Sunday, 30 January 2011

Up the Avenue!

Busy times at the moment hence the lack of a decent post for a while. Indeed, even this post is a quick update to act as a record of some hefty work I've been involved in of late; Planting Trees. Apologies in advance, as for this post; as I've got my historical hat on!

The challenge has been to 'restore', & I use that word carefully, a feature of the landscape at Compton Verney dating back approximately 240 years or so. An early 19th century map shows an avenue, slightly splayed shape which is positioned about a mile from the main mansion. It seemed simply to act as a draw for the eye when viewed from the front portico of the mansion.

There seems to be no other reason for the existence of the original avenue other than to act as a fixing point in the landscape, the formal lines of trees displaying a control over that distant part of the landscape, proving ownership & artist flair etc. For information, there's no present evidence of an 'eye-catcher' at the far end of the view either. An ornamental farm building, date unknown is on the horizon, although this would have been hidden by the maturing avenue trees.

The avenue was believed to have been English Elm, a species that was hit hard by 'Dutch Elm Disease' in the late 1960's & 1970's. Millions of trees were affected by the disease, & Compton Verney's avenue & landscape wasn't spared. As with many English landscape gardens, Elm shows through in the form of 'suckers' that still grow, at least for a few years, in hedgerows, (the disease eventually catching up & killing the suckers before they mature into trees.) All signs of the avenue are now wiped from the field due to farming/ploughing, although suckers are still growing next to the stream, just below where the avenue started.

On a positive note, it is therefore great news that we are now able to plant Elm once again, in the form of a disease resistant variety known as 'Princeton'. Friday last saw a group of students & staff from Warwickshire College visit, to help with the planting process. The positions for the tree avenue had been plotted previously with the help of a surveyor, & the grounds assistant & myself moved all the necessary gear & compost up to the field in advance of the team arriving.

THIRTY TWO Elms were planted in a little over two hours, which was great going for our rapidly put together team. Two rows of standard trees now mark out the original avenue, & await their timber guards that are booked for installation this coming week. Naturally, we have a fair bit of in-house finishing to do, including planting a further 16 trees, but a hefty chunk of the work is now over, thanks to the Warwickshire College team.

The photo's added aren't great, but the icy breeze ensure fingers were frozen throughout, preventing any artistic endeavour. I was also very busy digging holes through the clay as the team followed behind (& at times - in front!)

Many thanks are due to the team, & Adam the grounds assistant who have worked tirelessy on the planting so far. It is always worth a note of appreciation for the work put in by Tammy my colleague, who with the financial & moral support of Compton Verney, arranged the re-planting. This is yet another vital element of the Historical Landscape restored, long may it continue!

Happy Gardening - Go plant some trees!  Gary

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Housebound Gardener!

Just a quickie post this time around as I jump onto my blog for a few minutes. I'm basically stuck in the house because our little one isn't well enough to go to nursery, & its my turn to stay in & play nurse. We've had some nice cuddles this morn, & I've been building towers with play bricks to entertain my patient, but frustration isn't far away because of the glorious January sun & blue skies that are all around. I could have got so much done today!

Ah well, in lieu of a 'proper' blog post, I thought I'd add a couple of photo's from my busy day yesterday at Compton Verney.

We are continuing to prepare for the re-planting of an avenue which existed in the parkland. I had a fascinating morning yesterday with a surveyor, & we set out all the tree positions for two of the avenue rows. The morning mostly consisted of me marching & running about a field with a prism, stakes & mallet, being guided by the surveyor. He was spot on with his calculations, which made for a swift job of it, but for much of the time we were so far apart that it was all my frozen fingers could do to answer the mobile to get directions - "2 feet forward, 10cm to your left, back a touch etc etc!
Next job is to get digging & planting, & for this we're enlisting some help from Warwickshire College, who will be bringing some students to help with the process. Can't wait to get stuck in!

The original avenue was of Elm, & was a double row that sat nicely in a distant field in the landscape. Its purpose was to pick up the eye, & draw it through to.......well this is where we're unsure, it basically ended on the horizon, & that's that! Whilst thinking out loud, there could be a connection with an ornamental farm building which is positioned on the horizon, just to left of avenue. Maybe, Capability Brown was trying to produce a distant vision of rural life? Who knows... What we do know is that the re-planting will form a connection between a distant field & the main grounds afore the mansion, indeed, the avenue is aligned with the front doors & drive to the house.

       For the second half of yesterday I mostly moved freshly cut timber, which wasn't that fascinating, but I did nip over to have a closer look at the Winter Aconites ( Eranthis Hymalis ) I've been tweeting about lately. They are in full bloom now, & look stunning beneath the towering Lime trees, believed to be from around time Capability Brown landscaped the grounds. I've added a couple of photographs below, taken on my phone, so do forgive the average quality. The grounds & gallery don't re-open until the end of March, so I hope the photo's go some way to show that whilst Compton Verney is closed, the grounds live on!

I hope you enjoy the photo's, & I do hope your garden is beginning to wake up, little by little, from it's winter rest. Snowdrops coming soon!  Happy Gardening, Gary.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Artistic Gardener's

Can Gardener's be Considered Artists?

Routine maintenance of a garden can I believe cloud the artistry that is actually being carried out as a garden matures - & whilst I don’t have anyone in mind while I type this, I do think many gardeners are artists in disguise! Good practitioners often make it look easy, in any work discipline.
 Even in their basic form, gardens can & very often are considered beautiful, & sometimes can appropriately be referred to as works of art, but can their gardener, other than a labeled garden designer, ever be referred to as an artist, other than in a light hearted, almost mocking kind of way?

Larger gardens, especially those open to the public most often attract professional gardeners who naturally wish to tend & 'grow' the garden in a professional way, yet shouldn't almost every action or task that is carried out; nurturing, growing, pruning plants, blowing a path etc, be considered the work of an artist, even though it is practiced repeatedly & over extended periods - sometimes decades!

I tend to think that in professionally tended gardens, the natural occurrence of targets, job descriptions, over-loading etc, all common place in a busy workplace, can quite often mask & tie up the creativity that exists within a gardener or team of gardeners. I feel it is here that the more artistic gardener can find themselves suppressed maybe, & if an outlet isn’t found, then quite often they get on with the tasks in front of them. In these ‘cases’, the gardener occasionally surprises people with a neatly trimmed lawn edge, a tightly clipped & level hedge, or a nicely drawn border edge; all standard practice for a professional gardener. A more responsive gardener can, even then, play down a compliment that is offered.

Good Gardeners… develop the ability to really 'see' a garden, or an area of a garden even before they’ve planted it. This ability is developed whilst learning about the plants, the habit & form etc, & it’s also learned through knowledge of the site itself; its frost pockets, its exposure to the sun etc. Having said this, I know this knowledge can be acquired in a relatively short period, by a good designer with a good quality survey. However it is the way that the information is interpreted, the way any new design is executed & maintained; that will result in an average or outstanding garden.

Whilst the hard materials, their use of, are vital elements in most new gardens, I believe the planting, or more accurately the gardener's use of planting, is where the artistry comes into play. An accurate visualisation of how one wants a flower border, a shrubbery, or a tree plantation to mature, is vital to the success of any project. In most cases it must be said that after planting that border or woodland area, after the empty pots have been cleared away, & after sweeping to tidy the footpath; only then can the gardener’s canvas begin to develop.

The watering, weeding, nurturing, pruning, staking, protecting & nourishing - it is all vital but for what purpose? The purpose I think, is to produce an outcome that moves & affects people, be it good, bad or indifferent, (& some gardens can achieve all three!) If real feelings are stirred, especially when people enjoy seeing & experiencing the result, then the gardener as a craftsperson, is successful in their work. Yet being this successful takes not only horticultural education, but an artistic eye, a delicate hand, & an ability to imagine growth & progress over time. If a person can acquire all these qualities, & become good at creating & maintaining gardens, then surely gardening can't remain the simple job it’s often mistaken for. Gardening in itself I believe, needs to be recognised as the artform that it has become over time, & needs more often to be valued by the garden owner or visitor. Maybe a compliment given to an owner for a beautiful garden, could be followed up by questions about the artist's who created & maintains it?

OK, soapbox finished with for today. My request of respect for gardeners has been stated. If nothing else, let’s hope I’ve opened a few tired eyes to the woes of any frustrated gardeners. Who knows, you may be one!!!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

New Challenge

To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to the return to 'work.' I'm a routine sort of a fellow & my focus always gets upset if I'm away from my regular work pattern for more than a few days. That's not to say I'm married to my work, I live for my family these days with I believe, a very healthy & positive attitude towards that work/life balance...  Despite all the moans & groans, I'm fortunate to have opted for a career that completely envelopes my life. When I'm into my routine I love the dark gloomy mornings, the short winter days, the freezing temps. The 'closed' season as visitor attraction people say, does bring changes to the great outdoors that simply can't be appreciated from an office. Most gardeners will have heard the summertime "You've got the best job," shouted from a passing visitor, but rarely do we hear the same comment in the winter!

I'm a bit odd to be honest, but in quite a normal way - if that makes sense? I find beauty in the simplest things: tangled remains of a rusty iron fence post, hidden within a congested hedgerow; the network of veins throughout an autumn leaf; or the metallic sheen on a beetles shell. In defense of my weirdness, I can say that I've spent many a years employment basically looking after someone else's garden or grounds. Once the work has been discussed, the contracts long since signed & stored, the budgets (also) long since spent & gone; It usually comes down to me, out in the fresh air, with my own thoughts, a designed garden, the flora & fauna. It shouldn't come as a surprise then, that I've developed a simplistic view of life & its pleasures. I think that maybe I try to show this through my photography, as seen elsewhere. A psychic once told me I'd be rich in life's pleasures, not necessarily in monetary terms.....

It should go without saying, that a great degree of focus & concentration is required for most all of the jobs in a typical garden, especially where machinery (& deep water) is concerned... I'd hate for you to get the wrong idea as I wax lyrical about how beautiful it is to work outdoors - Its not all floating about a misty & romantic garden with Vivaldi playing through the trees! It can get a bit tough, messy, & very tiring at times. I wouldn't have it any other way now though.

2011 is well underway now, & after a few days planning & preparing for the season ahead, the work load is stacking up already, fortunate it is however, that I prefer to have plenty to do. The new challenge mentioned in the title is a small increase in hours, so I am effectively full time for my employer now. This having been arranged for six months initially, as maternity cover for my colleague. I shall have the benefit of a full time assistant from the start of February, & we're therefore in good shape to tackle that workload that is looming!

I'm getting lots of new ideas for blog posts over the coming weeks & months, I just need the time to get on here & get creative. Do pass on your thoughts & wishes for my blog, & I'll try to please all - as ever!

I hope you manage to get out & enjoy the outdoors this year, in whatever form it takes.

All the very best, Gary

Monday, 3 January 2011

Warming Winter Photograph's - No.3

‘Warming Winter Photographs,’ are a set of posts I have been adding to my blog over the festive period (which is fading fast) & from the comfort of my Warwickshire home. They are basically an excuse for me to look through & share some old & favourite photographs of gardens.

I'm intending to 'beef' up the blog over the coming months, with something to really get your teeth into, especially for those interested in grounds/garden work in the south Warwickshire area. Therefore, if there is anything in particular you'd like me to focus on - just drop me a comment on here or via twitter: @GaryWebb1

Enjoy the photo's!

Dunster Castle driveway

Dunster Castle Rooftop Views
Sorry, couldn't resist putting this waterfall in..... ;-)
Nash's House (Pre' 2010 Archaeology!)
Irish National Stud - Japanese Garden

The weekly flowers for Dunster Castle, 2007/8