Tag Archives: Winter

Workin’ On The Wild Side

Every February the garden team escapes from the lawns and borders of the formal garden and heads off into the woods and the wild garden to coppice hazel (Corylus avellana). Ditching secateurs and spades we take up pruning saws and loppers to cut hundreds of pea-sticks which we’ll use as plant supports in our garden borders; hazel  branches are the ideal material .

Volunteer Wendy cutting pea-sticks

Volunteer Wendy cutting pea-sticks

So how do we coppice a pea-stick? Coppicing is a traditional term for cutting a tree or shrub down to ground level, or a low framework, in order to let the plant re-generate. The branches are naturally fan-shaped and with a little pruning to size are perfect for peas to grow through, hence the name, but can also be used as natural plant supports for tall annual and perennial plants in the border. Look-out for future blogs where you will see us placing the pea-sticks in the borders.

 Wendy with freshly cut pea-stick

Wendy with freshly cut pea-stick

This year we have the benefit of a new battery-powered chainsaw. This is much less noisy than a petrol chainsaw and less disruptive to the tranquility of the woodland setting so much so that while we were there we enjoyed the cries of two buzzards circling overhead and the occasional rat-a-tat-tat-ing of a woodpecker. 

The chainsaw doesn’t use forest fuels or emit any fumes and in future we’re hoping to re-charge it with solar panels as we already do with our battery-powered hedge-trimmers. . Nor is there any waste created because any material the Garden Team cannot use as  pea-sticks will be taken up by the Woods Team to make all manner of products in their workshop. Woodland products are available to buy from the Plant Centre all year round and surplus pea-sticks  are available from spring onwards.

Coppicing Hazel with a battery powered chainsaw.

Coppicing Hazel with a battery powered chainsaw.

Another benefit of coppicing is that it lets light into the forest floor providing an opportunity for our native flora to flourish. You can expect to see primroses (Primula vulgaris), celandine (Ficaria verna), wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) and our coveted English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) re-colonise the ground as the hazel re-generates. It’ll be at least seven years before we return to this same spot in the woods to repeat the cycle.

Rest and recuperation for staff and volunteers.

Rest and recuperation for staff and volunteers.

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Filed under Botany, Garden History, Garden jobs, Plants and Planting, Winter interest

Festive Flora

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Christmas comes but once a year and here at Nymans we are in full swing with our Yuletide celebrations. The gardens obviously play a key role in these festivities and some of our plants that have specific connections to Christmas are currently taking a particular starring role. The Christmas tree itself is obviously one of those horticultural holiday plants but in this week’s blog I’ll also show you some of our more interesting holly and ivy specimens as well as some festive flora that you may be less familiar with.

Holly Corner The most festive part of the garden?

Holly Corner
The most festive part of the garden?

Right at the far end of the gardens here at Nymans you will find a spot we call Holly Corner. Although it affords some amazing views out over the Arboretum, the wider estate and beyond, during most of the year you may not find too many visitors dwelling here for too long when there are so many other beautiful botanic delights elsewhere. December however is when Holly Corner really starts to come into its own. Filled with a huge variety of hollies, including some quite rare examples, now is a great time to come and admire their berries and foliage. Here are some of the highlights…

This gorgeous variegated tree for instance is absolutely laden with fruits...

This gorgeous variegated Ilex aquifolium ‘Aurifodina’ tree for instance is absolutely laden with fruits…

...while the yellow berries on Ilex aquifolium 'Bacciflava' are very unusual

…while the yellow berries on Ilex aquifolium ‘Bacciflava’ are incredibly striking

The leaves on this Ilex aquifolium 'Scotica' are even thornier than the usual holly tree...

The leaves on this Ilex aquifolium ‘Scotica’, also known as the Hedgehog Holly for obvious reasons, are even thornier than your average holly tree with spines on the leaf blade itself…

...while this 'Ferox Argentea' specimen adds a lovely, subtle gilt edge

…while this ‘Ferox Argentea’ specimen adds a lovely, subtle gilt edge

Traditional Christmas carols celebrate the holly and the ivy, but their use as winter decorations predates the Christian festival. The practice of ornamenting the home with holly began with the Romans, who regarded it as an omen of good fortune and a symbol of immortality. As early Christians adopted the practice of decorating with the plant, holly took on religious associations – namely that the spiky leaves represented Christ’s crown of thorns, and the red berries his blood. In fact in Scandinavia holly is still widely known as the Christ Thorn. So intrinsically liked with the Yuletide season is the holly that in some parts of Britain holly was formerly referred to merely as ‘Christmas’, while in pre-Victorian times ‘Christmas trees’ actually meant holly bushes. Early verses of the famous carol hints at holly being a male plant and ivy being female. In some pre-Christian celebrations, a boy would be dressed in a suit of holly leaves (ouch!) and a girl similarly in ivy, to parade around the village, bringing Mother Nature through the darkest part of the year to re-emerge for another year’s fertility come the Spring.

The berries on this Ilex kingiana in the Walled Garden turn a range of beautiful colours as they age

The berries on this Ilex kingiana in the Walled Garden turn a range of beautiful scarlet and purple colours as they age

Holly Corner isn’t the only place where you can find some interesting holly plants, as the above picture of our rare Ilex kingiana holly tree from the Himalayan region goes to show. Introduced to the UK by Sir Joseph Hooker in 1880, this corking holly has impressively large leathery leaves, which are spiny in young plants, as well as larger than normal berries.

The famous holly tubes at Nymans are currently being used as part of our Christmas Trail as you can see here.  Each column is actually made up of several plants.

The famous holly tubes at Nymans are currently being used as part of our Christmas Trail as you can see here. Each column is actually made up of several plants.

Holly was often brought into the house at Christmas to protect the home from malevolent faeries. Whichever of prickly-leaved or smooth-leaved holly was brought into the house first dictated whether the husband or wife respectively were to rule the household for the coming year! Incidentally, were you aware that the prickliness of a holly leaf usually decreases as you go higher up the tree? In Celtic mythology the Holly King was said to rule over the half of the year from the Summer to the Winter solstice, at which time the Oak King defeated the Holly King to rule for the time until the Summer solstice again. The Holly King was depicted as a powerful giant of a man covered in holly leaves and branches, and wielding a holly bush as a club. He may well have been the same archetype on which the Green Knight of Arthurian legend was based, and to whose challenge Gawain rose during the Round Table’s Christmas celebrations.

Holly also makes a great hedge of course, like this whopper lit with Christmas lights near the Book Shop

Holly also makes a great hedge of course, like this whopper lit with Christmas lights near the Book Shop

Did you know that not all hollies are evergreen? Over the road in the Wild Garden we have a fantastic example of a deciduous holly where the bright red berries are thrown into sharp relief by the naked twigs and stems. Native to eastern parts of North America this holly boasts a wide range of common names including Black Alder Winterberry, Brook Alder, Canada holly, Coralberry, Deciduous Winterberry, False alder, Fever bush, Inkberry, Michigan Holly, Possumhaw and Swamp Holly! Whatever you call it, have a look at the picture below to see what to look for when you next venture into our Wild Garden…

Ilex verticillata

Ilex verticillata

The other headline plant from that famous old Christmas carol is of course the humble ivy. While we are not over-run with rare ivy plants here at Nymans, there is one in particular that I would like to draw your attention to. Along the Top Border which runs behind the shop and restaurant area is a type of holly that grows as a compact shrub. At the moment, as you’ll see in the pictures below, it is covered in statuesque fruits which are actually a great source of late season nectar to a wide range of garden insects.

The Top Border ivy...

The Top Border ivy…

...and those fruits in close-up

…and those fruits in close-up

Of course, throughout the garden you'll also find plenty of wild-growing holly like this one romping away up a tree near the Pinetum

Of course, throughout the garden you’ll also find plenty of attractive wild-growing holly like this one romping away up a tree near the Pinetum

The fact that ivy, like some hollies, stayed green throughout the year led some to believe it had magical properties and led to its use as home decor during the Christmas period. It symbolized eternal life, rebirth and the coming Spring season. In some cultures, ivy was also a symbol of marriage and friendship, perhaps due to its tendency to cling. In ancient Rome, ivy was associated with Bacchus (known as Dionysus in Greek mythology), god of wine and revelry, again connected to the Christmas festivities! Though not as popular as holly, ivy was still used in Yuletide festivals held during Winter by many cultures. For a period however, ivy was banished as festive decor by Christians due to its ability to grow in shade, which led to its association with secrecy and debauchery and therefore the devil. Nevertheless, the custom of decorating with holly and ivy during Christian holidays was eventually accepted and obviously still stands today.

One of our many Christmas trees can be found in the Forecourt, ably assisted by four Bay Trees!

One of our many Christmas trees can be found in the Forecourt, ably assisted by four Bay Trees!

Here at Nymans this year we have covered numerous Christmas trees with hundreds of metres of festive lights, both inside the house and out in the gardens. There are lit trees by the roadside, near the main entrance building, in the Tea Garden, and as you can see from the picture above, in the Forecourt garden. Why not see how many you can spot when you visit us over the Christmas period? The history of a decorated Christmas tree can be traced back to the ancient Romans who decorated trees with small pieces of metal during Saturnalia, a winter festival in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture. An evergreen, the Paradise tree, was also decorated with apples as a symbol of the feast of Adam and Eve held on December 24th during the middle ages. Sixteenth century folklore credited Martin Luther (the German friar, Catholic priest and professor of theology) as being the first to decorate an indoor tree. After a walk through a forest of evergreens with shining stars overhead, Luther is said to have tried to describe the experience to his family and showed them by bringing a tree into their home and decorating it with candles. The oldest actual record of a decorated Christmas tree however came from a 1605 diary found in Strasburg, France. The tree was decorated with paper roses, apples and candies. In 1834, Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, was credited with bringing the first British Christmas tree to Windsor Castle for the Royal Family.

If you head down to the Pinetum you'll find plenty of natural Christmas trees too, like this Abies bornmuelleriana, or Turkish Fir...

If you head down to the Pinetum you’ll find plenty of natural ‘Christmas’ trees too, like this Abies bornmuelleriana, or Turkish Fir…

...and this stunning blue Picea pungens 'Koster'

…and this stunning blue Picea pungens ‘Koster’

The Pinetum is a great place to walk through to spot some more Christmas-shaped conifers and you can find more information on this part of the Nymans gardens by taking a peek at this previous blog entry. If you carry on down to the Nymans woodland you might also be able to find our hidden Christmas tree that has been fully decorated by our woods team. And if you’re really lucky you may even be able to spot some mistletoe in the tree tops and ‘complete’ the festive set! Having said that however, there are some other Christmas-related plants here at Nymans that might not be so obvious at first glance. Did you know, for example, that Rosemary has plenty of Crimbo connections? As well as reportedly being the Virgin Mary’s favourite plant, it is also known as the Remembrance Herb and was used at Christmas in the Middle Ages as this is the time that Christians remember the birth of Jesus. In the late 1700s a special Christmas Rosemary Service was started in Ripon Cathedral School where a red apple, with a sprig of Rosemary in the top of it, was sold by the school boys and the members of the congregation for 2p, 4p or 6p, depending on the size of apple! You’ll find our rosemary plants here at Nymans down in the Rock Garden and in the Forecourt, including one which smells festively of gingerbread! In the following set of pictures though I’ll take you through some of our other Xmas star plants that you can find doing their festive thing right now…

Sarcococca, like this one here in the Top Garden, is commonly known as Christmas Box.  The flowers may not look like much but the scent is stunning!

Sarcococca sp., like this one here in the Top Garden, is commonly known as Christmas Box. The flowers may not look like much but the scent is stunning!

This variety along Winter Walk even has its berries on show too.

This variety along Winter Walk even has its berries on show too.

Hellebores are often called the Christmas Rose because they flower at this time of the year.  These Helleborus foetidus for example are also found along Winter Walk...

Hellebores are often called the Christmas Rose because they flower at this time of the year. These Helleborus foetidus for example are also found along Winter Walk…

...while these 'Party Dress Group' types are about to burst into flower near the cafe

…while these ‘Party Dress Group’ types are about to burst into flower near the cafe

Another plant sometimes referred to as the Christmas Rose is the Hydrangea.  This group along the outer borders of the Rose Garden are flanked by some cracking Cornus stems in the opposite bed

Another plant sometimes referred to as the Christmas Rose is the Hydrangea. This group along the outer borders of the Rose Garden are flanked by some cracking coloured Cornus stems in the opposite bed

What has this red-flowered Camellia got to do with Christmas I hear you ask?

What has this red-flowered Camellia got to do with Christmas I hear you ask?

Well, it is named Camellia x vernalis 'Yuletide' because it reliably flowers during the holiday season

Well, it is named Camellia x vernalis ‘Yuletide’ because it reliably flowers during the holiday season

Of course, there are plenty of other plants that have Christmas connotations throughout the World, but those that flower in the hotter countries of the Southern hemisphere wouldn’t be suitable for doing the same thing in the cold Winter climate of Sussex! In Israel however, the olive tree is very popular at this time of year, with branches being given as symbols of peace on Christmas Day, and here at Nymans we even have a series of olive trees growing in terracotta containers in our Tea Garden! And that really does complete our set of Christmas plants. Make sure you pop in over the next few weeks and check them all out for yourselves. We will be open every day apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day so we hope to see you soon. Of course, there is plenty more to see and do here at all times of the year so to make sure you keep up to date with all that is going on at Nymans, don’t forget you can interact with us on both Twitter and Facebook as well as finding out all the important visitor information via our official website. If you want to be alerted by email when each new Nymans Garden Blog is published, simply click the ‘Follow’ button at the top of this page and carry out the instructions.

Happy Christmas from everyone here at Nymans!

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Time For Bed

As Autumn lumbers along and we brace ourselves for the Winter ahead, you may have seen a few articles recently or perhaps heard talk of “putting the garden to bed”. This generally refers to the sort of tidying and protecting tasks that all gardeners should be carrying out at this time of the year. This may include the likes of clearing leaves and pruning shrubs and climbers, as well as covering up tender plants or even bringing them indoors to avoid Jack Frost’s icy fingers. Well, here at Nymans we are no different. The team are in full swing of putting our own garden to rest for the Winter and are already thinking ahead to the bright new hope of next Spring.

The Summer Borders July 2014

The Summer Borders
July 2014

The Summer Borders November 2014

The Summer Borders
November 2014

Regular readers amongst you may remember the first blog post we published here at Nymans back in July of this year in which we sung the praises of our iconic Summer Borders. If you missed it or want to refresh your memory you can click here before carrying on with this post if you would like. As fantastic as the borders looked all through the Summer and into early Autumn, the annual and perennial blooms have all now finally given up the ghost. This means that the yearly task of clearing the borders had to take place. The bottom sections of the borders are both 35m in length, while the top two borders are a slightly shorter 31m long, making over 130m of deep border in total, so we had quite a job on our hands!

Garden staff and volunteers hard at work!

Garden staff and volunteers hard at work!

Although this slightly destructive process might seem like a bit of a sad task, it is all part of the cycle of the borders. As you may have already read in the previous blog post, it took around 30 people an astounding four hours to plant up the annual bedding plants back in May. To strike the borders we had about half that number and this time it took a couple of days to get the borders properly cleared and tidied. We had one group digging up the spent annuals and taking them directly to our compost heaps and another team cutting the perennial plants back to the base. The resulting woody stems from this process were then chipped into the compost bays too. This created a good mix of green and woodier material that every good compost heap needs to decompose quickly. The green leaves and shoots of the annuals provide nitrogen to the mix while the tough stems of the perennials add carbon. The perfect recipe for great compost!

One of several trailer loads beginning to fill up with the removed annual plants

One of several trailer loads beginning to fill up with the removed annual plants

And the tall back row of perennials starting to disappear

And the tall back row of perennials starting to disappear

Here at Nymans we pride ourselves on our sustainable approach to gardening, from our limited chemical use to our electric buggy and battery powered hedge trimmers. Our composting system is at the forefront of that green way of thinking too which is why we open the compost area up to the public when we’re not working in there. As I explained above, the heaps are layered with a mix of materials. They are also turned regularly and are covered with tarpaulins from time to time to retain the heat needed for the organisms in the breaking down process. Any liquid run-off from the heaps is collected in a sump and then pumped back on to the heaps to provide the rich moisture than again helps speedy decomposition. All of this means that our heaps can reach up to 70 degrees in temperature which in turn means that we’re able to add annual weeds like hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuita) and even some perennial weeds like dandelions (Taraxacum officinale). It is only the very pernicious perennial weeds such as bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) or bryony (Bryonia sp.) that we don’t risk not being able to survive the high heat.

Removed annuals being added to the working compost heap

Jon adds some of the removed annuals to the working compost heap…

...while Darren and Jasper chip the woody perennial stems

…while Darren and Jasper chip the woody perennial stems

Here is the end result of that day's composting...

This is the end result of that day’s composting…

...and here's some we made earlier!

…and here’s some we made earlier!

As you can see from one of our signs in the compost area, the current heap (Bay F) isn't quite hot enough yet to be ready for use

As you can see from one of our signs in the compost area, the current heap (Bay F) isn’t quite hot enough yet to be ready for use, but it won’t be long

Once the main digging up, cutting back and composting jobs were complete the rest of the time was mostly spent weeding, raking and tidying the borders. I say “mostly”, because if you picked up the November issue our Gardeners’ Clippings newsletter whilst you’ve been visiting us recently you’ll have noticed that now is the time to be lifting and storing your Dahlias too. The Summer Borders were blessed with twenty separate groups of Dahlia this year, all different varieties such as ‘Ambition’ and ‘Gipsy Night’. Usually we would wait for the first frosts to blacken the foliage but as it’s been so mild this Autumn we have taken the steps to crack on with the work anyway.

Here are a few clumps of freshly removed Dahlias...

Here are a few clumps of freshly removed Dahlias…

...before they are moved to one of our polytunnels to dry out

…before they are moved to one of our polytunnels to dry out

Once the foliage has been cut down and the tubers dug up, the next stage is to dry them naturally and remove any excess clumps of soil. Propping them upside down at this point can help excess moisture drain out, as you can see we’ve done in the picture above.

Max here is cleaning up the tubers.  Any wet soil left on them can cause them to rot whilst in storage

Max here is cleaning up the tubers. Any wet soil left on them can cause them to rot whilst in storage

Ness is pruning off any dead or diseased tubers which might cause rotting to spread throughout the clump over Winter

Ness is pruning off any dead or diseased tubers which might cause rotting to spread throughout the clump over Winter

The tubers are then be placed in boxes in sand or dry compost, just covering them, with the crown exposed. We’ve chosen dry, spent compost. We’ll leave our dormant Dahlias in our nursery greenhouses where it’s dry, cool and frost-free, checking on them sporadically throughout the Winter for signs of rot or other diseases and disorders. Then next year, their growth cycle begins again.

The top box above has yet to have the dry compost added whilst the bottom one is ready for storage...

The top box above has yet to have the dry compost added whilst the bottom one is ready for storage…

...where it will join the others in this cool, dry environment under our propagation benches

…where it will join the others in this cool, dry environment under our propagation benches

This week we’ve been busy planning the Summer Borders for 2015, deciding which plants worked well this year and which perhaps could be replaced with alternative improvements. Some of the perennials at the backs of the borders will also be moved around to positions where they’ll be better suited. We have also worked out the colour schemes for next year, making sure we don’t have clashes of colours that don’t mix, like pinks and yellows, or too many plants of similar colours or forms positioned together. When you next come and visit us here at Nymans be sure to make a bee-line to the Walled Garden where you can try and picture what they might look like next Summer. The newly emptied Summer Borders still have a neat and tidy beauty to them and the Walled Garden itself has been opened up to reveal more of the trees, beds and borders beyond as the pictures below show.

The empty borders as they will look during Winter...

The empty borders as they will look during Winter.

How similar to last year will next year's Summer Borders look?  Come back in the Summer to find out!

How similar to last year will next year’s Summer Borders look? Come back in the Summer to find out!

The Nymans Walled Garden is now much more open and ready to explore too

The Nymans Walled Garden is now much more open and ready to explore too

Of course, there is plenty more to see and do here at all times of the year so to make sure you keep up to date with all that is going on at Nymans, don’t forget you can interact with us on both Twitter and Facebook as well as finding out all the important visitor information via our official website. If you want to be alerted by email when each new Nymans Garden Blog is published, simple click the ‘Follow’ button at the top of this page and carry out the instructions.

We’d like to find out more about how Nymans makes you feel and what in your opinion makes it a special place. This feedback will help inform our visitor experience and feed into future planning for Nymans. Please either email your thoughts to nymansmarketing@nationaltrust.org.uk or give some feedback on either Twitter or Facebook at NymansNT. You can also pick up a comment card – please ask a member of staff. We need all feedback by 27 November please.

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