Four weeks to plant the carpet beds

On Tuesday 1st July, exactly 4 weeks since they were started, the Carpet Beds have been planted up. This is one of the quickest times for this to be done and I think the fabulous weather this year has helped. Sometimes heavy rain has stopped work on the beds for several days over the last few year but this year we have had very little. Karen has been able to get out every day to plant out the 25,000 plants.

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This may sound like an easy job, lying on a plank in the sun for 4 weeks planting out the design, but its not. I hate to think how many times Karen has been bitten by midges – she would probably say thousands – she needed to tape her fingers every day to stop getting blisters, you get sore elbows, knees, hip etc because lying in the same position on a narrow plank of wood is definitely not comfy! So yes, Karen now has a lovely glowing tan but its not the easiest job to be done.

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Karen works off a plank which sits above the bed because it allows access to the whole bed and is the traditional method to work on the Carpet Beds. Unfortunately for her, just because the beds are planted up doesn’t mean she can put the plank away –  from now until November, when the plants get lifted, the beds need maintained. This includes weekly weeding and clipping using hand held sheep shears – another traditional tool for the job.

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Personally I am quite glad the beds are planted up, because as much as I love helping to prepare the plants, I have to work ‘behind the scenes’ and I miss being out in the garden, particularly at this time of year when its looking fabulous.

So the photos above show the finished product. We hope you like it.

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Carpet Beds Are Go

Well, it’s that time of year again when the carpet beds are being planted up. During the winter months Karen works out two designs, one for each bed.

This year the themes are “Roses Return to Cragside”, celebrating our new addition to the garden – a double bed of floribunda and climbing roses. For this design she has chosen a trellis work intertwined with climbing roses.

The second design is based on our Archimedes Screw, which is also a new addition to the estate. The Archimedes Screw will generate electricity to power the lights in Cragside House, bringing working hydroelectricity back to Cragside as Lord Armstrong invented. This design shows two Archimedes Screws flowing to the centre of the bed to a glowing light bulb in the centre.

As I mentioned earlier, Karen is responsible for these beds. After coming up with her designs, she then decides what plants she will need to use and how many of each. She then grows most of the plants from seed, some are what we store every winter in cold frames and the rest are bought in from a specialist supplier.

So, traditionally from as soon after the 1st June, (this year work commenced 3rd June) Karen marks out her bed and starts her planting. This is where I come in…… for the duration of the planting of the two beds I become Karen’s assistant. I prep all of the plants which we store, removing dead leaves, trimming stalks to size and removing flowers and ‘babies’.  Some of the other plants require splitting into small clumps and for the rest, I pop the plug plants out of their trays which allows Karen to plant them out quicker.

Just some of the plants to be prepared…….

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From start to finish the beds can be planted between 4 to 6 weeks depending on the complexity of the design and weather conditions.

Below are a few photos of what we have achieved so far.

The beds at the start of June

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Marking out the words on the bottom bed

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Planting out Echeveria and Pyrethrum on the top bed

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So far so good.

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I’ll keep you posted as to how we are coming along and pictures of when it is finished too.

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Rhododendrons and Azaleas Are Blooming Marvellous

Well, it’s that time of year again when Cragside is a riot of bold colours and wonderful scents perfume the air from the hundreds of Rhododendron and Azalea plants right across the entire estate.

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Let’s start at the Rock Garden where you will find a large collection of hardy hybrid Rhododendrons and deciduous Azaleas. Around the edges of the Rock Garden you will find some of the original Rhododendrons and the inner areas have had an ongoing planting programme since 1988 and continues to the present day.

These are a few of my favourites………

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Azalea ‘Knaphill Red’ and Azalea ‘Irene Koster’

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Azalea ‘Ginger’

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Mix of Azalea

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And the best by far is our very own Rhododendron ‘Lady Armstrong’ pictured below.

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There are so many paths around the Rock Garden to explore………..

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So, that’s a snapshot of the Rock Garden, now lets head around the estate drive……..

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Rhododendron luteum can be seen widely throughout the estate.

And finally a walk around Nelly’s Moss South lake.

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Boat house on Nelly’s Moss North lake

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Busy bumble bee

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Rhododendron ‘Fastuosum Flore Pleno’

These photos are just a small percentage of what’s in bloom right now at Cragside and there are still so many more varieties to flower. I can’t stress enough that the photos don’t do a justice to what its actually like to visit Cragside at this colourful time of year, particularly the heady scent of the azaleas, apart from actually coming to visit and experience the wonder and amazement Lord and Lady Armstrong envisioned all those years ago. They will be looking good for the next couple of weeks if you fancy coming to see (and smell) them for yourself.

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Look What Arrived on Tuesday

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These boxes arrived yesterday containing approximately 4000 plants for this years Carpet Bed designs. These are the only plants we buy. The rest of the plants (usually around 20,000) are either grown from seed in our nursery or they are propagated from several varieties we keep. All of the plants used are chosen for the colour of their foliage,as opposed to flowers, to create a ‘carpet-like’ pattern across the beds and the colours we are using this year include green, blue, yellow, purple, silver and red.

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These are the unpacked plants. They are all varieties of Alternanthera which have been chosen for their foliage colour. As you can see we have a dark green, light green and a red variety. The two trays in the foreground will turn an orange colour once they have been planted out and mature.

The 1st of June is the date we traditionally start work on the two Carpet Beds.There’s a lot of preparation to be done even before it gets planted.  So its exciting when we get deliveries like this but it also emphasises we are in for a lot of hard work to get these beds planted. Each bed is about 18 metres long by 3 metres wide, so its not a job to be taken lightly and usually takes about 6 weeks to complete, so I’ll keep you updated as to how we are getting on.

 

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May 2014

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From my previous post you will probably have gathered that we are in the midst of growing our summer bedding plants. The picture above pretty much sums up what I have been up to. These are Clary ‘Monach Mixed’ seedlings which I am going to use for the infill of my bedding design this summer.

Because this job has been keeping me busy behind the scenes, I decided to take the camera around the garden to see what I have been missing out on, and I wasn’t disappointed with what is going on. Here are a selection of my favourite pictures;

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A View of the Orchard House and Tulips in the Carpet Beds

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Parrot Tulip ‘Professor Rontgen’

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Mixed Auriculas and Bellis Daisies

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Spring Bedding

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Tulips in the Carpet Beds

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Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Rubra’

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Spring bedding and Japanese Quince Tree

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Erythronium or Dog Tooth Violet

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Camelia ‘Margaret’

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Piptanthus nepalensis

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Orchard House

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Inside the Orchard House

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Clock Tower and Tulips

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And finally our summer visitors have arrived back to the Formal Garden – the swallows! They arrived on the 14th of April, 5 days earlier than last year, and they are busy building their nests under the eaves of the buildings in the garden and also in the back of the Orchard House. Having the swallows back suggests that perhaps, and I say this with caution, maybe summer is on its way?

Even though the tulip display is now coming to an end, there are still many varieties of Tulips in pots around the garden.

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Busy Busy Busy!

It’s a busy time in the Formal Gardens right now.  The sunshine in March has encouraged a lot of our spring bedding displays to start flowering. However, this same sunshine has encouraged a whole host of weeds to grow too. So unsurprisingly we have been having a battle against the weed invasion, although I think we are winning – for now anyway.

The lawns have had their first cut of the season which really smartens up the appearance of the garden. Our pears, apricots, plum and golden gage trees in the orchard house are in full bloom and the hyacinths are looking (and smelling) good in the Loggia. We have some new seats in the Loggia too which make an ideal stop off  particularly on a lovely sunny day. The Rose Bed has also been planted up – all 280 of them, and they are starting to put on some good growth already. We are all excited to see this new addition to the garden in full bloom later in the year.

I have been busy helping out with the propagation of plants for our summer displays. This has included seed sowing – I hate to think how many thousands, pricking out the first batch of seedlings and taking cuttings from stock plants to bulk up our numbers. I have been taking Pelargonium cuttings and John has taken a lot of Dahlia, Salvia and Fuchsias.

I have included a photo of the Propagation House below to show you what I’ve been up to. On the top shelf you can see the trays of seeds we have sown. There are even more along the front of the bench. In the bottom left corner we have our cuttings under plastic which allows for a warm and humid atmosphere to encourage them to root. On the shelf above we have our Pelargonium cuttings which prefer a drier atmosphere. And around the window ledges and on the back half of the benches are plants which have been pricked out, but still require the warmth of the Propagation House which is kept at a minimum of 15-18 degrees Celsius before being moved into a frost free glasshouse.

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I’m not sure where we are going to put everything when it all needs pricked out, but as the saying goes “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

 

 

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Spring is on its way

I spent several days last week working on what we call the Aster Border. This area leads from the Italian Terrace down some steps towards the parkland which surrounds the garden. The Aster Border runs down either side of these steps and is given its name due to the summer flowering asters and fuchsia which are planted in here. However in the spring it is full of bulbs including daffodils, crocus and muscari. The border was in much need of weeding and a general tidy up so the spring flowering bulbs can be seen at their very best.

Myself and one of our volunteers spent last Monday working down the length of these borders, one of us on either side, and we removed dead leaves, cut back any dead stems from last year’s growth and dug out weeds. We managed to get about half of this done. Monday was a breezy sunny day but we felt like we were in a wind tunnel! The wind seemed to come whipping across the bottom of the garden and tunnelled up the steps – I think we probably picked up all the leaves at least twice as they seemed to be blowing back out of the bucket!

Because I spent several days working in one area of the garden, I had a walk around the rest of the garden on Friday and was suprised by how many plants had flowered over the last week or so. Below are a selection of what I came across.

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Pushkinia in the Display House

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Iris reticulata in the Tropical Fernery

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Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ in the Italian Terrace Frames

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Hellebores in the Italian Terrace

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Polyanthus ‘Crescendo Yellow’ in the Orchard House

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Hellebores in the Display House

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Crocus in the Pinetum

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Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ on the Rock Garden

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Crocus along the Autumn Colour Walk

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Rhododendron ‘Praecox’ on the Rock Garden

Cragside House and Gardens have re-opened again for the 2014 season, so if you get the chance why not come and visit us to see these spring beauties at their very best?

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