Bishop's Stortford Independent's Nature Notes columnist Jono Forgham explores the Gibberd Garden on the outskirts of Harlow
Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop's Stortford...
Continuing on from my last article from Henry Moore's I once again decided to search a specific site that is local. Consequently, a week last Tuesday I arrived at the magnificent Gibberd Garden on the outskirts of Harlow, off the road to Sheering.
I arrived early and was ushered in by head gardener Matthew. The lawns were damp with dew and shafts of sunlight shone through the tree canopy, a wonderful start to what transpired to be a superb visit.
Plenty of birds were in good voice as I had a wander around, noting plants and trees to check later in the day. Robins sang from shrubs, keeping well tucked away, making photography a trifle tricky, especially in the darker corners of the garden where the sun had yet to arrive. I spent time watching a large oak as there is always wildlife within the spreading boughs. Great tits, long-tailed tits, blue tits and a coal tit were noted whilst the plaintive autumnal "wheet, wheet" call of a chiffchaff was heard but the bird remained tucked away. Not called leaf warblers for nothing.
I moved on, noting how the garden had been planned to be made up of different areas or rooms, each with their own individuality, some quietly tucked away surrounded by high hedge whilst others offered views and were so designed to encourage the viewer to look further afield. A tall avenue of limes led the visitor's gaze towards Pincey Brook and the arboretum. This is truly an excellent habitat, made up of both native and non-native trees. Jane Brown, a renowned writer on gardens and landscape design, says of this garden: "One of the few outstanding examples of 20th-century garden design." It certainly is.
I arrived at the brook next to the railway line. More chiffchaffs along with vociferous great spotted and green woodpeckers. Overhead, crows and jackdaws mingled in groups of more than six. Another chiffchaff posed nicely for a photo. By now, I was more familiar with the layout, so returned to the entrance to pick up all the camera gear as the light and temperatures were now improving. A juvenile hobby called from the hedge on the other side of the lane. I caught a glimpse of no more than a silhouette before it headed off towards the expansive building site. A good spot, indeed.
Tiny insects fluttering around a horse chestnut tree caught my eye, literally thousands of them all swirling under the lowest branches, the sun shining on their brown and white striped wings. No more than 3mm in length, these were Cameraria ohridella, the horse chestnut leaf-mining micro moth, the ones responsible for making the brown blotches on just about every horse chestnut in the country. They occasionally landed upon a leaf, but too small and too fast for a photo. Nearby, a Spanish or sweet chestnut was laden with nuts whilst in the hedgerow were more long-tailed tits.
I headed off to check some conifers near the house designed by Sir Fredrick Gibberd with its picture windows overlooking a well maintained formal garden and patio. Paths led from one area to another, bordered by ivy. Here bees, wasps and a hornet fed on the newly opened ivy flowers, mainly Apis melifera, the western honeybee, but also a few smaller bees, Lasioglossum calceatum, the common furrow bee. The hornet patrolled the whole hedge, making occasional sorties into the undergrowth and picking up a bee or wasp for a snack.
Nearby, a formal pond looked good for dragonflies later in the day. Another path brought me to the conifers where, as expected, more tit species fed and I was pleased to fire off a few shots of goldcrests. Almost always on the move, so tricky to get a good shot of them remaining still. One or two photos later and I had what I wanted.
By now, it was time for the gardeners and the volunteers to have a coffee break and they kindly invited me to join them in the barn. As we chatted a common buzzard flew low overhead as I heard of the wildlife that has been recorded within the expansive garden: Fallow deer, mink and otters along with sparrowhawks and red kites.
Coffee completed I took myself back down to the brook. Magpies "chack chacked" and a few jays were quarrelsome. A tree creeper spiralled up a willow trunk, another common buzzard mewed overhead as I enjoyed the many sculptures and pieces of artwork, sympathetically placed in corners of the 'rooms'. Benches, secluded in small areas, must have been used by Sir Fredrick and Lady Patricia for peaceful relaxation and quiet contemplation, offering opportunities for one of the greatest architects of the 20th century to plan and design. Gibberd was the main architect for Liverpool metropolitan cathedral, (or as it's called in Liverpool, The Mersey Funnel), London Central Mosque and Terminal 2 at Heathrow. However, he is probably best known as the designer and planner for Harlow new town, which he began in 1946.
A fluttering caught my eye – a blue tit hovering and probably picking off spiders or insects from the leaves. Another was busy inspecting yew berries, again, in search of food.
A check along the whole length of Pincey Brook gave up views of small white and speckled wood butterflies and a distant migrant hawker dragonfly but no mammals. Fish rose to the surface near the castle with its moat. Here, Indian balsam, willowherbs and purple loosestrife grew, offering maybe the last colour of the year apart from what I can only imagine being a fantastic array of leaf colours next month. Presently, though, from a good vantage point the dominating colour is a spectrum of greens. An acer was particulary bright and worthy of a photo before I encountered a small stand of a verbascum species upon which a Bombus pascuorum (common carder bee) was nectaring. I tried for a few macro shots, hoping to get one of it in flight. Some form of success with that challenge.
Parasol mushrooms along with field and horse mushrooms were pushing through the grass verges and in corners of beds. Here orange and yellow roses added to the colours from the well cared for and immaculately kept flowerbeds. I found myself back at the formal pond, rechecked the ivy before taking time to wait for any dragonfly species. Another migrant hawker was soon followed by a common darter, neither of them offering themselves for a photo as both were off and into the trees looking for prey. The last hoverflies of the year danced under the leaves of a willow, showing yellow and black when the sun caught their abdomens. These were mainly Syrphus ribesii species but also a few Episyrphus balteatus.
By now the sun was high and the temperature was approaching 30C, time for a hat and some shade so back to the large oak and poplars. I searched in vain for a roosting tawny owl which I felt sure must be present. A nuthatch burbled away as I scanned the trees but flatly refused to show for a photo. Wrens sounded off their alarm calls as my attention was drawn skywards. I heard a kestrel calling, followed shortly afterwards by the irate call of a jackdaw. Overhead, an aerial dogfight with the jackdaw mobbing the irritated kestrel. After several close passes the falcon obviously was out of the jackdaw's territory and continued peacefully on its way.
By now it was approaching 1pm and I had been on site for five hours, in which time I think I covered the whole nine-acre site. I said my farewells and expressed gratitude for being so lucky to have the whole garden to myself before I checked the public footpath at the end of Marsh Lane, but just more of what I had already noted. Also, a quick search of the field by the grassy car park gave up a red admiral butterfly but nothing else new.
This magnificent garden is open to the public on Wednesdays and Sundays as well as bank holidays. Presently it is planned to close at the end of the month, with a possibility of an extension if the weather remains good. A visit is certainly highly recommended. Further details at www.thegibberdgarden.co.uk or call 01279 442112.