Thursday 19 February 2015

Little soldiers in a row...

... what am I saying, elders, little elders in a row.

Starting on a sunny morning and ending with the afternoon rains, we spent the whole day making treecircles around the little elders in between the fan borders. These Sambucus nigra (and S. nigra f. porphyrophylla, the purple-leaved form) plants, some 30 - two each of a cultivar, have been in place for a while now, but have not thrived. They started off as weaklings, and risked to end up in the compost heap a couple of times, as the very sandy soil on that particular strip of land even with the occasional mulch has meant that watering was never enough and the plants never really took off.

But the arrival of a new colleague to take care of them, means that they have been given another chance: they were protected with tree guards and now it's the turn of grass free circles that will be kept mulched, to increase the organic matter in the soil and ensure better retention of water around the roots.

I had not done tree circles since Kew (when it gave me the opportunity to observe trees from up close, like the collections of Fraxinus and Aesculus) and had never done them around tiny shrubs that did not have a stem to circle around, but my colleague had a plan. Because this particular row of plants is very straight and very long, the circled needed to be all aligned to avoid an unpleasant aesthetic effect.

At Kew, where tree circling is part of the arboretum's regular maintenance, they used an ingenious round wooden plank, that split in two halves; you could walk on it minimising the smudging of edges. In the Fruit team here there's no such regular need to do circles, so there's no special gadget to help and we used a lenght of pipe as a template, and string lines to keep the circles aligned.

Preparing to start

As the wind rose at about lunchtime, we had an opportunity to observe how quickly the newly exposed soil dried up. There were however plenty of earthworms, which is a good sign. Most of the elders were putting out leaves, which I had already seen in the Cottage Garden; but some had flower buds already visible and half open, which seemed rather early, so we snipped them off to let the plants concentrate on their growth rather than fruiting.

View of the cicles from both sides - work in progress

At the end of the day only a handful of circle was left, and we were pleased to have come that far.

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