Bitter honey

PUBLISHED: 12:16 16 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:16 16 September 2014




Passionate gardener, Judy Cowan, tells of the horror of discovering honey fungus at her home in Stondon Massey and her determination to maintain a fabulously attractive outdoor space

The romantic gardens at Little Myles in Stondon Massey, with its mature shrubs and trees, cascading old fashioned roses and overflowing borders, has been created by Adrian and I over the past 41 years. We have different themed areas within the garden, such as a slate garden, an Asian garden, a herb garden, an ornamental vegetable patch and, by default and necessity this year, we have a new creation - A Beach Garden.

Several years ago, in the part of our garden that had a timber arbour covered with an exuberant old rose, the nearby old walnut tree died. Instead of chopping the whole tree down, we decided to leave a fork of two branches on it’s old, splendid trunk, which formed a natural resting place for our snoozing ceramic leopard, head on paws, looking down at the French timber arbour. Clambering up and over the arbour was a mature Bobbie James, a rampant, robust beautiful rose which flung itself in joyful cascades the road-side of our northern boundary fence.

Our problems began in the winter of 2012, when this glorious, old rose suddenly died. We thought perhaps it was due to the cold and wet weather of that year. However, a few months later, other roses around the arbour started to die, first one half of the plant then later, total death. We began to be deeply concerned. Then in October 2013 we had the proof we really didn’t want. The honey coloured toadstools suddenly appeared around the trunk of the old walnut tree, around the roots of Bobbie James and around the other dying roses near the arbour, and indeed on the timber arbour itself. It was final proof that we had honey fungus. We were filled with horror and dread that the honey fungus could potentially destroy all that was old and weak in our mature and much-loved garden.

After a week-and-a-half of mourning and research, I made the decision that we had to fight back and fight back hard. We took the drastic measure of totally clearing the whole site. The walnut tree was felled, its roots ground out and destroyed as were all the other shrubs and trees in that area. Although we had the toadstools, we never did find the tell-tale boot lace roots in the ground.

After the total clearance came the next step. I had been inspired by a lovely photograph of a Beach Garden on the front cover of the August 2013 edition of RHS The Garden magazine. From that came the idea of creating Boot Lace Bay, contained within substantial wooden groynes, sitting on top of two deep trenches filled with two telegraph poles wrapped in carpet to stop any spread of potential fungus roots.

The timber arbour had a make-over, with tin and lead being added on top of the domed roof and it’s trellised sides shortened and topped with a handrail. It now resembles a rather elegant bandstand. A couple of colourful beach huts either side complete the seaside theme. The ground has been levelled and covered with a membrane, before the addition of 7 tonnes of washed sand (which also includes a deeper, covered sandpit area for our grandchildren to play in), and 3 tonnes of pebbles. To give a further seaside feel to the Beach Garden, I planted drifts of sea holly (Eryngium alpinum, Blue Star), sea thrift (Armeria maritima rubifolia), sea kale (crambe maritima), beach aster (Erigeron glaucus), salsify, sisyrinchium, thyme and various grasses planted in and amongst pebbles, sand and shells. The addition of ceramic seagulls and giant shells made in the nearby Judio Pottery Studio add visual interest, as do the thick Manila rope swags looped from post to post along the front of the garden.

This new garden at least created added interest for our visitors on our two garden Open Days this year, and perhaps it will provide hope for other gardeners afflicted with this common, but dreadful fungus. Having totally cleared the site and cut back all overhanging branches, I am surprised how beautifully sunny and open our Boot Lace Bay now is. It is almost like being at the seaside, at least that is what my three-year-old granddaughter says!

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