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Garden Newsletter: April

We’ve had rain, we’ve had sunshine, and we’ve had some warmth…. Guess what, everything’s growing like crazy! Yes, it’s crunch time in the garden; we really do need your help! There have been good attendances at last months Weeders meetings, which has had a big impact on the state of the borders. So please keep coming to do battle with the relentless onslaught of the weeds!

The Rose bay willow herb is shooting up everywhere in the dining room shrubbery- and with more space since the Viburnums were removed, it looks like it is making a take-over bid for the entire border! The crocuses in the front have been lovely, but are sadly now over. The border needs a good sort out prior to re-planting. Down near the house, the catmint shoots are now 6-9 inches tall- this is the time to pull off some shoots, each with a little root, as ‘cuttings’. In the border to the left of the back door we have planted 250 Ranunculus corms, and are now on the look out for emerging shoots/slugs/frosts, with appropriate action to be taken in all cases.

The Banksian roses are now budding for bloom, which is quite early. Beneath the oldest and largest plant, honesty is just coming into bloom. These pretty purple flowers are not always associated with the round silvery seed heads which are so well known. We’re not sure when the plant was introduced from mainland Europe, Aiton in his Hortus Kewensis suggests it came from Germany in 1570, but it may have arrived even earlier. Gerard in his herbal lists many common names- Bolbonac, Lunarie, Sattin-flower, Pennieflower, Prick-song-woort,

and among our women it is called Honesty.

Whatever you call it it is a very attractive and easy to grow self seeding plant. At nearby Wheatham hill, only the white flowered variety persists, whereas in the Gilbert white garden it is the more common purple that dominates, although in places the purple seems a deeper colour than in others. It is a biennial, growing one year and flowering and dying the next, so you need to sow or plant it twice initially to get a yearly display. There are also forms with variegated leaves, some having white flowers.

By Bell’s Library windows (now the Gilbert White Gallery) the Dragon Arums are shooting to about 2ft tall- later the spectacular and sinister deep red spathes and black spadices will appear! This year I have purchased and potted up some corms, which are nearly 2ft high in their pots, so if you’d like to purchase this rare and unusual plant (it was rare in Gilbert White’s time, he transplanted some from the vicarage garden where he knew it had been growing since his grandfathers used to live there) now is your opportunity- well grown potted plants at £4.50!

Rose, Sarah and volunteers have made a great clearance in the corner of the pond garden near the black gate. The ‘Cleaver’ urn has been put on a more stable footing- thank you Peter- and the area sown with cornfield annuals and shade loving perennials. We will no doubt have to fight against the more recalcitrant weeds, which won’t have been easily dislodged from this corner, but we shall win. The main area, the former site of the topiary hedge, has been sown with a special mixture of grasses and perennials suitable for this quite rich soil- but I’ve added some of the many wild flowers that Gilbert white mentions in his journals. It’s now a question of waiting to see what emerges!

In the orchard walk the scorpionsennas are in full bloom and looking their best. The honeysuckles are in purple-green leaf. The quince tree by the old field centre is in leaf- I had thought that it might be dying but although the leaves are a little yellowish it does seem to be sprouting well. The amelanchier is in full bloom. The drifts of daffodils on the hill are mixed with plenty of snakes head fritillaries, Parkinson’s ‘Chequered Daffodil’, as the white or purplish red drooping bells have a chequer board pattern on them. The blue and white anemones on the top of Bakers Hill are at their very best- now a big colourful patch some 15 yards long and 6 yards wide: there are some cowslips in flower here too.

In the Kitchen garden we have plaited the raspberry canes from the quincunx shape into little pyramids- an unusual 18th century technique, so I understand. The globe artichokes and cardoons and emerging through their winter overcoats of straw or hay, the skirret is shooting- in fact all is growing rapidly including, of course, the weeds especially the couch grass and speedwell. Mandy has been valiantly digging out the invasive Jerusalem Artichokes- a huge job, which requires digging down to a great depth. I have ordered new asparagus crowns, so we can make a new, and much more desirable, asparagus bed here. We have planted garlic, broad beans -and potatoes- thank you Juliet!-and sown carrots, parsnips and lettuce. The ground is now reasonably workable after the long wet winter. Adam has composted and rotavated one of the bottom beds in readiness for cabbages. Mike has done a great job in rescuing the white strawberries from weed, let’s hope they produce fruit this year.

A new hot bed has been made- many thanks to Janette, Jan and Rose for this: we now have two small melon plants growing-just! Adam has emptied one compost heap to prepare for the new season, and hopefully he will be able to do a second in the coming weeks.

So here is this month’s selection of the hundreds of jobs to be done in the garden  

  • Herb garden Weeding!
  • Weed borders by the house
  • Hoe annual garden with bulbs
  • Sow last cornfield mixture on corner in pond garden
  • Remove ivy from wall on corner by house/six quarters
  • Continue to collect/ process and packet seeds
  • Continue Weeding veg garden
  • Re-instate cold frame structure near site of removed walnut (by barn)
  • Plant new shrubs in Dining Room Shrubbery
  • Lawn edges- everywhere!
  • Remove brambles under yew tree
  • Continue to re-organise Compost heaps
  • Sow Kiss me over the garden gate, or Persicaria orientalis, in the cold ground
  • Weed pits in Orchard walk
  • Continue to make illustrated labels for plant stand
  • Purchase new gate to replace broken one of six field gates
  • Continue planting/design work in pond garden
  • Make next hot bed
  • Continue to clear cutting beds, start to plant cornflowers etc
  • Pricking out plants for sale!
  • Plant new herb garden arch
  • Train new laburnums

And much, much more