Thursday, 29 November 2012

Belvoir Castle

Caius Cibber statues cover up for winter

This morning was the first really sharp frost but was luckily accompanied with a beautiful blue sky - a pleasant change from the miserable week of constant rain.  So it is time to make sure the 17th-Century Cibber statues are protected from the harsh elements of the coming winter. 

Cibber Statues at Belvoir Castle

During their time at the Castle the statues have been moved a couple of times.  Originally they lined the drive and were moved by the 5th Duchess onto the terraces and then again by Violet, wife of the 8th Duke, who was largely responsible for the gardens that we see today.  

All this I have read from the present Duchess's book 'Belvoir Castle', and understand that the 8th Duchess had the help of Harold Peto, a notable Edwardian garden designer.  Harold Peto created some of the finest gardens in England, inspired mainly by the Italianate style. 

This winter we hope to do a lot more research into the history of the gardens and find out who did what, when and where.... we'll keep you posted....

It is a great responsibility to have such treasures in our care, so this year we are starting a program of upgrading the winter covers.  Materials for this job are so good now that the new covers have two layers of silver bubble wrap sandwiched between a special hardy canvass.  The statue's now look quite strange - like green space rockets just about to take off!

New Covers for the Cibber Statues

More Statues in the rose garden

We will find out the history behind these two.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Results of an English Winter

In March 2010 Aimee asked me to help her create a New Zealand garden.

We were presented with a long mound of earth that had been placed to provide a barrier from the harsh winds and rain.  Some of the soil was extremely heavy clay where as part of it was complete sand – so another good challenge!

It is very difficult to plan a garden on such a steep slope, the soil will always erode and slide downhill which makes it is difficult to get plants established.  With this in mind we decided to terrace the whole lot.

As with all projects – it wasn’t plain sailing or should I say plain digging!  Some of the soil was so heavy, when you tried to throw the soil off the spade, the spade went with it!   A Mini digger was imported rather quickly and old railway sleepers were fixed together and used to hold back the soil. 

The workings were finished in the spring of 2010, some compost was added to the whole area and the planting began in April.  As you may know, there are some beautiful exotic plants that come from New Zealand, so it was an exiting planting scheme to create.  I used Hebes, Pittosporums, Phormiums, Eucalyptus, Olearias, and Griselinias amongst some of our own indigenous trees and shrubs.  We considered some tree ferns but felt the cold conditions of Lincolnshire would be too much of a test.

So where is the finished photograph...........

Aimee religiously watered the plants all summer, and they came on in leaps and bounds with no casualties by autumn.  However, on 22nd November 2010, extreme cold conditions hit England causing disruption on our roads and devastation to Aimee’s garden.  Many garden plants can tolerate temperatures down to -5C and some down to -15C; but on the 28 November -17C was recorded, and one of my clients, (north of Lincoln), recorded -22C for 5 days.  Of the 8 Eucalyptus that were planted only one survived, Aimee lost all of her other New Zealand plants.

I returned with some trepidation to Aimee’s garden this autumn and was thrilled to see how the plants that had stood the extreme conditions, had blossomed. 

Did I mention the rabbits!

It was an extreme winter and a harsh lesson.  Beware when you go to garden centres and see the beautiful coloured exotic plants that come from warmer climates.

I guess we made a good decision about the Tree Ferns!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

5th Duchess of Rutland returns to Spring Gardens..

Two beautiful sunny days at Belvoir and we seemed to have moved mountains. 

As with most gardens at this time of year, the process of creating next year’s glory starts in earnest.  None of the existing plants at Belvoir have been split or divided for years, so with the addition of all the bulbs we ordered, there was a lot to do. Luckily the weeds have slowed down so Martin left the knapsack in the shed and joined the planting team of Andrew, Kerry and myself.

Our first port of call was the bottom private terrace.  This was planted with beautiful bearded irises, but over the years they have become crowded and muddled with other plants.  As with most perennials the irises needed splitting and dividing.  (Please note the best time to do this is after flowering – not the end of October! – but we are playing catch up at the moment and took a gamble).  We managed to get the whole terrace finished by the end of the day; no thanks to the swarms of midges who came in for the kill after lunchtime!

On our way home we went to check on the Spring Gardens only to find 5 burly builders struggling with an extremely heavy statue.  Around the pond underfoot the ground was treacherous, so there was no purchase for the team at all, but with a lot of grunting and groaning, and of course a little help from the gardeners, the statue was in place.  The 5th Duchess of Rutland returned to the Spring Gardens.

Elizabeth the 5th Duchess of Rutland was an extraordinary lady who in the early 1800s rebuilt the castle, ran the farm and estate, landscaped the gardens, and gave birth to 11 children.

In acknowledgment of her achievements the current Duchess has created a magnificent vista from the top of the Spring gardens, looking down over a large rockery, to a small lake where the 5th Duchess now resides.  ‘What a treat to be part of history’.

In many gardens splitting and dividing all the plants can be a bit of a shame as you inevitably end up throwing away the extras - today we managed to find homes for nearly all the overspill, how satisfying is that!

The last throws of autumn colours at Belvoir Castle

Sun catching a carpet of red leaves

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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Autumn colours Belvoir Castle

As Martin and I started working at the castle last November the only month of suspense left was October and just look at October -it's something else!  I have never seen colours like it; the Spring Gardens are full of Acer’s so the mixes of reds, oranges and yellows are just magical.

With all the rain this year the trees have produced a large volume of leaves, which they have retained, rather than shedding early, as they do in dry years, consequently we have a wonderful display.  So there was a reason for all that rain!

It’s bulb planting time.  I always think of bulbs as a gardener’s secret weapon.  I find them invaluable for linking the flowering seasons and adding colour when herbaceous flowers are fading.  They are good value and don’t take up too much room.  It is important to remember though, when planting, most bulbs will leave unsightly leaves once their display is over, so always place them behind a plant that will hide this.  

 Allium purple sensation planted amongst Alchemilla mollis

This week we've had loads of help; Kerry has been with us on both days working at a rate of knots, and two volunteers, Jackie and Andrew who have also been tremendous.  Altogether they have planted over 2,500 bulbs!

Last year the squirrels stole most of our tulips – so sadly we have cut back on planting them this year.  I am told if you plant tulips with some cut holly round the bulbs this may deter the squirrels!  We will do a test somewhere and let you know if that works.

Simon and Jeff continue with the hedge cutting.  They have now reached the main gardens where the yew hedge acts as an all-important framework to the rose garden.  This hedge is in need of some re-shaping so there was a lot of looking – standing back – more looking – more standing back – and more looking…. The hedge has to look good from both sides and must have a continuous theme – at the moment it has slopes balls pyramids...   

We’re still looking and still standing back – we came to a decision, we’re going to cut it next week!

couldn't resist adding this one...

Monday, 1 October 2012

Topiary at Belvoir

Several years ago the Duchess planted 14 Yew shrubs either side of a path that leads from the castle to the rose garden.   Today they had their first re-style. 

The First Cut

It takes many years to create good topiary shapes; some of these shapes evolve over a period of time and some are planned within a garden design.  Ideally your shapes should suit their home and environment, so we could have nothing frivolous here.   We decided on the simple shape of a cylinder with a line through the center and a bobble on the top.  The cylinder shape replicates the round turrets of the castle creating continuity between garden and castle.

After the first cut the shapes start to evolve.

As these are evolving structures the work has to be done by eye, this is a trickier task and a lot of time and patience is needed.  More complicated shapes are often grown around metal structures to help keep their shape when clipping.

Anyway I think we can safely say Simon has mastered the beginning of the topiary restyle.  In 3 – 4 years all the middles of the shapes will have filled out and the lines will be sharp and clean.  Yew is one of the most versatile shrubs to clip, even if you trim it back to the wood it will still grow back.  The other gem for topiary is box.


If you are thinking about including some topiary in your garden, always remember the logistics of cutting.  If you create shapes that don't need a ladder or scaffolding it will be so much easier to look after them.

In days of old this job would have all have been done by hand shears and with a large team of gardeners.  Nowadays we use machinery that gives a clean cut and has a variety of cutters to suit different jobs.  Both Simon and I have always found Stihl to be the best, as they are so reliable.  Even so I will probably be guilty of wandering up and down now and again with a pair of hand shears.

The first cut at Belvoir Castle