Nymans under the spotlight in British Gardens in Time

Nymans in West Sussex is the star of the last in the four part BBC Four series – British Gardens in Time – which airs this evening at 9pm.

The series, co-presented by Chris Beardshaw, Andrea Wulf and the National Trust’s Alan Power looks in depth at the social history of four significant gardens.

Assistant Head Gardener, Philip Holmes says of the filming: “We were thrilled when we were invited to be a part of this series. Continue reading

In Pictures: storm damage to trees at National Trust places

The winter storms have led to some dramatic losses of trees at National Trust places. Here is a selection of pictures showing how they have affected our estates and countryside. Our teams on the ground have been working hard to keep access open, removing some of the timber for use at the properties and creating new homes for nature in the fallen trees.

The ranger team working at Lyme Park in Cheshire to clear a footpath after a fallen tree had blocked it

The ranger team working at Lyme Park in Cheshire to clear a footpath after a fallen tree had blocked it

Trees lost on the southern end of Brownsea Island as a result of the south-easterly winds

Trees lost on the southern end of Brownsea Island as a result of the south-easterly winds

A split Oak tree at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire

A split Oak tree at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire

An old Lime tree at Trelissick in south Cornwall blown over by the storms.  The timber will be used for carvings and to create a new habitat for insects and fungi.

An old Lime tree at Trelissick in south Cornwall blown over by the storms. The timber will be used for carvings and to create a new habitat for insects and fungi.

A split tree at Tatton Park which has lost thirty trees this winter.  The team cleared many of them within 24 hours.

A split tree at Tatton Park which has lost thirty trees this winter. The team cleared many of them within 24 hours.

A 500 year old oak tree at Kedleston in Derbyshire which will become an ideal home for wildlife

A 500 year old oak tree at Kedleston in Derbyshire which will become an ideal home for wildlife

For more information about how the winter storms and extreme weather have impacted upon National Trust places you can follow the hashtags #NTnature and #NTcoast on twitter

Gardeners urged not to panic over the heat

Keep flowers in bloom during the heatwave with our gardener tips

Keep flowers in bloom during the heatwave with our gardener tips

Gardeners have only two rules to follow when dealing with long periods of heat, according to National Trust gardeners.

These are: water pots and herbaceous beds in the morning and evening only and don’t panic into watering grass.

With a 25 acre garden to look after, the 6-strong team at the National Trust’s ScotneyCastle has more than 84 years of experience between them and is well placed to offer gardening advice.

Paul Micklewright, Garden and Estate Manager at ScotneyCastle, said: “Like other National Trust places, at Scotney we never water grass, even in a heatwave.

“Grass is very good at dealing with a lack of water, even if it turns brown it will be able to bounce back when the rains return later in the year.

“For pots and herbaceous beds, it’s best to water first thing in the morning or last thing at night to avoid damaging plants.

“When the sun shines on water it can act like a magnifying glass, burning the leaves below, so it’s best to avoid the times that the sun as it its highest.”

For more tips on caring for your garden in the heat, visit http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gardens

Weekly Witter: Pests and pestilence at the Chelsea Flower Show

Stop the Spread

No it’s not about butter…but tree pests, diseases and invasive species in general. This is the subject of a ground breaking garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

“The garden will also have a black pool of water with a small living oak tree on a plinth in the middle at the end of the dead avenue.”

The National Trust has joined other organisations as a partner in the  Food and Environment Research Agencies  (FERA) garden designed by Jo Thompson to help raise the profile about the increasing threats we face but more importantly what we can all do about them.

The modern world we live in and our globe-trotting lifestyles combined with our increasing desire for ever more exotic food and plants is only increasing the chance of new pests and diseases and non-native species threatening our countryside, woodlands, forests and gardens.

“be prepared to be shocked… as there are dead (non living) trees at Chelsea for the first time…yes really!”

Since 2003 the National Trust has had to spend around £1m to deal with one disease alone, Phytophthora ramorum no small amount for a charity in these challenging financial times. But add in another 14 or so tree pests and diseases including the dreaded news making ‘Ash dieback‘ and the constant battle to keep our waterways and countryside clear of non-native species which sucks in vast amounts of staff time dealing with what is often a ‘fire fighting’ exercise, you can start to see why the Trust wants to help make a difference.

So was born the idea of working with others to raise the profile of these issues at the most famous garden show in the world, which in it’s centenary year is set to be a media show stopper.  But, be prepared to be shocked… as there are dead (non living) trees at Chelsea for the first time…yes really!  If you don’t believe me and you can’t go in person, check out our videos of the garden at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chelseaflowershow or tune in to watch some of the television coverage which will be on BBC2 every evening of Chelsea week.  The garden will also have a black pool of water with a small living oak tree on a plinth in the middle at the end of the dead avenue.

But there is beauty as well as we know that this is not a lost cause and we can all do things to help prevent the spread of plant pests and disease.

Here are my top tips of some things we can all do to help ‘Stop the Spread’:

 Taking some simple steps when gardening or buying and planting new trees, can help reduce the risk:

Ask your nursery/garden centre for help: Wherever possible, buy home-grown trees and plants; they’re more likely to be “acclimatised” to our conditions and less likely to be a home for new pests and diseases or non native species. Don’t bring plant material home from holidays abroad.

Buy small and watch it grow.  Semi-mature trees often grown overseas pose a higher risk of introducing pests and diseases. So be patient and plant smaller trees instead – they’ll often establish quicker too.

Right plant; right place.  A healthy tree or plant is less likely to succumb to disease – try to match a tree to its preferred location, type and size of tree, soil type, available space.

Help it to establish itself.  Feed your tree but avoid over-feeding which can lead to vulnerable soft growth. Consider a mycorrhizal fungi planting treatment to encourage healthy root growth. Use a good stake and tie, but don’t strangle your tree!  Lower leaves in contact with the soil risk picking up disease, so remove them when you plant or use a good mulch.

Give it room to grow.  Space trees as widely as possible to ensure good air movement and reduce humidity.  Prune out any dead and diseased branches and dispose of the waste sensibly.

Keep clean.  Pests and disease are easily spread on soil and plant debris attached to footwear or on tools like secateurs and saws, so clean mud and leaves off regularly.

Don’t stop planting. The worst thing we can do is to stop planting trees. Simple measures like those above will help protect our beautiful woodlands and forests in these difficult times.

 Dispose of garden waste responsibly. Compost your waste properly or dispose of in a responsible way. Don’t dump garden or pond waste in the countryside or water courses

Top tip: When buying look for: healthy, vigorous trees and plants, not pot bound, not too much soft growth. Avoid signs of dieback, leaf spotting, insect infestation and mould growth. Look out for other non -native species species hitching a ride.

The team hard at work

The team hard at work

  • Ian Wright is the National Trust’s Gardens Adviser based in the South West of England.  He advises on all things horticultural at the 30 great gardens in the South West. He has built up an extensive knowledge of plant and tree pests and diseases over his 26 years working for the Trust and in more recent times produced guidance for staff aimed at preventing the spread of pests and disease.  Ian describes himself as ‘almost a tender perennial’ and now ‘lacking the appetite for true British winters’ after working in the favoured climate of the South West for so many years.  Potential sponsors take note… Ian’s greatest dream is to design a ‘Gold winning’ show garden for the National Trust at Chelsea…..any offers?
  • The Weekly Witter is a regular weekly mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about the news, current affairs, and what’s on their minds at the moment.

Weekly Witter: Where are Britain’s Bees?

A Buzzless Spring…

Hindsight is useless. Foresight is what’s needed, but it is far easier to prove something retrospectively.  Conservation and technological science need to be forward looking, and to prime future actions.  Furthermore, there’s a jumping off point where science has to prime belief.  That jumping off point is often hard to determine: sometimes we have to jump before we have full scientific certainty, which is where belief becomes important.

“I know that much is wrong with our bees, and that the situation is steadily worsening.”

Much has been said and written about neonicotinoids (‘neonics’) and the plight of bees, hived and wild.  I’d love to say that I fully understand it all, but I don’t; some of the science is beyond me, and some of it seems woolly. Good science is often partial, and there is much inadequate science around (often acting as a stepping stone towards good science).  Yet as an entomologist who has been interested in our native bees for over thirty years and as someone who has been involved in bee keeping on and off since childhood, I know that much is wrong with our bees, and that the situation is steadily worsening.  If there was a single cause we would in theory have got to the bottom of it by now, so I suspect a cocktail, a nasty cocktail.

My wife and I gave up bee keeping circa 2000 when we finally had to accept that we couldn’t keep them in the arable landscape in which we live.  It was unfair on the bees; they kept dying – and not just because of poor weather or Varroa mites, or even inadequate husbandry.  Moreover, we became increasingly aware that bees kept by friends in more suburban environments were faring considerably better.  Much of what our own bees gathered was Oil Seed Rape (OSR), which in my opinion makes revolting honey (and not simply because it sets rock hard).  Since then our local farms have increased their OSR acreage considerably.

“What all parties seem agreed upon is that seriously good research is required urgently – but good science cannot be hurried.”

In 2012 some 490,000ha of OSR (76 per cent of the UK crop) were treated with ‘neonics’, along with some 600,000ha (30 per cent) of wheat (Advisory Committee on Pesticides Data, 2012).  A formal review by the European Foods Standards Agency reported in January that ‘neonics’ pose an unacceptably high risk to bees, and that the industry-sponsored evidential data upon which regulatory agencies have relied may be flawed.  Their review concluded that an acute risk to honey bees is posed by dust drift from the seed treatments used in maize, OSR and cereals, and that a similar high risk is posed by residues in nectar and/or pollen.  In response the European Commission is implementing a temporary ban on some neonicotinoids. This is effectively an evocation of the Precautionary Principle of the Rio Declaration, which states: ‘Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.’

honey_bee North Eastern Photography

Will honey bees soon be a thing of the past?

Whether this will actually help bees remains to be seen.  Crops sown this autumn will not be affected by the moratorium, and two years is a pathetically small window of opportunity – especially as ‘neonics’ can persist in some soils for up to four years.  Furthermore, it is unwise to assume that the alternatives to ‘neonics’ are less damaging, so we urgently need to see guidance provided to farmers and gardeners on practices to use instead.  What all parties seem agreed upon is that seriously good research is required urgently – but good science cannot be hurried.  Meanwhile in Wales there is perhaps some hope in the production of a Pollinator Action Plan (open for consultation until June 4th) which could be usefully extended and developed on a UK-wide basis as our bees don’t respect borders.

Why we are growing all this Oil Seed Rape in the first place is a question only naïve people like me ask…

  • Matthew Oates has worked for the National Trust for over 20 years.  Although passionate about butterflies he is very much an all-round naturalist and is effectively the Trust’s resident naturalist. He works closely with the Trust’s network of ecologists and naturalist rangers throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • The Weekly Witter is a regular weekly mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about the news and what’s on their minds at the moment.

Weekly Witter: Battle of Britain’s bluebells

The Natural History Museum online Bluebell Survey

Are British bluebells under threat?

Are British bluebells under threat?

Since 2006 scientists at the NHM have been asking the public to look more closely at one of Britain’s best loved plants and report their data online. Initially driven by the desire to understand whether this iconic species was indeed threatened by an invasive alien, the Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), our work soon became a quest to understand just what the plant we thought of as the Spanish Bluebell was and where it had come from, before we could begin to understand what we were seeing in the British countryside. Molecular work demonstrated that the Spanish and English Bluebells were very similar, indeed there was as much genetic variation between the populations of Spanish bluebell isolated on the different mountain ranges across Iberia as there was between it and our native plant. Study of the narrow zone where they meet in northern central Spain revealed a confusing mix, just like we can find in urban areas in Britain. Only geographical isolation has kept them apart and distinct as there is no apparent barrier to breeding between them. As a consequence our horticultural endeavours have in less than 250 years done much to undo the last 10,000 plus years of isolation and evolution!

“So were the doom merchants justified in their apocalyptic statements?”

It became clear that the plant which had become associated in British botanist’s minds as typical Spanish Bluebell was actually a triploid, the like of which our criss-crossing of Iberia had failed to find. It is likely that if this didn’t arise early in cultivation it was of a selected form, picked out for its robustness and vigour (and not for its charm!) not subsequently found in the wild. It was also obvious that over time plants from different parts of Iberia had found their way to British gardens and because of the variability in the species we could determine that our problem plants might better be called Portugese rather than Spanish Bluebells!

“Plants abandoned on roadsides adjacent to major native populations may inexorably spread alien genes…”

So were the doom merchants justified in their apocalyptic statements? To an extent yes – with no barrier between them interbreeding will occur wherever the taxa meet, and our gardens, wherever they be across the country, the British public had shown us were full of hybrid plants. It was also clear that the major ancient woodland areas supporting the world’s largest stands of Hyacinthoides non-scripta were, as yet, largely unsullied and untainted by the alien. In areas around our major towns and cities, where ancient woodland habitats are small and fragmented and in close proximity to gardens and fly-tippers, populations were mixed. The message thus then became one of educating the public not to dispose of unwanted garden plants irresponsibly. Plants abandoned on roadsides adjacent to major native populations may inexorably spread alien genes although encouragingly it seems that most pollinator movements may be going the other way, from our native plants to the invaders.

Having better established the distribution of alien plants (or their genes) within the British Isles we then decided that our survey may provide us with an excellent opportunity to build a more robust data set looking at the phenology of flowering in this species, which may help provide evidence on the existence and effects of climate change. To do this meaningfully requires very many years’ worth of data (not least to counter natural yearly fluctuations such as we see now) and as many members of the public contributing as possible, hopefully with the same plants recorded year after year. Responses to the survey peaked late in the flowering period last year following my appearance on the BBC’s One Show and we hope that all those people who contributed then will do so again this year. Last year our first records were made early in the first week of March, some five weeks or more ahead of our first this year and most plants I see even in the cities heat are still more than a fortnight from flowering.

A stunning bluebell display at Fountains Abbey.

A stunning bluebell display at Fountains Abbey.

By carefully identifying plants using our online guidance, with the fallback of being able to send images to me here at the museum enquiries team (ias2@nhm.ac.uk) to help with this, it will be possible to document whether hybrid and Spanish plants do flower earlier so that we can discount this as one cause of change in flowering time and behaviour.

  • Fred Rumsey- Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, NHM
  • Experts at the National Trust believe that due to the late spring, British bluebells are still weeks away from flowering. Read more here.

Weekly Witter: Plot to plate- Heelis’ glorious garden allotments.

This week sees the launch of My Cool Allotment- an inspirational gardening book by Lia Leendertz, that mentions the tranquil allotments set within the office courtyards at Heelis- headquarters of the National Trust. Gardener Phil Osman takes us through what the Heelis allotments are all about:

The vegetable gardens were initially installed at Heelis in spring 2009, at first there were 6 raised beds which since has increased in number to 10. Plants and seeds are supplied by volunteers from the Heelis gardening club which meets once a month to drink tea, chat about gardening and on occasion actually review what we do!

The produce grown, which includes salad leaves, herbs, rhubarb, and last year tomatoes is picked and delivered to the kitchens to be used by the catering team. Phill Osman and Anne Whiteside meet early each year to decide what to grow in the coming season, tea is drunk, biscuits eaten and plans drawn, and then it is off to the green house to sow seed.

The Heelis allotments- tranquil green space within a busy headquarters

The Heelis allotments- tranquil green space within a busy headquarters

May

The rain is relentless, such a disappointment after the promising early spring weather, salad crops are in, the shallots and onions will be ready to come out soon and runner beans planted. Just need some sun now!

June

Well at least the hosepipe ban isn’t having a great effect on us! We keep planting and it keeps raining, everything is so slow to come on, the only things that seem to enjoy the weather are the snails and slugs! Tomatoes are in, a first this year, but I do wonder how they will do.

July

A brief respite from the rain, just as well as we have Lia Leendertz visiting to ask some questions about the veg garden for a book she is writing. So all hands to the pumps to make sure it is looking its best, Have to say that considering the awful weather so far it does all look very promising.

August

Summer it seems has passed us by this year; at least we haven’t had to water regularly. The tomatoes have done far better than I expected but are now inevitably showing signs of blight so they’ll have to come out. The battle with slimy predators is relentless; I really don’t know where they all come from.

September

Salad crops are still going, which is a tribute to the never ending efforts of Anne et al even with the appalling weather this season they have managed to keep a steady supply of produce going into the kitchen. Donna is our first line of defence against slugs and snails and without her regular forays I think they would have had more of what we grow than the catering team!

October

Harvest the last of the seasonal salad for the kitchen and start to tidy up for winter, although like many others we don’t seem to have had a summer.

November

Onions and garlic planted have topped up some of the beds with compost. Sweeping up leaves which seem to go on forever! Should have a good supply of leaf mould compost for next year. All spruced up and tidy for the AGM, We are doing a display about the gardens in the atrium this year.

December

Dodging showers, final weeding, turning over, adding more compost and netting the kale, cabbages and chard in an attempt to keep the pigeons off.

Last gardening club meeting of the year, tea and cake and all hoping for a better season next year.

January

Meet Anne and Donna to chat about what we are going to grow this year, the tomatoes were a surprising success last year so we’ll repeat those again. Several of the beds need top soil added, one for a little later on when it’s a bit warmer! A request for some Chicken manure from my two hens Thelma & Louise to mulch the Rhubarb crowns.

February

It is so cold!!!!! Snow, rain, gale force winds, the new shoots on the Rhubarb crowns have taken a real battering even though they have been well mulched, the onions and garlic we planted last autumn don’t seem to be doing anything, We have started sowing early lettuce but it will be too cold to put them in the green house to bring them on at this rate.

March

It’s still cold!!!!!! Anne’s seedlings have become to leggy to use so they have been scrapped and fresh batches sewn, we have been able to let the catering team have some kale and purple sprouting broccoli, the rhubarb is attempting a comeback and the onions and garlic are just showing some signs of life.

April

It seems to be getting slightly warmer, at long last! It was almost pleasant barrowing in two tons of topsoil last week! Fresh seedlings have actually made it to the green house, have digitalis, borage and field poppies ready to plant and sow under the fruit trees. Hopefully the cold will have an adverse effect on our resident snail population this year; otherwise its back to our tried and tested control measures, Donna picking them off by hand!