Flexibility and adaptability that’s what makes a successful team….along with tasty bites to eat and some sunshine for encouragement…or so it seemed on Sunday.  

Thanks to the gardens team at Shugborough, we were able to find a replacement slot in our summer calendar when another NT property could not find work for us this last weekend.  So with a sunny day forecast the Group turned up expecting to wade in the canalised offshoots of the River Sow and pull weeds. But the previous week’s rains put paid to that – leaving the water levels too high, even for those prepared to wade up to their chests in the water.

Special thanks to Treasurer Peter who made the largely fruitless journey to collect the waders, only to end up spending the day weeding and pruning.

As a concession gardener Derek found a small patch of water for a couple of SSTV’ers to paddle in the muddy silt and pull weeds and shrubs around the Boathouse.

The rest of the group swapped their water-wear for thicker gloves and boots and started pulling out weeds and shrubs around the Tennis Court; and pruning shrubs near the Chinese bridge to improve the vistas.

Chief bonfire lighter Ron was even seen to smile and seemed to enjoy pulling weeds!

Then it was over to the Doric monument and a chance to practice real gardening skills, watched on by a large inquisitive public.  Could the SSNTV’ers achieve a straight edge across the top of  the young, developing holly hedge to meet the exacting requirements of workday leader Russell – the visitors seemed to think they passed!

With masses of visitors in close proximity it was a chance to turn PR men (and women) and sell the benefits of the green gym and the friendliness of the Group to all those who stopped and chatted.  Perhaps we recruited a few more too for Caroline’s grey-shirted garden volunteers who were busy mowing away in the background,; or will do when people spot our new posters!

The sub-teams largely managed themselves. Lucy and Ann lead with advice on what was a weed and what a specimen plant.

Amongst all that there was some great chocolate cake for cake-o-clock elevenses –  thanks to the photographer / baker and a lardy cake which appeared in the afternoon; along with an alleged home-made fruit cake from Head Gardener Caroline, which appeared in a convenient tea-shop wrapper, plus copious sweets and Gold bars for snacks. 

We’re back in a few weeks when perhaps water levels will have fallen, giving everyone in the Group the chance to jump in the water and practising reed-pulling skills recently on display at Morville Hall.  That’s after Bank Holiday, so for one weekend all SSTV’ers can have a restful weekend off – perhaps visiting a previous scene of their hard work courtesy of their volunteer cards – or if Bank Holiday weather permits, enjoy a trip to the seaside! 

SSNTV Chair and workday leader Chris reports:…

Well, with all the recent wet weather we came prepared for rain…but Gardener in Charge Nick’s sunny disposition kept the drops away.  We made a traditional start of a good chat, welcoming a new recruit to Benthall in the form of Jill Wells! Then gathered our tools and girded something (ed!) to begin the heavy work.

The tasks were varied; weeding the drive, gathering hay and mulching borders, but most effort went into relaying the gravel around the front of the Hall – which a special hush-hush project had recently had cause to remove – shovelling into a trailer and then back off again to lay outside the front door and all along the drive.  Everyone worked well, but special mention must go to Matt and Russell for sterling work on the shovels – Nick, do get that pneumatics fixed for next time!

Being front of house and strategic deployment of the SSNTV sign, provided the ideal opportunity for John and Chris(tine) to employ their natural nattering skills, engaging with two seemingly earnest potential new recruits.

The end of the day tea on the terrace at 3.30 was most welcome (even if it didn’t actually turn out to be the end of the day’s work…Ed!).  Maggie, unable to make the workday, had nevertheless kindly baked us a glorious victoria sponge.  I can confirm it arrived on site in one piece. But it didn’t live long, with its last crumbs finally mopped up by Russell who, by not liking a key ingredient (coconut), ruled himself out of the running for a piece of Shugborough Derek’s post-Fuggle leftover birthday cake thoughtfully brought to us by Lucy.

A job for next time may be the replacement of a roadside post we planted some years ago; it appears that a vehicle got the better of it (it was prostrate on the ground). But no doubt it will have made its mark before succumbing!

Sincere thanks to Nick for looking after us…..And for being the first to put up our new recruitment posters (….watch this space..Ed!).

Thanks to specialist “summer” workday leader David for getting yet another consecutive workday seamlessly organised as this report describes:

SSNTV returned to Morville on Sunday for our annual summer reed-pull in the long pool.

Those who didn’t mind the mud, smell and risk of getting wet, donned full waders and clambered in to continue the gradual task of clearing the ornamental waterway of bullrushes and weeds.

The day’s result was a further six metre section of the pool cleared – and varying degrees of dampness for those involved ….do read on…., as green (and brown) matter was hauled up onto the banks to dry out.

This time not everyone worked in the pool, with a small group cutting back rampant valerian and other plants from the end of terrace wall above the parterre in the garden, starting the work to help the newly installed Hall tenants tidy and prune.

We were given a very warm welcome by new occupants Mel, Andrew and their children. Thanks to them for the tea, cake and biscuits they supplied (twice) on their “first day”.  We certainly look forward to working with them again soon – it sounds like they are developing some interesting plans for the garden.

The threatened thunder and rain showers did not materialise – so with the sun out all day, perhaps that was why as work came to an end, Russell decided to jump right back into the water, flooding his waders and getting a real soaking (sorry Peter – we did try rinse them all clean)

…They say mud is good for the skin, but surely not this sort of mud, Russell!

Only another few years work at this rate………

Workday leader David reports: Sunday saw a sizeable group of SSNTV volunteers at work in Dudmaston’s Comer Woods to clear around conifer and broadleaf samplings planted by the group over multiple sessions between January and March of this year.

Head Ranger Mike explained, as if it was not clearly visible from the amount of regrowth, if not tackled in year one the spread of bramble and sycamore developing over the last few months threatens the establishment of the new young trees by blocking out their light.

Fortunately the task turned out to be less onerous than first thought (at least that’s what your reporter thinks – Ed!). It proved very rewarding to see hundreds of the new trees emerge in their lines from amongst the undergrowth. The conclusion was that a high proportion of them, (over 9 in 10) have survived and in general look very healthy.

Mike was so impressed he would like us to tackle the area opposite next time; and doubtless the adjoing patch the time after that!

Thanks to cake bakers for their tasty offerings which kept us going in the rain showers.  Special mention should also go to newbie Neil who with a youngster’s enthusiasm, valiantly tackled the deep brambles, scratches and all, wearing his summer shorts!

It’s the time of year again that some of us SSNTV volunteers got to pack up our boots, bowsaws and cake and head up north for our annual working holiday in Northumberland, staying in the NT bunkhouse and working on the fantastic thousand acre Cragside estate.

This year we had two main tasks which were to clear back the rhododendron at the base (toe) of the dam at Nelly’s Moss South Lake and to remove about a third of the reed growth in the Slipper Lake (Tarn).

Sunday saw us up at Nelly’s Moss to attack the Rhodi, aiming to cut it back by about three metres so that the dam inspectors could have better access when they come to check the dam integrity.

Lotsa RhodiLotsa Cake

Rhodi bashing is one of our favourite activities so needless to by the end of the day we had created a huge pile of cuttings and eaten a huge amount of cake. Unfortunately this time we weren’t able to burn the rhodi, as it was going to be chipped and used for path and trim trail surface covering so we had dragged it all up to the edge of the road ready to be taken away with the tractor and trailer later in the week.

Rhodi piling upsuper human chain

Monday was our wet and messy day as we donned the waders to go paddling in the Slipper Lake and attack the ever encroaching reeds.

happy wader's day!ready for action

Although these were a smaller type of reed than the ones that we regularly pull out at Morville Hall, it was just as satisfying to see more and more clear water emerge as the day progressed. We were stacking the reeds at the water’s edge to allow any little creatures to make their way back to the water before we tidied up properly at the end of the week

what a lot of reedsreed raft racing

Tuesday was our day off and the only day with persistent rain, hmm typical!

A group of us took our brollies and went over to Low Hauxley to have a look around the Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s discovery centre (www.nwt.org.uk). Luckily we found the tea room first and “discovered” the homemade date and banana scones there before having a nice walk around the large lake, stopping in the many bird hides to watch the wide assortment of birds that were out and about.

Following a lunchtime stop at Amble for some yummy fish and chips and with the rain coming down more heavily, we headed back to Alnwick for a visit to Barter Books and a mid-week shop for the rest of the holiday food.


Wednesday and Thursday were back to work and returning to Nelly’s Moss Lake to continue attacking the rhodi, eating cake and starting the massive tidying up operation with us filling up two trailers at a time to go round to Nelly’s Moss car park ready for chipping!

loading, loading, loading Rhodi!!how much more is there?

“Tidy” Friday was our day to finish off at both sites so our first stop was at the Slipper Lake to move the reeds away from the lake edge and leave it all looking tidy and beautiful again.

lovely reeds


We then headed up to Nelly’s Moss for cake o’clock and continued to load and clear the last of the rhodi cuttings.

see the magic walking rhodi

only one more load to go

Following our final lunch break we had a leisurely stroll back to the bunkhouse to drop off our work gear before heading up to the formal gardens to test out the new deck chairs and bean bags.

lunch with a viewand relax...

While we were there, we took up the very kind offer from Rachel the head gardener to give us a sneaky peek inside the newly restored clock tower before it re-opens to the public later in the month.

Clock towerit goes deeeep down...

This was followed by even more sneakiness as Helen and Charlotte of the ranger team treated us to a preview of the new Parkland walk and the amazing new Gorge walk that will be opening to the public very soon.

Parkland walk preview..gorge walk

And to top it all we ended up back at the visitor centre to meet up with ranger Leigh for ice-creams overlooking the lake, what a fantastic end to a brilliant working week!

the ice creams are on their way..joined by the gardeners...

Thank you to all of the volunteers, who came up to Cragside this year and worked so hard over the week, brought and made such amazing cakes and cooked such yummy food!

Special thanks also to the awesome ranger team of Leigh, Helen, Dan, Charlotte and Duncan “the elusive” for making us so welcome and making the week such fun and also to head gardener Rachel for the clock tower viewing.

Hope to be back again next year!

until next year...

With the Northumberland holidaying members returning, there was a large turnout at Shugborough to tackle the gardening tasks Caroline had in mind for us.   Perhaps they were drawn by the initial offer of paddling in the river Sow, but in the end it was garden weeds!

Nevertheless as temperatures started to climb the group set to work in beds near the Essex Bridge gate.  At the same time another group made short work of pulling ragwort from the field adjoining the Mansion car park and soon had to make the long walk to the weed beds – sorry flower beds!

If you look back to January you’ll see the Group making a start on these borders and huge rhododendron, mulching and putting down weed retardant matting. Today’s task turned out to be to tackle the weeds which had made their way between the gaps in the matting and through the protective guards placed around the shrubs which had been planted by the gardens team, since our last visit.

There was plenty to remove as the visiting public eyed the group close up beside the path, sitting, kneeling or crouching over and around the plants which are starting to get established.  New volunteer Charlotte’s bare knees hopefully surviving their first outing!

It’s always rewarding to be involved in longer term projects, so it was great to see how we have helped to transform this bed over the last year. The Essex entrance to the estate is a key one for pedestrian visitors from Great Haywood, so catching the eye here makes an especially good impression. Rewarding too for the workers, was the tasty cake, from ever reliable Maggie, with workday leader David’s lemon drizzle coming a close second!  Thanks to both.

End of the day meant special efforts to disinfect all of the tools used as well as our boots. Unfortunately phytophthora has re-emerged in some of the rhodi’s in the ornamental garden, so armed with his rubber gloves, Jimmy took on the mantle of disinfecter-in-chief.  

Head Gardener Caroline expressed herself pleased with what we’d done. So doubtless there’ll be plenty more for next time (with the added attraction of a potential social visit for Derek’s special August fuddle – oooooh can’t wait!)

What an epic weekend it’s been….

  • Exciting man versus machine – Silvesterstone
  • Enthralling, long-lasting racket against racket – SW19
  • Last gasp victory in bat versus ball – from central London
  • Last but not least, a few men versus a lot of Himalayan Balsam – Comber Road, Kinver Edge, Staffs….

Whilst some lounged all day in front of their TV’s, a very small and thus very determined group met up with ranger Ewan to pull up Himalayan Balsam from the slopes of the sandstone ridge at Kinver (whilst other members of the Group holidayed with the NT in Northumberland).  The increased light from previous woodland thinning activities (see as long ago as December last year), coupled with moist conditions means that there are plenty of pink and white flowers; and after that seeds starting to appear. These need to be prevented from spreading, which calls for manual labour!

Ewan explained how the plant will root / find a home, even in loose leaf litter and still reach up to 2m.  Hence if you pull from the root, it’ll come out easily.  Then comes the additional tasks: separate the root from the plant, otherwise that’ll refix itself; break up the stem; and finally separate the flowerhead from the plant, so that that part too has no reserves of energy to call on.

If things go to plan, there will soon be some cattle on the property, tasked with keeping down the scrub, who will in no time reduce this plant’s abundance – so message to all those members who didn’t turn out this Sunday….the days of this task are hopefully numbered!

Still – roll on paddling in the water at other NT properties later this month and into August!