February 2020 | Fragrances, bees and buds in your garden

February 2020 | Fragrances, bees and buds in your garden

Well Hall Pleasaunce garden

At the Allotment

Hello again, welcome back.  The winter so far has not been too bad in London south east but I have been a tad frustrated by constant rain interfering with garden work.  In the preparation for the next growing season – fitted in between the never ending rain showers which, whilst annoying in one way, have been a boon in leaving our heavy clay soil very workable, so long as you don’t stand on it.  In January I was able to harvest a surprising amount of Cavolo Nero which seemed, surprisingly, even to have grown a little, leeks and even some onions I had missed. The onions were a bit soggy so I dried them out, peeled and sliced them, roasted them all in the oven on a flat tray, and popped them into the freezer in portions to use in dishes as fried onions.

Now that I have adopted the no-dig garden method major effort has gone into collecting cardboard from anyone I can, (usually local shops and neighbours), spreading it over the beds and spreading soil over the top of it.  There isn’t enough organic matter in my compost heap to do it all so thinking hat is on.

Plant of the month – Hammamelis sp

Hammamelis (Witch Hazel) flowers have a strong and very delicious vanilla-like fragrance.

Hammamelis (Witch Hazel) flowers have a strong and very delicious fragrance.

Walking past these two examples of Witch Hazel (Hammamelis) I was overwhelmed by their fragrance. Why should they smell so good? It is, in fact, a feature designed to attract pollinators in the dark and dreary months when there is little colour to attract them.

I can’t be sure which varieties these are but I’ll take a guess that the first one is Hammamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ or possibly the smaller ‘Vesna’.  The second is likely to be Hammamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’.  Get advice from your garden centre/nursery about variety if it is the fragrance you are particularly looking for because not all are strongly scented.  These shrubs represent an investment and if you have a suitably large position near a path or by the front door (they can be containerised for a few years) where the scent can play a major role then I recommend these rewarding perennial shrubs to you.


Well Hall Pleasaunce

The header picture this month is from Well Hall Pleasaunce – a rather unusually named garden where I really enjoyed a longish morning visit

Weeping willow, bridge and stream in grassy area

even on a grey,  overcast January day on my way to lunch with some friends.  I think this was because the garden itself, despite being on a main road and easily reached on public transport, offered an endless variety of different garden scenes divided by hedges.  You must see this.

I spent a couple of hours there surrounded by families with small children – there are enough stone paths to accommodate small tricycles and I think large parts of the garden are likely to be friendly to wheelchairs, although there are also some places that can only be reached by steps (check disability access online or with London Borough of Greenwich).

A large open grassed area is interspersed by streams, rocks and bridges
A large open grassed area is interspersed by streams, rocks and bridges

A large manor house existed there until the 1930s, (one of the last residents was Edith Nesbit writer of the Railway Children,) which means that there have been the means to give this garden a great deal of careful design input in it’s time and happily much of it remains to see,  Also the garden and manor house history is there to read about on several information boards on site.

After the large “wilder” grass area the walled garden is another, also large. area where once the manor house fruit supply was grown.  The orchard has gone and it has now been turned over to a rose garden with a central fountain.


Walled garden surrounded by red brick walls - originally a fruit garden for the manor house
Walled garden surrounded by red brick walls – originally a fruit garden for the manor house

Well Hall Pleasaunce – Bee boles

Section of wall with triangular openings and skeps
Section of wall with triangular openings and skeps

I digress for a second from Well Hall Pleasaunce to bees – the threat to our pollinators currently being a hot topic.  Honeyland was a film I recently enjoyed enormously at a local arthouse cinema (David Lean cinema, Croydon.)  The film was set in Macedonia where a woman, believed to be the very last of the ancient-style beekeepers, eked out a subsistence from her bees at high altitude way above the tree line.

There are fears for the wellbeing of bees in many quarters and indeed their very existence.   My understanding of beekeeping is limited to watching the beekeepers at my allotment site.  In the film the woman beekeeper appeared to keep her bees in cracks in rocks and I saw nothing resembling a modern wooden hive, in fact, I couldn’t make out what she was doing most of the time.  Fortunately a local beekeeping association set up a stall in the cinema selling their honey and demonstrated some of the things we saw in the film (no bees – obviously.)

Later, coincidentally, I heard about bee boles.  These are rows of recesses, sometimes in a south-facing garden wall where the skeps are put, or as in the case of the Macedonian beekeeper, in crevices in the mountainside.  Skeps are coiled-straw hives that preceded the modern wooden hives that came into use in late 19th century.  This improved things for beekeepers as previously the straw variety had to be destroyed to access the honey while wooden hives can last for years.

16th century bee boles can be seen at Well Hall Pleasaunce.  In the walled garden where the fruit was grown there would have been bees in the wall crevices – as in picture above –  the nearby honey could be used to sweeten the fruit.

The images below show more of the exceptional range of sights in this interesting garden.

Moss covered rocks


Cheerio until next time.  Happy gardening – do get in touch with any gardening issues or to talk about your own garden.


Composite picture of early year plants and flowers

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