Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Ranger Phil's Nature Diary - In search of Gibside's elusive mammals

Gibside is home to twenty-nine (or thereabouts) species of mammal.  Most of these are largely nocturnal so are seldom seen and those that are active during daylight hours tend to be elusive hiding away in the quiet, less disturbed areas.  One way of observing and recording these is with the use of motion sensored cameras which can be programmed to take still photos or short video clips.  I have recently tried to capture footage of our resident otters and, after several attempts when all I caught was a blurred flash of one, I was lucky to record the following footage.

 Below is some footage of a couple of roe deer which were also captured recently using the same camera.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A novelist in our midst ... meet Val Boyle

Val, and the December edition of her novel
Garden volunteer Val Boyle has just published her first novel; she was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work and how Gibside and her sister property Cherryburn have played a role in its creation ...

Val, would you tell me a little bit about yourself? 

I’m a Lancastrian and my husband Kev’s a Yorkshireman:  I taught English and he was a railway civil engineer.  We’ve lived in a few different places but as soon as we came to the north-east in 1988, we put down roots.  I was Head of English at La Sagesse until I was 45; I decided I needed a change, so I did a masters in Library Management and spent 10 years as school librarian at Ryton Comprehensive.  I’ve always wanted to write but didn’t find the creative energy until I finally left work at 55.  I published Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree in December, and in January made a new edition with the photo of Cherryburn on the cover.

I know you (and Kev) as part of our wonderful volunteer team here at Gibside. Can you explain how your volunteering work came about? 

We knew and loved Gibside but it wasn’t until we looked on the Do-It website that we realized we could actually get involved here!  I do some volunteering at the Lit & Phil and the Mining Institute too, but I love being outside and getting muddy, so being part of the garden's Shrubbery Team is perfect for me!
January 2014 edition
Was there an initial impulse or event that made you decide to write Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree?

I knew I wanted to write but didn’t know where to start.  I’m interested in the therapeutic benefits of writing so I went to a taster day with Pen & Tonic.  One of the exercises we did woke up all kinds of memories of my childhood summers on a Lancashire farm, it was like a dam-burst: all sorts of ideas flowed from that.

How did Gibside and Cherryburn influence your novel?

Both places are so evocative, so full of echoes and so soothing to the soul.  There’s something about Gibside that powerfully affects my imagination in the same way as the lost Gardens of Heligan.  For such a place to have been neglected for so long, and to be part of the team bringing it back to life – it’s a privilege.  In Cherryburn, I found the farm where the story is set:  everything about the gardens, the sandstone buildings, the period and the interior was perfect – I could see my characters going about their business.  While I was writing it, I was often to be found in the farmyard communing with my muse!

I know your next project also has a Gibside connection … would you explain a little more about this?

Gibside's Orangery ... inspirational
Working around the Orangery and in the walled garden, especially when we uncovered the planting plates, I felt an imaginative connection with the eighteenth century gardeners and began to think about how Gibside’s fate had been so bound up in the fate of Mary Eleanor Bowes. It was only a short step to empathizing with her and imagining how it must have felt to witness her father’s work coming to its fruition only to have so much of it destroyed in her lifetime.  It’s not only her story, but also that of the estate workers – one in particular.  I’m using real people and events, but with added imagination.  It’s told by Mary Eleanor towards the end of her life, and it’s entirely focused on Gibside.

Many thanks Val, for taking the time to answer my questions, and I know we all wish you every success with your writing.

   *   *   *   *   * 
If you'd like to read Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree for yourself, then it's available from Gibside's shop and also on Amazon as an e-book and a paperback.  

For more details and information, please visit the novel's website:

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A Bird in the Hand

Last Sunday BTO bird ringer Richard Barnes was on site at our Wildlife Hide to carry out a spot of bird-ringing.  Lots of birds were caught and rung or, if a re-capture i.e. already previosly rung, their details recorded.  Birds caught included blue tits, great tits and coal tits and even a couple of colourful siskins.

Siskin sitting on niger seed feeder

Another colourful bird caught was the Great Spotted Woodpecker, a bird Richard catches good numbers of especially here at the hide where they come to feed on fatballs and peanuts.  These birds can be quite feisty and Richard sustained lots of chiselling blows to his hands, from the woodpecker's beak,  as I patiently waited till it was sitting still to take a photo.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Another bird occasionally caught is the Sparrowhawk and Richard was fortunate today to catch a male.  This is one of my favourite birds and I was delighted to pose for a photo with the bird in my hand.

Me with male sparrowhawk

Another view of a magnificent bird with ring on leg

Monday, 10 February 2014

A full house for fruit pruning workshop

Keith Blundell, Gardener in Charge, explains the art of pruning apples
Despite the bitterly cold winds that accosted Gibside, Gardener in Charge Keith Blundell had a full house of 22 participants for his winter fruit pruning masterclass in the walled garden. The day started off with the essentials: tea, coffee and chocolate biscuits, before the group gathered outside the garden hub for a demonstration on the art of pruning apple trees.
hands-on pruning in the walled garden apple borders
The group was then divided up and let loose to practise their techniques on some of the established apple trees growing in the walled garden. Winter pruning of apples is crucial for maintaining a healthy tree, and ensuring a good crop of apples for the following year.
absorbing the details of fan training plum trees
In the afternoon, whilst a pair of kites dallied overhead, the masterclass was focused on the craft of fan training fruit by studying the plum trees in the walled garden. Next, it was on to the method of training apple trees into espaliers.
the pruning toolkit
The final part of the day was spent going through the pruning regimes of the various types of soft fruit that are grown within the walled garden; this includes: red and white currants, black currants, loganberries, summer and autumn fruiting raspberries, and blackberries.

We'd like to thank everyone for attending the masterclass, and hope that despite the February chill and more than a few numb fingers, you enjoyed the day and learnt some new fruit pruning skills.

If you fancy honing your fruit pruning skills with our expert Gardener in Charge, or just want to direct a few tricky questions his way, why not come along to our summer fruit pruning masterclass on Sunday 17th August 2014. For more information visit our website.