Two work parties met up at the Fernery to receive instructions from the leaders and to collect tools.
Working Party on the Local Nature Reserve – Habitat Management
Andrew Beattie led a small team which continued previous months’ work in the Ancient Track on the Park Field. Much of the work was to clear scrub on the banks, exposing the natural ferns, bluebells and primroses which were becoming smothered.
It is hoped that now that the Autumn and Winter months are facing us, work for the volunteers in the Fernery Garden will ease off. With more volunteers working in the Local Nature Reserve we will be able to build an interesting habitat management programme.
We do need more volunteers to work on the Nature Reserve, particularly between now and March/April 2020 when birds start their nesting.
The Fernery Gardening Group
Harry Ward led a team which faced multiple tasks. Maydencroft were on site undertaking the final excavation programme for 2019.
Harry and Alan completed the task of fixing wire all around the extended wild flower beds on the North Bank in order to keep rabbits out.
The Maydencroft team had three primary tasks to carry out over two days:
- To dig-out the zigzag bed at the North end of the Dell in order to discover if it was an original ‘Anthony Parsons’ bed, with solid base and drainage holes. This would enable the volunteers to test the soils for ancient fern spores, and then re-build it as a swampy bed over a waterproof membrane.
- To drill out the three very heavy, but rotten, Oak Logs (felled in recent weeks from outside Waitrose in Welwyn Garden City), and position them on the East Bank ready for use as natural planters.
- To excavate the South grassy bank to see if more planting beds, steps or paths are buried under the spoil.
Digging out Anthony Parsons’ zigzag bed
This bed was cleared and we could see the Cement base with drainage holes, in perfect order, just as Anthony Parsons first built it 160 years ago.
To our amazement, the zigzag planting bed precisely matches the description of its construction in Robinson’s Book of 1870. Solid Portland Cement bases presumed to be covering layers of brick and tiles, and with 3″ drain pipes. The side pipes and their bases are about 4″ higher than the main base and drains, so clearly designed to drain to the bottom. But it is not at all clear where the lowest pipe would have drained to, because it is currently below ground level.
Colin took samples of the soils from these beds so that he can start tests for ancient fern spores. The beds were then re-filled with soils over a membrane designed to retain water and encourage wet-loving ferns. But 21 days later on 10th October 2019 it was decided that the smaller ‘arrow bed’ should be left exposed as having architectural and historical interest for visitors.
Therefore, after heavy rains, Harry once again dug out the, by now, saturated and heavy soils (the membrane clearly beginning to work), before fixing temporary safety ribbons.
We look forward to a Report in due course from Colin on his fern spore discoveries, and a Progress Report as he tries to cultivate the ferns which were originally planted in these beds.
Oak Log Planters
We are fortunate to have been offered logs from the ancient Oak recently felled from Hunters Bridge near Waitrose in Welwyn Garden City.
Subsequently Colin and Harry manoeuvred the stumps into their final positions in the shade on the East Bank and, after lining the two hollow logs, they filled them with soil mixed with leaf mould, ready for planting with ferns. The third log will be drilled out ready for planting later.
Excavating the South Bank
Unfortunately time ran out before the work was completed.
The brick edged path that led in a curve into the slope did not, as we had expected, run up the slope and end in steps, but mysteriously turned right towards the base of the dropping well, implying a circular platform in front of the grotto. But this needs further testing – and tons of soil would need to be removed.
A wall runs in a large curve left to right half way up the slope, and it became apparent that this wall would have joined the wall in the May Bed, just about where we have introduced one of the new wooden steps.
And just above that wall is another retaining wall which initially looked to be protecting a path running above the planting bed – but this ‘path’ suddenly narrowed and fizzled out into an irregularly shaped ‘bed’. Many large roots were removed during this process and it is likely that whatever path or bed is underneath, the soil will have been dislodged over the years by the Lime Tree.
This excavation has left us with more questions that when we started, and more study of the South Bank is now needed.