Sometimes the flora at Chartwell have to take a brief back seat as we try and look after all of the fauna that we have here in the gardens. Sir Winston Churchill was a great lover of wildlife. He kept butterflies, wild fowl and grazing animals in the orchard during his life here. The Family Pet Graves, which can be found near the Croquet Lawn, are the resting place of the Churchills’ pets: two brown poodles (Rufus I and Rufus II) and a ginger tom cat (Jock). As the National Trust, we always keep a ginger cat called Jock here at Chartwell as the above picture of the latest incarnation enjoying an early morning stroll shows!
The beehive at Chartwell lives on the banks of the Kitchen Garden and has just finished its first productive year. As well as providing us with lots of delicious honey, looking after the hive has been a very interesting and enjoyable experience for us gardeners. We are currently putting the bees ‘to bed’ for the Winter, checking that no varroa mites have gotten in to the hive, making sure that the queen and her workers and drones are happy and productive and also ensuring that they have enough artificial nectar and pollen inside to get them through the upcoming cold spell if the natural sources such as the flowers found along the new Winter Border aren’t enough. The picture below shows two honey bees enjoying the Aster novae-angliae ‘Andenken an Alma Potschke’ that can be found in that very border. Next year we hope to add another hive which should increase the pollination activity for plants around the garden such as the apple trees for example which rely on insect pollinators to help fertilization and therefore fruit production to take place.
As well as the chickens that we have in the car park near the Visitor Centre, this year has seen another brood move in to a pen in the Kitchen Garden. Consisting of Pekin Goldline Bantams and Buff Colombians, they have proved very popular with visiting children who even got a chance to name them when they arrived. Some of my favourites from their choices include Meg-hen, Layla, Mrs P-eggy and Doctor Chickpea! We put these birds to good use in the Kitchen Garden by releasing them to peck at and eat any pesky slugs and snails that might be tucking into our salad crops at the time! If anyone saw the recent episode of River Cottage where their ducks did more harm than good to the crops there, we can assure you that our chickens are much better behaved! The picture above shows Donna and Rhiannon dusting the chickens so they don’t catch any pests or diseases such as red mite etc.
We have also been busy clearing algae and duckweed (Lemna minuta) from our ponds at Chartwell over the last few weeks, as the picture of one of our volunteers Ron, shows above. The recent warm weather seems to have prolonged the life for this aquatic perennial which can spread very quickly and clog up the waterways and cascades as well as forming a carpet on the water surface which can block out the sunlight from the Golden Orfe fish below. The removed weed can be composted safely. Some National Trust properties such as Anglesey Abbey introduce Grass Carp into their ponds to feed on the duckweed and keep it down that way. We just let people like Ron get on with it the old fashioned way!
As the plants in the garden start to become dormant for the Winter, we hope you can still come and visit us to see all the wildlife at Chartwell, such as the robin above which was photographed during the construction of the new Winter Border, which itself is starting to come into its own right now.