Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Re-thatching of the Ice House has started!

Work starts on the Ice House
On Monday Andrew Raffle started work on re-thatching the Ice House that we have in the garden at Scotney.  For those people who have never been to Scotney before I will tell you a little bit about it....

What is an Ice House?   
Basically Ice Houses were fashionable during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries before the invention of the refrigerator. Ice was collected from the moat during the winter months and stored inside the brick chamber. Due to the excellent insulation qualities of the Ice House, ice could be stored for up to a year, any ice that melted during this time would drain away out of a hole built into the bottom of the chamber. 

What was the ice used for?
The ice would then have been used during the summer months for cooling drinks and making cool deserts such as ice cream.

When was the Ice House at Scotney built?
The Ice House was built during 1839, approximately the same time the New House was being constructed and the picturesque garden was being laid out.

How was the Ice House built?
Brick was used to line the main chamber of the Ice House, timber used to construct the frame, and heather  was harvested locally to thatch the roof. It was then lined with a 1ft thick layer of straw to help insulate the chamber.

Why does the Ice House need re thatching?
Heather thatch lasts for apporximately 20 years before it gets to the point where it turns brittle and starts to compost down and is no longer waterproof. Any rainwater will then slowly seep through the heather and get inside the building and will eventually start to rot the timbers inside. Our Ice House was last re thatched in the 1980 and has now got to the point where the heather is no longer keeping the wind and the rain out of the building. 

What work are we doing to the Ice House?
The first job that Andrew had to do was remove the chicken wire that was around the Ice House and held the exisitng heather in place, he then removed the worst of the outer layer of thatch that had turned into twigs and dust.

He could then assess the condition of the roof and work out the next plan of action, you can see in the photo to the right some of the thatch that needed to be removed.   

Andrew also cleared around the base of the Ice House and discovered a brick edge around the building where the thatch was in contact with the ground. This is something that we will keep clear of weeds and grass in the future as it will help prolong the condition of the heather. 

The next step was the remove the finial which is the wooden post at the top of the Ice House. This is quite exposed and has taken quite a bit of damage over the years so Rick our Handyman had the honour of climbing the ladder to the top of the roof and removing the finial so we can measure it and get an identical one made out of oak.

Rick removing the Finial  

The finial had to be cut off with a saw as it is secured to the Ice House on the inside which would have meant removing all of  the thatch at the top as it goes through the roof and into the frame of the building.

Unfortunately for Rick it was quite a windy day and the sawdust was blowing in his face. With all the noise coming from Rick at the top of the ladder it sounded like he was auditioning for the X-Factor!

Once the replacement finial has been made we have a plan for re-attaching it so that if we ever have to take it off in the future it will be a lot easier.


Thatch being laid onto the roof
Once the finial was removed Andrew started on the re thatching of the Ice House which is really exciting to see. 
The bales of thatch are carefully positioned on the roof on top of the existing thatch and pegged down using the wooden pegs that Andrew had already made up.

Pegs to secure the heather to the roof

Andrew will be writing a more in-depth article for us on the whole process of thatching the Ice House once he has finished his work which will be much more informative than my brief guide to so keep checking the blog over the next few weeks to find out more, or even better, come to Scotney this weekend for our Christmas Carols & Victorian Carousel event and have a look in the garden to see the Ice House for yourself, how often do you get the oportunity to see a building being re thatched!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Recent photographs and quotes

New photographs

Ian Makin, of our visitors to Scotney Castle on the 20th November, has taken some amazing photographs of the garden and has kindly sent them to us so we can show them on this Blog. The first photograph is of the Camelia sasanqua at the front of the New House which is still flowering and looks so beautiful.

 Camelia sasanqua at the front of the New House

The second photograph is of the terrace side of the New House and shows off the sandstone of the house with the blue sky behind. 

New House and Terrace
The third photograph is of  Acer capillipes , commonly known as the Snake-Bark maple which has streaked green and white arching branches and mid green leaves which turn red in th e autumn.
Acer capillipes on Top Walk
The next photo is of the Old Castle taken from the main lawn and shows the Ashburnham tower reflected in the moat. Autumn and Spring are a good time to see the reflections in the water before the water lillies and algae start to appear.
Reflections in the Moat

Looking accross the moat to the Main Lawn
 The last photo is beautiful as it shows a Liquidambar leaf amongst fallen Beech Leaves.

Liquidamabar leaf amongst Beech leaves

A huge thank you to Ian for sending in the photographs for the blog, it's nice to see how people view the garden at Scotney and at this time of year every day is different, the light may be very vibrant, it may be a misty day , or it may be grey and overcast, so if you have any interesting photographs then please send them to me at

Quotes from the Garden....

"Tranquil, great light for photos, neat and tidy a lovely day all round, still lots of flowers and plants like Rhododendrons in full bud - amazing!"

"The garden was beautiful, The colours of the leaves Fantastic, The Cameila at the front beautiful."

"Beautiful colours! Picture perfect"

"Lovely scenery, Spectacular Trees, Amazing plant variety, Interesting Ruins, Glad you are cutting back the Rhododendron!"



Sunday, 27 November 2011

Can it really be almost December?

After a windy and rainy start, today has turned out to be beautiful. Hardly a cloud in the sky, and that lovely golden sunshine you only get in the Autumn. Although most of the trees that provide the most dazzling autumn display are over there is still plenty of colour around. The beech trees are still holding onto quite alot of their leaves, the green-gold now turning more to orange browns, and the English Oaks (Quercus robur), always one of the last deciduous trees to lose their leaves, are now coming into their own. While the English Oaks don't show off like some of their American cousins, the rich yellows and rusty browns of the leaves have real warmth and in the late afternoon Autumn sunlight they can give the Scarlet and Red Oaks of this world a run for their money! Here are some photos taken today in the garden.

To start with a shot of one of the English or Pedunculate Oaks at the top of the Quarry.

Of course, the wonderful thing about trees is that they're interesting whatever the season.  The fall of the leaves reveals the extraordinary architecture that they have. Each species has its own distinct shape and form which can be as recognisable from a distance as the shape and colour of the leaves.  For instance, the next photo shows one of the grandest trees in the garden, the London Plane (Platanus x hispanica). The boughs and branches have a sinuously undulating and slightly drooping character. The lack of foliage also throws attention onto the beautiful patchwork bark of this tree (unfortunately too distant to be seen in this picture).

Some trees and shrubs are grown specifically for the show they give when the leaves have dropped. This is true of the Salix alba var. vitellina 'Britzensis' (see below) with its bright orange stems. It's the young shoots that have the intensest colour, so each year in spring the previous season's growth is removed so that it can be replaced by new growth that will provide the following autumn and winter's show of colour.

The leaves also continue to provide interest once they've fallen from the trees. Below is an image of the sun shining through some oak leaves on the Woodland Path.

And here oak, beech and willow leaves mingle on and under the surface of the moat.

Finally, there are still flowers out around the garden. Some are flowering, for instance a few of the rhododendrons, because they are confused by the warm weather. But others, such as the Viburnum tinus on the Terrace are winter-flowering shrubs and are just coming into their own.

Next to the viburnum is a mophead Hydrangea, the flowerheads of which are still hanging onto their beautiful colours.

So there's still lots of interest in the garden to make a weekend visit before Christmas worthwhile.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Rhododendron pruning

Beautiful Camelia 

One of the most striking shrubs that is flowering at the moment is this beautiful Camelia sasanqua which is outside the front porch of the New House. This Camelia is a small tree which is approximately 20ft high and has an absolutely amazing scent to it which started flowering several weeks ago and will continue to flower until late autumn to early winter. If you are going into the garden this weekend stop and take a wander over to it, the smell is amazing!

Clearance work along the Main Drive

 Oak trees underplanted with Rhododendron prior to pruning
Winter is a busy time at Scotney and we try to take advantage of being closed during the week to get some of the larger, noisy and  disruptive jobs completed whilst there are fewer people around.

One of the main projects this winter is to clear sections of the overgrown Rhododendron ponticum and to thin out the self-seeded Birch that have started to take over. This will give extra light into the drive and be more inviting for our visitors, but also highlight the magnificent Oak and Beech trees that we have growing along the drive.

We have had to be very careful as to where we are carrying out the pruning and also how much Rhododendron and Birch  we can take down as there are several Dormouse boxes attached to the trees all along the drive and as they are now breeding along this stretch of drive we want to make sure that we don't disturb their boxes or the surrounding habitat.

Recently pruned Rhododendron
Once the Rhododendron has been reduced in height it will keep pruned to a manageable height so that it will give the appearance of a low growing carpet as in the picture above. This is an area that was pruned two years ago and was recently lightly pruned on Monday. 

Hilary, Julie and Luke chipping the Rhododendron and Birch Trees

Once the material had been pruned it was then chipped and the chippings spread back on to the Rhododendron to act as a mulch. Hilary, Julie and Luke, who are all Scotney volunteers, have had a great day using the chipper, it's quite a satisfying feeling putting the material through the chipper and realising just how much material you can get through in one day.

A huge thanks to the volunteers who have helped out this week with the clearance work on the drive, without you guys we wouldn't have made so much progress!

The chickens have arrived

 We have chickens!

The chickens arriving

Well a lot has happened since our last post, we have been so busy we haven't had chance to add any news from the Walled Garden but Tuesday was a great day for us, we took delivery of our chickens.

Ben from Hen House Poultry ( came over and delivered 17 Hens, 1 Cockerel, the coop, feeders and bedding and gave us some advice on what we needed to do to ensure that our birds are happy and healthy and gave us general tips on looking after chickens. While he was here he clipped the wings of our chickens to make sure that they won't escape from the chicken run, the last thing we need are chickens eating all of our vegetables!

Anthony getting a lesson on clipping chickens wings

Two Suffolk Blacktails taking a drink

We have got several different variety of chickens so its going to be a bit of a challenge to learn how to identify them but I do know that we have....

2x Mendlesham Ranger
2x Mendlesham Blue
2x Fenning Black
2x Fenning Sussex
2x Pied Suffolk
2x Suffolk Blacktail
2x Fenning Cou Cou
2x Coral Nick
1x Mendlesham Amber

For the first 24 hours we kept the chickens in their coop to get them acclimatised to being in their run and they were let out for the first time on Wednesday morning. Slowly they all emerged and have spent the past two days getting used to their surrounding and each other.
Fenning Cou Cou
We have chose a selection on hens, some a prolific layers that we should get quite a few eggs from and some have been chosen because of their appearance and character. So far they all seem to be getting on together, there is a little pecking but nothing to major.

We hope that the hens will start laying in the next few weeks, we will keep you informed of any progress and let you know when the first egg is laid.

Our beutiful Cockerell

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Why did the chicken cross the road..? To get to Scotney Castle

 The chickens have arrived

Today Anthony took delivery of the chickens for the Walled Garden which was rewarding to see after all the hard work he and the team have put in to building the chicken run. 

Ben from Hen House Poultry which is up in Teston near Maidstone ( brought over the 17 Hens and 1 Cockerel, Chicken Coop, Feed, Water Troughs and Bedding and then helped Anthony to build the coop and gave him a lesson in looking after the birds and generally advice on good hen husbandry.

The varieties that Ben has supplied us are as follows.....

Mendlesham Ranger
Mendlesham Blue
Fenning Black
Fenning Sussex
Pied Suffolk
Suffolk Blacktail
Fenning Cou Cou
Coral Nick
Mendlesham Amber


The chickens arriving at Scotney

Once the coop was built Ben took each chicken out in turn, clipped their wings, and gave each bird a check to make sure that they were healthy before placing them insidet he coop where they will stay until tomorrow morning when they will be ready to be released into the rest of the chicken run. Keeping them inside will help them to get acclimatised to their surrounding and reduces their stress levels of being in a new environment. 

Ben clipping the chickens wings

We all can't wait until tomorrow morning when we can open the coop door and have a good look at the birds in their new home, then the fun starts of naming the birds!

We will keep you informed on the progress of the birds and I will put up a few more pictures over the next few days to try and show you the different varieties but bear with us as it may take us a few days to learn which one is which!

The Walled Garden is open at weekend so if you do want to have a look at our new staff members then come and have a look.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Fungi mystery solved

Good news.....we have solved the mystery fungi that I put up on the blog yesterday!

Beefsteak Fungus

After reading several books and scouring the internet we have identified the mystery fungus on the Oak Tree as Fistulina hepatica, or as it's more commonly known Beefsteak Fungus. It is called Beefsteak Fungus due to the fact that it looks like raw meat and when it's cut open or prodded it "bleeds."

Beefsteak Fungus is classed as an edible species although I have never tried it as it's always hit and miss as to which fungi are the poisonous ones and which one can be eaten, but I have been told that it doesn't taste like beef and is rather tough and bitter.

Fistulina hepatica is an annual fungi that is usually found around the base of living Oaks and Sweet Chestnut Trees during the autumn when the weather can be mild and damp which is why our Fungus has appeared over the past week or two. They can grow to around 10-25cm across and be up to 6cm thick. 

The Beefsteak Fungus is an indication that the is internal decay occuring inside the tree which over time can weaken the tree and cause it to become damaged in high winds. This will mean that because we know the tree has potential problems and is in a prominent position within the garden we will carry out an asessments on it every 6 months to assess the condition of it and do all we can to ensure that is safe.

Quotes of the weekend...
Pat who is one of our Garden Guides has collected several comment cards from our visitors in the garden today so I thought I would share a few with you.....

"Very very good, the kids loved it"

"This is a delightful garden, beautifully kept. Thank you"

"What a Joy! Perfect garden, Wonderful Weather,so great to enjoy all the hard work without doing any ourselves!"

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Tree of the Month - Liriodendron tulipifera (Tulip Tree)

The Tulip Tree in Autumn
Our Tree of the Month for November has to be the Liriodendron tulipifera, or Tulip Tree as it is commonly known,  and can be found at the bottom of the Kilndown Walk. This is one of our most eye catching trees due to its sheer size and location in the garden and during the autumn months it certainly stands out.

The Tulip Tree is native to the eastern side of North America and was introduced to England in 1688. It gets it's common name from both the shape of the leaves and  the flowers which resemble the shape of tulip petals.

The leaves are about 5 inches wide and are a beautiful rich-green colour in the summer months, turning a buttery-yellow in the autumn.

Tulip Trees can grow to quite a height, some are recorded at over 35m high in England, but they can grow to over 50m in their native North America.  They often have a straight trunk covered in pale grey bark which is furrowed and will turn a reddy-bronze colour as the tree ages in time. Due to their straight trunks they were once used by the natives of  North America  for building canoes, the tree was felled, the trunk hollowed out and then they had a perfect canoe which often held up to 20 people, and because of this these trees  were often referred to as "Canoe wood."

Buttery-yellow leaves shaped like a tulip

Tulip tree during the summer

The flowers of the Tulip Tree, shown below, are are green-and-orange, approximately 2 inches long and are abundant from June onwards but tend to be lost in the foliage so you often have to look hard for them. Once thistree has finished flowering the biscuit-brown seed heads are left to be present throughout the winter months.

Beautiful cream coloured
tulip shaped flowers

We have several Tulip Trees around the gardens at Scotney, from very young ones which have not yet produced flowers (they often have to be at least 15 years old to produce flowers) to our impressive specimen trees which are over 50 years old. Next time you visit Scotney see how many of these Tulip Trees you can spot, they really are beautiful trees!

What's red and grows out of Oak Trees..?

 It came from outer space..!

A very strange fungus growing out of one of our Oak trees
Well maybe not from outer space but one thing that has intrigued us this past week is this very strange fungi that has appeared from one of the oak trees in the garden.
The fungi has slowly appeared from an old pruning cut and it has a very strange appearance and when you touch it is oozes a sticky liquid. This is something that has us all a bit puzzled so we are going to do our best to identify it and see what damage, if any, it will do the the tree. We will let you know what it is as soon as we find out.

The Grass is growing

What a relief, grass is starting to appear!
I am relieved to see the wild grass seed that was sown a few weeks ago where the Larch Bed used to be has taken and is starting to germinate. 

I was a little worried that we had left it too late in the season too start sowing seed but I think the mild and damp weather has been on our side and has helped the seed to get established. 

I am hoping that we have sown enough seed to cover this area and that it will all germinate, if not then we will sow some more seed in the spring next year. This wild grassed area should give us a new area of the garden that we can manage for wildilfe and hopefully bring us greater diversity within the garden, even if some of mix contained dandelions!

Saturday morning stroll

One of my favourite views at Scotney
Before opening the garden this morning I went for a walk around to check all was okay and to see what changes there have been over the past few days. Most of the autumn colour has now gone, a combination of the wind and rain has cause it to fall to the ground which not only forms a beautiful colourful carpet underneath the trees and shrubs but also means that new views are opened up around the garden which have previously been hidden by the leaves. 

One view that I particularly like is of the Old Castle from the southern end of the garden where we put in the wood chip path last winter. 
From here you get a lovely view through the Rhododendrons and over the Chinese bridge and you get the Castle reflected in the water.  They certainly knew what they were doing when they started to lay the garden out in the 1840's!

This is also an excellent spot to watch the birds flying around and feeding and this morning I was lucky to spot our resident Kingfisher sat on the edge of the path.

Autumn Interest
There is still plenty to see around the garden at this time of year, some of the more interesting shrubs that were flowering this moring include this beautiful Euonymus alatus,which we have growing along the Top Walk towards the Ice House.

This is a deciduous shrub with striking red leaves in the autumn and produces reddish purple fruits but it is more comomonly identified by it's very unusual shoots which have corky ridges running along them, hence the common name, Winged Spindle. The latin word alatus also means winged.
Euonymus alatus, or Winged Spindle.

Another interesting shrub for autum interest is the Cotinus coggygria, also known as the Smoke Bush or the Venetian Sumach. These produce green leaves during the summer months and turn a beautiful dark crimson red in the autumn. and the flowers are clustered in a large open terminal panicles 15-30 cm long with a fluffy grayish-buff appearance resembling a cloud of smoke over the plant, from which the name derives.

Cotinus coggygria leaves
Cotinus goggygria is part of our Red Border

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Thatch for the Ice House has arrived!

Today Andrew Raffle the Thatcher who is going to re thatch the Ice House delivered the first load of heather that he is going to use. It was great to see the heather arrive and it was quite a sight to see him drive into the car park with the heather piled up high on the back of his van. 

Andrew has been cutting the heather from a National Trust Property called Witley Common over towards Godalming in Surrey for the past two days and brought us over about a third of what we require in total. The plan is for Andrew to spend another few days cutting more heather and then the re thatching will start in a few weeks time, I will keep you posted with the progress.

Thank you to all who bought raffle tickets and books from our second hand book stall,  this has helped to make the restoration of the Ice House possible and without you we couldn't have done it!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Getting in the Moat

Julie and Dave removing the vegetation 

Clearing the edges of the Moat

The moat is an integral part of the picturesque garden at Scotney and it has been unaltered since the mid eighteenth century and has a high archaeological, historical, and nature conservation significance to the garden.

To ensure that the moat is kept to the standard that we require part of the annual maintenance for the moat is to cut back the vegetation around the edges which is done every year during the autumn months.

The main reasons for clearing the vegetation is to stop the plants from taking over the banks of the moat and restricting the flow of the water, and also by removing the dying leaves improves the appearance of the moat.

To carry out the clearing work we have to drop the water level of the moat which we can control by opening and closing sluice gates on the eastern and western sides of the garden. Once the level is dropped, the guys put on their waders or wellies and climb into the moat with a strimmer and cut the vegetation down.

The vegetation has been growing along the edges of the moat for so long now that it has formed a solid carpet of roots that can be walked along which makes it easier for clearing along.

The vegetation is then left in situ at the side of the moat for a few days to allow any wildlife that might have been accidentally removed from the moat to be able to get back into the water again.

The clearance work should take us another few days to complete but we try to get it completed before the weather turns and the moats starts to get cold and icy.

Autumn Colour is stil looking good

Scotney is well know for it's spring interest with the Rhododendrons and Azaleas but what a lot of people forget is that Scotney is amazing for the autumn colour.

The photos above are just a few of what was of interest this morning, the first picture showns the Tulip Tree on the Queen Mother's Lawn with a small Nyssa turning red next to it and the photo below is of the garden from the edge of the Quarry. I will post some more pictures up later this week of more autumn interest.

The gardens are now closed during the week but you can still visit us every weekend up until Christmas to see the work that we do over the winter months, but keep checking the blog as we will update this on a regular basis.