Friday, 12 May 2017

Escaping The Confines Of The Fleece

Wrapped But Trying To Escape Their Fleecy Confine

Not since 2014 have the group of hardy banana plants, Musa basjoo, been unwrapped during the first two weeks of May, although last year was only a few days later, the 16th. According to the Met Office, this winter has been the ninth mildest and driest winter since records began in 1910. These unwrapping dates also coincide with the even milder, but wet, winters of 2013/14 and 2015/16.  

Being Unwrapped

Warmer under the horticultural fleece, the plants have been stretching and pushing their winter protection up and out of the ground in attempt to escape from their fleecy confine, some have even made a hole in it as if gasping for the cooler fresh air! A day of heavy rain is forecast which will be a relief to these plants that have been wrapped up since the 3rd November.

Breaking Through

Pushing Up The Fleece From The Ground


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Normality Resumes In The Nursery

Summer 2014

In September 2014 the gardener's nursery area was leased out for 2 years to the contractors who would be working on the reconstruction of the former Ruskin College (Exeter College) building. Once the cold frames had been demolished and the nursery area cleared, Portakabins were moved on to the area, see blog entry 6th October 2014 'From Nursery To Portakabins', and temporary wooden cold frames built on the nursery beds. 

 October 2014 Demolition Site (Nursery)

Portakabins In Place For The Next 2 Years
Temporary Cold Frames On The Nursery Beds

Two and a half years later, (yes it was supposed to be only two years!), the gardening team have their nursery, cold frames and nursery beds back.  

11th January 2017, The Portakabins Have Gone

As the reconstruction project drew to a close in January the Portakabins were removed and another reconstruction project began in the nursery area.

23rd March 2017, The Old Cold Frame Bases

The nursery site was cleared once again exposing the bases where the cold frames once stood and the temporary frames were also removed from the nursery beds. Over the next few months discussions were held with the gardening team as to the required configuration of the new frames and nursery beds and, once agreed, the rebuild began.

23rd March 2017, The Temporary Cold Frames Are Removed

28th March 2017, Gone

31st March 2017, Reconstruction Of The New Cold Frames

By the end of March the rebuild was well under way, two new brick cold frames, two new nursery beds and a new lawn laid, all completed by the beginning of May.

9th May 2017, Finished And In Use

Within a few days of their completion the frames were full up with plants. Normality has resumed in the nursery, the plants are where they should be a this time of year, gently acclimatising them to the British summer temperatures before they are planted out in to the borders for this year's summer display.


Filled With Plants

Filled Up With Plants, Lids On To Protect From Overnight Frost

9th May 2017, New Nursery Beds

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Twisting The Silver Birch In To Shapes

A Birch Support For Acanthus mollis

Two weeks ago the team began to make the plant supports for the herbaceous perennials on the border. As these plants grown they will need support in order to hold them up and prevent them from falling over.

A Birch Support For Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'

The size and shape of the supports created depends on the height and spread of each plant once it reaches its final size, if the team get the size of the support right they will soon become invisible, hidden by the plants as they grow up and through them. The material used to make the supports is coppiced Silver Birch, to see how the birch was cut down and collected check out the blog entry for the 2nd February 2017 'Coppicing Hazel and Silver Birch'.  Although the wood was cut down 3 months ago it still remains very pliable and can be woven in to lots of different shapes and sizes to create the support structures. Over the next few weeks the team will continue to twist the silver birch in to shapes until all the plants that require assistance have their own natural plant support. 

Birch Plants Supports Of Different Shapes And Sizes

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Ceanothus arboreus 'Trewithen Blue'

Blue At The Far End Of The Herbaceous Border

First mentioned in the blog entry of the 17th May 2013 'Blue Is The Colour', the Ceanothus growing against the wall at the far end of the herbaceous border is now putting on an even more impressive blue floral display. Now a much larger, more mature shrub that towers above the wall it once sat at the bottom of and, with its mass of pale blue flowers, has stopped a number of visitors in their tracks all asking the question, what is that amazing blue plant? The answer Ceanothus arboreus 'Trewithen Blue', (Californian Lilac).

Towering Above The Wall

Panicles Of Blue

Monday, 24 April 2017

Tulip 'Blue Diamond', Surely It's Purple?

View From Above

The border at the far end of the quad was planted up for the winter/spring display back in October, see blog entry for the 13th 'From Pastels To Blue Diamonds'. The colour theme is purple this year, Wallflower 'Sunset Purple' and Tulip 'Blue Diamond', but why a 'blue' tulip when the colour theme is purple? As can be seen by the photographs there is actually no blue to be seen!

Wallflower 'Sunset Purple' and Tulip 'Blue Diamond'

Not sure why the tulips were named 'Blue Diamond' but their large, double violet purple blooms on long stems look perfect planted amongst the purple wallflowers. Pleased with this combination of planting more of these tulips will be added to the border in the autumn for an even better display this time next year.

Purple not Blue

Tulip 'Blue Diamond'

Friday, 21 April 2017

Inspired By A Visit To Madrid

Colour Inspiration, A Visit To Madrid April 2016

For this year's spring display the colour scheme in the corner border is based on the borders seen outside the Royal Palace of Madrid last year, yellow pansies, orange pansies and yellow daffodils with an orange trumpet.

All Planted (October 2016)

Using the Spanish planting as inspiration, to recreate the colours the gardeners planted 406 wallflowers, 'Sunset Yellow' and 'Sunset Orange', and 200 tulips, 'Ballerina' and 'Westpoint', see entry 12th October 2016 'From Venice To Madrid'.

Heat In The Corner (April 2017)

Since the start of this month the heat of Madrid has been felt in a small corner of Worcester College and, as the plants mature, it seems to be getting hotter and hotter. The team are really pleased with the result, the best display seen in the corner in recent years, but where will their inspiration come from for next year's display?  

All Planted (October 2016)

Wallflowers And Tulips (April 2017)

Wallflower 'Sunset Yellow' and 'Sunset Orange'

Tulip 'Ballerina'

Tulip 'Westpoint'

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Nesting Birds 2017

Robin's Nest

The unusually dry spring has seen the birds begin to nest and breed quite early this year with a pair of robins nesting in the nursery area. A robin was spotted flying in and out of a pile of plastic bread baskets followed by the sound of calling chicks from within so, to prevent their disturbance, a warning sign was quickly made and carefully tied in place. The chicks will fledge the nest at 14 days old so the bread baskets will be quiet again by the end of April.  

Warning Sign

Swans On The Lake

Over on the lake things have changed since last year with the swans now nesting on the island. The change in their nesting site is due to the removal of the reeds they have used over the last five years to create their nest following the recent dredging of the lake, with no reeds they have moved on to the island. This change in location has caused a problem on the island as in the previous two years it had been successfully used by the Canada geese to rear their family but the male swan is so protective of his nesting female he has pushed the goose eggs from their nest, destroyed their nest and regularly chases them around and off the island.(Don't think goslings are going to be seen on the lake this year!). 

Building Their Nest

The swan's activities have been closely followed by Ali over the last six years, the last update can be found on the blog entry dated 3rd January 2017 'The Swans Have Been Making Headlines In The Local Newspaper'. Following the death of one of the swans, a female, last August and finding a new mate in October, (the previous pairing believed to be female/female hence the production of eggs but no cygnets) this year the swans were seen mating on the 31st March and the 5th April, with the first egg seen soon after in the nest two days later on the 7th. The nest is not as spectacular as the one built in the reeds, it has been made from sticks, twigs and small tree branches, green leaves from the hogweed that is found on the island, leaf matter and feathers. It is hoped that the pair, known to be male and female, will successfully incubate their clutch of eggs and cygnets will be seen on the lake over the late May Bank Holiday. 


Beside the bridge by the lake the Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been seen and heard on the Ash tree making a new hole, it is hoped that the pair, as with last year, will use the tree again to successfully rear their young (last year they were seen feeding their young from mid May until they fledged on the 1st June).

Great Spotted Woodpecker On the Ash Tree

Swan Update:

Tuesday 25th April, 4-5 eggs spotted beneath the female swan as she moved on the nest, she has been sitting on the eggs since the 18th April. 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Common Morel (Morchella esculenta)

Every now and then something unexpected is found in the gardens, the most recent being a wild fungi not seen or noticed before. Protruding through a small patch of gravel beside the garage in the Provost's garden, next to the orchard, its unusual shape and form caught Ali' s eye, but what species of fungi is it? A quick search on the Internet revealed it to be a Common Morel (Morchella esculenta), brown in colour, its deeply pitted egg shaped cap is quite distinctive. Emerging between April and May, Ali will check again next year to see if it regrows and maybe next time there will be a group of Common Morel . 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

A New Oxfordshire Family Tree In The Orchard

Young Bramley Apple Tree

Passionate about fruit trees, particularly apple trees, Kieron has long held a dream of creating an 'Oxfordshire Family Apple Tree' in the college orchard and today that dream has become a reality. A family tree is a tree that, unlike a standard one variety tree i.e Bramley, will have numerous different varieties of apple on one tree, an extraordinary example of this can be found in the garden of Paul Barnett in Chidham, near Chichester, West Sussex, where 250 different varieties grow on one tree! (Click on this link to read an article on the 'MailOnline' dated 29th September 2013).

Grafting Kit

With help and guidance from Chris Lanczak, Orchard Manager at Waterperry Gardens, Kieron began to transform the chosen tree, a young Bramley, in to the 14 variety family tree. Armed with the grafting kit of sharp saws, grafting knives, grafting tape and wax, a paint brush and multiple lengths of dormant one year old scion wood that had been cut from the donor trees last December, wrapped in clingfilm and refrigerated until now, the optimum grafting time, March to April when the sap starts to rise, the transformation began.

Removing The Branches

Removing the required number of branches on the Bramley, the rootstock, and the support for the scion wood, the grafting began.

Rootstock Cut

The method of grafting best performed at this time of year is known as 'whip and tongue', a cut is made in to the rootstock where the branch was removed to make a flap, the scion wood is cut to between three and four buds in length, an angled cut made at the base then the newly pointed end gently inserted in to the rootstock cut so that one of the buds is within it.

Scion Wood Placed Inside The Rootstock

The cuts on both the rootstock and scion wood have exposed the trees repairing cells known as the cambium and it is these cells that will knit themselves together and join the two pieces of wood as one.

Three Pieces Of Scion Held Together By Grafting Tape

Hot Grafting Wax

Two to three pieces of scion wood from each variety were grafted to the cut branches of the rootstock tree and secured using grafting tape, hopefully one or two of each will successfully bind together, then all the exposed surfaces painted with hot grafting wax to seal the wounds. 

Painting On The Wax

Grafted and Waxed 'Oxford Sunrise' Scion Wood

More Grafting

All in all a total of 36 pieces of scion wood were grafted on to the tree but only time will tell how successful this first attempt at creating an Oxfordshire family tree will be and if one man's dream becomes a reality. A mix of culinary and dessert apples, the varieties used are: Wardington Seedling, Corry's Wonder, Eynsham Dumpling, Peggy's Pride, Sargeant Peggy, Caudal Market, Jennifer Wastie, Old Fred, Oxford Beauty, Oxford Hoard, Oxford Sunrise, Oxford Yeoman, Oxford Conquest and Eynsham Challenger. All were raised in Eynsham, Oxfordshire apart from Wardington Seedling which was raised in Banbury.

Three More Varieties

The Oxfordshire Family Tree