Looking good in November

Glorious sunny days, still weather and lack of serious downpours at the end of October have contributed to a beautiful autumn at West Dean Gardens. Very little wind has meant a longer lasting autumnal display.

Unseasonal mild weather has also meant that the tributary wall-build in the spring garden has proceeded well. The footings have been poured and all the other materials are in place for the building to commence shortly. Unlike last year, it's hoped that all the stone work will be completed before the tributary rises and starts to flow, for once it does, and that's it for another year.

Recently, nearby bare beds have been topped with our own compost; this black gold will give new plants a good start in life and over the next month or so a team of gardeners will be on their hands and knees planting up these spaces, mostly from 9 cm pots. Over the next couple of years it's hoped that all bare areas throughout the gardens will be planted up for an extensive phantasmagorical display in years to come.

We've already started the daily pot washing sessions to remove dirt and pests and the cleaned terracotta pots are drying before they are put away. With so much washing practice we've managed to turn the process into a bit of an art form and we're feeling unfeasibly chuffed as the piles of dirty pots diminish. What on earth this says about us I do not know, however, when I handle terracotta pots I feel a link to a horticultural past and enjoy the texture and appearance - either of our own pots or those we inherited and can recognise some pots like old friends. Actually, I know you're not going to believe this but I quite like cleaning pots… always have.

The annual reshaping of evergreens in the gardens has begun. Each year the two woodies - Will and Stu - tame the seasonal growth of many shrubs in the garden so that they look clean and well defined over winter. Managing these shrubs this way has become quite a signature for West Dean; the tight forms contrast well against the looser formation of surrounding plants and look terrific in the snow or frosty weather.

Anne, the border queen, is moving into plant taming too and can be found most days in November up a ladder whipping climbers into shape on the pergola. The pergola looks glorious in summer months but the plants have special charm in winter neatly tied in ready for surging into growth the following year. I'm mindful of the valuable contribution our volunteers make to our success as they help with the mowing, leaf collection, cleaning, sorting and so on. In a large garden such as West Dean there seems to be an endless list of jobs to be done and many hands help us achieve our goals. People volunteer for a variety of reasons but for many, the opportunity to work alongside a group of others is one of the main attractions, along with learning a bit about the craft of gardening.

Sarah Wain, Garden Supervisor @sarahwestdean