Welcome to another year in Gilbert White’s Garden! Summed up at the moment by one word: Wet!
We have very soggy soil and lawns. Plenty of mud!! However, gardening must go on, even in less than ideal conditions.
The Dining room shrubbery has been tidied (many thanks to all those volunteers that have helped here!) and is looking a great deal better. There is a good display of snowdrops at the moment, Rose has divided and transplanted some. There is also a row of cloth of gold crocuses emerging at the front. Near the old kitchen windows the groundsel tree bush remains relatively unscathed by some recent very low temperatures. Beneath it the leaves of autumn crocuses are just pushing through. This is at a point where the brick path which leads from the back door of the house to the alcove on the Ha-Ha has a small branch which extends as far as the kitchen window. It is this path that will be extended into the yard through the present yew hedge, and past the well room which contains Gilbert White’s well (63ft deep). Over the years we have also discovered part of a cobblestone path which ran approximately through the middle of the present shrubbery bed. It would be interesting to see whether it might be possible to re-create this path, and indeed eventually the winding path up to the top of Bakers hill.
The season has been so mild that everything has continued to grow to a greater or lesser extent. This includes the main lawn which until recently looked like a tufty field. Arnold has run over it quickly with the ride on mulching mower so it looks a great deal tidier now. Weeds have also continued to grow in all the borders: as it has been too wet to hoe effectively, it has been necessary to hand weed, a soggy, muddy process. The crown imperials are now pushing through in the border by the shop doors, although slugs have also been busy in the wet mild conditions! Some of the bulbs are also emerging.
In the six quarters we have begun to prune the roses, and will be replacing the tripods for the roses. The first quarter (the SE) has now been completely cleared, some plants being saved in the cutting beds, and carefully dug over to remove as much couch grass as possible. We will need to be ready to spot weed the inevitably re-growth, as it is practically impossible to remove all of this weed in one go! At the moment it looks like a horrible muddy quagmire with a very irregular surface, so a lot of improvement work will have to be carried out when conditions allow. Sarah has made a new design for this quarter, and we have planted tulip & narcissus bulbs- although planting conditions were very much less than ideal. Rose has constructed three beautiful tripods in the centre of this border to support painted lady sweet peas or other climbers. The new design is available in the Museum for all to look at.
In the Giant reed or Arundo (NW) quarter the Cardoons silvery leaves are well developed. We should, I think wait until April before attempting to move the Giant reed crown back into the middle of the bed, as it is not completely hardy and it would only take a really cold snap to kill it out. At the southern end of the bed are a myriad of wild tulip leaves, many of which I fear will not flower. The best group for flowering are in the southern end of the North rose quarter, where they used to exist around the central rose arch: some of you may remember this (although it was over 20 years ago!) In the south rose bed there are clumps of crocuses coming into flower: this is always an early flower, 250 years ago, in 1766, some of his crocuses were ‘blown out’ by January 30th! In the tulip tree quarter many of the aconites are now over, and the Jasmine humile (yellow summer jasmine0 has been drastically pruned as it had become very large.
There is a good large drift of snowdrops under the Blenheim orange apple tree behind the fruit wall. We have a handful of species and varieties in the garden at present, although there are around 20 species and 500 varieties in cultivation at present (experts will argue as to the precise numbers, but I think this is roughly right). The two principal species are Galanthus nivalis and G.plicatus. Also beneath this apple tree are wild daffodils in full flower, both the bi-colour form (Narcissus pseudo-narcissus lobularis) and the simple yellow or Tenby daffodil (n. p-n obvallaris). The pond itself has a good area of clear water, which was cleared of bog bean last autumn. The pretty bog bean (white frilled flowers) is growing back, but how many will flower this spring is another matter. There’s another group of winter aconites on the lower edger of the pond, I counted 55 blooms here beneath the Wheelers Russet apple tree, and lots more snowdrops.We have a snowdrop weekend coming up in February more information here. Bakers hill is resplendent in snowdrops at the moment, both to the left and right of the orchard walks- the serpentine turf path and the straight path bordered with shrubs & trees. Wild tulips and daffodils are also visible, some quite far advanced.
The shrub area between the pond and the main lawn has been coppiced of all deciduous growth- this looks drastic, but does enable the shrubs to be well controlled in size, and gives the right conditions for the under-storey plants such as primroses and bluebells (and wood anemones if we can get them established) to thrive. These were plants loved by some eighteenth century… er, ‘wild’ planters, such as William Shenstone, who created gardens with strips of wild flowers at the base of hedges on walks or at the front of shrubberies. I would like to think that there will come a time that we can add some authentic planting to the garden. This will depend upon creating the right spaces, something we are a long way from at the moment. But in thirty years we have made great strides- in the next ten let’s hope we can finish the job!
Keith has been very busy in the kitchen garden: we will soon have a new bed of heritage varieties of gooseberry. They are varieties mentioned in the early 19th century, when there were hundreds of varieties bred, so they are likely to be very similar to those that Gilbert White knew. Manure from the hot beds & compost from the middle compost heap has been barrowed into the garden to make sure all crops are well fed. Kale & cabbage have survived the winter, the leeks have been providing a continuous supply for tea parlour soup, the garlic and shallots are planted and looking healthy; and there’s even a primrose in flower at the edge of one of the borders! Keith supplies monthly notes about the veg garden, along with a plan of the beds, on the interpretation boards in the centre of the garden.
The basons are in good condition and with a little attention will be ready for mulching very soon. The hot beds have been cleared, and we have bought in straw bales to make a bigger and better hot bed this year! Keith has been busy re-making some of the frame lights so they can hold glass rather than cotton sheeting: we should be able to grow lots of cucumbers (as well as melons!) for the tea parlour this year. We hope to have the beds up and running in the next few weeks. We need dry weather!
Best Wishes & Good Gardening