Looking good in winter 2023

Christmas already, can you believe it?

It's been an incredibly wet autumn in the gardens at West Dean, which resulted in the Lavant being almost at capacity at the beginning of November. This is a bit of a cause of concern, as we have refrained from putting the wooden barriers in the river which diverts the river through the Spring Garden, in an attempt to keep the water moving as efficiently as possible in and out of the garden, to avoid the flooding that we experienced last year.

It is somewhat mind-blowing to have to look at managing the gardens and the plants that we use that not only can cope with extreme and prolonged periods of drought, but also find plants that can cope with flooded conditions as well as those dry spells. We were led to believe that Mediterranean plants were part of the solution, but they are often the first plants to suffer during wet winters. The hebes in the Sunken Garden are a perfect case in point of trying to find plants that can cope and grow quite happily in those extremes.

As we begin to consolidate the work in the Spring and Wild Gardens, we are beginning to focus on revitalising the Sunken Garden. As I've mentioned, we lost a number of hebes during last winter in this area; the roses are perpetually nibbled by visiting deer; and I suppose it was only a matter of time before the box started to suffer with box blight. I do not wish to appear all doom and gloom about the garden - it's an incredibly exciting time with a number of new plantings we're working with, but our reaction to trying to find new and exciting plants that can cope with these difficult conditions feels like more of necessity rather than indulgence or folly.

There are many Head Gardeners that I speak to regularly and we are all coming to the same conclusion that it's very difficult to manage a garden or landscape in the current climate if you aim to keep it looking as it did or how it has done for the past 10 years.

Gardens are changing and we have to adapt, although this is an incredibly difficult time it's an incredibly exciting one as we explore new ways to grow plants in erratic conditions at West Dean.

Over the coming months, we will be replanting the Sunken Garden with a new group of plants that will not only survive in these difficult conditions, but will thrive, and I hope that you enjoy the journey with me as we strive to experiment and lead the way in demonstrating what can be achieved in gardens - whether large or small, wet or dry.

Thank you for your support over the last year and I wish you and your families a very happy Christmas and here's to an exciting 2024.

With best,

Tom Brown, Head Gardener