West Dean Gardens in February

Well - where to start? You will see as you walk around the grounds and walled garden numerous trenches and machinery whizzing about. Our outdated wood chip burning boiler or biomass boiler (next to the Gardens Restaurant) is being replaced after sterling work for nearly four decades and a super-duper efficient new boiler is being erected across the road from the main gates; consequently all the pipe work is being upgraded hence the trenches. It's said that a garden is merely a process and never finished which is probably how we feel very keenly right now as the gardens team contemplate restoring lawns etc after the workmen have left.

Following a rather dry spring and early summer last year, the 2015 annual rainfall romped home two inches shy of the 41 inch average (1100mms in new money) last year. I don't need to tell you just how wet it's been as we move into 2016 as I'm sure the whole country is aware of it. The Spring Garden has been living up to expectations with water popping out of the ground in seemingly random locations and the mighty River Lavant is ripping along, rising daily and worth a slosh around in your wellies to see it roaring along, just keep a good grip on littlies!

Needless to say the building work on the walls of the tributary turned into a race against the water rising and then the gardens manager decided to extend the project which meant all-hands-on-deck to get the job done. The new bridge work will have to wait until summer when the water subsides again but once that work is completed this area should look relatively complete.

Along with the water this winter, the incredibly mild weather which has challenged our expectations of plant behaviour. Bulbs were up and flowering way too early and buds were swelling too. Here's hoping that a cold snap of glorious sunny days and no rain for a while will calm down this extraordinary season and that we don't lose too much spring blossom to frosts.

Despite all that unusual activity the gardens team has completed glasshouse cleaning and the re-potting is well on its way. Recently the apples and pears have been the training ground for Barry, our relatively new trainee, as he learns the gentle art of fruit tree pruning from Stu, one of 'the woodies'. In fact, several staff members have enjoyed a fruit tree training session to increase their knowledge of how fruiting wood develops and how to prune for shape space and yield.

Sarah Wain, Garden Supervisor @sarahwestdean

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Winter walks

To help you become fighting fit there is an excellent walk up into St Roche's Arboretum which will put a good glow in your cheeks as long as you don't dawdle. A regular stomp is just what the doctor ordered and the stunning views at the top of the circuit will make you gasp with admiration.