Friday 21 December 2018

Ten Years Of The Worcester College Gardener's Blog, 2009-2018

The front quad 2018

As another year draws to an end and the college closes its doors for the customary Christmas break, it is also time to bring the Worcester College Gardener's blog to an end.
It began in February 2009, and for ten years through almost 1,500 posts, it has covered the activities of the gardening team and the lives of some of the wildlife that inhabit the gardens. 
As custodians of the gardens the team has a responsibility to both preserve and improve the historic gardens that so many have done before them, as well as providing a beautiful picturesque and tranquil environment for the staff, fellows, alumni and the visitors of today. Hopefully the blog has given a small insight into the work of the team and their achievements.
The team would like to thank you all for the support you have given them over the last decade through the reading of the blog, for the questions you have asked, for the generosity of your many comments and for taking the time to visit the gardens.  
As this is the last entry, and Christmas is only a few days away, they would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. 
The Herbaceous Border 2018

Monday 17 December 2018

Three Champion Trees In The Gardens

Champion Tree, November 2018, Catalpa speciosa

The Catalpa speciosa was planted in 1913, first flowered in 1922 and was first measured in 2011 by Oxford City Tree Officer, Chris Leyland. Its measurements were 22m tall x 3.58m girth, measured at 1.5m above ground, and it was these measurements that gave it its 'Champion Tree' status as 'The tallest and the largest of its species in Britain and Ireland'.
Prior to 2011 the previous champion was at Radnor Gardens in Twickenham but this tree was felled in 2005, two other trees held the champion status over the next six years until 2011 when the Worcester College tree took the title.
Last month the tree was remeasured and, having continued to grow, its new measurements are 22.8m tall x 3.76m girth, measured at 1.5m above ground, this reconfirms its continued status as 'The tallest and the largest of its species to be found anywhere in Britain and Ireland', a true Champion!

Catalpa speciosa in leaf and flower, July 2018

Catalpa flowers

Two other trees found in the gardens have now joined the Catalpa as a 'Champion Tree' with the Tree Register, a Metasequoia glyptostroboides, measured at 27m x 3.19m at 1.5m above ground, and a Firmiana simplex, measured st 7.6m x 0.48m at 1.5m above ground. These two trees have been awarded the 'County Champion Tree' status rather than 'Britain and Ireland', the Metasequoia is the tallest in Oxfordshire and the Firmiana is the best specimen in Oxfordshire (the 3rd largest and the 2nd tallest in Britain and Ireland).

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Mistletoe In The Orchard

Mistletoe (L) in the orchard

There are now four good sized clumps of mistletoe growing on the apple trees in the bottom section of the orchard, but this has not always been the case. Before 2007 there wasn't any mistletoe in the college grounds so the decision was made to try and introduce it into the orchard.

The very first mistletoe to grow in the orchard

In February-March 2007 the first attempt was made by making a small, thin slice in the bark to create a flap in many of the apple trees and a hundred mistletoe berries were inserted under the numerous flaps. A year later a second method was used which didn't involve cutting the trees but, instead, by hanging mistletoe from the trees in the hope that the birds would feed on the berries and, perhaps, wipe their beaks on to the bark. After three to four years the team had just about given up hope of ever seeing mistletoe in the orchard when the first set of leaves were seen on one of the apple trees. These leaves have now developed in to a good sized clump and have now been joined by three others with the beginning of a fifth one having recently been discovered. Success, but was it the first or the second method that worked?

Mistletoe berries

Monday 3 December 2018

Creating A Cascading Rose

Unruly, vigorous annual growth

The climbing rose that grows in the garden above the herbaceous border, affectionately known as the Secret Garden due to its hidden position behind a wall, has been causing the gardening team a bit of a headache when dealing with it's unruly, vigorous growth that it produces every year. Two years ago the way it was pruned was changed and, to make use of the long stems, wires were added to the wall for support. 

Last year's long, vigorous stems tied to the wires.

Planted against a small wall, waiting to be pruned

Planted in the garden, up against a wall of only four foot in height, the rose's vigorous stems are between 10 to 15 foot long, far too tall for the wall, hence the problem, a very messy looking rose producing very few flowers. By adding horizontal wires to the other side of the wall, the very tall side, the long stems could be bent over the top, down the wall and tied on to the wires. 

Last year's flowering stems

When the rose is pruned each winter the previous year's stems are removed to clear the wall and the strongest, new stems are bent down on to the wires to replace them. The remaining, unwanted stems are cut off and a few old, woody stems are cut out to encourage new growth for future years. 

Last year's stems cleared from the wall

Stems bent over the top of the wall

New stems bent down on to the wires

Pruning the rose today, a dozen stems, no longer flapping about in the breeze as in the past, now cascade over the top of the wall. The pressure from the bending of the stems over and down the wall will cause the many buds to burst into life and produce the flowering stems for next years flowers.

Stem tied to the wire with a bud waiting to burst

New stems tied to the wires

Pruned rose, Secret Garden side

Friday 30 November 2018

The Daily Chore Of Clearing The Autumn Leaf Fall

Autumn leaf fall

Leaf blower

The prime objective for the team throughout November has been to keep the gardens from being buried beneath a torrent of leaves that have fallen from the numerous trees within the college grounds, and those that have blown in from the trees that grow in the surrounding area.


On a daily basis at least one member of the Gardens and Grounds team could have been found somewhere in the college tackling this invasion of leaves clearing them from the paths, lawns, borders and the sports field. This year's autumn leaf fall has been mainly steady and controlled when there has been little wind but erratic and swirling in the stormy days. Mother Nature has been quite kind to the team this year with her trees dropping their cargo at a mostly manageable rate but she still likes to have the occasional game of 'chase the leaf' by moving them from the carefully constructed piles before they can be picked up! As the month draws to an end so has the leaf fall with most of the trees now empty, only the wisteria still have their leaves on which, hopefully, will fall in the coming weeks.

Cleared (for now)

A growing leaf pile

Keeping the paths clear

Tuesday 27 November 2018

The First Small Step For The Cuttings

18th October, the first cuttings out of the mist unit

This year's cuttings were taken during the last two weeks of September, see blog entry 24th September 'No Rush This Year To Take Cuttings', and have been residing in the mist unit ever since. After a month, having enjoyed the bottom heat provided the warming cable and the gentle mist from the water jets, some of the cuttings had formed roots that had started to emerge through the holes in the base of the pots. These rooted cuttings were removed from their place of comfort and placed on some staging to harden them off, (toughening them up), no more bottom heat or mist for these young plants..  
Roots showing

1st November, hardening off more cuttings from the mist unit

Rooted cuttings

Over the last six weeks the team have been working there way through the rooted cuttings, tapping them out of their pots, gently teasing the tangled roots apart and potting them up into individual 11x11x10cm pots full of a 50/50 mix of John Innes Compost No2 and seed compost. .

Teased apart, split into three

1st November, the first three cuttings potted up

1st November, cuttings potted up

A rooted pot of cuttings, Plectranthus ciliatus 'Nico'

A rooted pot of cuttings, Salvia 'Penny's Smile'

The mist unit is now almost empty of cuttings for another year with the majority having been potted up, a few of the pelargonium haven't quite developed enough roots to be split into individual plants but their time will come. Those that have been potted up now live on the staging on the other side of the greenhouse from the mist unit, they haven't travelled far, but it is the first small step towards their final destination out in the gardens next summer.

27th November, Staging full of cuttings

27th November, Staging full of cuttings (From above)

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Pillars of Salt

Temporary fleece skirt

Following a gloriously hot summer and the unseasonably high temperatures of this autumn, the forecast for Oxford tonight is below freezing, minus two! All the tender plants that hate the cold weather were moved into the greenhouse a month ago, see blog entry 18th October 'The Tender Giants Go Inside For The Winter', apart from the large clump of Musa basjoo, the Japanese Banana, which are too big to move.

Wrapping the banana plants

Removing the temporary fleece skirt that had been used to protect the stems over the last few weeks as the temperatures began to drop, the stems were wrapped individually and in small groups of two-three. The leaves were pulled down around the stems and tied to create the first layer of protection then wrapped in a double thickness horticultural fleece for the second protective layer.


At the base of the stems are the next generation of stems, the small 'Pups', that will grow up next year to create an even better display. However, one stem will not return as it has flowered and, now that it has produced a flower and fruit, it will die (monocarpic). The decision was made to leave this flower uncovered so it can be viewed and enjoyed for a little bit longer. This is the fourth time a flower has been produced from the stems of this clump of banana plants, the first time was in September 2010, the second, October 2014 and the third, July 2016.

Banana flower

Inedible fruit

When all the stems had been wrapped, a thick layer of leaf mould was added around the base to protect the root balls from frost. Looking like 'Pillars of Salt', these plants will remain under cover until late May next year when then temperatures have risen and they can safely unwrapped.

Wrapped and mulched for the winter