Spring 2020

Hi there!

I thought I would put together some words as we at Oxford Lawns and Gardens like many throughout the world are experiencing both life, and in the UK a Spring different to the norm. Coronavirus! It has been discussed over and over and will make up part of the Worlds history going forward. So what impact has it had on our little business?

Well to set the back ground, 2019 was what we can now call a ‘funny old year’ for the Company both within the business and with the illnesses of close relatives. Having been part of this business now for some 20 years I have had challenges before and you never know what’s around the corner, and 2019 we were certainly met with some big challenges. However, with the help of the amazing loyal team here at Oxford Lawns and Gardens, some of our clients who supported us in many different ways, family and friends we made it through. And yes as cliché as it may sound, we learnt many lessons, and this Spring has helped to mend a wounded feeling that was felt throughout the team, and those closest to us.

Spring came early this year and towards the end of a very wet but mild winter we were set with a program of planting, development, maintaining, and getting several of our gardens ready for public openings later in Spring. Each year these opening dates give us a deadline to work to where the gardens have to be as perfect as is possible for a day or two. By March coronavirus had hit, was here to stay, and the country was forced into lockdown to stop the spread. The evening of the 24th March after the Prime Ministers lockdown announcement I had my heart in my mouth, and thought this is it, that after 27 years of Oxford Lawns and Gardens trading and weathering last years storm, there’s no more. Those with businesses will know that the business is you, and you are the business and how fragile a small business is. I also have a feeling of legacy to keep it going. I phoned my team individually (this was before Zoom became the thing to do) and we discussed our concerns. All were keen to crack on in some shape or form and of course thankfully it was Spring and the gardens and plants were growing exponentially by the week.

We put in place a new working practice guided by Public Health England. Our gardens are large and we are able to carry on working whist easily practicing social distancing. We implemented strict rules including no tool sharing, no vehicle sharing, and of course extra hand washing! We involved our clients in the process and have kept them informed at all times. In some gardens our work load has increased as clients have requested vegetables to be grown. This in itself has been a challenge where there is no existing vegetable garden, and we have plants growing in large pots, gro-bags etc.

The open days have been cancelled and this has made our work feel so different. Gone is the last minute rush and we have been able to give proper time and effort to projects which in the past may have had to be overlooked or rushed to get the aesthetics right. I know the team have been less stressed, but not less hard working. We have also had more input from our clients who are working from home or residing in their country properties, and we feel that this has been a good thing. Our clients have been able to see how we work, the input we put in to their gardens, those jobs which take time but if you don’t see you wouldn’t know, those which are time consuming and technical, therefore there has been more of an appreciation of the skills involved in the day to day maintenance of their gardens. They have also been able to see their gardens change, as they do so very quickly at this time of year and appreciate this amazing gardening season. There have been of course a few awkward questions from those who are not so knowledgeable but we have been able to provide the explanations face to face rather than by email. The beautiful weather we have experienced since March has given a feeling of summer days and there have been questions about why some plants are not in full bloom yet, but of course to the garden it is still spring and it will not be rushed, and thank goodness after the several hard frosts we encountered mid May. For some clients we are trying to instil the idea of patience, to enjoy what is there today, and be excited about what may be there tomorrow. They now have time to sit and enjoy the garden, watching it change day by day.

So I finish by wanting to thank the Oxford Lawns and Gardens clients for their understanding and appreciation. And of course to the amazing team, Mark, James, Lucy, Jenny, Becky, Neil and Paul. We have also been able to welcome back Katy who has been able to cover and help out when needed. Thank you, you are all what makes Oxford Lawns and Gardens the Company it is, a close knit, supportive, friendly and professional team.

Supporting the Community

Last week I heard about a charity near Bridgend called B-Leaf. They run a trainee horticultural project based at Bryngarw Country Park for adults with learning and physical disabilities.

The charity unfortunately had made the news because thieves had broken into their containers and stole thousands of pounds worth of equipment. This included large machinery such as mowers and strimmers down to small hand tools. All the equipment the trainees require to carry out their daily gardening and grounds maintenance work.

It struck a cord with me for several reasons.

Firstly, most of us in the horticultural world know how therapeutic gardening can be for people from all walks of life and generally, with occasional business issues aside, even for ourselves. We are a lucky few who can work in an industry we are passionate about. For adults with learning and physical disabilities it is something social, achievable, provides routine, and the physical work can help aid both physical and emotional wellbeing. You can see the results of your work immediately which is always satisfying.

Secondly, as some of you know I have a daughter with Down Syndrome and even though I hope to be able to provide her with everything to make her happy, I know that charities like B-Leaf are often a life line of support for families in similar situations. They provide trainees with some direction in their life and a sense of accomplishment.

I spoke with B-Leaf last week and although they can claim some items on insurance many of the smaller tools are not covered. Due to this they have now set up a GoFundMe site to raise a small amount to go towards these purchases. The link for which can be found at the bottom of the blog.

Oxford Lawns and Gardens are very happy to be able to support B-Leaf and have made a small contribution towards their goal.

We wish them all the luck in achieving this goal and all future goals.

A Sigh of Relief in the Kitchen Garden

This weeks blog has been written by Jenny who is very busy tending the kitchen garden in our Chipping Campden garden.

It’s the first week of April, and today, at last, it feels like spring has arrived. The sun is out, the air feels warm, and I’ve just been visited by a very large bumble bee. The soil still feels chilly but maybe seeds will finally start germinating outside in the kitchen garden.

This year, I’m privileged to spend one day a week looking after a large kitchen garden for one of our clients. It is faultlessly structured, with many raised beds, a soft fruit cage, and a beautiful greenhouse. Last year, my lovely colleague set the bar high, tending a very productive and immaculately kept area. So the pressure is on…

With limited time available each week, the temptation is to sow seeds early in the greenhouse and outside in the beds. The stack of seed packets that could be sown in March, plus the even bigger stack for April begins to feel daunting. But with such a cold start to spring, seeds optimistically sown outside in March have yet to show (even under the cloches).

But on this beautiful spring day, I can breathe a sigh of relief. Finally, neat rows of radish seedlings are peeking through the soil surface. This small victory, along with an array of flower and vegetable seedlings happily germinating in the greenhouse, is enough to boost the confidence levels again.

The onions, shallots, garlic, and broad beans planted earlier in the year are growing well, so actually the outside area does not look too bare. The greenhouse is also overflowing with overwintering pelargoniums, newly potted up dahlias, tomato, chilli, aubergine, and pepper seedlings plus brassicas ready to move to the cold frame for hardening off.

Experienced vegetable growers will no doubt point out that with such a cold start to spring, I could have started many other vegetables in the spacious greenhouse. Carrots, for example, sown into lengths of guttering and germinated in the greenhouse are then ready to slide straight into the beds when the soil is warm enough, leaving the roots undisturbed. This is very true, and I will keep note of lessons learnt for a smoother beginning to the vegetable growing season next year.  But for now, I will continue to hope for more warm days and for the bumble bee to carry on visiting. After all, it’s only April; let’s see what happens…

Rain, rain and more rain.

Yes it’s that very British trait to talk about the weather, but for those of us who work outside it’s very influential on how our day goes, what tasks we undertake and how we feel. I am fortunate, these days I only venture out a couple of days a week but the fabulous team are out all day, all week and this winter has been long, dull, cold and wet. The sort of winter where you want to hibernate, (for me that’s most winters). As I write, I can hear the rain outside and I’m glad it’s the evening and everyone is home.

My team have been out in all weathers except snow. Having to think on their feet which projects they can complete according to the weather. Luckily the cold means that weeds are slow saving us from having to tread on the borders, we also have done very little mowing. The long winter has helped us to achieve a large amount of pruning, formative and rejuvenation. In one garden we inherited an enormous amount of shrubs which had either not been pruned or had been on the receiving end of some unskilled secateurs, our client asking why they have never seen the shrub flower. Yes you know the kind, the round off every shrub kind. Aaarrrggghhh. These ‘poor’ looking specimens take a good two pruning seasons to flower. They are often the shrubs which flower on last years growth (Philadelphus, Forsythia) and if pruned too hard in one go will over produce long soft ‘bonkers’ growth. So it’s gently, gently.

In November we laid a large area of wild flower turf through an old orchard, and for once the rain has been a blessing, the turf is establishing well and we are very excited to see it flower this summer. The turf includes 33 species of wildflower, it is going to look fabulous. Before it was laid we spotted camassia, Narcissus poeticus and Tulip ‘Ronaldo’ throughout.

Yesterday we took a delivery of plants to reinvigorate a large stumpery which had over the last 2-3 years seen some plants become more invasive, angelicas and some hardy geranium varieties in particular, and we had lost some really lovely planting groups. So a ‘cull’ was carried out and a new collection of ferns, less invasive hardy geraniums to bump up existing numbers, hostas and aquilegia to mention a few were ordered. Interestingly the original aquilegias had never seeded round, yet in other gardens we are continually weeding seedlings out. The stumpery is on a north facing slope and the deluge of rain we had in the morning made it impossible for us to plant.

Finally, and let’s say now that’s enough about the weather, I would like to introduce our new website. The website has been made mobile friendly, linked to our Instagram page and gardens and photos have been updated. I can also do all these updates myself from now on, awesome. Our ‘About’ page introduces the team and they will also be contributing to the blog page. I have some clever wordy people working with me who definitely do not like the rain!