The Garden Notes

October Skies 2012

16 October 2012

Lot’s has gone on in the Walled Garden since the last entry in May 2011. More of that detail later.

Despite the record rains of 2012 we have had an abundant harvest and are about to set our plans for the 2013 plantings.

The view in photo is taken from the top of the north wall looking south to the house.

The Lodge - Whithurst

May – Irrigation, Irrigation, Irrigation

20 May 2011

The frantic pace of activity on the estate has continued throughout May – the month that traditionally marks the start of serious planting outside. The team has been planting, seed-sowing and pricking-out at a pace of knots – as fast as we empty the glasshouse and polytunnel of material, it fills back up almost immediately!

On top of all this frantic work, we have (like most gardeners in the South of England) been forced to spend an unseasonably large amount of time and effort on watering thanks to the continued dry spell. The yew trees in particular have been suffering, with a number going into unsightly transplant shock – still, their root systems remain healthy and there is the promise of new growth about to emerge….

The improvement of the soil in the walled garden was completed towards the end of the month, with the final tally of added material soaring to 80 tonnes of sharp sand and 70 cubic meters of organic material. The result is a much more workable soil structure – I can plant using a hand trowel now rather than a pick-axe! This huge job should not have to be repeated next year, so we are hoping to be further ahead of the game 12 months from now.

With the soil work complete, we were finally able plant out the box hedging within the walled garden. As the photograph shows, it completely changes the nature of the space, and it’s great to finally see the garden with its core infrastructure taking shape.

The rose garden has also erupted into its best display in years – testament to the careful and targeted formative pruning regime we employed during those cold days in February. Numb fingers, embedded thorns and blood offerings all seem worth it now! The first aphid infestations have been spotted, and duly sprayed with an organic soft-soap to reduce their numbers and impact on the plants.

So far we have planted out courgette, lettuce (Lollo Verde), broad beans, dwarf French beans, jerusalem artichokes, onion, swiss chard and potatoes. More will follow in the subsequent months as we successionally sow and increase the range of material we are growing in the walled garden.

Sadly, Maisie decided to leave the gardening team for pastures new. We will look for a replacement, but I’d like to thank her for all the effort she put into the garden during its formative months.

Happy gardening everyone!


The Lodge - Whithurst

April – Or is it June?

19 April 2011

Has this been the driest and hottest April on record? It certainly seems so! Despite trying to be a month ahead, it now feels like we are a month behind, with everything romping ahead full-kilter. I’m sure everyone remembers frost or snow in April’s gone by, but this year we seem to have thrown the rule-book completely out of the window. So much for not planting out until after the first of May….

As predicted, the ‘Dutch Master’ Daffodils went into overdrive mid-April, with almost two thousand blooming simultaneously along the length of the drive. A marvellous sight! Some of the ‘White Folly’ held on to provide a nice counterpoint to the yellow – and by the end of the month, this counterpoint was achieved by the naturalised bluebells.

The Wisteria on the potting shed also erupted into cascades of lilac bloom, and is already sending out lots of new whippy growth that will need to be tamed in Autumn – I’m happy that the plant has responded well to the formative spur pruning and new framework. We will continue to build up the spur network over the next few years to ensure more prolific flowering each spring.

In addition to the fruit trees that arrived at the end of March, April saw us take delivery of around three thousand box plants (Buxus sempervirens – Buxaceae) which will be planted around the edge of the four central beds of the kitchen garden – these, in combination with the alpine strawberries and chives, will form the core structure of the garden in winter. We also took delivery of over thirty 2m high Yew trees (Taxus baccata – Taxaceae) that will form the ‘butresses’ on the outside of the kitchen garden walls.

On the infrastructure front, April saw a radical new element introduced to the design of the walled garden – two paved areas either side of the Glasshouse, which will be used as an outdoor kitchen, dining and seating spaces. Additionally, all of the walls were bedecked in their frame of supporting wires, which will allow us to train the fruit trees and grow climbers.

April will also be remembered for the back-breaking job of improving the soil in the kitchen garden. Compaction over winter made the soil very hard to work, so we have incorporated around forty tonnes of sharp sand and thirty cubic meters of composted green waste (organically produced of course!) Thankfully this should not have to be repeated next year!

Seed sowing and pricking out continues apace, and the gardening team hopes to be planting out a wider range of plant material after the Easter break. Check in again next month to see how we did!

Happy gardening!


The Lodge - Whithurst

March – Signs of life

25 March 2011

March has seen the first signs of life stirring within the estate, starting early with a lovely golden glow to the woodlands courtesy of the Hazel coppice (Corylus avellana – Betulaceae). The Daffodils gave us a bit of scare by not showing themselves until the end of the month, by which point all of the 250 White Folly were in full bloom, with the promise of a much bigger display of the Dutch Master to follow in April. The experiment with the Chionodoxa proved a success, with the bulbs managing to pull through the terrible winter – so the next step will be to increase the number of naturalised bulbs and build for a bigger display next year.

Seed sowing began in earnest this month, starting with the Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca – Rosaceae) and Chives (Allium Schoenoprasum – Alliaceae) which will form some of the evergreen edging to the raised beds. We also sowed broad beans, short-day lettuce and a number of flowers that will help bring colour and beneficial insects to the garden.

We are sowing in pure coir and then pricking out into a coir based substrate (which also includes composted bark, sterilised soil and organic fertilizer) – so I’m proud to say we are 100% peat-free and working as sustainably as possible.

On the infrastructure front, March saw the delivery of over 50 fruit trees for training on the walls of the kitchen garden and the sub-division of the raised beds into manageable spaces (a trick to save our backs when reaching for those pesky weeds!) It’s going to be quite a task to prune and tie-in all the trees, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.

April looks like it’s going to be a busy month, so check in again for updates on our progress. Until then, Happy Gardening!


The Lodge - Whithurst

February: It’s all go!

3 February 2011

After a slow start to the year, I find myself almost out of breath writing this month’s blog entry – so much has been happening!

The month was kick-started by a very productive financial meeting, which gave the green light to order all of the supplies, equipment and materials we will need for the upcoming seed sowing. This also included the go-ahead for the seed order itself, comprising of over 120 different cultivars of vegetables and annual flowers destined for the walled garden. Four different suppliers were used in order to obtain the best value for money, and cultivars have been specially selected to allow successional sowing and extend both the growing and cropping period as much as possible.

Around the rest of the estate, Maisie and I continued with the winter maintenance schedule – including the final prune of the roses and weeding of the walled garden whenever the weather allowed. The rose beds have been given a good thick layer of Strulch (TM) – which is essentially mineralised straw. I can’t praise this product enough, having trialled it at Ness Botanic Garden in 2005, and used it in the Duke’s Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The Strulch bio-degrades very slowly, so acts as a great mulch layer for the soil – retaining moisture, suppressing weeds and incorporating BOM (bulky organic matter) through worm activity. It should provide considerable time savings in maintenance and allows us to practice no-dig horticulture in this area of the garden – the worms will improve and develop the soil profile on their own, and all we have to do is keep the mulch layer topped-up.

This month has also seen construction of our new Polytunnel, and the addition of benches to the glasshouse. The infrastructure for the new walled garden is rapidly coming together, and I anticipate that March will see all of the remaining equipment and supplies arrive, allowing seed-sowing to begin on an almost industrial scale!

Check back in soon to see what progress March brings….


The Lodge - Whithurst
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