WELCOME TO WEST DEAN GARDENS
What a mild start to 2012, few frosts and no snow to interrupt the garden team’s work. There has been intense interest in when the River Lavant would appear in the gardens this year following the relatively dry 2011(36” instead of our average of 41”) The river is a winterbourne appearing when the water table in the local chalk aquifers reaches a certain point and, conversely disappearing in the summer when the water table drops. By dipping the well in the walled garden we can check on the level of the rising water table. It rose 2.7 metres from 1st to 23rd January, sufficient for the springs to break and the river to slowly begin to develop a flow, aqua magic!
Mild weather has meant full steam ahead in the gardens in January. The gardens are in the process of a general tidy up prior to mulching with gravel in the dry garden and our own wood chips elsewhere. These activities involve a lot of volunteers who help us so much with our maintenance program in the gardens.
Behind the scene activities include constructing more of our own patent metal edging made from mild steel, nearly 2 kilometres in fact. If our estimates are accurate this should be sufficient to edge the remainder of the beds around the entire grounds, quite an achievement! Edging keeps beds and paths firmly in place so that subsequent edging with shears does not affect the desired dimensions, is very crisp on the eye and makes maintenance much easier. Have a look at the circles in the fruit garden and you’ll see what I mean. Young rooted cuttings of glasshouse plants plus mature plants are being potted up ready for this year’s displays which will be undergoing a change in 2012 due to glasshouse renovations. And as always there is the endless pot washing.
Although the pergola rose pruning has been completed there are still the roses in the walled garden to tame and herbaceous borders to attend to. At this time of year the fruit tree training seems endless but it must be completed shortly to allow time to prepare the kitchen garden prior to planting the first crops of the season such as garlic and shallots. Visitors often ask –‘What on earth do you do in winter?’ Answer: Prepare for the year ahead!
As you walk around West Dean Gardens you realize what a lot of evergreen plants there are. In clipped form these plants have recently featured in a new publication ‘The Art of Pruning’ by Jake Hobson- Timber Press 2011. Our evergreens are kept under control using hedge trimmers, Niwaki Japanese tripod ladders, a steady eye and two good men and true who are responsible for their annual haircut. These shapes come into their own when covered with frosts and snow making a wonderful subject for winter photography but look great at anytime and act as a linking theme throughout the grounds.
St Roche’s arboretum is definitely worth a visit now as there are stunning wintry views from the top of the downs along the Lavant valley. The arboretum is always worth a look especially as it involves good healthy exercise by walking there too; allow about an hour for a steady paced walk around the circuit walk which starts in front of the college and finishes by returning to the gardens shop. This really is a wonderfully tranquil place to visit and if you last visited in summer then a winter walk is a must and a real contrast.
If you are still looking for a gift for a friend or family member , why not make them a Friend of West Dean, there is so much enjoyment in seeing a garden change through the seasons, plus all the other benefits of being a Friend. Click here for more details or speak to the Garden shop staff.
Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain write a regular column for the Chichester Observer 'Cuttings from West Dean'.
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Chichester Observer 6 February 2012