Thursday, 31 March 2016

Starting With The Acanthus

Birch Basket Plant Support

The herbaceous perennials, in response to the warm winter, are emerging through the soil earlier than last year. One month earlier than in 2015, starting with the Acanthus spinosus, the team have begun to create the birch baskets that will support the plants throughout late spring, summer and early autumn. The birch, a very pliable material, is carefully woven together to make the baskets in all shapes and sizes, and if the team get it right, will match the growth of the plants and disappear within the foliage. The Acanthus should reach a height of about 1.2 metres so the basket has been made just short of that height, about 1 metre.  

Newly Emerged Acanthus
Plant Support and Tulips

After two days baskets have been made for Acanthus, Achillea, Galega, Delphinium, Aster, Dahlia, and Nepeta. The creative 'fun' will continue over the coming weeks as more and more perennials continue to emerge.

Making A Basket Plant Support For Nepeta

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Greylag Goose X Canada Goose ( Formerly Identified as Greylag Goose X Barnacle Goose)

Possible Greylag Goose X Barnacle Goose hybrid

An unusual visitor was spotted on the Nuffield Lawn this afternoon, and not being welcomed warmly by either the Canada goose pair or the Greylag goose pair. It didn't look like either so what was it? It couldn't be a Canada goose, it didn't have the distinctive black head and neck and large white throat patch. It couldn't be a Greylag goose, it didn't have the barred grey and white plumage and the distinctive orange legs and beak. After some investigation the answer was found, it is possibly a cross between a Greylag goose and a Barnacle Goose, the first recording of this hybrid in the college gardens. For similar photographs to confirm identification click on the link:

Having contacted Dave Appleton, the writer of the blog and the creator of to confirm the identification, this goose has now been correctly identified as a Greylag Goose X Canada Goose. In his email the reasons for the reidentification are as follows:

"It is quite similar to my Greylag x Barnacle photos, but I think it's actually Greylag x Canada. There are a few pointers - in particular the very pale breast (Barnacle Goose hybrids normally show a dark breast), the longer bill (Barnacle hybrids are usually shorter-billed) and the very brown body/wing plumage (most Barnacle Goose hybrids are a little greyer than this). Your bird looks like it has quite a heavy rear end which may indicate that the Greylag Goose parent was a domestic bird."

Thank you Dave. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Sinclair Lawn Sand

Granular Spreader

Having checked the weather forecast, and with rain due to fall in the next 24 hours, Joss has applied a Lawn Sand dressing to the kill the moss in the Provost's lawn. Dressed in full personal protective clothing, paying particular attention in the wearing of a face mask to protect against the very dusty nature of the powder, Joss uses a calibrated granular spreader to apply the lawn sand over the mossy grass. The sand, a powder, is a Nitrogenous Fertiliser with Iron that will feed the grass at the same time as the iron kills the moss.


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Song Of The Chiffchaff Is Heard

Heard Amongst The Holm Oak

The song of the Chiffchaff was heard in the gardens this morning for the first time this year, in amongst the Holm Oak trees behind the gardener's tea shed. Often the first of the summer migrants to be heard, the arrival is 5 days earlier than last year and 1 day later than the previous year. Between the 21st-27th March 2017 the garden team will be listening out for the sweet song "chiff chaff' as it sings its own name and announces its return again.  

A Fresh Coat Of Gardenia

It's time for a spring clean so the paint, rollers and paint brushes have been brought out to give the gardener's tea shed a fresh coat of paint. All the walls are cleared, some of the furniture is moved out of the shed and the remainder moved in to the middle of the floor space. Once the walls are prepared a coat of paint is applied. Gardenia, similar to Magnolia, is the chosen colour, quite appropriate as Gardenia are evergreen plants with fragrant white flowers. The repaint of the tea room should be completed by the start of the Easter break on Friday.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Swans Lay Their First Egg (And Bird Update)

First Egg Laid

The swans have been building their nest for the last 10 days and today the first egg was laid sometime between 7:45am and 13:15pm, the nest was checked at these times by Ali. Mating has been seen twice, the first time on the 10th March and the second time on Friday, 18th. This first egg has been laid just over 3 weeks earlier than last year, see blog entry 16th April 2015 'Swans (First Egg 2015)' and a week earlier than 2014, see blog entry 27th March 2014 'The First Egg Laid (2014)'. The egg laying this year and the previous two are all considerably earlier than 2013's start date, 3rd May! Once all the eggs have been laid the incubation will begin.  

Female Goosander

The annual arrival of the Goosander to the lake saw the first recorded sighting on the 4th January, a female and for the next two months a further 12 birds were seen, this years dates are as follows:
4th January - 1 female
27th January - 1 male/1 female (Pair)
29th January - 3 male/1 female
8th February - 1 male/1female (Pair)
9th Febraury - 1 female
4th March - 1 male/1 female (Pair)
9-11th March - 1 female
For previous years recorded sightings see blog entry 26th February 2015 'Goosanders, Just Passing Through'.

The Canada Geese Return

Last year a pair of Canada Geese successfully reared two young and, as expected, four geese returned on the 1st March. Since their arrival, having stayed a while, two have now flown off and left, what is thought to be, the adult pair from last year having returned to the favourite breeding ground. For last year's story see blog entry 24th June 'The Success And Failures Of The College Waterfowl'.

Away from the water and the waterfowl, the Blue Tit have started to check out the old hollow apple tree in the orchard, possibly the same pair that used it successfully last year, see blog entry 2nd June 2015 'Great Tit V Blue Tit'.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Venetian Dahlia Collection By Sarah Raven

Sarah Raven's Venetian Dahlia Collection

When choosing the plants for this year's summer 'Corner Border' display, see blog entry 1st September 2015 'A Bright And Cheerful Border In The Corner' for last years, a great deal of thought goes in to what the team could do differently. Questions asked, which plants worked well and which ones did not? Which plants could be added to enhance and improve the display? Having answered the questions some plants will be used again and others will not, as well as introducing some new ones, such is the case this year with the introduction of Dahlia to the display. 

2 Tubers Dahlia 'Thomas A Edison

The Dahlia chosen for the border is the Venetian Dahlia Collection by Sarah Raven. The collection consists of 16 tubers, 2 tubers of 8 different Dahlia varieties, 'Jescot Julie', 'Sam Hopkins', 'Jowey Mirella', 'Ambition', 'New Baby', 'Con Amore', 'Thomas A Edison' and 'Downham Royal'. The colours are a mix of purple, plum, orange, crimson-red, velvet-red and magenta. The flower heads will be a mixture too, Decorative, Ball, Semi-Cactus, Orchid-Flowered and Single Flowered.

Tubers Potted Up In 2 Litre Pots

Each tuber was potted up in compost in to 2 litre pots and will remain in the greenhouse until they are planted in the border once all risks have frosts have gone. Only time will tell, when in late September to October the team will look at the display and will be asking themselves, "Did the Dahlia work well in the border?"

Potted Up Dahlia

Friday, 11 March 2016

Tanalised Easy Edge Timber and Ilex Aquafolium 'Alaska'

The Project Begins

A very shabby area of grass that borders two sides of the Besse Building received welcome attention this week. The project, to remove the grass and replace it with a wooden edged border planted up with evergreen shrubs. The area was measured, the longest side 14 metres and the shortest side at 9 metres, the depth would be 1.4 metres and .70 metres respectively. To create the new border a frame of tanalised Easy-edge timber, machined to a smooth surface with a beveled edge, would be needed so several lengths were purchased last week, 200mm x 47mm for the back of the frame and 100mm x 47mm for the front. 

Removing The Turf

A string guide line was used to make sure the timber frame was straight and a spirit level to check the levels, each piece of wood screwed in place to small wooden stakes. As the frame was constructed the grass was removed, the soil turned over and forked through. 

Checking And Checking Again

Waiting For The Leaf Mould

Placing Out The Holly

Before the evergreen shrubs were planted leaf mould was added to raise the level of the soil within the new border and to improve the soils structure.

Planting The Holly

The evergreen shrub that was chosen to fill the border is, Ilex aquafolium 'Alaska', a prickly Holly with glossy green foliage, white flowers in the summer and numerous bright red berries in the winter. 

The New Besse Building Border
A week in construction the new Beese Building border is complete, all that remains is the repairation of the path that surrounds it but that will have to wait a few weeks until the hoggin is delivered.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Seed Sowing 2016

Chiltern Seeds, Sarah Raven and Thompson & Morgan

The flower pots and labels have been cleaned so it must be time to start sowing the seeds for the plants that will be used in this years flower displays. Chosen from three suppliers 'Chiltern Seeds', 'Sarah Raven' and 'Thompson & Morgan' old favourites such as Antirrhinum, Cleome, Zinnia and Rudbeckia were sown along with new choices, Trachelium and Nigella. Small, shallow flower pots were filled with compost, levelled, gently firmed, using an empty flower pot of the same size, and then watered. The large seeds, such as Zinnia, were gently pushed in to the surface of the compost and the small seeds, such as Antirrhinum, were scattered over the top of it. Compost was then sieved over the seeds, the pots contents labelled, lightly watered again and placed in the mist unit under glass.

A Full Mist Unit

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Leaf Spot, Melting Out and Horticultural Fleece

 Leaf Spot 'Melting Out'

Horticultural fleece has not been seen on the in the quad since the banks were reseeded eighteen months ago, see blog entry for the 15th September 2014 'Grass Seed and Horticultural Fleece'. The reason for its reappearance is due to an attack of the fungal disease 'Leaf Spot' on sections of the banks which have created large, unsightly bare patches in the grass.
The fungal disease 'Leaf Spot' was first noticed at the end of last summer with small lesions on some of the blades of grass. As the disease progressed more and more of the grass was affected, the infection moves down the sheath causing the grass to die and turn brown. In the advanced stage of the disease large areas of grass become infected and died, this is known as 'melting out'. Fungicides were used to stop the spread and now it is time to repair the bare areas.

Over Seeding (Small Bank)

Joss spent the day working on the banks to repair the damage. The patches of bare earth were covered in a soil based compost then a Preseed fertiliser and Ryegrass grass seed were scattered over the soil.

Over Seeding (Large Bank)

Fleece (Small Bank)

A layer of horticultural fleece was rolled out over the areas of repair and clipped in place. With the temperates due to rise over the next week, the fleece should create the perfect conditions for the grass seed to germinate.

Over Seeding (Large Bank)

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Aerating With The 'Wiedenmann Terra Spike'

The 'Wiedenmann Terra Spike' has only ever been used to aerate the sports field but yesterday was used for the first time in the gardens, aerating the Provost's lawn. Prior to using this large tractor mounted Wiedenmann the aerating of the lawns in the garden had been done using the walk behind 'Groundsman Turf Aerator', see blog entry 8th October 2009 'Aeration'.  

Hooked up to the John Deer tractor and set to a spiking depth of 4 inches, the Wiedenmann made quick and efficient work of aerating the lawn. Deep spiking and aeration is an essential requirement for healthy root growth, decompacting the ground and allowing the roots of the grass to penetrate deeper into the soil to make better use of water and nutrients that lie within. The tractor mounted aerator should become a regular sight in the gardens following this successful introduction.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Lifting And Moving Snowdrops In The Green

Lifted Galanthus 'Dionysus'
Two of the early flowering varieties of snowdrop found in the college gardens have finished flowering, Galanthus 'Magnet' and Galanthus 'Dionysus'. These snowdrops have formed large, congested clumps and, whilst their foliage is still green ('in the green'), need lifting, splitting and moving to other areas of the gardens. One such area can be found at the end of the recently cleared path along the north side of the college. Having moved 'Magnet' yesterday to bare areas on the herbaceous border, the large clumps of 'Dionysus' were carefully lifted using a garden fork, a few replanted back in to the soil and the rest taken to the path for planting. 

One Of The Many Lifted Clumps To Be Split
The large clumps were gently teased apart by hand, splitting them in to much smaller clumps of 3-5 bulbs and placed out on the ground for planting.   

Split Clumps
The numerous small clumps of bulbs were planted in to holes at the same depth as they were in their original home. Once they had all been planted they were watered in. The lifting and moving snowdrops in the green will continue in the coming month as more of the later varieties finish flowering spreading them around the gardens for a bigger, better display next year.