Category Archives: History

Apples – a bumper harvest expected for 2013

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apples lord lambourne

apples lord lambourne

The poor weather of 2012, particularly the wet summer, was disastrous for the apple harvest. This year looks like being a bumper apple crop.

apple orchard Brogdale

apple orchard Brogdale

So why is there such a difference? Apples evolved in central Asia, probably around Kazakhstan. In order to flower and fruit really well they need to be grown in a continental climate of hot summers and cold winters.

The wild apple cultivar still growing in central Asia, Malus sieversii has recently been shown to be the ancestor of all modern apples. Unlike most domesticated cultivars, the leaves turn red in the autumn before they fall.

apple blossom

apple blossom

The hard winter followed by a late spring and a long warm summer has given the apples and other deciduous fruit the conditions they like to produce good fruits and plenty of them, although most are cropping later due to the late spring.

Michigan is usually the USA’s third biggest producer of apples and is likely to harvest 30 million bushels of apples this year, exceeding its 20 million average. This compares to 2012’s apple harvest of 2.7 million bushels.

step over apples

step over apples

The UK Bramley apple harvest is expected to reach approximately 67,000 tons in 2013, a 14% increase on 2012. Admittedly this is still not as high as earlier years although this is due to reduced orchard acreage rather than weather or climatic conditions.

bramley apples

bramley apples

The following facts are extracts from our new eBook “In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design”:-

“Apple seeds contain a cyanide compound. However, the tiny amount of poison is locked inside the hard seed coat and as the seed generally passes through your digestive system intact you‘ll be fine. But it’s probably not a good idea to make a habit of eating apple seeds.

In Norse mythology, Idun, the goddess of spring and rebirth grew magic apples that gave the gods immortality. The only problem with this is that apples as we know them probably didn’t arrive in Scandinavia until the late Middle Ages.

ripe apples

ripe apples

Etymologically speaking, the word ‘apple’ is rooted in the Indo-European languages,; appropriately so given where the fruit originated. The Romance languages, including Latin, originally used the Greek based word ‘malum’; the botanical Latin is ‘malus’. With the rise of Christian as the official religion of the Roman Empire from the 4th century AD and its symbolic importance of the apple, the word ‘pomum’ began to be used, meaning ‘the fruit of fruits’.

25% of an apple’s weight is air – which is why they float in water making apple bobbing a fun game at Hallowe’en.”

English apples

English apples

Enjoy your daily apple!

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design

Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

step over cider apple

step over cider apple

Strawberries and Wimbledon

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strawberries in strawberry pot

strawberries in strawberry pot

Summertime brings major tennis tournaments for us to watch whilst eating the fruit of our labours in the garden; strawberries, raspberries, salads. In Britain we host Wimbledon for a couple of weeks in June and July.

One of the delights of a summer garden has to be picking your own strawberries and eating them straight away, sweet and still warm from the sun. Strawberries do well in containers, and in small areas; special strawberry pots with holes around the sides or hanging baskets both maximise space and are often easier to keep slug free. These could be kept outside or kept in a cool greenhouse for an earlier crop.

Kent growers supply virtually all the 8000 punnets of strawberries that tennis watchers eat daily throughout Wimbledon fortnight. Yes, you did read that right, nearly 8000 punnets of strawberries a day. On the positive side, they are local fruit, Wimbledon being in the South West of Greater London (or in Surrey, or London Borough of Merton, boundaries sometimes being in question) so it rubs geographical shoulders with The Garden of England.

strawberry flowers

strawberry flowers

Strawberries were eaten by the Greeks and Romans. This wasn’t the cultivated ‘garden’ strawberry (Fragaria ananassa) that we know today, but a much smaller fruit, the wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca). Although they’re both members of the rose family, the garden strawberry is a hybrid. It was first bred in Brittany, France in the 1750s, and then further developed in America; its parents are from both South America and North America. Nowadays, Kentish strawberries at Wimbledon are world famous, so it’s turned into a very cosmopolitan fruit!

Strawberries are also seasonal; ie this is the time of year for strawberries in the UK; which is why the legend of King George V introducing the eating of strawberries and cream whilst watching tennis at Wimbledon is so popular. In 1907, George V, then Prince of Wales attended Wimbledon and did eat strawberries and cream. But it is perhaps more memorable a date for being the first time the Centre Court was protected by a tarpaulin. Typical British summer weather, then!

pink roses

pink roses

As for the tradition of eating strawberries and cream, according to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, it started with the first Wimbledon tournament in 1877. So why strawberries and cream in particular? Well, we’re back to seasonality. We may now be able to eat strawberries year round, transported from various parts of the globe; back in 1877 it was a different story. Although frozen meat was beginning to be transported by this time (mutton was first shipped from Argentina to France in 1877) it involved quantities of ice. The first refrigerator patent was licensed in Germany in 1877; but it took a while for this to become a reliable method of preserving food. Strawberries are more difficult to transport any distance, as soft fruit is easily bruised and it’s more difficult to freeze them without causing discolouration and loss of taste, for example.

So what is the connection between tennis and the Monarchy? Apart from strawberry eating that is. ‘Real’ or ‘royal’ tennis is so-called to distinguish it from ‘lawn’ tennis – which is the game played at Wimbledon. There are ‘royal tennis’ clubs in both Boston (home of the Tea Party) and Washington in the USA. It’s known as ‘court tennis’ in America, to distinguish it from lawn tennis.

Hampton Court Palace royal tennis court

Hampton Court Palace royal tennis court

In Britain, Hampton Court Palace has its own indoor Royal Tennis Court, the oldest surviving ‘real’ tennis court still in regular use in England. It was part of the original Palace as rebuilt for Cardinal Wolsey in the early sixteenth century; before he thought it politic to give it to his lord and master Henry VIII. Henry Tudor must have played ‘real’ or ‘royal’ tennis in this court; he was quite an athlete in his youth. The court was last refurbished in the reign of Charles I, another tennis loving monarch.

Hampton Court is also known for its maze, its vine; its haunted gallery and the Royal Horticultural Society’s Flower Show in July; but that’s another blog…

Marie, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design

Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

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strawberries in pot with birds

strawberries in pot with birds

Garden Visits: Armadale Castle, Isle of Skye

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the ruined castle Armadale

the ruined castle Armadale

Planting inspiration from the historic Armadale Castle gardens on the Isle of Skye, where the Gulf Stream offers a mild climate and the chance to grow a wide variety of species, including many tender ones.

cat in the gardens castle Armadale

cat in the gardens castle Armadale

Armadale Castle is the home of Clan Donald Lands Trust in South Skye. We visited last summer, on a somewhat damp day. The ruined castle looks across to the mainland and formed the starting point of our walk through the gardens.

white peony

white peony

The yellow themed border with Giant Scabious (Cephalaria gigantea) and tall Elecampane (Inula), Achillea at middle height and low growing Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) was in its early flowering stages when we saw it. This was a good mix of plants, giving flowers from late April through to September, a range of heights that would change over the same period; and a variety of foliage colour and form. It’s the sort of mix that could look a mess unless you find a link between the different plants; here the link was, if I may sound artistic for a moment, that the flowers all had the same tone of yellow as their base, although the shades of yellow were different.

yellow flower border castle Armadale

yellow flower border castle Armadale

 

steps to the woodland walk

steps to the woodland walk

We decided it was a bit too wet to explore the woodland trials as fully as we would have liked, but we did have the opportunity to see the Museum of the Isles which had some fascinating displays and educated us about the Lordship of the Isles. The Raven on the Rock memorial outside the Museum is stunning and eerily lifelike when first viewed through a mist of rain.

Raven of the Rock memorial

Raven of the Rock memorial

The playful otter as a central feature to the pond was a welcome change from the more frequently found fish or small cherub. It is in keeping with the location of the gardens, and would look out of place in an urban garden; but the concept of adding a beautiful statue as the pond’s focal point, something which has meaning for the owner of the garden, is an idea worth considering.

pond with otter

pond with otter

As well as planting inspiration, we came away with two new herbaceous plants, Geranium ‘hocus pocus’ with dark highly serrated foliage and mid purple flowers and Centaurea Montana ‘Jordy’ a perennial cornflower with almost black flowers, both of which we’d seen in the castle gardens. There were quite a few different geraniums in the borders; they do well in the damp conditions being mildew resistant unlike some herbaceous perennials. A factor worth considering if you have a damp shady garden, as many of the varieties will tolerate shade. Many of them will also be happy in dry shade or even a south facing border; you just need to pick the right cultivar.

Geranium 'hocus pocus'

Geranium ‘hocus pocus’

The perennial cornflowers are more often found as blue flowering forms. They can be prone to mildew, and to flopping; the best way to get round this is to cut them hard back after the first flush of flowers just as they’re starting to flop. They will repay you by flowering again in only a few weeks; cutting the flowers to take into the house is another tactic to reduce the flopping tendency – and give you pretty flowers too.

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design

raindrops on Hosta leaf

raindrops on Hosta leaf

 

April showers and May Day in the Garden

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white-honesty (lunaria)

white-honesty (lunaria)

April brings showers to our gardens; this year April has brought showers of sleet and snow; and the plants have suffered.

This year April has been cruel month of rain, and cold and wind, with frosty nights but very few sunny days. The plants in our gardens have suffered, assuming they risked growing at all. This lengthening of winter has been affecting not just British gardens but gardens elsewhere, the United States for example. This last week or so there has been a sudden flowering and greening of our gardens. Next week brings May Day; so will we be celebrating spring in the garden at last?

forget-me-nots

forget-me-nots

May Day, Beltane in the Celtic calendar, is celebrated in the Northern hemisphere as the first day of summer. Certainly May is when the flowers and crops grow in earnest, the days are longer so more work can be achieved out in the fields and plots and life seems full of…life.

Flora, a Roman goddess who appears on the cover page of our Spring eBook, is the harbinger of spring; the bringer of life after the frost of winter. The Romans celebrated her festival, Floralia, around April 28 – May 3; they would decorate trees with ribbons and garlands in her honour; dance and feast. The tradition of a decorated maypole grew out of this, although many places and religions still prefer to decorate the woodland trees.

In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design – cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Although a minor goddess, the return of spring gave Flora an important role, Rome was a mighty empire with a conquering army, but as we all know, an army marches on its stomach so food and agriculture was central to Rome’s power.

So whilst many see her as a gentle form of spring fertility rites, being more concerned with flowers than animals mating, Flora holds the key to more than a few pretty posies. Without flowers, there is nothing for bees, butterflies, moths and wasps and a host of other pollinating insects and animals to feed upon. Without these natural pollinators, the edible crops would not be fertilised; the flower produced would not run into a fruit, a vegetable or a nut. Reduced to a diet of wind-pollinated plants only, many animals would not survive. In other words, the whole food chain or pyramid, with humans at the top, would collapse. Approximately one third of the food we eat can be directly linked to Flora’s ability to bring her flowers back to bloom in the spring.

Raised beds

Raised beds

If you’d like some help growing your own or to encourage bees in to your garden – lessons perhaps, or an area of the garden re-designed and built to form an ornamental fruit and vegetable potager, why not drop us an email?

pulmonaria

pulmonaria

You Can Bank On Chartwell!

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Well done all the gardeners for your hard work – such a lovely display despite the vagaries of the Britsh climate this year!

chartwellgardensnt

If you’ve watched or heard the news today, you can’t have failed to notice that Chartwell was the location for a pretty special announcement today. Those of you that missed it can play catch up by clicking right here. We’re mighty proud that Sir Winston Churchill has been chosen as the new face of the £5 note and even prouder that the Bank of England chose Chartwell as the place to launch the news. We’ve had a teensy heads up on this story for a little while now which means we’ve been working extra hard in the garden to get everything looking spic and span for the visit of the Churchill family, Bank Of England Governer Sir Mervyn King and the various television film crews.

One of the areas we concentrated on was getting the Pink Terrace looking its best as this was where a reception for the visiting…

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Spring Gardens: “sow” much to do

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Narcissus-bulbocodium-praecox

Narcissus-bulbocodium-praecox

Feeling overwhelmed with spring cleaning tasks in the garden? Why not take some time out to relax with Plews & discover how soap is made from your garden plants; you do after all need soap in order to get things clean.

Spring cleaning in your garden is one part of the general tidying and cleansing that we indulge in or make ourselves take part in over the year. Spring cleaning as a tradition has a number of origins, from ritual cleansing for religious festivals such as the Jewish Passover to the more mundane reasons of March being warm enough to have the windows and doors open to sweep the winter dust away.

In the garden this may include spring lawn tasks such as scarifying, last minute pruning of apple trees, buying seeds and cleaning pots and seed trays. Because there are so many potential chores that need our attention, I thought a quick foray down memory lane to look at some garden plants that have been used for spring cleaning in the past.

It could be fun and economical to use homemade soaps and cleaners to clean both your house and garden; by garden, I’m thinking mainly about paths, patios, decking, greenhouses; garden tools and of course plant pots and seed sowing equipment. Alternatively, you may just enjoy reading about it and letting someone else do the hard work! Museums and historic houses frequently use the softer traditional alternatives to modern detergents for washing delicate fabrics, so if you’re a devotee of vintage clothing, you may like to try out them out too.

We have been using soap, rather than just water, for cleaning at least 5000 years. Archaeology also shows that the Romans used to plant Soapwort (Saponaria officianalis) near their bathhouses to use the leaves as part of washing themselves clean. If you fancy a go at making your own soap with Soapwort, the process is quicker using the leaves than the roots, although the roots would seem to make the more efficient soap.

Pompei-road

Pompei-road

The Romans also used the oil from Olive trees (Olea Europea) as a soap base. If your Olive tree has fruit you may like to try the following (the extract is taken from our eBook “In Your Spring Garden”)

“Olives, the quintessential tree of sun drenched Mediterranean slopes and groves are relatively hardy in more temperate areas of Europe and North America. Olive oil was the main ingredient in the original ‘castille’ soap. Mixed with a little wood ash it makes an historical and fairly useful soap. Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and Beech (Carpinus betulus) are both good ash to use, but Apple (Malus) results in a paler soap. The resulting soap is abrasive, so if preferred the oil can be strained; add scented oils or dried flowers for perfume.”

 

 

old toothbrushes for cleaning seed trays

old toothbrushes for cleaning seed trays

 

 

 

This homemade soap could be used for cleaning out your seed trays ready for sowing those seeds that need to be started indoors. An old toothbrush is good for getting into the crevices so that no old soil or growing media is left that might cause problems.

For cleaning larger decks and patios for clients, our Nathan likes a pressure washer to be used. In keeping with the ‘homemade’ theme, he suggests that vinegar can be used with a stiff brush to remove mould and moss from a wooden shed. The addition of vinegar helps reduce the likelihood of them returning, as vinegar is a weed killer.

For more on seed sowing there’s a short blog on the website but for more information and gardening tips about your garden in spring, why not look at our new eBook “In Your Spring Garden”

“In Your Spring Garden” eBook would make a good Mothers Day or Easter present for the gardener in your life.

Hyacinth-blue

Hyacinth-blue

Design Inspiration from Cawdor Castle Garden

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A rainy day in June and a Scottish garden full of interesting plants. This week’s blog is largely a photo blog, letting the flowers, trees and shrubs do most of the talking.

It was a very damp day, overcast with that constant fine drizzle that epitomises a British summer. But the weather didn’t stop the garden at Cawdor Castle from looking wonderful. Or rather the three gardens – as the whole is made up of The Walled Garden, The Flower Garden and The Wild Garden.

The family motto ‘Be mindful’ may not mean ‘take time to reflect on the delights of this garden’ but it is a good interpretation – the garden has many different faces and they reveal themselves through glimpses and long vistas and then suddenly close to.

 

 

 

The Walled Garden
The Holly Maze was being renovated when we were there (a good excuse for another visit) but the knot garden was a delight, as was the orchard with its statuary.

 

 

                                                                                                                                        

 

 

 

 

 

The Flower Garden
Originally the borders gave interest in late summer when the family were there for the shooting season. The planting has been added to and this looked lovely in mid June with Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) and other early herbaceous perennials.

Cawdor castle did not actually have anything to do with Macbeth until Shakespeare put the two together in a play, as the castle wasn’t built until the 14th century and Macbeth was king of Scotland in the 11th century.

“This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself unto our gentle senses” [Shakespeare, Macbeth]

Is at least a true reflection of Cawdor Castle in its garden; we took away lots of inspiration from our afternoon there and look forward to our next visit.