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.


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.


Pushkinia in the Display House


Iris reticulata in the Tropical Fernery


Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ in the Italian Terrace Frames


Hellebores in the Italian Terrace


Polyanthus ‘Crescendo Yellow’ in the Orchard House


Hellebores in the Display House


Crocus in the Pinetum


Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ on the Rock Garden


Crocus along the Autumn Colour Walk


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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Who Said There Is Nothing To Do In The Garden During The winter?

It seems that for this time of year, our most popular question we get asked is “what do you do in the garden over the winter?” I think, perhaps, that it might be believed that gardeners have very little to do in the garden during the cold winter months, apart from perhaps looking through seed catalogues and drinking plenty of tea. I have found out this winter (being the first winter I have worked in the garden) that we haven’t stopped!

There have been copious amounts of hedging to do and  I have lowered the height of a Laurel hedge.


Original height of Laurel hedge                            Reduced height of Laurel hedge

They foresters have removed a tree which has been blocking the view of the Clock Tower from the garden, so it now stands pride of place overlooking the rest of the garden.

Clock Tower before

Original view of Clock Tower


Clock Tower is now in full view

We have been removing some shrubs to open up the views from the garden into the parkland.


A couple of shots before we started work on this area.


And this is the result. (Just need to finish tidying up)

We have even had the foresters remove some dead limbs from a tree and they have also taken the tops out of a couple of our holly trees so in time, we will be able to prune them into a cylindrical shape like the others around the garden. Then we have had to clear all of this up which probably takes ten times as long as carrying out the job itself. This is the outcome!


Our accumulated piles of brash

Karen has also finished digging over the new rose bed. The next stage is to get it level and then to plant it up with approximately 300 roses. So by the summer we will have a brand new rose garden in full bloom for visitors to enjoy.


Ready for the next stage

Is it time for a cuppa yet?

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A New Experience

As a trainee gardener through the Historic and Botanic Garden Bursary Scheme, it is encouraged that we improve current skills and learn new ones too. So last year, when writing up a training plan for my twelve month placement, I asked Dale, Cragside’s assistant head gardener, and also my supervisor for my training course, that when it was time to cut the hedges could I have a go as I have never picked up a hedge trimmer before let alone used one. Unsuprisingly he eagerly agreed and said that would be fine.


Path leading from the Clock Tower (before)

So on Monday I was greeted with the news that today was the day – I was going to be hedge cutting! I was actually quite excited about this even though I can be a little apprehensive about using new machinery. Dale showed me the risk assessment, told me I needed to wear a visor and ear defenders as well as the boots I always wear, explained how to operate it,  and where he wanted me to cut.
With all my gear on, hedge trimmer in hand and ready to go I made a start on the laurel hedge which leads from the Clock Tower down to the entrance gate to the gardens.

I have to admit that it took a while to get the hang of it and it never occurred to me that I would ache so much after using it for only a couple of hours on and off! The hedge cutter was heavier than I expected. Sometimes these aching muscles come as a surprise to me as generally I think I am pretty well adapted to the ways of gardening but this time I definitely got caught out.


Path leading from the Clock Tower (after)

I managed to cut one side of the hedge and the bits I could reach along the top, but had to stop several times to give my arms a quick rest before i finished. Dale helped out using a pole trimmer, which allowed him to reach further across. We then raked up all the clippings before the end of the day.


End of day 1

On Tuesday, I went out again (with aching muscles – poor me) and managed to cut the laurel hedge on the other side of the path and this time managed to cut the entire side without stopping. I was quite pleased with that as it was an improvement on Monday. Again Dale helped using the pole trimmer and Geoff, one of our volunteers, helped us to collect and bag up all the clippings ready to be taken away.

Dale has estimated that it will take a good couple of weeks to get all of the hedges cut in the garden so I would imagine by the end I might have muscles like Popeye!

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Happy 2014 Everyone

It was lovely to have a few days off over Christmas and New Year, but, as always the time just goes far too quick. I have to admit that I did very little over the festive holiday, apart from spending time with my family, eating, drinking, reading and watching TV which has helped to revive my weary bones.

So on the 2nd January I was back to work, full of beans and ready to go! The only downside to this was the fact that I was the only person back to work. Neil is on a course and everyone else isn’t due back until the following Monday. I don’t mind working alone as quite often I work alone in the garden anyway, as seems to be the nature of the job. What I did mind was the lack of company at break times – I’ve had to make do with a good book instead.

I’ve used these couple of days to finish off some odd jobs which hadn’t been completed before Christmas. One of which, was to finish potting up spare bulbs of Tulips. We plant 9 bulbs, over two layers (4 on the bottom and 5 on top), into 6″ plastic pots. These are then used in the spring to brighten up the Orchard House alongside pots of Hyacinth and Daisies. Not only are they wonderful to see, but the smell on a warm sunny day is amazing, sometimes slightly overpowering! But to me this signals that the garden is waking after its winter hibernation and the promise of new growth and colours and scents are only just around the corner.


Some of the pots of planted tulips.

Whilst potting up these tulips, I wasn’t actually alone – I had a robin keeping me company. It kept flying into the potting shed through the small broken window and coming and having a look to see if there was anything edible. It would come within a few feet of where I was working but not close enough to get a good picture of it, although you can see him sitting on the top of the wall of the compost bay in the picture below.


So with the radio on and the robin keeping me company it wasn’t so bad to be the only one back to work.

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Spring Bedding

We finally planted the last border with spring bedding last week. This may not sound like much but there is more to it than putting a few plants into the ground. We stripped the borders of the summer bedding, trench dug each border and added in copious amounts of manure for its nutrient content, tread over and raked each border flat, measured and marked out each design, set out the plants ready for display (its easier to make adjustments before they go in the ground) and when happy it looks good, finally each and every plant can be put into the ground. Phew!

So here’s a mini tour of what we have been up to, starting at the top of the Formal Garden:


The Display House central bed. Planted with red daisies, red primula, pansy and Tulip ‘Lemon Giant’.


The Top Terrcae border, I know, its bare, but you have to take my word that there are hundreds of Tulip ‘Madame Lefeber’ bulbs planted in there.


The Orchard House Side Beds. The top and bottom beds are planted with wallflower, forget-me-not and Pansy. The middle bed is planted with a mix of Auricula and white daisies.


The Carpet Beds are also looking bare, but these have been planted with double early tulips.


The Orchard House Borders have been planted with a mix of primula, daisies and pansy.


We have planted bright pink Hyacinth ‘Jan Bos’ into the Loggia with an edge of white daisies.


The Wall Borders have been planted up with scoops of wallflowers along the back, diamonds of forget-me-not in the centre and the front scoops alternate between pink and white daisies and pansys.


And to add colour to other areas of the garden we have planted up large pots, each containing 25 tulip bulbs and then overplanted with either pansies or forget-me-not.

I have to admit that not all of the spring bedding is done. All the borders have been done but we still have some small pots to plant up for use in the Orchard House. So, I’d better crack on and get them done.

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Conservation of the Orchard House

The Orchard House, we believe, was built circa 1870′s. We have no official documentation with regards to this but photos from around this time show the Orchard House and the old Top Terrace glasshouse range. However we believe that Lord Armstrong possibly designed the Orchard House and a company called  Mackenzie and Moncur Hothouse Builders, Heating and Ventilating Engineers built the Top Terrace glasshouse range. My next project for my HBGBS course starts in December and I have decided to do a research piece about the Orchard House and Top Terrace glasshouse range as we know so little about them. Hopefully I’ll be able to find out plenty of information.

So, back to conserving the Orchard House. As you can see from the main picture, the Orchard House is designed in three sections with dividing walls made of glass and a wooden door. Originally it would have been heated by a large coal fuelled boiler which sits 17ft in the basement with pipes running along the underside of each of the three terraces. Unfortunately, the heating system does not work as a lot of the pipes were removed during WW2, although our assistant head-gardener Dale has told me that the boiler is still there so we went and had a look. This is the boiler and to the right of the picture, one of the original heating pipes.

Orchard House Boiler

In 1993 the National Trust dismantled the original structure of the Orchard House and started the restoration. All of the metalwork was retained and approximately 10% of the glass has been reused. This has a slightly purle tint to it. The wooden framework is an exact replica of what was dismantled. In 1994 Sir David Bellamy came and placed the last finial on the top of the roof and officially opened the Orchard House.

Conservation work on the Orchard House originally ran on a five year cycle where the whole range was painted and any evidence of rot was removed and repatched. However the wooden frame suffered badly from rot so the repaint and repairwork now runs on a three yearly cycle. This year it is the central section of glasshouse having work done to it. In April the painters came and stripped away the paint which exposes any rotten areas of wood which needs replaced. The joiners then came in and repaired any sections which required attention. Once this had been done, the painters come back to paint the exterior of the central Orchard House section. This is so the indoor fruit trees which have started to grow again, after being dormant over the winter, don’t get damaged.

So, this week saw the return of the painters Chris and Malcolm to come and paint the interior. The fruit trees have now dropped their leaves and the pear trees pruned back, making the area a little more accessible. Scaffolding has been put up for them to reach the highest parts of the building and the trees and the stonework is covered in sheets to protect against drips. (Not that they make any! But just in case.)


Chris and Malcolm will be here for two weeks for this job to be done, and then we won’t see them again until next April when they come to start the work all over again on the West section of the Orchard House.


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