It's with much pleasure after a number of late nights I can declare the 2011 season 'Now Growing' section open! This is becoming my annual equivalent of switching on the Christmas lights (or as Andreas pointed out doing my taxes!) once a year I input all the 'out' dates for plants in the database that are no longer in the beds and then after a bit of behind the CMS secret curtain magic Dorian does something I imagine like cutting a ribbon or hitting a huge red switch and hey presto we have a new set of 'clean' beds and only the perrenial plants appear for a few short weeks before we start sowing and planting them all again!
Filling out the plant database can (frankly) at times be a real bore BUT with two years worth of data now logged in I can really start to see the value of this as a permanent record of what the Friends of Abbey Gardens group have achieved as well as an informative resource for other community gardening groups. As more and more plants go in you can compare varieties, add recipes and generally start to feel the benefit of all Hamish, Chris and I's diligent recording and photo-taking.
I know it's a tiny bit sad but I also really like to have a record of the plants I personally have lovingly grown. The blue poppies are a real favourite - the seeds came from plants in Karen's garden (which she in turn no doubt grew from seed!) and I then grew the first plants we had at the garden. Today (three years on) I gave my Gran some new plants grown from the next generation of gathered seeds, the rest will be for sale at this weekends Spring Event.
2011 is currently a fresh slate - for a few weeks only - enjoy.
AT LAST ... I have waded through the plant database bed by bed checking that everything from last year has at the least a photo, an 'in' date and an 'out' date. This may not sound like a big deal but believe me with erratic records it was a massive task!
So why should you care?
Well this means we are now ready for Karen to do the next level of 'grooming' to add the 'top level' info for these plants (Latin Names, if you can eat them etc.) which will (we hope) eventually let us build up a page of our stock plants with links to recipes etc. This also means Dorian can now make the transition to this season's database with only perennial plants (or those we have still to remove) carrying over and with our first season archived.
This also means we have to label everything this year and add it
as we go along :-( !
If you are still not sure why read Karen's excellent post from a while back here.
If anyone would like to review their high spots from last year and leave comments for posterity on your favourite flowers and veg. it's not too late and it helps to build a nice picture of the garden ...
So click and comment away ... (but maybe save your recipes for this years exciting new area!)
My only remaining sadness is it seems I have no photographic record of Turnip "Golden Ball" any offers out there? And before anyone points it out I know I have to take photos of the Green Manure ...
I read with interest recently, this news story about the rediscovery of a long
lost gardener's notebook at the historic Ickworth
House, which has unlocked countless mysteries for the
present gardeners - said one:
"It means that we don't have to make blind guesses and can now be really true to how Ickworth was created to be in future work. Any gardener would kill for this kind of information, it's amazing to think it's just been sitting there all these years.'
Acclaimed garden writer Noel Kingsbury also made a recent heartfelt appeal for information, in the journal of the Hardy Plant Society. It seems scarcely believable to keen gardeners that such information does not exist in the public domain and yet all that Noel seeks to collate (for PHD research towards improving the diversity of planting in public space, I believe) is straightforward feedback from amateur gardeners about which herbaceous plants do well in their gardens and why. It seems so simple doesn't it? But this kind of word-of-mouth knowledge is rarely if ever written down, and - despite many good garden blogs - as the knowledge generally rests with the older generation, we don't see it online much either. Gardening books, naturally, are written by experts who delight in nurturing horticultural delicacies and seldom do they feature the kind of adhoc grassroots gardening most of us practice.
Now, the knowledgeable / nerdy (like me) amongst you will know of the extensive field trials done by the Royal Hortcultural Society in their gardens, which often lead to the coveted 'AGM' award being given to the best and most 'gardenworthy' of tested plants. The thing about these trials though, is that they are carried out in one of only a small handful of geographically diverse locations by - and there's the rub - professional gardeners, not mere mortals like you and I with other things on their minds and in their lives: Yes, occasionally even RHS gardens suffer drought, pests and disease but on the whole these trials offer optimum conditions whereas what most of us offer plants is just-about-getting-away-with-it care.
Now, many Abbey Garden-ers this year have had
to put up with Nina and I's insistent mantra "Always label your
plants!", and behind the scenes with Chris
Cavalier and Dorian Moore we have busied
ourselves on an expansive database of all our plants and their
cultivation, on this very website. It takes a lot of work, but then
it holds a lot of information, much of which can be 'automatically'
retrieved online in future years of growing. Web site users can
wander bed to bed online, looking at what's growing, when it's been
harvested and what it looks like.
This doesnt sound like rocket science but believe you me, when you spend as much time as I do looking at other garden websites you realise how few ever get round to as much as a plant list - only this year did the National Trust (an organisation relatively rich in resources) even attempt to begin a nationwide plant survey of their properties, which include iconic influential gardens like Sissinghurst.
As a gardener myself, I know from experience how hard it is to
force yourself to find a pen and label when you're out, muddy
handed and enjoying the actual physical action of gardening. You
always think you'll remember it later and get round to it. You
almost never do. Multiply this minor act of human frailty by the
number of us active at Abbey Gardens and then add
it to all the other gardens in the world and you have a mass
amnesia that costs us much shared wisdom.
At least the Ickworth House story shows us that we are not alone!
(One of my favourite Christopher Lloyd stories involves a garden visitor asking him - on his hands and knees weeding - the name of a rare and treasured plant in his borders. Christopher :"Do you have a pen and paper?". Her: "No, but I'll remember it" Him: "You won't. So I'm not telling")
But IMHO the point of labelling and taking note of harvesting
dates etc is less to do with making sure people know they're
pulling a carrot out and not a parsnip and more to do with the
When I garden anywhere I am blissfully aware of my microcosmic act of communion with a tiny part of the macrocosm of Planet Earth. I love the physical and immediate aspects of soil, roots, tools and seeds, but then I also increasingly realise that the temporal is counterbalanced with a desire to share this experience, contribute to a global ecology, develop networks with like-minded people and organisations, and leave behind a lasting legacy of the trial and error and successes of my lifetime's gardening.
Opening my garden for the National Garden Scheme, giving talks, blogging and projects such as WWTHB? are all part of this ambition.
Moreover, I have a strong belief that what seems like minor ephemera today changes to gold-dust in a hundred year's time - again look at the Ickworth notebook, probably considered a casual aide-memoire by the gardener of the day (who almost certainly had his ranks of careful plant labels removed during the neccessary vandalism of the wartime 'Dig for Victory' campaign that turned all country gardens into allotments). Little did he know that a century later the information within would be the only record of his travails.
Blogs, websites et al can be the gardener's notebooks of our times. Yes, they're harder to update if your hands are muddy and your laptop's back at home. But their advantage is beyond the imaginings of any Victorian gardener: they can connect effortlessly with anyone else who is interested. Over recent years I've had some fascinating conversations with Dorian Moore our web programmer, about the future of the WWW, how the increasing fluidity between sites like Flickr and Google Earth has the potential to create accurate biodiversity maps of unprecedented detail, showing and archiving plant distribution through space and time, something scientists and researchers have attempted and failed to do for centuries. The impact of this in the uncertain, climate-changed future will be immense. It's what the web was made to do and it's up to us to get on with it so that future generations aren't left looking for the notebook behind the garden shed.
Sites like WWTHB? already contribute to social, academic and scientific knowledge about biodiversity and horticultural practices - they are historic documents in the making, without which all of our combined efforts at Abbey Gardens remain part of a local, oral history - fascinating and valuable, but frail and gone when we are.