Sunday, March 30, 2008

BBC's Jelly the Frog comes to film

Spring is sprung and we have had some glorious days – and one or two really nasty cold wet ones, usually when one of the toddler groups has been visiting. Seeing their little hands all frost-bitten as they try to dig in a howling gale, sometimes makes us wonder if we are being too tough on them. But then, again, they each went home with a planted pea in a pot, and apparently they are all happy and want to come again, so I guess we were not tough enough.

The early potatoes are in, the broad beans are growing away, the first rows of parsnips and carrots have been sown. Heaps of leaf mould and compost have been enthusiastically barrowed around the gardens by wobbly learner drivers. This week we started to sow all the tender stuff in the greenhouse – aubergines, chillis, tomatoes…

Wildlife ‘pond’

We have ‘acquired’ a large water tank that was in danger of being demolished, and some frog spawn has been rescued from the jaws of the ducks in the lake, another blob from a drying-up puddle, so we plan to install some kind of rough and ready wildlife pond this weekend. We hope to build up some logs rescued from the tree felling in the park to create a happy frog paradise around the tank, and camouflage it a bit; perhaps we will plant the resulting structure with some alpines that we have been donated. Hopefully this will be done on the April drop-in session.

Famous visitor: A frog named Jelly...

A propos, frog paradise, Jelly - who is a fluorescent green frog puppet - from Cbeebies (BBC digital children’s TV) came to visit the garden to do some filming. This meant little to those of us who are over five years old, but it turns out Jelly is a big star… Some children from St Mary’s came to help Jelly plant potatoes, spinach and peas, and the Kitchen Gardeners tried very hard to talk with a straight face about vegetables to a chatty frog puppet. The episode should be transmitted next year (!) and we will of course be boasting about it nearer the time. Congratulations to the children who had to barrow their load past the camera so many times that the worms in the compost got quite dizzy.

Dukes Meadows wildlife garden
The plug plants that some of the kids planted up in autumn have been transferred up to the new wildlife garden in the old paddling pools, and planted up by Cavendish school. They don’t look like much yet, so if anyone is up there, don’t play on them! Hopefully there will be a lovely meadow up there soon. Many thanks to Barretts for providing the subsoil, and to Burleys – the park gardeners – for transporting the plants over. And of course thanks to all the kids, under the firm direction of Nicky Milligan, for all the planting.

Park news

Tree cutting has finished for now, in order to let the birds get on with some nesting. The camellia shrubbery in particular, and the far bank of the lake saw quite a bit of felling. The archaeologists are moving in next week to check out the area that is to be covered by the new café, which was the old stable area, and part of the volerie (bird garden) of Lady Burlington (opposite the current café). Otherwise all is waiting on the appointment of a new site director, and the start of works, initially around the access yard (behind the conservatory).

Duke of Edinburgh Awards

These have been held on alternate weekends, but are about to switch to Mondays after-school. If anyone can’t make the after-school sessions, they can continue with the monthly drop-ins, along with some additional help, for instance at the Open Day.

The team is very strong this year (well, there are lots of them, anyhow) and they have cleared ivy and brambles from a row of elderberry trees, with some finishing touches from some muscular Belmont school parents, so we hope for elderberry champagne and cordial later in the year. Then the teenagers were dragged through bushes backwards in the undergrowth of the northern garden to retrieve useful bits of wire, and emerged tousled but triumphant.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spring news

Everything is looking very shipshape in the garden, all mulched and trim and weeded ready to crack on as soon as the temperature warms up. This year the borders along the central axis will start off with wallflowers – they were supposed to be ruby red, but one or two are already showing yellow, so who knows. The weeds are under control, the kids have been digging and mulching, putting leaf-mould over the potato beds ready for the spuds to go out immediately after St Patrick’s Day. The greenhouse is already bursting with seedlings and chitting potatoes and the children have started sowing peas and lettuce. The broad beans and sweet peas are already germinating nicely, and the sweet pea wigwams and cordons, along with the potato and bean structures should be built over the next couple of weeks. Black and redcurrant cuttings have been struck, the chives divided up…. The first tulip just opened up this week, which is a bit early, but it seems to be the only one. Roll on spring.

Our search for funds to enable us to afford a salary to help run the Kitchen Garden has got off to a flying start with a very generous donation from the Hintze Family Foundation. We are very grateful to them for getting us off the starting blocks. Anyone else – or any other company – keen to get involved in our very worthwhile project, we would love to hear from you.

Specialist vacancy filled, more available
We had been advertising for a new team member - we started by requesting a sweet pea expert, and then decided to settle for an enthusiast instead, so welcome on board to David. We expect him to be promoted to expert by the end of the season.
If anyone else has a particular passion (particularly if accompanied by knowledge or a willingness to acquire it) for any kind of fruit, vegetable or cutting flower, please let us know. With the more time-consuming plants it is helpful to have a dedicated person responsible for overall care. So our Sweet Pea Person joins our Lemon Lady, Tomato Man, Mint Maniac, Bean Bod, The Propagator and Compost Queen on the ‘specialist’ ‘staff’. The rest of us remain Jacks of All Trades (and of course the specialists are allowed – encouraged - to do other jobs too).

Pig person required
We are vaguely thinking about borrowing a couple of pigs to help clear the northern walled garden, which is to be a grassy orchard. If anyone has specialist porcine knowledge or knows where we can rent-a-pig (and especially an ark/shed and electric fencing), we would like to find out more.

Open day, plant sale, Sunday 27 April, 1-5pm
Make a note now, we will remind you nearer the time. We should have lots of plants and seedlings, herbs, many different varieties of mints, all home-grown. Also art and children’s activities, and a tea and cake stall. All the proceeds of course going directly back into the garden.

Park news
The project has begun, and over the last week parts of the park have begun to ring out to the happy sound of chainsaws as the first tree felling gets underway. There is a rush to finish the first tranche before 1 March when the birds are booked to start nesting preparations.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Toddler session

Successful, but stressful.