Garden tips

Stephen’s Summer Vegetables

From fork to fork: keeping down our food miles

The vegetable garden at Glyndebourne is productive as well as beautiful. Year round it keeps Gus Christie and his family supplied with fresh fruit and vegetables. During the rehearsals and performance period of the Festival and Tour the dozens of singers, conductors, directors and designers who stay at the house also make the most of the garden’s bounty. We know of a particular conductor who can’t resist our purple-sprouting broccoli and of a soprano who is seems always to making detours through the vegetable garden to taste a few tomatoes.

At Glyndebourne the food we grow in the vegetable garden goes straight from the ground to the house kitchen; picked in the morning on the day of eating. This zero carbon footprint delivery is at its maximum in terms of freshness – the time factor being what makes them so delicious, still full of goodness and taste.

Gardener Steve Brockhurst spends of lot of his working day in the vegetable garden and tries to grow as wide a range as possible to cater for the diverse tastes of Gus and his guests. From sweet strawberries to hot chillies Steve is an expert in growing it all.

Favourite fare for the family and performers staying in the house include beetroot (Steve recommends twisting the leaves off so that they stay fresh longer after picking), lettuce of all kinds, beans and even the humble leek. If you are growing your own leeks, Steve recommends trimming the roots and the tops when you plant them – you get much more vigorous plants that way.

No pesticides are used in the garden and to control the plague of blackfly that can wreck crops of broad beans and runner beans, Steve sprays the plant with soapy water as soon a the pesky bugs appear.

This year’s favourite vegetable is artichoke. At Glyndebourne we grow two varieties:Green and Violet Globe. The crop has been in the vegetable garden for over ten years and although usually associated with Mediterranean climates it grows well at Glyndebourne. Steve recommends simply boiling them and eating with butter, salt and pepper a tasty lunchtime snack. Picked that same morning, of course.

Garden of edible delights

At last the weather is beginning to behave as if spring is finally here and there are now tender young shoots breaking through the mulched soil in the Bourne Garden. Tender young edible shoots! To many the Bourne garden is just a garden with tropical aspirations, but scrape the surface, quite literally, and you will find an array of edible curiosities. There are the obvious edibles such as Rhubarb, Angelica and Lovage and then some that most people haven’t yet tried.

The young slightly salty shoots of the Hostas, a delicacy in Japan, will soon be ripe for picking, as will the young shoots of Solomon’s Seal which apparently have a flavour similar to asparagus. The tubers of Solomon’s Seal can also be eaten. The rhizomes of the Canna Lily are a major food crop in many counties and Dahlia tubers are said to be similar to a potato only sweeter – like a sweet potato. The Phyllostachys species of bamboo are the ones to look out for when hunting for bamboo shoots,flavours vary and some such as P. nigra need to be cooked to lose their bitterness. In the summer months Chenopodium and Amaranthus are planted out, the leaves of both of these plants can be eaten just like spinach.

These are just a few of the edible plants we grow in the Bourne Garden, indeed there are edible plants to be found in all of our borders and pot displays – see if you can spot them.

Tips for tree planting

Once you have selected a site to plant your tree, mark out a hole twice the size of the pot or root ball. First strip back the turf (if planting on a grassed area) and dig down sufficiently deep enough. The hole should roughly be ground level or to cover the pot or root ball.

Fork the bottom of the hole over. If plants are in root balls covered with burlap (hessian cover) I would recommend you leave this on. Once the tree is in the hole, position stake in at an angle to support the root ball. The top of the stake should be facing in the direction of the prevailing wind. Back fill the tree with dug out soil, adding microrhizome granules to aid root growth.

The surrounding soil around the tree must be firmly heeled in (trod in). If planting in an area with rabbits it’s wise to provide a rabbit guard to protect the young tree or sapling. Use a tree strap, or tie, to attach the tree and stake together using the separator to avoid rubbing when the wind blows.

How to make a wild bird feeder

You can create a rustic style bird feeder using wood from the garden and some scraps of wire mesh.

1. Select a log, 4 inches in diameter, and cut a curved shape out of it.

2. Drill a hole in the top, the size of a soft drink bottle lid.

3. Staple wire mesh around the open side of the log to keep the food in.

4. Fill with unsalted peanuts and wild bird seed.

What to do with those unripened tomatoes?

Anne, Housekeeper to the Christie family, recommends this recipe for using green tomatoes from the garden to turn them into a lightly spiced, smooth chutney, which goes well with cheese and all cold meats (makes about 1.4kg/3lb).

450g (1lb) cooking apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
225g (8oz) onions, skinned and finely chopped
1.4kg (3lb) green tomatoes, thickly spiced
225g (8oz) sultanas
225g (8oz) demerara sugar
10ml (2 tsp) salt
450ml (3/4 pint) malt vinegar
4 small pieces of dried root ginger
2.5ml (1/2 tsp) cayenne pepper
5ml (1 tsp) mustard powder

1. Put all the ingredients in a preserving pan. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients are tender, reduced to a thick consistency and no excess liquid remains.
2. Remove the ginger, spoon the chutney into preheated jars and cover at once with airtight, vinegar-proof tops.

Reduce the vinegar to 300ml (1/2 pint) and put in a large bowl with all the remaining ingredients. Cook on HIGH for 1 hour until thick and reduced, stirring frequently. Complete the recipe.

Planting the Glyndebourne Rose

Roses delivered in the autumn and winter are supplied ‘bare root’, that is to say that they have been lifted from the fields in Hertfordshire where the are grown by Harkness Roses and their roots washed clean of soil. This is the traditional way of supplying roses and means that you receive a vigorous, strong-growing plant that has not had its growth checked by potting.

Before you receive your roses, prepare the soil that they will grow in by digging in plenty of leaf-mould, old compost or well-rotted manure. Dig a planting hole about 30cm deep a slightly wider than the root spread of your new rose. Soak the roots thoroughly before planting. If the soil is very poor, it is worth buying a packet of mycrorrhizal fungi from your local garden centre or direct from Harkness Roses. This is a powder that contains bacteria that aids rooting and promotes plant health. Simply sprinkle the powder on the roots of the rose. Spread the roots across the hole and fill with soil, making sure that the graft where the rose is sooting from is at soil level. Gently firm the soil around the plant and water it.

Each spring cover the ground around the rose with a thick mulch of compost or well-rotted manure.

September in the Greenhouse

“The greenhouse, which had been emptied of all its plants when they eventually made it out into the garden, is now beginning to fill up again. The Foxglove, ( Digitalis sp ), seedlings have been potted on and are busy growing ready to be planted out in the autumn. I am busy taking cuttings.

September is a good month to take cuttings of tender perennials such as Salvias and Penstemons. They are still growing strongly and should root quickly. Use healthy looking non-flowering side shoots between 5cm-10cm long. Cut just below a leaf node and then remove most of the lower leaves – this helps to prevent moisture loss. Insert the cuttings around the edge of a pot filled with 50:50 compost and grit, water and then cover with a plastic bag. Pelargoniums should not be covered with a plastic bag. Place out of direct sunlight or if you have one in a propagator – this will provide basal heat and speed up the rooting process.

Leave your cuttings alone for 2-3 weeks. It is hard to resist tugging on your cuttings just to see if they have rooted, but they will root a lot quicker if they are left alone. It is a good sign that they have rooted when you can see top growth and an even surer sign when you can see roots protruding from the bottom of the pot. Now you can transplant into individual pots.”

Know your onions (or how to harvest and store them)

Once your onion leaves start turning colour from green to yellow or brown, bend the tops over until they’re lying on the ground.

Leave them for about a week, then lift and lie them on upturned crates or something similar to get them off the ground and into the sunshine.Bring in at night.

When completely dry, the best way to store them is to string them together French style. Take a loop of string, pull on the dried-out stalk until you find the 3 inches or so of tougher stalk. Wrap this in a figure of eight around the string, then continue with the next onion until the string is full.

Store in a cool dark shed. Pick off the onions as you need them throughout the winter.

How to make a Glyndebourne bouquet

Our head gardener Kevin gives us his tricks of the trade for flower arranging whilst creating a stunning bouquet for the Glyndebourne organ room. Find out when is best to pick your flowers, why you should always remove lower foliage and how to treat the stems for a longer lasting display. Filmed on location at Glyndebourne in June 2012.

Mulching made simple

In the hot weather the most effective and natural way of mulching is by generating ‘Dust Mulch’. A bi-product of hoeing, the dust settles on the top of the soil keeping sunlight off the most soil underneath.

To create dust mulch, move the earth, with a hoe, half an inch down from the surface. At this depth the soil is just dust. Turn the soil so the dust comes to the top. Hoe just the once keeping the top half inch moving.

Dust mulching works best in annual plantings or the vegetable garden. It also helps prevent annual weeds from germinating and growing in the shallow surface of the soil by the continual movement of the earth.

Staking your ground

At Glyndebourne, we like the relaxed and informal feel of our borders, but to achieve this some plants have to be staked or trained. There is a fine line between creating serried rows of trussed-up plants and a floppy, fallen-over mess.We carefully select which plants should be staked, focusing on tall plants, such as the meadow rue, Thalictrum flavum, that have weak stems and on shorter plants, such as poppies and peonies, that have a tendency to flop over.

The late Christopher Lloyd, former garden adviser at Glyndebourne, wrote that staking plants was “an art, not a chore” and should be done elegantly and unobtrusively.

For dense-growing plants, such as achillea, we use twiggy hazel stems that that are pushed into the ground when the plant is about nine inches tall.The stems of the hazel are broken half-way through their width and bent over the plant.The plant is supported as it grows through the lattice of twigs.

For plants with heavy flowers we use metal loops that are pushed into the ground so that they stand about a third of the plant’s eventual height.It is important with both hazel branches and iron hoops that they are pushed sufficiently deeply into the soil to bear the weight of the fully-grown plant.

Most of the staking is done in April, when the plants are starting their main surge of growth.Our aim is to support the plants in such a way that the means of support is hidden.There are a few weeks in April when this is not possible but the hazel twigs are attractive and the rusted iron supports are easy on the eye.Within a few weeks, though the supports are hidden by foliage and they are playing their supporting role out of sight.

Making it look good by plant association

As with all gardens, the impact of the plantings in the borders at Glyndebourne is made up of hundreds of small plant associations. The way that one plant looks next to another creates a little picture that links with other plant groups.

When choosing plants that might look good together there are many things to ponder. Colour is often the first consideration but flower shape, foliage texture and the plants’ habit all play a part. Plants with the same colour or habit will usually look good growing together, as in the blue border at Glyndebourne.

Good companions are not always those with the same qualities though: sometimes opposites make bold statements. The wave of box domes in the terrace borders, for example, is interrupted by the spikes of Allium sphaerocephalon, which in turn echo the the spires of Eremurus himalaicus. At the end of the same border, an acid yellow Euphorbia and a magenta Bergenia (both colours that can be difficult to place) grow together to make a zingy and refreshing sight.

When considering which plants to put together we often pick a few flowers to see what they look like when held closely together.

Of course, the best laid plans of gardeners will always go awry. The early flowering of one plant, coupled with the sulking flowers of another means that what was a perfect match one year may look dull the following. The disappointments are made up for by those serendipitous unplanned flowerings that sing out far more loudly than anything carefully considered and constructed. Sometimes nature has the better eye.

Spring is the time to turf

With rising temperatures and plants beginning to stretch their roots, spring is the best time to lay new turf. Here in the garden, turf laid just a week ago is already starting to take root.

Like any work in the garden, preparing the soil before you start is very important. Dig the area over, carefully removing weeds, and rake to a fine, level surface – a good tilth is what the gardeners call it. As soon as your turf is delivered, work quickly. Turf left lying around can go yellow if not used for a few days.Although it will recover, it spoils the pristine effect of new green grass. When laying turf work you should always work from planks in order not to step on the prepared ground or new turf. Lay the turf from the outside of the area in towards the centre, ensuring that you use ‘whole rolls’ of turf around the edges not off-cuts, otherwise these can dry out and shrivel up. Turf can stretch, so when rolling it out squeeze it slightly back on itself (like a concertina or squeeze box) to ensure the base of it is in full contact with the soil so that the roots will take.

It is very important to keep the newly turfed area well watered. With the hose pipe ban coming into force in many areas, try to collect as much rain water as possible and run off water from tap.Not watering the turf sufficiently will cause it to shrink.
Keep off the area for about three weeks but do mow it. Once rooted the turf can be rolled but if you do this before then it will move – so try to resist rolling your new green too early!

Within in a few weeks you will have the perfect lawn to picnic on but beware, spilt champagne can burn the grass, and it’s a terrible waste.

The secret to sowing seeds

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of plants are raised from seed each year in the greenhouse at Glyndebourne. These young plants, mostly annuals and tender perennials, help to keep the borders looking full and floriferous throughout the opera season. Seed sowing starts slowly in January and then builds to a crescendo in March and April. Biennials, such as digitalis, are sown later in the year and planted out in autumn.

A viable seed is equipped with everything needed to make a new plant; it is just waiting for the ideal environmental conditions to be met. On a basic level those conditions are: a plentiful supply of water, the optimum temperature and a well aerated compost.

Germination isn’t always this easy and some seeds require a physical action to break their dormancy. Scarification is the process of damaging the thick seed skin (testa) to allow water through. Nicking with a scalpel or rubbing on sand paper mimics the effects of harsh stomach acids, (some seeds actually need to be eaten first), or of the effects of freezing and thawing. Chemical inhibitors located just below the testa may occur; soaking the seed in water can wash these out. Exposure to cold temperatures also causes breaks in dormancy in some species – this is known as stratification and can be mimicked by placing your seeds once sown in the fridge or sowing early in the year and leaving outside covered by glass. Luckily seed companies have usually done all of the research for you and the instructions will be on the packet. If not, the research is down to you; it helps to know the conditions your plant grows in.
When sowing your seeds use a good sterilised compost, Glyndebourne use a 50:50 mix of peat free compost and John Innes No2. Firm down the compost, and sprinkle the seeds thinly on the surface. Larger seeds need to be sown deeper, usually twice the depth of the seeds diameter. Smaller seeds may just need to be surface sown. Cover with a fine layer of compost, sieving it works well, water and then place at the correct temperature for the species. Keep the compost moist.

Germination time varies from species to species, but as soon as germination has occurred reduce the heat if required. Once the seedlings have two true leaves prick out and pot on. Remember to hold the seedling from its leaves, not the stem, new leaves will grow but if the stem is damaged the seedling will probably die. Lift the seedling out with the aid of a dibber (a pencil will do). And be gentle!

Grow your own plant supports and fence poles

‘Sustainability’ is probably not a word that you will hear spoken very often in the potting shed. But recycling, re-using and making the most of the garden’s resources are second-nature to the Glyndebourne gardeners. February is the time when the Head Gardener, Kevin Martin, coppices hazel for use in the garden later in the year.

Coppicing is a traditional method of cropping wood that makes use of some trees’ ability to quickly re-grow from a stump. The branches can be used for plant supports and fence poles. At Glyndebourne the largest stems are used for bean poles and to construct frames that sweet peas will grow up. The smaller branches help support herbaceous perennials and the smallest, twiggy stems are pushed in amongst the peas to keep them off the wet soil.

At Glyndebourne groups of hazel are grown at the edge of the orchard and a plant is cut down to the ground every three to four years, rotating which plant is coppiced so that there is always a display of the hazels’ catkins in the spring (which are also useful in flower arrangements) and, of course, a crop of nuts in the autumn.

Rather than using bamboo canes (which are often shipped from half-way across the world), consider using coppiced hazel for your plant supports. A garden as large as Glyndebourne needs several plants but in a typical domestic garden a single plant should provide all you need. We cut down an entire plant at a time but cutting down a third of the stems each year is just as effective.

Greg’s mower maintenance tips for January

At Glyndebourne we have approximately 8 acres of lawn. With such a large area of grass to tend, it is important to ensure that the mowers are fit for the job. We use a ride-on Ferrie Mower for the larger lawns and a Hayter Harrier 56 for smaller areas. Regular servicing and tending of your gardening tools and equipment ensures that you are prepped and ready for the job anytime of the year. It also ensures a prolonged life of tools which can be expensive to purchase. January is a good time of the year to prepare your mower for the months ahead.

There are four key areas that you should be aware of when servicing your mower:

1) The Oil Change

In advance – run the mower for a few minutes allowing the engine to warm up. Make sure you run the petrol tank dry before changing the oil to avoid any spillages. Then disconnect the spark plug lead to ensure the motor is inactive whilst doing the change.

Tip the mower on its side ensuring the petrol tank and air cleaner are at the top and the oil filler cap at the bottom. Remove the cap allowing the oil to drain into a container. Once all the oil has drained out, turn the mower back over. Refill with new oil; a standard such as SAE 30 is recommended.

2) The Air Filter

To start cleaning the air filter remove the protective cover, foam filter and filter cartridge. If clean, replace back in the mower but if dirty, wash in warm soapy water allowing it to dry before replacing.

3) Spark Plug

To remove the spark plug, use a spark plug wrench. Check the colour of the plug: if black there is too much oil, white too little – biscuit coloured is just right. The spark plug gap should be 0.50mm and when replacing don’t over- tighten as it can damage the plug.

4) Blades and Deck Housing

To sharpen the blades, turn the mower on its side as before. Holding the blade in one hand (wear a glove) undo the bolt and remove the blade. Place the blade in a vice and use a file to sharpen the cutting edge on both sides. To make sure the blade is balanced, place a pencil in the bolt hole, hold the cutterblade horizontal and release. It should stay in this position but if doesn’t file the heavier side until balanced.

Before replacing the blade, clean the mower deck using a scraper. Paint the deck with red oxide paint for future protection.

The last job is to clean the grass bag and engine from debris to prevent rotting when the mower is stored. Follow these steps and your mower will enjoy a prolonged life and your lawns will always look good.

A Festive tip for December

At Christmas, the front door of the house at Glyndebourne is adorned with a simple wreath of holly. Steve shows us how to make one for your home.

Use a wreath wire (available from florists) or rolled up newspaper formed into a ring. For the base of the wreath you can use moss or straw. For the Glyndebourne wreath we use any type of moss you can find in the garden. Unless you have a perfect, bowling-green lawn you should be able to scrape enough moss from your lawn. Don’t collect moss from the wild. Bind the moss tightly to the frame with garden string, covering it generously. Use a 6 inch nail, or equivalent tool, to make holes in the moss at a 45 degree angle. Cut pieces of holly roughly four inches long, removing leaves from the lower end of the stem to allow room to push into the holes. Ensure there is good foliage on the ends of the stem to make the wreath look full. You can mix normal green holly with variegated holly (lightly coloured around the edge of the leaves) or even bay leaves or any other evergreens for variety. To hang your wreath, use a hook, piece of string or red ribbon.

Kevin’s tip for November

Don’t plant your tulips too early, plant them deep and plant lots of them.

Glyndebourne is on Tour and this is the moment when the gardeners start in earnest to prepare the gardens for next year. The thousands of tulips that will flower next spring are planted now.

Although they have been on sale in garden centres for the past few months Head Gardener Kevin Martin advises that tulip bulbs are not planted until November. “Plant them earlier and they are susceptible to diseases like tulip blight. So be patient and you will get a much better display next year”.

Most of the tulips grown at Glyndebourne are removed after flowering and new bulbs replanted each year. To achieve a relaxed, informal look, the bulbs are thrown in groups into the borders and planted where they fall. Each bulb is planted as deeply as possible: at least three times the depth of the the bulb. Never skimp on tulips, the bulbs are inexpensive and large groups of them always look impressive. If you plan to leave your tulips in the ground for several years, plant them even deeper. Because tulips are at their best in the first year after planting, most of the ones grown at Glyndebourne are removed after flowering and new bulbs replanted each year. Some varieties, such as ‘White Triumphator’ last several years as do the wild species tulips. Kevin is in the process of establishing permanent colonies of species tulips in the meadow around the orchard. By carefully choosing the varieties he plants, Kevin ensures that there are tulips in flower from the first rehearsals in April right through to the opening of the Glyndebourne Festival at the end of May.

Steve’s tips for forcing bulbs

There’s nothing like the heady scent of hyacinths at Christmas, however, time is of the essence to ensure they’re prepared in time.

“Firstly you must ensure you buy ‘prepared’ bulbs. These have been pre-chilled during summer at sub-zero temperatures deceiving the bulbs into thinking they have already experienced a full winter and are ready to then flower. At Glyndebourne we normally do batches of ten so we have a number of hyacinths flowering together for effect.

In early October prepare your bulbs by filling a 4 inch pot 3/4 full with a half and half mixture of John Innes and peat-free multi-purpose compost. Place the bulb on top so that it is just damp. Do not water again until they are removed from their box, then just keep damp with water once or twice a week (see further on). Place in a cardboard or wooden box twice the depth of the pots. Then fill box with compost, leaf mould or any available soil to top to cut out any light.Put a piece of wood across the box to keep out any unwelcome visitors such as mice. Store in a cool place such as a shed, cold frame or unheated greenhouse until the first week of december ensuring there is obvious growth of one or two inches. If there isn’t return them to the box.

Take the pots out of the box and position in a heated greenhouse or on a warm window ledge. They should then begin to flower within three to four weeks providing beautiful scented blooms for Christmas.”

Kevin’s growing tip for Ox-Eye Daisies

“The poorer the soil the better but the real secret is to let them seed. Come August, they will look brown (and almost dead looking) but are bursting with seed. The team at Glyndebourne then use a side mower to cut the edges around the borders which knocks the seeds from the pods causing the daisies to organically reseed themselves and keep producing. Beautiful!”

Kevin shares his tips for perennial weeding

“It sounds obvious but it’s important to make sure that when removing weeds that you are as thorough as possible as it will pay dividends in the long run. Bindweed can be especially problematic as it can be extremely invasive and smother ornamental plants.

If bindweed is growing through other plants it may be difficult and time consuming to remove. Instead, sever the bindweed stems at ground level. This will cause the weeds to wilt and can be removed or treated.”

If you would like to share your own gardening tips leave a comment below.

Stephen shares his tips for growing Sweet Peas

In the past sweet pea seeds needed to be chitted (the seed case broken with a knife). This took a lot of time so now we buy pre-chitted seed.

A lot of books say to sow the seed in November, but I don’t find you get better plants by sowing so early and you often lose the seedlings to hungry mice. We sow in late February and keep potting them into larger pots until they are planted out in early May.

It’s important to regularly nip off the growing tips to encourage bushy plants. To keep the plants producing flowers throughout the summer you need to keep picking them. The more you pick the more flowers the plant produces – at Glyndebourne keeping plants producing is never a problem!

Kevin shares his tips for growing Echiums

When grown from seed it’s important that echiums (Echium Pininana) have well drained soil – they especially dislike boggy soil. They also have particular problems with the wet, so keep them dry. They can deal with the cold but it’s important to keep them covered. We grow ours in the greenhouse.

Another tip with echiums is to avoid moving the root system – they don’t deal well with it!