What's looking good in April
Fritillaries are the flowery beacons of early April in the orchard at West Dean Gardens. Over the years they have multiplied prolifically, belying the common held notion that they only thrive in water meadows. Generally the appearance of all/any bulb is a treat, even blousy pink tulips that are currently frolicking in the Walled Garden are eye-catchers, wear your sunglasses though as they're so bright.
Suddenly there's sun and we all feel the benefit including weed seeds! As plant growth increases the pace of the gardeners does too to keep up with it all. Warm weather means not much rain - only 55mm in March, so we're hoping that this doesn't herald a dry year ahead. All gardeners want to avoid the dreaded hand watering outside in the summer as it takes so much time. Dry conditions, however, allow the gardeners to garden at full steam so trimming the evergreens is now virtually complete, as is most of the pruning and mulch spreading. Thank goodness for volunteer help which help us to complete these seasonal tasks.
An April treat is the Auricula in flower. We are fortunate to have a north facing lean-to glasshouse which is perfect for housing our Auricula collection of around 150 potted plants. I dream of all the Auriculas being in flower at more or less the same time, but this hasn't happened yet and I suspect I wait in vain. Still it's great to be able to stick your head into the house and get a waft of their delicious scent.
Mowing takes over now until eternity! Well not quite, but Tim will be out on the ride-on cylinder and rotary mowers each week to tame the large areas of green sward. Others use pedestrian mowers to do the awkward bits. West Dean doesn't have much fine turf but there's plenty of the green stuff to keep Tim occupied with grass cutting for about 3 days a week. Wave to him as he drives by!
Vegetable news: Shaun, the kitchen gardener, is about to harvest a fine crop of lettuce grown under glass; some of this will be for the Restaurant as will salad leaves cut from the vegetable frame - the more colourful the better. Elsewhere structures are going up in the Kitchen Garden as bean and ornamental gourd supports. The onions, shallots, garlic and potatoes are in and Shaun is about to embark on a flurry of seed sowing - carrot and parsnips especially, now that the soil is warming up.
I hope you've managed to walk up to the Arboretum this year, the daffodils were charming and rhododendrons are now in flower. For the health conscious it's a glorious place to walk - plenty of slopes so good for heart exercise and there's always a cup of tea for you at the Gardens Restaurant on completion, cake too if you care to partake. All who know and love the Arboretum would encourage those who haven't been yet to treat themselves with a visit as the experience is so different to our gardens here on the floor of the valley.
Please note we'll be harvesting delicious rhubarb soon for Rhubarb Day at the Gardens Restaurant on the 12 April. All sorts of yumminess involving rhubarb will be served on the day so do come along and enjoy the astronomic experience. Also don't forget the Easter delights at West Dean, there'll be loads for young people to do and, yes, chocolate is involved!
Sarah Wain, Garden Supervisor, 6 April 2017