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Volunteers' Blog - June & July 2022

The warm weather we have experienced this summer has been a blessing to those of us volunteering in the garden. Compared to those living in the south of the country our grass is a little greener and the heat welcome but mostly not oppressive. The Garden has looked wonderful, particular mention must be made of the splendid spires of the Echinops and the wildflower meadows. However, what is good for the plants is also true of the weeds. Keeping on top of their growth has been a major preoccupation of those of us working outside. The paths and pavers have been regularly tidied, particularly around the Prince Bishops Garden area, and deadheading is a weekly activity.

Elsewhere we have continued to work within the fossil bed, opposite the entrance to the glasshouses. The horsetails, Equisetum, certainly enjoy the damp shaded conditions in this part of the garden and have spread to obscure many of the ferns that are also present. We have therefore been working, to not only remove the weeds, but also curtail the horsetails dominance in this area.

Our major project over the past two months has been to remove as much of the Himalayan balsam, Impatiens glandulifera, as possible from the Garden. Google informs me that Himalayan balsam was introduced, along with giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed, in the early 19 th century. The three species were advertised as having ‘Herculean proportions’ and ‘splendid invasiveness’. The seeds were relatively cheap, certainly when compared to more exotic plants such as orchids, and widely planted by gardeners wanting something new and unusual to impress their friends and neighbours. However, within a few years the plants had escaped from the confines of people’s gardens and quickly spread. All three species found the water courses, the streams and riverbanks, of the UK an ideal habitat. Himalayan balsam is now regarded as an Invasive Alien Species throughout Europe and North America outcompeting native species and causing erosion of riverbanks.

Working with Peter and his team, and augmented by many Friends not normally part of the Volunteering group, we worked over a number of days. It only took a short while to get our eyes in, the number of plants found far exceeded our earlier expectations. Pulling the plants, roots and all, before they set seed ensures that both this, and the next generation, were removed from the Garden. Large piles of this invasive plant quickly accumulated on the paths surrounding the meadow, to be picked up by the Gaitor truck for disposal off site. Areas tackled included the side of the Cherry Circle, where we had made some progress in eradicating this weed last year, the American arboretum and appropriately the Himalayan dell. No doubt some will have escaped our attention but the presence of Himalayan balsam within the Garden has, for the time being, been severely curtailed.

Towards the end of the month there was another visit by the Northumberland in Bloom judges. Again, the Volunteers were on hand to tidy the garden and provide a presence during the judges visit. We trust they found the Garden as impressive as usual on their visits.

Alex Taylor.