All UK gardeners stand with bated breath at this time of year, but this Spring is a marked contrast to the last few here, where really warm days and droughts have not been uncommon. Though the rest of the country probably notices this year's very cold spring much more than we do here - where the growing season always starts late and finishes early - the last few days of warmth have been the first to break the unremittingly cold and snowy last few months.
Teensy green hawthorn leaves are beginning to unfurl in hedges, and our cherry plums, tough as boots, are just starting to flower (usually this happens mid / late March). The daffodil we have here, 'February Gold' (clue as to what it should do is in the name) has just opened its blooms, mid April.
The advantage of all this cold is that we can keep planting bare-rooted trees, a job we are way behind with, and start this season's big border clear up and mulch, which has usually all happened by now. So the suspended Sprin is a bit of a blessing for the disorganised like me :-)
I have recently returned home after spending a week with Grizedale Arts in the Lake District. The week was highly enjoyable and a unique experience. From the first day I spent my time working on a range of tasks, such as feeding the pigs/geese, cutting down holly for the Christmas decorations and cooking apple pies for a village meal. A less successful task was my attempt at unblocking a drain in an icy puddle which confirmed my fears that my southern roots where not made of tougher stuff! Informing friends of my recent activities, there seemed to be a consenting confusion and an asking of ‘Why? ‘. My answer, which I can say more confidently in retrospect of my stay, was ‘Why not’.
Art comes in many different shapes, sizes and pretentious prices and thus Grizedale comes as a refreshing change as an organization that is concerned with the little things that help a community sustain and grow, as well as maintaining a respected presence in the big, bad art world.
I left Grizedale with a clearer and stronger understanding of art’s relationship with society, however my plumbing skills, sadly are yet to be improved.
Lord knows it's been a rough year for anyone in cahoots with
Even in a good weather year we do have to work at getting Lawson Park productive in the fruit and veg. department. We have a short season, with soil temperatures only reaching the optimum for seed germination (8-10 degrees) in May usually, and plentiful wind and rainfall all summer. To top it all off we get slugs so big you could get a saddle on to them. Each year the Paddies get a bit more fertile with our green-manuring and general soil improvement, but this year may well tread water as the low temperatures, rain and low light levels have left the soil empty for much of the season apart from rampant couch and buttercups, especially sad as we had a garden intern for the first time ever, the irrepressible Ben Preston, who valiantly tried to counteract the summer apocalypse that beset us. We've sown some late green manures and will need to think a bit more about how to prevent what little goodness is in the soil from leaching out over the long, wet winter ahead - plastic sheet being impossible on such a large scale. Soft fruit - apart from the mice invasion that nicked our strawberries - was excellent as ever, currants galore and blissfully trouble-free.
This year we did have the foresight to erect a large new polytunnel in March, without which we really would have empty trugs and plates. In it we have done much propagation as well as growing a fair crop of very late tomatoes, plus some experiments with early carrots, lovely basil and other tender herbs, and dahlias for cutting. It's bliss to be in there with the rain hammering down outside.
So, a few notes on the best and worst trials this season:
Our very young orchard had a fair show of apples on three trees - varieties Keswick Codlin (very local), Monarch and Bardsey Island (a Welsh heritage variety). Eastern European pear 'Humbug' has made healthy growth too.
Like many, we tried grafted tomatoes alongside our seed grown this year - from seed we raised 'Stupice' and 'Latah', both from the wonderful Real Seed Company, both eastern European cool-weather hardies. ' Latah' is a bush variety but we grew it as a single cordon as usual, and both are still cropping well (to be honest they didn't start till September). Stupice has the better flavour and rather endearingly odd shaped fruits.
Of the grafted varieties we bought from Suttons, old fave Shirley did best in flavour and cropped reliably. Santorange is a yellowy-orange large cherry type and we liked its flavour and healthiness. Conchita tried to make very long cherry strings of fruit but set was very poor - weather probably. Belriccio has large, tasty, ribbed fruits, which set well. Elegance cropped heavily but isn't such a good flavour for us. Cupido has small and tasty cherry type fruit and plenty of them. I'd agree that cropping is heavier and plants are more vigorous than seed-grown ones but you'd need a decent season to truly test the grafted varieties to the max.
Our pale green indoor courgette 'Segev F1' continues to fruit healthily in mid-October. Leaves are now slightly mildewy but its been mighty impressive, the cropping starting in late June. Potatoes Cosmo and Red Duke of York remain reliable for us, and mangetout pea 'Shiraz' has yielded a heavy and beautiful purple harvest for weeks outside. Lettuce 'Reine des Glaces' had a superb flavour and stood well in the ground, and pea 'Kelvedon Wonder' never fails to crop well here.
I came to Lawson Park with very little idea of what to expect from volunteering with Grizedale Arts - I decided to volunteer because I was aware of the organization through family connections with the area and wanted to find out more about it. I was immediately impressed with how much was going on - no two days were the same and every day was very busy. The jobs I did ranged from feeding the pigs to archiving the library, making pizzas with the youth club (and the film poster, as pictured) or doing the ironing and making beds, and every job was made interesting (even the ironing!) because of the people I was working with and I learned so much just by being involved.
What I found most interesting about working at Grizedale was the sense of a community working together, both at Lawson Park and within the village, And the feeling that everyone there is valued and has their own important role in the day-to-day running of the organisation. At mealtimes visitors, artists, staff and volunteers all ate togther and discussed what they had been doing and at the institute people from all aspects of life in the village were involved.
Overall the week was a very good experience which I hope will not be my only time at Grizedale Arts.
My five or so days at Grizedale were filled, for the most part, by working in the garden. My activities included mowing the grass, turning compost, and a tremendous amount of weeding.
On a few occasions I accompanied the Grizedale group to the village, to help out at the Coniston Institute. Consequently, I was able to gain a little insight into this project and the relationship between the people of Coniston and the Grizedale staff.
Overall the week was enjoyable and I came away with a clearer idea about the way Grizedale works. Another perk was sampling the delicious home baking, which was really welcome after a long day in the garden.
After expressing my interest in Grizedale's initiatives I was invited to spend a week there working in exchange for accomodation and food. This kind of invitation and form of hosting seems to offer a good alternative to unpaid labour, and is something that visual arts organisations working in the rural and community context tend to be quite good at. After all, gaining a taster experience of an organisation and its working practices within a relatively short period of time would be all but impossible otherwise. Also, keeping these organisations open to wider interest like this seems to benefit their organisation in imparting an understanding of what is happening there; the folk at Grizedale seemed to be particularly open to my responses and reactions which was nice. Having not researched Lawson Park that much before my arrival, I was completely overwhelmed by the outstanding architecture which seemed to speak cleverly about parts of Grizedale's ethos: functionality, aesthetic sensibility, intelligent design and a distinct preference for functionality over nostalgia or romanticism (I was amused by the windows that had to be designed so that people could not look in at the horror of a modern interior amidst the rolling hills of the lake district). Needless to say, spending a week in Lawson park was like living in pure luxury – a space designed perfectly for living, working, productivity and social exchange, picturesque scenery and lots of delicious food. I spent time working on various different aspects of productivity that make Grizedale flow: editing website texts, doing a workshop on film-making with local youth group run by Maria, weeding, cooking and baking. The most interesting part was finding out about the different dynamics occuring between the organisation and its funders, its audiences, and local reception. We discussed problematics such as knowledge dissemination and organisations' intentions as well as general art-world quandarys. It was quite eye-opening actually, as well as bringing my attention to the wider issues involved with tourism in the area and the local economy's reliance on (and pandering to?) this trade. I suppose an organisation like Grizedale brings a new kind of tourism to the lakes: international artists, arts and culture professionals and an online global presence. Grizedale seemed to have a lot of fruitful relationships with other cultural organisers and arts people locally and the addition of the honesty shop in Coniston town centre could help to build more relationships with locals and tourists. I just wonder whether the locals read Grizedale's working practices as different, or superior, to their own; I would like to think that a generally friendly and accepting attitude to the lifestyles of local people (not just those relocated wealthy retirees) would make room for a mutual understanding between working people within the vicinity of Grizedale Arts and the organisation itself. This will allow Grizedale to get away with more critical, complex and thought-provoking initiatives. Despite the slug infestations and unrelenting Cumbrian rain rain rain, this was a week well spent and I hope to keep in touch with Grizedale.
By Claire Briegel
I was excited and nervous when i took my first steps on Grizedale land, but soon relaxed when i met everyone there and got a pick of four awesome bedrooms with ensuites : D
I felt very lucky in having a chance to work on Lawson Park and with Grizedale and also not forgetting the amazing views (I miss them very much) and trying out tasty squirrel!
Spending a week there was amazing and i had a variety of jobs to do; such as weeding, planting veg (some in the wrong place : / Sorry Adam!) feeding the piggies, bonding with ducks, and organising lovely sweet smelling sheds...
I also met this little ginger one which kept me company in between my jobs and when everyone else was out : )
Octavia our British Lop gilt is now officially a sow as she has had her first litter. Nine were born on Saturday afternoon, outside in the drizzle. She has a lovely farrowing arc full of fresh straw but could not be persuaded to birth in it and she spent all of Friday and Saturday morning collecting bracken and moving the straw to make a big circular nest out in the field. All nine were born within about an hour, each one being moved inside the arc to keep warm. It took another hour or so for her to deliver both afterbirths and another couple of hours before she would move into the arc with the piglets. She unfortunately rolled on one on the first night, a common occurrence in the first few days as the piglets aren't so fast to get out of harms way. We have 8 left, 3 girls and 5 boys. We'll have to tattoo and register them in the next few weeks and get out local Lop expert Carole Barr to have a look at them. There may be some in the litter which are good examples of the breed (relating to ear shape, length, number of teats etc) worth registering which we can sell on for breeding. The rest will be growers for meat. We will probably keep a couple as growers as the meat will be a good supply for Lawson Park and the Honesty Shop in the village. If anyone wants to buy a rare breed British Lop, or some of our pork, please contact us!
Followers of our garden here will remember that the orchard is filled with competing English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh varieties all chosen for their suitability for this windswept spot.
First into blossom on these young apple trees are local variety 'Keswick Codlin', with Welsh varieties 'Croen Mochyn' (pictured) and 'Bardsey Island'. Also interesting to note was the early leafing up of the quinces - an unnamed variety gifted to us by Brantwood, a seedling from the Russian estate of Tolstoy and a new Eastern European variety 'Humbug'.
A very tragic recent night when 4 of our 5 runner ducklings were killed by a badger breaking in to their housing, but on the plus our young orchard has been in blossom for about a week - lovely sunny weather after a few very wet and cold April weeks which had them in cold storage.