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