Autumn updates - no time for tea breaks!

Most people’s perception is that as we approach the autumn and winter; gardens and gardeners go into a slight winter dormancy or engage in a time of reflection and drink copious amounts warm tea. As wonderful as this sounds, this can’t be further from the truth. As we approach the autumn and winter, as a garden team, we have been planning and strategizing for months, putting in place processes where we can deliver some very exciting projects for the spring and summer of 2020.

Trees: The next generation

As a Head Gardener, like my predecessor, I’m constantly looking for unusual species and forms to continue to make the tree collection at West Dean something special and unique. After the sad removal of the majestic cedar which grew along the main drive, we have plans to replant the area with a number of trees; repopulating the area for future generations. We have great ambition to plant a number of native and exotic tree species throughout The Gardens, Arboretum and Parkland over the coming years. Looking to the future; we intend to harvest acorns from the veteran oak, adjacent to the Visitor Centre to perpetuate its genes and plant another generation of noble oaks.

In the Spring Garden, a great deal of regeneration work has been undertaken over the past month or so. We have some truly magnificent specimens of tree, shrub and bamboo which the team is exposing in order to enhance the planting and enrich the student and visitor experience over the coming years. We were delighted to see a group of Szechuan pepper seedlings growing underneath the parent tree in the Spring Garden which have now been potted and are growing in our nursery to plant out in the Gardens. An area of the Spring Garden known as Harold’s Hole, where the winterbourne Lavant first emerges is undergoing a face lift. A group of tree ferns with an understorey of ground covering ferns will be planted to add drama to a very tranquil part of the garden in the spring of 2020.

Fruit harvest time

The Fruit Collection at West Dean is something to be very proud of. Over the past few months we have identified a number of spaces in the Walled Garden which we intend to plant with new varieties; to increase and enhance our current collection, including a fan trained mulberry – very exciting! Our team and volunteers spent many hours picking fruit this season and took 1.5 tones to be juiced by the wonderful charity HFT, a national charity with a centre at Fontwell, providing services for people with learning disabilities. HFT processed our fruit in their juicing operation which a proportion then comes back to West Dean and is sold in our Restaurant. As our restored glasshouses become available to us, we are planning a new apricot and peach house in houses 4 and 5 to complement our nectarines growing in house 25.

1500 foxgloves

Our foxglove display is growing on well and is currently being moved into polytunnels for the winter. We have grown in the region of 1500 plants, including many unusual species and cultivars from around the world, which we hope will flower next summer, creating a floral spectacle which will be sited near the Pergola.

Changes in the Walled Garden

The Walled Garden will see some transformations over the coming months; the cut flower area will be replanted and enhanced to provide a greater range of blooms for cutting for our students and volunteers to decorate our Visitor Centre and support our College courses. This will involve a larger collection of dahlias and the perennial plants being arranged as if it was a decorative border; giving greater aesthetic impact. Over the coming years, I hope to build on West Dean’s strong reputation to become `the go to’ garden to learn about flowers for cutting.

In The Kitchen Garden our soft fruit area has been removed in order to replant new varieties of raspberries and hybrid berries towards the back of the border but making way for a strip of salads, vegetables and cut flowers along the front of the border with a collection of blackcurrants adding to the display.

Bounteous bulbs

During October, November and December, tulip and allium bulbs will be planted throughout the borders in the Walled Garden, along with a scented daffodil display and around 2000 hyacinth bulbs which will adorn the glasshouses – follow your nose in early spring for something spectacular.

So, as those evenings draw in and the nip in the air turns into more persistent frosty, cold weather, think of the garden team at West Dean entering a very physical and exciting winter, working very hard to continue to deliver a remarkable garden, peppered with some dramatic highlights for 2020.

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