It was a Sunday for non-football fans and wide-brimmed sunhats as workday leader David B reports:

On one of the hottest days of the year so far, a big group of volunteers travelled to Benthall for the first time in about 18 months, on account of you-know-what (although it didn’t seem that long). We were given a warm welcome by Gardener in Charge, Nick and Heather, who was assisting on her day off from Head Gardener at Arley Arboretum.

The well-used footpaths around the Benthall estate have suffered from heavy footfall and wet weather over the last year, making many of them very rutted and muddy in particular at the various access gates. To improve things for visitors Nick wanted us to add gravel to these heavily used areas, creating a more even and hard wearing surface.

The group split into three, with two subgroups tackling the gravel work. This involved breaking up the top surface with a mattock or spade to prepare the area, which today was quite difficult as the ground was compacted and dry. Barrow loads of gravel were moved by hand from the back of the Hall to the access gates to then apply and compress down. This was a tough task in the hot and humid conditions as some gates were hundreds of yards away – the downhill slope not really helping. Fortunately, the wheelbarrows had air in their tyres! As the temperatures climbed and the gates got further away, Nick took pity on us and transported the gravel in his mini truck.

Another recent Nick task had been cutting a variety of winding paths through the far meadow. This left a lot of loose grass which the third volunteer group raked up to be removed by Nick and his trusty truck.

Leaving areas of grass uncut throughout May and June allows a lot of wild flowers to flourish. The simple buttercup looks spectacular when left to its own devices in a broad field but the most amazing flowers in Benthall’s meadows are the two varieties of wild orchid that grow in great profusion. I’ve never seen so many orchids in one place!

It’s doubtless a good time to visit Benthall once more, as the garden also looks wonderful.  Something we could see from our lunchtime terrace near the Hall – always great to have a proper table and seats!

Thanks to Nick for making us feel so welcome – thanks too, to others for their chocolate cake – and it’s a well done for Nick’s tremendous efforts to make the grounds look so attractive – before we mucked in!

Chairman Chris was this weekend’s workday leader too:….

Well the good news was that we had seventeen on the workday; the bad news was that the house had been subject to a further internal waterworks flood and so we were not the only visitors on Sunday morning, as a series of surveyors and workmen appeared…..

Our jobs were in the garden. There was weeding at the front of the house in both the beds and the path (…don’t tell anyone but the aubrietia went too); with some people even diving into bushes to pin roses to the wall.

There was weeding down the centre path of the garden and of course the parterre needed weeding and trimming; even the balls at the end of the parterre had a tidy up. There was weeding, soil moving and cutting back at the side of the parterre and up the adjacent short flight of steps. Finally, the mammoth weeding award goes to those tackling the mares tail and other weeds, in the four flower beds where the vines used to be.

In addition there was a select party cutting back the lime avenue at the address, as well as well as those throwing balls for the dog to fetch. ….So keen were some, that extended workday hours were required in order to achieve those personal targets and to enjoy the late arrival of the sunshine.     

Melanie was an excellent hostess, especially considering recent events in the house and looked after us very well, with four cakes including those made by one, her neighbour and two, her mother (fruit, lemon, chocolate and date (- not all in one!) and tea as well as a tablecloth (unheard of);  our own team of Jane and Mags brought tasty chocolate brownies and shortbread. 

Thanks to others for bringing and taking away the tools and ladders, as well as providing the photographs.

Let’s hope the sunshine continues and we can get eighteen out next weekend at Benthall Hall.  Sadly Morville is open under the National Garden Scheme on the same Sunday. For those that cannot make Benthall, the Morville gardens (you get to see four of five)  are open from 2.00pm to 5.00 pm. There may even still be some cake to be had – Covid regulations permitting! 

For this week at the beginning of June, a message from NT Regional Head, Paul Forecast:

Dear Volunteers,

This week is National Volunteers’ Week and the theme for this year’s event is time to say thanks. Since we started reopening our properties in May 2020, you have contributed over one million hours to support the Trust. To put that time in context, it is the equivalent of our founder Octavia Hill, who was also a volunteer, volunteering continuously from the inception of the National Trust to the present day.

In the Midlands and the East you have collectively contributed a fifth of  all of that time, in roles at properties, at home and online. 2021 will have been difficult for many of you. You will have had periods where it has not been possible for you to safely come in to volunteer. Some of you may still be waiting to return. This will have been frustrating. It will have meant not being able to be with friends and play a part in the roles that bring you enjoyment. When you’ve been able to return there will have been a mixture of feelings of joy, apprehension, and uncertainty as you’ve come back to an organisation that has changed.  

I have always been grateful for the contribution you make, but in the last year your resilience, patience and ongoing commitment has been an inspiration. I have especially enjoyed hearing about how you have altered the way that you volunteer and supported your fellow volunteers. In the Peak District, volunteers supported other volunteers who were feeling isolated, and across many of our places volunteers contributed to local weekly newsletters by writing articles, sharing photos and poems.Volunteers at Attingham have supported the Trust from home by knitting fruit, vegetables and animals for a ‘woollen woods’ Christmas display. In Birmingham, volunteers have returned to carry out research and to train new tour guides. And ‘Tea Room Welcome’ volunteers have ensured that visitors have been able to use the restaurant at Flatford safely.  

So whether you have volunteered with us throughout the last year, for part of the year or are patiently waiting to return, I want to take time to say a massive thank you for your continued support.

Workday leader Peter reports from a day in the sun:

With summer finally here, the bottles of sun cream were noticeable by their appearance in the car park on Sunday as eleven members were meet by Lizzie, apprentice gardener who has almost completed her two year programme at Shugborough .

With the HS2 rail route apparently planning to run close to the Chinese House on an elevated viaduct behind it, the Trust want to be able to enhance the views around this folly and make it visible from the Mansion. Hence our task was to cut down to waist or knee height the shrubs on the junction of the two paths leading to the feature in the ornamental garden. Shugborough property volunteers were already busy at work cutting down shrubs by one side of the bridge across the canal, along with gardener Derek as we surveyed the day’s task.

Having lost three SSNTV group members en route, who were tasked with starting a bonfire and awaiting the forthcoming deliveries of brash cuttings in a designated spot, the rest of us got to work. Soon the cut pile was greater than the plants left remaining!

It was now eleven o’clock and the workday leader called the first of the two main events of the day. With the Trust guidance changing, “Cake O’Clock” was reinstated for the first time since March 2020. Unfortunately this reporter / workday leader failed to record the momentous occasion, being too preoccupied with eating.

By lunchtime the cutting team had run out of work, despite the scorching sun, as visitors squeezed between the cut piles on all sides of the paths determined to check out the views and visit the tennis court area across the bridge.

Next task: more cake was consumed.

Then it was down to weeding the borders around the Shepherds Monument – but with this workday leader unsure of the difference between a dandelion and a daffodil, this work would be challenging to manage. Keeping the task simple by just instructing the removal of nettles and cleavers (“sticky weed / goosegrass”)  this I could manage.  We paused regularly to load the trailer with the waste from the morning’s work, as it regularly traversed the park all day dodging between the visitors – even Derek felt the need to keep his foot hard down on the pedal – so much was there to move!

By the end of the afternoon both he and Lizzie expressed themselves pleased with the outcome – if not with the size of the brash pile still to collect up, transport and burn!  But I am sure Head Gardener Caroline will be happy when she next walks around the garden – no doubt, as she has already requested extra bank holiday weekend visits! 

Thanks to all for their efforts, especially the cake bakers.

How many SSNTV Anniversary sweatshirts can you count? Workday leader Matthew describes a day spent at least in part “in the green”…..

Our task was moving snowdrops from the woods by the right of the main entrance to a spot beside an old chestnut tree at Visitor Reception. However, this task was not as easy as it seemed. First of all, we had to actually find the snowdrops which were apparently growing in abundance….. 

Word had obviously gone out that SSNTV were coming and a large quantity of elder had shot up to cover a great deal of the snowdrop bulblets. ….Isn’t it a little late in the year to be lifting snowdrops ‘in the green’… I hear you say. But since we’ve had the coldest April on record and are probably heading for the coldest May too, we just about got away with it. (I saw some daffodils in full bloom on Saturday, 22nd!). The pesky elders were soon dispatched and the snowdrops lifted in ever increasing numbers.

A system of bucket to wheel-barrow; wheel-barrow to strong seed trays; and trays to trailer saw the first of three large batches ready for transportation up to visitor reception. Some volunteers had ‘enjoyed’ an F1-style trip down to the woods earlier in one of the vehicular ‘mules’ courtesy of gardener Duncan, whilst others had a much smoother journey down thanks to Danni. As Danni returned to gardening tasks, Duncan’s boneshaker would have to serve as the vehicle to take us and the precious snowdrops back up the main drive ready for planting for the rest of the day.

The replanting of the snowdrops caused much excitement amongst passing Attingham visitors, with of course, children leading the way with a variety of questions. …One had been lifting bulbs at school recently – ah ha.., a volunteer of the future spotted!!

Thanks to all at Attingham for an enjoyable day. Big thanks came from Duncan too, for a job well done.  Let’s hope that there is a wonderful display under the old chestnut in January 2022!

Oh, yes…and the other question I hear you asking….how many did you move? Answer: thousands – too many to count!

A full programme of workdays through until September is now published on the Events page of the SSNTV website.

Existing group members will know what to do.

Intrigued by what you read here / on the website? Been sitting indoors too much during lockdown ?

Why not try one of our workdays, there’s something for everyone! No obligation, no cost – just bring yourself ! Details of how to get in touch are on the website / via this link. There might well even be cake 🎂 !!

Your editor, NT pickup driver and for one Sunday, workday leader reports on the latest efforts by the Group:

Sunday saw the current trend of April showers continue into May at the Morville Hall, Bridgnorth work restart. A sizeable group some of whom as requested, packed their secateurs and trugs turned out to help the tenants keep the actively growing garden under control in advance of possible NGS open days later this summer. If they were a little rusty about what to pack for a workday, the heavy showers that kept popping up, will have made sure waterproofs are still on the list!

There were plenty of tasks to choose from – this being our first return trip since lockdown – but we could start with complimenting tenants Melanie and family for keeping on top of a large number of jobs despite the restrictions of Covid.

All volunteer tastes could be catered for.  Some climbed the ladders to prune hollies to good effect.

Others picked up spades and forks to tend around some of the rose bushes growing along the grassy garden banks.

To the workday leader’s delight, some even volunteered for weeding – meaning he didn’t have to do it himself!  The ladies mostly, ensconced themselves between the patterns of ornamental box and gradually made the contrasting leafy green stand out more clearly from the brown gravel throughout the day.

Towards the small orchard there were tasks to remove the weeds, cut back the ivy from the walls as well as start to prune and tidy some of the many fruit trees and shrubs.

With powered strimmer in hand – well actually hanging from both shoulders – Dave thought he’d spotted an orchid amongst the long grass – but no, after closer inspection – the purple petals turned out to be a wood hyacinth, better known as a spanish bluebell – what an imposter! 

Is it an orchid hidden in the grass?…Nope: just a bluebell!

Still plenty work left for next time at this site, after the holiday at the end of this month…..

PS: Had a nice note of thanks from Melanie in appreciation of the Group’s efforts – she’s already looking forward to the next visit in June!

Workday leader Matthew reports:

COVID regs meant the lucky 6 SSNTV’ers drawn from the proverbial hat, with by the afternoon Leela in addition, masquerading as a local volunteer, were the ones challenged to clear trees, bracken and undergrowth beside one of the walls of the kitchen garden, adjacent to the Walled Garden complex, as this area is won back and future public access expanded. With the sun appearing for a while, it was a nice task to undertake; revealing the fine old wall and engaging in the usual banter. 

Once in a while, a train hurtled past on its way between London and Manchester. Interestingly, there seemed to be more trains in the morning, with one particularly loud diesel goods train laden with ballast. I marvelled at this feat of engineering, famously passing through the Shugborough Estate. The nearby Sher Brook stream even passes over the line on its own aqueduct.

One or two volunteers managed to wander off to look at the bee hives which are located between the kitchen garden and railway. 

At one point, I thought that we had lost volunteer Ron, but he was found next to a building which was being engulfed by bracken. All of a sudden he was gathering helpers for his masterplan of cutting some bracken and pulling it together with a rake. How well it worked, as soon a large ball was making its way towards the bonfire. 

…There’s a volunteer in there somewhere..!

Unfortunately we also managed to evict a family of mice which had taken up residence in an old black sack. No doubt they will have no problem upgrading to a more eco-friendly home.

NT man for all tasks, James assured us that our next visit will be subject to new Covid guidance, so that by the end of May with a maximum of 30, everyone keen to cut and burn can come along!

Want more peace of mind as workdays get back underway?…. Want to know that you aren’t inadvertently spreading the lurgy? Or be sure you haven’t caught something on a workday?

If you don’t have specific Covid symptoms you can organise yourself a home test, a Lateral Flow Test – there’s more detail here:

If you do have symptoms you’ll need a different kind of test – PCR (there are more details in the same NHS website link).

FYI: on the grounds of being well informed, your Editor has tried out the former and is pleased to report he’s Covid free!

Enjoy your cutting & burning (..and gardening..) safely

Second Sunday back as lockdown starts to ease was oversubscribed with volunteers. Workday leader (and it seems….botanist and lepidopterist extraordinaire…) Dave reports from what seems to have been a blazing day in the sunshine on the Edge – in all respects!

The group was tasked with helping to clear the NT boundary so a neighbouring farmer could put in his new fence. We met up at the bottom of the Edge (still with wonderful views of the Shropshire Hills). The job as always for Wenlock was cutting and burning – to make sure we had enough to burn, rangers Al and Kate were already taking down large willow and ash trees that might threaten to fall on the new fence.

Some of the wood was saved for selling on and a small amount found new homes with welcoming log stores. We finished the day with three large fires – quite a result, as it could have been more had we not spotted smoking embers in an old dead hedge.

Despite it seeming not to have rained for months, the site was quite boggy with a water-filled ditch on one side. Those with wellies found the silt in the ditch to be almost as deep as their boots! That said, it did make it good for wild flowers. I managed to spot Wild Garlic, Meadowsweet, Dog Violet, leaves of Early Purple Orchid, Bog Mint and Marsh Marigold or King Cup. Well, I did say it was boggy! Of course with the wild flowers come butterflies: Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Orange tip and a blue, possibly a Holly Blue….

A wonderful day full of sunshine, flowers, butterflies and bonfires!