Green woodworking at Parke

A gate hurdle nearing completion in the woods

A gate hurdle nearing completion in the woods

Recently on Parke estate the Devon Rural Skills Trust came along to a small coppice area that we work in partnership to learn how to make traditional gate hurdles.

These hurdles would once have been made in their thousand to be used on farms to manage their sheep, make up runs, shearing areas, and folds for lambing. Now they have been replaced by metal hurdles much stronger and long lasting but having a far higher carbon footprint and less character.

From left, brace and bit, draw knife, twybil,froe

From left, brace and bit, draw knife, twybil, froe, hand axe

 The hurdle would have been made of ash, sometimes sweet chestnut or oak split or ‘cleft’ down t0 the required size with wedges and a ‘froe’ then shaped using an axe and draw knife. Mortise and Tenon joints formed simply with a brace and bit and a chisel or a ‘twybil’ (a very old tool specially designed for green wood tenons) in the uprights formed the structure held together with a few nails. The hurdle would have been 6ft long by 3ft high with between 5 and 7 rails, more rails were needed near the bottom if used with small lambs.

 However things must adapt to survive and the traditional hurdle has undergone a bit of a metamorphosis. The basic hurdle pattern can be adapted to different situations. They are great in the garden, made smaller they can hold back herbaceous plants from paths. Stop the children falling over walls or prevent their football hitting the roses. With a bit more imagination they can be formed into garden gates with cleft hazel infill. Or made really big and provide a structure for rambling roses or clematis.

Hurdles in place protecting the flowers in a busy garden.

Hurdles in place protecting the flowers in a busy garden.

Made from ash they are light and easy to move round, weather in nicely and last for some years, made from oak or sweet chestnut they are a bit heavier and last for many years especially if stored out of the weather in the winter.

 Best of all they have that lovely rustic look that blends beautifully into the garden and the countryside.

 Quite a few green woodworkers make them now. You can learn how to make them through the Devon Rural Skills Trust or come and see them being made at the Castle Drogo Edwardian Country fair on the 20-21st September.

 

Wildlife gardening at Parke

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I surfaced from the verdant green of Hembury Woods the other day to go to the office at Parke.  I apologise to my long suffering boss Mick, who constantly wants me to do a blog on Hembury or Holne Woods, but it was going into the Walled Garden that finally broke the dam.  Wow!  It looks fantastic.  The work of Kate, Mary and the other volunteers has resulted in a mass of colour and a nectar elysium for pollinating insects.  Another aspect of the National Trust’s conservation work, but one maybe sometimes overlooked when people think of National Trust gardens.  Formal ones abound, exemplars of horticultural practice in many of our old estates, but the message of such ‘wildlife gardening’ as practiced at Parke is a reflection of the present rather than the past.  That most of our flower rich meadows have gone due to changing agricultural practices and with them, many of our pollinating insects.  It is an example of how those of us who want to help pollinators and who have neither the space, time or expertise for formal gardening, can help.  The Royal Horticultural Society have a list of ‘Plants for Pollinators’, this venerable old organisation also recognising the importance of ‘wildlife gardening’, something also championed by Plantlife. Continue reading…

Fruits of labour

 

So first things first, I am a ranger, and whilst undoubtedly the thought of me dead heading flowers, secateurs in hand will bring a wry smile or a whole hearted guffaw to some of my colleagues I thought I’d write about the sanctuary that is the walled garden at Parke.

 

As a hobby gardener at home under my wife’s careful eye we celebrate and eat anything that grows successfully, but here at Parke the fruits of peoples labour can be seen in. The Bovey Community gardener’s plots seem to have an abundance of vegetables at the moment, runner beans, tomatoes, lettuces and everybody’s bag of goodies gets heavier and larger by the week. The Bovey community gardeners meet regularly at on a Wednesday and alternate Saturdays and Sundays and we often cast an envious eye on how prolific and well their vegetables grow. The squirrels certainly have made the most of our fruit this year, decimating our gooseberries before moving onto apricots, then peaches before finally moving onto dessert, our almonds. To be fair we’ve also been blighted this year, the weather hasn’t helped, the slugs and snails have been numerous, blight went through our potatoes and tomatoes before they had a chance to fruit and we’ve made mistakes but its all part of the challenge of gardening.

 

Speaking for myself the garden not only provides a respite from rigours and affairs of the estate giving me opportunity to while away the hours in a vegetable plot muttering and cursing weeds or pruning vines and looking at them as small trees that need pollarding but also as a place of sanctuary. Nuthatches are frequent visitors, a fledgling woodpecker spent a day traversing the footpaths, bees and butterflies fill the air as they look to make the most of the late sunshine and flowers available and there the sound of a fork striking the ground as the earth gets turned over adds to the serenity that can only be found in a garden.

 

Whilst my heart will always be in the woods and the wilds, the walled garden is slowly wheedling its way in.

Castle Drogo’s late summer garden spectacle.

Helenium's add vibrant colours to the late summer display

 

The last few magical days of  late summer sunshine have coincided with the garden at Castle Drogo reaching a seasonal  peak.  The  herbaceous borders are delivering their grand finale  before the onset of autumn with a beautiful display of bright yellow, orange, blue and lilac.

To capture the full experience an early morning or late afternoon visit will definitely be the most rewarding time with the added  bonus that you are likely to have the garden to yourself.

9.30am will be the best time for photography, with the dew lying like sparkling diamonds on the petals, leaves and closely cut lawns and the birds, bees and butterflies harvesting nectar and enjoying the early sunshine. From 5.00pm onwards the garden has a peaceful, restful atmosphere and the low light of the late afternoon sun creates real drama. The colours and contrasts of the flowers, lawns and pathways  are richer, the light and shade patches of the terraces and arbours accentuated. In the still air you can savour the romantic scent of roses and you will probably hear the rustle of  voles as they scurry through the borders and catch a glimpse of them as they disappear into their homes in the cavities in the granite walls.

Don’t miss out on this incredible gardening moment.  Be inspired by the drama of the seasons currently being played out on this amazing out door stage set; a sumptuous yet secret garden set in the wilds of Dartmoor.

At 9.30am I often have the garden all to myself!