There is a rumour that at this time of year most gardeners sit in front of a roaring fire, drinking warming soup looking at seed and plant catalogues, in a sort of warm and cosy hibernation. If only that were true!
It is in fact the time of the year when the seed and plant catalogues come through the letter box and the choosing of plants for the following season is put onto paper, or spreadsheet! We take photographs of the borders through the summer to remind us of what grew well and what did not and more importantly where there are gaps that we need to fill. And also in the vegetable garden in the Walled Garden – which vegetables the chefs loved and which did not go down so well. We are of course eager to see what new varieties there are to try for next year…
Our biggest task at this time of year is leaves. With so many trees around the hotel blowing and collecting the leaves from the paths, steps and lawns is a challenge in itself, but haven’t the colours been wonderful this year?
Also this is the time we install our Christmas Trees – a big 20+ footer for the centre of the Rose Garden and a slightly shorter one for outside Reception. We have a number of trees that are currently outside and sitting in buckets of water, so they can have a drink before being installed inside.
Christmas Tree Tip: We stand the cut stems of the Christmas trees that go inside in buckets of water and it is surprising how much water they take up. And then when they are inside we continue to water them daily until the time when they do not ‘drink’ the water. In this way they keep their needles on for much longer than if we had just put them inside.
Vegetable of the Season – Jerusalem artichokes Helianthus tuberosus.
This is a very easy root vegetable to grow and once you have it growing it is very easy to keep it in the garden – some might say too easy as if you just leave a little tuber in the soil it will root. They prefer ground that is rich in organic matter and can grow to 2.5m high. They have a yellow flower looking like a cheery sunflower – hence one of their common names being Sunchokes. But it is not really an artichoke but a variety of a sunflower with lumpy edible tubers. And it has nothing to do with Jerusalem but comes instead from the Italian word for sunflower, ‘girasole’.
When we lift ours for the chefs in the restaurants through the winter we always keep some back for re-planting for the next year’s crop. They are rich in iron along with potassium and vitamin B1. Jerusalem artichokes are very low in calories but can cause flatulence.
Tree of the Season – There can only be one really at this time of year – the Christmas Tree.
We favour the Nordmann Fir Abies Nordmannia, which is the most popular of all ‘non drop’ of Christmas Trees. It has stunning foliage, beautiful shape and excellent needle retention.
Norway Spruce Picea Abies is the traditional Christmas tree and today the Norway Spruce is still a very popular tree with strong scented needles and a bushy pyramidal shape.
The first recorded English Christmas Tree was set up in 1800 by Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and later by Prince Albert husband of Queen Victoria. History records some sort of tree at Christmas in 1536, but the first decorated tree was in southern Germany in 1605. The first Christmas trees were decorated with fruit like apples, dates and nuts, ribbons and gingerbread.
The 18 decorated Christmas Trees that we have inside the hotel and the two tall ones in the gardens are the Nordman Fir, Pinaceae Abies ‘nordmannia’ which are native to eastern Europe. The species is named after Finnish zoologist Alexander von Nordmann (1803-1866), Professor of Botany at Odessa.
Apart from being outstanding Christmas Trees, they also make fine specimen trees in large gardens and can grow up to 75m (246’) high!
Herb of the Season – Sage Salvia officinalis
Sage has numerous common names. Some of the best known include sage, common sage, garden sage, kitchen sage, true sage, culinary sage, and broadleaf sage. There are numerous varieties. Sage is one of the traditional herbs that people know of because of sage and onion stuffing used with the Christmas turkey.
Common grey-leaf sage has many uses:
Sage is one of those herbs that seems to be a cure-all for most things. It was used by the Ancient Egyptians as a fertility drug and writings show that in 1st Century AD it was used in Greece as a way to stop bleeding and clean sores. Sage has been used for rheumatism, improving memory and improving a weak digestion. It was used for typhoid fever, liver and kidney complaints, haemorrhage from lungs or stomach, head colds and sore throats, dental abscesses, infected gums and mouth ulcers, measles, joint pains, lethargy and palsy, and a cup of strong sage tea is good for a nervous headache. Steam inhalation of sage can help in asthma attacks and can be useful to remove congestion in the airways and it has been used in medicines to treat menopause.
Sage should not be used by pregnant or nursing women or by people who have epileptic fits. As with any herbs you should seek guidance from a professional consultant or doctor before using.
We wish you all a very Happy Christmas and Greetings of the Season!