Head Gardener's Notes
Our Gardens in February: Blooms and Maintenance
28th of Feb, 2023
Already In Bloom
Snowdrops: Church Terrace
Hellebores: Tower Bed & Church Terrace
Hazel catkins: Nut Garden
Crocus: Paved Garden
Next To Bloom
Daffodils: Lime Walk, Orchard, Nut Garden, Church Terrace
Spring and Open Season Approaching
Unusual weather fluctuations are still having an impact on the gardens, with an approximately 20c variation in temperature in a matter of weeks! During an extremely cold spell, where we saw the thermometer fall to -12c, the water in the Demi-lune pond froze so deeply that, when the ice shifted, it broke the stem of the fountain.
Much of our work for the early part of this month has involved preparation for the garden gates being opened to the public for the first time this year, for the February half-term, and the focus has been firmly on grasswork and tidying the formal areas of the gardens. All lawn areas have been aerated, a process vital for a healthy lawn which involves perforating the soil with small holes using either a garden fork or a specialist machine. This ensures air, water and nutrients can pass freely to grass roots. The grass has continued growing through this winter and we have already carried out our first mow of 2023! Beds and borders will be smartened up with hand-weeding, hoeing and edging - with minimal growth allowing structure to be clearly seen, now is a good time to redefine shapes and edges.
Some areas of the gardens need to be able to withstand heavy footfall traffic throughout the year and these have been newly sown with hard-wearing grass species. Visitors may come across roped-off areas where the grass seed needs to be protected, but alternative routes are always available and may indeed provide a new viewpoint!
Work is continuing on the trellis, situated between the Orchard and the Nut Garden, to make it more symmetrical and reset posts to align better with the mown pathways. All new posts were prepared from Estate timber during a period of filming in the garden when the gardening team's activities were limited. Wisteria, honeysuckle and clematis on the trellis will be moved to the fence by the new entrance gate so that the trellis will be covered purely with roses. This is a good time to move deciduous shrubs, whilst they are dormant, and some of the larger shrubs will be moved from the Tower Bed (opposite the Baron's Hall), again to the area between the entrance and the garden wall. In their current position these shrubs may pose a threat to the wall in the future, and we plan to gradually replant the Tower Bed with shade-loving plants.
When weather conditions are correct (dry and still), the solid beds at the far end of the Italian Garden will be opened up in the same way as the beds nearer the House were opened last winter. The solid beds act as a repository for box blight and opening them up means treatment can be applied all around the remaining plants. The beds will remain empty for at least a full season before being planted with displays of annual plants in shades of pink and white. Interestingly this is a return to tradition, as records and historical pictures show that all the beds were open prior to 1945.
George Carter Walk
With -12c recorded in the garden this winter and a sustained freeze, many of the plants in the borders of George Carter Walk have suffered damage.
Once we are sure that all risk of frost has passed we will cut back the dead growth and see what can be saved. Some replanting will definitely be necessary and, to lower the risk of this happening again, we will need to consider alternative species - the silver lining being an opportunity to refresh the planting scheme!
Some of last year's growth will be cut back on the herbaceous beds but we have specifically left it on the penstemons as the old growth acts like a frost blanket, protecting this year's new growth. In a less formal garden any previous year's growth can be left in place longer before cutting back to provide beneficial habitats for wildlife. Also left in situ are our dahlias - we don't lift them for the winter as they are quite sheltered by shrubs. Instead, we fold over the old growth and cover with fleece. Once all danger of frost has passed we will be restocking our dahlias in several beds with Bishop of Llandaff, Bishop of Oxford, and Bishop of York.
A Makeover for Lime Walk
The closed season has provided the perfect opportunity to resurface Lime Walk, replacing the uneven stony ground with fine gravel. A crown lift has also been carried out on the Linden trees lining the avenue, removing some of the lower branches. This not only smartens the look of the whole avenue but also removes hazards for visitors and obstacles for the gardening team when mowing.
The Horsepond next to Lime Walk is currently very full, being filled by water flowing down through an overflow system from Lancup Well in the parkland. This pond is similar to a freshwater marsh environment in that it has variable water levels throughout the year, providing a self-sustaining eco system that changes throughout the seasons.