Thankfully Saturday’s scorching temperatures abated somewhat by Sunday morning as the Group arrived with the dog walkers and early day trippers at Shugborough to work in and around the Walled Garden with boss, Caroline and gardener Sarah.

A mix of tasks meant that some wielded the spades and forks to clear another of the beds in the garden around the fruit and currant bushes.  Whilst just outside, the others pulled on their wellies and paddled the length of the river Sow stream adjoining the garden to pull out the weeds on both banks and in the masonry.  Your reporter can attest to the benefits of the cooling water around the toes and shade offered by the overhanging shrubbery, as the day warmed up!

Highlight of the day was undoubtedly the homemade millionaires shortbread at elevenses, “cake-o-clock” (which disappeared much too fast to be photographed – thanks Caroline!).  In fact it was a bit of a bake-off challenge as workday leader Helen’s flapjacks scored highly too.

Lunchtime was an opportunity to hear Caroline explain the latest on the Walled Garden restoration project. Plans are now firming up to repair & repoint all the East Annex walls (and rebuild the potato shed) by Christmas – somewhere the Group has helped to clear and tidy over many years, as some members could recall! 

As the sun shone in the afternoon, the lure of the cooling water meant more SSNTV’ers pulled on their wellies.  As visitor numbers across the walkways into  the Walled Garden and the Plant Shop increased, the group’s activities and growing mounds of green waste became a visitor attraction in their own right – as those in the stream explained what they were doing, visitors watched in bemusement and some group members joined in with pooh-stick races with the younger visitors.  Disappointingly no one outside the Group fancied a paddle!

….With apologies to those who wielded the spades…photographers don’t divide as easily as plants!!!…

Chairman Chris reports from a hard-working Sunday (they always seem to get their monies worth out of us at regional HQ):…..

Well what a lovely day we had with Bob at Attingham, adding a fresh layer of “dust”, i.e fine gravel to the existing paths in the woods.  We were a mix of boys and girls, all taking on the roles of shovelling, wheelbarrowing and raking the “dust” into its final position.  Two good lengths of path were completed, at a pace and with some long barrow runs, by seven volunteers, Bob, and the long armed goose (!) before the rain set in and we retired for tea.

The task was helped no end by Bob’s wheelbarrow maintenance (note: it’s not just money, but pumping up the tyres which makes the wheels go round!), along with Maggie’s marvellous cake selection.  While the boys undertook most of the heavy wheelbarrowing, Lucy 2 kept the girls’ end up, and I fear must be two inches shorter for her trouble. Thanks too Leela for the photos.

Finally, it was pleasing to be able to celebrate John’s 73rd Birthday with him – tactlessly, the safety elf forbade a suitably candlelit cake!!!!

All change this time around – the annual chance to hear about some of the current themes and potential new worksites around the patch with Countryside, Parklands & Gardens Manager Pete – took place on a Sunday!! …and proved to be more of a static event than on previous occasions, as some of the Group spent a day interspersed with rain showers across just the Dudmaston Estate – half of them having spent the day before working there.

First stop was a new and interesting plot, part of the revamped Comer Wood, where as part of a grand plan to retain and improve the soils, reducing run-off into the water courses, pools and ultimately the Severn, a number of initiatives are underway, or in discussion…..Look out for example, for heather bales transported from NT Long Mynd to increase the stock and re-establish acid heathland…..There are whole swathes of heather which have been put in some of the meadows to retain the sandy soils…..In some case heather seeds have been commercially dried and prepared to be transported to their new home, as a new seed rather than established plant….in other cases, those heather seeds have been planted in nursery beds, to be planted out as new tender plants…all part of attempts to discover which process is the most effective from many points of view to reintroduce new plants. Dog walkers might have spotted the volunteers’ cagoules searching the meadow plants for new growth on Sunday in the rain (hence no pics!)

SSNTV scything skills learnt at Hopesay might be put to use on future Sundays, if the plans at Comer to increase the wildflower meadows prove successful……Volunteers efforts and cows hooves are good apparently for stirring up the ground and promoting wild flower growth!

…There was also widening of woodland paths into “rides” to consider, as the Group passed the still relatively-new Shepherds Hut catering and paused to enjoy the brownies and victoria sponge.

…A quick look-in at the recent tree-planting efforts by SSNTV & the property volunteers revealed much new regen’ of a number of species and good initial success rates, by both the broadleaf and conifer saplings.

…Then it was on to the Dingle where the results of efforts to reinstate the original eighteenth century vistas in the wooded valley were on view. It’ll be interesting to see what seeds and spores will come to light, now that the ground has been disturbed and more sunlight gets in. After the likely bluebells, I wonder what else there’ll be next Spring?

There’ll be “cut & burn” too, as more trees are selectively removed. Monies permitting, there’ll be work on the silted up Mill Pool, adjoining the Big Pool dam, to reduce the reeds for example. In other cases, as the long-lasting big trees eventually succumb to old age, the weather, or disease, they are left standing as homes for smaller wildlife, as we saw.

Deluxe bug and beetle residence at the Dingle…

An informative day finished up back at the Gardeners Yard, as the Group’s members stumbled across some well-stocked supplies of brownies and other snacks (well that’s how they started off…honest!!) which made for a comforting end to the day. Thanks to Pete for his time and explanations!

The rain held off on Saturday long enough for the group to reach the far side of Big Pool in the sunshine to view the task for the day at Dudmaston, while the estate was closed to the public and hence the paths were empty.  Our task was to be thinning and cutting back new growth along Sir Georges Walk, the main track beside the lake, to let the light in again and improve the views back across the water to the rockery, gardens and Hall.

Where to site a fire was the first task – we found the only patch with nothing overhead – a few steps from the lake and far enough from the individual ornamental trees among the sycamore, hawthorn and general green.  It was a case of finding a line to improve the view, cutting back just enough of the overhanging canopy.

Ranger Mike was on hand with powered high-reach pruner which mean there was a constant supply of material to burn.  The breeze meant that in no time “Mike’s rubbish”, i.e. the thinnings, disappeared in the flames.  Heavy showers at times during the day could not dampen the heat, as the group cleared either side of the pathway, hacking at bamboo, avoiding the ornamental rhododendron, non-native birch and other individual specimen shrubs, as well as keeping feet dry whilst pulling back branches overhanging the water.

And then we came back on Sunday for more!  But that’s a story for another day……..

Back at Benthall Hall on the day of the Cosford Air Show. Would we see any of the planes? But it was not a day for reaching up into trees, eyes on the sky. No, we were down on the ground, weeding brick paths and gravel in the rear courtyard (and by the church and lychgate). These were the main tasks of the day.

The other tasks (which you could stretch the description ‘some general gardening tasks’ to cover, but were not so photogenic) were clearing up some of debris from the last visit, and turning the compost heaps.

So, back to the courtyard … cake o’clock on the tea terrace – a delicious lemon/lime cake and a lovely mug of tea. Then back to work – looking like an army of ants!

Following lunch on the lawn in the kitchen garden, back to those bricks … or the compost heaps, from where we could see the smoke trails of the Red Arrows – away in the distance over Cosford.

The working group shrank as the Committee meeting started on the family terrace – but we didn’t let the side down, and finished with excellent results.

So to the BBQ treat, as the threatened rain held off!

And yes … some of the Air Show planes (including the Spitfire) came overhead just as we were winding up…and as menacing grey clouds circled.

At the end of a long day and lots of backbreaking work, a lazy evening? Not me! I got side-tracked by my own front garden and finally put the tools away as the fading light defeated me around 10pm.

Wow, what a day! Thanks everyone.


No work over the Bank Holiday weekend, so ….this last Sunday saw a small but enthusiastic crew of SSNTV volunteers head back to Shugborough to work with James and Derek from the wonderful NT garden team there. Our main focus was in the walled garden with the volunteers divided into two groups to tackle the jobs which were moving and stacking logs from the recently felled pear trees and extending the safety fence to allow visitors to walk the full length of this part of the garden. Working at a cracking pace, and fuelled by plenty of yummy cake (thanks to James and Matt), the morning flew by and both groups made great progress.

Following a perfectly timed lunch break in the gardener’s bothy (enabling us to avoid the single downpour of the day) the log group filled the last pallet with logs and headed off to clear out the weeds on the wall by the shop, whilst the fence group finished digging in the last of the posts and then attached all of the new fencing. A great day was had by all and we are very much looking forward to heading back to Shugborough again at the end of this month.

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Sunday saw the group back at the Dingle clearing up more after the contractors who have been felling mature trees on the sides of the valley to improve the views of the eighteenth century landscape (see 7th April too), with a chance to chat about upcoming workday schedules with Countryside, Parks & Gardens Manager, Pete C.

With cattle in the adjoining fields between Hall and valley, fencing has been restored since the contractors departed, so finding a way in without climbing too much of the valley sides provided the first challenge.

High & lower-slope groups developed to collect and burn the brash without the need to practice too many mountain goat-like skills.  Everything grows fast at Dudmaston – recently it was brambles amongst the saplings in Comer wood, here the new greenery was fast obscuring the smaller brash.

As the sun came out the heat rose in many ways – reminding us why there aren’t many cut and burns in the summer!

What is brash I hear you ask? – well, from a felling contractors point of view they only want a thick long straight stem, so whilst these were dragged up and out of the valley, whole tree tops, side branches, green growth is left where it falls or is cut, so begins the process of bringing back a bit of natural-looking order.

Plenty of cake kept us going – brownies, lemon drizzle and afternoon scones – views abounded about which got top marks – but thanks to all (including a holidaying Mike!)