This weekend, my Borough was given a great honour by The Queen and we can [...]
Worms and weedsCreated by Jane in Jane Lawson's Blog
Did you know that if you leave a metre square of soil completely bare for season, the weeds will flourish, but only one in six will survive? And did you also know that the humble earthworm has completely transformed the landscape of England over the centuries and that if you go to Down House in north Kent you can see a worm stone, which will prove it for you?
These were just two of the fascinating facts which a select group of us learned from Rowan Blaik, the head gardener at the former home of Charles Darwin, beautifully situated on the edge of the North Downs. We were privileged to have an extremely erudite and entertaining tour of the gardens, and on a gloriously sunny March day, we learned about some of the hundreds of experiments which Darwin conducted at his country estate.
Down House is now owned by English Heritage and they have done a brilliant job of recreating and restoring the house and gardens to what they were like in Darwin’s day. He was a lovely family man, he and his wife, Emma, had ten children who were greatly cherished, and who were lucky to have a father who educated them in identifying and classifying the plants and fungi on the land they owned.
The gardens have a number of different features all of which were so much more fascinating after we had heard their stories. The formal beds were the joy of Emma, and Rowan told us that she she used to order a vast range of bedding plants from every catalogue she could find. They are immaculately laid out and the lawn was smartly striped and complemented the beds perfectly. The borders of blue and white flowers which lined the long paths were where the Darwin children and grandchildren used to play and were deliberately kept in a non pristine condition. Rowan explained the Darwin descendants were very particular about keeping the gardens as they would have been and were quick to reprimand him if he made them too tidy.
On then to the greenhouses. The most fascinating section was the carnivorous plants. It seems that the cells in the plants detect appropriate food, and if it isn’t suitable (Rowan’s toe clippings for example) the plant will open up and reject it. However, a piece of cheese will be digested.
There is also a huge vegetable garden. It provided all the fruit and vegetables for the twenty four people in Darwin’s household which showed how effective the land use was.
Finally, we took a look at the meadow and the fungus field which may one day be able to support grazing again.
Oh, and those weeds. It seems, that no matter what the weather conditions- drought, snow, wind, or whatever there is always one in six weeds which survive. The survivors though are the fittest. So it behoves us to clear them away quickly because they are the strongest.
And the worm stone? Well, that is an ingenious device which consists of an old millstone resting on the soil and two pieces of metal piping placed through the centre resting on a piece of metal. The movement of the pipes is measured regularly and this this shows how much the action of worms has has on the level of the soil as the stone slowly sinks as a result of worm burrows sinking, the changes in moisture in the soil and the movement of he soil by the earthworms.
Our day finished with delicious canapés and elderflower spritzer in the well stocked shop. These English Heritage days are a real treat and it’s well worth looking for one in your locality.