West Dean Gardens - March 2014
It's official, it's been the wettest winter on record with 425mm of rain falling so far this year - about 17 inches in old money. As a consequence the mighty river Lavant is in fine form whooshing through the gardens lickety-split. If only it was a feature for 12 months of the year how thrilling would that be.
The rain has rearranged our garden activities to an extent as it's been far too wet to even think about working in the Kitchen Garden and only now is the manure being brought in for digging in for the potatoes and onions - a month behind time. Never fear, during dry(ish) moments 'Kitchen Garden Shaun' makes the most of it and plants, prepares and propagates when possible.
Bright sunny exceptional days have been too few so far this year but when they occur the naturalised bulbs particularly in grassy swards, open their faces to the sun for everyone's enjoyment. Also to be enjoyed are the early spring scent of Sarcococca, mahonia, viburnum and other delightfully odoriferous plants. Shortly the narcissi, throughout the gardens will explode into bloom continuing the ongoing flowery theme which starts at the beginning of the year with snowdrops and winter aconites and finishes in autumn with cyclamen.
Anne, the 'border queen' has been whipping roses into shape on the pergola and on the rose border in the walled garden. After a feed with fish blood and bone and a light fork over they'll be ready to spring into action once again. Although the rain has been a hindrance to her work so far this winter, warmer dryer weather (which must come!) will allow her to continue with border maintenance. When wet, Anne has been potting up her tender perennial cuttings, which will be planted out during May time throughout her borders.
The man with the blue tractor, Jack, has been working his way from one end of the gardens to the other keeping the garden beds weeded and under control. As the weather warms up and weeds germinate this work will increase so a merry band of garden volunteers will assist him with this task.
Elsewhere, William and Stuart continue to tame unruly shrubs, topiarising some but merely reducing the dimensions of others to keep them under control. This is an annual task which over the years has given West Dean Gardens a certain clipped appearance. Shaped shrubs look terrific when covered with frost and snow, not that we've seen much of that this year, but they also act as a foil to a band of loosely formed herbaceous perennials at their base throughout the gardens.
Over the years volunteers have pricked out thousands of primroses, cowslips and other wild flowers that we grow each year from seed. With their help our wild flower and naturalised bulb areas throughout the gardens are developing into quite a tapestry and add a satisfyingly beautiful dimension to the gardens as well as attracting pollinating insects and garden visitors.
There will be plenty to see in the Gardens on Mothering Sunday, 30 March this year (half price entry for adults, children come in for FREE and a free bunch of daffs for mums) with super treats in the Garden Shop and Restaurant. Why not treat your mum to one of the fabulous short courses on offer at West Dean College - there will be a special 15% discount on Taster Days for visitors on 30 March - see our website www.westdean.org.uk for further details. Don't forget to visit us again in the run up to Easter and bring the whole family for fun Easter Egg Hunts around the Gardens (16 - 20 April).
We'd love to see you more frequently in the Gardens generally to enjoy all the aspects of our annual cycle of work; how about becoming a Friend so that you can enjoy the Gardens as many times as you wish throughout the year. Over a cup of tea and a slice of homemade cake in the Restaurant check out the Summer Short course brochure or view it online on our new Flipbook (free Wi-fi in the Restaurant) and see which course tempts you the most. Visit www.westdean.org.uk for further investigation.