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Garden Newsletter: December

After the warmest November since records began, things are still growing in the garden! Arnold has just mown the fields on Bakers Hill, we do hope this is the last time this year! Many thanks to all of you who have worked so hard in the garden during this last month, helping with the new Dianthus wall, clearing beds, planting bulbs, potting plants, weeding, digging out borders, transplanting plants etc. This coming weekend is the Christmas Mulled Wine weekend, with the house receiving Festive Decorations, mulled wine being served, choirs singing and much more!! It also happens to be (by no great coincidence, as it happens every year!) the Sunday Weeders day this Sunday,6th December.


We have had some fine, almost Spring-like days, but in general the skies have been grey and there is not a great deal of colour in the borders. On the subject of work to be done in the garden in December, Philip Miller’s Garden Kalendar gives us a hint of the eighteenth century gardener’s view:

‘This month (the days being the shortest) is commonly the darkest of the whole year, and is subject to different sorts of weather; sometimes the ground is frozen up, so that little can be done in the garden; and at other times there are hard rains and thick stinking fogs, which render it very uncomfortable stirring abroad, but especially to persons of tender constitutions: and this weather is also very injurious to tender plants’

I am sure you wouldn’t describe yourself s having ‘tender constitutions’ and hopefully eighteenth century stinking ‘smogs’ have been irradicated, but Miller does describe more usual December weather, although he does go on to say ‘if this season be mild…’ And mild it certainly is at the moment! There is an extensive list at the end of this newsletter, so let’s hope the mild weather continues!

The Dining room shrubbery is in a state of some disarray at the moment, and only the rather moth eaten (or more precisely Viburnum beetle eaten) Laurestinus has a few rather small flowers. No long term plans are being made for this section of the garden at the moment, as the design will be changed next year when Heritage lottery plans begin to be implemented (provided all goes according to schedule, that is!) However a small amount of input could tidy this bed quite quickly. Throughout the garden we are rather short of colour, which is perhaps not surprising: if you compare say Millers ‘Plants in Flower in December’ with something comparable from the early twentieth century (say, Arthur Hellyers Your garden week by week, 1936) there are around 20 plants listed as in flower/giving colour in the former, where as the latter is in excess of 70. The flood of imports over the intervening 250 years is quite astonishing.


Perhaps the most striking change in the garden has been the addition of the red-brick retaining walls to house our collection of old pinks. There is one each side of the brick walk (the site of Bell’s free standing mid 19th Century greenhouse & a later smaller orchid house). This has resulted in the interpretation boards being relocated, one nearer the electric box by the French doors of Bells Library, and the other below the platform of the wooden fire escape. This was designed by Susan and built largely by a team of volunteers from the administration department of Surrey university. They came some years ago a carried out a variety of jobs around the garden and they did the same this year. A team of four ladies laid bricks, under the guidance (and considerable assistance ) of volunteer & neighbour Tim Elderton, who in turn was ably assisted by Rose & Susan. The work was completed the next day by Arnold & Peter. Many thanks to all involved in the project. The red brick is rather stunningly bright- they are Selborne bricks from the now derelict brickworks down Honey lane- and rather irregular in shape, but should be fine in the coming years. Twenty sorts of pinks were carefully planted by Rose in the walls which contain graded rubble, turf, used potting compost and finally a good mixture of John Innes Compost, potting grit and multi-purpose compost , the latter to a depth of about seven inches. All have been carefully labelled and are in straight rows, which looks a little formal: as the clumps grow a more informal effect should be achieved.

In front of the brick walls the marigolds and sunflowers have been removed and a series of rows of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths planted as in previous years: we have also planted the annual garden with hyacinths and tulips: those on the left hand side are the varieties we had in pots last year, a selection purchased at the Chelsea Flower Show: We have a new selection this year ready potted, but I have taken them to a safe place as a couple of years ago the squirrels discovered them and we had very few flowers. Squirrels are certainly in evidence by the shop doors, possibly living in the roof nearby, and we fear for our new planted Dianthus!

We have started to clear the SE Quarter: a renovation somewhat overdue, since they were designed in 1994 and planted soon after. At the time of writing about half the bed has been removed and possible wanted plants have been temporarily planted in one of the cutting beds- unfortunately it has all turned rather muddy so it has not been an easy job. We will then need to dig the bed over carefully, removing remaining roots- especially the couch grass.! One of the most difficult plants to remove has been a suckering rose with very deep roots- identity not known, but clearly a remnant of the original Rose beds that were removed in the mid 1990’s. Plants can be very persistent, as in the way the wild tulips still come up in the north Rose quarter in a position where they used to be around a central arch.

In addition to planting up the annual garden with bulbs, we have begun to trim the box hedges and spray them with a fungicide in an effort to stop the spread of box blight, which has started again in these wet conditions, exacerbated by having a thick layer of tulip tree leaves dumped on them. The leaves of this tree are an on-going project. David (not me!) continues to clear many barrow loads from the front garden.

The herb garden has been tidied and is in reasonable condition (many thanks to volunteers, especially Nicky) The vine will need pruning before Christmas. In the pond garden we have collected many apples, and from elsewhere in the garden. Added to those donated by Selborne villagers, we have taken about a ton of apples up to the local farm to be made into cider. Next March we should have some bottles of Selborne cider to sell in the shop! Other apples have been sent with the medlars on top of Bakers hill to be made into Medlar & Apple jelly. We are certainly increasing the number of Gilbert White related products: we now have a Gilbert White Gin, flavoured with, amongst many ingredients, rose-hips, mint, borage, golden sage, and swan’s egg pears from the garden.

In the vegetable plot Keith is doing a fine job in increasing productivity-much produce now is used by the tea parlour- and keeping all tidy. The hot beds have more or less been cleared, and the manure spread on the vegetable plots. He also has improved signage, with a detailed rotation plan and notes, and separate slate signs to label the varieties of the plants. He has just planted 30 raspberry canes in three varieties, Glen Cova, Glen Ample and Heritage. Although these are not particularly old sorts they will provide cropping throughout the season- more material for the tea parlour! We also plan to grow lots more potatoes, 10kg of seed potatoes have been ordered. It’s all systems go! We will also be growing Celery and Celeriac. Asparagus has been carefully top dressed.

We hope to construct bigger and better (more productive!) hot beds in February and March. The cuttings beds have been requisitioned to save plants from the quarters, but should be back in operation by the Spring. Although rather soggy, Arnold has managed to give the grass in the paddocks a last cut- in late November.

As you can see from the list, there is a great deal to do this Winter, so I look forward to seeing you all at some stage in the month: and of course at Mulled Wine day and the Christmas Lunch.

Best Wishes & Good Gardening

David Standing

Just a selection of the hundreds of jobs to be done in the garden in December

  • Continue to clear SE Quarter of all plants, heeling in valuable plants
  • Re-plan and re plant the SE Quarter
  • Sort out the frame area by the gardeners Barn, and put lights on the frames. Set mouse traps to control mice!
  • Weed and improve the Dining Room Shrubbery bed
  • Help clear leaves around the Field Centre
  • Cut down loosestrife etc around the pond
  • Remove the Groundsel bush in the Dining Room Shrubbery (Cuttings needed)
  • Apply weedkiller to main gravel path
  • Finish tops of yew hedges in pond garden
  • Continue to Re-organise, Re-vamp, and generally make splendid the large plant sales area
  • Continue to Collect & Process Seeds
  • Continue to sweep front ramp & Weed front garden (continued)
  • Weeding everywhere, especially in wall bed in six quarters
  • Continue to Cut grass edges everywhere
  • Continue to Weed in Herb garden, esp under pear trees
  • Remedial prune of Banksian Roses (drastic)
  • Thin Jasmine humile in centre of tulip tree quarter
  • Continue to Dig & manure vegetable garden plots
  • Magnolia pruning
  • Check, de-slug plant stands regularly

…And much, much more!