It’s been a lovely week here on the Skyline and at Prior Park. It feels like spring is beginning to peak its head a little early, which is somewhat unsettling, but one can’t help enjoying the warm sunshine and the early flowering daffodils.
I have been working with the gardening team at Prior Park Landscape Garden in Bath. This garden was part of Ralph Allen’s estate – an 18th century entrepreneur and philanthropist who earned his fortune through founding the postal service – and was donated to the National Trust by Prior Park College who own the mansion-house at the top of the garden. On Tuesday, I joined Alice the gardener and her team of volunteers in some path maintenance along the bank of the lake. While the lads rebuilt the wooden revetment, Alice and I resurfaced a stretch of path that had become waterlogged due to insufficient drainage. I spent some time using a mattock to dig out the old surface hoggin (a mixture of clay gravel and sand) and a couple of inches the dense clay below before refilling it with a layer of rocks. We then lay a sheet of membrane fabric between the rocks and the new surface of hoggin to stop the finer hoggin from just falling through the rocks. The gardeners are a lovely bunch and it was great to get some experience in path building.
It has been the half term holidays this week which means I got to take part in hosting my first Wild Wednesday! We had all sorts of winter wildlife activities for kids to come and get involved with. Unfortunately it poured with rain for most of the day but while we weren’t out hunting for wildlife and collecting animal track stamps from around the Woodland Play Area we were huddled under the gazebo making bird feeders out of toilet roll tubes, honey and bird seed and painting birds and trees with our fingers. The kids were unperturbed by the rain, everyone eager to get involved in all of the activities, including those that meant leaving the protection of the gazebo. And it was equally admirable that so many parents were willing to endure the weather for the sake of the children being able to utilise the outdoors as an exciting learning environment. Much fun was had by all!
Friday was another day spent at Prior Park, which is where we share office space with the gardening team. It was so lovely outdoors that none of us wanted to be in the office. Thankfully, Tabi needed to go pond dipping to collect data for a course project; so we were able to distract ourselves from office work by taking a walk up to the serpentine pond at the top of the garden to discover which little creatures are residing there.
It is quite astonishing how much life you can find in such a small area of pond! And we were only seeing the organisms big enough to catch in our net. When you really stop to take a proper look, the world is a much busier place than one might initially perceive.
We found plants and animals from a wide range of different taxa including all sorts of pond weeds and algae, fresh water snails, annelid worms, shrimp, insects, frogs (and lots of frogspawn) and fish. I’ve picked out a few of my favourite finds that you can see in the pictures below.
There is also a kingfisher that feeds at this pond and, as Rachel had promised, it was there sitting on the stonework around the pond, intermittently diving down and plucking fish from the water, its iridescent blue flashing in the sunlight.
When we were done, we walked back around the other side of the lake to that which we had come as I had not come this far around before and over the Palladian bridge which still has the wicker hearts hanging between the pillars. The garden is stunning, especially in the sunshine. The long-term aim of the gardeners is to recreate the garden as it was before 1764 when Ralph Allen was still alive. There are very few herbaceous flower species, only those that grow naturally here such as snowdrops and wild daffodils. The garden primarily hosts native green shrubs and trees (or species that were present in the UK before 1764 at least) which gives it a very natural feel.
In the afternoon, I started decorating one of the fairy doors we’ve been making over the last couple of weeks with a pyrography pen. I got so involved in it I didn’t want to leave – but finishing the door will have to wait for another time…