SEPT/OCT 2014 MUSINGSBack to the grapevine

Gardening Volunteer at Tatton Park Kitchen Garden, Knutsford, Cheshire

The first Tuesday in September was absolutely glorious, warm sunshine and in the morning what I call an Australian Sky – no cloud. By late afternoon we were wilting somewhat, but revived by an ice lolly. The Pear Rust is harder to find, but still present, especially on the branches too tall to reach. The Pear and Apple espaliers have all had their extension growth tied in. No sign of summer bird visitors.
Next, Raspberries. On another gloriously sunny day two of us commenced pruning out the fruited canes of the summer raspberries; unfortunately for me, as chief pruner, there were lots of hidden nettles amongst the canes, the seeds of which had obviously been brought in on the manure used to dress the rows, so I ended up with arms a-tingle. Flailing with nettles is supposed to be good for arthritis, so I await the result whilst smoothing on antihistamine cream. Other team members picked veg and lots of tomatoes for the shop, restaurant and tea room, together with the bounteous autumn raspberries, filling punnet after punnet, the harvest not diminished by the avians.
Yet again a glorious day but time to tackle The Vampire Plant. This is, of course, the Marionberry, a loganberry cross, six plants to be precise, with rampant vines that extract blood before they let you bend them to your will. For the last 12 years I have had to use two lines of post and rail fencing, the posts only being about 3ft high; I use one line for the fruiting vines, the other for the vines to fruit next year. This means in theory that the fruited vines are simply cut away from one wire, and the next year’s ones trained on the other, as the year progresses. Unfortunately for me the National Trust in 2001 insisted on the small post arrangement, which does not work however hard I try. The ideal arrangement would be for a single line of posts of at least seven feet, with several lines of wires, so that I could Serpentine the long and vigorous vines; not only would it be easier to manage, but it would look professional, pleasing and could even be considered a modern art installation instead of an awkward tangle.
The Equinox (equal day and night) was on 21 September; now we gently slide into Autumn with its stunning colour show. The six Marionberry vines are tamed (for now) after two full days of pruning and thinning. We are promised rain tonight, which will swell the John Innes Blackberry fruits, but will not soften the vicious thorns which are reluctant to relinquish their grasp of anything and anyone.   This has been the warmest and driest September since 1910 and ideal for tying in summer raspberries: four double rows, takes several full volunteer days, but worth the effort to protect the canes from wind damage during winter.

The first Sunday in October sees our Apple Tasting Day, so volunteers were busy picking and labelling apples and pears for such a delight; any left over will be named and put into storage in the Support Building, in view of passing visitors. Pumpkins and squashes of many varieties are also stored therein, waiting for Halloween.
Oh dear, a very very wet Tuesday spent tying in raspberries – other members of the team were in the Fig Houses picking figs and tomatoes and generally making the houses shipshape. The gardeners were in the support building, making shelving for the apple, pear and veg crops storage. These will be used by the shop, restaurant and café over the winter months. The constant downpour has not dampened the ardour of the stags in the Rut; the sheep are sheltering under the trees.
The last week of October, the clocks have been turned back. I spent the day side-stepping like a crab, edging the lawns surrounding the large soft fruit beds, the espaliers, the central pergola between the soft fruit beds and the orchard lawn, and the orchard lawn itself. Being a crab for the day took a good four hours, and the slip beds by the walls, equally long in length, will have to wait for another day. As I can’t get down on my knees, I hope some lithe volunteers on the other days will stoop to the challenge of picking up the cut edgings. It is half term and the Gardens are awash with children on the Halloween Ghost Trail, excited after looking at the many pumpkins and squashes lining the passageway of the support building leading to the garden entrance.

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