Coombe Wood Garden
Every time I visit a garden I learn something new – a new rose colour for example, or sometimes I see a completely new plant or some novel aspect of display. The visit I talk about in this post illuminated for me the many elements that go together to create a garden that holds your interest. If you are just starting to put together a garden this post is for you. Do get in touch if you have any questions or comments, it would be good to hear about your garden. The picture heading this month comes from Coombe Wood Garden. It sounded attractive, was accessible by public transport and with car parking too, and I was particularly keen to see it as I had a client who lived not far away from there and he had created a beautiful woodland garden that I enjoyed working in.
Coombe Wood House and garden and 14 acres of parkland were bought for the public and first opened to us in 1948. It now forms part of Croydon Borough’s parks while the house is a busy restaurant.
The garden was lovely to look at, very varied in content and is well tended. I also had a surprise in seeing there the well-known Pulhamite rocks – I’ll come back to these later. When I was studying horticulture one of my tutors used to say a woodland garden is a spring garden where bulbs create a display before the trees take over. I would now question that and would prefer to go for all year round interest.
It is more or less a circular walk around the garden, with solid pathways to follow, and from time to time you meet with little streams and waterfalls with ferns and moss, which I love, and even a small pond with – I think – Koi carp. You can meander around – if you go at lunchtime as I did you get delicious restaurant cooking smells wafting by – and I was lucky to meet and chat with a woman also very interested in gardens. We discussed slugs and snails.
Tall conifers around the edges of the garden soar above your head, say, 30m high. Within the garden there is a good mix of much smaller conifers. I’m fond of conifers and seeing a range of textures and colours side by side makes for a display that really draws the eye.
James Pulham founded a landscape gardening firm active between 1820 and 1939 – the original James was succeeded by his eldest son and two more generations of eldest sons, all called James. As well as landscaping work the firm also produced, in their own factory, terracotta and artificial stone quality garden ornaments such as sundials and fountains made from their own invention “Pulhamite”. Their Pulhamite rocks graced many of the gardens they constructed – Wikipedia has a long list of gardens where these still exist – they advertised their product as being long lasting and so it has proved to be and still looking good now. Pulhamite’s secret recipe died with the firm, known to have exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1862 and the 1867 Paris Exhibition.
According to Wikipedia modern analysis of their rock shows it to be a blend of sand, Portland cement and clinker sculpted over a core of rubble and crushed bricks. There is a little information on the internet about this vintage product and apparently the rocks in some places have been restored with the help of Lottery money.
Earlier this year, in my May post Dark Canopies, I mentioned chatting to some people around the folly in Sydenham Hill Wood as we all tried to decide exactly what we were looking at. I now discover this too was made from Pulhamite rock.
To return to the garden at Coombe Wood it was the variety of what to see that particularly struck me – it is not all on one note. Contrast to the winding paths and rocky woodland aspect is provided in a number of “clearing” areas filled with flowers.
People seem to love looking at multi-coloured flower beds and borders. This year, of course, the flowers are struggling with the lack of rain, the temperatures, strong winds and the sun frying them.
So, three things to think about when creating a garden –
i. Add water
ii. Variety e.g. in trees and plants
iii. Contrast e.g. in light and shade
This will get you off to a good start.
At the Allotment
A New Use for Garlic Spray
Squash and climbing beans tend to “stick” for a couple of weeks while they establish themselves after initial planting out and at this time are very vulnerable to slugs and snails. The use of slug pellets is being discouraged so good old garlic spray tackles this situation well I have found. Remember it must be reapplied after rain.
You must see this
My thornless blackberries – these are cultivated as distinct from the wild version – have been drying up on their stems despite very heavy watering. Went to ask another plotholder who also grows soft fruit how his were doing and found the same thing there – dessicated berries. He said he was struggling to keep up with the watering. We concluded it is a combination of 2018’s long hot summer and 2019’s three months of strong winds blowing daily.
These are cultivated Blackberries and, admittedly, the wild variety of Blackberry that grows around the edges of our site, uncared for by anyone and unwatered, are fine, but usually the cultivated version sports lovely, large juicy berries and, apart from this year, are well worth growing.
There is always a challenge for allotment sites, especially small ones, in the suburbs. The site is likely to be backed onto by the back gardens of various houses or railway lines. My plot backs onto a very steep and high railway bank and the wind that whistles down it is a problem for fruit trees – at least for a pear tree of mine that is very early flowering. It was sold to me as a Delsanne, a French variety that no one seems to know much about.
It took some time to work out what the problem was with this pear and why I didn’t get much of a crop (understatement! about three pears in ten years). Although there were other pear trees on nearby plots I tackled pollination first – I did my research and tried buying and planting a pollinating pear companion very close to it. Matters did not improve.
Because it is very early flowering I then concluded it had to be blossom damage from the high winds early in the year whistling down the steep bank. The solution was clearly to erect a wind break around this tree. I put a temporary Enviromesh covering on it this year leaving it open on one side for pollinators. I thought it had done the trick. Not so. The blossom all disappeared as usual, frost damage this time I think, and no fruits yet again.
I can remember when training visiting a garden where the Head Gardener said if a plant is not “paying its way” it needs to go. I thought it was harsh at the time but now I think he was right. The companion I bought seems to be doing well – a ‘Williams’ Bon Chretien’ maybe I’ll have better luck with this popular variety.
A couple of hours before writing this particular section I paid an evening watering visit to the allotment as it had been outrageously hot all day. As I pottered about with my cans in the fading light I could hear lots of bees buzzing in the lavender hedge. They were making the best of a plant which flower-wise will soon be coming to an end. I suddenly realised how much I appreciate the lavender, and the bees in it, which I had barely even thought about before.
I recently read in Gardening Which about a new strain of lavender available, Lavender angustifolia Lavance Purple – apparently the darkest purple form and which does not fade as it ages. Sounds good, I thought and immediately sent for seeds. These will be sown in February and I can then make more lavender hedges at the allotment.
NB Catch up on what happened with the Lavender l’Avance Purple seeds in my post of September 2020.
If we continue to have hot summers Lavender hailing as it does from the Mediterranean is going to be ideal. Once it is established it is drought tolerant and what’s more our bees absolutely love it.
Above link will take you to a Daily Telegraph article on ten different lavenders, including pink, white and dwarf varieties. Article is from 2015 and some of the images no longer work but it is the best I’ve seen if you fancy something different to the more usual lavender display.
After the experience in the last weeks of July of unprecedented temperatures in a major heat wave you could hear the world, and me, give out with a sigh of relief when the first deluge hit. It was sudden, heavy and, unfortunately, rather short. I rushed to shut some of the windows and was amused to see several of my neighbours just standing out in the middle of their gardens enjoying getting wet.
My Crinodendron I talked about last month died. Well, I tried.
I wonder what next month has in store for gardeners. Happy gardening and bye until next time. Do get in touch and tell us all about your garden, would love to hear from you.