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.

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?