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Sally Nex Sally Nex | 07:00 UK time, Saturday, 6 August 2011

In the news...

It's not often we get to see a whole 18th-century landscape garden rise from the undergrowth and stretch its vistas to the horizon anew: but that's what's happened at Wrest Park, in Bedfordshire, which unveiled the first phase of its restoration this week.

The garden team in the Italian Garden at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire in the 1920s

The garden team in the Italian Garden at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire in the 1920s © English Heritage

The overhaul of the 90-acre, Grade I registered gardens - all but lost to neglect until a few years ago - is on a truly massive scale. With an overall price tag of nearly £4 million, the restoration aims to re-establish the garden as one of England's most important landscapes.

So far they've uncovered the work of such 18th-century luminaries as Capability Brown, Thomas Archer, William 'Rousham' Kent and Batty Langley, as well as an Italian garden laid out in Victorian times and an early 20th-century rose garden. And they're not even finished yet. Comparisons with the French palace of Versailles seem less overblown by the day.

Worrying news for our feathered friends: avian pox is the latest affliction to hit the UK's garden birds. A new, more severe strain, particularly affecting great tits, is now spreading north and west: prevent infection by keeping bird feeders scrupulously clean and changing water in bird baths daily. Sightings can be reported to the concerned folk at the RSPB.

Garden wildlife is also keeping researchers from the University of Bristol busy: they're surveying the entire country to find out which bits are preferred by pollinators, the latest attempt to work out why populations are falling. Early findings confirm previous research showing what important havens urban back gardens are, outperforming 'green concrete' in the countryside every time.

Elsewhere on the web...

There have been a lot of small and wriggly things around this week: some a little bit hairy, all with lots of legs. It's midsummer, and the bugs are having a ball.

The secrets and pleasures of urban beekeeping, with Alison Benjamin

The secrets and pleasures of urban beekeeping, with Alison Benjamin

BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour visited some streetwise bees (21m30s in), and discovered urban beehives popping up everywhere, from the rooftop of Fortnum & Mason to skyscrapers in New York. Meanwhile Jared Brown has been reporting his harlequin ladybirds to the ongoing UK Ladybird Survey; and Miranda Hodgson has been dragonfly-watching.

Good idea of the week goes to Stephanie at The Enduring Gardener, by way of Arundel Castle Gardens: one day I am going to poke dried allium heads into my clipped box hedges just like this.

And runner up, if only as a way of getting your own back on all those summer weeds, was Andy Hamilton's recipe for braised thistle stems. Gauntlets required.

Out and about...

Happy National Allotments Week!

Dozens of allotments around the country open their gates this week to celebrate one of Britain's best-loved institutions. Old Palace Lane Allotments in Richmond, Surrey, Redwell in Northumberland, and several allotments and a forest garden in Brighton are among sites all over the country where you can have a nose around, watch demonstrations and generally find out more about this most sociable way of growing your own.

It's a good time for foodies all round, in fact: August is harvesting heaven, and all that fabulous home-grown food is just the excuse you need for a fiesta.

West Dean Gardens, near Chichester in West Sussex, set things on fire this weekend with their annual Chilli Fiesta: the glasshouses alone, alight with vividly-coloured chillies of every possible variety, are worth the visit. You've just got time to get down to the Big Onion festival today in Elveden, Suffolk, which celebrates... well, you can probably guess; and at Brogdale Farm, in Kent, it's Plum Day next Sunday, a chance to sample the astonishing 300 varieties in their National Collection.

Sally Nex is a garden writer and blogger and part of the BBC Gardening team.

Read Sally Nex's Gardening Blog posts.


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks for the update Sally, I can't believe it's a year since the last chilli feista - here's what I had to say about it last year :
    I look forward to seeing how your readers find it this time around.

    The 'plum day' at Brogdale Farm sounds mouth watering. I've just returned from picking greengage from the garden before the wasps get at them. I choose to pick them slightly underripe and so avoid any wasp activity. They will ripen off in the fruit bowl over the next few days, yummy.


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