Welcome to West Dean Gardens in Autumn

After recent winds it's great to see peace and quiet return to the Gardens. Don't you love the autumn light which creates such long shadows at this time of year? These bright sunny days seem better than summer's offering to me. Some autumn colours are appearing, delicious buttery tones of Schisandra rubrifolia are particularly notable and with any luck more colours will appear shortly. I'm fascinated by the seasonal change and love it.

And so the wheel turns as we once again clean the propagating benches in the prop house and start taking the first cuttings of the season. Already there are semi-ripe cuttings of perennials and glasshouses' cuttings of begonias tidily tucked away under a plastic hood on the heated prop bench. These will become the new crops for 2019. Elsewhere some of the chilli plants have made way for clivias and some orchids that have been enjoying the great outdoors over summer. We keep an eye on the night-time temperatures and bring plants indoors before the first frosts. Soon it will be the turn of dahlias and cannas, which will be lifted and stored over winter. The dahlias are looking pretty good though at the moment, so we're in no hurry with them.

Our new amazon flail mower has been in action, cutting the meadow grass again in preparation for winter. Although wild meadow grass is much admired by garden visitors and gardeners alike and is a wonderful addition to the landscape, it's not without associated work, however, taking more time to cut than the rest of the lawns because of its length. In cooler months it creates its own interest and contrasts in colour and general appearance to the surrounding green sward. Then in spring naturalised bulbs will flourish within it; hundreds of thousands of bulbs have been planted in our wild flower swards over the years and these are bulking up well with a sea of mauve blue Crocus thomasinianus being one of the first bulb displays to look forward to in 2019 in the Walled Fruit Garden.

Within the main body of the Garden the cycle of seasonal work turns here too. Old hellebore leaves are removed with the help of our merry band of volunteers so that the new leaves have room to appear in their pristine glory. The volunteers, along with Gardener Jack, circle through the 30-acres of Gardens attending to this seasonal task and other relevant maintenance work as they go. For our Garden visitor there is still plenty to see throughout the Gardens so come and see what we're up to.

The walk to St Roche's Arboretum is a joy in autumn. There are spectacular views to take in once you're at the top and if you give yourself enough time, there will be a delightful afternoon tea to devour in the Gardens Restaurant on your return. Friends of West Dean Gardens can enjoy this walk daily if that is their wish, so do avail yourself of a Friends card if you'd like to join the cheerful group, as St Roche's is a splendid destination for anyone who enjoys nature and trees in particular. There are now three choices of paths in the Arboretum and the central one has recently been completed. Even in inclement weather, you can safely tread amongst the trees without getting your feet wet; particularly if you return to the Gardens along the route you came up on.

Jim and I have written a book called 'At West Dean', published on 4 October, which is now available to buy from the West Dean Garden Shop. For fans of West Dean may I suggest it as a memento? We feel the book is a fitting bookend, so to speak, of our time at West Dean, which draws to a close at the end of March 2019.

On a final spooky note, don't forget it's nearly Halloween time again at West Dean Gardens! There'll be plenty of activities for little horrors and monsters, so bring them along 24-28 October for some ghostly horrible fun!

Sarah Wain, Garden Supervisor, 5 October 2018

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Schisandra Rubrifolia at West Dean Gardens
Sarah Wain holding 'At West Dean'