Grass Clippings

Welcome weather

As June arrived, we officially pass from spring into summer and, almost automatically, the temperature drops like a sequence in an Ealing Comedy. That said, this grace period of cool wet weather is much needed in the region as anything not touched by irrigation is currently parched. It is very welcome for carry’s and roughs on the golf course and although it will mean more grass growth is anticipated now, which will slow the greens a little, better to be in this predicament than to have to have stressed-out grass and have to race to keep them watered by hose and sprinkler.

It is a mixed-fortune bag for those who enjoy the grass tennis courts. This week’s rain may cease play on the courts, but the rain will assist the grass to revive and be energised longer into the season. I promise you I haven’t been practicing my rain dance in the last week but it is a minor blessing not to have to worry about the grass for a few days and how is it coping with the heat. It is rather similar I imagine to arable farming, in that you’re always anticipating how the weather will affect the crop and what’s to be done to help it through a period of extremes, whether that’s drought, heat or cold. As a turf manager, it is the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing before turning out the light at night.

Colourful summer gardens

Head Gardener Steve and his team have just finished the mammoth task of planting over 6,000 bedding plants around the estate. As many Members will recognise, we change the design and colour scheme each year to give interest and variety to the planting each year. Colour is an important factor in landscaping and how planting is used to bring focus to an area and create a mood. It was recently mentioned in Grass Clippings, how the colour green is picked out by the eye, and so different colours in a garden setting will create a reaction and a sense of calm or vibrancy depending on the use of blending or opposing colour combinations. On the Colour Wheel, known to artists of all disciplines, the importance of using opposing colours in a complimentary way is a technique employed to oppose colours to create drama. Decorators and fashionistas talk about a pop of colour to add energy to a combination. Neighbouring colours on the wheel can be used to create a sympathetic analogous regime which is more calming for the eye. In creating a bedding plant design, the colour as well as the plant and how well that species will perform in the area is important and the flowering time and longevity of flower are all added into the calculation for the planting plan. As the last plant is going into the ground for the summer bedding scheme, the winter plan is already taking shape. Orders need to be placed in the next few weeks to allow nurseries to start production and spring bulb orders are placed with the Dutch producers in time.

Golf course landscaping

Colour is also a factor in landscaping the new planting on the golf course this year. We have received many compliments regarding the landscaping on the planted area between the 7th green and the 4th tee which are good to hear. This is all part of the environmental programme which has taken the last five years to bring to fruition. Converting a mountainous pile of material, left from years of dumping all organic waste from the course, grounds and gardens in the ‘dump’, the space between holes 12 , 13 and the 8th tees into something useful has been a logistical challenge.

It was one of the first tasks that had to be resolved at the start of my tenure as Course and Grounds Manager, the ‘elephant in the room’ that had been ignored for many years. The easiest answer and the costliest would have been to have this carted off site, to become landfill on someone’s else’s property. Taking a more holistic approach, the idea was developed to take a problem and make it into a solution. Installing the system of recycling organic material into a manageable resource by composting it was the process most simple and cost effective and only needed the input of time to allow the material to rot down and become something more useful. As a commodity, we now use this for improving the flower and landscaping areas within the gardens but this could only take approximately a tenth of the humus-rich material created. We looked at a strategy of using this as a soil amendment for the roughs and carry areas but then the materials would need the stone and woody material screened out which is a costly exercise.

The second option was to use the material as a basis for landscaping features around the course. Adding flowers for making features on the golf course is not a new concept. Back in the 1980’s, the Head Greenkeeper Ray Howard and the Head Gardener Michael Person began the planting programme by adding the rhododendron bed on the 7th hole and the planting scheme on left hand side of the 15th tee. John Lockyer had initiated wildflower sowing also on the course in several areas in the 2000’s. Both concepts have their merits and some disadvantages also. Wildflower meadows love impoverished soils and rhododendrons thrive in acidic conditions, which is contrary in both statements to our soil conditions – a fertile rich neutral to slightly alkaline soil. Working with the landscape Andrew Fisher-Tomlin, we first looked at areas on the course which could be seen from more than one angle and hole of the course, it was imperative that we were making the most of the investment in the time and resources on the course. The second factor was to ensure that the areas were maintenance friendly, so we did not divert greenkeepers’ time away from managing grass to become gardeners instead. The use of planting which would look after itself and the use of weed barriers and stone and wood bark was key to the approach.

Finally, the brief needed to create areas of interest with variety which could inspire Members to take home some of the messages we were offering. The first stage planting rolled out last year with the planting area behind the 14th green, this is a mix of evergreen and woodland shrubs which will fill the area over a number of years and screen off the view of the 4th hole a little more. The planting at the 4th and 7th tees is the dry garden, a crossing point within the course that had to make a bigger impact and uses drifts of grasses and perennials to add colour to the centre of the course.

Members will see that the initial landscaping of the next development is underway between holes 2, 3 and the 15th tees. This was one of the original garden beds set out in the 1980’s which had become overgrown and unmanaged. At the end of last year we cleared out a lot of the oversized shrubs which had reached maturity and were in decline and this spring we have landscaped the floor of the area, with some 70 to 90 tons of top soil from the recycling unit to prepare this for winter planting. This bed will have more shrub planting within the planting plan to give spring and autumn colour and shield the 15th tee from the adjacent holes. At the back of the 13th green, we have also extended the wall of the recycling area out to screen off the 8th tees, so the area feels more enclosed and to give the feeling that you play the holes in their own natural setting. It will be planted up with woodland shrubs and bee friendly trees in the future. On the 16th we have stepped the amphitheatre mound back drop behind the green and this will be a winter project to landscape into a better experience for Members as they play the course.

The aim is not to make the golf course an extension of  the gardens but to add features on to the course which improve our environmental credentials as we have a responsibility to enhance the areas as habitats for wildlife. We can do this but at the same time we try to ensure that new planting areas are ascetically pleasing.

Get out in the garden

The current let up in the warm weather is a good excuse for all gardeners to make hay while the clouds roll in. Terrible metaphor I know but do not waste this week when you can use it to your advantage.

◊ Continue planting summer bedding in pots and borders, and water regularly to help plants establish quickly. Liquid feed with a high potassium feed once a week. Use a proprietary tomato feed if you get stuck on what is needed.

◊ Cut back spring-flowering perennials, such as pulmonaria, to encourage a fresh flush of foliage. The Chelsea Chop, as it is called is a good short cut to improve the chances of a second flowering.

◊ Tie in new stems of climbing and rambling roses horizontally to supports, to encourage more flowers. Dead head roses daily to improve the chances of more flower progression. I usually carry a pair of small snips in my pocket to whip any off I see as I inspect the gardens.

◊ Take cuttings from pinks and carnations, selecting non-flowering shoots, which should root readily. Use hormone rooting powder in possible to improve the strike rate and plant into a free draining potting compost with grit to aid drainage.

◊ Pinch out the tips of fuchsias and bedding plants to encourage bushier growth.

◊ Fill any gaps in borders with pots of tall bulbs, such as fragrant lilies, to add instant colour

◊ Prune late-spring or early-summer shrubs after flowering, such as weigela and philadelphus, thinning out the older stems

◊ Add marginal plants, such as arum lilies and marsh marigolds, around the edges of your pond.

◊ Create a cool, damp spot for amphibians, to take shelter by making a log pile in a shady corner. Half bury the bottom layer of logs and fill nooks and crannies with fallen leaves and moss.

◊ Grow bee-friendly plants such as foxglove and viper’s bugloss, to provide essential nectar and pollen. Find out how to make your garden bee-friendly in summer.

◊ Keeping the bird bath topped up means that birds can drink and bathe in dry weather. With clean feathers, birds are better able to regulate their body temperatures and fly from predators. Keep above ground if cats are around

Peter Bradburn | Course and Grounds Manager |