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Volunteers' Blog - April & May 2022

As the weather has warmed, the Friends of the Garden Volunteers have been out and about tidying paths and the area around the pond below the terrace. We have also been weeding the New Zealand and Australia beds and also the Carboniferous beds opposite the greenhouses.

Now that the twigs and branches from the chestnut oak, blown over in Storm Malik, have been removed, and the majority of the trunk has been planked, the beds of the New Zealand and Australia collection are once again visible. We have been working to remove the invasive Pirri Pirri bur, Acaena Sp., from all but one area, where it can be admired. The Pirri Pirri bur (see photo on the right) originates from New Zealand but has become a problem in Northumberland. It is thought that seed was introduced into Northumberland on fleeces arriving in Berwick-upon-Tweed. It was first recorded in 1901 on Lindisfarne, where it is still a problem. The sticky burrs on its fruits get caught on the coats of animals and clothing. This has enabled it to spread far and wide across the region. Pirri Pirri bur can now be found on the Simonside Hills, Cheviots and along Hadrian’s wall. Along with the removal of Pirri Pirri we have also sought to remove our own invasive species including Dandelions, Bittercress and Herb-robert!

We have also been active clearing weeds around the Carboniferous beds ensuring that the ferns and horsetails are shown to their best advantage. Hidden away amongst these primitive plants are other ancient plants including a Wollemi Pine, Wollemia nobilis, and a Gingko also known as the Maidenhair Tree, Gingko biloba. The Wollemi Pine (see photo on the right) is a conifer of particular interest to botanists. Until it was discovered, in Australia in 1994, Wollemi Pines were only known from fossil remains. The family of plants they belong to, the Araucariaceae, is over 200 million years old and were thought to have died out around 2 million years ago. Wollemi is therefore rightly known as a living fossil, or Lazarus taxon. Less than 100 plants are living in the wild, so the species is critically endangered. However, successful cloning of wild plants has enabled botanic gardens, such as Durham, to grow Wollemi and ensure the survival of this critically endangered species.

The Friends Seed Packers were also busy, packing seeds to be given to visitors during National Gardening Week 2 – 8 May. Founded by the Royal Horticultural Society, National Gardening Week, in their words, ‘is the nation’s biggest celebration of gardening and raises awareness of the difference that gardens and gardening can make to the lives of everyone in the UK. It inspires more people, particularly the next generation of gardeners, to experience the joy of growing and creating beautiful green spaces.’ Although the Friends are well aware of the benefits of gardening it is lovely to be part of this drive to make better known the joy of gardening and pass this onto younger gardeners. Many Friends assisted with the Easter Chick Hunt and experienced the enthusiasm of children and young people being presented with their flowerpots full of compost and Poached Egg plant seeds.

With an imminent visit from the Northumberland in Bloom Judges in late April it was all hands-on deck to ensure the Gardens looked it’s very best. We were blessed with a very warm and sunny day to carry out this work. Certainly, at this time of year, with all the cherry trees in full blossom and tubs of tulips, that Friends have helped plant, the Garden was looking splendid.

As many of you will know the last Wednesday of each month is an opportunity for Friends of the Garden to walk round the Garden with the Head Gardener. Peter Thompson has, very ably, continued to show off the seasonal delights of the Garden.

Alex Taylor.