now planted out alongside direct sowings of Beetroot, Carrots and Parsnips.  The next few days will see our chitted early potatoes planted in 6" deep trenches lined with compost.  Elsewhere in the garden we have been pruning last years now dead flower heads from our Hydrangeas, taking Dahlia cuttings and even mowing the grass (on a high cut). 

As the years first consignments of cut flower and foliage are taken to the Hall we are reminded to sow Hardy and Half Hardy annuals indoors, this will help offer a diverse range or colour and form for our florists in the months to come.  eg. Sweet Peas, Sunflowers, Cosmos, Cerinthe, Ammi.

As is customary i save the very best news till last.

I started working at Holkham 2 years ago and during this entire period I have been aware of much preparation, planning, research and really hard work (by people much smarter than I) to hatch a plan.  While the gardens are being rescued there has been hope that we could also pull our derelict glasshouses out of their current state of bad repair, improve the customer facilities and create a purpose built Education Centre to help us engage with the local community and youngsters.  We are very pleased to announce that we were recently granted stage one funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  This means our proposal has jumped the first hurdle and very much gives us cause for optimism in our hope to achieve stage two and realise our dream. There could be very exciting times ahead.

23 Feb 2015

Winter Hues

Snowdrops Galanthus nivalis.

You have to look a little harder or follow your nose but even in the winter colour and interest can be found in the garden.

I've not met many people who do not like the Snowdrops and now is the time to appreciate them.  Up and down the country Galanthophiles swam to attend Snowdrop walks in hope of seeing rare specimens (the likes of which sell for hundreds of pounds for a single bulb), personally i love to see them en-masse carpeting the woodland floor taking advantage of the ephemeral break in the canopy above.

Camellia japonica

Evergreen plants provide important structure to many a garden design and we wouldn't be without them.  I must however confess that Camellias (as classy as the deep green glossy leaves are) tend to get forgotten until they take centre stage.  Our Camellia ("R.L Wheeler" perhaps?) is now studded with the watercolour red flowers and buds pictured above.

Radish seedling emerging (Raphanus sativus)

If there is one thing that helps me shake the winter blues it's the thought of growing produce after a much more restrained and limited period of cultivation.  Under glass we have been sowing Salad leaves, Spring Onion, Radish, Summer Cabbage, Summer Cauliflower, Broad Beans and Early Peas (rounded seed can be sowed earlier than wrinkle seeded varieties)

Peach Blossom ( Prunus persica)

Under glass we grow our crop of Peaches and already one or two of the swelling buds have broken to produce these stunning, simple, pure flowers.  We like to give mother nature a hand with the pollination by leaving open doors for insects as well as transferring pollen from flower to flower every day with a paintbrush.

Just inches from the Peaches our heated beds are warming the feet of our mother Dahlia plants, in a few weeks we will be able to take cuttings which will vastly increase our stock and grow onto to provide stunning colour in late summer.

The jobs in the garden are starting to come thick and fast, Parsnips and Turnips will soon be sowed, Figs, Hydrangeas and Peaches will be pruned and while the Pototoes are Chitting we will be planting Onion sets and Garlic.  There is light at the end of the tunnel and as the days begin to stretch winter will soon be a distant memory along with the Camellias.

8 Feb 2015


The Heavily fragrant Edgeworthia chrysantha var. grandiflora, leaves us in anticipation of the delights it has in store for us. 

With 6 and a half acres of Walled garden we are very privileged to have a huge growing footprint, this abundance of space allows us to grow every thing from the rarest shrub from deepest Asia, to the ubiquitous Onion.  However there is a caveat.  By creating clement growing conditions, water, shelter and food we also invite "Volunteer plants" (a polite term for weeds).  Ive mentioned before that not all volunteer plants are bad (see the Wildflower post), a self seeding Digitalis can be an absolute delight.

One of the best ways to combat annual weed is to use a mulch, covering the soil surface with a 3 or 4 inch layer of organic material to exclude the light and limit annual seed germination. 

You can mulch with a lot of different materials including inert gravels, crushed glass and even plastic sheeting, but in many cases its better to use a well rotted organic matter, such as manure or compost.

Its easiest to mulch your beds when your plants are not in their full glory, a great time is in autumn perhaps after a tidy up in your herbaceous borders and when the vegetable patch starts to empty out.

This Daphne sp. brings welcome colour with its scent, a real treat in midwinter.

How to use a mulch effectively.

1.  Prepare the site, remove all perennial weeds such as Thistles, Dandelion, Couch grass etc.  These persistent plants will happily grow through your mulch.  You can get away with using a hoe for the smaller annual weeds.  Make sure the site is both frost free and moist, you don't want to trap frost or a dry strata within your mulch.

2.Cover the open soil uniformly to a depth of 3 to 4 inches or 10cm.  You could apply a layer or two of newspaper to the surface before adding your chosen surface material to make the process extra effective.

3.Avoid dropping the mulch into the crowns of evergreen plants such as Kniphofia spp.  Rake level.

By mulching now we shall reap the benefits later in the season and weed control should be much less challenging at our busiest time.  Other benefits to mulching include.

  • Make soil more moisture retentive
  • Helps warm the soil.
  • Improves soil structure.
  • Increases bio mass/diversity within the soil.
  • Looks great aesthetically.
  • Adds nutrients to soil.

We always try to be sustainable where possible and to that end we use a Bio Digestate to mulch with, this is obtained as a by product from the estate Bio Digesters used to generate energy.

 Another source of organic material comes via our relationship with London Zoo who trade their herbivore waste for a supply of Quercus ilex brash used to feed their Giraffes.

Here one of our hard working Volunteers Ted applies a Zebra manure, he joked that we "might get stripey roses", we shall have to wait and see.

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.