The ‘Green Book’

Cressing Temple:

A Templar and Hospitaller Manor in Essex and its Buildings. Edited by D.D Andrews (2nd Revised and enlarged edition)

In 1992 a conference was held at Cressing Temple to bring together the work that had been undertaken at the site. The ‘Green Book’ as it became known brought together the papers given there and reflect the rich recorded history going back some 900 years.

With the help of Essex Historic Buildings, we have been able to revise and update the publication. We have included a study of the buildings known as the Granary as well as other buildings on the site. The section on medieval barns as been revised by John Walker and David Andrews has revised the text on the Wheat Barn, in light of a detailed survey carried out in 1994.

You can purchase a copy of this publication from the Essex Historic Buildings for £10.00 (plus £3.50 P&P). Click the link to purchase your copy.


Hunkering down

January and February are months to endure rather than enjoy I always think and with the extra requirement to shut ourselves away for lockdown, this post Christmas period seems more challenging than ever. That said, there is a lot to be thankful for and with the arrival of snow over the weekend we have the rare delight of a wintry scene at Cressing which is truly beautiful.

For once, having no visitors or volunteers is a blessing as the pure, untrodden snow remains pristine a little longer. Structure in a winter garden is such an important part of good design, as nicely demonstrated by these pictures taken by Pete over the weekend of the Bay estrade, the platform, fountain and box hedging of the maze.

Other areas of the site are shown off to good effect in the snow too, particularly around the moats where the reflections on the water, the blackness of the winter stems and the whiteness of the icy conditions make for a dramatic contrast.

Weather like this makes it feel as if time stands still. One can imagine a seventeenth century farm worker gazing across at the granary and seeing much the same as we do today.

I always feel sorry for but also admire the hardy winter flowers that dare to brazen it out at this time of year and provide us with pinpoints of colour in an otherwise monochrome scene.

Here we have winter aconites (Aranthis hyemalis) struggling to keep their heads above snow but giving the impression of tough resilience against all odds at the same time.

So, how do plants cope with the snow and the freezing winter weather? There are many strategies they have developed over the millennia and different plants have evolved different techniques. Deciduous plants go dormant, losing their leaves to conserve energy and living off the nutrients they have stored up in their roots. Evergreens continue to photosynthesise but at a much slower rate and they tend to have thick waxy coatings on their leaves or needles which reduce water loss.

What about the snow that is covering our winter aconites? It actually acts as an insulating layer, protecting from harsh winds and creating pockets of air around the plant and preventing the ground from freezing. Like an igloo, the snow protects against the harshest elements of the weather. Many winter flowering plants hug the ground like the aconites and the winter cyclamen (Cyclamen coum). If they stuck their heads too high above the parapet they would be more likely to be swept away by fierce winter winds.

Us poor gardeners don’t have any of these clever adaptations and I for one have to resort to copious layers of warm clothing and a hot water bottle!

Snow on the ground makes it very difficult for gardening and it tends to be a time when we retreat to the potting shed to sharpen tools or start the first of the seed sowing. The vegetable beds look pretty bleak and lifeless at the moment but it won’t be long before the new growing season is under way and we need to be ready for it. Indoor sowing is the only option available right now, but we have onions, peppers, chillis, aubergines, leeks, cauliflower and cabbages coming on in the greenhouse for planting out as soon as the conditions improve. There are a few crops that shrug off the winter weather and can be relied upon to give us the first tasty veg of the new season, giving that all important promise and expectation of what’s coming next we gardeners thrive on. Broad beans, garlic, overwintered onions and purple sprouting broccoli are among the things holding the fort at this time of year and they are all doing well on the plot.

Before snow stopped play there was plenty of work to keep myself, Alison, Paula and Pete busy even though it was the wet and muddy variety. Some of you may be aware of the clump of trees next to the Barley barn. Most of these are a variety called the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) or ‘Tree of Hell’ as it is called in some places!

Attractive though it may be, this introduced species originating from China is an invasive plant that is causing a lot of damage in some parts of Europe. Widely planted as a garden ornamental it has moved into the environment by seed dispersal and through the dumping of excess material. It also spreads rapidly into dense thickets by suckering and this has happened with the ones at Cressing, with strong colonies forming on both banks of the moat behind. Attempts to control it in the past by cutting have simply resulted in even more vigorous growth added to which it can release toxic compounds into the ground which suppress other vegetation in the surrounding area.

This winter, while we are very quiet in terms of visitors and bookings, seemed like a good opportunity to tackle it with a more effective programme of control.

Cutting down was followed with treating the stumps with stump killer.

Any material suitable for shredding was loaded onto the Gator and taken to the yard. The chippings make an ideal top up material for the bark paths in the veg garden though we wouldn’t risk using them on the beds themselves. The remainder will be burnt or used to make log pile shelters for insects and small mammals.

Some of the smaller stumps could be dug out but this is where the mud came in. Struggling with wet, cold Essex clay doesn’t rate among my top ten fun things to do in February, despite the smile on my face!

It is unusual for us to work in this area of the garden but it has the advantage of giving views of the buildings from angles we don’t usually see, and very grand they look too.

Construction of the second new polytunnel is the other job on our priority list. The wet and mud has been our biggest obstacle here too, but good progress has been made and we are confident it will be up and ready in time for the new herb plugs to arrive in March.

Watching the construction videos supplied by the manufacturer suggests this should be a one or two day project but in our case slow and steady has been the motto (with plenty of learning from our mistakes along the way!). A real team effort.

January is always the month our thoughts turn to pruning and coppicing. Hazel coppicing is done on a rotation of between 5 and 7 years, selecting the tallest and most vigorous specimens each time.

This may look like brutal treatment but in fact it is a way of rejuvenating the plant, encouraging strong new growth from the remaining stool and resulting in more vigorous and long lived plant in the long run. Coppicing in this way provides strong straight stems which are valuable material in the garden for staking and making supports for climbing plants. The green netting around the stool is to protect against the nibbling of hungry rabbits and muntjac deer who love browsing the new shoots as they emerge.

The willow beds must also be coppiced at this time of year but in this case every plant must be cut to the stumps to avoid them turning into a forest of willow trees!

The long, straight rods produced by these plants provides us with valuable colourful weaving material once it has been graded to size and set out to dry for several months.

The other useful function of our willow bed is to provide a windbreak for our fruit growing area and this winter we have extended the bed to the end of the plot, giving extra protection and an even greater selection of willow varieties for our weaving projects.

The use of plastic ground sheeting is to prevent weed competition for the developing willow plants in the first few years. Once they are four or five years old they will be strong enough to compete with grass and weeds and the ground cover plastic can be removed.

So, while you are all at home waiting for the retreat of winter, the vaccines and normal life to return, spare a thought for all the flora and fauna that has no choice other than to hunker down and make the best of it. This fox, caught on camera at Marsh Farm has thought of an innovative way to keep warm – his very own sheepskin rug!

Keep warm, keep safe and see you soon.


The Tudor Garden in Winter

Whilst the grey, cold days of January have us yearning for spring there are a few plants braving the cold, some of which have some interesting folklore associated with them.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

Their cheerful yellow flowers provide a welcome splash of colour early in year, as well as being a valuable source of nectar. They are not a native of Britain, originating from southern Europe, and were introduced in 1596.

The common name, winter aconite, is a reference to the leaf shape, a characteristic by which plants were classified in the 16th century. Winter aconite has similar foliage to true members of the aconite family such as monkshood and wolfsbane. Gerard’s herbal called this plant ‘Winter woolfes-bane’. Gerard also claimed that the winter aconite could be used to treat the sting of a scorpion. Hopefully this is not a first aid treatment which we will need to put to the test at Cressing any time soon!

Read more about Winter Aconites here:

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

Perhaps the first sign that spring is just around the corner is the snowdrop poking its way through the frosted soil. Snowdrops are not native to Britain; they were introduced in the 16th century. Another name for the snowdrop is ‘Candlemas bells’. A glass of snowdrops could only be brought into the house on Candlemas Day (2nd February) as they were considered unlucky on any other day.

Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum)

There are many superstitions regarding the root of the mandrake, which resembles a carrot or parsnip. It was supposed to look like the human form as the roots sometimes fork like legs.

 It was believed to be fatal to dig up the root, which would scream upon being dug up. None might hear its terrible groans and live. Thus, anyone who wanted a plant of mandrake should tie a dog to it in order to pull it up!

It was used as an anaesthetic to deaden pain. But was also considered an aphrodisiac and fertility aid. The Mandrake was so highly valued that substitutes were soon sought to keep up with demand – black and white Bryony (British natives) were the plants herbalists came up with, their roots resembling those of Mandrake and also possessing narcotic properties.

Cyclamen (Cyclamen coum)

These dainty looking flowers are actually very tough and are a welcome sight from January to March. They look very similar to the autumn flowering cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium), the main difference being in their leaf shape: C. coum has a rounded leaf, whilst C. hederifolium has a leaf similar in shape to ivy. Both types of cyclamen have the common name ‘sowbread’ due to the tuberous roots often being eaten by wild pigs.

Nicholas Culpeper wrote: ‘Sow bread, it is so dangerous a purge that I dare not take it myself, therefore would I not advise others. Outwardly in ointments it takes away freckles, sunburning and marks that Small Pox leaves behind; dangerous for women with child, yea so dangerous that both Dioscorides and Pliny say that it will make a woman miscarry if she do just stride over it.’


You may be familiar with wassailing as a forerunner of carol singing, but there is also a long tradition of wassailing ceremonies in orchards. The purpose of these orchard-based ceremonies was to make your dormant apple trees fruitful, drive away malevolent spirits and awaken new growth and good health.

Wassailing ceremonies varied from region to region, but might include:

  • A procession down to the orchard, possibly led by a wassail King or Queen.
  • Once gathered around the oldest tree pieces of toast would be dipped into the wassail bowl, and placed on the branches of the tree to attract good spirits.
  • The cider from the wassail bowl would be poured over the roots of the tree, while pots and pans were clattered to ward off evil spirits and wake the trees from their winter slumber.
  • The crowd would serenade the tree with traditional songs and chants, often followed by Morris dancing.

Maybe we should be holding a ‘Cressing Temple Wassail’ to improve our apple harvest?!


A Tudor Christmas

Christmas 2020 is unlikely to be the Christmas we had planned or hoped for, but we hope you are still able to enjoy the festive season. In 2019 we had a lovely display in the well house all about the Tudor Christmas, put together by some of our hard working and creative volunteers. This year Paula has been hard at work ‘dressing’ the well house, court hall and bake house to create Christmas scenes (using some wonderful props created by Lisa). So, why not take this opportunity to escape into ‘Christmas past’?

Christmas food

There was no partying before Christmas: people fasted until Christmas Eve

For the Tudors, the 40 days before Christmas – sometimes known as ‘Advent’ – was a season of atonement, in which good Christians prepared themselves spiritually for the coming of Christ. The devout were supposed to do penance and fast – avoiding meat, cheese and eggs. The feasting would begin on Christmas Day, for which great preparations had been ongoing throughout the fast, and would have been doubly appreciated after the restricted fare of Advent.

The most popular food eaten at Christmas was brawn, or boar’s head

For Christmas dinner, all social classes enjoyed the seasonal favourite, brawn (a dish made from the head of a pig or cow). In wealthy households, the first course was traditionally a boar’s head that had been boned and stuffed with forcemeat (a mixture of ground, lean meat); smeared with mustard; dressed in herbs and fruits (with a roasted apple in its mouth); and garnished with gilded rosemary, bay leaves, spices, fruits, or a sprig of yew whitened with egg or flour to make it look as though it had been dusted with snow. The dish would be ceremonially carried in – resplendent on its platter – by the steward or the head of the household. The custom continued at court until the reign of Queen Victoria.

Turkey had become a popular Christmas dish by the end of the Tudor period

There is a record of the first turkeys arriving in England from the New World in 1526, and it was soon prized for its flavour. Turkey had been added to the repertoire of popular Christmas dishes by the end of the Tudor period, sometimes served instead of peacock or swan, although it would be centuries before it fully ousted them, or the traditional meats.

Mince pies were huge, and contained meat as well as fruit and spices

Bakemetes and Mince Pies

Known as ‘Christmas pies’ or ‘Minced pyes’, mince pies were made with shredded leftover meats – preferably mutton, in commemoration of the shepherds that visited the baby Jesus – to which suet, sugar, dried fruits and spices were added. There were supposed to be 13 ingredients in total, in honour of Christ and his apostles. These pies were huge, quite unlike the small ones we eat today, and they were cut with spoons, since it was believed to be unlucky to cut them with knives. The spices and gilding harked back to the gifts of the Magi [three wise men] – and proclaimed the status of the host. Some pies were even gilded.

Tudor Pie was a turkey stuffed with goose, stuffed with chicken, stuffed with partridge, stuffed with pigeon all put in a pastry case and served with jointed hare, small game birds and wild fowl!

Plum Pudding, originally plum porridge, the fore runner of our Christmas pudding, was eaten before the Christmas dinner. It consisted of meat, plums, spices, dried fruit, breadcrumbs and wine and was served as a broth.

John, Petrina and Carla eyeing up the tasty-looking Christmas food in the bakehouse display.

Gingerbread Men

The first documented instance of gingerbread men was at the court of Elizabeth 1. They were made in the shape of some of her important guests!!

Marchpane is an early version of what we call marzipan. Made from ground almonds, sugar and rose water, in Tudor times it was a dish all on its own. It was often elaborately decorated and served as a centrepiece on a feasting table.

Marchpane made using a 1580s mould

Christmas drink

The Wassail Bowl The word ‘wassail’ means ‘to be of good health’.

A large wooden bowl was filled with hot ale or cider, sugar, spices and apples to make a punch. A crust of bread was laid in the bottom and offered to the most important person in the room, a forerunner to the modern day ‘toast’.


The house was decorated on Christmas Eve – evergreens were believed to be invested with magical properties, giving the gift of eternal life. Druids believed that such greenery contained tree spirits.

The Yule Log. The word ‘yule’ has existed in the English language for many centuries as an alternative to Christmas. Traditionally a large log would be selected in the forest on Christmas Eve, decorated with ribbons, dragged home and laid on the hearth. After lighting it was kept burning throughout the 12 days of Christmas. It was considered lucky to keep some of the charred remains to kindle the log of the following year.

The holly and the ivy

Holly was a sacred plant to the Druids, the symbol of fertility & eternal life. Ivy was used to decorate churches and the outside of houses and was believed to protect against evil spirits. Holly & Ivy were the main decorations during the 15th Century but records also mention bay & rosemary as plants with the power of protection.

Mistletoe was banned in churches because of its pagan connections

The custom of hanging a ball of mistletoe from the ceiling and exchanging kisses under it as a sign of friendship is an ancient one. The Romans, for example, observed that the druids of the British Isles used mistletoe in winter solstice ceremonies and for healing. Despite there being a medieval belief that Christ’s cross had been formed from the wood of the mythical mistletoe tree, churches and abbeys have always banned mistletoe (and it is still banned today!) because of its pagan connections – with one exception: at York Minster, a bunch of mistletoe was laid on the altar every Christmas.

Most houses were decorated with a ‘kissing bough’ hung from the ceiling

Mistletoe was incorporated into the Kissing Bough, a popular decoration during Tudor times. The Kissing Bough was made of woven wooden hoops that were then hung with greenery. Kissing Boughs were placed by the doorway to the house, and entrants were embraced by the household when they entered through the door by the Kissing Bough.

It was bad luck to leave Christmas decorations up after Twelfth Night

Some thought it bad luck to leave Christmas decorations up after midnight on Twelfth Night, when the power of the Christ Child no longer held sway, for if the greenery was not put outside again, the tree spirits would ‘bring disaster’ to the household in the coming year. But in some places, right up until the 19th century, the decorations were not taken down until Candlemas, 2 February, when Jesus was presented in the Temple on the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary. Clergyman and poet Robert Herrick warned of what might happen if the decorations were not removed: “For look! How many leaves there be neglected there (Maids, trust to me), so many goblins you shall see.”


Ghost stories were once enjoyed at Christmas

In Tudor times, there was an established tradition of telling ghost stories by the fireside at Christmas, particularly on Christmas Eve. It was a thrilling way to while away the hours on dark winter evenings. For centuries, the belief had lingered that the veil between this world and the next was at its thinnest at the time of the winter solstice – the longest night of the year – and that spirits could walk the earth.

It became a tradition for entertainments and plays to be staged on Twelfth Night

At court, masques and pageants were frequently staged on Twelfth Night. These were magnificent occasions, with gorgeously dressed lords and ladies mingling with players in fantastic costumes in halls lit by torches and candles. Thanks to the popularity of the seasonal masque, and the patronage of companies of actors by Elizabethan noblemen, Twelfth Night became a traditional time for going to the theatre. The first playhouse opened in 1576 at Shoreditch, its design being based on a galleried inn, and by the end of the century around 15,000 Londoners were attending the theatres every week, with takings soaring over the Christmas period. Drama was hugely popular at court, where the productions could be spectacular, and the Queen’s Men, or William Shakespeare and his associates in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, were frequently summoned to perform.

Father Christmas

In great households of the Tudor period, the 12 days of feasting, banqueting, pageantry and merrymaking were presided over by a person called the Lord of Misrule. A favourite character in Tudor folk plays was called ‘Father Christmas’. Clad in green, and wearing a grotesque mask and a wig, he would rampage about, shouting and brandishing a great club.


Christmas carols

Made popular in Italy in the 13th Century and first recorded in English in 1426, Christmas carols involved dancing as well as singing. Secular themes such as feasting, hunting and general merry-making became more popular under the Tudors, although carols remained predominantly religious.

16th Century Christmas carols still sung – albeit with revision – today, include ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’, ‘The First Noel’ and ‘Good King Wenceslaus’.

The Boar’s Head Carol.

This is one of the earliest recorded carols, dating back to the early 16th century. It was sung as a boar’s head was carried in on a silver plate accompanied by trumpets and the sound of minstrels.

Even if your Christmas does not include trumpets, minstrels or boar’s heads we still wish you a happy and peaceful Christmas!


A new look

We are delighted to be posting from our shiny, new look website. Take a good look around and see what you think. We hope you like it and find it easier to use. We have Mark Townsend to thank for his countless hours of patient tweaking and re-tweaking to get us to this point and we are delighted with the result. Thank you Mark.

The new site allows us to add video to the blog, so we can invite you all into the garden to share some of the beautiful sights and sounds we have enjoyed recently. Follow me to take a look at the fountain…..

Rebeca practises her film making….hmmm!

Now you will all need to watch out when I whip my camera out of my pocket!

This month we have seen the first frosty weather of the season and some wonderful sunny autumn days. There are still plenty of leaves to be cleared up but it feels like we are winning the battle with more leaves off than on.

The fruit of the medlar, (Mespilus germanica) is ripe and ready for harvest but this strange fruit has largely fallen out of popularity since its heydey in medieval times. They were equally popular in Victorian times when affluent households laid down jars of medlar jelly as a Christmas conserve.

Looking like a small apple with a rough, russeted skin and flared at the calyx end giving them a bizarre and unique appearance, as if the birds have already been pecking at them. Their strange outer shape gave rise to some rather bawdy and uncomplimentary nicknames and their reputation becomes no more appealling when you hear they need to be ‘bletted’ or left until the verge of rotting before eating. Following the long wait you might be expecting something wonderful when you finally get to open the medlar up, your fruit spoon at the ready, to find…..but what you find is a rather brown and mushy interior!

A well bletted medlar

And the taste? Hard to describe but think of a very thick apple sauce, perhaps with a hint of lemon. If that doesn’t tempt you, maybe cooking them into medlar jelly (which is very nice) or for those of you interested in historical authenticity, how about this simple recipe for a tart, dating back to 1660, from Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook: “Take medlars that are rotten, strain them, and set them on a chaffing dish of coals, season them with sugar, cinamon and ginger, put some yolks of eggs to them, let it boil a little, and lay it in a cut tart; being baked scrape on sugar.”

If you want to have a go, we have plenty to spare!

Medlars ripe and ready for harvest

The end of the day comes quickly now and can sneak up on us when we are trying to get the last jobs done before home time. We haven’t resorted to the head torches yet, but are getting pretty close! But one advantage of the shortening days is we get to see some fantastic sunsets:

Looking back to the visitor centre from the community garden

During daylight hours our preoccupation has been preparing the gardens for winter: taking in the tender plants, sheltering the ones that hate the wind and wet and lifting containers off the ground to protect them from frost damage. The time has come to tuck up our willow sculptures, stowing them safely in the dry of the well house where they are safe from the worst of the winter weather. They have been socially distanced in the garden all this while so now they now have a chance to catch up and keep each other company!

With the lovely sunsets and bright sunny days reminding us of the joys of winter, the significant autumn rainfall brings some of the horrors too – wet, sticky Essex clay! Just in time for me to decide we need to start work constructing the second polytunnel! Despite the mud, the wet and the slime, the team showed their usual enthusiasm and determination and before we knew it new polytunnel number two was well on the way and the structure secured firmly in the ground (this Essex clay can be useful at times!). In this polytunnel we hope to grow a range of our own herbs and other Cressing plants for sale next year. We hope to maximise sustainable and environmentally friendly practices including the use of peat free compost and recyclable plant pots.

Despite going into lockdown number 2 there has been plenty to keep us busy in the gardens and people are still visiting, albeit in smaller numbers.

Bed preperation in the no dig garden kept us busy for one morning this week. Here Alison treads carefully as she lays yet more cardboard and straw on the patch destined for next year’s pumpkins. It is like making a big flat compost heap on the ground, hopefully a thick enough layer to suppress the underlying weeds until we can get things growing in the spring. The bed in the top right of this picture was treated exactly the same way a couple of years ago and the results are impressive. Takes a lot of cardboard to get it going though!

Alison practising her Strictly manoeuvres!
I knew those straw bales would come in handy
Our compost cake: cardboard, straw and a sprinkling of grass and leaf mowings – yum!

Produce for the veg barrow is getting harder to find, but we put out what we can and it is still proving popular. This week we had parsnips, squashes, leeks, peppers and chillies.

Tasty autumn veg from our plot.

At this time of year it seems there is a competition going on between the leaves and the berries to produce the most vivid colours. The colouring up of leaves and their eventual fall is triggered by hormone changes in the tree and signifies its preparation for preserving moisture and energy during the winter months. The colours are more spectacular some years than others, largely as a response to weather conditions.

  • Cold nights: low temperatures destroy chlorophyll so the green leaf fades to yellow, but if temperatures stay above freezing, anthocyanin production is enhanced and the leaves take on a red colour.
  • Dry weather: sugars become concentrated in the leaves, more anthocyanin is produced and consequently leaves are redder.
  • Bright sunny days: although the production of new chlorophyll stops in autumn, photosynthesis can still occur on sunny autumn days, using the remaining chlorophyll. Sugar concentration increases, more anthocyanin is produced and the leaves are redder.

The bright colours of autumn berries are there for a totally different reason. Berries play an essential role in the life of an ecosystem attracting insects and birds which in turn spread the plants seeds. 

One of the most striking berries in our garden at the moment are those of the Gladdon Iris (Iris foetidissima)

It is one of only two native Irises, the other being the yellow iris (Iris pseudocorus). These striking seeds burst open from their pods at this time of year and stay on the plant for much of winter. One of the common names for this plant is stinking iris, due to the unpleasant smell of the leaves when crushed, which is sometimes described as ‘beefy’, giving rise to yet another common name, roast beef!

Another stunning plant for its bright colour at this time of year is the common dog rose (Rosa canina), and its shiny bright red hips, much adored by the birds.

Rose hips have a sweet, yet tangy, flavour and can be used dried, fresh or preserved for future use. Steeping them to make rose hip tea is a common way that rose hips are used, making not only a nicely flavoured tea but also one with good vitamin C content. They can also be used to make jams, jellies, syrups and sauces.

While there are less fresh flowers to pick for indoor arrangements from now on, there is still plenty in the garden to decorate our houses and cheer us up during these bleak times. As well as the bright berries already mentioned, many flowers, grasses and seedheads dry to wonderful muted tones and combine beautifully to remind us of the great outdoors all winter long. Even better, you don’t need to change the water in the vase! Here are some I have at home with our Cressing Temple dried flowers, along with a bowlful of Cressing Temple gourds.

Winter Wildlife spotlight

Eastern grey squirrel

Native to North America, the grey squirrel was brought to Victorian Britain as an ornamental species by the aristocracy. Today, these highly intelligent and adaptable animals can be seen in woodlands, parks and gardens across the country.

It is probably over simplistic to say that grey squirrels have caused the demise of red squirrels. It is true that grey squirrels are hardier than their red cousins and can live in a wider range of habitats, which gives them a significant advantage. It is also true that grey squirrels can carry a virus, which appears not to affect them, while it can kill reds.

Red squirrels have endured much misfortune, largely at the hands of people. They declined to near extinction in the eighteenth century because of deforestation and more were introduced from the continent. In the nineteenth century, forest plantations reached maturity and so red numbers leapt. This, in turn, led to them being killed by specially formed Squirrel Clubs who were paid a bounty, and hundreds of thousands of the ‘pests’ were killed. And that was all before the grey squirrel arrived. Although numbers have declined sharply in the UK, globally, red squirrel populations are not threatened.

There are now some 2.5 million grey squirrels in the UK, compared to 160,000 native red squirrels. The majority of the red squirrels are now found in Scotland, Wales and North East England, with smaller populations in places like the Isle of Wight and Norfolk (Thetford Chase).

Squirrels are amazing creatures, they can leap 10 times their body length and turn their ankles 180 degrees to face any direction when climbing.

The hind legs of squirrels are double-jointed, which gives them the ability to run up and down trees very quickly. They can fall from 30 meters high, without hurting themselves.

Squirrels can eat their own body weight every week.

With 285 species of squirrels, they can be found in every continent except Antarctica and Australia.


As well as the glorious autumn colours at this time of year many trees are producing their nuts/seeds. Can you identify these common species? If you’d like a clue there’s a list of species given after the last photo!

Tree 1
Tree 2
Tree 3
Tree 4
Tree 5
Tree 6
Tree 7
Tree 8

In no particular order the trees shown are:

  • Oak (Quercus robur)
  • Hazel (Corylus avellana)
  • Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
  • Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa)
  • Beech (Fagus sylvatica)
  • Sycamore ( Acer pseudoplatanus)
  • Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)
  • Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
Answers to the last quiz

In the last blog the quiz was all about hedgehogs. Out of the following facts about hedgehogs one was not strictly true:

  • Baby hedgehogs leave the nest after three weeks, by which time their spines have hardened, their eyes are open and they are able to follow their mother in search of food.
  • Apart from worms, insects and snails, hedgehogs also eat frogs eggs, lizards, mice and even snakes
  • Hedgehogs hibernate all winter
  • Hedgehogs are immune to certain plant poisons. After chewing these plants they lick their spines, covering them with the toxin. This is thought to protect them from predators.
  • There are fifteen species of hedgehog found across Europe, Asia and Africa
  • Hedgehogs can swim

Hedgehogs in warmer climatic zones appear to be able to manage quite well without hibernating. If there is enough food and the air temperature is not too low, hedgehogs need not hibernate. Most hedgehogs seem to wake up fairly frequently during their hibernation but rarely leave their nests. These arousals last a day or two and, although generally unprompted, they may be caused by a disturbance or unexpectedly hot weather.

Jobs for the week

Lift and store dahlias

In mild areas dahlias can be left in the ground over winter. To be absolutely sure of getting them through the winter though you need to lift, dry and store the tubers. Cut the stems back to about 10cm from ground level. Lift the tubers and shake or rinse off all soil. Stand them upside down in a cool, dry place for a couple of weeks so that they dry off thoroughly. Store them for the winter in boxes of dry, peat-free compost, making sure the crowns of the tubers aren’t buried in compost.

Plant tulips

By planting tulips late, after the other spring-flowering bulbs are in, there is a better chance of preventing the bulbs being infected with the fungal disease, tulip fire.

Make leafmould

Autumn leaves can be collected up and used to make leafmould – a great mulch or soil conditioner. Place the leaves into a bin liner, moisten them if they are dry, then pierce holes in the bag with a knife or garden fork, tie the top loosely and stack the bags out of sight for up to two years.

Prune climbing roses

The new growth on roses will be more flexible and easier to tie into position at the moment. First remove any dead, damaged or diseased stems. Then tie in shoots that can extend the framework (keeping them as horizontal as possible to encourage more flower buds to form) and prune others back to two or three buds.


Autumn Days

Nights drawing in at Cressing Temple

What a strange year it has been in so many respects and autumn has come around quicker than ever and we seem to be storming our way through it (literally) quite quickly. The rain has been most welcome, (planting bulbs in concrete is rather challenging!), but you can have too much of a good thing and already we seem to be squelching and slipping around where only a few weeks ago we were looking at desert like cracks in the ground!

Great progress has been made adding snakes head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) and wild tulips (Tulipa sylvestris) to one of the flowery mead patches recently. Looks like Dawn and Fiona are clearing up after a bad mole attack but by next spring it will be transformed and all this hard work will pay great dividends.

September and October would normally have us all preoccupied with the apple harvest-picking, sorting, storing, checking, juicing and bottling. All in preparation for Apple Day. This year has been very different and not just for reasons of coronavirus and the lack of any events at Cressing. Our apple harvest has been the worst I can remember in my time at Cressing, with many trees woefully short of fruit and others bearing fruit of poor quality which dropped early. This was not the case for all trees, with one or two apple trees and both our pear trees having bumper crops of large, good quality fruit. These are growing in the walled garden which is more sheltered than the orchard and they are fed with a mulch every year. Perhaps this made the difference. It is all a bit baffling, but we are thinking it may be down to the very wet winter followed by an exceptionally dry spring. As with so many situations in horticulture, the number of different variables makes it very difficult to say.

One of the trees in the walled garden with its best ever crop

We were fortunate to be invited back to Easton Lodge in September, for the only apple day event in the region. Having picked every good apple we could find we loaded up the apple press and de-camped to the walled garden at Easton Lodge and had a very enjoyable day, juicing non-stop and giving bottles of our fresh juice to a very appreciative public. It was a lovely day and a welcome reminder of more normal times.

If the apple harvest has been poor this year, we have made up for it with the success of the community garden produce and the appeal of fresh, home produced veg and fruit on our new veg barrow.

We have gathered some regular customers visiting our veg barrow and on many days it has emptied almost as soon as it is filled.

It is all too easy to miss courgettes as they are developing and suddenly come across giant ones that have turned into monster marrows, but this year the radishes gave us a bit of a surprise when we found some hiding under the butternut squash leaves. Just shows what a radish can become if it is allowed to grow up! Probably a bit woody for a salad though!

The selection of veg and fruit has been further enhanced by cut flowers, honey and willow artwork for the garden, all adding to the general appeal and giving an extra point of extra interest for visits to Cressing Temple.

The colours of autumn always seem richer and deeper than those of high summer and these Dahlias with their wonderfully symmetric flowers in a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes are certainly making a great show this autumn.

The pumpkins and squashes growing in the walled garden, also make an eye-catching spectacle and attract much comment. This year we have grown ornamental gourds and a selection of edible squashes, including varieties called Sweet Dumpling, Honey Bear and Goosebumps.

This autumn looks like being a particularly good year for berries and seeding plants. The holly tree in the walled garden is putting on a grand show already and the hawthorn and rowan trees are catching the eye of many a hungry bird.

The construction of our first new polytunnel was an exciting and positive event in a year rather short of such things.

Looking a bit like a caterpillar, the tunnel was a bit of a challenge to erect but with Pete’s expertise and determination and the willing help of several volunteers it was soon completed. The spots on the side are actually air vents which we hope will make ventilation and temperature control more manageable.

The next step is to construct and fill the growing beds inside and make a plan for early spring crops next year. The purchase of this tunnel was made possible by a generous grant from The Essex Community Foundation and will help us to grow fruit and veg all year round and raise more money for the site.

Now don’t be alarmed by the next picture. There really is nothing too dangerous about our garden volunteering, despite appearances!

Thanks to a grant from Heritage Lottery to assist charities affected by the pandemic we were able to purchase new cleaning and safety equipment, along with extra tools and garden equipment. Lisa and Mike are modelling a selection of the items purchased, at a careful 2m distance naturally.

The Heritage Lottery grant has also given us funds to develop additional ways of generating income. One option we want to develop is the running of courses. Possible topics might include beekeeping, gardening for wildlife, care of fruit trees and propagating plants. We decided to begin with running sessions on making willow items for the garden and the grant allowed us to buy the tools and materials we needed. Alison has run two pilot sessions on willow weaving for the volunteers. Once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted we plan to run further sessions which will be open to the public.

Here you can see our new polytunnel being put to good use to shelter us from the wind and the rain during the two successful willow weaving sessions making bird feeders and dragonflies!

Grant money has also been used to purchase a second polytunnel, this time with the aim of growing a range of Cressing Temple herbs to sell on our plant stall. Work has already started on construction, but the weather hasn’t been on our side and the going was very wet and sticky!

With so much else being restricted or on hold it is very encouraging to have projects to work on and future plans in the making. Thank you to our funders, the Heritage lottery fund and the Essex Community Foundation for their support and making this possible.

Another impact of the pandemic and the need to remain socially distanced, has been a change to our group jobs briefing and all important tea break. The porta cabin, which was a cramped space at the best of times, has become unusable, with a one person at a time rule. We have been quite happy sitting outside during the lovely summer weather but as temperatures drop and winter weather hardens, the waterproofs and thermals will become an essential part of our kit! Our jobs briefing is also conducted outside, rather than in warmth and relative comfort but, ever resourceful, we have rigged up an outdoor, all weather whiteboard from bits and pieces we had lying around which gives volunteers a chance to choose their tasks from the magic ever replenishing list!

As we move towards winter and many of our showy summer favourites in the garden retreat under ground to wait out the cold weather, it is the evergreens in the garden that come to the fore and really earn their place in the garden. This applies none more so than our impressive rosemary bushes in the walled garden.

Large rosemary bush growing in the strewing garden

Ros maris, from which the name Rosemary is derived, means ‘dew of the sea’. This could originate from the white-blue flowers that give the appearance of dew on the branches of the shrubs, which originally grew along the Western Mediterranean coast.
Recently however, the scientific name has changed. It used to be Rosmarinus officinalis, meaning that Rosemary was in the genus Rosmarinus with the species name officinalis, meaning a plant used in medicine or herbalism. But a phylogenetic study has found that Rosemary is more closely related to the Salvia genus than to the other species of Rosmarinus. The scientific name of Rosemary has therefore been changed to Salvia rosmarinus (it could not be renamed Salvia officinalis because that is the scientific name already given to Common or Garden Sage). Are you keeping up? How confusing! I think we will continue to call it rosemary.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

William Shakespeare

One of the longest and most traditional uses of Rosemary is to aid the memory. Gerard, in his Herball, says that the Arabians and other ancient physicians used it in this way. He also recommends making sugared Rosemary flowers to ‘…comfort the heart, and make it merry, quicken the spirits and make them more lively. We could all do with a with a bit of that at the moment!

Due to the use of Rosemary for improving memory it was used historically, as a symbol of fidelity for lovers, as well as being used at weddings, funerals and for decorating halls for banquets and other gatherings. Apparently, Anne of Cleves had it in her wreath on her marriage to Henry VIII (making a mockery of its love and fidelity claims!) and Rosemary branches decorated with silk threads were given to guests at weddings to represent love and loyalty.

The cosmetic uses for Rosemary mainly used the essential oils in hair-lotions. It was highly regarded for its pleasant smell and ability to stimulate hair growth so preventing premature baldness. The dried leaves and flowers were combined with borax to make a rinse that reportedly made one of the best hair washes known (not to be recommended today!). Rosemary was also used as an effective treatment for dandruff.

Whatever the merits of rosemary in terms of its medicinal, cosmetic or symbolic uses, for the gardener it is just one of the best herbs for the winter – ever green, ever fragrant and ever tasty!

Winter wildlife spotlight

The Hedgehog

The Latin word for hedgehogs is Erinaceus and our own British hedgehog is scientifically known as Erinaceus europaeus; it is the same species that occurs throughout most of the continent of Europe.  In Britain it is found almost everywhere except some of the Scottish Islands, but tends to be scarce or absent from wet areas and pine forests.  Uplands and mountainsides are not popular, probably because they lack both suitable food and suitable nesting places.  Hedgehogs are well established in our urban habitat and can, somewhat surprisingly, survive very well in our cities, making extremely good use of cemeteries, railway land, wasteland and both public and private gardens.  Shakespeare mentions hedgehogs in ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and he refers to ‘hedgepigs’ and ‘urchins’.

Naturally solitary, hedgehogs only come together to mate. They reach sexual maturity at around 12 months old. Hedgehogs have been known to live for seven years, but a lifespan of two to three is more typical. Baby hedgehogs are called hoglets.

At the risk of disappointing some people, it is worth mentioning the fact that hedgehogs tend to ‘do the rounds’ and visit several gardens within an area.  Ten or more different individuals may visit a garden over several nights, which could mean that ‘your hedgehog’ is in fact a number of different individuals visiting at different times.


Test your knowledge of hedgehogs. Here are some further facts about them. All are true except one but which is is?

  • Baby hedgehogs leave the nest after three weeks, by which time their spines have hardened, their eyes are open and they are able to follow their mother in search of food.
  • Apart from worms, insects and snails, hedgehogs also eat frogs eggs, lizards, mice and even snakes
  • Hedgehogs hibernate all winter
  • Hedgehogs are immune to certain plant poisons. After chewing these plants they lick their spines, covering them with the toxin. This is thought to protect them from predators.
  • There are fifteen species of hedgehog found across Europe, Asia and Africa
  • Hedgehogs can swim

The clocks have gone back and we are officially moving into the winter months but that doesn’t give us any excuse to stay indoors and put our feet up apparently. Here are the 10 top jobs as recommended by the RHS for the coming month

  1. Clear up fallen leaves – especially from lawns, ponds and beds
  2. Raise containers onto pot feet to prevent waterlogging
  3. Plant tulip bulbs for a spring display next year
  4. Prune roses to prevent wind-rock
  5. Plant out winter bedding
  6. Cover brassicas with netting if pigeons are a problem
  7. Insulate outdoor containers from frost – bubblewrap works well
  8. Stop winter moth damage to fruit trees using grease bands around the trunks
  9. Put out bird food to encourage winter birds into the garden
  10. Use a seasonal bonfire – where this is allowed – to dispose of excess debris unfit for composting

Enjoy these Autumn days of gardening.


Jobs for the Week

Summer prune apples and pears

If you have apples (or pears) trained as restricted forms, such as cordons or espaliers, now is the time to think about pruning them to maintain their intended form and to let more light reach the ripening fruit.

Cordons should be pruned every year around mid August. Your cordon is ready for pruning when the new side shoots from the main stem(s) become woody at their base. Shorten all of this new growth from the main stem to 3 or 4 leaves above the basal cluster of leaves at the base of the shoot.

Where a shoot from the main stem has a side shoot coming off it, prune this also – to one leaf above the cluster of leaves at its base.

Cut back perennials

Many early-flowering perennials and are looking rather tatty – especially in this hot, dry weather. If they are cut back to the ground now and given a good water they will soon put on some nice fresh growth. Some may even flower for a second time later. Plants such as campanulas, hardy geraniums and delphiniums are some of the plants which are suitable for this treatment.

Cut evergreen hedges

Evergreen hedges such as holly, yew and box can be pruned/trimmed now. We should have reached the end of the nesting season now, but of course always double-check before starting work on the hedge.

That concludes our roundup of news for this month. I don’t know about ‘drier than Jerusalem’, in the course of writing this blog it has become wetter than Manchester!


How the Arbour was Rebuilt

We have produced a video where Joe Bispham explains how he rebuilt the new Arbour. Click here to view the full video.


Drier than Jerusalem

Apparently, Essex has a lower rainfall than both Jerusalem and the Sahara Desert! We can certainly believe that at the moment as we are having to grapple with hoses, sprinklers and watering cans on a daily basis. Here is the rainfall we collected in our rain gauge over the past few weeks – hardly enough to fill that watering can! Despite the challenging weather conditions work has been continuing as normal and there has been much to admire and give us pleasure.