We had a very successful session in the morning of Saturday 20 November, with many helpers including a strong contingent of adults and children from the Greenwich Steiner School.
The primary objective was to deal with the beech hedge around the school fence. The beech was being throttled by encroaching bramble and honeysuckle , and was firing branches out sideways into the gardens to find the light.
On Saturday morning, the bramble was cut out (as far as is possible with bramble), the honeysuckle cut back and the side shoots tamed. Even the youngest got involved …
The hedge is now looking thinner and trimmer. It will grow all the more strongly as a result, although we shall need to make this an annual event to keep the hedge under control and free of interlopers.
With many energetic helpers we were able to start on some of the other shrubs …
The prunings were mostly used to reinforce and thicken the ‘dead hedging’ that separates the wildlife area from the rest of the gardens.
The next task: to coppice and collect hazel from Lesnes Abbey woods, with which to make a new fence for at least one of the shrub beds …
Episode 277: The shrub beds that punctuate the eastern and northern (lower) edges of the lawns are inevitably attractive play areas for children, but the result is that the smaller shrubs and bulbs are trampled and the larger ones progressively isolated and reduced. They will vanish altogether unless they are protected.
We could not, and would not wish to, erect the sort of fences that would prevent incursion onto the shrub beds. Instead, we erect modest barriers that we hope will discourage such incursions, by acting as a sign that these areas are different and separate from the areas of more general access.
We have previously tried rope and post barriers that were regularly cut and removed. A little over two years ago, we tried replacing these with some very attractive willow-weaves donated and built by local ‘willow wizard’, Richard Vidal. These were stripped bare during the pandemic, a period when the gardens were used (rather than visited) even more than normal, by many less sensitive to the need to preserve them.
The latest idea is similar, but to use rather more robust materials to form fences that can be repaired if necessary. In mid-December a few of us joined the Forest Club event, led by Stephen Stockbridge, that is regularly held in Lesnes Abbey Woods (https://www.creativenature.info/workshops/p/volunteer-days-at-lesnes-abbey-woods). We were there to collect materials for a trial fence. This was an entertaining morning, partly because we spent as much time establishing the ‘camp’, making a fire and then the tea, as in collecting the needed hazel posts and whips. However, when we came to make the fence, we realised we needed to collect much more material – and more volunteers to help us do it.
On 15 Jan 2022, rather more of us gathered in the gardens to learn from Stephen how to turn these materials into an experimental fence.
The object of the experiment was (a) to see whether the result would be robust and attractive enough for the gardens, and (b) to get some idea of the time, work and materials required.
As to (b), we found it took a fair amount of time and work (although it may become swifter and easier if we become more practised at it), and a LOT of materials. The materials we had collected were barely enough to start. Fortunately, Stephen had brought some more. It was nearly enough to complete a fence around just one of the shrub beds. The window for collecting and using the coppiced wood that we used is fairly narrow: about three months in winter. If we decide to continue this around the other shrub beds it will take two or three years to complete.
As to (a), we were pleased with the look of the fence, but we look forward to hearing other reactions (email us at email@example.com). Whether it is robust enough to survive predation remains to be seen. One advantage of this system is that it should be possible to repair moderate damage as it arises, by using other cuttings.
Please make a note to come to the AGM in Mycenae House on Friday 3 September at 2pm. At that meeting all members will have the opportunity to raise ideas and discuss issues, such as those described below, but it will be for the committee to take forward those ideas and resolve those issues. The most important part of the AGM will be the election of a new committee or new members to the committee. My last two emails announcing the AGM emphasised the need for those who use and enjoy the gardens to step up to help preserve and improve them. This email sets out to show that there are real issues to be addressed and real opportunities for improvement. Committee members will be elected at the AGM. They can be proposed on the day, but must be members of the group, willing to serve and supported by two other members. There is a nomination form here. If you are willing to serve on the committee, it would be helpful if you could arrange your supporters and let me know in advance by email. If you are not willing to serve, then please find and put forward others who would be willing and able to be elected, and who can be counted on to deal with the sort of issues set out below.
The balance between users This was perhaps the main task of the group at its inception, when different groups were tussling over the use of the gardens. At that time, there were quite heated disputes between dog-walkers and others. More recently, people have complained of feeling unwelcome while the school ‘takes over’ the gardens during term time. The group has shown that it can manage these problems, and reduce the heat, if it fully represents all parties.
Erosion For some time, we have been concerned about the gradual erosion of the slopes towards the north end of the main gardens. The process seems to have accelerated over the last 18 months, perhaps as a result of the loss of undergrowth. Unless the erosion is stopped, some trees will eventually fall. What, if anything, can be done about it? Some years ago, and in response to a suggestion that the slopes be reinforced, a council officer suggested that nothing should be done: ‘Things change: let nature take its course’. On the other (conservationist) wing, some of our members have suggested fencing off the slopes entirely. That of course would reduce the attraction to many visitors and the school. Again, the group needs to find some solution, with balance.
The lawn The lawn has been a perennial source of concern, although the amount of rain this year has meant that it is in a better state than is usual for summer. The group works with the school to avoid over-use, but more work is needed in relation to after-school activities.
Re-fencing the shrub beds The group has spent much money and time in reforming and re-planting various shrub beds. They were initially protected by ’rope-and-post’ barriers. These were regularly cut, pulled out and/or ignored. The school children did good work replacing them occasionally, and they were a regular ‘to do’ item on the group’s planting days, but two years ago we tried an alternative solution: our ‘willow wizard’ devoted many hours to building attractive willow barriers around some of the beds, with the intention of finishing them in 2020. Covid interrupted that work, and brought many more people into the gardens. As a result, the existing barriers were stripped, the beds trampled and the work of many was lost. The smaller plants have already gone. The rest of the shrub beds will shrink to isolated brush unless protected. The total length of fencing that would be required to protect them once more is over 100 meters. The group will need to build a consensus as to the best means of fencing, find the money and put in the work.
Labelling the trees The gardens contain an unusually diverse selection of trees, some probably dating back some 250 years to the gardens of John Julius Angerstein. In past years, the ‘Tree-sure hunt’ has been a popular event for children at the annual parksFest event, but it would be good to help all users of the gardens to appreciate the variety all year round. The 2019 newsletter referred to an unsuccessful attempt to do this by offering a custom layer in Google maps. Labelling the trees would be a more obvious low-tech solution, but it has to be done with care to avoid damaging the trees, and in such a way as to avoid providing another target for vandalism.
A history board The history of ‘Woodlands’ (the building that now houses the school) and the gardens is outlined on the website and n the leaflet produced by the group, but it is still not widely known. A knowledge of that history may help visitors to appreciate and respect the house and the gardens. A recent meeting of the Westcombe Society ended with a talk on John Julius Angerstein, who built the house and established the gardens. At that meeting, it was suggested that we should put up a history board similar to the ones around Blackheath. The local historian who gave the talk has offered help. This proposal is at a very early stage and will need discussion with the council, the school, Mycenae House and the Westcombe Society.
Routine work Routine work includes watering new planting (less of a problem this year), pruning shrubs (most obviously, at the moment, the beech hedge in front of the school), weeding the established beds and repairing the dead-hedging that protects the wildlife area. In previous years we have also planted large numbers of bulbs, protecting them with temporary willow barriers, but even with that protection their survival rate has been so poor that we have no plans to do so this year.
So there is work to be done, but much to be achieved. Please get involved, and get others involved.
The old cherry tree, that died and was cut down in 2019, now has a new lease of (wild)life. The carving was carried out by Les Langley, a chainsaw carver (www.leslangleychainsawcarver.com). It was organised by the Friends, and the cost shared by the Friends, Mycenae House and the Greenwich Steiner School.
The Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Mycenae Gardens will be held on Friday 3rd September 2021 at 2pm in Mycenae House (or perhaps in the Gardens).
All members are invited (and urged) to attend if possible. Membership of the group is free, and non-members are welcome to attend and join at the event.
The business of the meeting will include:
The election of new members of the committee. New members are urgently needed. A member of the group willing to serve on the committee can be proposed by two other members of the group (even on the day).
A proposed amendment of the first sentence of paragraph 7 of the constitution to read “The Secretary shall call an Annual General Meeting (‘AGM’) of the General Members to be held in each calendar year, on such date as the committee may determine.” (Explanation: Paragraph 7 currently requires the AGM to be held in the first three months of each year, when the weather tends to discourage attendance. This amendment will allow the meeting to be held on the date that best suits the membership and fits the group’s activities.)
Mark Barnes, Chair and Secretary Friends of Mycenae Gardens
Message from the Chair
This will be the first General Meeting since March 2019, and is particularly important.
This meeting is so important because, as I have explained in emails to the group, much work is needed in the Gardens. It is up to the Friends group to identify, prioritise and carry out that work, but at the moment it is not up to the job. Although membership has held up, active participation in the work of the group has been falling in recent years and the management (the committee) has been hollowed out by the loss of younger members and the ageing of the rest. 2020 was supposed to be a year of revival and reinvigoration of the group with a younger chair, fresh ideas and a new programme. That all fell through, partly as a result of covid. It is now needed more than ever.
If you value the Gardens, if you want to ensure their survival as a public open space and wildlife haven, you need to ‘lean in’. I know from conversations with many of you that there is plenty of good will, but we need more. Please come to the meeting and bring whoever else you can find who values the Gardens. Non-members are welcome and they can sign up (free) at the AGM. We need your participation as members, but we also need a new committee: the group cannot function without a minimum of 6 committee members. The present committee is already under-strength, and after two missed AGMs all the elected members will have to retire by rotation. So please come to take part, to contribute your ideas, and to put yourselves or others forward as committee members. Ultimately, if too few come to the meetings, or if too few step up to the committee, the group will have to be dissolved, with the loss of the main mechanism by which the voices of the community can be heard, their needs reconciled and their efforts deployed. But if enough join in and step up, the Gardens can be restored managed and improved by the community, for the benefit of all.
Wednesday 25 March 2020 at 7pm at the Greenwich Steiner School
The Friends of Mycenae Gardens will hold their next Annual General Meeting on 25 March 2020 at 7pm at the Greenwich Steiner School (the first building on the right, as you approach the gardens of Mycenae House from Mycenae Road).
If you use the gardens or are interested in their wellbeing, please come. If you are not already a member, you can join on the day or online at mycenaegardens.org.uk. If you are a member, please consider joining the committee to play your part in the management and development of the gardens and engagement with the local community. For example: · How should we balance use of the gardens with conservation? · What more should we do to encourage wildlife, and to enable people to observe and appreciate it? · Should we support the proposal to introduce beehives? or play equipment? · How should we deal with vandalism? New members bring new ideas and new perspectives, which are always welcome.
Inspiration will be provided at the end of the meeting, in an illustrated talk by Rich Sylvester (http://richstories.mayfirst.org), who will cast the lights and shadows of history and folklore to illuminate our understanding of the gardens, and will draw on a range of experiences elsewhere in the borough to suggest practical ways for people of all ages to engage with the preservation and enhancement of Mycenae Gardens and the Dell. Your first engagement is to join us at the meeting (and for a drink afterwards).
Come and see our lovely gardens and meet some of the volunteers. It’s not a planting day as such but more of a ‘fixing the fixtures’ afternoon. [Weather permitting]
We have a range of activities suitable for all energy levels including a bit of heavy lifting (moving our rather migratory tables to a dedicated spot and securing them) and some much lighter lifting (bringing of tea, taking of photographs), with some middle of the range energy levels needed for fence-mending. Or you can just come and chat (and please bring any spare secateurs and mallets).
We shall not actually be doing any planting on this planting day (Saturday 26 January 2019 2-4pm), but there is serious work to be done, some of which needs some serious muscle:
Moving the tables further up the gardens and securing them in place to deter vandalism. The tables tend to migrate towards the lower end of the garden, where they are out of sight and where they and the surrounding trees, walls etc are often vandalised. We need several strong helpers to bring each of them back into the light and to anchor them securely
Building temporary willow barriers to protect the bulbs that we planted last time. Last year’s barriers were too flimsy. We have a new design to try out, but it will take some patience and dexterity.
In addition, there are the perennial tasks:
Restoring the rope and post barriers around the shrub beds, and
Trimming and ‘weaving’ the beech hedge. The hedge needs a regular haircut to stop it getting too tall, and the sideways growing branches need to be bent back into the main hedge and secured by ‘weaving’ them together with other branches. This thickens the hedge and makes it less affected by the loss of individual plants.
Please come to help, or just to support.
Bring scissors and secateurs (for the willow barriers), secateurs or a longer trimmer (for the beech hedge), and/or a mallet (to reposition the posts of the rope and post barriers), biscuits and muffins (for support).