Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Blooming marvellous!

It's about time I wrote about what we've been doing in our village which is very exciting. Encouraged by Maggie, our very own expert horticulturist, we entered our village into Britain in Bloom, a nationwide campaign to encourage communities to come together to make theirs the best village/small town etc. We entered the small village category. As I had experience of being a judge for BiB many years ago I volunteered to help her manage operations.

We asked anyone interested to come along to an initial meeting in the village pub so Maggie could explain what would be involved and were heartened by the response. We identified those areas in which we could have the most impact within the timeframe (eg overgrown verges, the local playing field, the churchyard). Plans were made, working parties organised and we were off.

As I'm always snapping away with my camera I somehow became official photographer and I have taken soooooooo many photos I have had to cull them for this post with just enough, I hope, to give a flavour of what we've achieved. I'll use the briefing notes I produced, with Maggie's input in a few areas where things had happened before we moved to the village, to chart our progress.

Village in Bloom

Our village lies within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in East Sussex.  At its heart is the 12th church of St James the Great with The White Dog Inn, a traditional country Free House, just across the road.

There is a strong sense of Community within the village and so when it was suggested that we should enter into Britain in Bloom the villagers were quickly galvanized into action!  Meetings were arranged at which areas that needed action were identified and working parties established.

Let me take you on a walk around some areas of interest in the village:

The Churchyard working group

This was the easy one because it was already in existence.  A willing band of helpers meet on the first Saturday of every month, come rain or shine, to keep the grounds around the church neat and tidy.

The area outside the gate is more formal but once inside there is a sensitive balance between the more cultivated and the wilder areas so that it sits well within the landscape.

Ruth busy tidying

There is a charming tradition in that the occupants of No1 Church Cottage, seen here behind the beautiful cherry tree, provide the workers with tea and coffee across the churchyard wall, which is always most gratefully received!

Time for a break!

Another view of the Cherry tree - the blossom was so beautiful this year

Moss and lichen on a gravestone

Strimming the wilder areas. In Spring there are huge swathes of bluebells and primroses.

Mowing the more formal areas

A place for reflection with a lovely view of the rolling fields and forest.

The grounds contain an interesting collection of unusual trees which was amassed by the Reverend Kenneth Pearson in the 1940’s; he was a man highly interested in trees of the world and planted species such as the Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), only recently introduced to the West at that time.  There are also large specimens of the Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana, seen below) and the Golden Rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata).  

Today we have the benefit of these maturing trees due to the wise forethought of the Reverend.  No churchyard would be complete without a very old Yew (Taxus baccata) or an English Oak (Quercus robur), of which there are several, to provide shade in the south-facing site and homes for a wide variety of wildlife.   

Sustainability is paramount and so the compost heap in the churchyard plays an important role. Many households who do not compost their own waste use the Brown Bin recycling service and buy it back as soil ameliorant from the local amenity site.  Wildflower plants have been planted using a mix of composted local Christmas trees and household compost. 

We are currently looking at ways of collecting rainwater from the church which is not as easy as it sounds as the guttering and downpipes are lead.

An area that was identified as in need of attention was the fencing which was completely rotten in places.

We are very fortunate to have plenty of skilled people around who are happy to donate their time and here we have Bill who erected the new fence using locally grown timber.

Inspired by Bloom, the Church fund-raising group is now planning to hold a Flower Festival in 2016! This will get the whole village involved in keeping the area looking beautiful.

The White Dog Inn

This lovely old hostelry is a traditional country Free House run by father and daughter Dale and Harriet Skinner who generously provided us with a room for our planning meetings. 

They have embraced the concept of Bloom by planting up several large troughs with herbs alongside their beautiful display of hanging baskets.  These are created by local horticulturists at Bodiam Nursery.

I love the little Herb Garden sign!

Village Street and The Green

The oldest house in the village is Preachers, believed to date from 1497 and some of the newest are those around The Green.  The Oasthouses were converted to residential accommodation following the withdrawal of Guinness from the surrounding hop gardens in the 1970’s.

The houses typically have small gardens at the front due to their proximity to the road, and lovely, often extensive, gardens at the rear.   A notable feature of Village Street is the mature trees, in particular the dominating Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) outside Court Lodge.  

In Sussex a line of seven limes trees is traditionally the clandestine sign of smuggling activities; we think that those planted on The Green are entirely coincidental!

The community has recently commissioned and installed a new village sign, the elements of which reflect parts of the heritage of the village: 
  • Hops, for the major agricultural industry until recent times
  • Oasthouses, for the drying of the Guinness hops
  • Apples, for the local fruit which help to make Mr Kipling’s pies exceedingly good
  • A Fleur-de-lys, for Robert Baden-Powell who lived in the village
  • A Spitfire, for those who are used to making training flights along the Rother Valley
  • Sheep, still a major agricultural activity in the village
  • The pub sign, the White Dog
  • The Church, at the heart of the community and the sign

This would not have happened without the dogged determination of several villagers who just didn't take 'NO' for an answer!!! As you'd expect, our very own artiste extraordinaire, aka Glenys, was very involved in the design process and what a beauty it is. 

The sign was erected and unveiled on a glorious summer evening with free beer provided by the local micro brewery.

Children help to unveil the new sign
As if there wasn't enough excitement already, a group of villagers very generously clubbed together to pay for a fly past by a Spitfire from Biggin Hill. The pilot put on the most amazing display of loop-d-loops etc for well over the 8 minutes agreed and left us with the traditional tipping of the wings. I'd emailed/phoned all my near neighbours, who I knew would not be able to get there because of mobility issues, as I thought he'd probably do his turnarounds over our land (just outside the village) and I was right as they had a fabulous view of him right overhead!

It really was the most perfect evening.

I've digressed a bit from Bloom here but I included it to show what village life can be like when people join together.

Verge Creep and Erosion along Village Street

One of the things that are proving to be a problem is the erosion of our verges due to heavy lorries running over the edges. This in turn leaves great trenches where the tarmac ends, which not only looks unsightly but can be dangerous. We have started to fill them in using rubble and will contact the local Highways committee to address any areas we cannot deal with ourselves.

As a rural village we don’t have many footpaths so those we do have are precious! Sadly many of the verges had begun to creep over leaving little of the actual footpaths on show.

Our first task was to cut back the grass and use the spoil to fill in gaps at the side of the road.

Then we turned our attention to the rubbish that had accumulated underneath the hedge. Now all that is left to do will be to trim the hedgerow once the birds have finished nesting.

So much debris had accumulated underneath the hedge

Much neater (athough it won't stay that way for long!)

We are hoping to encourage all residents to take care of the patch of verge outside their own property.  So far we have had a good response.  The Bloom is infectious!

The Herdman Field and Pavilion

The 3 acres of land which form the Herdman field were a bequest from Arthur Herdman, who was killed in action at the beginning of the First World War in 1914, to be used as a village recreation ground.

For many years part of the land was used for football and cricket with a separate area designated as a garden to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee and, more recently, a Community Orchard.  A secondhand wooden garage was erected and used as changing facilities but eventually this became unfit for purpose so the residents embarked upon a massive fund-raising effort to create a new pavilion which has quickly become the new Community Hub.  

As part of Bloom, we established which areas we could concentrate on as a starting point and so a working party was set up to tidy the area behind the new pavilion.  In this setting it was important that the area was developed sensitively rather than treated as a formal garden and so any plantings are made in keeping with that ethos.

Cutting back the undergrowth

We uncovered lots of deadwood, tree stumps and prunings with bark intact plus some old bricks and stones so the obvious thing to do with them was to build a Stumpery for wildlife and invertebrates.  An added bonus is that it’s a great teaching aid to help youngsters learn about Nature.

We have applied to Friends of the Earth to receive a pack of Bee-friendly flower seeds to create a ‘Bee World’ in this area. This will make an excellent teaching aid so that everyone can learn more about why bees and other pollinators are so important.

The Herdman Association produces a quarterly newsletter and I write a column entitled 'Nature Notes' to help people learn more about wildflowers and wildlife and to encourage them to explore our beautiful countryside. In the latest issue I wrote about things people could see within the Herdman field so that it linked in with Bloom.

Part of the tidy-up campaign included work in the Community Orchard which was rather overgrown.  First of all the areas around the edges and trees were strimmed.

Here you can see Mike in action

Then Maggie arrived on her tractor to mow the remainder.  This, of course, is an ongoing activity.

Whilst those 2 were busy in the orchard I attacked another length of grass verge, using the cut-outs to fill in the edge of the lane which was becoming a trench.

After a while I became aware that I couldn't hear Mike's strimmer any more so assumed they were taking a break so headed off to join them……….

Not much mowing or strimming going on…….

……..'cos Maggie had got the tractor stuck (she might not thank me for this photo!!!!!)
In the end they gave up as the grass was too wet to move it so Mike strimmed all but this tiny section below which Maggie mowed when she was able to get the tractor out after a day of dry weather.

Planting at the Herdman

We were fortunate to have several large pots loaned to us by a resident and these have been planted with a selection of annual and perennial plants to brighten the area outside the pavilion.  Water retaining crystals were mixed into the compost.

With money given to us by our local garden society we bought and installed some rainwater butts. There is a ‘watering rota’ and people living nearby are tending the pots in turn.
In addition to the focal points provided by the container plants we have introduced plants which we hope will colonise the rough areas left behind by the building of the pavilion.  Bearing in mind that we need to blur the edges of what is ‘wild’ and what is ‘gardenesque’ we have used plants which will seed themselves about, spread, and need little attention from us apart from weeding.  These include honesty (Lunaria biennis). sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis), primrose (Primula vulgaris), cowslip (Primula veris), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), geranium (Geranium cvs), snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) and Tenby daffodil (Narcissus obvalaris). 

Maggie and I go potty - I'm hiding my hands 'cos they were very dirty!

Within the Herdman field is the enclosed Jubilee Garden and Community Orchard.  The plants in the Jubilee area were chosen for their nominative association with the Golden Jubilee of HM Elizabeth II;  there are Rhododendron ‘King George’, Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’, Hydrangea ‘Princess Lace’, Cedrus deodara ‘Golden Horizon’, Malus ‘Coronation’.  The Orchard contains a collection of Heritage Sussex apple trees such as ‘Wadhurst Pippin’, ‘Saltcote Pippin’, ‘Tinsley Quince’ and ‘Egremont Russet’.  These were planted by members of the community in 2009 and the smaller residents planted daffodil bulbs.  

Following on from the enormous community involvement in erecting and kitting out the new pavilion, a generous benefactor paid to have the playing field drained, re-surfaced and re-profiled to allow a range of sports to take place here.  Although the field was re-sown in September 2014 the grass has failed to establish as well as had been expected.  However, junior cricket will commence in the next few weeks and the croquet players will be able to enjoy a few hoops.  A petanque terrain is being constructed adjacent to the pavilion.

Bus Shelter Area

Due to cuts in district council spending, the area around the bus shelter had become completely overgrown with brambles and weed tree saplings for some 100 metres either side. 

The working party donned leather gauntlets and used loppers to cut away as much as possible and then brushcutters were used on the tougher sections. The prunings were shredded and composted.

Some larger branches and logs were left in-situ as wildlife habitats.

Here are some 'before' photos:

Attacking a thicket of brambles and weed tree saplings with a brush-cutter

The area around the bus shelter will be an ongoing project developed over the next few years.

Peter winning his battle with the branches and brambles

Ruth planting some daffodil bulbs and Gill pruning branches

Another generous benefactor offered the services of his gardener to clear the area beyond the bus shelter that we didn't have time to clear. He even paid for the remains to be taken away. When we moved here I used this stretch of grass as a place for a short canter on my horse but since then it had become completely overgrown.

Now for some 'after' photos:

When the bank had been cleared, a selection of wildflower seed was sown and plants are starting to take hold now.  The seed was obtained from Kew’s Grow Wild project, and is a mix of insect friendly annuals.  More will be sown in the future to build up a diverse community of flora.  Small plants of honesty, sweet rocket and cowslips from local seed were introduced and will eventually naturalise in  the area.  
The white tags on the trees warn that seed has been sown there.

The verge has long been a home for a large colony of white violets, and orchids appear sporadically.  Daffodil bulbs were planted in the grass.

The management of the bank is an ongoing project to prevent the brambles taking over again.

Gill did a grand job of sweeping out the shelter and cleaning up the brickwork inside

The photos above were all taken in early Spring but now it's starting to look less bare:

The day before the judging Maggie and I did a walk-through of the route to check our timings, as you are only allowed a certain amount of time, and see if anything needed attention.

Last minute strimming!

She'd brought her tractor mower to just run over some of the ground by the bus shelter and she decided to create what's known as a 'desire path/line'. This is an unofficial path created when people have abandoned the road or pavement to cut across an area, for example cutting a corner. You often see this sort of path in towns where people cut across parks and wasteground. 

I thought this was a great idea as it allows you to walk amongst the flowers and grasses so I've been running across it each time I pass as without use it would quickly become overgrown again. It reminded me of Robert MacFarlane's book The Old Ways in which he says that paths are "consensual" meaning that if they are not used then they disappear.

As I'm typing this I'm singing The Village green Preservation Society (originally by The Kinks but re-released by Kate Rusby a few years ago) in my head!

Kent and East Sussex Railway

The railway arrived here in 1900.  Despite being in Ewhurst the station was named Bodiam, probably because it is geographically the closest settlement.  The station operated for 61 years and was important as the arrival point of the hop pickers from London’s East End, but closed due to the economic downturn of the railways nationally.

In 2000 the trains returned.  A millennium project to extend the KESR from Northiam to Bodiam meant that once again the Rother Valley could echo to the toot of steam trains.

Since then the hard work of the volunteers at the Station has created a gem of a heritage attraction.  The age of steam is well represented through the re-creation and restoration of the station buildings, and the pride shown by station staff for their environment is reflected in the entrance garden and the tidiness of the site.  There is a small hop garden and a hopper’s hut, showing how life would have been lived during hop picking season.

Every year, hop picking is celebrated on the railway with the Hoppers’ Weekend which attracts a lot of visitors to the Station. Hops also make an appearance in the stained glass windows in the village church.

The garden and pots are maintained by 2 lovely ladies who've been volunteering there for over 25 years!

The Station is also home to a unique piece of world history, the Cavell Van.  This wagon was used to transport the remains of the nurse Edith Cavell from Dover to London in 1919 and was again used in 1920 to bring the Unknown Warrior on the same journey.

Judgement Day

I'd done the write-up for the judges well in advance but Maggie had been really busy and hadn't had time to add her bits so it was all a bit of a rush on the morning the judges arrived, especially since she hadn't managed to print out the photos we were going to put on our display board and it was too late for me to get home to print them!

Glenys had put on an excellent display of what goes on at the Herdman, how it all began etc.

We had to pinch a few of Glenys's photos (sorry Glenys and thank you, you saved the day!) to cover the empty space on our board and instead had to set up the laptop with my photos cycling through so that both the locals and judges could see more of what we'd done.

Maggie's daughter Bryony had printed up some canvas bags for us and so the judges had one each to hold their briefing notes, a copy of the Herdman newsletter and some leaflets from the railway.
Waiting for the judges
The team had been busy baking and making sandwiches for everyone to enjoy after the judging and they put on an amazing spread for us. Sadly I didn't take any photos afterwards as I was too busy eating cake!

With our judges, Jean Griffin and Ken Turner, before we showed them around (photo courtesy of Liz  Moore).

Some of our fantastic team who helped make this possible. There were many more people involved but of course not everyone could make it on the day of the judging (photo courtesy of Liz  Moore).

How did we get on? Well we won't get the results from the officials until September but as far as I'm concerned it was a huge success as it brought people together with the aim of keeping our village looking beautiful. In the meantime Maggie and I have been discussing who deserves a certificate of merit for extra special efforts in their support of Bloom. Sadly there's a limit to the number of certificates we can give out as I think everyone deserves one!


Pam White said...

That was fascinating. There was something particularly poignant about the railway station. As always, my observation is "How do you find the time?" However, I know that you get up at the crack of dawn to run. Fingers crossed for a top result. You deserve it!

Pam White said...

That was fascinating. There was something particularly poignant about the railway station. As always, my observation is "How do you find the time?" However, I know that you get up at the crack of dawn to run. Fingers crossed for a top result. You deserve it!

Susie Hewer said...

Thanks Pam, everyone worked so hard. If you're ever over this way you must take a look at the railway station as they have lots of fascinating relics there. The Cavell carriage is especially poignant. Oh and there truly are not enough hours in the day!!! xxx