Thursday, 21 December 2017

Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year

Gardens and Grounds Team Christmas 2017, 21st December

The college has now shut down for the festive period and the Gardens and Grounds team are having a deserved break. This year has been an extremely busy one from the get go with the planting of the borders around the new Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre, the triennial commemorative ball in June right through to the royal visit in October.
The team would like to thank you all for your continued support through the reading of this blog and for the many positive comments made through it and in person when visiting the gardens. Next year, 2018, will be the 10th year of the blog, and the final year that Ali will be writing it so please join her and the team when they get back in January to see what happens in the gardens and grounds, as well as revisiting blog entries from the last 9 years. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.  

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

The Pruning Of The Rose Garden Completed Before Christmas

The First Rose To Be Pruned, A Climbing Rose

The pruning of the many wisteria, campsis and the numerous climbing and shrub roses in the college gardens began during the first week of November. It continued through November and in to the middle of  December with the pruning this week of the roses in the Provost's rose garden.

The Second Rose

Pruned Campsis, Climbing Roses and Wisteria On The Top Terrace

Pruned Climbing Roses On the Cottages

Pruned Wisteria, South Facing Wall Of The Provost's Lodgings

Due to the morning frosts this week the team had to wait for it to defrost before they could walk on the grass that surround the ten rose beds. Whilst waiting for the sun to rise high enough above the buildings, and shine sufficiently to melt the frost, they used this time to prune the wisteria that adorns the lower section of the south facing wall of the Provost's lodgings.   

Pruning The Roses In The Provost's Rose Garden

Once the frosts melted sufficiently the team ventured on to the grass and, over two days, pruned the seventy roses in the rose beds. The rose garden, now 10 years old, its redesign and replanting were completed in the Spring of 2007, has many different types of old fashioned roses Alba, Moss, Gallica, Damask, Bourbon, Rugosa, Hybrid Perpetual and China, all helping to create a beautiful, fragrant display in the summer, it is at its best in June.
A great achievement to have the rose garden pruning completed by Christmas but, with the Chrstmas break starting on Thursday, the pruning of the remaining wisteria will have to wait until January when the team return from their well earned rest. 


The Roses The Ten Rose Beds Are All Pruned

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

A Cold, Snowy Few Days In Oxford

The Top Orchard
Snow! Love it or loathe it, it is the Garden and Grounds team's responsibility to clear the paths, apply the rock salt and make the college safe to walk around for the staff, visitors, alumni and students. 

Pavillion And Practice Wickets

Three to four inches of snow fell on Sunday so yesterday morning, armed with snow shovels and wheelbarrows full of rock salt, the team worked together to clear and treat the pathways, cold work but a necessity. Once the work is done the snow can then be appreciated for all its beauty.
This morning the cleared pathways had to be treated with rock salt again but by the afternoon the snow and ice was beginning to melt, hopefully that is the last of the snow before the college shuts down for the Christmas break.


View Across The Sports Field to The Lecture Centre


Snow Rabbit

Friday, 8 December 2017

Winter Berries Providing Food For The College Wildlife

5 Crab Apple Trees, Malus 'Evereste' 16th October

Malus 'Evereste' 6th December

Over the last few years the team have planted a number of shrubs and trees in the grounds that will provide food for wildlife in the form of berries.
In November 2015 three Sorbus trees were planted, see blog entry for the 24th 'Sorbus Pearly King', the pink berries have already been eaten by the blackbirds.
In March 2016 twenty Holly bushes were planted, see blog entry for 11th 'Tanalised Easy Edge Timber and Ilex Aquafolium Alaska', the bright red berried have all been eaten by the blackbirds. The blackbirds are also quite partial to the white fruit of Symphoricarpus albus, the snowberry, which are currently providing them with an alternative source of food.

The Ducks Feeding

However, in December 2015 five crab apple trees were planted, see blog entry for the 17th 'Planting Five Trees, Crab Apple Evereste' and it is these five trees and their large crop of orange fruit that are providing food for not only the blackbirds but for a variety of birds and mammals.
As can be seen by these photographs the blackbirds have been joined by mallards, who have already gorged themselves on the windfall apples in the orchard, squirrels and jays, all are enjoying this year's bumper crop, the jays have been eating the fruit but have yet to be captured on camera!

Male Blackbird

Female Blackbird

Grey Squirrel


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

From Plant Material To A Dark, Crumbly Leaf Mould/Compost

Turning The Leaf Pit Contents, Grass, Plant Material and Leaves (Photo From Nov 2015)

Twelve months ago the cut down perennial plants, and the dug up annual plants from the herbaceous border, were taken to one of the large, open leaf pits in the college grounds. This plant material was added to last summer's grass cuttings and last autumn's leaves that had been gathered up by the team by raking, rotary and ride-on mowing. Since then the leaf pit's contents have been turned every month to introduce air into the pile and to encourage the many micro-organisms to break it down and turn it into leaf mould/compost. Twelve months later the contents of the pit have now been returned to the herbaceous border from where some of it came from but now it is a dark, crumbly leaf mould/compost which will be applied as a mulch.

The Border Awaits

Digging Out The Leaf Pit Contents, Now A Dark Crumbly Leaf Mould/Compost

Loading Up The Trailer

With the aid of the bucket attachment on the New Holland tractor the contents of the pit are dug out and loaded into the awaiting trailer.

Unloading The Leaf Mould/Compost

Once at the herbaceous border the leaf mould/compost is shovelled out in to wheel barrows, taken on to the border, tipped out and, using a garden fork, is spread out over the soil as layer of mulch. At the end of the day, and having spread six trailer loads of leaf mould/compost, the border had been mulched for another year. 

Spreading The Leaf Mould/Compost

A Mulched Herbaceous Border For Another Year

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Protective Hessian Collars

Tree Ferns

It may not be freezing cold outside at the moment but the team have been keeping a close eye on the long range weather forecast with regard to whether to protect the tree ferns this winter. With the collection now at 15 and, having seen the potential for the overnight temperatures dropping below zero and into the minus', they decide it is better to be safe than sorry and wrap them. For details of the 10 new tree ferns that were added to the college gardens this summer, see blog entry 18th September 'Adding A Touch Of Jurassic To The Gardens'.

Cutting The Hessian

Tying The Hessian Collar

Cutting a large roll of hessian into 15 equal sections sufficient to wrap the thickest trunk they wrap the crown, tie it in place with rope and fill the open top with dry leaves. The protective hessian collars will be removed in late spring, folded, stored and reused again next winter. With all the ferns beside the bridge wrapped they move on to the four in the border beside the Nuffield building which contains the tallest of the collection.


The 11 Tree Ferns Beside The Bridge Wrapped

The Tallest Tree Fern

In order to reach the top of the tallest fern two tripod ladders had to be used to reach the crown, working carefully so as to not knock the fern over, it was only planted two months ago, they wrap the hessian collar around it, tie it in place and fill the space with dry leaves. Protected, the temperatures can now drop below zero!

Leaves To Protect The Crown

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Going Back To The Old Ways

The Cutting Down Of The Herbaceous Border Begins

The perennial plants in herbaceous border have put on a beautiful display over the summer and autumn months but are now tired and faded. Ready for their annual cut down, the team use hand shears and secateurs rather than the noisy hedge cutters, as in the previous years, to cut the stems down to the ground. Hedge cutters were first used to cut down the plants in the herbaceous border in November 2011 and, although a much quicker method, there is something quite therapeutic and rewarding about cutting down plants using secateurs and hand shears even though it takes twice as long!

A Pile Of Birch Plant Supports

The birch basket plant supports made at the end of April, see blog entry 2nd May 2017 'Twisting The Silver Birch In To Shapes' were pulled out of the border, placed into a pile ready to be taken to the chipper pile. 

Raking And Collecting Up The Debris

Working through the two borders all the cut down plant material, lifted annual plants, debris and leaf litter were raked in to piles and lifted into the trailer using leaf grabs and pitch forks. The black pourus pipe was pulled out from the border, rolled up and placed into storage until next spring. 

To The Compost Heap And Chipper Pile

Using Hand Shears

Herbaceous Border (L) Cleared

After two days both sections of the border had been cut down and, over the coming days, the congested plants will be lifted, split into smaller pieces and replanted. When this has been completed, and the leaves from the many wisteria that grow up the cottages behind the border have finished falling all over the soil, they will be raked off, the border weeded and forked through before a mulch of leaf mould added over the soil.

Herbaceous Border (R) Cleared

Cleared, Waiting For The Wisteria Leaves To Fall

Friday, 17 November 2017

The Fruit Of The Acca, Feijoa (Pineapple Guava)

Acca sellowiana

In front of the south facing wall of the Nash Building, in a border full of shrubs, there is a quite plain, scruffy looking shrub with grey-green leaves. However, upon looking into the dense covering of leaves, the shrub, Acca sellowiana (also known as Feijoa sellowiana or Pineapple Guava) is laden with green, waxy skinned, egg shaped fruit. Planted several years ago this is the first time it has produced fruit.

The Fruit Of The Acca, Feijoa

Ripe when they drop they are similar in size to a Kiwi fruit. A strange mix of flavours but delicious they can be used in crumbles, cakes, jam, salsa, curry, chutney and even wine but the most popular is, as with the Kiwi, to cut off the top and scoop out the fleshy inside with a spoon. The flavour is unusual and is described as a mixture of "strawberries and pineapple, with a pear-like gritty texture, and a hint of mint.’
This shrub has been mentioned in the blog once before but not for its fruit but for the exotic flowers see blog entry 29th June 2012 'Tomatoes and Pineapples'. When in flower or laden with fruit this rather ordinary shrub takes on a very different appearance and looks great against this south facing wall.  

Ripe Feijoa Fruit

Monday, 13 November 2017

Autumn Leaf Shape

Autumn Colour And Leaf Shape

Whilst many admire the autumn for its colour as the leaves change on the trees, the leaf fall also provides an opportunity to see the autumn from a different perspective. Predominantly seen as a colourful spectacle the many different leaf shapes that lay on the ground allow it to be seen from a different angle, above. As can be seen from the photograph there are many different shapes, from left to right around the top of the large palmate leaf in the centre, the Chinese horse chestnut (or Wilson's horse chestnut), Aesculus wilsonii, the leaves of the Catalpa, Plane, Sycamore, Liriodendron, Lime, Beech, Ginko and Hornbeam are a wonderful combination.

Chinese Horse Chestnut and Conkers

The Chinese horse chestnut not only has bigger leaves but it also has large chestnuts or conkers. As can be seen from the next two photographs below, the conker's size is compared for scale to a one pound coin, two pound coin and a group of three conkers from the European horse chestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum which is found all over Britain.

Conkers and Coins

Conkers, European Horse Chestnut Tree (L) Chinese Horse Chestnut (R)

Conkers On the Tree

The Chinese chestnut has a large, dark, single conker (seed) within a smooth, brown case rather than the 1-2 smaller, red-brown conkers in a spiky green case of the European horse chestnut. The young tree in the gardens has produced a dozen conkers this year but when it reaches its full height, 30 to 50ft, it should be full of giant conkers!

Chinese Horse Chestnut, Aesculus wilsonii

Giant Leaves

The Large Leaves On The Ground

The tree is not the only one in the gardens to produce very large leaves, the photograph below shows one of its leaves being compared to a leaf of the Chinese parasol tree, Firmiana simplex. Both giants amongst leaves they add their distinctive shape and size to this year's stunning autumn spectacle.

 Chinese Parasol Tree (L) Chinese Horse Chestnut (R)

For a comparison of the Chinese parasol leaves to other more common leaves see blog entry 10th December 2013 'The Giant Leaf Of The Chinese Parasol Tree'