Around the grounds
The absence of Members at the Club this Easter made it a surreal experience. The Club under lock down is a strange sight and anyone who is familiar with the Danny Boyle directed film, 28 Days Later, would find the scenes of a deserted capital, post-apocalyptic virus, bizarrely similar.
We are operating under the guidelines of the UK golfing bodies and doing what is necessary to maintain the course and sports facilities, keeping the grass healthy and ready for when play resumes. We look forward to Members returning to find the course, courts and lawns in the conditions that they expect so we are doing our utmost to balance crucial work with the seasonal programme.
The weather has turned from a wet winter to alternating between warm and dry and cold and dry over the last few weeks. Like for those with gardens at home, irrigating the sports surfaces has been crucial and we are now connecting the bunker irrigation into the system that was part of the recent fairway irrigation renovation. After the warm weather of last week plus some moisture remaining in the rough you can almost watch the grass grow before your eyes. The grounds team are mobilizing on the grass courts and we shall be over seeding and top dressing – catching up from last year and the appalling winter weather.
Memories of waterlogged courts in October are now distant and keeping the moisture up to prevent the high clay surface from cracking is paramount. The guys have also been working on the croquet lawns in the last few weeks and the renovations and top dressing is successfully been worked into the surface. The same is true of the course fairway, where the sand dressings were applied. They feel firm underfoot and the sand layering effect will help in winter, as we are all too aware now. I am hesitant to say that the gardens are looking magnificent as that feels rather like waving the largest chocolate Easter egg in front of a grandchild before eating it oneself. For the amount of work that Steve our Head Gardener devotes to the gardens, let’s just say they look adequate at the moment. Enough said.
One observation while walking the estate is that the wildlife has become much bolder and taking advantage of the situation. I know this has been reported in the news with pictures of goats invading village greens and the like but more subtle changes are happening within the fence line of the Club. Over the last six years I have never seen a common blue butterfly within the grounds and so it was with surprise this week that I saw out on the course. They are more at home within meadow grass lands but it’s quite possible the work we have done to the woodland areas has attracted them to forage within the grounds. There has also been sighting of hedgehogs in the area, despite no evidence seen during the survey completed by the Zoological Society of London at the end of last year. I was witness to a kestrel on the 13 hole at the end of last week, which is a good sign that we have a population of small mammals around the place. We can also confirm this as Steve spotted a common vole in the gardens last week when he was refurbishing a bed by the first tee. Some of the most noticeable changes are evident during the daylight hours, the amount of bird life around is easy to spot and hear. Without the constant drone of air traffic en route to Heathrow, the bird song is a welcome joy in such depressing times. The parakeets squatting locally certainly enjoyed feeding on the cherry blossom this year and I suspect it is the soft, sweet growth that has attracted them. The crows have become more brazen as well and strut around the fairways inspecting the turf with a beady eye. I’m expecting a Comment Card from one of them very soon.
The trees own pandemic
While the world watches the Covid-19 pandemic play out, another, as deadly bio-disease is also taking effect on over 560 species of plant life across several continents. Xylella fastidiosa is one of the most dangerous plant-pathogenic bacteria worldwide, as it does not only effect ornamental species of plant but potentially some of the most valuable of agricultural resources. Regulatory measures were enacted in response to the detection of the bacteria in Italian olives in 2013, but the current impact is nevertheless major. A study, the combined effort of several European institutes and Universities has tracked and modelled the spread of the pathogen and the likely effects on mainland Europe. Even under slow disease spread and the ability to replant with resistant cultivars, projections of future economic impact in affected countries run into billions of Euros. Our findings highlight the importance of minimising disease spread and implementing adaptation measures in affected areas. If the infection expanded and the majority of trees became infected and died, the costs could run to €17 billion over the next 50 years. The bacterium Xylella fastidiosa is native to the Americas where it causes disease in many important crops including citrus, coffee and grapevine. Until 2013 Xylella was absent from Europe but there are now major outbreaks on ornamental plants in southern France (including Corsica), the Balearic Islands (Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca) and southern Spain and most recently in the Porto region of Portugal.
Xylella infects a wide range of plants including many popular species grown in gardens, such as cherry, hebe, lavender and rosemary. The bacterium is transmitted between plants via insects which feed on plant sap (such as the meadow froghopper). Spread of the disease over longer distances occurs when Xylella-infected plants are moved in trade. A short information piece has been produced by the RHS on the subject that is narrated by Helen Mirren on YouTube – search Xylella: How can we protect our Plants.
For all you keen gardeners here are a few jobs for the next few weeks. Lift and divide perennial plants now, to improve vigour and create new plants for your garden. It’s now time to divide hostas before they come into leaf, it may seem a difficult task, if you have not done so before and you need to keep you nerve while doing so. Dig up the host clump and divide with a spade or old bread knife. Before replanting as a larger clump or potting up some of the new smaller plants. Use a rich humus compost for hostas which helps them to retain moisture in the soil. Divide primroses once they have finished flowering, you can tease small shoots apart from the main rooted plant and wash off before replanting. It’s important to feed trees, shrubs and hedges with a balanced, slow-release fertiliser, by lightly forking it into the soil surface. Roses are greedy plants and will greatly benefit from a general-purpose feed at this time of the year. Finish cutting back any dead foliage on perennials and ornamental grasses (if you haven’t done so already), to make way for new growth. Prune forsythia as soon as they have finished flowering, cutting back to strong, young shoots. It’s almost time to trim winter-flowering heathers as the flowers disappear, to prevent plants becoming leggy. Continue to remove faded flowers from winter pansies to stop them setting seed. This will encourage flushes of new flowers throughout the spring. There is also still time to plant onion sets if you can get hold of them still.
Keep safe all.