Sowing The Seeds

An Interview with our Gardener

Sowing The Seeds
Karen, our Gardener, trimming flowering bushes

In this blog, for the week’s theme of ‘Sowing the Seeds’, we are interviewing our gardener Karen to find out about our eco-friendly gardening, her seasonal picks for the museum garden and her top tips for keeping your garden sustainable.

We are participating in the #MuseumCarbonStories campaign, as part of the Roots and Branches project to support museums to become Carbon Literate and take action against climate change.

The campaign is taking place in the run-up to the UK hosting the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on 31 October – 12 November 2021. HOME – UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) at the SEC – Glasgow 2021 (ukcop26.org)

The Quaker Tapestry shares its garden with Kendal Quaker Meeting and it has a tranquil and contemplative atmosphere. Although just feet away from the road and river, as soon as you step through the gates, the noise gives way to the peaceful rustling of leaves in the wind. Our garden is kept in such a lovely condition by Karen, who puts a great deal of care into looking after and selecting the plants.

Sowing The Seeds

What are the most important aspects of looking after the Meeting House garden?

The garden (once a burial ground) is a place of peace and reflection as well as a showcase for several Quaker introduced plants as well as the Quaker roses. The Chelone (Turtlehead, pink flowers) in the main border is doing particularly well at the moment.

Visitors come and spend time in the garden so keeping the lawn and paths in good order is important, not always easy in a damp Lake District climate! On the plus side the rain keeps the lawn looking lovely and lush.

Added to that many plants, which are deliberately allowed to “go to seed” in the garden, (to encourage them to spread freely through the beds) i.e. aguilegia, foxglove etc. inevitably attempt to take root in the path and need to be removed. Although, this Spring, I hadn’t the heart to remove a wild primrose which decided it wanted to live by the gate. I let it flower and moved it to the wild garden later.

Once the lawn is under control keeping the beds looking reasonably tidy (not too tidy, a garden needs a bit of “mess”) and composting are the main jobs.

Sowing The Seeds
Clockwise from top left: Chelone (Obliqua), Lungwort (Pulmonaria) and English Primrose (Primula Vulgaris).

What are some key seasonal plants for visitors to look out for?

The beautiful magnolia gives us an amazing show in spring and if we are lucky a few more flowers in summer too. Also in the spring time, within the grassy area on the lawn, Meadow Saxifrage is in flower with its delicate small white blooms, it is often overlooked but is now quite rare, so it is well looked after here and will hopefully remain in the garden.

More vivid in nature is the Gentiana acaulis, underneath the roses, with its bright blue flowers it really stands out. It tends to flower in early summer and gives a good long show.

The Witch hazels by the gate are beautiful in late winter/early spring and their neighbours, the Hydrangeas, look amazing from late summer into autumn.

Sowing The Seeds
Top to bottom: Gentians, Meadow Saxifrage (Saxifraga Granulata) and Magnolia.

Do we have bee-friendly plants in the garden?

We have lots of Bee and insect friendly plants in the garden such as Bladder campion, Mahonia and lots more.
The area under the tree is planted to encourage wildlife plus there is stick/log pile at the back against the wall to encourage things to overwinter there. It may not always be the most traditionally beautiful area but in spring and summer it is packed with insects.

Buttercup (often considered a pest) is allowed to roam free in the bed (great for short tongued bees) and foxgloves seed themselves freely. My favourite new fact (new to me anyway) is that buttercups warm their petals to encourage insects!

Another “pest” allowed/encouraged to grow in the wild bed is Comfrey. It handles the dry conditions under the tree well. Plus it makes great fertiliser (if a little stinky!).

Sowing The Seeds
Buttercups in the Summer Meadow

The garden completely flooded in the 2015 floods after Storm Desmond. What impact did this have on the garden?

The 2015 floods did a fair amount of damage (although we came out of it a lot better than some). As well as leaving a lot of rubbish behind the topsoil was scoured away. In some areas (the roses were the worst affected by this) the plants’ roots became exposed. It has taken a lot of mulching to try to repair what was lost.

A lot of the path gravel “relocated” to the lawn, it took a lot of raking (and brushing) to get it clear!

How did it recover?

The garden has generally “bounced back” very well, with the application of lots of muck and fertiliser the majority of the plants have thrived. The roses have, unfortunately, never quite regained their vigour, although a mulch of local alpaca poo set them up for a good flowering this summer.

Sowing The Seeds
Clockwise from top right: Mountain Laurel (Kalmia Latifolia), Abraham Derby Rose, ‘Quaker Star’ Rose, Wildflower Meadow and ‘Quaker’s Bonnet’ aka Double Primrose (Lilacena Plena).

What are some sustainable gardening tips?

Composting! You can’t beat a good compost, when ready it provides a great dose of organic matter to the ground. With sufficient mulch applied to the beds it cuts back on the digging (which can disturb the delicate soil structures). We are very lucky that the on-site cafe puts its peelings etc. in the compost bins, I never run out of material!

What is your favourite feature of the garden/aspect of being the Gardener?

I think my favourite thing about the garden is the peace and quiet, so close to road and yet when you step through the gates you cease to notice the noise and bustle. Cutting the lawn in the early morning as the sun just begins to warm the garden is a pleasure.

Sowing The Seeds
Karen mowing the lawn

Any future plans for the garden?

As far as I am aware there are no major changes planned for the garden. We have had some tree work done recently (including the removal of a dead tree). Aside from that, as the seasons roll by, I will continue to weed, feed, compost, mulch and mow.

Further Information

If you enjoyed reading this blog, check out some of our other blog posts in the #MuseumCarbonStories series:

Uncover the different ways our staff and museum visitors travel here in our ‘Greener Travel’ blog

Learn about our onsite eatery, The Garden Cafe and Takeaway in our ‘From Soil To Plate’ interview with Nikki and Bryan.

Discover the story behind Kendal’s Flood Tapestry in our Changing Landscapes blog

Find out about ‘Ecology and Nature’ at the museum in our #MuseumCarbonStories blog

Supporting the Quaker Tapestry

We hope you have enjoyed reading our ‘Sowing the Seeds’ blog and gained an insight into the work that goes into making our garden so lovely.

We couldn’t accept and care for our tapestries and other wonderful artefacts without our dedicated Care and Conservation team. However we need your help to…

– Create an improved database of the extensive Quaker Tapestry collection of supplementary items

– Develop best practice of the Care and Conservation volunteers through further training

Your donation will help us achieve our goals and ensure the longevity of the exhibition and collection. Please consider making a donation

Alternatively, if you are interested in gardens in particular, why don’t you check out our gardener embroidery kit on the online shop?

Quaker Tapestry Facts

The colourful tapestry panels measure 63.5cm x 53.3cm and are made using a mix of five ancient stiches and a new one, invented for the project. Embroiderers around the world now use the ‘Quaker Stitch’.

World traveller and writer Alexander McCall Smith, says they’re one of the ‘six best tapestries’ to see in the world.
The panels help you find out about famous scientists, engineers, bankers, botanists and non-conformists who pioneered industrial welfare, fair trade, prison reform, peace work and anti-slavery initiatives. Many were Cumbrians.

Begun in 1981 and completed in 1996, they’re the work of 4,000 men, women and children from around the world. Some of the panels made journeys of thousands of miles as they passed from one group of people to another.

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“An extraordinary history starting in the Lake District in 1652, founding banks, chocolate companies, building railways, establishing Pennsylvania, chatting with Russian Czars and Turkish Sultans.”

Who would have thought Quakers would be so interesting!