The purpose of a wassail is to awake the apple trees and to scare away any evil spirits so that (hopefully) we will have a good harvest of fruit in the autumn. The health the trees is ‘toasted’ using a bottle of apple juice and cider. On this occasion the attending princes and princesses (children) soaked toast in cider and placed these amongst the boughs of the orchard trees.
The wassail concludes with a lot of noise such as firing guns (or in our case party poppers) into the trees and banging on pots and pans to ward off bad spirits from the orchard and encourage the good spirits to provide a bountiful crop for the following year. Trust me it’s a lot of fun so do pop a note in your diaries for 2016 and next years gathering.
Nothing quite signals spring like the appearance of snowdrops and daffodils. Our snowdrops carpet many areas of the gardens having multiplied many fold over the last few years. Sharply on their heels some daffodils bloomed last week with more colourful heads popping up around the gardens by the day.
Author: Alan Parfitt (Volunteer garden guide)
It is well into winter now and the hustle and bustle of gentler seasons is a distant memory. The number of visitors we get varies much with the weather. On a winter’s day when its cold, windy and overcast, visitors often enjoy a brisk walk to the woods followed by the discovery of the house, shop or cafe; a few hardy souls do join us occasionally for garden tours even in this weather. For the most part I wonder lonely as a garden guide on our quieter days.
There is always plenty to do in between conducting tours. I walk the estate making sure our visitors feel welcome, answering questions, helping lost souls struggling with a map, watching out for possible problems, checking the chickens and ensuring any children playing with the toys within the walled garden and our Hidden Realm are enjoying their time with us.
The gardens and lakes have obvious charms when the sun is shining. However even on a cold day I take in the beauty of the bare trees and shrubs with their wonderful architecture exposed, standing about the green sward of the grounds. The weeping willows, leafless now, drape more delicately down to the water round the lake; the mighty cypresses stand proud in their green mantle either side of the north lawn.
It is magical to see the gardens gradually change throughout the seasons and at this time, rain or shine, the snowdrops, the first awakening of the year, excite us with their promise of the spring. Visitors come to stretch their legs and embrace the beauty of the gardens. Young mums bring their little charges to run, chat, play and have adventure with our ride-on toys. Young and old hold hands as they wander through The Vyne, a special and peaceful place to enjoy for everyone.
Koelreuteria paniculata (Golden Rain Tree) also known as Pride of India has graced the Summer garden for many years. In spring the leaves are pinkish, turning a wonderful glowing yellow/orange in autumn. The high winds this winter proved a little too much and lead to the trunk being sheared off at it’s base.
It is a sad loss and I’m sure our regular and local visitors will miss the fabulous colour and spectacle it provided to this part of our gardens.
Although there is damage to the Yew hedge as you can see in the bottom left image, this will quickly grow back and fill in over the course of the coming season.
This time of year the out-doors team have their hands full with a myriad of projects all standing in line for their attention. One such is the path and alders that border the north wall of our walled garden. As you can see below the alder (Alnus glutinosa) trees have been removed and the path renovated. The aim here is to protect the banking to the brook and also to ensure the tree roots do not damage the footings of the wall that encloses the vegetable and fruit garden.
For those of you who enjoy walking our grounds this will mean improved views of the lake and it’s many inhabitants, carp and water fowl.
Interesting fact: alder is noted for its important symbiotic relationship with a nitrogen-fixing bacterium called Frankia alni. The bacterium is found in the root nodules and absorbs nitrogen from the air and makes it available to the tree. In turn, alder provides the bacterium with sugars, which it produces through photosynthesis.
This mutually beneficial relationship improves the fertility of the soil where the alder grows, and as a pioneer species, it helps provide additional nitrogen for the successional species which follow.
Author: James Miekle (Amateur photographer and wildlife enthusiast)
You will be very unlucky to leave The Vyne without seeing a Mallard. They are found all year on both the ornamental and the watermeadow lakes.
In Britain the Mallard is a very familiar duck; found on park lakes and on small ponds it is one of the first birds that children encounter because of its ready association with people and liking for being fed. It is however a record holder.
It is the world’s most widespread duck – happy to live close to people in towns but also inhabiting both fresh and salt water in some of the wildest and most remote parts of the world. It is to be found in Europe, North Africa, Asia and North America and has even persuaded us to take it to Australia and New Zealand.
Ability to recognise a Mallard is important for bird watching beginners because it is the key to recognising other types of duck. The handsome drake (male) has an iridescent green-blue head; the duck (female) is brown and quite plain.
The Mallard is a ‘dabbling’ duck. It can dive if it wants to but mainly remains on the surface, ‘up-ending’ to get food from underwater.
In winter, large numbers of Mallard come to Britain from Northern and Eastern Europe as well as from Iceland, before returning in the spring. So the Mallard you see dabbling at the Vyne during the winter may be well travelled.
It has the reputation of nesting in unusual places, often some distance from water. I knew someone who lived near the top of a city–centre, high-rise building who complained bitterly of being kept awake by the Mallard family outside his window.
Mallards breed as early as February but late broods are also common. They are a common sight on both the ornamental lake and watermeadow. A clutch consists of 11-14 eggs and although the female and ducklings remain together for several weeks, the very cute young are self-sufficient very soon after hatching. Families are often rapidly depleted through predation – pike, rats, foxes, snakes, herons and birds of prey all take their toll.
In late summer, the drakes moult into what is termed ‘eclipse’ plumage. During this time they look quite like ducks (female) and the moult lasts for several weeks rendering them flightless. Young drakes born earlier in the year also acquire their adult plumage in autumn.
We wish you all a happy and prosperous new year. Resolutions are often made and broken about now so if you haven’t made any yet, why not come and discover the outdoors here at The Vyne, stretch those legs and get some fresh air with the whole family. As a charity we need all the help we can get so why not come and join the National Trust.
There are many opportunities to support your favorite place such as:-
1. Volunteering with us.
2. Joining the National Trust through membership.
3. Simply visiting The Vyne as an existing member contributes £3.65 to help us conserve this special place for future generations.
Did you know we are now open 363 days a year (See The Vyne website) for opening times.
In the meantime we all look forward to seeing you over the coming year.