Category Archives: Work

Morello cherry renovation project

Slow project – renovating a Morello cherry to bring it back to better shape and with improved flowering and fruiting. I first met this tree in 2015.

Before work started – late summer 2015 after fruiting. Most of the growth was at the top with bare areas lower down. Some stems had been bundled together and had wire wrapped around them, leading to congestion and damage, and the fan shape was starting to be lost.

Later the same day. We decided to do the job gradually over a few years, as advised by the RHS, in order to not encourage excessive unfruitful growth. Their advice refers to renovating old apple and pear trees, but the principles are much the same.

Working together, we took out some of the older stems, unraveled those which had been tied together, spread the branches out, put up news wires and re-tied them in their new positions. This sounds straightforward, but freeing the stems from their binding wires and untangling the congested growth took some time and we then spent a good while staring at it and discussing the matter before deciding where to begin.

June 2016. It flowered better in 2016 than it had the previous year, but there is still too much bare stem showing.

After fruiting, late summer 2016. More wood removed and some branches shortened to prevent the tree out-growing its allotted space. Note the new growth coming up at the base – we’ll make use of this in the coming years.

Early April 2017. It’s about to come into bloom and looks as if it will flower well. There is new growth coming from lower down which I intend to replace the oldest stem. This old stem is unbalanced in growth and has been snipped at over the years, making it stubby at the ends. Once it’s been removed, the other branches will be untied and re-trained, gradually bringing back the intended fan shape.

April 29, 2017. There is more blossom this year and new stems are flowering further down than in the last two seasons. At some point I’d like to see the whole wall covered in flowers.

Tying them in more horizontally should encourage some bud burst in the bare areas. I shall also try ‘nicking and notching‘ along the stems to trick the plant into thinking some parts have been cut back, which ought to encourage new growth in those parts. I’ve had success using this method on roses – in particular a very tall wall rose which had only one stem and was completely bare for the first 2.2m (seven feet). Taking a notch of bark out below a dormant bud at 45cm (17 inches) high broke the bud’s dormancy just above that point and also prompted the rose to send out multiple new stems further up. The rose now covers the wall as it was meant to do. That’s another story, mind you.

This is how Morello cherries can look when properly treated –

I don’t know where this tree is, but it looks very productive and creates a good screen for the structure behind it.

Morello trained against a dovecote at Rousham House garden in Oxfordshire. The pattern on it reminds me somewhat of the way fungal mycelium spreads out and is pleasing to the eye. I’ll go back later in the year and see how the fruit looks.

There are doves living in there and you can hear them cooing. It’s lovely.

Mycelium spreading on a leaf.

Margaret, an appreciation

I went to Margaret’s garden for the last time this morning. She died in July and the house has now sold, so I went for a final look round and to collect a few plants that we both liked.

summer-2011The back garden in the summer of 2011

As I looked at it all for the last time I felt a real pang of sadness, thinking of all the time we’d spent together, pretty much every Thursday afternoon for nigh on six years. I got to know her tastes well and could tell within moments of arriving at the house what she’d want doing that day. Sometimes she’d be a little late coming outside and she’d say, ‘Good, that’s exactly what I was going to ask you to do. I loved that and I loved it when she’d say, ‘I’m just going to finish this, you go in and put the kettle on’ and I knew where everything was kept so would have tea and biscuits all set out when she came in. I loved the way she liked to mother me with kindly gestures, the Christmas gift of tools I’d admired or some sweet thing she thought I’d enjoy. Then there was occasional motherly advice about how many meals my pay would put on the table or that I should ‘go and look after that man of yours’ – speaking of Karl, who she’d have been concerned about because he was up a ladder out the front.

summer-2011-42011 – Margaret loved her roses

The gardening was so good when she was well. I’d often arrive to find she’d planned the afternoon’s jobs for us and we’d work busily together until we’d done as much as we could. Afterwards, we’d generally sit drinking tea and talking for up to an hour; during those periods she’d tell me many stories from her life and travels. She once related the very long story of meeting her husband Richard for the first time and I laughed at how he’d told her he could never marry a woman under 5’6″  ‘From then on’ she said, ‘all my papers said I was 5’6″ and that was that’.

summer-2012The shady woodland-edge garden we made at the front of the house in 2012

She had her moments of crabbiness too, especially after she became ill, and could be snappy. She once asked me to remove and burn an old tree stump which had been supporting a rose. I looked at it and said no, because the rot and crumbliness showed it was used by many creatures, especially the ground beetles that were so useful in her garden. I told her I’d move it, but not burn it. There was a pause and she barked ‘Oh well, you just continue your love affair with beetles!’ and the stump remained. Another time, a couple of weeks before she died, she wanted to go and look at some plants she’d put in while she was still able to do so. Friends with her were trying to persuade her not to tire herself, but typical Margaret was refusing to listen to them and insisted on going. Karl offered to wheel her down the path on a sack trolley, at which she snorted with laughter and shouted ‘Idiot!’, which was just what he’d been hoping for, a spark of the Margaret we knew.


Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to be her daughter, if she had been the mother I had never had. Demanding, I should think, but I wondered all the same.

It is sad to carry on tending someone’s garden after they’ve died. You see the darkened windows of the house and half expect to see them looking out at you. As you look around the garden, there are so many memories of times gone by. It was with sadness that I stood outside the house for the last time, finally leaving. Then, curiously, I heard her voice inside me insist, ‘But I’m coming with you!’ and it occurred to me then that in the plants that she loved, which I was bringing away and shall now care for, yes, Margaret’s coming with me.

Margaret Bettesworth – August 29, 1932 – July 23, 2015


On the idea of the woodland and how the project developed

Stephen and Claire on the Rollrights woodland project

Stephen: I decided to plant the wood because there was a large ancient wood next to the house I grew up in and I always loved as a child to roam this wood and play in it. So I thought it might be more fun to have a wood than a ten acre field. Planted Feb 98. Btw the trees were planted in Feb as 12″ saplings in a field that had already been sowed with barley . I “bought” the putative crop from the farmer. Luckily it then rained for 6 weeks in a warm early spring and the trees thrived so that an expected 60-70% survival rate became 95%.

The wood was planted as part of a Forestry Commission program to support tree planting a condition of which was to plant mixed native English trees. This is taken to mean – oak, beech, ash, lime, cherry, sycamore, larch, pine, field maple, hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel. I am pretty sure that anything else is there by accident.

Continue reading On the idea of the woodland and how the project developed

Echoes of the Past – Rollrights Woodland Project

We find ourselves engaged in a remarkable project and one which is surely right and proper for an Entwife to become involved with, concerned as it is with the tending of woodland.

How it came about was that I saw a piece in the local paper about a scheme called Logs for Labour which is run by the Oxfordshire Woodfuel Programme. The idea is that people go along to a session of woodland work – maybe clearing pathways or coppicing trees – do a morning or an afternoon’s work and come away with a car load of logs. It looked like a good idea and an interesting way to spend some time outdoors in a pleasant environment surrounded by trees and wildlife. We like being in the woods, we need woodfuel and it looked interesting, so we looked into it right away and booked ourselves onto the scheme.


The first session was in woodland close to the ancient site of the Rollright Stones on the border of west Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds, a stunningly beautiful area of quintessentially English countryside, all rolling hills speckled with farms, villages and patches of woodland.

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My life as a Victorian dairy maid – bringing the geese in

The milking, cleaning of the milking parlour and farmyard done, it was time to feed the animals and then bring the geese in from the pond outside the farmyard. Once the doors were shut, the farmyard was enclosed so no foxes or rustlers could get in and the geese would mill about quite happily with the chickens and turkeys that usually wandered about the place.


The ‘how’ of persuading a group of large birds to leave the middle of a big pond and go where you want them to is one of those slivers of knowledge which delights me. It’s something you’d want to remember for the rest of your life, because it’s sounds so useful and, you never know, you might need to do it one day. Need help getting your geese off the pond? No problem!

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My life as a Victorian dairy maid – bringing the cows in

The morning cleaning of the farmyard done and several demonstrations of butter making carried out,  it was time to bring in the cows for milking. There weren’t many dairy cows, only four, and their purpose was to show what olden days cows look like. These were dairy shorthorns and they were sturdy red or rowan animals that had been bred in the north-east of England in the 18th century. They spent most of their time in one of the fields outside the farmyard so, come milking time, someone had to go and get them.

Bringing in the cows - Daisy thinks about going elsewhere
Bringing in the cows – Daisy thinks about going elsewhere

It was with some trepidation that I first took part in bringing in the cows. I mean, how do you do it? It’s not like you can just pick them up and carry them in; they’re huge and won’t necessarily do what you want. Fortunately, they had lived on the farm for several years and knew the routine so, on the whole, it wasn’t especially difficult.

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My life as a Victorian dairy maid – making butter

In 1990, for a short time, I worked as a dairy maid on a Victorian museum farm in the Black Country region of the West Midlands. Being in the (then) industrial West Midlands, it was a rare opportunity to be outside a lot, as well as doing something totally different to anything I’d ever considered doing before. Having spent so much time over the years thinking, ‘I wonder how you do xyz’ and ‘I wonder what it was like to…’ it was also a chance to sate my curiosity about at least one thing and find out what sort of things might have happened on a Victorian farm. What did they do?

Threshing machine at Victorian museum farm
Threshing machine in the farm yard at the Victorian museum farm

I was only there for about ten months, before bowing out with dairy maid’s elbow, but it was a fascinating experience and one that I look back on with memories of carefree sunny days, out of another time altogether. It was my first real taste of proper physical work and the first time I realised that the old ‘upstairs-downstairs’ attitudes are still very much alive today, but more of that later.

Continue reading My life as a Victorian dairy maid – making butter