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The Garden in February

As we enter another year of gardening we enter a time of change. The physical changes that have been so carefully planned over the last few years are finally beginning to appear.

In the six quarters the beds have a fair covering of leaves, many from the tulip tree: some gardeners recommend the removal of these so that weeds below can be revealed: others (including myself) prefer to let them stay as a weed suppressing mulch. Perhaps I don’t like overly tidy gardens! Anyhow, I’ve seen worms pull leaves down into their burrows from the surface of a lawn, so perhaps they’ll do that in the borders- the leaves certainly become insignificant as the perennials and shrubs burst into growth. There will be lots of pruning to be done here this month and next. In the tulip tree (NE) quarter nearest the tulip tree itself there are 53 bright-yellow winter aconite blooms visible. Those aconites that were initially planted on the other side of the quarter did not prosper at all, which goes to show what a fussy plant this can be. According to the bulb expert Brian Mathew, they seem happiest on alkaline soils, but if left undisturbed they will prosper on most soils: this needs to be kept in mind if this square is re-designed- it’s taken twenty years to get a small increase in blooms! The plant has a long history of cultivation, and is mentioned by Gerard in his 16th century Herbal. Gilbert white planted some (from Ringmer, presumably transplanted from his Aunt Rebecca Snooke’s garden) on December 19th 1762.

garden in february

The first bulbs are emerging in the annual garden, and there are some signs of growth in the other quarters. This beds will need attention before growth starts in earnest, cutting down, pulling away dead foliage and removing weeds, but soil conditions are very wet (and getting wetter at the time of writing!) so this will have to wait until things are drier. In the autumn quarter the new glossy green leaves are emerging on the Colchicums, or autumn crocus in each corner of the bed. I always think of them as emerging in the early spring, but actually it’s earlier than that, late winter. If you’re using them in your garden, beware of putting them too close to small leaved early flowering perennials, as they will very soon get swamped by the large leaves of the Colchicums. They do die back quite early though, and so later emerging plants are not too badly affected. And of course it’s a joy when the large purple flowers appear in the autumn without the leaves!

The Giant reed in the NW quarter has been nicely tucked up with a bed of straw, and hopefully it will have survived the drastic dips in temperature we have had in January. In Liss at least (and Selborne is often colder) we got down to minus 8ºC !! Soon we will need to cut down the teasels, which have been making the bed look rather dilapidated, although of course the seed heads will have been very welcome to seed eating birds during the frosty weather.

garden in february

Out in the park, the new Wine pipe barrel seat is back on its mound, and turning again due to Peter’s ingenuity in devising and installing a suitable new mechanism, the Thatcher for re-roofing it free of charge, David for moving into position with his machinery, and all the garden staff for assisting in the project. A real team effort! Of course, we have no proof that Gilbert White’s barrel seat (or Cynic Tub) actually revolved, or exactly what it looked like, but we certainly have some unusual and interesting that must be quite similar to the original. We do know that the mound was originally 5ft tall and six feet across at the top (Garden Kalendar March 31st 1759) and took eight days to make. From his accounts we know it cost him eight shillings (40p), that would be payment for one man for eight days. The wine pipe barrel seat itself cost more to make and set in place, one pound and one penny (£1.005 approx) Mind you that one pound and one penny is at least £138 at today’s prices, probably a lot more if you take into account the value of labour.

There’s quite a lot of leaves under the hornbeam, just inside the park (by the haha and kissing gate) and between the Haha and the great oak (with the seat around it). This is quite unusual as in other years they appear to have blown away. It will be interesting to see if they remain for any length of time, or whether the worms can manage to drag them all below the turf. In case you were wondering, this does happen, if you look carefully you can often see leaves sticking vertically out of the ground where the worms have been busy!

garden in february

Elsewhere on Bakers hill, the snowdrops are coming through strongly, with the first leaves of daffodils also emerging. The sides of the orchard walk have been cut well back (including the unusual evergreen shrub Bupleurum fruticosum, or Hares ear, which was also called Ethiopian Hartwort in the 18th Century!) to allow better access along this path, and also to reveal the snowdrops that grow so prolifically behind the machinery barn.

There is a good crop of leeks, and some winter spinach that looks useful, but the brassicas have been shredded by the pigeons. The hot beds have straw bales ready in place, we will soon be collecting fresh manure to fill them. Some of the apple trees in the upper orchard , although without leaves, still carry a crop of apples: a most unusual sight. It really was a bumper year for fruit. Next years crop may be much less, but we should at least have a proper store for the best of the apples & pears, which should then be able to be used throughout the winter in the tea parlour for appropriate recipes. Hannah Glasses ‘The art of cookery, a book purchased by Gilbert White, contains recipes for apple dumplings, pies, fritters and Baked Apples, perhaps not all suitable for modern tastes, but may be worth investigating.

garden in february