Grass Clippings

An unusual spring

We have finished April very much as we entered it: dry. It’s been over six weeks without any considerable rain and I can’t remember a year when we have started constant irrigation of all areas as early as we have this spring. There has been a consecutive run of overnight frosts and cold winds from the north east during the day. As much as the grass wants to grow, the ground temperatures are holding it back. The consequences of such a weather pattern are unknown. It’s highly likely there will be an increase in irrigation, which speculatively could mean we may be on for drought orders nationally later in the year.

There have been some media reports from sources such as Farming Today that some crops are struggling to germinate and thrive in areas such as Fenlands, which is the vegetable basket for UK supermarket trade. Closer to home, I can foresee that the eagerly awaited grass tennis court season opening on a high, as firm textured courts usually bounce well, with a reduced moisture content. It may be that the roughs on the golf course will go dormant in early July if no serious rain is forecast in the next two months. Thankfully, the bore hole is in operation to assist with the irrigation of the areas it has been designed to cover. As with every year, it is going to make for an interesting process of balancing grass requirements with play demands, whatever the weather throws our way.

Elements of design

The current works in the far corner of the gardens are winding up with almost completion of the new padel courts. It is interesting how we marry sports and recreation areas into the gardens setting, as space utilization is paramount in these times with open-air activities principal to wellbeing. It’s a dilemma the original architects of the course and grounds would have faced some 120 years ago also. It would have been interesting to have been part of those original briefing meetings, with the Miller family members and design associates, for the concept of the Clubhouse and grounds layout. In the early years of the Club’s history, the land was leased from the Lyne-Stephens family who lived at Grove House (now part of the University of Roehampton estate). It is highly probable that the construction materials for the original Clubhouse, wooden clad façade with a central brick skeleton for load-bearing walls and chimney stakes was a decision made out of necessity of not knowing what the future would bring for the fortune of the land as much as an appeal for a colonial looking building. It later played out that in 1910, the holder of the lease, the Stopford family who had inherited the entirety of the estates, did wish to give notice on the arrangements and put the land up for auction and for it to be broken up. The Club’s management Board had to mobilize fast to secure the lease arrangements, but it wasn’t until 1927 that finally the option was taken up to purchase the freehold for the premises. Piecing together the history of the Club’s estate and how we have arrived at where we are now is a hard task, as much of the documentation relating to the Club’s past was discarded in a large-scale clear-out of the archives in the 1970’s. Our own Mr. Vass remembers this event as he was asked to bin a lot of the documents which had been stored in various buildings around the site at the time. What has been recorded, by Elizabeth Hennessy in the Roehampton Club Centenary Book is a good account of the important footnotes of past decades.

What is understood is that the parts of the gardens were not laid out till 1922 in their current format and follow the fashion of an Edwardian garden with more than a nod towards the Edwin Lutyens concept of design. It is known that Sir Edwin had worked in the Roehampton area during the early formation of the Club. In 1910 Arthur Grenfell, a Canadian merchant banker, bought the property known as Roehampton House (later used to accommodate the St Mary’s Hospital campus) and commissioned Lutyens to draw up plans to recreate the former North and South Wings and Pavilions garden for his newly acquired property. Lutyens often worked with the gardener Gertrude Jekyll, but in this instance, there is no documentary evidence to suggest that Jekyll was ever commissioned to work on the project. By late 1912 Lutyens had started work on demolishing and creating the new layout. The Club would have been known by Sir Edwin, if only as one of the few major properties in the vicinity at the time when most of the area was still unbuilt land. Lutyens’s fame grew largely through the popularity of the new lifestyle magazine Country Life created by Edward Hudson, which featured many of his house designs that were commissioned by the wealthiest of the elite of the time. The Jekyll Lutyen partnership to create homes and gardens that complemented both elements that had been widely copied by fashionably designers of the era and it is not surprising the several fundamental features are (or were) incorporated in the layout of the Club’s facilities are Lutyen in style or nature. Principally, the lines of sight through the old clubhouse, from entrance portico leading to the veranda at the back lead the eye to follow through to the bandstand at the end of the yew walk. This central line of sight is then bisected by several walkways, such as the herbaceous walk and either side of the sunken garden and the passages from east to west side before reaching the golf course. Sir Edwin was famous for bringing the elements of home and garden together by these lines of sight, to give glimpses of what lay beyond. The use of handmade brick (for wall) and roof tiles in elements such as bandstand hark back to his love of the vernacular building of Surrey where he grew up.

The sunken garden is a Gertrude Jekyll component which uses water to create a reflective pool and herbaceous planting to give the illusion of a lost rural idyll. Charles Miller took an exceptional interest in the gardens, to the point that no one except himself could prune the roses within them. The addition of the oriental garden, a fashionable mirror image of pools which were sited where the new padel courts are located and croquet lawn number four were laid out in Willow Pattern precision, with accompanying bridges and rockery. Some of the stone has been re-used in the rockery behind the 18th green. As time passes, so does the needs of the Club to find space for new facilities. The demolition of the original Clubhouse in the late 1960’s was applauded by many as a move well timed as the building was not fit for purpose but sadly the axis which centred on the line of sight from the gardens was lost on the architects that favoured the Brutalist school of steel and glass design for its replacement. Fortunately, the basic elements of the gardens remain as a century ago and are a haven for Members in which to relax and enjoy.

Cultivating tasks for gardeners’ delight

Although this year has been marked with a dry spring, at least there has been a good period of sunshine to make gardening bearable. Speaking to contacts in the nursery trade, the lengthened amount of detail and paperwork required to bring certain plants in from the continent has caused a general shortage of such staple items such as rosemary and lavender. If you have these plants at home and wish to propagate them, then it is not too difficult to do so with a little knowledge. Choose side shoots as cuttings, pulling these away from the main stem with a thin strip of bark, or heel, still attached. This heel is important as it is where the roots of the new plant will develop. Trim off the small flap of excess bark with a knife. Remove the lower pairs of leaves so that the cutting has a length of bare stem that can be cleanly inserted into the compost. Dip the cut end of each cutting into rooting hormone. Insert several cuttings around the edge of small pots of gritty compost. Water the compost well then cover the whole pot with a clear polythene bag to maintain a humid atmosphere around the cuttings. Grow plants to a larger size before planting out in their final positions – pot up each cutting individual.

Mr Vass, our team member for over forty years explains, if you are new to growing vegetables, beetroot is a good, easy-to-grow option. The seeds don’t need much encouragement to germinate, and they require little maintenance once established. Beetroot ‘Boltardy’ is one of the most popular cultivars to grow, but you could also try a more unusually coloured cultivar, such as ‘Touchstone Gold’. An extremely robust crop, sprouting broccoli produces nutrient-packed, succulent spears, which are perfect for steaming, boiling and grilling. It is easy to grow, and if you grow different varieties, you can harvest broccoli spears throughout winter and into spring. Start off sweetcorn in modules ready for planting once all risk of frost has passed – try supersweet sweetcorn ‘Summer Glow’ and grow at least 12 plants for good pollination and cropping. Sow basil in pots for the greenhouse or patio — this Mediterranean staple thrives in warm conditions.

Try sowing lettuce in module trays under glass for transplanting into the garden later. Sow every 3 or 4 weeks for continuous harvesting — try lettuce ’All the Year Round’ for reliable cropping. Sow runner beans and French beans undercover, sowing individually into module trays for planting out after the risk of frost has passed.

Peter Bradburn | Course and Grounds Manager