Gardeners busy at work

The sun is shining on the gardens today and smoke drifts across the gardens from our Autumn bonfires.

The beeches in the park have turned a beautiful golden colour and the sheep grazing underneath make a bucolic picture.

We have seen the first winter frosts this week, which have caused many of our tender plants to collapse and there is an urgent need to tidy up pots and annual beds.

The dahlias can now be lifted and work is ongoing to store them safely over the winter. The tubers will sit dry and warm undercover before being planted into pots in the spring and then planted out in late May. Steve has been busy clearing a new bed beneath the Black Walnut tree in the woodland walk.

Recently, it had grown further and further over the path, its great limbs reaching down to the ground and kneeling there before shooting up again.

There are only about two weeks of the year when the sap isn’t rising in a Black Walnut, so if you perform tree surgery at the wrong time the tree will bleed to death. In late August this year we cut the limbs right back and there was a perfect space left for a new bed.

Since it was swamped with ground elder, Steve spent two and a half days days just clearing and pulling out the roots! We are going to create a winter bed here full of snowdrops and cyclamen and iris reticulata but when we can plant it depends on the ground elder. We may also have to weed several times more.

November work

With our volunteers and friends we planted over 4,000 bulbs on a mild morning and the soil was perfect for introducing bulbs that will bring us yellow, blue and white flowers in a succession from March onwards.

In late Spring the terrace meadows  are covered with the native cowslip and one or two precious Pasque flowers. These native wildflowers like our poor limestone slopes. Unfortunately so does the ragwort and thistle. We walk across the terraces wearing gloves (ragwort should not be handled without gloves, it has a poison that can enter the skin) and a big fork. On a damp soil, they  will slide out fairly easily. In the greenhouse, we are potting up a very delicate daffodil called Narcissus bulbicodium for planting out ‘in the green’ onto the terraces next year.

A great small tree for any garden is Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis.’ Now, it is a flaming orange and, in any spell of mild weather throughout the winter it will flower. This tree confuses visitors who think that its funny behaviour is a sign of climate change. It may burst into blossom or just throw a few pale pink flowers any time between November and April. We have planted (so far) seven and, if they flower in February, will add an ethereal feel to the drifts of snowdrops on the slopes. It is widely available and will grow in almost any soil.

We are harvesting and storing seed. Salvia patens, a true royal blue flower, sets fat dark seeds that fall out into your hand. The seed from its cousin Salvia viridis or Clary needs wrestling out of its limp seed pod. Salvia patens works well in pots and for sticking into spaces in the garden from June onwards. In milder areas than ours, it will overwinter in a warm sheltered part of the garden. Clary comes in pink, white and blue.(available for sale in our online shop) The flowers are tiny but each spike is topped with vibrantly coloured bracts. We get orders for seed of the blue or pink but rarely the white. This is a shame as the white form with its green veining is excellent in flower arrangements. These are two plants we are asked about over and over again through the summer. Almost all the Salvia family are worth investigating.

The final putting to bed of the rose meadows involves mowing, raking, piling and stacking. The birds keep a close eye on all this activity. In return, as the leaves fall from the trees we get a better view of their activities. Down in the birdhide, small groups of tits, dunnocks and finches flit between the feeders and the undergrowth. The fieldfares have arrived back to overwinter here.

We are hoping to complete the final weed through the beds and assume that the weather will turn and growth will stop. If not, we have a back up plan. A leaflet has arrived from a local one man business offering garden maintenance including clearing ‘evasive’ weeds. I hope he brings a big net.

Originally published www.alantitchmarsh.com – November 2010