One of the joys here at Ashburnham is the historic landscape we are privileged to work in. It is wonderful to be able to garden and care for areas that Capability Brown designed in the 1770s as well as looking after even older woodland and meadow areas.
One of the five core areas in our vision states:
Our aim as a team, whether in the grounds, kitchen garden or formal gardens is to continue to enhance the beauty of this place through our work and enable everyone who comes to experience God in his creation.
We recently had a group from Sussex Botanical Recording Society come and visit to study and list the wildflowers in the grounds. They were delighted with the work that Gordon has been doing to increase the diversity of habitats in the grounds that allow different species to thrive. They left us with a list of nearly 200 different species that they identified, some of which are quite rare in Sussex, including Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) and Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae). It is great to build up our knowledge of what we have growing here as it helps to inform our methods of cultivation and care for this beautiful landscape.
One of my main jobs over the summer is to clip the box hedging that we have outside the Orangery and in the Prayer Centre. It is a painstaking job that I do by hand as it is really the only way to get the best results. The beds around the Orangery Fountain are in an unusual fan shaped design as you can see in this photograph.
This bed was planted in about 2009 using cuttings taken from Box clippings from existing hedges here. It has grown well and you can clearly see the fan shape. Established hedges like this are quite easy to clip, I don’t use rulers and lines here but try to do it by eye, the main thing to remember is to cut as tight as possible to keep the shape and proportion of the hedge as it grows. Ideally you can cut box twice in the season, firstly in May and then secondly before the end of August. We don’t have time for that here so just cut once in late summer, aiming to leave enough time between cutting and the first frosts for any regrowth to harden off. I should have it all finished by the end of August at the latest.
The other three beds around the Fountain were planted about 3 years later and, as you can see, are still getting established so for now after clipping they look rather strange!
The reason for clipping them so close is to ensure that they grow as dense plants that will eventually meet up as a good, solid hedge, we just have to excuse their appearance in the meantime! After clipping I fed them with a balanced, slow release fertiliser and made sure they were all thoroughly watered as well to help them get over the shock of losing so much of their growth. When I was clipping the hedges in the Prayer Centre, one of our younger residents came over to see what I was doing and asked “Are you cutting its hair?” I think that is a fairly good description of the job!
I also gave the Box Leaved Holly (Ilex crenata) plants alongside the Orangery Terrace their first trim, I used secateurs and lightly cut back the longer, whippy growth that they had already put on. I also cut some Hazel sticks which I have used to make a simple hoop edging to try and encourage people not to hop over the hedge onto the terrace as some of the plants have been damaged.
At this time of year there are lots of crops being harvested in the Kitchen Garden, including Runner Beans, Tomatoes, Courgettes and Beetroot. We have been growing these Cherry Tomatoes in the Prayer Greenhouse and they are delicious.
Over the summer we host lots of large groups who camp in the grounds as well as using the house so some of our local volunteers are taking a well earned rest for a few weeks. We rely on the help our volunteers give us to help keep the gardens looking good; they come for anything from one afternoon a fortnight to a day a week. We provide refreshments and lunch with the community and we try and vary the work as much as possible although, inevitably, it involves a lot of weeding! If you are interested in helping out, do get in touch with me via the website or this email address, firstname.lastname@example.org