Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Building Hurdles

I have to admit, when I came to Great Dixter I had no idea I would be doing woodwork in the barn as part of the scholarship. However, it has been so much fun to learn some of the traditional skills of a dying art.  I was specifically helping make hurdles that will be used for gates and corrals for our sheep. 

Our work station in the barn

Using the chestnut (Castanea sativa) that we harvested from Dixter Wood in the fall, we cut the required lengths and spit them to get the most out of every length. 

Fergus demonstrates how to split the wood by hand

Using a range of traditional tools, we shave the wood, cut out notches and assemble the hurdles. The whole process is very efficient and sustainable, beginning with harvesting from our own woods, and using as much as possible from each length of wood, to using leftover scraps as fire kindling. 

This frame is where we assemble the hurdles

The finished product

New hurdles keep sheep in the grass carpark to graze

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Plant of Interest

Libertia peregrinans

Origin: New Zealand, Australia 

Size: 0.5-1m (1 1/2- 3 ft) tall, spreading habit

Flowers: White, star-shaped, early spring-summer (forming orange seed pods) 
Cultivation: Prefers moist, well-drained soil, in full sun. Rhizomatous growth, colonizes over time. Evergreen. Hardy to about -10 C (15 F). 

Observations: (As seen at Great Dixter) Grown for fine, grass-like texture, which is a friendly spreader. Especially useful for autumn and winter color, when it turns from green to bronze-orange, which glows in afternoon sun.  

Photo: Libertia peregrinans with Ribes (Flowering Currant) and Cercis c. 'Forest Pansy' 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Glasshouse Duty

As I've mentioned previously, one of my ongoing duties during the year is looking after the Hot House. Last week I had some rare free time to do a bit of tidying. 

We're starting to get significant new growth on the cuttings, which means I'm frequently adjusting spacing (not that I have much room to spare!). Also, as more plants begin to flush out, air circulation becomes a bigger issue. We've had lots of rain and strong wind the last couple weeks, neither of which are conducive for opening the house, with so many cuttings inside. Thankfully, there are always breaks in the weather.  I'm getting used to stopping in the middle of whatever I'm doing when I need to go open or shut the house. The more venting I can do now, the better, before the weather starts to go cold--so far, daytime temperatures have been pretty mild. 

Exciting to see new growth...

...on top and beneath! 

I'm enjoying the challenges and rewards of looking after this house; it's great experience as I continue to learn.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Lining out bulbs

Where was I?... It's been a bit of a blur since my last posting. We were scrambling around the garden, getting odds and ends done in the days leading up to the Christmas and New Year holiday. 

One job that deserves mentioning was lining out bulbs in the stock bed by the Vegetable Garden. Every year we plant bulbs in the bedding areas, and after the show they are lifted, labeled and stored for the following season. Inevitably, there are groups that become "separated" from their names, and receive the infamous "unknown" label. As we sort through these bulbs in the fall, lots of the known groups get planted out in the garden or potted up for the spring pot displays. The unknows groups, however, are lined out in the garden, where we can identify them as they flower next season.  As we identify them, they will be labeled and then they can be used as cut flowers for the house. When they're done flowering, they will be lifted and re-stored with their new label for later use.  

Digging a trench is the fastest method with this many bulbs

This was my first time lining out bulbs, but the principle is the same as with most stock bed planting. We ran a line the length of the bed so as to keep a tidy row and utilize the space as efficiently as possible.  Although it's not always necessary, with bulbs it's much faster to just dig a trench, place your bulbs and then fill it back in with soil. Since the objective is simply identifying the bulbs, they can be placed so they're nearly touching, again maximizing the space. 

Unknown Tulip variety being lined out