Head Gardener's Notes
Our Gardens in April and May: Blooms and Maintenance
13th of Apr, 2023
Already In Bloom
Daffodils: across the gardens
‘Jewel of Spring’ tulips: Italian Garden
Tulips: Church Terrace, Nut Garden
Magnolias: Magnolia Garden
Crab Apple blossom: Nut Garden
To Bloom Soon
Tulips: across the gardens
Cherry blossom: Flag Garden
Pear blossom: Flag Garden
Magnolias: Magnolia Garden
Crab Apple blossom: Nut Garden
Bluebells: Nut Garden, Paved Garden
Rhododendron: Rose Garden
First colour in Blue & Yellow Border
Expected Later In May
Iris: Blue & Yellow Border, Jubilee Walk
Early roses: Tortoise Terrace
Viburnum plicatum: Jubilee Walk
Tree Peonies: Grey & White Garden
Wisteria: Paved & Italian Gardens
Wildflowers: Nut Garden & Orchard
Apple blossom: across the gardens
Alliums & Camassias: George Carter Walk
Spring is Here!
The time-honoured old sureties of seasons in the garden are starting to go adrift, so that flowering times are not as predictable as they once were, and we now need to plan for the unexpected! However, as spring really gets underway we can be comforted that the gardens are becoming more colourful and filled with the birdsong and fragrances we are familiar with!
Many of the tulips that you will see on Church Terrace and in the Nut Garden have been ‘recycled’! Over the years, as bulbs in potted displays in the Visitor Entrance area and the Paved Garden finish flowering and are replaced with new seasonal displays, they are then planted out in the gardens and left to naturalise. Some of the red tulips in the Nut Garden were originally planted in the 1980s and 90s!
The extremes of this winter have led to us losing approximately 1,400 plants across the gardens (including 700 roses), which is why you will see a number of gaps in the borders and beds. Our main focus in the coming weeks will be replanting in the borders, and conversations are currently ongoing with Lord and Lady De L’Isle regarding new and old plant choices to help build resilience into our planting schemes, and spread the risk of further damage and loss. Some of the new plants going into the gardens can currently be found in the Plant Centre at our Gift Shop, if you wish to brighten your own garden! At the time of writing, these include Penstemon ‘Windsor Red’, Leucanthemum ‘Becky’, Pulsatilla vulgaris, Verbena bonariensis, Lupin ‘Gallery Red’ (all destined for the Jubilee Walk), and Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’ (to go in the Grey & White Garden or George Carter Walk). The Grey & White Garden will be roped off until new planting replaces the Hebe and Santolina plants recently lost.
George Carter Walk
These mirror borders now clearly show the full impact of loss and we will be continuing to cut back and actively remove any dead stems. These borders will gradually be re-built with a mixture of herbaceous planting and shrub replacements.
Over the coming months this garden will be subject to a major overhaul, with the remaining solid box beds finally being opened up. Once the 12,500 ‘Jewel of Spring’ tulips have finished flowering they will be moved from the current mixed beds into the newly opened beds at both ends of the garden. The winter damage on the Rosa ‘Surrey’ has been extensive and these roses, which were originally planted approximately 20 years ago, will be removed. The beds will undergo thorough weeding and a period of rest before being replanted in the autumn with new Rosa ‘Surrey’ plants. The current 640 plants will be replaced with 400 new ones, allowing for better air flow around the roses and the box hedges. This will help to reduce mildew and black spot on the roses and blight on the box hedging.
The thousands of daffodils throughout the gardens will all be getting a liquid feed of seaweed extract whilst they are still ‘in the green’. We don’t deadhead our daffodils, nor do we tie the green leaves in a knot, but leave them to naturally transfer energy into the bulbs ready for next year, and then cut them down once the leaves start to die.
Due to the fluctuating weather conditions we are behind with our rose pruning and are still working on the floribunda and shrub roses. All work on the ramblers and climbers has now been completed.
The ‘beasts’ at the Demi-Lune pond represent family heraldic symbols of those who have owned and resided at Penshurst Place, past and present. The Bear with the Ragged Staff represents the Dudley family, and the Porcupine is the Sidney family crest. These magnificent creatures will soon receive their first prune of the year, hopefully in time to look their best for National Topiary Day on 14th May, which celebrates the art of shaping and cutting small-leaved trees and bushes into various shapes and forms.
Grass and Weeds
As ever, mowing, hoeing, edging and weeding are the mainstay of our maintenance work, and we are also currently sowing grass seed and laying turf in various areas of the gardens. If you see an area roped-off, please avoid walking on it, so that seed and new turf are not disturbed!
One of our major annual displays is our 100 metre Peony Border which takes pride of place in the gardens around late May/early June. We are currently hand-weeding through the peonies, taking great care not to damage the delicate new growth.
Although there was a fair amount of frost damage to the first buds in the Magnolia Garden, in mid-April they are now in full flower, with secondary buds also coming through. Two years ago the dark, purple-flowered magnolias (Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’) in this garden were struggling and were cut back to encourage lots of new growth – you will soon see frames going in around these trees to enable us to tie-in the new growth we want to keep to achieve an eventual open spread to match the older trees.
The drip-feed watering system, which has reduced our water usage by approximately 80%, has now been extended on the Jubilee Walk and into the Blue and Yellow Border. The next stage will be to extend the system into the George Carter Walk and instal a timer (a useful tip to bear in mind for your own gardens is that porous pipes on timer usage are not included in normal hosepipe bans!).