Category Archives: Layer Marney Tower

Bye bye Layer Marney *sob*

Friday was my last day at the Towers and I’m writing this on Monday with the wierdest feeling because I’m not at work and not on holiday either. Before I left I took a handful of photos of the gardens, trying to capture the sense of the place and its surroundings.

Box knot garden

The box knot and view down towards the Blackwater Estuary

I’va always enjoyed trimming the box knot – it appeals to the tidy bit of my brain. Sometime I’d like to make a knot garden from the herbs the Tudors would have used – hyssop, santolina, lavender, germander etc. There is a lovely example of this over at Cressing Temple near Chelmsford.

Long Gallery border planting

The south facing Long Gallery border

MsV and I rejigged this border about five years ago and it’ll need it again fairly soon but I’m glad to see it looking nice in the sunshine. The Hollyhocks don’t quite fit the theme of hot colours but who can turn down a volunteer hollyhock?

The lower garden

The Lower Garden with a view down to the brook

The little yews are getting along ok despite the struggles I had with them to start off with. All the borders around this lawn are ones I put in – they really improve the look of the bottom half of the garden. These days visitors spend a little longer in the garden as they go down to have a look at them, which is just what I wanted.

Verbena and Layer Marney Tower

Verbena bonariensis in front of the Tower

The loss of the Swamp Cypress has opened up views of the Tower like this one which is the silver lining to that cloud. MsV (who has replaced me) will spend a lot less time raking up needles than I have done over the years!

The top garden at Layer Marney Tower

The top garden basking in the sun

I’ll miss it like hell – I’ve really enjoyed working there. The people at the Towers are a really great bunch, the gardens are interesting, challenging and beautiful and I’ve really had the opportunity to use my own creativity to make an impact and an improvement. I came to the gardens as a trembling newbie, in over my head a bit in all honesty, but I’ve grown into the role and have brought the gardens along with me and that’s been amazing.

Now I need to get busy scouring the Nottingham/Derby area for a new challenge – somewhere I can use my experience and learn new things too. There’s always something new to learn in gardening – that’s the joy of it!


The Storm

So, we had a storm. It wasn’t the first (or worst) storm we’ve ever experienced and it won’t be the last. But this one did bring down our big and beautiful Swamp Cypress tree.

This tree:

Swamp Cypress in autumn colour

The Swamp Cypress in a past autumnal glory

The tree that was as tall as the tower and probably two hundred years old.

Swamp cypress brought down by wind

So sad.

So FarmGuy and I began clearing it away after the wind died down. We’ve still got work to do tomorrow. And then we’ll need to remove the remaining trunk for various reasons.

FarmGuy doing the chainsaw work

FarmGuy doing the chainsaw work

I could have cried (but I didn’t because FarmGuy would have taken the piss). This is going to change the entire look and feel of the garden. I have lost a friend.

Anyway. I’m going to inflict my mediocre poetry on you now because no death should go without some form of eulogy, however poor.


Today I Dismembered You, Old Friend.

Today I dismembered you, old friend.

I took your sinewy strips of red bark
and narrow, crackling fingers
and put them on a bonfire.

I sliced your white fibrous limbs
into fat chunks for later.

It is a violation, a betrayal, a chore.
Can it be an honouring?

The incense scent of your sap
and the green grit of your lichens
are smeared across my skin.

I will miss you.


The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful – July 2013

Only six days late. Ahem. Anyway, moving swiftly onwards.

The Good

We’re going to be on the telly again! ‘Flog It!’ was filmed at the Towers in the middle of the month. It’s a BBC antiques programme that is the baby brother of Antiques Roadshow.

It’s always a bit wierd when we’re going to be filmed because the areas that will be on camera get extra special attention (because I’m sure on an antiques programme they would linger on a shot of a stray thistle, of course they would) and the other bits get sort of… left to fall behind. A little. So having been manically making the main areas extra special perfect, I had a week’s holiday and now we’re catching up on the private gardens and other nooks and crannies.

The Bad

There I was, doing a bit of edging, smiling at the members of the public walking past, laughing politely at the ‘you can do mine when you’ve finished’ joke for the nth time (if I had a pound…) when a nice lady approached me, smiling. ‘Aha!’ I thought to myself, ‘she wishes to avail herself of the mighty wikipedia of gardening knowledge who kneels before her picking up small bits of grass from round the edges of the lawns.’

‘Excuse me,’ she said, ‘Can I ask a question?’

‘Of course.’ I said, slightly smugly.

‘There’s a weed in the knot garden. Could you tell me what it is?’

After I’d picked my pride off the lawn (it landed on a daisy) I followed her to look at the offending weed. It was oxalis:


Sneaky little purple blighter

I think there might be a moral to this story about pride or maybe doing the weeding. But mostly just… Grrr Oxalis.

The Beautiful



Dahlia 'David Howard'

Dahlia ‘David Howard’

Bee on lavender

Tasty tasty lavender.


The Tudor Border

I can’t believe how long it is since I promised a post on the Tudor border. When I first planted it, as is so often the case, it looked very boring indeed. Small green blobs in an expanse of soil. So now it’s starting to come into itself I thought I’d share some pics.

The tudor border  in summer glory.

The tudor border in summer glory.

In this pic we can see Clary Sage which was used to treat eye complaints. Lady’s Mantle edges the bed in front of the picture and Heartsease to the right. The Heartsease is just going over now but it’s been glorious all Spring. The scraggly plants just behind the Lady’s Mantle are Soapwort, only recently transplanted and just getting the hang of things. A section at the front of the bed contains annuals; Pot Marigold, Field Poppy, Cornflower, Larkspur and Love-in-a-Mist.

I used bent lengths of dogwood to edge the bed, partly to discourage trampling kids when the lamb feeding was nearby but it’s quite attractive in a rustic sort of a way. You need to strip all the bark away from any part that’s going in the soil because otherwise you’ll have a nice new dogwood patch. Experience suggests willow is also good.

Rosa mundi

Rosa mundi

The houses of York and Lancaster were represented by a white and red rose respectively and fought over the crown of England in the War of the Roses. A striped rose that contained both colours could be a symbol of the peace brought by Henry Tudor (or at least that was the spin).

Tudor border

If you are bored you might play spot the weeds.

The other side is edged with Santolina AKA Cotton Lavender which is good for hayfever and other stuffy noses. I run some through my hand to sniff when I’m feeling bunged up and the scent does seem to help.

Other plants I’ve included that aren’t pictured/visible are; Mullein, Lemon Balm, Angelica, Rosemary, Sage, Hyssop and Thyme. I’ve left space for Ox-Eye Daisy which I’m growing on from seed and I want to squeeze in some Iris florentina somewhere too. A friend has hinted about some Mandrake, but it’s notoriously hard to propogate so we shall see.

Mostly I’ve managed to get hold of the ‘right’ sort of plant with the exception of Carnations. I’ve resorted to a variety called Hardy Border Mix which I grew from seed as I couldn’t even figure out which variety of Carnation would be ‘Tudor appropriate’, let alone get hold of any. Nevermind, it’s still a nice plant:


Not a Tudor Carnation



Spring has sproinged! And about bloody time too. I actually felt motivated to take some pictures:

Narcissus 'Jetfire'

Narcissus ‘Jetfire’

The pretty little pansy in the bottom is Viola ‘Brushstrokes’ which I grew from seed to brighten the Spring containers.

Blue hyacinths

These hyacinths are some I planted out after using them in the house and their label has gone missing (if there ever was one… oops). The garden gets more and more hyacinths, narcissus and miniature irises every year because each season I grow them for Spring containers and then plug gaps with them once they’re over.

And you just can’t beat sunlit daffs in April:


What I can’t insert in the post is the smell of freshly mown grass. Take a deep breath and… ahhhhh.

The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful – October 2012

The Good

Well, what do we have here?

Digging a new border

Jumper! Flask! Fun new project!

I have a new project. As you can see it’s not a very big one but it is lots of fun. I’m making a bed of tudor plants for the edjamacating of the youngins. We’re digging it at the moment and then are going to pile on heaps and heaps of composted muck and sharp sand. Then I’ll wait for the worms, wind and frost to do the hard work and on a sunny day in early Spring I’ll plant it up with lots of plants that were grown by our Tudor forebears. And of course I’ll waffle here about the plants I’m using when I do that.

The Bad

I really dislike scarifying. It’s bloody hard work. And the lawn looks awful immediately afterwards. And for the last fortnight it’s been too damp to get on with it so it’s hard work that has been mostly looming in a ‘must get done but can’t get done’ kind of a way. Bah!

The Beautiful

Fuchsia magellanica flowers

Fuchsia magellanica

Fuchsia magellanica

Fuchsia magellanica

I need to plant some of these lovelies where they’ll be more visible as these are tucked round the back by the tennis court.

An arboretum?

What do you think the diminutive of Arboretum is? Arborina, Arboritini, Arborette? Because we seem to have the core of one at the Towers.

How have I only just figured this out having worked here for six years? Um…

There is a neglected patch of trees and undergrowth that is not part of the main garden and except strimming it once or twice a year we do very little with it. The most dominant resident is a large Eucalyptus and there are quite a lot of Aspens. Barring those most trees are a bit spindly, oh there’s a whitebeam, and a rather nice Acer negundo at the bottom, but otherwise you know, just a bit of a waste area.

Acer negundo

Acer negundo

Last winter the owner decided he wanted it opened up a bit so the big white poplar in the middle was taken down along with a couple of the spindlier looking specimens about the place. Well, one of the stumps of those spindly specimens has sprouted:


Surprise! Paulownia!

I’m theorising that it was never happy enough to flower in its pre-chop spindly shape, or if it did it was a bit half-hearted and being well out of the way behind lots of trees it went unnoticed – I prefer the former explanation because it involves me only being somewhat unobservant as opposed to godawfully so…

Oh and there’s a Liquidambar and a Gleditsia too…


Gleditsia – not sure what species or variety

I am distinctly ashamed that I’ve never given this area the consideration it so clearly deserves. It’s off the beaten track and to make it accessible to the public would be something of a task so a proper renovation will probably not happen in the immediate future, but I could at least label it up properly for the future.

There is one tree that’s a complete mystery to me and if you guys can help I will be eternally grateful:

Unknown leaf

Mystery tree

Some kind of Pterocarya maybe?

With the exception of the one mystery tree, I’ve managed to identify the genera of all the trees but I’m still unsure of the species and/or variety of several of them.

I’m caught between being excited at the (long term) prospect of using this (plus a couple of nice trees in the neighbouring field) to make a small arboretum area and being annoyed with myself that I’ve missed some of the more interesting trees and the potential of the area for six damn years.


Is what these two plants are saying together.

Euonymus 'Red Cascade' with Sambucus 'Black Beauty' in the background.

Euonymus ‘Red Cascade’ with Sambucus ‘Black Beauty’ in the background.

They are in the colourful shrub border/hedge I planted two autumns ago and I couldn’t resist rushing off to find my camera and taking a pic. This year you can see what I was aiming for with this hedge/border:

Colourful hedge

The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful – September 2012

Oh dear oh dear I’m very late this month! Sorry about that but here goes…

The Good

Autumn’s here! My favourite season…

Pile of leaves on tile path

My first leaf pile this year!

Leaves on lawn with Layer Marney Tower in background

I find lime leaves make for pretty lawn confetti

The Bad

There’s really not enough colour in the garden. I’m going to have to do some re-jigging. I’ve ordered seed of Heleniums, Echinacea and other autumn/late summer flowering delights but there might have to be remedial plant buying (woohoo!) in the meantime.

Long Gallery view

See? Definitely needs more colour.

This year I have felt like I’m running to keep still for some reason (weather mostly I think) and so some little tasks have fallen by the wayside. This  includes trimming back flowering plants that would have given a later flush of flowering. So it’s not just a case of needing more plants but more time too.

The Beautiful

Cyclamen hederifolium

Cyclamen hederifolium

These are just to the left of the ramp in the first picture. It’s a really nice little corner.

Lawn lawn lawn yawn

Today I had a visit from a turf expert. This was a great excuse for me, my boss and said turf expert to wander the lawns pontificating before retreating from the rain for tea and more pontificating.

Tulip tree and lawns

Tulip tree plus yawn

Well, lets be honest I scavenged every last bit of turf perfecting advice I could from the guy, who was very polite and at no point asked me what the hell I was doing calling myself a gardener when there are dandelions in my best turf. Which was nice of him.

Fungal dry patch in turf

Fungal dry patch in turf

He said that barring mortgaging the towers for hellishly expensive treatments there was nothing I could do for the fungal patch I wasn’t already doing, which was a relief.

Also I learnt a new thing – aerating can really be done anytime throughout autumn and winter. I’ve always thought of it as an autumn job, but it takes the pressure off a bit to know I’ve got a bigger window than I previously thought. He also confirmed my suspicions that our scarifier is really not up to the job and we need a more beastly device to really give the lawns a good beating.

So I’m gearing up for some thorough mistreatment of the lawns. It’s that time of year… I will try not to bore you!