Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
– Robert Frost
Around the Club
Autumn holds a special time in the grounds maintenance circles. It’s a chance to breathe and take stock of the year before the weather deteriorates (or not). We recognise the accomplishments and reset the dial for the next quarter. The ever-growing list of tasks for winter works is created. We shall always have more projects in hand, but that is part of being busy and knowing what the priorities are and what is allocated to the wish pile. Much of what we can do is weather dependent of course, and with a good run of weather from November onwards we can make headway on all plans. Protecting the turf is very much key to everything we do and, come rain or icy conditions, we shall act accordingly.
The grass tennis renovations are being wrapped up this week and the seed and dressings are being metred at the prescribed rates on the courts. On the golf course we are formulating our blueprint for renovations next week and our perpetual practice of aeration and sand dressing on the greens. Making holes and burying surfaces in sand seems to be our forte, but with good reason. Maintaining true and good surfaces are built on these principles. Five hundred years of Scottish, Dutch or Chinese links (depending on who you consider invented the game), greenkeeping has some validation to the methods.
I will report on the major works to be undertaken this winter after the golf committee meeting next week. As ever, leaf collection is one of the key issues that we must contend with and keeping the course clear of leaf debris is a task in itself. But one that does have its rewards, as leaf matter is one of the main constituents of the lovely rich compost we make. If only we could shake all the trees in one go and be done with the task it would make it much simpler, instead of nature’s way, each tree having its own call to disrobe which usually lasts the full winter season. Impetuous as we are, greenkeepers like to be methodical and finish one task before starting another, yet in all cases, nature wins out in the end.
One by-line to end this script off. After five years with the team, Jake Boardman shall be moving on to pastures new at the beginning of October. Jake joined the team after a stint at Wentworth and rose from the ranks to become deputy to Ashley for course maintenance. He has now secured himself the position at the Frilford Heath Golf Club as the Deputy Courses Manager. We wish Jake every success in his new role at the esteemed Oxfordshire club and I am sure he shall continue his development into the future to become a first-class Head Greenkeeper.
On the north bank of the Thames, right beside Cleopatra’s Needle, stands the Art Deco edifice that is the former Shell Mex House. It is crowned with the biggest clock face in London dubbed the “Big Benzene” with reference to the occupancies who enjoyed the river frontage. It replaced an even more imposing masterpiece of architecture which set the standard for hotel design and luxurious accommodation for decades to come. It was named the Hotel Cecil after Sir Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury and treasurer to James I, who had had a house on part of the site. The hotel opened in 1896, three years before the nearby Savoy, and stretched from the Strand to the Thames. It had 800 spacious rooms – a staggering number when one considers that the Savoy today has just 268. Public areas included a bright and airy courtyard, a vast Palm Court ballroom and three restaurants capable of feeding a total of 1,150 diners. There were terraces to lounge in and even a beauty salon. Designed by architects Perry & Reed in a “Wrenaissance” style, the hotel was the largest in Europe. Its beginnings laid in controversy, as it was one of the schemes of the well-known financier, MP and fraudster Jabez Balfour, whose Liberator Building Society failed in 1892 causing a scandal by leaving thousands of investors penniless. The building project was abandoned and a company was subsequently formed, with some distinguished gentlemen as directors, to buy the building and save the project from failing before it began. The hotel was requisitioned for the war effort in 1917, and the very first headquarters of the newly formed RAF took up part of the hotel from 1918 to 1919. In the twenties the hotel was the favourite of many American visitors and was renowned for its Jazz Swing evenings. This was to be the heyday era for the hotel and its cosmopolitan dining and clientele. Sadly Shell Mex purchased the hotel in 1930, the river façade was remodelled into a more sober stone thirteen-storey building we see today, with a central clock tower, which would not be out of place on an art-deco mantelpiece. But part of the building still remains intact on the Strand. When you reach the Vaudeville Theatre, turn your gaze south and up. That soaring red brick facade, now occupied by the likes of Itsu and Pret, was once the north entrance to the Hotel Cecil, the largest, and – some claimed – most luxurious accommodation in all of Europe.
In your garden
As we are doing around the Club, it is changing time for the gardens. As summer begins to wane, it is time to strip out these plants and replace them with winter colour. The same with dahlia tubers, begonia tubers and gladioli corms – the hour is approaching to lift them and to store in a dry shed or garden storage area over the winter months. Remove any dead foliage before storing them and ensure that the tuber or corm feels firm and in good condition before storing. Anything on the soft side or displaying fungal spores may be less than in the prime of health to store and possibly infect the rest of the batch.
Plan to prune climbing and rambling roses once they’ve finished flowering. Remove around a third of the material now and tie in stems before autumn winds cause damage to them. In the spring the roses need to be spring pruned before the sap starts to rise to promote new growth. Clear up fallen rose leaves to prevent diseases such as black spot from over-wintering. To avoid the spread of damaging fungi, don’t compost the leaves.
After tidying borders, mulch with bark chips, well-rotted manure, leaf mould or spent mushroom compost to insulate plant roots for the winter and keep weed growth in check. Trim hedges now to give them a final cut for the season and spruce them up for winter. It is a good time to reshape an out of control hedge which is top heavy. A few years ago, now would have been the start of bare root planting season, when items which had been in the field would be available to purchase and plant freely at home. With climate change effectively kicking in and providing mild autumn periods, it is advisable to wait until November to order field grown trees, shrubs and plants in the depths of winter, when watering will not be required and the plant has slowed growth down to a complete stop. Container grown trees and shrubs are fine for planting now, but may require watering once planted if it is a cool but dry period over the next few months.