Squills & Brash

For a few days this week mid February has felt more like early April. The daytime temperature reached 16ºC and the sky was an intense blue unpunctuated by clouds.

Two or three times a year the Osterley garden volunteers venture out into the wider parkland to clear brambles or, as we did on Friday, sort out and process hazel branches. The ranger team had already cleared a mass of material from the hazel wood which they had amassed into a large pile. Our job was to extract the felled trunks and branches and identify those suitable for fashioning into supports suitable for use in the garden as plant supports or stakes. As we dragged out each portion of wood we lopped off side branches and tested the slimmer, straightest wands for pliability. These will be used for supporting roses (see last Sunday’s post) or herbaceous perennials. The thickest trunks make good stakes for post and rope fencing. Those with a diameter of approximately 4-5cm are ideal for creating the tall wigwams in one of the quadrants in the Tudor Walled Garden. Once fully clothed with the annual climber, Spanish Flag, Mina lobata, these form red and yellow beacons, amidst the Dahlias, Mexican sunflowers, Amaranthus and Castor Oil Plants.

After one and a half hours of dragging, sawing and trimming we had produced three neat stacks of the useable material and an untidy heap of tangled discarded brushwood. Gardener Ed, who supervised our labours, calls this material ‘brash’, According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary brash is a ‘mass of fragments’. The brash will be collected by the rangers in a vehicle and taken to the work yard next to the gardeners’ bothy for shredding and composting. As we walked across the park in the warm sunshine, for lunch at the picnic table outside the bothy, we took care not to tread on the bluebell leaves already pushing through the turf. By 1.15pm we were back in the hazel wood where we cut suitable stems directly from the coppiced hazel stands which we added to the morning’s output.

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Our route to the park passed the elegant and newly refurbished Garden House, the focal point of Mrs Child’s Flower Garden. Inside the house, against a backdrop of potted citrus trees, stands a colourful tableau of assorted spring bulbs. Terracotta pots contain glossy purple, mauve and yellow crocuses and mid blue irises with darker blue ‘falls’ centred with yellow. Here too are two containers of azure Siberian squill, Scilla sibirica. Close inspection reveals star-shaped flowers held on short stems, each waxy petal decorated with a darker blue stripe. The pollen atop each anther clustered in the heart of the flowers is a surprising shade of blue. After the subtle colours of the hellebores and the virginal white of the snowdrops which have so dominated the gardens in recent weeks, the intense blue of the squalls is a refreshing and uplifting sight.

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