Grass Clippings

The annual celebration of rackets we know as the Lawn Tennis Finals returned to the hallowed lawns of SW19 recently. But as every professional managing turf surfaces this year knows, trying to get turf to react as one would like is prone with headaches as growth has gone into overdrive this year. The dispersions from commentators and social media regarding the slippery conditions on Wimbledon’s Centre and outer courts pains me as it is Neil Stubley, Head Groundsman who takes the brunt of the criticism. The All-England Club, with all their banks of growth lights, court covers and the battalion of attendants to pull those on and off plus fans to cool the turf and regulate the moisture, illustrates that with all the resources you can throw at turf management, the weather can defile all attempts to manage the environment. Like some modern-day apocryphal anecdote of Canute and his method to prove a point about Kings and God: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.’

Grounds and Greenkeepers alike try to control the elements for the pleasure of sports players and for most of the time, we can adapt and change grass to perform as we desire. This year, with the ample rainfall dominating the summer schedule, the holy trinity of moisture + heat + light = GROWTH, all plant life is in abundancy. I have seen few years of such high yields and if I were a farmer, I’m sure I would be as cheerful as a pig in the proverbial to be cutting water-laden silage at the moment. Instead, the situation with the weather this summer so far pains each and every member of the team who are conscientiously doing their best to keep our sports surfaces in good condition. We hope that July and August will offer more sunshine and less rain as this is the best solution to help with the checks and balances of growth and apply the brakes to the current situation. By then Neil and the team down at Wimbledon will be starting the process of renovating Centre Court while the rest of us are sharping our scythes for the next cut.

A time for trees

The visual inspection of the trees on our estate is complete and our consultant arboriculturist has already made some interim recommendations based on his findings. Members may have seen the notice from the Chairman that one of the lime trees in the Visitors’ Car Park needed to be removed due to extensive rot within the base of the tree. Although it is unfortunate, it is a natural occurrence. We have a one-dimensional attitude to trees, in that they once planted, they are there to stay and may be part of the environment for several centuries, which is not always true.

In the range of species of trees, each will have varying life durations. English Oak and Yew may live many hundreds of years while a birch at best will live 80 to 100 years as a well-structured tree and disintegrate thereafter. An ornamental cherry may last half this life span, being a tree which as usually grafted on to a root stock to make them more vigorous. Similar to turf, pathogens that feed internally within trees are within the environment all the time and a healthy tree will resist being overcome by disease spores. A simple wound on a tree base or a split where the buttress roots splay out may be all the surface area needed to allow fungal spores to take hold. Internally the pathogen may spread rapidly in a relatively short space of time. Successive drought summers will actually increase fungal invasion within the steam and cause further rot to the base. Those who did elementary biology at school, may recall, that the vital cells that move water and nutrients up the tree are very close to the bark layer. Brownie points to those who remember BBC – Bark Bast and Cambium layer – the scenario that potentially a tree may be virtually hollow on the inside but shows no physical signs that the canopy is affected.

For some species, distraction of the heart wood on the inside, means that they are compromised beyond saving. Limes are an example of this while some oaks, such as the English Oak can supplement and adapt internal structures to keep the canopy integral.  An English Oak in its final phase of life, which may be several centuries old by this stage, will be at its optimum for being a habitat for insect life and providing a home for bats or birdlife at this stage. As it dies, it still performs a vital role in the woodland being a nesting site and feeding station for insects and mammals.

We estimate that the oldest tree on the course is the oak to the right of the 15th tees. It is difficult to precisely predict its age but from measurements of the base, it is likely to be between 350 to 380 years’ old. Which means, as an acorn to sapling it was possibly around when the King Charles I gave his assent to the Triennial Act and later that year fled London for the north. This oak would have been a sapling of some size during the plague years and the destruction of central London during the Great Fire. We shall do more to keep our veteran trees in good condition and allow them to grow old gracefully. There are several oaks in the vicinity of the second hole and the third which are over two hundred years’ old and from their alignment, would have been a field boundary demarcation when the land was part of Upper Grove Estate.  During the wintertime when there is more time to focus on the project we plan to create a list of tree species of significance and interest on the estate, by either labelling them or producing a booklet with their positions indicated.

Carpet bedding

As an apprentice in the late 1980’s, I was fortunate to be trained in one of the lost arts of garden craft which is sadly rarely seen these days. This was the practice called carpet bedding, which is a style of gardening with mainly, but not exclusively, foliage plants to create intricate designs giving a tapestry or carpet effect. The small plants are placed closely together, so that the initial gaps are soon covered as they grow. Visualise a Persian carpet with intermingling, brightly coloured geometric shapes; these are like the more complex designs. Simpler designs will still be decorative. Think of some of those you have seen in public parks, gardens, and flower shows. For example, floral clocks, coats of arms, designs to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee.

The history of carpet bedding lies in the formal parterre gardens of the seventeenth century and the earlier Tudor knot gardens. These geometric patterns were designed to be viewed from above. Despite many plants introduced from the New World of the Americas during the sixteenth century, there was a more limited range of plants than we have today. In order to extend the season of interest, coloured stones and shells were used as part of the pattern. It was not until the nineteenth century that a vastly increased range of plants became available. Plant explorers had been searching for new plants for some time, but generally as part of a wider remit. The introduction of so many suitable plants conveniently dovetailed in with the repeal of the glass, or window, tax. These changes made conservatories and glasshouses available to the masses and large-scale propagation under glass a less costly exercise.

Public parks were particular devotees of carpet bedding and bedding schemes, as a way to show civic pride and achievement as well celebrating milestones in the life of the country. This came to the fore in Victorian and Edwardian Britain before the war years reduced manpower and the need to turn public areas over to the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign.

There was a resurgence in civic displays of this type from the mid 1950’s well into the 1970’s when niche public parks departments sold the tourism focus for the town or coastal area by bedding displays in prominent areas.  Shrewsbury, under the leadership of Percy Thrower, when he was Parks Superintendent was highly regarded for its horticultural pride and many of the seaside towns on the South Coast were famous for carpet bedding clocks. Since the break-up of the parks departments of local councils and the rise in competitive contracts associated with managing the public domain there has been a reduction in budgets and a shift away from areas which have been viewed as successes of the past. This has not completely seen the end of carpet bedding schemes, there has been a revival in the last twenty years with private sector clients buying into the marketing angle of the display idea to generate interest in their product or specific anniversary events. At least one commercial nursery in the UK will tailor, grow and even create carpet bedding displays for customers. By using cellular trays in which the bedding is grown in within the glasshouse and then slotted into the site display-ready has improved the appeal.

As well as this the innovation, 3D displays, wired meshed structured that have a welded steel frame core to support the item, has meant display ideas are endless and fascinatingly creative. Clients such as the All-England Club have commissioned giant bedding tennis balls in recent years as well as displays in central London supporting the NHS showing the vibrancy and creativity which can be achieved using such simple planting. To celebrate the Club’s 120-year anniversary this year, we have also completed our own in-house display using carpet bedding to highlight this milestone of the Club’s history.

Ian Vass is on leave this week so Steve our Head Gardener has listed some jobs for all keen gardeners for the home front:

– Water evergreen shrubs like camellias and rhododendrons thoroughly this month to make sure that next year’s buds develop well.

– Keep patio container plants well-watered and feed with a liquid fertiliser every fortnight.

– Stake tall or top-heavy dahlias and lilies to prevent wind and rain damage. Dead-head lilies for a better flower display next year.

– As penstemon flowers fade, cut them back to just above a leaf to encourage more flowers.

– Prune wisteria after flowering by removing all the whippy side-shoots from the main branch framework to about 20cm from their base (about five leaves from the main stem).

– Trim any lavender plants after they’ve finished flowering to keep them compact.

– Take cuttings of your favourite tender perennials such as pelargoniums and fuchsia to propagate them for next year.

– Finish dividing clumps of bearded Iris now so they have time to form roots and flower buds for next year before the cold weather arrives.

– Prune climbing roses and rambling roses once they’ve finished flowering (unless they’re repeat-flowerers in which case leave them)

– Spray ground elder (and other perennial weeds) with a glyphosate-based weedkiller, the plants now have plenty of leaf surface area with which to absorb it.

Peter Bradburn, Course and Grounds Manager –