Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Walled Garden Restoration 2013

the walled garden in July 2013
2013 has seen our walled garden cast off its car park status and resume its rightful role as the beautiful and productive heart of Gibside's pleasure grounds. Behind this transformation stands a huge team of people-- from staff and volunteers, to contractors, archaeologists, and members of the local community--whose hard work, energy and commitment to the project has been unstinting. The result, we hope you'll agree, is awesome ... and here's a quick re-cap:

March 2013

March saw the walled garden mud-bound and desolate, scattered with cones, planks, boards and assorted vehicles. The biggest change was the opening of the new main car parks which ensured the walled garden would be car-free at last and our contractors could begin removing the spine roads that had been put down. Meanwhile, we were measuring out the 4 large L-shaped beds, and guesstimating the positions of the planting plates using the geophys surveys. Outside the walled garden, the arrival route was being improved: turf was being laid, the bus turning circle was being created, and the play castle area was having a makeover.

28 March 2013

April 2013

April saw a prolonged winter finally loosening its grip as the skies blued up and daffodils, crocus and hyacinths took centre stage. In the walled garden we excavated trenches along both sides of the main path to reveal over thirty 18th century planting plates (each marking the site of an apple tree planted in the original garden); these were cleaned up and catalogued before being filled in again.
15 April 2013

May 2013

May saw the arrival of tulips, apple blossom and rhubarb in abundance, but it was the heavy machinery in the form of tractors, dumpers, an excavator and a power harrow that dominated work in the walled garden; the emphasis was on earth-moving on a grand scale.

1 May 2013
By mid-May the mountain of soil behind the apple borders had been redistributed over the lower half of the garden, and harrowed into a smooth tilth ready for turfing. Meanwhile, turfing at the top of the garden had already got underway; the sprinklers were out and things were seriously greening up.

16 May 2013

On Tuesday 28th May, 22 families came into the walled garden and each planted an apple tree on the site of the original plates.

June 2013

The final few thousand square metres of turf were expertly laid in June, not so happily coinciding with one of the warmest driest spells of the year so far. It required watering on a daily basis. Filling the huge blue bowser, positioning endless metres of lay flat piping and its attendant sprinkler gun became part of a routine that started early in the morning and finished late at night on many occasions.

It's fair to say we were losing the battle, with the bowser taking hours to fill and minutes to empty.

The torrential rain that eventually came, on Sunday 23rd June, saved the turf. It was one of the happiest days of my year.

12 June 2013

July 2013

July 2013 saw the walled garden taking a deep breath, and I neglected to take a photo of events from the bottom gate. The steadily greening turf got its first cut.  Red and black currants were dripping from the bushes; sweet williams, scabious, campanula, roses, cornflowers and lilies filled the garden with a carnival of shapes and colours. The bees, and butterflies, were loving it!

Work was continuing too, and the marquee base was put into position, ready to host a cluster of late summer weddings.
17 July 2013
August 2013

The height of the season saw the phacelia in full bloom and buzzing. The apples were ripening, the final few apple trees had been planted and the turf was beginning to look as though it had always been here. Daily maintenance tasks took over our time: weeding, dead-heading, weeding, harvesting, edging, weeding, mowing, and more weeding. The wedding marquee was up, and it was time to take stock of things in the glorious sunshine.

8 August 2013

September 2013

The walled garden was surprisingly productive around us, considering that our time had been little spent on caring for the plants. They, with a little help from the weather, had looked after themselves. The apple harvest was going to be huge, and we had onions drying on the beds. Blackberries festooned the hedgerows, sunflowers strutted their big-headed stuff and our annual borders were flowering their hearts out still. The walled garden had truly become a productive and beautiful place.
4 September 2013

October 2013

Autumn arrived. Apples arrived. The walled garden was bathed in gold. Horses stole into our orangery field for a naughty jaunt, and in the hub we began planning what fruit, vegetables, herbs, flowers, shrubs and trees will be planted in 2014 ... exciting times!

17 October 2013

November 2013

The walled garden sparkled on the morning of the 19th November under the influence of the first frost; the low light picked up the last of the colour in the tree canopies and the turf was a cool green. Everything was beginning to retreat into itself, the majority of leaves had been cast off, shrubs and herbaceous plants were slowing down and storing up their life deep inside for the winter months. It was a rare moment of stasis.
19 November 2013

December 2013

With Christmas waiting in the wings, December was a time for clearing and cleaning. The greenhouses and cold frames were tidied up; the last of the potatoes were harvested and the productive plots emptied; the herbaceous border was cut back, dug over and given a top-dressing of leaf mould. 

There's no rest in the walled garden though, as the marquee will be coming down, and (weather permitting) we'll be re-turfing the area where it stood in early January; there are more apple trees to be planted, and the Conservation Team will be planting up the large area under the raised walkway in late January. 

Spring will see a flurry of activity as we begin to get everything ready for the walled garden's first full year as a real garden. It should be amazing.

4 December 2013
 Thanks to everyone for the overwhelmingly positive feedback
we've had on our work in the walled garden this year.
Thanks also to our readers and writers on the Conservation Team blog.
We hope to see you all again in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Newton Ponds

18th December 2013

People walking the beach or through the dunes south of Lower Newton last Wednesday may well have thought they had come across a team of Santa’s little helpers – dressed as we were in our bright red coats. Perhaps Gibside management should have thought to provide us with matching bobble hats so that we could really look the part.

The Gibside Conservation Team was on its annual seaside outing to give a helping hand to the National Trust’s coastal rangers. Most of the team worked at preparing for a new fence around the ponds and bird hide. That entailed removing much of the old fence and clearing the ground of brambles and bushes. Whilst they did that, your bloggers and Terry set about unblocking a bunged up stream that drains the fields behind the nature reserve.

Blocked Stream
Severe storms combined with what was said to be the east coast of England’s worst tidal surge in 60 years had done a great deal of damage. In Norfolk, cliff-top houses collapsed into the sea, and from Kent to Yorkshire homes were flooded. North-east England didn’t suffer nearly as much. In Newcastle the River Tyne overflowed onto the Quayside, and in Northumberland the Rivers Coquet and Aln had risen enough to cause some minor flooding.

Embleton Bay and Newton Links had got off pretty lightly really. At Low Newton very little damage has been done to sand dunes: though there was some slump, it was not as much as might have been expected even from a fairly regular storm. But the tidal surge had taken a considerable quantity of marram grass - ripped from the dunes by the storm – and shoved it up our stream; hence the need to unblock it.

Job Half Done

Whist we worked, lapwings flapped around the nearby fields, huge numbers of golden plover took off from the rocks and whirled around up high, and honking pink-footed geese came and went accompanied by three whooper swans. A pair of stonechats hung around hoping for, and finding, easy pickings. It made a nice change from red kites.


A Well Earned Rest

A Male Stonechat

A Very Merry Christmas to All Our Readers

Leaves, Leaves and Western Hemlock

November and December 2013

Wednesdays in November and December were largely dry working days for the conservation team; and it wasn’t all raking up fallen leaves – it just seemed that way!

Our first task at the beginning of November was coppicing at The Octagon Pond, using the cut branches to form some dead hedging. Then it was off to Snipes Dene to pull up western hemlock saplings.

A Dead Hedge next to Octagon Pond

Candle Snuff Fungus

Western Hemlock Saplings

The first task on 13th November was turning over the bark chippings in the children’s play area at Strawberry Castle. This was followed by, yes you guessed correctly, pulling up western hemlock saplings, this time in the Hollow Walk area.

Some of the Team at Work

Leaf Clearing 4th December

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The volunteering life ... meet Mike

Mike on leaf-raking duty
Mike helps to looks after the Garden Cottage garden here at Gibside; he also lends a helping hand with a wide variety of other tasks in the gardens. Here he introduces himself and his interests and explains some of the joys of volunteering.

I have been volunteering at Gibside for two years now and more often than not it has been once per week as a garden volunteer. Initially it was a Thursday but the possibility of playing golf on that day led me to change to a Wednesday. However, all of this is reliant on the weather and as I sit here at my computer late in the year 2013 it is dreary, raining, depressing and it is a Wednesday and too wet to go in.

I have been retired since 2005 and although my intention then was to travel, life took a different path and took me to Newcastle over two years ago now to be with my partner Margot. What I then needed to do was to find something to do as Margot was and still is working. I followed my interests and as I enjoy gardening I looked around and found that the National Trust was looking for garden volunteer. Following a visit to Gibside to see the Head Gardener Keith I agreed to start and the rest is history as they say. Who they are I have no idea!

It was a good move and I am still here and intend to continue as long as possible. I have met some nice people in my time here, none more so than my colleague John who started at the same time. I enjoy his company, we have a laugh and we have things in common like sport and music. Volunteering at Gibside also gives me an opportunity to learn about plants, shrubs, trees etc although when Keith tells me what a certain  plant is called I cannot recall its name after a short while (which is frustrating especially when a member of the public asks what a certain plant is called). However it is great to be outdoors getting fresh air and exercise. John and I were given the old cottage garden to look after and through hard work we have it looking really nice and presentable and both of us are proud of our efforts.

Garden Cottage garden that Mike helps look after
Looking round and about Gibside there is lots to do especially following the changes made by the site. Part of the changes made are in the walled garden which is starting to look lovely now that the area is free from cars and will require ongoing maintenance, so there will be plenty to do. The fact the site is huge impacts onto the type of work needed to be done, so Wednesdays is unpredictable in its nature and we could be weeding, cutting grass, moving plants and other items, laying turf etc; there are the endless trips to dump garden waste, oh and a few cups of tea along the way. All in a good day at Gibside.  Is it tea time yet?

Outside of Gibside I enjoy playing golf at least twice a week, attending an art club, walking, learning to play the guitar, and doing tai chi. In my time here in Newcastle I have also tried woodworking, photography and many other things. Before Newcastle I lived in Bolton for 20 years, and before that Scotland, but Huddersfield is my own town and that is where my roots are. For all my roaming around I have never lost my Yorkshire accent and I am always proud to be a Yorkshireman.

My career spanned 37 years, working  in the textile industry for 6 years and then 31 years in the chemical industry for ICI which became Astra Zeneca who then demerged the agrochemicals to become Syngenta (a Swiss based company).

At this point I need a cuppa!

Lets hope next Wednesday is a nice day.

Mike Kitson

Monday, 2 December 2013

The volunteering life ... meet Sylvia

Sylvia harvesting potatoes
As part of our regular Wednesday team, Sylvia helps look after Gibside's cut flower plot and tends her own vegetable plot with fellow volunteer Maureen ...

Six years ago retirement loomed ahead, I had to have some new interests to fill my days. An article in an NT magazine caught my attention, it was asking for volunteers to help with grass snake habitats at Gibside. I drove the 20 miles to see what Gibside had to offer and discovered it is a good place for a long walk, a cup of tea and a nice piece of cake and if you're lucky you might see the red kites flying high above.

I was accepted as a volunteer and after 6 months working with the conservation team through the winter months I transferred to gardening in the flower borders! So on Wednesdays I travel to Gibside to weed, sow dig and hoe. I am also lucky enough to share a volunteer plot with Maureen and over the past 4 years our skill in growing fruit and vegetables has improved and we are proud of our produce.

Despite the backache and tired muscles it is worth the effort in order to meet like minded people, chat to other volunteers and visitors, share gardening tips and work together to make Gibside a good experience.

Sylvia Stockdale

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The volunteering life ... meet Geoff & Charmian

the green-fingered Charmian
 This week husband and wife team, Geoff and Charmian -- one the unsung hero of Gibside's wooden edging and the other a welcome green-fingered addition to the team -- tell us a bit about themselves, their work at Gibside, and their other interests too.

In March 2012, I started as a garden volunteer, initially just a half day as I was still working as an Associate in a landscape architectural practice in Newcastle. Hence the related interest in ‘all things green’! I quickly settled in, thanks to the other friendly volunteers and staff. One year on, my husband Geoff, a retired civil engineer with interests in ‘all things structural’ joined the gang.

Living nearby, we have had an interest in Gibside from the early days of the National Trust involvement, when the Estate available to the general public was much smaller. Now there are so many different experiences to be had - the Skyline walk in particular gave we gardeners delightful walks in wintertime when weeding wasn’t on the agenda! Great views from the tops, apart from the newly installed wind turbines at Kiln Pit Hill that are a jarring note viewed from there and elsewhere on the estate where carefully cleared vegetation and seats offer rest to our visitors and a chance to view the Derwent Valley. I wonder if the effect of the turbines on the historical setting of our Listed Buildings got a mention in the Environmental Impact Assessment!
king of the wooden edge, Geoff

A typical day involves instructions from Keith or Tam, then ‘High Ho High Ho, it’s off to work we go’ in our rosy NT tops, chatting to visitors as we work! Me to the ‘softer’ gardening chores while Geoff prefers the tougher stuff so has been wielding a pick and mel in the heat of summer, edging planting beds and part of the road system, anchoring  the corners of the new apple tree stations, his eye for ‘all things straight’ put to the test.

We both enjoy a nice cuppa and something delicious from the Potting Shed café once we are done, such an improved ambience ... and just the occasional passing wedding guest teetering along in impossibly high heels!

As for other stuff, we both manage Ebchester Community Association and Geoff is heavily involved with several local organisations including a group which has been set up to restore or replace Ebchester Boathouse (an NT property) and encourage further recreational use of the River Derwent.

I have sung in choirs for over 40 years and am Chairman of Newcastle Choral Society; I love Pilates, take care of gardens and grandchildren, socialise, (garden visits always a passion) and oh, maybe the occasional bit of dusting! 

Charmian & Geoff Marshall

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Ranger Phil's Nature Diary - Waxcaps, Acorns & a Deadly Parasite

I recently took an early morning stroll along the Avenue in search of a rare species of fungi usually found here at this time of the year. The species in question is Clavaria zollingeri or Violet Coral and as the name suggests it grows in a branching manner rather like a marine coral in a vivid shade of violet. I had searched for this a couple of times in vain but on this occasion was fortunate to find a single specimen partly hidden by a covering of fallen leaves. The unimproved grassland of the Aenue is the typical habitat of this species and also of other species including the waxcaps, a particularly colourful family, many of which occur in intense shades of red, orange, yellow and pink. I came across a number of different species including the Parrot Waxcap, a variable species , occurring in most of the colours already mentioned and even a bright green making it rather difficult to locate amongst the grass.

Violet Coral; Clavaria zollingeri

Parrot Waxcap;  Hygrocybe psittacina

Scarlet Waxcap; Hygrocybe coccinea

Blackening Waxcap; Hygrocybe conica

Most of the trees lining the Avenue are oaks and at this time of year the ground beneath them is strewn with thousands of acorns which provide a plentiful bounty for a variety of wildlife.  Birds such as the brightly coloured Jay take advantage of such a feast and they will also spend many hours caching the surplus in case of leaner times ahead in the winter months.  Squirrels are also regular visitors and like the Jays they also spend much time 'hiding' the surplus.  Although we still have Red Squirrels here and in the past I used to see them on the Avenue, sadly I only ever see greys these days.  Roe deer also eat acorns and on this particular morning a family of three were present which amused me for a while muncing on them with small pieces spitting and falling from the sides of their mouths.

Family of Roe Deer feeding on Avenue bank

There is another uncommon species of fungi I usually look for here at this time of the year.  Called Cordyceps militaris or Scarlet catterpillarclub, this is another grassland species which I have usually found in areas arond the Chapel.  It grows as a tiny finger-like spindle, up to about five centimetres tall in a bright shade of orange-red. It is however the life cycle of this fungi which is fascinating if not a little macabre.  It is a parasitic species which attacks and grows within it's hosts body, an underground living catterpillar, eventually killing it before growing and sending up above ground a new fruiting body.  Being so small these can be difficult to locate especially amongst fallen leaves but with a little patience I managed to find several of them.

Scarlet Catterpillarclub; Cordyceps militaris

Fruitbody emerging from pupa

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Redcoat Army

Wednesday 30th October 2013

Normal service is resumed(no rain)! A lovely autumnal morning, only 6oC, but at least the sun was shining.

After the presentation of a 5 year service award to Mike, 13 conservation team members headed out to The Lily Pond.  The vista up from the pond towards the Column to Liberty had already been strimmed (yippee! No noise) and our task was to rake up the grass cuttings then add them to wildlife habitat piles in the woods.

Butlins? No, it's the Conservation Team at work.

Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum)

With such a large team of workers the task was completed by lunchtime, so it was back to base for lunch in the Walled Garden.

Task almost complete

On the Hunt for Field Voles

It was a lovely sunny Autumnal afternoon with the threat of rain as Catherine, Veronica and myself set out to see if we could find signs that field voles resided at Gibside. We had carried out some mini mammal trapping in September but field voles are obviously a bit more savvy and seem to be able to avoid the traps. So the way that we survey for them is to look for the signs that they leave behind.

Similarly to when we set the traps for our first survey, you choose a 100m long section of the mammals favorite habitat. In this case field voles love lots of long, uncut grass that you might find on road-side verges, woodland rides, field edges or along fence-lines or walls. Then at every 10m point of your 100m line you search for 10 minutes within a 1m squared area for signs of the voles. 

As you begin to part the thick grass the first sign that you may see are the little runs that are created as the voles make their way amongst the grass looking for food.

Then as you look closer you'll see little piles of grass where they have chewed the lush, green shoots of grass and left the leafy tops. If you look closely at the ends of these bits of grass you can see the jagged edges where they have been nibbled.

Sometimes you just find one or two bits of grass and other times you might find a whole pile of them.

The third sign that you are looking for are their latrines. These are prominent areas where they deposit their faeces. Not the nicest thing to be looking for but with all wildlife it is a definite sign that they are around even if you don't see them.

The forth sign that you are looking for are their nests, these are made of woven grass and generally can be found in dense vegetation at ground level. We didn't find any nests on this occasion but as Veronica explained they only use nests during the breeding season in the summer then abandon them, so by the time it comes to the survey the nests could be flattenned and misshapen and no longer look like a nest so they are very hard to spot.

For my first attempt at searching for signs of field vole I was very pleased with the result. We searched along two 100m long sites at Gibside and found signs of field vole at both. This data will be added to The Mammal Societies national database as well as contributing to Gibsides records. I hope we are as successful next year.

Eventhough we didn't spot one, this is what a field vole looks like.