Winter view of the Arboretum at West Dean. Image credit: Steve Tattersall

Looking good in winter

Feisty winter weather can either have you huddling by the fireside or donning outdoor gear for an invigorating walk outdoors. Even clothed in winter garb, West Dean Gardens offers a special treat for those of us who enjoy watching, listening to and walking through the seasonal changes. Do visit as we've some lovely Christmas treats in the Restaurant and Shop for you to enjoy after your stomp.

We could probably hold a master class in glasshouse cleaning at West Dean; with thirteen glasshouses to clean inside and out each year we've developed a specialised approach which includes the use of different shaped brushes strapped onto broom handles - they look silly but they work. This is an unlovely and tedious task which the team embraces annually and the outcome is a glistening glasshouse-clean, disinfected and relatively pest free a thoroughly good way for any glasshouse to start the New Year. Hint!

To keep ahead of the glasshouse cleaners, potted plants are moved out before the cleaners move in. Some plants skip from one house to another to keep ahead of the chase while tropical plant collections, from more than one house, are thrust together until cleaning is completed. As a result of all this complication some houses are closed to visitors as they would either get their eye poked out or need a machete to get through the jungly mass if they ventured into one or two.

During December and January the glasshouse plants will get their own annual overhaul. Cleaning, dividing and potting up takes weeks to complete and if we could do all of this at the beginning of March we would, but there isn't enough time for that so we press on in winter instead. On the sowing front seeds for our glasshouse salad leaves display will be sown in earnest in January so when you return in February expect to see module trays full of young salad leaves.

Recently volunteers have been assisting Anne, the Border Queen, to cut down the various mixed borders throughout the gardens. Working in a group often makes light work of this task and with intelligent instruction from the Queen, volunteers gain an insight and education into our methodology. We all cut down plants in our own gardens in autumn-winter so it's informative to hear about a professional approach - we call it the West Dean way. Whilst supervising some of the volunteers, Anne is able to continue the pruning of the climbers on the Pergola. This annual task takes about six weeks - weather and other tasks permitting. You might think that the enjoyment of a Pergola is a summer experience but observing training techniques and sharp shadows on sunny days in winter can be equally enjoyable.

Hark; is that the sound of sleigh bells ringing? Father Christmas will be dropping into West Dean in December. Please check our website for details.

West Dean Gardens will be closed during January and reopening on Friday 2 February, have a joyful Christmas everyone and a peaceful New Year.

Sarah Wain, Garden Supervisor