Monday, 21 December 2009

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.

It is the staff christmas party tonight, so I thought I should write this entry before rather than after.
We would like to thank you for all your kind comments about our blog and hope you rejoin us for another year of gardening at Worcester College from 4th January 2010
The gardening team would like to wish all their blog readers
" A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."


With one and a half days left to the xmas shut down and temperatures plummeting to below zero, it is time to check that all the tractors have sufficient anti freeze within their coolant systems. The coolant, a mixture of antifreeze and water that runs through the engine, must be able to withstand temperatures well below freezing and as these machines will not be used over the next few weeks sufficient antifreeze to water ratio is needed to protect the engines. Ady and his team of other mechanically minded gardeners set about the task.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Rose Garden

Over the last two days the gardening team have been tidying up the Provost's Rose Garden, the last garden to be finished before the xmas break. As with all the previous gardens, the secateurs are put into action cutting down all the hebaceous plants, after which, all the leaves
are raked out from within the rose beds. Once cleared they are weeded and forked through to break up the soil, then the mulch is brought in and added to each bed.

Friday, 11 December 2009

A Fox and A Kingfisher

First let me say that I, Ali, did not take this photograph, I only wish I had. Today was a very special day, not just because Lucy had returned to work after a terrible cold, but because of the two wildlife encounters.
Graham and Ady had a face to face encounter with a fox when it came within inches of them as they were fixing a gate at the bottom of the Provost's Garden. The fox wanted to go through the open gate so they had to move out of his way and allow him to pass, he then went on to see what Ali and Ying were up to in the garden, before continuing his journey through to the Nuffield Lawn. WOW!
The reason for the picture of the Kingfisher is that this is the exact pose Lucy, Ali and Graham had the pleasure in witnessing today from the bridge overlooking the weir. For ten minutes the Kingfisher sat in a low lying shrub over hanging the waters edge with a fish in its mouth. A wildlife encounter none of us fortunate enough to be there will ever forget.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


As the gardeners have been working their way around the college grounds chopping down all the hebaceous material, Ady and Graham have been following in their foot steps with truck loads of mulch. Wherever the secateur holding gardeners have been the mulchers follow, moving in their shadows, like an oil slick, leaving behind them a trail of rich, dark black, nutritious mulch.

The Ruskin Building border could not escape the dark cloud that followed, the newly exposed soil having been uncovered by the removal of the plant material by the secateurs, was soon covered once again.

No corner of the college, that contained hebaceous material, would escape its fate as the two mulchers moved stealthily around the grounds searching for their next victim.

The Broadwalk would soon be covered in mulch unable to withstand the fate of all the borders that had come before it.

The Casson fell victim to this onslaught too and when the mulchers were running short of mulch, they turned to the pile of wood chip and used this to mulch the three large tree and shrub borders lining the Nuffield Lawn. They can only be stopped when the mulch runs out, will we all be under a pile of mulch before the year is out. Watch out Rose Garden, you are next!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Chop, Chop

Now that the hebaceous border has been cut down along with the four borders in the Casson Garden, also known as The Goldfish Bowl, due to its shape, the gardeners moved on to the Serpentine, this has also aquired its name due to its shape.
Joe and Ali were given the chopping task, so armed with their secatuers, which have hardly left their side in recent weeks, they started to cut down all the hebaceous material.

As they worked their away along the border, the box balls began to re emerge along with the young tips of the Mascari, which will, again, create the river of blue in the spring.

As darkness rapidly descended upon them, they managed to reach the half way point, a job that would have to be finished the next working day.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

I Saw Three Ships

"I saw three ships come sailing in"

As you wonder around the college gardens over the next few months you will start to see the snowdrops emerging. The autumn snowdrop, Galanthus reginae olgae, was seen back in late October and has now been followed by Galanthis plicatus 'Three Ships', which usally flowers before Christmas.

Apart from noticing 'Three Ships' in the garden this week, you may have also noticed 'Four Men Spiking', which is not a snowdrop variety, but four gardeners spiking the front entrance lawns. Having spiked the lawn earlier in the autumn, see blog entry 'Aeration' on the 8th October, Josh gathered three other gardeners, Ady, Graham and Joe, to help him spike with forks.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


Readers of the blog may remember 'Mulch, Mulch, Glorious Mulch' from way back when, actually 24th March. Well, here we are again, this time though, mulching in the autumn, rather than spring. Mulches are best applied from mid to late spring or autumn when the soil is moist and warm, so rather than applying it next year, we have decided to mulch in November now that the border has been cleared. (We also need the space, as all the compost bins are full and we have nowhere to place the rest of the leaves and other hebaceous material)
As with mulching in the spring, the mulch will conserve the soil moisture, block weeds, improve soil structure and look good, however mulching in autumn provides protection for the plants from drastic temperature changes as the cold winter approaches.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Fiddlers On The Roof

Now that the strong winds have died down, some of the gardeners turn their attention to the tea shed roof. The fiddlers on the roof were Ady, Josh, Simon and Kieron, who swapped their forks and spades for hammers and tar guns and, for one morning, set about putting a new roof on the tea shed. A big Thank You from the rest of the gardening team as we now have a warm dry room to retire to as the winter approaches.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


Working at Worcester College we are so lucky to be outside every day and come across wildlife in various forms throughout the year. Our most recent friend is a frog who we discovered when blowing the leaves off the hebaceous border. Over the past 11 months we have had encounters with wildfowl that have visited the gardens; a Swan, Cormorant, Merganser, Heron and a Little Grebe. Birds seen in the gardens such as Gold Crests, Sparrow Hawks, Woodpeckers, Kingfisher and the more common birds, Robins, Great Tits, Long Tailed Tits and Blackcap. A Hedgehog has also been successfully rehomed at Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital.
Due to the warm weather the number of butterflies have increased this year, sightings include; Red Admiral, Peacock, Scarlet Tiger, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell. Most of our encounters are very pleasant ones, but not all, as Lucy had a nasty coming together with a hornet and was very unpleasantly stung, which was very painful.

Winter Preparation

It is that time of the year when the hebaceous border is well past its best and needs a thorough tidy up. The team gather along the border with sharp secateurs in hand and prepare to cut all the perennial plants to the ground and remove all the annual plants. We divide into teams of two and split the border into small sections, cutting down, removing all the material to the compost heaps for next years mulch and remove all the birch supports, which are taken to the chipper to be chipped at a later date.
Once the plant material has all been removed, Ady then blows all the leaves off the border, which is also added to the compost heaps.

Now that the border has been cleared it is ready for its make over. Plants will be lifted and divided into more plants and moved to other areas and new plants will be added to enhance the border for next years display. Tulips will be added for a spring display, 300-400 in red, orange and white to mimic the colours in the summer display.
The last piece of the jigsaw will be to fork over the border to allow air and water to reach the plant roots, followed by a mulch.

Wrap It Up

Having perfected their wrapping skills on the tea shed, Ady, Graham and Ying continue to wrap their way around the college, this time with the hardy banana on the herbaceous border. This banana, Musa bajoo, is the only banana plant that is left outside during the winter, but needs some protection to help it through. First, Ady bends the large leaves around the trunk.

Next, he wraps the trunk with loft insulation to keep the trunk warm during the coldest of nights.
After wrapping the trunk with loft insulation, he wraps the structure with fleece, tying it all up with string to complete the banana's winter protection. Snug as a bug in a rug.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens,
Brown paper packages tied up with string,
These are a few of my favourite things."

Well it wasn't brown paper, it was actually a very large blue tarpaulin tied up with five pieces of rope and some string, but the tea shed is our favourite thing as it is where we go for rest, tea, coffee and food.

Due to the gale force winds blowing today, the roofing felt on the gardeners tea shed was ripped off, a very important building in our daily routine. As a temporary measure, until the strong winds die down and we can get a large amount of roofing felt, the tarpaulin was tied down over the roof by Ady, Graham, Joe, Ali and our new volunteer gardener, Ying.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Vine Weevil

It is amazing how much extra work the discovery of a little bug can cause you. One of the most feared bugs among gardeners, apart from the Lawn Chaffer Grub, is Vine Weevil. Over the last few weeks, the summer bedding plants have been removed from their pots and replaced by our winter bedding scheme. However, this job, usually a simple task, has been made a lot more difficult due to the presence of these creamy, may I say ugly, grubs. (I hated taking this photo)
Here's the education part of the blog:
The adult beetles can be found between March and May, is just under 1cm long and is matt black with gingery-brown flecks on its wing cases and has elbowed antennae. They feed mostly at night and nibble around the edges of leaves, the first visable sign. The adults lay tiny brown eggs in the soil which then hatch, in late summer, into creamy coloured, legless grubs which often curl into a C-shape, have a ginger-brown head and reach 1 cm long. They feed on roots, burrow into tubers and gnaw through the stem base on woody plants. The second visable sign is when the plant starts to wilt and a gentle tug reveals that it is no longer firmly rooted. The weevils then overwinter as pupae and then hatch as adult beetles and the cycle starts all over again!

One of the pots in the Provost's Yard, when having its plants replaced, has been found to have the dreaded Vine Weevil, resulting in all the plants and soil being replaced. The Impatiens and Fuchsia's, of which we have already taken cuttings, have been thrown away, all their roots had been eaten. The Fern has had all the soil removed and its roots washed, and the Bay has been planted in to open ground. A quick ten minute job ended up taking about three hours.

A Very Large Brush and Six Trowels

As the weather starts to get colder in the mornings, dew starts to form on the lawns creating perfect breeding conditions for the lawn fungus, Fusarium. In order to minimise the risk of this desease developing, Josh regularly brushes the main quad lawn removing the dew as well as causing the grass leaf to stand up which, when mowing, helps to produce a cleaner cut.
Having finished his morning brush, Josh swaps his brush for a trowel and joins the other members of the team in planting the bulbs and plants in to the main quad border. This winters colour scheme is blue and white; the blue from Mysotis sylvatica 'Mon Amie Blue', grown from seed and Hyacinth 'Delft Blue' with the white Tulip 'White Emperor'.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday Wreaths

One of the most important jobs this week is the making of the wreaths of remembrance for this Sunday's ceremony. Following brief instructions by Ali, Lucy and Joe carefully added Laurel leaves, Poppies and Rosemary to the wreath's framework to create two beautiful floral tributes.

Monday, 2 November 2009


The weekends go so fast and this Monday the gardeners knew what would be in store for them when they returned to work. The invading army had joined forces with their allies, the wind and rain over the weekend and attacked on all fronts.

Kieran attempted to mow up the leaves with the ride on mower, but was defeated by the depth of leaves. He called for reinforcements and was joined by the rest of the team, each armed with a leaf rake and plenty of energy, after a weekends rest. Four hours later all the leaves were raked up and deposited in the leaf pits where they will be left to rot, a victory for the gardeners.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

360 Green Bottles

The apples and pears have all been juiced and the gardeners now have the result of all their hard work, 360 bottles of Worcester College apple and pear juice. Now all they have to do is label each bottle, one on the front and one on the back, 720 labels!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Scarifying On A Large Scale

Josh has spent the last month scarifiying lawns, but today he has enlisted the help of Kieran to scarify the Provost's lawn, one of the college's biggest lawns. Due to the lawns size, Josh's mower, Dennis, is not big enough to cope with the requirements, so another piece of kit is needed. The Amazone Scarifier is attached to the big blue tractor and, at between 1-6 mph, is driven carefully over the lawn.
As with the Dennis, the Amazone removes the dead grass and thatch that has built up during the mowing season allowing water and nutrients to reach the grass roots.

As the blades rotate through the lawn it collects the grass into the box, 1.25 metres cubed, and once full, is emptied into a pile. Over two days, numerous boxes were filled leaving the lawn looking rather bare, but Josh is confident the grass will come back looking stronger and better than before. Now all he has to do is aerate the entire lawn!

Monday, 26 October 2009

A Coating of Many Colours

The battle against the invading force of leaves has entered its second month, with the gardeners still holding back on using the big machinery. The shoulders and arms may be tired, but the team keep the leaves from the paths and lawns. The unusually warm weather has continued and the leaves are clinging onto the trees with their last ounce of strength, but once the frost arrives a fall of huge proportions will occur.
This continued mild weather has resulted in a spectacular coat of many colours, both on the ground and on the trees. Bronze, Gold, Brown, Yellow,Orange, the list of adjectives is unending, as the leaves change colours and slowly float to the ground.

Friday, 23 October 2009


You might be forgiven for thinking that climate change has resulted in our Snowdrops getting confused and flowering early, but this is not the case. Under a tree on the Nuffield lawn, a sight usually associated with late winter, early spring, can be found. Galanthus reginae olgae is an autumn flowering Snowdrop that flowers in October/November, producing strongly scented flowers before its leaves appear.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

On The Move Again

This year the frost has been late to arrive and has allowed the tender, less hardy plants in the tropical bed to stay outside a little longer. How much longer it will be before the frost arrives is unknown, but we can not risk these plants being hit by a sudden drop in temperature.
The team have to dig up all the plants, the largest taking the strength of four men to lift it out of the soil. They are then placed into the trailor for transporting to the greenhouse where they are potted up for winter storage.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy

It is a very busy time for the gardeners at the moment with all areas of the garden needing attention. Joe, under the guidance of Ady, built some new staging in the greenhouse to increase the space available for the plants.

Meanwhile, Ali with some help from Graham, Simon and Kieran potted up all the cuttings taken in September. These plants were potted up into a mixture of John Innes soil based compost and a multipurpose compost.

Once the new staging had been finished, Joe, Ady and Graham started to remove the giant bananas from the college borders and brought the first of many into the greenhouse for protection over the winter. Josh, unable to use a spiking machine on the banks, continues to spike them with a fork!