The Orange Tip

mattcollinsgarden.co.uk

Category: the pond

Hortus: Gardening in Winter

IMG_4301

I was recently asked to contribute to the theme of ‘Winter Gardening’ for an issue of the quarterly gardening journal, Hortus. Lovely subject, of course, but particularly as it gave reason to reflect back on the Garden at Richmond, which now only exists in memory. I included the following extract, taken from the notebooks written while head gardener there, which were compiled for the publication ‘Ivy Cities’, some years ago:

‘I’m up on the shed roof again, sat beside the chimney I fitted two autumns ago. There’s warmth in the pipe from the last smouldering of this morning’s fire. I haven’t been up here to sit in quite a while, only climbing up on occasion to clean the flue of soot. The sun is low over the golf course to my right and the stark winter shine, at 11am, has only just reached across the roofline, casting a shadow of my figure right across to other side of the log pile. The logs are disintegrating a little more each day. Teeming underneath must be a great wealth of creatures, all working at the slow demise of the pile, chewing wood to mulch. Nettles and alkanet have rooted inside the composted crevices of the logs then spread on across the wild garden floor. A pair of squirrels chase through the sycamore above where long-tailed tits dart between branches and feed among the leafless twigs. A blue tit has already begun work on one of the nest boxes in an adjacent tree, excavating the remains of last year’s nest. In time each of the remaining boxes will be claimed, cleaned and renovated, ready for the spring clutch and the exhausting demands of incubation and parenthood.

Beyond the sycamores the pond is layered with a thin sheet of ice. Yellow iris and browned reedmace have begun to fold and collapse into the water, the latter’s seed long since carried up on the wind. Outside the wild garden, along the fence line, bare stems of ash, lilac and snowberry all merge in hue; a soft grey brown, dark at the tips, green in bud. Berries hang from the tops of last year’s shoots – bulging puVs of white, like little ping- pong balls. The beech tree at the back of the house stands in a pool of its own nut-brown leaves, a thick mulch returning to the soil. From here I can see the terrace beds, each cut to the ground, bare and simple. Rosettes of perennials remain however; the structural backbone of the long border still marked out by aconitum, echinops, knautia and veronicastrum. A nuthatch bobs its swooping flight over the top meadow and a blackbird flutters with less grace in the opposite direction. There are hips on the roses, hung like chandeliers from vertical stems that reach out from the tangled leaders tied flat to the house. I’ve worked hard at the climber beside the kitchen window, however it will soon require a second prune and some careful consideration. Mahonia is in flower along the walkway, less in number this winter following decimation under the fallen beech limb a couple of months ago. At the garden wall bordering the park, the walnut tree bark shines silver in the bright sunshine.’

IMG_4303

Hortus is a fantastic gardening journal, which I have written for on occasion over the last few years. More info here: HORTUS.

Kingcup

FullSizeRender-2
Marsh Marigold flowering stoically in the pond. The more this area of the garden develops (now in its 6th year since filling and planting up) the more I’m drawn to it. Garden ponds, no matter what the size or scale, are forever an eye witness source of evolution. You begin with a few periphery plants and before you know it you have all kinds of aquatic growth appearing from water mint and iris to frogs and damselflies. Marsh marigold however (Caltha palustris) is the true beacon in the bog, so to speak. It’s one of our oldest native wildflowers in fact, having pushed its little yellow light bulbs up through the thawing ice-age.

FullSizeRender-3

Pond’s Eye View

image

The Frogs Know

..when it’s spring.

image

Bulrush

FullSizeRender-2

White fluff floating across the garden and in through the door of my shed – it’s only this year that, on opening one of the deep brown rush heads into my hand, I noticed how tiny each single seed is. Such a number cast into the wind. It’s no wonder enormous swathes of bulrush spring up in and around lakes and still shallows.

FullSizeRender-3

FullSizeRender-4

Loosestrife

IMG_6887.JPG
Lythrum salicaria: it’s invasive and destructive, pushes out uk-indigenous watercourse and riverbank plants and takes their place, but seeing the little islands at London’s wetlands in Barnes, each surrounded by a ring of the thick, waving purple stuff, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘I want that, that looks good.’

So two years ago I bought a packet of seed and sowed a pinch-full (the seeds are minute like poppy) in the greenhouse. Pretty well all of the sowings germinated, and about 8 found their way to being potted on and growing to fill 1 litre pots the following year. The little plants were then dug, admittedly somewhat unwisely, into the already-dense pond periphery and left to fend for themselves. By their third summer therefore, given the much-hyped vigour attached to their infamous character, I hoped to find them not just surviving the winter, but displaying a majority-rule, unrivalled by any other water-fringe species circling the pond. To my dismay only one plant remained.

Following a long, warm summer, the Thames footpath in Richmond is now swamped in loosestrife seed heads. I stopped along my commute to collect some, and the pods are now drying in the greenhouse.

IMG_6782.JPG

IMG_6783.JPG

IMG_6776.JPG

IMG_6881-0.JPG
Rather than sow again in the greenhouse as I had done before, this year I’m going to follow the ‘natural route’ and sow the seed directly into the pond margin. In the wild, loosestrife grows as a biennial, and sets it’s seed now so that the new plants have time to establish before the winter. So I’ve trimmed and scraped back the undergrowth and once the seed has dried I’ll broadcast it and be hoping for better success next year.

IMG_6885.JPG

IMG_6888.JPG

On The Wind

IMG_0448

Reedmace shedding the last of their seed by the pond island; fluffed up in the early evening sunlight. Worth the resulting weeks of weeding out in waders..

Unravelled

IMG_4568_1500

Cat’s tails, reed mace, bullrush; something inanely great in knocking a long-hardened winter stem and watching the seeds unravel, disappearing into sunlight.

photographs by Roo Lewis: http://www.roolewis.com

IMG_4684

IMG_4666_1500

IMG_4700_1500

Common Darter on the Bench

Taking a brief rest from darting, which it has been doing relentlessly over the pond all week. Now well into September if something buzzes by me in the garden with great volume it’s usually one of these or a hornet. As with the butterflies this year I was beginning to doubt I’d see many hornets at all, but all of a sudden they’re everywhere on the wing; if not hovering over the Ligustrum flowers that they seem to love. The queens hibernate in the log pile near my shed, as I found out with great surprise in my first month at the garden, while shifting some of the wood.

Oxygenating the Pond

 

The pond, although small in actual size, has been a shelved concern of mine since I first began working at the garden. It’s one of those areas that I make copious mental notes about every time I pass by, but have managed to neglect almost entirely. Around March I spent a few days returning the structure back to form, halting it’s natural process of slow reversion back to bog (and ultimately to woodland) by re-carving the edges and pulling up the spreading grass. This did much to reaffirm it as ‘pond’, but did little to tackle the main issue concerning it’s murky colouration. I decided to postpone other duties therefore, and spend a day (with a lovely assistant) giving it my full attention.

The first move was to cut down the surrounding meadow. Made up of an earlier flowering mix of plants like alkanet and greater celandine,  it was round about the right time to cut anyway; that much ahead of the summer flower mixes. I left a good sized perimeter band of plants around the pond itself so as to provide the essential cover and foodplants needed for wildlife such as toads, frogs and dragonflies, not to mention the mass exodus of froglets that will come in a month or so’s time.

Some of the key plants have begun to flower already. The ‘yellow flag’ native Iris’, Iris pseudacorus, are opening all along the fringes of the water, along with ragged robin and the last of the celandines. Yellow is so often the colour of the wild.

The next and most important task was to work on getting the pond oxygenated. This is what will clear up the ‘murk’, lower algae levels and make it a much healthier place in general. Often a good way to oxygenate the water is to add movement. A fountain or spring will mix oxygen with the water during their cycle, as well as keeping the surface from becoming still and stagnant. However I’d rather avoid such a feature as I don’t see it fitting with the rest of the surroundings and the ‘naturalness’ of the pond. So I decided to get in some aerating plants from Paul Bromfield Aquatics, a good supplier of native oxygenating plants. These respire aerobically, making them able to survive under water in low oxygen levels, and (in a nutshell) via the process of photosynthesis, put more oxygen back into the water as a result. From the extensive list of plants on the PBA website, I chose the following in large groups:

Callitriche verna, Ceratophyllum demersum, Eleocharis acicularis, Ranunculus aquatilis, Myriophyllum spicatum and Mentha aquatica.

The plants arrive in small packeted bundles, usually with lead tags holding them together. Non-marginals (plants to go into the pond itself, instead of round the edge) need to be placed around the more central areas of the pool. Having witnessed unsuccessful attempts in the past at placing oxygenators by simply throwing them in (although this does work for the plant, Hornwort), I thought it was best that we went down the ‘hessian’ route.  This meant creating little sacks of hessian (or any breathable fabric really) containing a mix of loam and gravel in which to place the roots of the plants. The result is that they have an immediate contact with a growing medium, as well as being weighed down to the bottom of the pond, where hopefully the roots will eventually take hold and spread.

I used the same packaging for some of the marginal water mint, just to get it in closer to the water, although much of the bulk I purchased I simply dug into the perimeter edges. There are a few marginals and aquatics that can become quite invasive, especially if planted in large numbers. Water mint, as with almost all of the prolific mint family, is certainly one of them. So I will be keeping an eye on it’s development as the summer progresses.

Lastly I wanted to have a go at experimenting with barley straw as a control method for algae and pond weed. Although not proven to do wonders for tackling the latter, it has been recognised as a good defence against algae domination. This is, again in a scientific nutshell, down to the chemicals produced during the rotting and breakdown stages of the straw in water. The chemicals make it hard for the algae to survive and so begin to diminish it’s growth.

I tied clumps of straw to heavy stones and tossed them in. It’s more of an additional/token gesture than any forceful application, however I’ll be interested to see if it helps. Hopefully the length of string will allow for enough leeway to add controlled movement if nothing else, and therefore lessen stagnation.

Above all it was lovely just to get into the pond and familiarise myself with all that it has going on. There have been other areas in the garden too that I have had to avoid getting stuck into because of time constraints. In each case, once finally turning to them, I found that it was a great feeling to get to know this new, as yet unknown-place within the garden I’m otherwise so familiar with. In my experience as a gardener you never really know a place until you’ve been in it, down among the plants and digging around in the soil. And once in the pond, waders adorned, there were so many aspects I’d otherwise not have known.

I was amazed to find that we have newts, I had no idea they were here.