Category Archives: Chartwell Life

It’s bean a busy week

There has been a lot of construction work in the Kitchen Garden this week.  Come and take a look at our beautiful new bean poles made using hazel coppiced from the Chartwell woods and find out how we did it at Chartwell Veg Patch

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Don’t forget that from this weekend you can combine a visit to the house and gardens as the house opens to the public again on 28th February.

Becky Reader

 

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Food With A View

The new Restaurant Border at Chartwell

The new Restaurant Border at Chartwell

Anyone who has arrived at Chartwell in the last month and walked past the brand spanking new and improved restaurant will also hopefully have noticed that the border in front of it has been completely redesigned and replanted too. I was tasked with overseeing this project and with the help of the rest of the gardening staff and volunteers I’m pleased to say that it is now available for your viewing pleasure! There were quite a few restrictions placed on the design including a relatively small budget (of course!), a very narrow border depth and a poor, sloping soil. The border was also required to look as established as possible right from the off in order to screen some of the new restaurant decking. The plants were to be evergreen where possible, drought tolerant and also low maintenance. All of these stipulations actually proved to be a really interesting challenge and actually helped narrow down the plant choice nicely.

Many visitors have been asking about this yellow-leaved plant in the border.  It is the brilliantly named Escallonia 'Gold Brian'!

Many visitors have been asking about this yellow-leaved plant in the border. It is the brilliantly named Escallonia ‘Gold Brian’!

Once the old border had been weeded and dug over, we added some chicken manure pellets to boost the fertility and some of our own Chartwell-made compost to try and improve the soil structure. The planting itself could then begin using the new plants that had been safely stored in our plant quarantine area for the prior 6 weeks since being delivered by our suppliers. This ensured that we could make sure we were not bringing in any new pests or diseases into the garden here. In actual fact it meant that we were able to spot some highly invasive Mare’s Tail (Equisetum arvense) that had sprung up in one of the Bay Tree pots during this time! Phew!

These Lavandula angustifolia ‘Lodden Pink’ plants are really starting to show off their blooms now

These Lavandula angustifolia ‘Lodden Pink’ plants are really starting to show off their blooms now

I had decided to split the 32m border into seven individual sections of approximately 4.5m. The planting would then repeat across these sections but alternate between a pink and white colour scheme in sections 1, 3, 5 and 7 and a blue, purple and yellow scheme in sections 2, 4 and 6. For instance, in the odd-numbered sections you will find the pink-flowered Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Roseus’ while in the even-numbered areas there are blue-flowered Rosemary plants called Rosmarinus officinalis var. angustissimus ‘Beneden Blue’. Some plants such as the lollipop Bay trees (Laurus nobilis) anchor the whole border by appearing in every section. My initial plan for this design can be seen in the picture below. It shows early version that had to be sent to the architects and council planners for approval because the border was tied in with the whole restaurant re-build. Some of the plants changed between making this plan and the final planting process but hopefully it will give you an idea of the effect we were trying to achieve.

My initial plan for the new border

My initial plan for the new border

The new restaurant here at Chartwell is called the Landemare Cafe. The relevance of this name refers to the fact that Mrs Landemare was a cook for the Churchill family, initially at weekend parties here at Chartwell but eventually in a full time capacity here and at 10 Downing Street between 1939 and 1954. Lady Churchill apparently knew she would be able to make the best out of rations and that everyone in the household would be happy and contented. She said that “Mrs. Landemare’s food was delicious. She is an inspired and intuitive cook.”

Ann and Georgie get stuck in with the planting of the new border...

Ann and Georgie get stuck in with the planting of the new border…

...while Steve makes sure all of the plants are well watered in.

…while Steve makes sure all of the plants are well watered in.

A full list of the plants we used in this new border are as follows:

7 x Laurus nobilis standard tree
7 x Cistus cyprius10 x Cistus purpureus
13 x Phlomis fruticosa13 x Rosmarinus officinalis var. angustissimus ‘Beneden Blue’
18 x Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Roseus’
13 x Santolina chamaecyparissus16 x Santolina pinnata subsp. neopolitana ‘Edward Bowles’
13 x Sedum spectabile ‘Iceberg’
21 x Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
21 x Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’
13 x Lavandula x intermedia ‘Vera’
18 x Lavandula angustifolia ‘Lodden Pink’
8 x Lonicera japonica ‘Darts World’
6 x Lonicera japonica ‘Hallania’
12 x Hebe ‘Great Orme’
9 x Escallonia laevis ‘Gold Brian’

I chose Lavandula x intermedia ‘Vera’ not only because it is a beautiful plant in its own right and because it it thought to be the original species lavender, but also in memory of my late Grandmother Vera Harris who sadly passed away fairly recently. Once the planting was complete we took a group of volunteers up there and mulched the whole area with woodchips derived from some of the fallen trees and branches we suffered earlier in the year.

The honeysuckles are flowering well in the border right now...

The honeysuckles are flowering well in the border right now…

As are the Santolinas.  These are also known as Cotton Lavender plants even though they are neither cotton nor lavender!

…As are the Santolinas. These are also known as Cotton Lavender plants even though they are neither cotton nor lavender!

Make sure you come and have a walk along this new border the next time you’re here with us at Chartwell. It may not be part of the garden itself but it is still in-keeping with the rest of the garden, using plants, colours and styles that you will find elsewhere throughout the Churchills’ grounds. The fact that some of the plants in this border are also edible, such as the Bay and Rosemary, ties them in nicely to the new Landemare Cafe too.

The Landemare Cafe and new border at Chartwell

The Landemare Cafe and new border at Chartwell

Incidentally, this project was the last one I’ll carry out here at Chartwell for a while and this here blog post is also the last one I will be writing for a time too. I will be starting a 5 month secondment as Assistant Head Gardener at nearby Nymans soon but we hope that the rest of the gardening team here at Chartwell will be able to keep this blog going in my absence! I have written 134 posts in this blog over the last couple of years and it has received over 35,000 ‘hits’ during that time, so long may it continue. I plan to do a bit of moonlight blogging while I’m at Nymans however via my companion Horticulture Week blog which you can find by clicking here, so please feel free to join me there too!

All the best…
Jamie

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A Blog Two Years In The Making!

The use of wallflowers in the Rose Garden borders at Chartwell

The use of wallflowers in the Rose Garden borders at Chartwell

As I sit and write this blog I know for a fact that there will at least one person who will be happy to read it, and no I’m not talking about my Mum this time! For the last couple of years, Matthew Law our Formal Garden Supervisor here at Chartwell, has been bugging me to produce a blog about the story of our wallflowers, from seed to flower. For one reason or another it never happened but now finally, here is that story!

This 'xxxxxx' wallflower comes in delicate shades of pink.

This ‘Aurora’ wallflower comes in delicate shades of pink.

'Primrose Gem' is a bright, vibrant yellow

‘Primrose Gem’ is a bright, vibrant yellow

While 'xxxxxx' is mix of smoky purples

While this imaginatively named ‘Purple’ is mix of gorgeous smoky shades

The wallflowers here at Chartwell have almost done their job as we reach the end of April. We use them as Spring bedding, along with the likes of Myosotis, Tulips, Bellis and Hyacinths, and also as cut flowers for the house before the Summer annuals start to take over. Erysimum cheiri (as Wallflowers like to called) are also still known as Cheiranthus cheiri sometimes, and are part of the Brassicaceae family that contains the likes of cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower. Native to Europe, they are also found commonly in North Africa, Asia and North America. They thrive in poor or moderately fertile soils that are preferably alkaline and in full sun.

Stage 1 - sow the seeds in trays under glass

Stage 1 – sow the seeds in trays under glass

The wallflowers we raise here are grown as biennials, meaning that they produce vegetative growth during the first year and then flower in the second year. We therefore do a lot of the work in the previous year, up to 9 months before they produce they showy flowers. You can sow the seeds of wallflowers any time from late Spring until mid Summer – June is ideal. They are quick and easy to germinate if kept moist and warm. Once the germinated seedlings produce their first sets of true leaves they can be pricked out into modules as shown below:

Modules containing various varieties of wallflowers in the Chartwell greenhouses

Modules containing various varieties of wallflowers in the Chartwell greenhouses

No this isn't the final plant, just an extreme close up of the seedling!

No this isn’t the final plant, just an extreme close up of the seedling!

The time to plant out your wallflower plants will be dictated to some extent by the weather and by how far along your plants are. Any time from late August until mid October will be fine while the soil is still still warm but has a reasonable moisture content. Always make sure that the plants have been hardened off first though, moving from greenhouse to cold frame before being placed at the mercy of the British climate.

In some years we plant out straight from the modules, as Rhiannon and myself are doing here...

In some years we plant out straight from the modules, as Rhiannon and myself are doing here…

...but perhaps a better method, if you have the time, is to pot them on into individual pots and then plant out from this stage, as Ann and I did last year.

…but perhaps a better method, if you have the time, is to pot them on into individual pots first and then plant out from this stage, as Ann and I did last year.

A little trick to create healthier, bushier plants is to pinch out the growing tips of the young plants before they enter their Winter dormancy. Allow me to demonstrate…!

Here is the young plant about to be placed in the ground

Here is the young plant about to be placed in the ground

Pinch out the tip like so...

Pinch out the tip like so…

...to leave a stockier specimen such as this

…to leave a stockier specimen such as this

The English Wallflower is so called because it is associated with ruins of old castles where it can literally grow on the walls and masonry of the old castle ruins. It was brought to the British Isles as a medicinal plant as early as the Norman Conquest and began to naturalize in England, Scotland and Ireland. Also sometimes known as Cheiry of Keiry, Bee Flower or Heart’s Ease, the former genus name Cheirianthus means ‘Handflower’, a name given because it was carried in the hand during medieval festivals. The species name of cheiri is related to the medieval common name ‘Chevisaunce’ or ‘Cherisaunce’, which means ‘Comfort’, perhaps because of its medicinal properties or because of its comforting scent and beauty.

You will find wallflowers here at Chartwell in our Herbaceous Border as Spring bedding...

You will find wallflowers here at Chartwell in our Herbaceous Border as Spring bedding…

...in the borders of Lady Churchill's Rose Garden...

…in the borders of Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden…

... and in the troughs of the Pink Terrace in the house

… and in the troughs of the Pink Terrace in the house

The Greek physician Galen believed wallflowers were useful for regulating the menstrual cycle, to relieve pain of childbirth, for liver & kidney problems and to clear cataracts. The plant does in fact contain cardiac glycosides called cheiranthosides, similar to digitalis, which can have pretty intense effects on the body. They could be potentially curative presuming of course the toxicity didn’t kill the user first! Its modern use as a herbal remedy is rare though, due to this toxic dangerousness.

Drawing of a Wallflower from 1856 (courtesy of Natural History Society of Northumbria)

Drawing of a Wallflower from 1856
(courtesy of Natural History Society of Northumbria)

The wallflower has also long been a symbol of doomed lovers. Legend has it that Elizabeth, the daughter of the Earl of March in 14th Century Scotland, dropped a wallflower from her father’s castle window as a signal to her lover that she was willing to elope with the son of King Robert III, her father’s foe. Her father, angered by her choice of lover, imprisoned her in Neidpath Castle. The prince, disguised as a minstrel, then waited near the castle wall for his beloved’s signa, when to his delight the flower fell nearby. However, Elizabeth, while attempting to climb down from the castle, fell to her death. The young prince then left Scotland, grief-stricken, roaming throughout Europe, but always keeping a sprig of wallflower in his cap.

Here is out nursery bed at the end of last year, complete with four rows of wallflowers

Here is our nursery bed at the end of last year, complete with four rows of wallflowers

And here is that bed today with most of the wallflowers removed and used around the gardens as bedding

And here is that bed today with most of the wallflowers removed and used around the gardens as bedding

We also keep some wallflowers in our raised nursery beds behind the greenhouses for use as picking for cut flowers

We also keep some wallflowers in our raised nursery beds behind the greenhouses for use as picking for cut flowers

If you pay us a visit here in Churchill’s gardens any time soon you can still catch our wallflowers before they go over and are replaced with Summer bedding. And don’t forget it will soon be time for the whole cycle to begin again so why try some for yourself?

Jamie

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Extra Curricular Gardening

The logo on our new seed collecting bags

The logo on our new seed collecting bags

I’ve been spending a few days away from Chartwell recently, attending some National Trust seminars and events, all designed to help us look after and preserve our plant collection here for now and future generations to enjoy. The latest of these days was spent at Wakehurst Place, the country estate of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, and more importantly in this case, the home of the Millennium Seed Bank. Created with funding to mark the Millennium celebrations, the seed bank works with over 80 other countries to save plants around the globe with a focus on plants most at risk and most useful for the future. So far, the seeds of around 13% of the World’s wild plant species have been saved with a target of 25% for 2020.

Gardeners from key South East National Trust properties being shown around the seed labs at Wakehurst

Gardeners from key South East National Trust properties being shown around the seed labs at Wakehurst

As part of the Milliennium Seed Bank Partnership, the National Trust is working with Kew and Wakehurst to try and help their seed saving process by providing access to the vast collection of plants within the gardens and countryside estates that belong to the Trust. In fact, The National Trust’s portfolio of plants is of immense importance and is one of the most significant collections in the UK. Last year, ten properties within the South East took part in the first year of seed collecting including Nymans, Sissinghurst Castle, Sheffield Park and Scotney Castle. For 2104, five further South East National Trust properties will join the scheme, including, we are very pleased to say, Chartwell.

Wakehurst scientists hard at work

Wakehurst scientists hard at work

This process of seed saving will allow us to make sure the key, important plants here in Churchill’s gardens and estate are preserved via their seeds. Our Cryptomeria japonica, for example, which stands proudly by the Golden Orfe Pond is thought to be the oldest in the country. It was planted by the previous owners of Chartwell, the Colquhoun family, from the first batch of seeds that were introduced into the UK by plant hunter Robert Fortune from Shanghai in 1844, ironically via Kew Gardens.

Planted in 1852, our Cryptomeria japonia (Japanese Cedar) tree is a whopper!

Planted in 1852, our Cryptomeria japonia (Japanese Cedar) tree is a whopper!

The process of saving Chartwell’s seeds will be done over a period of time, depending on when the seeds are ripe and viable. The best time to collect seeds is at their natural time of dispersal. Once collected they must be cleaned and then properly dried before they will be taken to Wakehurst for further drying, analysis, x-raying and then cold storage. Once in storage the life span of them will increase exponentially. For example, for every 1% of moisture content that is removed from a seed, the life span doubles!

This multitude of sieves at Wakehurst is used for grading seeds by size and removing the chaff from them.

This multitude of sieves at Wakehurst is used for grading seeds by size and removing the chaff from them.

Here is one of the many, many seed cold stores.  It is -20 degrees in there so this picture was taken through the glass window!

Here is one of the many, many seed cold stores. It is – 20 degrees in there so this picture was taken through the glass window!

And here is the seed saving kit that we will be using this year at Chartwell

And here is the seed saving kit that we will be using this year at Chartwell

We will keep you abreast of our progress throughout the year as we start to save our seeds and submit them for storage at the Millenium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place. At the top of this blog post I mentioned that I had been to several of these seminars so it seems a little remiss of me if I don’t let you know what the other ones were about too.

The current Chartwell plant quarantine area is kept separate from the rest of the garden/nursery area

The current Chartwell plant quarantine area is kept separate from the rest of the garden/nursery area

A day held at Scotney Castle a couple of weeks ago on Plant Health gave instruction on how best to avoid plant diseases coming into our gardens. It has encouraged us here at Chartwell to try and achieve at least a National Trust Plant Health Bronze Standard award by working hard to improve a few things such as getting assurances from visiting contractors about their boot and tool hygiene and improving our plant quarantine area where we store plants brought in from outside nurseries. We will keep you posted on our progress with these actions in a future blog.

Kalmia latifolia 'Clementine Churchill'

Kalmia latifolia ‘Clementine Churchill’ (as it should look!)

Another day, this time held at Nymans, was led by the National Trust Plant Conservation Centre, who are there to propagate rare and endangered plants to keep the collections in National Trust gardens thriving. As part of this process, we hope for example to get some new Kalmia latifolia ‘Clemtine Churchill’ plants propagated via laboratory micropropagation, as ours are not currently in the best of health. Again, you can read how we get on with this process in another future blog. For now though, come and visit us here at Chartwell soon and see our magnificent plant collection with your own eyes!

Jamie

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Another Brick (Not) In The Wall

Emergency repair work has been carried out to the wall of Lady Churchill's Rose Garden

Emergency repair work has been carried out to the wall of Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden

Recent visitors to Churchill’s gardens may have noticed that all is not well with the walls of our Rose Garden! Earlier this year, a couple of our gardeners here at Chartwell, Ann and Rhiannon, were working on our stunning Hydrangea aspera subsp. sargentiana shrub in Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden when all of a sudden part of the wall surrounding the area collapsed! Luckily they were not in danger of being injured but this part of the garden was closed off for a time while we assessed the damage. More recently I was in the area pruning some of the roses when a further section of the wall again fell away. We think that the months of heavy rain that we had last year and this year combined with the heavy winds of the new year storms was probably the cause of the problem but we started to reach out for further advice when more cracks were spotted in the brick work.

Pits dug by archeologists to assess the foundations..

Pits dug by archeologists to assess the foundations..

...did not provide good news!

…did not provide good news!

The couple of excavation pits as seen in the pictures above allowed a local archeology team to determine that the foundations and footings of the walls were not as deep or as substantial as we had hoped. The walls were extensively rebuilt by German POW’s in 1946 under the supervision of Sir Winston Churchill himself from the already existing walls dating from pre-Churchill owners, the Colquhoun family. It is even said that he used to bring the Germans out glasses of whiskey and water while they worked! Whoever was responsible for the section of wall that is currently suffering, they were perhaps not as good at building walls as the great man it seems. Churchill’s own handiwork around the Kitchen Garden is still standing strong yet this is not the first time that repairs have had to be carried out on the walls of the Rose Garden since the National Trust took over at Chartwell in 1966!

An engraved brick on the outside of the Rose Garden wall simply reads: POW WORK GERMAN 1946

An engraved brick on the outside of the Rose Garden wall simply reads:
POW WORK
GERMAN
1946

The most important thing to do next was to make the wall safe and ensure that it didn’t crumble or collapse any further, putting staff, volunteers or visitors in any danger whatsoever. This process was achieved in a couple of ways:

Firstly, the doorway within the offending wall was braced with an inner frame

Firstly, the doorway within the offending wall was braced with an inner frame

Work was completed today by our regular building contractors...

Work was then completed this week by our regular building contractors…

...resulting in a pair of temporary wooden buttress fittings to brace the entire section of wall

…resulting in a pair of temporary wooden buttress fittings to brace the entire section of wall

While we are happy that the area is now safe, obviously the aesthetics of these temporary measures are not what we or our visitors really want to see when walking around the gardens at Chartwell. With this in mind we will be working hard to plan the best way to restore the wall to its former glory as soon as possible. During the residency of the Churchill family, the Rose Garden was simply called the Grey Walled Garden but it was one of Sir Winston’s favourite places to entertain and relax as the following pictures show perfectly…

Here Sir Winston and Lady Churchill can be seen enjoying the sunshine in the corner of the Rose Garden (picture taken from The Sunday Times Magazine - February 7th, 1965)

Here Sir Winston and Lady Churchill can be seen enjoying the sunshine in the corner of the Rose Garden
(picture taken from The Sunday Times Magazine – February 7th, 1965)

And here in his later years Churchill is so relaxed in this part of the garden that he has in fact fallen asleep! (picture again from The Sunday Times Magazine)

And here in his later years Churchill is so relaxed in this part of the garden that he has in fact fallen asleep!
(picture again from The Sunday Times Magazine)

Here, as the Churchill family entertain Albert Einstein, you can see the section of the wall we've been talking about in the background over Sir Winston's shoulder! (picture courtesy of Time Magazine)

Here, as the Churchill family entertain Albert Einstein, you can see the section of the wall we’ve been talking about in the background over Sir Winston’s shoulder!
(picture courtesy of Time Magazine)

Keep reading our Chartwell Garden Blog for more updates on the progress with restoring the Rose Garden wall in future weeks…

Jamie

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Do You Want Chips With That?

Chaos in the compost area!

Chaos in the compost area!

Avid readers of this blog (hi Mum!) may remember some occasions in the past where I’ve talked about our compost area here at Chartwell and the work that goes on there. All the way back in November 2011 for example we showed you how we add spent hops from nearby Westerham Brewery to our compost heaps in order to improve the structure and nutrient levels within our final product. A blog entry from December of last year also came compost flavoured when I tried to talk you through the whole process that goes into to making our Chartwell mix. Well, to continue the theme, we’ve recently been doing some other work in our compost area in the form of some wood chipping which I’ll endeavour tell you about here.

A layer of carbon-rich wood chips is added to Bay No. 1

A layer of carbon-rich wood chips is added to Bay No. 1

A healthy compost heap should contain a decent mix of both nitrogen and carbon, ideally a 50:50 split between the two. The bacteria and micro-organisms that produce the compost function best when this balance of materials is achieved. Too much nitrogen-heavy material will result in a smelly, slimey mess while too much woody carbon material will be slow to decompose. Nitrogen will come from green plant materials such as grass clippings and soft leafy material while the carbon is derived from woody matter such as branches and tough stems. These woody stems can’t be added to the heap as they are though. They have to be chipped in order to help break down the structure and thus allowing for ease of decomposition.

Alastair puts the chipper through its paces!

Alastair puts the chipper through its paces!

Our chipping machine is unfortunately past its best and a little on the temperamental side at the moment so we decided to hire in much tougher, harder-working machine in order to get through all of the woody material we had been stockpiling. Fallen limbs and trees from the Winter storms had meant that we had a record amount of material that needed to be chipped. Being a noisy beast we all made sure we were fully togged up with ear defenders whenever we were in the vicinity and that we were aware of all the safety features and precautions when actually using it.

Excess wood chips were processed straight into the back of our trailer

Excess wood chips were processed straight into the back of our trailer

More wood chips that you can shake a stick at!

More wood chips that you can shake a stick at!

There was too much material from all of these branches just for our compost system so we made use of the chips that were produced in other ways. Some were immediately used to create new paths in the Kitchen Garden that staff and visitors alike can use to get closer to the veg:

Brand spanking new wood chips paths alongside the raspberry and blackcurrant beds

Brand spanking new wood chips paths alongside the raspberry and blackcurrant beds

The rest will be used in areas of the woodland such as the Canadian Camp and also as ground cover in the Cut Flower perennial bed in the Walled Garden. We made sure that no diseased material was chipped during the process so we are quite happy to use our chips wherever they are needed. If you find you have an excess pile of wood chips at home they can also be used as a direct mulch to suppress weeds, retain soil moisture and raise temperature levels below ground. Wood chips are also commonly used in biomass boilers which is something we may look at having here at Chartwell at some point in the future. They can also be added to beer although you should probably use specially treated chips rather than ones from your garden!

The woody material bay in the Chartwell compost area is finally empty!

The woody material bay in the Chartwell compost area is finally empty!

The compost area at Chartwell isn’t accessible to our visitors apart from during some special garden tours from time to time but when you’re next here and you feel the gently crunch of wood chips under your feet, remember that even those were produced here on site by our own fair hands!

Jamie

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How The Mighty Have (Nearly) Fallen

Down but not out

Down but not out

Regular readers with an elephantine memory may remember a post I produced back at the start of January about some of the damage the gardens here at Chartwell had suffered as a result of the Christmas storms. Well, although one of our more treasured trees managed to survive that festive battering, it did unfortunately fall foul of some high winds a little later on in the Winter. The constant heavy rain we’ve experienced over the last 12 months certainly wouldn’t have helped either, but a few weekends ago an ancient Field Maple tree (Acer campestre) in the Parkland on the other side of the lakes sadly lost some major sections.

Our Field Maple in all it's glory last Summer

Our Field Maple in all it’s glory last Summer

Sir Winston Churchill himself would have enjoyed the view of this tree during his tenure at Chartwell. In fact we think that the tree was probably introduced by the previous owner, John Campbell Colquhoun, who was a keen planter of trees as you can read about in this here blog from January 2013. Because of the historic nature of it, we are keen not to lose the tree entirely. With this in mind we have decided to try and preserve the old girl, instead of removing the remaining sections as perhaps we might have done in another instance. Steve, our Estate Supervisor, is particularly fond of it and wants to make sure that our visitors can keep enjoying this Field Maple for years to come.

Our Acer campestre in the Parkland has been fenced off

Our Acer campestre in the Parkland has been fenced off

The Estate team of Steve, Ben and Georgie together with some help from a bunch of hardy volunteers have therefore been spending quite some time erecting a permanent fence around the Acer campestre, constructed themselves out of spare and coppiced timber. The benefits of this are that it keeps our visitors safe from any further falling branches as well as protecting the tree itself from any undue human (or indeed bovine when the field is used to graze cattle) intervention.

Steve, Ben and Georgina, our Estate team here at Chartwell, hard at work building the new fence

Steve, Ben and Georgina, our Estate team here at Chartwell, hard at work building the new fence

Two of our volunteers, Chris and Howard, doing their bit

Two of our volunteers, Chris and Howard, doing their bit

The tree itself doesn’t appear to have split because of any disease that we can see. It seems as though it is simply old age combined with the accumulative effects of the nasty weather that has done for the poor old Maple. It comes to us all I suppose! We plan to plant some young Acer campestre saplings in and around our exisiting specimen so that when it does finally fall there will be a new generation waiting to take its place. In the meantime, the area inside our new fence will be planted up with wildflowers to make a feature of the site that plenty of visitors will walk past on their way up to the woods.

This split in the trunk was observed and noted as part of last year's tree safety surveys

This split in the trunk was observed and noted as part of last year’s tree safety surveys

This picture clearly shows the extent of the rotten trunk

This picture clearly shows the extent of the rotten trunk

The name Acer means “sharp” or “pungent” and campestre means “of fields”. Acer campestre is actually the only native Maple tree in the UK. Also known as the Cat Oak or Dog Oak, the Field Maple can reach up to 90ft in height in an ideal situation. Good for wildlife and easily grown, this vibrant native tree has autumn foliage which turns a beautiful clear yellow, or sometimes flushed with red. A good foraging tree, supporting over 50 species of wildlife, the small flowers are attractive to bees and insects, whilst the seeds are eaten by mammals such as wood mice and bank voles.

This shot of the grand old trunk was taken before the recent damage

This shot of the grand old trunk was taken before the recent damage

In folklore the Field Maple is associated with the heart and love and is said to bring contentment to those with heavy responsibilities. Carrying a child around this tree or passing it through the branches was also believed to bring long life to the youngster. In Alsatian folklore it was said that bringing branches of field maple into the house would protect against bats and keep nesting storks safe from disturbance! Very handy, I’m sure you’ll agree. The wood of the Field Maple is traditionally used to the turning of masers, or mazers, the ceremonial drinking bowls associated with the ritual of wassailing. In fact, Acer campestre is sometimes called the Maser Tree.

This new fence should help preserve the poor old Acer for years to come...

This new fence should help preserve the poor old Acer for years to come…

...and keep our visitors safe from further falling branches

…and keep our visitors safe from further falling branches

In medicine a concoction made from the sap of the Field Maple has been used to treat sore eyes, and the astringent bark used to cure gallstones and high cholesterol. Like all Maples, the sap contains sugar, which can be concentrated into a syrup or used as a sweetener for food. It can also be used to make wine. I’ve not tasted it but if anyone wants to offer me some I’ll certainly give it a go! The wood of the Field Maple is fine-grained but the trees are too small to supply large pieces of timber. It takes a high polish however, so is valued by cabinet makers and wood turners. It has an attractive curving pattern of growth rings and has long been used to make musical instruments, such as violins and cellos. Harps have been made from it since Saxon times and in fact a harp frame made from Field Maple was found in the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Field maple is efficient as firewood and also makes good charcoal while the roots of the tree are sometimes used to make snuff boxes or pipes.

Jamie

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