A sad farewell to George

The Preston Manor Walled Garden volunteers were very sad indeed to say goodbye to Garden Manager George Harris who retired a couple of weeks ago after around 20 years of looking after the north end of the park.

Many people will remember having a friendly chat with him as he worked in the area. His remit was the Walled Garden, the manor’s kitchen garden, the area outside the front of the manor, the Coronation Garden and its wild pond, the manor’s croquet lawn, the churchyard of St Peter’s as well as working elsewhere when he was needed.

George’s knowledge of plants and their care is extraordinary – he is the consummate expert and will be badly missed for that alone. But he was a joy to work for, we all loved his company. Thank you George!

Volunteer gardeners, the Walled Garden

Amsterdam plants a piece of the Preston Twins

In 2007, a Dutch nurseryman started what would be a series of frequent visits to this city in order to propagate some of the most outstanding elms in our city. His name is Ronnie Nijboer and he is one of the co-owners of a large nursery in eastern Holland, near the town of Groningen.

On his first visit he was shown a few sites in the city by Alister Peters, previously Arborist for the city (you may remember seeing Alister present at a Friends of Preston Park AGM). Ronnie was accompanied by his assistant Koos and they collected small, 30cm long cuttings in bundles for propagating at their Noordplant Nurseries in Holland.

Koos adjusting long arm secateurs to prune off a cutting for Noordplant propagation back in Holland in 2007. Koos is with Alister Peters, then Brighton & Hove City Council Arborist

One of the cuttings they took came from what was the larger of the two Preston Twins which, after its horrifying branch drop, was now the smaller of the two trees, as the gaping hole left from the tree wound removed 40cm from its girth circumference. Sadly, this tree has now been diagnosed with Elm Disease.

Koos, in 2007, removing the cutting for Noordplant from what was then the champion Preston Twin, English elm (Ulmus procera) in Europe

The cutting was taken back to Groningen where it was grafted onto a root stock of Ulmus minor (Field elm). Ronnie’s excellent grafting methods meant that many cuttings he has taken (sometimes with and sometimes without Koos) have been propagated into sizeable saplings, some of which have ended up in tree collections in Europe, some in streets and parks in Amsterdam and a few returned for planting here.

The cutting from the Preston Twin became a striking 3m tall sapling with a girth of around 40cm in diameter. It was acquired by Amsterdam City Council for a farewell ceremony for one of their Elm Disease Tree Officers, Debora, on November 9th 2017, and planted on November 30th 2017 on a grass verge, alongside the Bernard Zweerskade, opposite Rossinistraat in Amsterdam. The tree is visible on Google Maps Street View.

Debora admiring the rapidly-grown Preston Twin cutting on the day of presentation, November 9th 2017
Debora with her tree after planting at the end of November, 2017 along the Bernard Zweerskade, opposite Rossinistraat, Amsterdam, Holland

On the same day, a Belgian elm (Ulmus x hollandica ‘Belgica’) was also planted by the City Council of Amsterdam, making a rather symbolic gesture of unity with Brighton and Hove. Amsterdam City Council is very keen on twinning Brighton and Hove with their city and the idea is already in the pipeline here.

Ronnie is still collecting cuttings from trees here and as I already said he has returned some as saplings for later planting here in the city. Some of our elms are extremely rare worldwide and Preston Park is one of the show pieces of the collection. In all there are 120 sites in Brighton and Hove which show rare and endangered elms with a population of over 40,000 trees.

Ronnie has stated in his recent email to me that “In my opinion it is important to rejuvenate the Brighton and Hove elm collection. The City has many magnificent specimens of rare elm types and historic elm clones.”

In 2010 and 2011, experts from Holland, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy visited elms in Preston Park and elsewhere in the city area and stated the importance of our collection both nationally and to the international community. Ronnie wishes, like myself, to see a continuing propagation of our elms for future generations.

Peter Bourne, National Elm Collection Volunteer Curator, Brighton and Hove, UK

A sad announcement

One of the beautiful Preston Twins – that’s the one which was damaged a few years ago – has elm disease. It seems that age and the damage has made it susceptible to infection. So, very sadly, after over 400 years of giving leafy pleasure, the tree will be felled.

We had all hoped that the tree would recover, and it seemed like it was thriving – but the elm beetle got in anyway.

Trenches are currently being dug to protect the remaining twin and the other two, smaller elms from infection …

Welcome to The Sussex Peasant

Many of you will have noticed the arrival of The Sussex Peasant on Saturdays from 9 to 4 near the North car park. They sell produce that is sourced exclusively from Sussex. As they say on their website, ‘Our farming is sustainable, our food is traceable, our approach is socially and environmentally minded.’ Can’t be bad.

A peek inside the Walled Garden

You probably know the walled garden, tucked away as it is at the north end of Preston Park. You’ll know that it is a very special place, full of gorgeous plants. It is lovingly cared for throughout the year by George Harris who is helped by Clare Hughes.

But did you know that the site itself – the original church and surrounding buildings – has a history going back more than 1000 years? The walled garden is first recorded in an image dated 1617. You can see that the layout is more-or-less how it is today, a parterre style which was popular in the 1500’s.

The walls to the south, east and north of the garden date from the 16th century and are listed.

The current gardens were designed by the Stanfords, who owned and resided at Preston Manor. They also had a villa in Madeira and were very interested in plants. They arranged for plants to be brought over from Madeira and replanted in the walled garden. Which is why the garden has a vaguely exotic feel and is home to some interesting and unusual plants and shrubs.

When the garden was bequeathed by the Stanfords to Brighton Corporation (as it then was) in 1933 it was with the stipulation that the garden should not be altered from how it was when the last Stanford – Ellen – died. Since then care has been taken to ensure that any plants introduced to the garden are historically accurate. It has been said that the ‘ebullient, informal planting . . . is distinctly Edwardian. .’

The garden used to be a bit bigger than you see it today, with more lily pond installation. The London to Brighton road was widened in the 1882 and 1972 which meant that the western wall was rebuilt to accommodate the new road.

About 20 years’ ago the garden was awarded Heritage Lottery funding. It was repaired and restored, and the role of chief gardener established.

On Saturday 22 June you’ll be very welcome to take a closer look at the garden and speak to the volunteers who, every Tuesday morning, work alongside George to help care for this wonderful space.

The poignant pet cemetery

Thanks to Sue Shepherd for this post

Polina and friends – at the Preston Village Open Day

Polina and friends, on flute and strings, will be performing for us at the Preston Village Open Day on 22nd June in the walled garden of Preston Manor. Do come along to hear them play and to sample the many other attractions for the day.

Polina Loubnina is a flute player originally from Siberia, who has performed in numerous theatre productions in Saint Petersburg, lectured music in Namibia, where she lived for 20 years, and recorded a number of tracks for various artists in diverse genres of music -African, traditional, classic and contemporary experimental. She is mostly known for her lead in the world music scene through internationally acclaimed band Elemotho (see Elemotho.youtube), headlining at WOMAD in the UK in 2013. She now lives in Brighton where she continues to work on a wide variety of projects. She also teaches flute.