Happy New Year

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The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, who is the two faced god of the doorway. The faces look to the past old year and to the future new year.  As a Warden; a person in an outdoor profession, the two faces of Janus mean two types of winter weather – mild and wet or cold and dry!

January is often termed the ‘cruellest month’, and no festivities or Bank Holidays to bring light relief during the month.

Although the days have been lengthening since the 22nd December, the natural world has short day lengths and the food supply is short in January.

If we are to have snow this year, then it will most likely to fall and stay in January.

With all the extra food and leisure encountered in the festive season, Lydiard Park is the perfect place to go for a walk and build further appetite for remaining festive faire, or just clear that hangover!

But whatever the reason for getting outdoors, there is plenty to observe, even in a dormant season, as regards vegetation, bird and animal life. However, the year in the natural world is a continuously turning wheel of seasons, and January favours our avian friends, who decide that the U.K. is the place to escape the harsher weather to the North of us.  Redwings, waxwings and fieldfares feast on our hedgerow berries, and stonechats on the farmland can be seen, both who have moved in from harsher environments.  Interestingly, at our sister park, Coate Water Country Park there has been sightings of the rare Berwick’s Swan

Many animals are in hibernation at this time of the year. Amphibians, such as toads, newts and frogs are soundly asleep currently.  Animals such as badgers and hedgehogs can break their hibernation to forage for food during mild spells. We have spotted areas of ground disturbed by badgers in cold weather, whilst they search for worms in the soil.

Despite the seasons being a constantly moving circle, it is easy to think that the trees stand still. However, the hazel is all ready with its catkins hanging yellow against the reddish brown of the branches.  In sheltered areas these catkins are shedding male pollen already.  This time of year sees lichens and ferns thriving – try the St Mary’s churchyard and the North side of the dam wall.

On the ground we now have the famous Lydiard display of snowdrops (Galanthus) just showing their tips that precede the first white blooms. Snowdrops are equipped with thickened armoured tips at the end of its leaves, to allow them to push through a frozen ground. Arum lilies (cuckoo pint) are also starting to show their pioneering leaves.  Also if January turns out mild, a few lesser celandines will be showing their golden yellow blooms soon.

At the start of the month the only common birdsong is the robin, however, later in the month the song thrush starts to declare its territory, as will the blackbird and great tits. Also listen out for the greater spotted woodpecker activities, loudly sounding through the woods.

Finally look out for courtship races amongst the Park’s grey squirrels. The female encourages a chase where keen males pursue the female.  Only the fittest males can keep up and be shown to be eligible mates.  This is fun to watch.

We hope everybody reading this had a Merry Christmas and we wish you all a Happy New Year.

Mark Eborn, Lydiard Park Warden

December is here!

dsc05216With some foreboding we enter the last month of the year, typified by long dark nights and brief days.  December was originally the tenth month of the Roman calendar, hence the Latin ‘Dec.’ December is however, the first month of winter and contains the winter solstice on the 21st, after which ones spirits can be boosted by the lengthening days.  But in our culture, the preparation and preoccupation with our great winter festival of Christmas often means one is conveniently distracted from the low point of the natural world by a profusion of coloured lights and glittering decorations.

Christmas, being primarily to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, or the Nativity, is intimately blended with pre-Christian, pagan traditions. The Roman world celebrated Saturnalia over the Christmas period, which was typified by much feasting, drinking and cross-dressing!  But more relevant to our culture, many of our Christmas traditions come from the pagan solstice festival, known as Yuletide. It is from the Norse and Celtic elements we owe the use of the Christmas tree (Norway Spruce) Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, and other evergreens. Lydiard Park hosts these species, but we are yet to locate any mistletoe.

Fitting in with this long tradition, Lydiard House will be festively adorned with traditional foliage collected from the grounds of Lydiard Park. Lydiard’s Country House Christmas runs from 9th to the 23rd December 2016.

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And if you wish to have a go at natural decorations there is an event at Lydiard on 10th December, entitled, ‘Deck the Halls’. Participants collect the green materials and afterwards produce natural decorations, helped by the Estate and Parkland Team.  This bookable event runs from 10am to 3pm and costs £20, which includes a light lunch, mince pie and a warm drink.

Generally in the countryside, December’s flavour is a bleak time with colour leached from the landscape, although this year the autumn colours were strikingly good and largely stayed on the trees until Storm Angus.  And modern life with its riot of coloured images, merely serve to make December drabber.  But looking at the hedgerows one can spot points of colour, such as the remaining scarlet rose hips, known as heopes in Anglo – Saxon, used in those days as a winter fruit and doubtless helped keeping scurvy at bay. Haws, of a darker red hue persist on the hawthorn trees in our hedgerows. Other red fruits to be seen include the berries on the female Yew trees, in which Lydiard is well represented. Although the hungry birds have been active, some ‘snotty gogs’ or ‘snottle berries’ remain. Please note the seeds within the berries are toxic to humans, although they pass through the bird without problems. Significantly, yew was used to denote a site of pagan worship, with many churches possessing a pre-existing yew tree in the church yard. There are yew specimens whose age predates the birth of Christ. Our yew at Lydiard’s St Mary’s Church is well worth seeking out. It is thought to be some 800 years old, and is a female tree, so in most years bear red berries.

The bright greens of moss and lichens stand out against the bleached ruins of the year’s growth, observable in the Church Yard of St Mary’s. At this low point of the year one may spot the tips of snowdrop bulbs, preparing to reassure us the eventual return of the new season of plant growth.

Although bird song is scarce at Christmas time, do look out for the subject of so many Christmas cards, the robin.  It is easy to spot because it readily comes close to people. It does however sing at this time with a sweet melodious song, which is to denote its territory.

Finally, if you tire of eating and drinking over the holidays, Lydiard can be an excellent place to get some exercise and fresh air, and look out for the natural features pointed out in this blog.

Wishing a Merry Christmas to one and all.

Mark Eborn, Lydiard Park Warden

Snowdrops at Lydiard Park

Snowdrops at Lydiard Park (Jane Gifford)

Snowdrops (Jane Gifford)

Each February the display of snowdrops at Lydiard Park is more spectacular than ever, partly by clumps getting bigger and self-seeding, partly by deliberate dig-and-divide work by staff and volunteers each March.

The snowdrops are in all the woods as you walk around the site, by the lake, on up to Lydiard House, and an especially vivid display in front of the stable buildings where the Coach House Tea Rooms are located. People visit from long distances to marvel at the sheer numbers in every nook and cranny.

Many are the basic, but beautiful, wild variety, while more are a double version. Very rarely, you can find hints of cross-breeding with an unusual variant linked to Lady Diana, a historic character who loved her garden plants in the large Walled Garden beyond the Coach House Tea Rooms. A few specimens of the Lady Diana snowdrop are carefully preserved in a secret location.

But people come simply because they know they can go for long walks along elegant tree-lined paths, and see snowdrops en masse in lots of picture-perfect woodland combinations. Come and see for yourself!

Then come back again in April to see the first displays of wild flowers, the bluebells, the cowslips and then later to spectacular pink displays of red campion and much much more.

John Ball (Gardener)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lydiard Park Honey

The Apiary is situated close to the Walled Garden, where the bees forage for nectar and pollen. The nectar is liquid that the bees turn into honey, the pollen is used by the bees as their protein to feed their young.IMG_0188

The nectar and pollen will combine to give trace elements in the honey, this has been found to help with hay fever systems and other allergies.

Honey Make-up

17 to 18% water content, these years Lydiard Honey is measured at 17.4%.

35% Glucose (Dextrose)

40% Fructose (Levulose).

4% other sugars

3% Other substances.

The other substances will cover, Organic acids, minerals, free amino acids, proteins and the pollens from the forage area of the bees.

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Lydiard Honey on sale in the Coach House Tea Rooms and Lydiard House

Honey has a built-in antibacterial substance based upon the production of peroxide by an enzyme, which is added by the bees. This active sterility of honey has caused it to be used for wound dressing, without any side effects upon healthy tissue and the fact that it does not dry out.

To clear crystallised honey, remove the metal top and place the jar in a microwave for 20 seconds to just warm the honey, if you heat it over 45 Deg C. you will kill the beneficial parts within the honey and revert to very tasty sugar.

Stephen Greenaway, Lydiard Beekeeper.

Final blog from Simon Brooks – Head Gardener

SAM_1801A period of intense heat has given way to heavy showers, interspersed with glorious sunshine. This has meant that the early flowering plants are receiving a well needed replenishment of water and nutrients, which should help many of them to produce a second flush of blooms later in the year. A sudden explosion of flowers means the Walled Garden is looking fantastic and well worth visiting.

Bedding – As the leaves of the bulbs die off, the team will soon be lifting and storing many of them for re-planting later in the year. Summer plants are growing well, and will soon replace the bulbs in the beds.

Fruit – As the blossom of fruit trees gently blows away, we await the outcome of the pollination and hope for another good crop.

Flowering plants – A riot of various colours, shades of green and emerging buds all around the Walled Garden include Geraniums, Sweet Rocket, Pulmonaria, Astrantia, Peonies, Centaurea (both the blue and white varieties), Lilac, Tiarella, Thalictrum, honeysuckles, Asphodelines, Hemerocallis, Aquilegia, Phacelia, Spanish broom, Euphorbia and Verbascum.

Notable plants – A selection of three very different plants to enjoy this time around – firstly, the bold red of the perennial Poppies punctuate the view in the Walled Garden. Secondly, delicate white with blue stained Irises are an almost angelic view amongst the greenery of other plants. Finally, the bold purple flowers continue on the Judas Tree (Cercis silaquestrum) trained against the wall, providing a natural lighting effect to the wonderful brickwork.

Plant sales – As the available plants start into growth, the sales area shows the potential effect buying a plant from Lydiard can add to your own garden. Surplus annual plants are for sale, including crimson flowered beans and sweet peas, just speak to a member of the Garden Team.

Sadly this will be my final Garden blog, as I am leaving Lydiard Park to take up the reins as Head Gardener closer to home. It has been a wonderful 2 ½ years at Lydiard Park, working with dedicated staff and volunteers, meeting regular users and explaining to visitors all about the history of the site.

I will depart with this quote from the notable horticultural authority of Vita Sackville-West – “The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied. They always look forward to doing something better than they have ever done before.”

Thank you.

Simon Brooks, Head Gardener

Plants bloom ahead of time

After the sunshine and warmth around leading up to, and including, the Bank Holiday weekend the plants in the Walled Garden are looking fantastic with many starting to bloom ahead of their usual time. This pleasant experience also means some of the earlier plants are going over quicker than we would like, but there is still plenty to enjoy.

Bedding – The final show of tulips are in bloom, and the Garden Team are busy “pricking-out” the summer annual plants sown earlier this year. Look out for the magnificent scented sweet peas.

Fruit – The final work of this season is being finished to train the fruit trees into their highly decorative and productive “goblet” shape. The blossom makes a pleasant sight, highlighting the various forms within the Walled Garden, as well as the flowering of cherries and pears trained on the walls.

Flowering plants – Many of the spring flowering plants are being joined by the late spring/early summer flowering species. Look out for the yellow Tree Peony at the far end of the Walled Garden, and admire other flowers along the way, such as the different varieties of Geranium, Sweet Rocket, Pulmonaria, Astrantia, various Peonies, Centaurea (both the blue and white varieties), Forget-me-Nots, Lilac, Tiarella, Thalictrum, Aquilegia, Euphorbia and Verbascum. Many other plants are well-budded including the perennial Poppies.

Notable plants –  Although not actually within the Walled Garden, anyone passing the Coach House Tea Rooms cannot fail tA2 Wisteria Rooto miss the sight, and more importantly the smell of the stunning Wisteria adorning the exterior of the Stable Block. Enjoy sitting in the Coach House Tea Rooms as the scent wafts in. Back inside the Walled Garden the purple flowering Lamium orvala, is a magnet for the various species of bee who are enjoying the recent increase in temperature and going about their vital environmental work.

Plant sales – As the available plants start into growth, the sales area shows the potential effect buying a plant from Lydiard can add to your own garden.

Simon Brooks, Head Gardener

A Roman Road in Lydiard Park

Philip A Rowbotham

When people think of Roman roads in Britain the majority only consider the main named highways between the larger towns such as Ermin Street, Stane Street, Akeman Street and Watling Street. In the case of this particular selection of road names which have the suffix “street” added to them, they were identified by the Anglo-Saxons for no better reason than that they were straight and therefore they used their word “streat” or “strete” to describe them. The use of “street” to denote roman roads is not confined to main roads however but to many of the minor ones as well, although care must be taken in built-up areas.

It was the name “Hook” with its suffix “street” which provided the first clue to the fact that a section of Roman road almost certainly existed between the western outskirts of Swindon; running from the roundabout on Whitehill Way towards the hamlet of Hook situated on the road from Royal Wooton Bassett to Purton. In an easterly direction the road most probably provided a connection to the Roman pottery kilns at Toothill Farm. In the west it can be detected as a longitudinal hump in the right hand field next to Lower Hook Street Farm, further along on the right hand side by the graveyard and finally at the left by Old School House Restaurant.   There is also a possibility that the roman road splits into two just before the caravan park, with a right hand section heading towards the Bolingbroke public house.

By use of Google aerial photographs, an examination was made of the whole of the route and this showed the characteristic parallel “parch-marks” lines caused by differential vegetation growth in the ditches either side of a Roman road, within the present southern boundary of the Park. This small section runs westward [approx: 280 degrees] from the “tradesman’s entrance” to the Park used by outside contractors, through Elm Plantation and parallel to the start of the existing single track section until rejoining the modern road again prior to No 24 Hook Street.

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Google “parch-marks” with resistivity superimposed.

(After: Google Maps/Archeoscan.)

A further check was carried out to ensure that the parallel lines showing on the Google map were not made in the immediate passed, and a comparison was made with the aerial photo’s taken by the RAF just after the last world war. These showed that what Google map was showing was not recent since the parallel marks were also present in 1952. Finally, contact was made with Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre who carried out a check to ensure that no previous record existed of any roman road being found in Lydiard Park.

The first attempt at a geophysical survey using both magnetometry and resistivity was carried out in September 2013 using equipment provided and operated by Bath and Camerton Archaeology Society (BACAS), which unfortunately was unsuccessful. A second attempt, using only resistivity was carried out by Archeoscan of Gloucester on the 9th of April this year using another section of the Google “parch-mark” to the east of the first attempt. Two parallel black lines running alongside and just to the north of the Google “parch-marks” were revealed, with a slight positional discrepancy between the aerial photo and the measurements on the ground.

 Acknowledgements

The author would like to acknowledge Swindon Borough Council for allowing access to Lydiard Park to carry out the investigation, to Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre for their guidance, to Google for the use of their mapping system, to BACAS for their assistance and loan of the equipment used in first attempt and finally to Archeoscan for carrying out the successful work.