As I changed down into second gear to help the car climb the steep hill that leads to Uppark House and Garden I remarked to the trio that everything used to build the house in Georgian times would have been transported up the hill long before the invention of cars, lorries and power assisted transport and we talked about how that might have been.
Much of our learning takes place in the car and the conversations that stem from inspiration we find along the way on our many gallivants. That is because we have chosen to educate our three children otherwise than at school using the legal option of Home Education. The National Trust recognise the importance of learning outside the classroom and offer a special membership for home educators.
Our third visit to Uppark this year and every visit has a new angle, the height of the location emphasised again yesterday as, for the first time, we were able to see the Isle of Wight and Spinnaker tower as we played cricket. Yesterday, as well as meeting up with several other home educating families we know, we met up with Andy the head gardener in a shaded spot under some trees.
Initially Sapphire and Etienne, my home educated eight and six year old children, had been disappointed to find that the tall meadow grass they so enjoyed running in on our last visit had been cut back into bales but Andy soon pointed them in the direction of a new secret area to explore and they were off. Running and laughing and playing with their friends.
Much of the inspiration for the decor and furniture at Uppark comes from the “Grand Tour” and especially Italy 250 years ago now. Sapphire and I have talked about this before on previous visits as two years ago we drove, in the same car we have now, from our house in Pulborough, West Sussex the 1000 miles to Tuscany in Italy undertaking a grand tour of our very own. In Tuscany we saw marble stacked at the side of the road ready for export although I doubt it was as beautiful as the samples on the tables in Uppark that S and I so admire.
So, after a picnic and cricket and a chat with Andy about his role and ideas for the garden, very reluctantly, the boys came in from the sunshine and the garden to the house and we set out to find the grand tour inspired flowers around the house.
‘Switzerland’ arranged by Judy Culhane for Ditcham Park School
But not before my youngest Orin made a special request for a glass of the delicious water, he remembered from last time. We spotted the flags of Paris, Germany and Switzerland but were then sidetracked discussing whether or not some of the lemon trees we found were real or fake!
Belgium & Germany arranged by Harting School
We often experience that when we are looking for one particular thing we miss out on others but we persisted and talked about how difficult it must have been to find black flowers. Our friends managed to find most of the flag flowers though. I often arrange to meet my parents at Uppark so that the boys can stay outside and Sapphire and I can explore the house in more detail.
Above, ‘Greece’ arranged by Sarah from Alitex
We always leave Uppark talking about what we will do when we return the next time. Even after three visits there is still so much we have not seen.
Below ‘Italy’ arranged by Susie Culhane (internal photography Russell Baker, external photograph Andy Lewis)
Jo and a Herdwick Lamb
A Herdwick Lamb
Rob from the Woolbeding Estate explains all about Herdwick Lambs and farming
Nick from Old Kiln Forge on our Blacksmiths stand.
Visitors ‘flock’ to see the Lambs
Beth during her Scything demonstrations
Herdwick Lambs on the South Meadow
Roll down a hill
Susie has a cuddle with a Herdwick Lamb
Overheard (on twitter)
“Cannot praise @nationaltrust enough today at Uppark. Wonderful staff fascinated the boys with story of the fire, events in garden & food!“
@UpparkHG: “Please thank Malcolm for his good taste! We enjoyed wondering around the meadow paths today. Really peaceful earlier..” Malcolm – our Retail Manager made sure Beer was available for sampling at Uppark today!
@UpparkHG: “adoring the events on today, adore the parkland!”
Gardeners are thrifty by nature; it’s just how we are. If we invest in plants, we like them to be good quality and do this by making savings elsewhere, ‘repurposing’; we’re predisposed to repurposing, it gives us a sense of purpose…
We’ve been working hard to improve many areas of the garden over the last few years and your fabulous comments over recent weeks are rich reward for our endeavours. Our latest project, the tea garden has recently been planted up. To date the investment has been in time and compost. Gardening is a transient thing and temporary fixes can be put in place in order to prettify an area and work the soil. Organic matter and regular hoeing allows you to boost the soil structure over a period of months. It’s one of the many gardening pleasures, to gradually improve the ’tilth’.
With good, dry weather on the horizon, we prepared the beds using compost made on site and planted them up during the recent showery weather using ‘repurposed’ material. Now that the finer weather has arrived we’ll have to keep on top of the irrigation. The planting looks perfectly fine for this season and we’ll add Penstemons, Dahlias and Lillies to the mix for a summer blast of colour. We’ll review it as the season progresses, take photos and digest. It’s all about learning, adapting, tweaking and most of all enjoying.
So where have these plants come from?
We’ve planted Stonecrops (Sedum ‘Herbsfreude’ – formerly ‘Autumn Joy’) – cuttings taken from plants around the garden and grown on in the glasshouses at Alitex. Rock Rose (Cistus x hybridus - below) cuttings taken from the restaurant border have been brought on at Alitex and now repurposed and repositioned on the slope in the tea garden. For those who are unaware, Alitex provide us with the opportunity to grow by letting us use their glasshouses for propagation and we’re eternally grateful for it.
We’ve removed Inula helenium (Elecampane) below
and Acanthus mollis (Bear’s Breeches) from other borders, part of our garden restoration work. This was done in the Autumn with help from Shirley, our House Steward and we’ve now repurposed them into the tea garden borders.
“Come for the house, stay for the garden“ - we’re looking forward to seeing you already….
I’m a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due….this phrase (Come for the house, stay for the garden) came from a dear friend, fabulous hockey player and proper Gent Rob Barton.
Evidence in the form of bat droppings suggests the lofts over the house at Uppark are once again accessed by bats. The droppings lead us to believe these are the Long-eared bat, probably the Brown Long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus) and are more common than the Grey Long-eared bat. Moths are the primary food source for the Long-eared bat. The bats can hover to take insects from plants and will then hang up to eat each insect and discard the wings, so if a heap of moth wings is found it’s a good sign you may have found a feeding roost.
Sue Harris has been monitoring the bats hibernating in the walls of the underground tunnels for the last few years together with Martyn Phillis who regularly visits Uppark to give his very popular ‘bat talks‘.
The bats are monitored three times each winter, once in December, once in January and then February. The numbers vary but they have found up to 6 different species of bats hibernating. These have included Daubentons ( Myotis daubentonii ) Natterers ( Myotis nattereri) and whiskered/brandts/alcathoe. This last group are very similar so in a hibernation situation it’s difficult to make an accurate identification. These are classified as medium sized bats.
Bats need a cool and humid environment to hibernate in and the tunnels at Uppark can provide this, although at times some sections of the wall get a bit too wet.
Above and below Uppark’s Tunnels: Access for the bats is available through the tunnel lights which provide light and ventilation.
Although bats hibernate they do wake regularly, this may be due to fluctuations in temperature, the bats will move to a more suitable place, to drink or to have a snack if the weather is warm enough for insects to be about. They can also mate during the winter. All the bats in this country feed on insects and each species have specific dietary requirements so they choose different types such as midges to moths to beetles. If you’re interested in more information about bats than have a look at the Bat Conservation Trust website.
Thanks to Sue Harris for her help with this post; providing us with a fascinating insight into the secret world of bats at Uppark.
It’s also time for me to take flight at Uppark. I’ve been offered a seasonal position at Nymans - it’s a fabulous garden if you get a chance to visit and it’s with very mixed feelings that I leave Uppark. I’ve really enjoyed my time here and learned an incredible amount, especially about garden machinery. I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside a very dedicated team of staff and volunteers and I thank them all for the way they’ve made me feel welcome and part of the team right from the beginning. I would especially like to thank Andy Lewis for giving me the opportunity to work for the National Trust. Hopefully I will be back to visit Uppark soon and see how the garden is progressing. In the meantime I can keep up to date by reading this blog!
Everything about our return visit to Uppark yesterday was unexpected. Of course we were immediately struck by its unique beauty when we visited a couple of months ago – how could we not be? But returning was like a second date during which it suddenly hits you that this is the start of a love affair. Spring has been stumbling on unconvincingly for some time, but yesterday gained a new intensity and that was reflected in a difference in light and colour at Uppark. The greens were greener, the lawns were softer, the texture of the borders was totally changed. Where our first time at Uppark was dazzling, now we were able to relax and breathe it in.
One of the great things about a return visit is that, having got the lay of the land last time, we were under no pressure to cover every inch again and instead could take it at our own pace. Or, more accurately speaking, at our two year old’s pace which seems to be the only way to sanity at the moment. So with this in mind, and playing to the amazing spring day, our visit was completely spent in the gardens. Well, that is if you don’t count the tunnels, because it would be tantamount to child cruelty not to make use of the remarkable underground network that HG Wells inhabited as a boy, and which apparently inspired his Time Machine. There is something very magical about secret rooms, and this part of Uppark alone would be a draw, with its bat roosts, echoey chambers and beautiful ventilation shafts peeping out at ground level, like giant walkie-talkies. Its cool shadows are a total contrast to the warm business of the gardens, and a reminder of the industry at work ‘below stairs’ servicing the great house in times gone by.
But first there was important hill-rolling to be done. As luck would have it Katie (2) had discovered hill-rolling the previous day, which she was keen to showcase, and the first feature of the landscape as you pass through Uppark’s golden-tipped gates is a hill. We used the trail to gently guide us around the garden, but the largest chunk of our time was devoted to the huge meadow in front of the house which looks out over the South Downs. Just breath-taking, and from this angle the house looks like an extraordinary doll’s house dropped into the countryside. In a brilliant piece of positioning, the meadow is equipped with an outdoor toy box, which kept the children entertained for hours. We discovered that Harry looks a bit of a natural behind a cricket bat (so my husband tells me). And it was the perfect location for Charlotte to work on her cartwheels and handstands. But the thing about meandering around Uppark is that you feel compelled to stop and sit in so many places, and each of them has such a beautiful new perspective that it’s difficult to keep moving!
By late afternoon, and interspersed with essential refuelling at the café – taken outside – we headed over to watch the final Punch and Judy show. This was something of a gamble since Katie is not known for her focus or stillness, and I was unsure how well a puppet show would compare with Peppa Pig. But fairly astoundingly she was mesmerised, and was rewarded with an impressively convincing balloon pig from the kind puppeteers’ assistant. Harry, stayed loyal to Star Wars and went for a light-sabre sword, while Charlotte – girl power & that, but still a little unpredictably – chose a machine gun! Serious ballooning. Harry (5) later had a concerned chat to me about Punch being rather rough, especially with the baby (he loves babies), which made me wonder how much puppets have a real physical presence to children? The girls took it totally at slapstick value, and were in hysterics. I noticed Harry watched it very seriously, but quickly went into a social laugh when one of his sisters glanced at him, a separateness that I recognise in myself. But I digress … It was fascinating to watch the audience as much as anything, and an impressive feat these days to hold a mixed age group totally rapt for half an hour. The setting, in a nook in the scented garden was also inspired and made it feel like a room tucked away from the rest of Uppark.
Although we hadn’t planned it, this weekend was the launch of the National Trust’s ’50 things to do before you’re 11¾ ‘ campaign, and living close enough to Mottisfont to drop in for a couple of hours, we’d kick-started this the previous day. So Charlotte (7, The Organiser) had already had a chance to study the booklet and set her mind on the particular missions to be completed in Uppark. This was to be grass trumpeting and bug hunting – she had packed a rucksack and everything! By the end of the day – and using a bit of retrospective licence – I was reliably informed that we were now 18 items down. Some of these adventures are rather more ambitious/age-reliant than others – for example, making a daisy chain versus learning to ride a horse, so I suspect there will be some variation in how dutifully these scrapbooks are completed. But for now they are a total hit, and list ticking being indeed what lights the older two’s fires .
Despite arriving not long after 11 we were dragging our feet by 5 o’clock reluctant to be leaving. Katie quite literally. Somehow time seems to work differently in Uppark, although the chiming of the clock tower is a gentle reminder of the outside world. An absolutely perfect day to end the bank holiday weekend, and as we floated back home, not a single child bickered in the car. Now that you can’t buy. Thank-you to everyone at Uppark for creating such a special place.
Disclaimer: No payment was received for this post.
The wonderful sight of the Copper Beech shadow with Uppark House and East Pavilion (Restaurant) in the background)
Fritillaria meleagris - Snake’s Head Fritillary in the South Meadow
The drip line of the Copper Beech – we’re extending the path around the ‘Crown’ of the tree. By cutting an additional mowing strip further away from the tree, we’re reducing the compaction on the rootplate. During the winter, the Meadow is grazed by between 40-80 Sheep, they seek shelter under the tree and over the years the roots have become exposed. We have plenty of other trees in the Meadow that can provide shelter but we’d like to preserve this stunning tree by fencing it off. We also cause compaction – just by walking around it; we’re just doing the right thing for the tree.
Yellow Rattle growing in our Meadow, Copper Beech in the background
The South Meadow April 2013
Yellow Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperalis ‘Lutea‘) in one of the Island beds
Daisies (Bellis perrenis)
Sapphire Anemones (Anemone blanda) in the tea garden
Violets (Viola) naturalising in the tea garden grass
Siberian Squill (Scilla sibirica) in one of the Island beds
Miniature Daffodils at Golden Gate garden entrance
Hellebore (Helleborus orientalis) cultivars above and below on one of the Island beds
Emerging leaves on Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) along the main drive to the House
Hazel screen made by garden team from Hazel coppiced from the woodland in the scented garden – East Pavilion clock tower (shop and restaurant) in the background
Buzzard sitting in a tree at the entrance to the car park
Following recent tree work we’ve reduced, re-used and recycled tree stumps and trunks to create some natural play along our Woodland Walk.
Gardening is full of surprises; sometimes you have an idea of what to expect based on previous knowledge and experience, other times nature surprises and delights in equal measure.
Last week, the beautiful late afternoon light drew my attention to this stunning Helleborus orientalis (the Lenten rose).
I carefully lifted the head of the Hellebore flower to admire the beauty within… wow! The dark cerise speckles on the inside of the petals looked like a tiny paintbrush had delicately flicked the beautiful veined white background – already tinged with a lime green watercolour ‘wash’. The inner petals, an avocado green ruffled collar, setting off the bright cream stamens to perfection.
As new flowers emerge in the garden, my sense of curiosity takes over and I feel compelled to rush over to see what has unfurled in recent days.
Light levels are changing, butterflies are beginning to bask in the sun, and bees will soon be frantically collecting pollen. I feel drawn to look closely at the detail of the plants that mesmerise such insects.
I would love to try botanical illustration; I’d like to study the intricacy of plants. I want to capture their natural beauty.
Above: This Hellebore cultivar is so subtle yet stunning, captured on camera by Simon Bowler last year in the early morning sunlight at Uppark.
Hellebores are great to propagate. If you have a friend with Hellebores in their garden, you could ask them to ‘pot up’ some seedlings for you in spring. Or, as Hellebore cultivars are great at self-seeding, you could collect the seed as the flowers fade in the summer, and sow yourself.
Mainly woodland plants, Hellebores prefer good drainage and some degree of shade and shelter. Incorporate leaf mould or mushroom compost before planting any Hellebore and mulch every autumn thereafter.
Remove any damaged or dead leaves throughout the year, and once seed has been collected, do a general tidy of leaves and removal of old leaves and flowers in autumn. New ones will grow back as spring unfolds.
Above: Naturalised in the UK, Helleborus foetidus, whose common name of Stinking Hellebore is not flattering or particularly appropriate. Dramatic yet subtle, the yellowish-green flowers look like they have been dipped ever-so-gently in dark red paint.