The Garden Notes

January: Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink!

20 January 2011

The January blog title reflects the flooded fields of Whithurst Park and frozen pipes at my cottage! It truly has been a terrible start to the new year.

With cold, wet soil prevailing across the estate, the gardening team turned to that stalwart of winter work – pruning. The Wisteria on the side of the potting shed has grown unchecked for the past seven years, and had become a tangled mass of long whippy growth. Over the course of a week, we untangled all of the stems, removed the 3D’s (Dead, Dying and Diseased) and spur pruned to encourage flowering. We also established a new support framework, to which the remaining material was tied in using soft natural twine. The framework has a grid pattern, and while some may not like this artificiality, it provides a perfect base to encourage strong lateral stems and prolific spurs.

The tying-in process took a number of days and hundreds of knots, making it feel like we were practicing the Japanese art of Niwaki – a process certainly not helped by numb fingers courtesy of the biting winds and freezing temperatures.

The rose garden within the parterre has been given a thorough weeding in preparation for the final winter prune (which should take place next month) and Maisie and I have been trying to keep on top of the last of the leaf-fall. The lawns have remained leaf-free, which should reduce the spread of moss and encourage strong stoloniferous growth from the grass in spring.

That’s all for January – hopefully the pace will pick up in February along with the temperatures!

The Lodge - Whithurst

December: It’s Quiet and White Outside

5 December 2010

Just one word: Snow. Yes I’m starting with the weather again, but since the entire nation is talking about nothing else, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. The month started on a high, with lots of weeding and digging-over the beds in the walled garden making very good progress in preparation for the months ahead. All was going so well, but then just a day after the bulbs for the drive finally arrived, we found ourselves locked down, and totally snowed in! After the initial surprise of the sudden heavy snow I realised that with a plentiful supply of logs and a roaring fire in the cottage I had the chance to take stock of progress to date, and I was able to get on with all those jobs that I’ve been too busy to deal with up until now.

As I suspected, we were unable to get the Narcissus pseudonarcissus for the drive, but I was able to source 2,000 of a cultivar by the name of ‘Dutch Master’ which is pretty close to the mark. With uniformly coloured petals and a central trumpet of deep golden yellow, it is not too big or gaudy and it works with Richards’s vision for the drive. We will intersperse the planting with occasional clumps of ‘Ice Folly’, a delicate white cultivar. NB: This is an impressive planting scheme used to good effect both at Highrove and Petworth Park to break up the density of what could become a conspicuous swathe of mono-planting by lightening the overall effect. Now we just have to dodge the snow and frost to get them all in before Christmas.

I think it was Christopher Lloyd who once said that experimentation is the hallmark of adventurous gardening – and I agree, playing it safe is just dull. With this in mind, we have planted 250 bulbs of Chionodoxa sardensis (Hyacinthaceae) as an experiment in the main lawn close to the terrace. They are not ideally suited to clay soils, but as the lawn is sloping, I’m hoping there will be enough drainage to allow them to thrive and naturalise. If you have ever seen the Chionodoxa lawn at Kew in spring, then you will know it’s a glorious site – a sea of gentian blue shimmering in the sunlight. Fingers crossed for a stunning display next year!

The fruit trees and vines for the outside of the walled garden have been ordered, as well as a new polytunnel for next year. I’ve also been working on a design to link the main house with the walled garden, which I’ll share with you once it has been agreed and finalised. It’s a tricky space with a lot of different requirements and everyone has their own opinion about what should be there! Once the design is locked down, I will publish the drawings on the website so that you can all see what we intend to do.

That’s it from me for now – I’m off to Canada for Christmas to get yet more snow and even colder temperatures. Plans for next year are already very advanced and the garden will be revving up to full throttle as soon as I return in the New Year.

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas and a festive New Year, thank you for following my garden diary.
Mark x

The Lodge - Whithurst

November: Gloves and Thorns

15 November 2010

Perhaps it’s a British convention, but when I start writing a summary of the month I always begin by talking about the weather, but as it is so intrinsically linked to a life of working outside, I beg your forbearance as I launch into the November newsletter of the garden diary….

True to form, the long-range forecast has proved correct and it’s been quite a mild month, but that has of course brought us a few days of very heavy rain too which gave me my first taste of working with the Wealden clay (masquerades as soil in these parts). What was I thinking? Still, the brighter mild days have allowed me more time outside getting on with ‘proper gardening’ and I am pleased to report I have made an impact on the areas around the main house.

November has been a month of pruning, with the first formative pruning of the Wisteria which grows on the potting shed, Fabaceae or Leguminosae-Faboideae to some people, but I warn you now, I follow the APG III* classification system, so don’t be alarmed if you think I’ve gone mad!

In true November pruning fashion I did the same with the Lavandula (Lamiaceae) and the Trachelospermum jasminoides (Apocynaceae) just outside the swimming pool building. The lavenders needed to be pruned by hand; this is a task that I undertake with all due care and precaution by methodically taking out the old flowering stems, but being careful not to damage the new fleshy growth that will protect the new buds over winter. Care also has to be taken with the Trachelospermum because of this plants irritant sap – a characteristic common to plants in the Apocynaceae family. Imagine if you will the latex gloves and eye protection being donned for the operation, very practical, but certainly not the height of fashion.

The gardening team has gained a new member this month in the form of Maisie; she has just left college with qualifications in conservation and woodland management and is working with me part-time here at Whithurst. Together we gave the estate our inaugural blood offering while grappling with the hidden thorns of Pyrocantha (Rosaceae) which makes barbed wire look blunt by comparison, at least this shrub has been semi trained on horizontal wires, or as we say in the business; espaliered. This was not a job for the faint-hearted or those without gloves for protection!

The month came to a close with Richard requesting a new display of the woodland daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus, planted alongside the main drive for a spectacular spring display. However this late in the season we will just have to see what’s available from suppliers and nurseries. I am suggesting a compromise with Narcissus (Amaryllidaceae) I will keep you posted on how we get on.

The Lodge - Whithurst

October the Month of Plenty

15 October 2010

The weather has been mercifully mild this month, and I have been taking advantage of the favourable conditions to get out in the gardens and get a hands-on feel for the space, the soil, and the existing planting across the entire estate.

The first major job was tackling the parterre which is close to the house. This was the area where the vegetables and herbs were grown before the arrival of the new walled garden. Earlier in the year housekeepers Francois and Caroline rolled up their sleeves in a bid to support owner Rick’s drive towards sustainability on the estate and they planted a really impressive range of edible crops. The most successful of which was a crop of Jerusalem Artichokes Helianthus tuberosus – Asteraceae, which have managed to make a bid for freedom and are currently growing merrily up through the middle of the surrounding pathway! I am not quite sure how I’m going to get those up without destroying the hoggin surface of the path, but watch this space for the answer…

The walled garden has also been yielding its first crops, namely runner beans, beetroot and marrow (originally started life as courgette!) these were planted a few months ago by friends of Rick and Richard and prove if nothing else, that good friends are worth their weight in gold. I’ve been cropping whenever possible, but the tangle of vegetation that has developed since planting has made it difficult to see the wood from the trees. Still, at least we know the soil is fertile – as evident from the mass of weeds that greeted me on day one!

The long-range forecast for November looks promising, so I hope to deal with more of the jobs immediately adjacent to the house and get these areas looking well-maintained for winter.

The Lodge - Whithurst

The Task Ahead

23 September 2010

Hello, Mark Cox here and it’s raining hard again, so I am ploughing on (no pun intended) with all my outstanding office jobs. To kick off the Garden Diary I have written a short mission statement, so here goes, in as few as words as possible, this is broadly what I am hoping to achieve here at Whithurst Park.

I intend to develop the garden, grounds and the broader estate of Whithurst Park both productively and aesthetically utilising horticultural best practice and employing organic principles wherever possible.

The focus of this organic approach will be seen in the productive and the ornamental areas, with fruit and vegetables in the walled kitchen garden and flowers in the herbaceous borders. I have glass houses to fill and fruit cages to propagate as well as flowers and herbs to sow.

In addition to the more conventional areas of the estate there will be the managing of the open grazing fields, I intend to do this in such a way as to encourage proliferation of wild flowers. I intend applying traditional practices such as rotational coppicing in the woodlands in order to maximize biodiversity encouraging a range of wildlife habitats on the estate in line with requirements and responsibilities associated with membership of the Higher Level Stewardship (Natural England) scheme.

There will be so many micro projects happening here at Whithurst it is impossible for me to go into them all now so keep dropping by to check out our progress. Leave your comments in the box below, it will be great to hear from you.

Mark

The Lodge - Whithurst
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