Working as a Heritage Gardening Trainee here at Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse means experiencing a lot of variety over the course of my twelve-month contract. Occasionally this is manifested in not spending as much time in the garden as you would expect!
Things have been rather dry of late and so I’ve been taking the opportunity to pop into Cherry Tree Cottage garden at the weekends to do a bit of watering. All the vegetable seeds at Cherry Tree Cottage are direct-sown and require warmth and moisture to germinate properly, hence the extra-curricular efforts. When I do this I am usually wearing ‘civvies’, meaning visitors have no idea I actually work here, and which can lead to a few ‘honest’ assessments. One recent Saturday afternoon I was watering away when a visitor approached and opened the conversation by saying that the garden “didn’t look very good this year. No offence!”
I smiled and thought this one over for a moment before agreeing with him. It was quite true that there wasn’t an awful lot to see vegetable-wise at that time, but the consensus among gardeners generally is that everything has been about four weeks late this year. It’s been a balancing act as to when to sow some seeds, but on the whole I think things are currently looking fine, if a little immature!
The visitor’s comment did make me think about how everyone has an opinion, which on the whole is a good thing. Anyone with a passing interest in horticulture walks into Cherry Tree Cottage garden and forms an opinion, which may not always be flattering. A lot of our visitors are hardened gardeners or allotment holders who spend countless hours perfecting their plots. They may be completely unaware of the lack of permanent employed gardeners at Gressenhall, the extent to which we rely upon volunteers to do most of the garden maintenance, the restrictions on what we can plant and the materials to be used in Cherry Tree Cottage, not to mention the lack of any propagation facilities. Still, I always value these opinions and have had many a good conversation with gardeners since I started last September.
The one good thing is that we begin each year with a strong framework, established by the gardening volunteers over the past thirty years or so. Cherry Tree Cottage garden looks good throughout the year because of the structure provided by the box hedging, the trees, the paths and walls, as well as the hard work put into the flower borders. Every year is different however. Climate is inherently unpredictable and can cause the four week delays we’ve seen this year, or an early burst of growth in any other. Coping with this variability is one of the great pleasures to be had from gardening. Ultimately, it is satisfying to produce any decent horticultural display when conditions have been difficult. Gardens can be quite forgiving, things can catch up after a delay, plants can re-adjust.
On this particular occasion, I got the distinct impression that my visitor had been a regular at Gressenhall for a number of years. It was nice to see how visitors develop a sense of ‘ownership’ towards the place and how much they genuinely care how things are. I recommended that he come back in four weeks time, as there would be more to see. He nodded, laughed and went on his way. I carried on the watering and tried to chivvy the plants along a bit.
Michael Jordan, Skills for the Future Heritage Gardening Trainee