Mary BartlettMary Bartlett came to Dartington in 1963 as a horticultural student. After her training she became responsible for the glasshouses, nursery and walled garden.

She is the author of several books, including the monograph Gentians, and Inky Rags, a review of which can be found on the Dartington website. She is now the tutor for bookbinding in the Crafted @ Dartington department. More blogs from Mary

Mary’s note: ‘I began this comment before lockdown and have continued the research and added to the original.’

As I begin to plant the walled garden at Martins that my late husband Bram and I restored 30 years ago and that I’ve cared for ever since, memories and questions fill my mind.

Below: ‘before’ and ‘after’ images of Mary’s walled garden

'before' and 'after' images of Mary's walled garden
'before' and 'after' images of Mary's walled garden
'before' and 'after' images of Mary's walled garden
The indigenous weeds that have protected the soil over the winter need to be taken out to make room for the food crops.

In the small orchard the ground cover of perennial comfrey needs a prune. On a sunny day the bumble bees still hum. Thank goodness – but when we planted the trees we could sit and watch bats flying, and the noise of the frogs and toads mating in the pond could be heard from the house. Not now though – like so much of our countryside it has fallen silent.

Back in 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring sounded one of the first environmental alarms. It’s a lifetime since it was published. People don’t recognise her name or remember DDT, the pesticide she saw wreaking havoc. But the same story of ignorant mistake and cover-up keeps repeating.

I watched a film in the Barn cinema Dark Waters, a film about the damage the DuPont Corporation knowingly did to people and planet when developing Teflon. It was hard for me to sit through because it reminded me of the industrial disease my husband died from. But it also reminded me how difficult it is to escape ‘contamination’. Bookbinders like me use Teflon everyday. The best paper folders, once made of bone, are made of smooth slippy Teflon.
I belong to the local Biodynamic study group. I follow the biodynamic planting calendar and trust some of other sympathetic biodynamic practices, such as selecting and saving open-pollinated seed. The saved seed of the peas and broad beans are safely in storage.
I was lent Colin Wilson’s biography of Rudolph Steiner, founder of the biodynamic movement, and was fascinated to read ‘there is a strong case that he died of discouragement.’ Wilson’s verdict linked with much research I have done on Luther Burbank, the American plant breeder – another visionary thinker, who struggled against mainstream tunnel vision.

My interest is in the listing of Burbank plums in the famous 1935 Dartington gardens catalogue – see The Forgotten Gardener: Architect of Nature, Wilbur Hall, who knew him well. ’What killed Luther Burbank, at just that time and in just that abrupt and tragic fashion,’ Hall writes, ‘was his baffled yearning, desperate effort to make people understand’.

I have manged to track down two of his varieties and have planted them this winter.

He mentions the Russian, Vavilov, who visited him in 1921. Origin and Geography of Cultivated Plants is a classic and changed perceived wisdom. Leonard Elmhirst mentions him in his Trip to Russia, 1932.
Sadly another genius who died in 1943 of starvation in prison, ordered by Stalin.

Plant breeders are dedicated people. One of the first I was fortunate to work with in the 1950s-60s was Cecil Wyatt. His nursery was on the edge of Dartmoor. His passion was pinks and many of his varieties are still popular, such as Haytor, Cranmere Pool, Dartmoor Forest. All were recorded by the botanical artist Rosie Sanders who was awarded a gold medal by the R.H.S. She is well known for her classic book on apples.
Other contributions to plant breeders in Devon are documented in The Magic Tree published by the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens, 1989. Rhododendron augustinii ‘Dartington Blue’, Viola ‘Dartington Blue’ are just two of the many with Dartington connections listed in the Devon appendix. Former Dartington horticultural student Richard Fulcher became famous for his breeding of Agapanthus. A clump still grows near the Peter Randall-Page sculpture.

Growing up on the edge of Dartmoor influenced my life. We had a railway allotment, now a duel carriageway. The water meadow where we kept our horses is a building site as is much of the open farmland. I spent 6 years, researching and speaking at every planning meeting in a local council which wanted to build on ground untouched since the Devonian period in geological times. I printed a book, Land at Sutton Close to record the events.

We walked the moor, understood the land, followed the granite railway, looked towards the China clay works and on to the sea. I was among the first girls to be asked to take part in Ten Tors, becoming team leader on the third time in 1963. This year it was cancelled due to the virus problem. The early publicity and medal were designed by Peter Tysoe, who later had his glass studio on the estate.
Invasion is everywhere. On a weekly basis I have to make decisions relating to books belonging to my class. How much do we repair something centuries old? What has eaten it? How do we deal with mould? How do we preserve for the future?

The last of the apples saved from the autumn are made into juice. We wait for the roses to flower to make rose petal cordial.

I look at the moon calendar and choose the seed from the box, go out into the greenhouse and sow. Talk to the pheasant who plods slowly picking here and there. Observe the blue tit nibbling the aphids on the roses. Watch the sparrow hawk as she decides her best move.

Look forward to the warmer weather and the abundance it will bring. Plant crops for the coming winter.

Picture credits: Bill Simpson

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