63% more plants blooming in this year’s annual Valentine’s flower count

National Trust Garden teams in South West England have been busy recording flowers in bloom in this year’s annual Valentine’s Flower Count, with nearly all gardens showing an increase on last year.

The Annual National Trust Valentine's Flower Count - Fiona Hailstone counting Snowdrops

The Annual National Trust Valentine’s Flower Count – Fiona Hailstone counting Snowdrops

In 2008, 3,335 plants in bloom were recorded in Devon and Cornwall (where the flower count first started), marking the earliest spring so far recorded during the count. This year, 2,644 plants were recorded in gardens across the whole of the South West compared to 1,622 in 2015. Continue reading

National Trust gardens star once again in Open Garden Squares Weekend

The National Trust is inviting visitors to enjoy and explore the unique gardens of seven of its London properties on 13 and 14 June as part of Open Garden Squares Weekend 2015.

The gardens at Osterley Park and House in London. Credit National Trust Images

The gardens at Osterley Park and House in London. Credit National Trust Images

Continue reading

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.