A colourless sky lowered over the gardens at Osterley last Friday, serving to highlight the intensity of the colour of the autumn leaves still clinging to the trees in the gardens and park and those carpeting the ground. Our morning task was to sweep the leaves from the lawns surrounding the mature oaks between Mrs Child’s Flower Garden and the path leading to the Winter Garden. Having filled our barrows, we deposited the golden haul on a new leaf pile on the site of the rich dark cliff face of leaf mould which we mined earlier this year to mulch one of the four large beds in the Tudor Walled Garden.
In the afternoon we worked in an area of the garden between the lake and the wider parkland where a stretch of the fence between garden and park needed to be cleared of brambles. Protected by elbow length red suede gauntlets, and using mattock and spades to sever the stubbornest roots, in two hours our working detail of five volunteers cleared the tangle of brambles from either side of the fence as well as a prickly patch at the foot of the nearby Ice House Mound. As with all weeding it is so satisfying to excavate as long a root as possible without leaving anything behind to emerge stronger than ever next year.
Our work on the previous two Fridays was slightly more sedate. For example we planted two lowish growing cultivars of Allium bulb beneath the roses in the Cutting Garden: the yellowish green flowered ‘Moly’ and the rose pink ‘Unifolium’ or American Onion. Later, on the bank opposite the American Border, we lifted and replaced divots of turf into which we posted two species of spring flowering bulbs. Both were familiar from Visitor Information team days at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew when we were often asked to identify the canvas of bright blue starry flowered Chionodoxa forbesii on the triangular lawn near White Peaks cafe with Kew Palace as its backdrop. The path further along from this part of Kew is called Princess Walk where the early flowered Crocus tommasinianus reveal themselves in February. The cultivar we planted at Osterley the other week was ‘Ruby Giant’ which is described on the RHS website as having reddish purple flowers. The squirrels which frequent that part of the garden kept a close eye on our activities and I do hope they find plenty of other naturally available nourishment and do not unearth the treasures we buried.
Planting in the Winter Garden on 9 November included a ribbon of Stipa tenuissima between contrasting tufts of lower growing ornamental grasses, the crowns of which we cleared thoroughly of Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, as well as less pernicious weeds. In another section of the Winter Garden, other colleagues planted a drift of strap-leaved Hart’s Tongue ferns, Asplenium scolopendrium. Nearby several different species of dogwoods, Cornus, have shed most of their leaves revealing glossy stems shaded from orange-gold, crimson and purple through to almost black, demonstrating why this part of Osterley is a colourful and interesting area to visit throughout the winter months.
Weeds Roots & Leaves has refreshed a local back garden during three days’ work over the last few weeks and I planted three Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ in the 1.5 metre deep border I created at the rear of the site. I chose this cultivar both for its red stems in winter to contrast with the surrounding evergreen shrubs and for its cream edged leaves in spring and summer to bring an impression of dappled light into a shadier area of this largely sunny garden.
By coincidence a cultivar of another species of plant which is a dramatic feature of Osterley’s Winter Garden at this time of year turned up in a new client’s garden which I visited at the weekend in preparation for carrying out some seasonal maintenance work this week. Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ scrambles to the top of a tree in the central section of the Winter Garden forming a cloak of toothed foliage and pale yellow bell shaped flowers heavily speckled inside with maroon becoming a mass of silky seed-heads when the flowering has finished. While carrying out a quick inventory of the plants in the client’s garden we found, on the west-facing wall of the house, an exquisite specimen not unlike Osterley’s ‘Freckles’ but with more finely cut leaves and slightly less speckled flower interiors. After a short online search I identified this as C. cirrhosa var. balearica which is also known as fern-leaved clematis, an evergreen the interior of whose creamy flowers are spotted purple. I have read that the flowers are slightly fragrant and am looking forward to having a sniff when I start work at the site tomorrow.
Volunteering in the garden at Osterley is always very enjoyable and doubly so when it informs the work of Weeds Roots & Leaves. As well as planting ideas and shared knowledge about the poisonous properties of some plants, I am, for example, so grateful for the information about a couple of wholesale nurseries which I would have known nothing about without the generous recommendation of a fellow volunteer.