Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Warming Winter Photograph's - No.2

‘Warming Winter Photographs,’ are a set of posts I intended to add to my blog during this festive period, from the comfort of my Warwickshire home (Burst water pipes & leaking roof aside...) I do realise, that some viewers aren't enduring freezing conditions, indeed, the weather here has improved much in the last two days & the thaw continues - only the hardiest of snowmen surviving locally!
This is the second in my short series of blog posts & shows photo's taken at various gardens over the last few years. Have a guess which gardens are featured - & not all are local to Warwick UK... I enjoy shooting gardens where I work & on visits, mostly for personal record, & I hope you enjoy having a look through.


Thursday, 23 December 2010

Warming Winter Photograph's - No.1

‘Warming Winter Photographs,’ is a set of posts I hope to add to my blog during this festive period, featuring some of my favourite photo's. I’m not only a frustrated garden writer it seems, but also a frustrated garden photographer! I enjoy shooting gardens where I work & on visits, mostly for personal record. However, with the invention of personal blogs, I can finally post my own photo's & thoughts to the world at large - well, to a few interested parties anyhow!

The danger is, once I sit at the keyboard to add a post – I just can’t stop typing. This obviously makes for wordy articles which can be glossed over all too easily. Therefore, with a few days away from Compton Verney over the Christmas period, I thought I’d try & add some of my photographs, & post some warming photographs from sunnier times. I hope you enjoy – do let me know your thoughts, questions, & if you have suggestions for local gardens worth visiting with my camera.

For this first post, I’ve added a few photographs from a garden sculpture exhibition we visited back in the summer. Russell’s Quarry Garden & Avondale Flower Gardens, Baginton, Coventry, was the location pictured for an exhibition titled ‘Outside Art’ , (Link to website describing events up to & including 2010.) Please take a look at the photo's, a short description of the visit follows.

It was a very warm day, with shade from the numerous ornamental trees being particularly welcome. In fact, photography was proving quite challenging due to glare from the bright sunshine; not to mention all the visitors who were studying most exhibits closely. The display items were set very well within the quarry garden, using all the available nooks, crannies, rock faces & still pools to best advantage. Some stunning pieces were on show, & even though they were available for purchase, they were positioned very well to allow each piece its own space to shine; in such a beautiful situation.

The garden there is very special, with paths that meander high up above the quarry, & also deep down & over bridges that cross reflective & secluded pools. A wide variety of shrubs & herbaceous plants provide ground cover in very natural proportions, & a lovely selection of trees have matured to give the garden an establish feel. I dread to think of the overall distance of the path network, but it is one of those gardens, where you know you have to cover every inch of footpath so that you don’t miss anything! Fortunately, the garden is blessed with numerous benches, all placed with lovely & quite different views. I would add that the garden was very well tended, especially so considering the abundance of planting, & size of garden – no space was wasted at all. (Yes, I do apologise for being a neat freak – but I am a professional to the end!)

I shall halt my typing now….. but if you've made it this far through the article - I'd love to hear your constructive feedback?! 
Enjoy your gardening!   (Make that snow clearing.....)

p.s. You can find me on Twitter, just search or click on:  GaryWebb1

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Ice House project Frozen!

Following a few questions about the Ice House restoration project at Compton Verney, where I work as grounds manager, I thought I'd try to get at least a few mobile photographs on here as an update.

I initially covered the start of the project in my blog post on Sat 2nd Oct 2010, but the rate of progress & speedy passage of time has prevented me from posting many more pictures since. The brick 'dome' has been repaired, along with the entrance tunnel which also sports a restored arched ceiling. All repair work has been completed using appropriate lime based mortar mixes - no mean feet considering the temperatures of late!
Hefty Oak roof timbers have been fitted to the structure, featuring a number of complex joints that were hand cut, on site, in the freezing tempeatures of the last few weeks. A sturdy Oak floor has also been fitted inside the house to replicate an original floor that would have supported the stored ice. This was particularly funny, as for a good period of time, throughout the snowy period, I would frequently pass by & see no sign of work activity but for a small generator rumbling away outside an ice house shrouded with polythene & hessian sheeting. When I eventually popped in to see how things were going, the guys were working away, inside & down at the very bottom of the ice house installing the timber floor - with the generator being used to power the lights - rabbits in a cosy winter burrow comes to mind!

Anyway, the building work has ceased at the moment, & has been replaced by a thatching team who have the challenge of cladding the new roof structure with its outer coat. I must say, I'm impressed with the rate of progress & the interest that this portion of work is creating. The thatching reaches almost to ground level, & its therefore much easier to see the work at close quarters - & for a none thatcher - the techniques employed are amazing. I hope the photo's below show the complexity of the work.

As the grounds are now closed for the winter, if you are particularly interested in seeing a particular aspect of the thatching, let me know & I may be able to add a photo.

For now however, here a few pictures to keep us going, enjoy!

Work begins to build up the thatch layers.

All the very best, enjoy your thatching!

Winter Pics Compton Verney

The Coach House building at Compton Verney, previously the stables.

Frosts spangled Beech tree.
No, Not the Eden Project! A winter fence at
Compton Verney!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Freeze Blog Brrrrr......!

Just a quick update while I'm on the PC....

Returned to Compton Verney today after a few days off, & whilst the snow has gone, the big freeze is on....

No sympathy required - I quite enjoy the challenge really, but I thought you'd like a few pictures of the frosty grounds. Enjoy!

Ice House restoration continues!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Winter Wonderland

Snow, Ice, & more Snow!

Well, what a huge change in the weather! The leaf clearing (exciting….not) was not quite finalised before snow time arrived last weekend, & so for a while, all work changes.

The grounds have changed a huge amount over the last week or so, due mostly to the dramatic change in the weather – more than to any miraculous effort by my good self! Hoar frosts have lit up the trees, powdered snow is carpeting the woodland garden area, (or ice house coppice, as it is known,) & the lakes are solid with ice - with a dusting of snow of course! Its harsh weather for grounds/garden visiting, but it is such a magical place in the wintery weather.

Agreed, most ‘public’ gardens are closed at this time of year, other than for special events. The growth of blogging & tweeting by gardeners however, especially with photographs, is really opening up these special places to us all. ‘What a worthy cause’ I hear you say. Go on, take a photo of a garden, your garden even, & post it!

Ah well, a couple of days off for me now, & maybe all the snow will be gone by the time I return to work. Until then, enjoy the snow!

Follow me on Twitter! - @GaryWebb1

(Apologies for the poor photo quality, latest mobile takes poor photo's. Thats my excuse anyway!)

Monday, 22 November 2010

‘The Flying Gardener’ was a label used for Chris Beardshaw in his TV series not so long ago, although the way November has flown by, I could justifiably borrow the title for while! ‘Work,’ as in grounds work at Compton Verney is showing no signs of a slow down for winter, what with the ongoing autumn clear up merging seamlessly into the Christmas build up.

In fact, I can’t remember a winter at all where the well described retreat to the garden shed, & the seed catalogues actually materialises! I’m not complaining though, as the shorter day length & lowering temperatures need extra activity to keep the blood pumping. A drive in the morning nippy air, on a tractor can, with virtually no body movement – chill you to the core. However a good session raking leaves is actually quite welcome – especially if the winter sun makes an appearance.

I intend to update you all with more info about my days at Compton, but whilst the Ice House restoration moves on apace, we’ve been busy; erecting Christmas trees, repairing lawns, plotting positions for new year tree planting,  & generally trying to keep the grounds looking their best. The Ice House by the way is looking dramatic at the moment, with its ‘wigwam’ of roof timber towering above the brick dome. It’ll look fantastic in the New Year, when the thatch has had a while to tone down a little.  

Speaking of the new year, there are two exciting exhibitions to look forward to at Compton Verney, & No - I'm not working on commision! Both exhibitions are running from June 25th to 2nd October, & are titled; Stanley Spencer & the English Garden, & 'Capability' Brown, & the landscapes of middle England.  
Obviously, with my interest in historic gardening, I'm really looking forward to seeing the exhibitions take place, & I can only hope that the artistic talents of Lancelot Brown become known, appreciated & understood by a new & wider audience - he was a genius! (A contracts manager, but a genius none the less!) 
Anyway, I better sign off, I'm late preparing dinner :-O

Don't forget you can also track me down on Twitter:   @GaryWebb1

Friday, 15 October 2010


Yay! The marquee has gone . . . . . . . . However......

Well we always knew there would be some grass to repair, but the rain preceeding & during the marquee take down ensured there would be plenty of repair work to do to put our lawn in order. It must be said of course, that the marquee did enable a number of very successful events to take place, & following the last item being removed from the lawn the weather has taken a turn for the better, & the repair work is now well advanced. Rolling, scarifying, airating, & some overseeding has been completed as of yesterday, so with some more kind weather (please?!) I'm hopeful of a green covering before too long.

This post has been a bit of a work log really, mostly just to mark the effort that has (thus far) gone into repairing the West Lawn. The marquee, whilst being quite extensive; was very impressive none the less; the view from the marquee decking towards Compton Verney mansion & lake was striking to say the least.
 If I could offer any advice to grounds professionals who are having to deal with the effects of longer term marquees on lawn areas; then I'd suggest avoiding the wetter start/end of season times for build up/take down. The greatest damage is often caused by the vehicles that are used to collect the panelling, weights & structure; especially when used on wet ground.

Anyway, thats enough moaning for one post, but to finish up, I'll just mention a tad more about another machine which I've used to repair other lawn areas at Compton Verney. Hired from PA Turney, the 'Amazone', was a tractor mounted scarifier, & was used to rake out a great deal of thatch build up from the front & rear lawns around the mansion. Ran from the comfort of an air conditioned tractor cab, the machine effectively worked through the damp grass, collecting as it went. It was my first time using such a machine, made much easier after a thorough operation run-through by Robert from PA Turney, who were very accommodating in their loan of the equipment. I can say that it took some delicate handling, mostly due to none familiarity & a concern not to break such a new & smart piece of equipment, but I soon had the measure of it ;-)  
I'm looking forward to seeing the enhanced spring 2011 grass growth!

Amazone in action!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Busy Busy Week!

As I wind down & reflect after another weeks work/home activity, it soon becomes apparent why it's gone so fast - there's been so much happening!

On the work front at Compton Verney, Monday saw the start of the Ice House renovation project. After some time & effort planning & fundraising by CV staff, the project has finally got underway. The Ice House has remained behind fencing for some while, for safety reasons, because at the end of a short tunnel, hides a man made pit approximately 12 feet deep - an enticing but dangerous cave for unwary visitors! Originally built c1772, as part of 'Capability' Brown's designed landscape, the Ice House would have served both a practical & aesthetic use. An 'Ice-House', in all its different forms around the world, was simply designed to store ice that would have been home collected (from lake or pond,) or purchased. The ice would store well & be used throughout summer months for drinks & dessert making etc.
The ice house at Compton Verney, Warwickshire, is a deep, brick lined pit, over which a domed roof is built to keep the ice clean, & cool. Further insulation was added with a thatched roof structure, & dense surrounding shrubs of Yew, which ensured the area remained in the shade. A very similar thatched ice house is to be found at Croome Park, a National Trust property near Worcester, UK.

View along what would have been a paved tunnel approach to
the entrance. The beautiful domed brickwork was originally concealed
by a tall thatched roof, which we hope to restore also.

 Prior to any works beginning on the restoration, the location was surveyed for any signs of wildlife that could be using the house & the final design (of doorway/entrance etc,) will allow unhindered access for the bats that occasionally use the roof space, Lesser Horsehoes the survey suggests. The restoration is being cleverly timed so that bats will not be put off from using the space, & access to the roof space is being allowed at all times. Archaeology is also at the forefront of the project & the building & surroundings have been subject to thorough investigation & ongoing recording/supervision throughout the project. This will hopefully ensure the building is as accurate as can be, & also that the fabric of the original building that remains isn't damaged or compromised. Surprisingly, the ice house had been used as a rubbish dump for many years resulting in a good depth of waste build up, & yes; the archaeologist's even sorted this as part of their investigations!
Soil excavation around the structure of the ice house; a mixture
of machine & hand digging.

   Well you'd be forgiven for thinking the ice house project is all that's happened in the grounds at Compton this last week, but although I personally find this fascinating, there has still been so much other work to do! Despite regular soakings making mowing awkward, I've been trying to get the grass height down across the site. The reason being is that I've planned lawn maintenance for Monday next, & a short & preferably dry lawn (Please Lord?!) would make life much easier. I've expensive hired machinery booked for the day... I'll keep you posted.....but put it this way; I'm keeping my water proofs at the ready! 
Also connected with lawns, loosely, is the creation of extra repair work. It's been marquee take down week & as this was a 300+ seater marquee, with all the supports/weights/generator equipment etc; the removal was always going to make some work for the grounds team. Unfortunately, with lashings of rain over the days/week, the ground was shall I say; tortured! Yes there is plenty of repair work to do over the coming weeks, but I'm optimistic of a green sward restored well before Christmas. Sorry for mentioning Christmas just now.....sorry, said it again!
Have a look at Compton Verney:

Anyway, I must finish up for now, but let me say that the next seven days are packed to the max already, & I'm looking forward to a testing week. Bring it on! ;)   See Ya, Gary