Wreath Making Workshop

This report is from Heather.

WFGA Wreath Making Workshop –

As a member of the Women’s Farm and Garden Association, one of the perks is getting a discount on their  workshops. They have rose pruning, vine pruning, plant classification, and the one that I went to: wreath making.  I’ve been a member for more than a year, but this is the first time I’ve taken advantage of the discount. With it being held right around the corner from my house, and being taught by Louise Bastow, my favourite local garden designer, florist, and an all around awesome person, I decided the time was right to do it.

I’ve always loved the look of natural wreaths and have contemplated making one before, but had no idea where to begin.

We started at Louise’s house and learned the ins and outs and trade secrets (wire, more wire!) of this kind of floristry.

She provided us with a beautiful and varied selection of plants to use. So many different colours and textures to choose from: blue fir, box, dogwood, ivy with and without berries, holly, holm oak, rose hips, skimmia, and eucalyptus.


Louise showing us how to make the frame. We used red dogwood, weaving and twisting it into a circle and securing it with thin, floristry wire. You can buy pre-made wire frames, but this was definitely more fun!


When done making the circle, you then pack on damp moss to keep the wreath looking fresh. After that, you choose your materials and begin assembling!

Starting to Assemble

After the demo, we started making our own. The first circle I made unintentionally had a two foot diameter and was shaped like an egg. Looking at how big and heavy they started getting once the moss and foliage was on, I took it apart and made it a more manageable size. That’s mine at the bottom- I’m always so slow!


Louise gave us a lot of one-on-one help, advising us on construction and design.

The finished products: Jane wth her beautiful wreath. I really like the eucalyptus and rose hips.


Lesley decided to weave the dogwood and leave the top exposed to show off its beautiful red colour. You can’t tell from my iphone photos, but the dried, blue flower heads of the hydrangea really popped!


The smooth, shiny emerald green against the soft blue fir of Judith’s wreath was gorgeous. Again, sorry for the iphone quality photos, in person, you can see how the ivy berries add another dimension to her design and she plans on adding some red berries at home.


I wanted to use one of everything on mine, but after taking bits and bobs and trying to put them together, I thought simple was best. I used a ton of blue fir and braved the pain of the holly leaves to get some of those beautiful berries on mine. (photo quality much better with Judith’s phone!)


Louise gave me some wire so when I got home I attached these pine cones. I’m so in love with my wreath and now that I know how to make one will do it every year! So if you see me around the green spaces of Bristol with my secateurs next December, you’ll know what I’m up to.


Along with learning a fun new skill, it was wonderful spending the morning with these with lovely people. For more information on the WFGA and its workshops, click here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

WRAGS Trainee at Chawton House, Hampshire

The Trainee Gardener: Rebecca Lloyd

Apprentice - RebeccaSince April this year I have had the invaluable opportunity to train for two days per week in the beautiful gardens of Chawton House Library through a placement organised through the Women’s Farm and Garden Association’s ‘Work and Retrain as a Gardener’ (WRAGS) scheme. The scheme offers a chance to train in horticultural skills under the instruction of a head gardener and it was the idea of Chawton’s Head Gardener Alan Bird to introduce the scheme to Chawton House.  Receiving training from the Head Gardener in a range of gardening skills, I have assisted with a variety of tasks essential in maintaining the garden – I hope that I have provided some useful extra help!

Learning different skills week by week and seeing the garden change through the seasons from frosty spring mornings to hot summer afternoons with the herbaceous borders in full bloom and Walled Garden bursting with produce, has been an insightful experience.

Walled Garden.jpgThe Walled Garden is my favourite part of the gardens. Built in 1818-1822 by Edward Knight, I love the sense of history in the Walled Garden in particular. I am intrigued to think of gardeners past who have worked at Chawton House – fascinating photographs of the garden from the early part of the 20th century can be seen in the shed within the Walled Garden. In recent years the Walled Garden has been developed as an ornamental kitchen garden (also known as a potager) combining vegetables and ornamental plants; espaliered apple trees, herbaceous borders, pretty annuals and roses can be found alongside rows of vegetables, and fruit bushes producing for example delicious raspberries and gooseberries.

Herbaceous border in Walled Garden.jpgDuring my placement I have been taught how to care for the Library’s gardens including the herbaceous and mixed borders, Rose Garden, and kitchen garden. For example in the spring I helped to plant the borders with additional herbaceous perennials to ensure masses of colour and interest throughout the summer. I’ve also done plenty of weeding and deadheading to help maintain the gardens and have been shown how to prune the Library’s spring and summer flowering shrubs and climbers such as wisteria so that they will give their best. Protected growing is also an element of the WRAGS scheme and I am especially pleased with the zinnia flowers which I sowed from seed in pots – they have made a bright addition to the Library’s summer borders with, for example, their shades of pink contrasting against purple salvia.

Zinnias in Walled Garden.jpg

In the kitchen garden I have learnt how to cultivate the soil, sow and care for fruit and vegetables from leeks to raspberries. I have been intrigued by some of the varieties grown – such as the Crystal Lemon cucumber, a climbing variety cultivated since 1894 with fruit which look similar to yellow apples.

Crystal Lemon cucumbers 2.jpg

The placement has also been especially useful in developing my knowledge of plants and their botanical Latin names. My favourite new plants and trees include the stunning Judas tree (Cersis siliquastrum) which grows against the outside of the Rose Garden’s walls with rosy pink flowers in late spring and Monarda didyma (Bergamot), a herbaceous perennial with aromatic leaves and showy pink flowers in summer.

As a garden open to the public, it is rewarding to see visitors both from all over the world and more locally enjoying the gardens.

My hope is to gain the skills and experience which will enable me to leave my desk behind for good (anyway, for most of the time!) and pursue a career in horticulture. With the benefit of my experience at Chawton House which has helped bring to life the theory learnt during my studies for Royal Horticultural Society exams, I’ve made the first few steps along the way.

By Rebecca Lloyd.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Orchard Pruning

‘… where the road forks, bear left over the bridge and stream. Go past the church. The gates to the Hall, with the lodge house, are next to it. The Lime avenue leads to the Hall. Park outside.’

Brent Eleigh Hall has a history. It is history, situated on the banks of the River Brett near to Lavenham in Suffolk, which is itself in a time warp. The Hall was once the seat of the Shelton family, and since then of Sir Felix Agar in the 19th C.
More recently it was home to Sir David Barran, former Chairman of Shell. It has recently been acquired by the current owners who are in the process of renovating it. Of particular interest to me is that it has a huge Victorian walled kitchen garden consisting of nearly two acres.

I pulled up next to three other parked cars. A sign on the front door steered me to the walled garden… great! Off I trotted following the red brick wall to a gate where I was able to see one of the gardeners, Adrian, busy at work. The walled garden is unusual, having a valley with beds rising up on either side to the West and East walls, which are of different heights. I was told that this was to maximise the light as the East wall is taller. The cold air rolls down the valley and out through the gate in the centre of the North wall.

Soon myself and five other WFGA members were introduced to Merriel Gardiner, the Head Gardener, who has recently been appointed. We were given a tour of the garden on our way to the orchard. Glass houses on the south wall contain peaches and a vine. The garden has been freshly dug awaiting more fruit, vegetables and edible flowering plants. Micro-herbs are also grown. These have become popular, used as a garnish or small salad accompaniment and are literally herb and vegetable seedlings picked for intensity of flavour. The garden and its produce are important to the owners as they supply Novikov Restaurant in Mayfair.

The Hall is impressive. I was to learn that it is believed to have stood on an Elizabethan E plan footprint even though it now looks Georgian. Alterations have been made to the entrance hall and dining room by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1933-34. I was told that he also designed the flamboyant pig house in the kitchen
garden but this was probably a joke, although it must be the most glamorous pig-house in England!

On a guided tour of the gardens I wonder about the jewel of a bothy at the foot of the walled garden which used to sleep the gardeners who were on duty and has a tiny chapel. At the back of the house I see projecting out onto the garden two large wings supporting a grand Tuscan portico. The huge pillars are mimicked by two soaring magnolia grandiflora.

The nearby orchard was planted in the early 1980’s with apple varieties Worcester Pearmain, Egremont Russet, Ashmead’s Kernel and Cox’s Orange Pippin. There is also a row of heavy cropping Concorde pear trees. Adrian talked us through the pruning technique for these non-tip-bearing trees, shortening new growth to around three or four buds, aiming to create an open goblet shape, taking off dead or diseased wood and allowing good air flow. With sharpened tools we set off, inspired to make good progress. The trees had put on a fair bit of growth and so we climbed ladders to reach the higher branches and keep them in check, the top growth reaching about five metres. By the late afternoon we congratulated ourselves on a neat-looking orchard, with a stack of apple wood prunings heaped and ready for the fire.

Now to tackle the lonely Egremont Russet at the back of my garden. Clients …watch out!

See http://novikovrestaurant.co.uk/brenteleigh/about-us/ for interesting information and photographs of the garden as well as news from Merriel

Ceinwen from    bonnyborders

Pruning in the Orchard

Pruning in the Orchard

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Vine Pruning

A Report from member Izi Glover

Warden Abbey vineyard is a community enterprise entirely maintained by volunteers and managed by our workshop host, Jane Markham. The four acre ‘Lyttel Vineyard’ was originally planted in the twelfth century by Cistercian monks of Warden Abbey. The Whitbread family, local to the area, replanted the vineyard in 1986, and their award winning production was taken over by the current community project, who replanted some of the white grape vines. On average, four to six thousand bottles of award winning wine are produced annually. Their vintages include ‘The Reformer 2013,’ a blend of Bacchus and Reichensteiner grapes and ‘The Founder 2013,’ a blend of Muller Thurgau and Regner grapes.

In the morning, Jane shared her viticultural expertise and provided a detailed introduction to the annual cycle of vine cultivation and pruning. We gained fascinating insights into the complex world of wine production – from how the timing of pruning affects sugar levels in the grape (early pruning in January/February promotes higher sugar levels in the grape), to the crucial balance between leaf and grape (fourteen leaves above a bunch, one and a half leaves either side of the vine), and even why prunings are weighed in commercial vineyards (to monitor vine growth). We learned the scientific reasoning behind pruning methods, including nurturing a bud’s development and the best choice of healthy fruiting canes.

After lunch we drove out to the vineyard, which is off the beaten track. With the aid of an ingenious coloured clothes peg system, we put our winter vine pruning theory to practice, selecting canes with eight buds on the dormant vines that will fruit this year, and two renewal spur canes pruned to two buds that will produce canes for next year. The viticultural discussion continued in the field, with Jane providing excellent guidance and advice. ingenious coloured clothes peg system, we put our winter vine pruning theory to practice, selecting canes with eight buds on the dormant vines that will fruit this year, and two renewal spur canes pruned to two buds that will produce canes for next year. The viticultural discussion continued in the field, with Jane providing excellent guidance and advice.

I would highly recommend this workshop to fellow members next year – when I mentioned it to friends and garden owners, I had numerous requests for vine pruning. Moreover, beyond its practical merits, Jane’s shared knowledge of wine production was thought provoking in many ways. You come away with a terrific quiz question too!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Get Royal With Roses

A group of keen gardeners braved the icy weather to gather under the bright skies of Hampton Court Palace one January morning, including myself. Blessed with blue skies and sunshine we were guided to the world-famous Rose Garden created in the 1930’s with hundreds of roses and situated in one of the walled compartments of the old kitchen gardens, where Anthony Boulding is the Horticulture Manager. Under the gaze of the statues Adonis and Flora, Palace gardeners Gary and Dan expertly demonstrated the art of pruning old roses, species roses and hybrid teas, giving hands-on advice and answering many questions, keen to pass on their passion and knowledge. Dressed in our many layers we pruned a good number of roses under their expert guidance which gave us all confidence to go forth and practice this skill in our various gardens.

I was pleased to be able to prune a group of Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ as this is a favourite yellow rose of mine, so I was pleased to check how it is cared for here. Only organic methods are employed and the benefits of mycorrhizal fungi and seaweed fertiliser were explained. Some of the roses are very old and we were shown how techniques and planting styles have changed over the years. Being a Palace Garden permission has to be given on many horticultural decisions involving the plants. Climbers had been tied to wires on the Elizabethan brick walls and we studied these and the newer methods with wooden batons forming a more solid support on the very old bricks and mortar.
We enjoyed pruning a variety of roses and I’m glad to say they looked pretty good by the end of the day. In the last remains of the winter sunlight we were rewarded with a tour of the extensive gardens including the new immaculate Kitchen Garden, through the Wilderness with pretty carpets of cyclamen, by the Maze and through the Great Fountain Garden with its magnificent huge shaped yew trees and onto the Privy Garden on the south side of the Palace between the King’s apartments and the River Thames, created for Henry VIII and restored in 1995 recreating the William III Privy Garden of 1701, a parterre a l’anglais created in grass with borders of flowering shrubs, annuals and bulbs. The gardens are draped in history and we were entertained by many stories for instance the use of hornbeam hedging in the original maze and the Pond Gardens which used to be a fish farm and which are now sunken gardens.

Pruning demonstration

Pruning demonstration

There are plants for every season and the gardens are enjoyed all year round by the many visitors. I hope to return in springtime as I would particularly love to see the parterre filled with spring flowers and of course in the summertime to see the Rose Garden, so am planning my outing to the ever-fabulous RHS Flower Show at Hampton Court in July.

What a lot of roses to prune!

What a lot of roses to prune!

Ceinwen      from         http://www.bonnyborders.co.uk

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Hill Grounds, Evenley, Northants – Open Garden July

The sky threatened but the day stayed dry and warm for our open garden afternoon at Hill Grounds. You missed a treat if you didn’t make it – a beautiful garden with so many things to see. Thanks to Janet and Bob for sharing the garden with us – and the public

Table of Delights

Table of Delights

Amazing Alliums

Amazing Alliums

Beautiful Borders

Beautiful Borders

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ryton House, Lechlade, Gloucestershire – Open Garden June

Who would have thought that a beautiful one acre garden is hidden behind the charming facade of Ryton House – slap in the centre of Lechlade. Whilst the traffic trundles its noisy way through Lechlade, behind the house it is a green oasis of peace and tranquility.

Ryton is one of our WRAGS training gardens. The garden owners kindly permitted WFGA to use the garden as a fundraiser for the Association.
Stepping off the pavement and through the house you wandered onto a cool green lawn surrounded by herbaceous borders and shrubs and roses scrambling up and over the walls. A large vegetable and fruit section lies around the corner – behind some tall hedges. And then yet more garden compartments are found on your meander around.

Unfortunately we didn’t sell as many cakes as hoped – everyone had eaten too much Sunday lunch – or had eaten a lot of free samples at the food fair in the market place before returning to look at the garden. A beautiful sunny day out.

View back to the house

View back to the house



073 - 2

Auricula theatre

The plant stall

The plant stall




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment