Cowslips at West Dean Gardens, West Sussex

Spring Fever!

Well spring has certainly sprung and everything is roaring out of the ground as if its life depended on it, which in a way of course it does. This is a lovely time of the year, full of promise, everything looking fresh in the first flush of its youth and as yet unblemished by the vagaries of weather, pests or disease. However it's also a time of year when a thousand garden jobs need to be completed in a very short space of time inducing a kind of horticultural schizophrenia in the beleaguered gardener as, amoeba like, she tries to be in five different places completing ten different jobs, all at once. The secret of course is to prioritise. Cast an analytical eye over the list of jobs needing to be done in as ruthless fashion as a medical officer carrying out triage in a casualty clearing station (which some potting sheds can feel like at this time of year) and decide what should have been done a week ago, what needs sorting now and what can wait for a few days and then go at it vigorously and systematically. There is nothing as good as standing back at the end of the day with that slightly smug sense of having tamed the beast by crossing off all those jobs you have now completed, yes, just do it!

So what have we been up to at West Dean over the last few weeks?

Pond Life!
Amongst the many tasks one of the more enjoyable is reducing the marginal plants in our pond at the west end of the garden. It is supposed to be a naturalistic, conservation pond but is of course entirely artificial and only retains water because it has a butyl liner. All ponds ultimately aspire to becoming dry ground and ours, left to its own devices, would in the space of a couple of decades be completely swamped by herbaceous vegetation, which would then be invaded by tree seedlings which would pump moisture out of the developing boggy soil and before you know it you have a swampy "carr" woodland instead of a reflective water experience. Experience has taught us that the only way we can tackle the control of the marginals is to "prune " them annually using an axe to slice chunks out of them and a back hoe on a small tractor to haul the very smelly and very wet pieces of surplus vegetation out of the pond and into a trailer and ultimately onto the compost pile for shredding and composting. Of course the great danger is that in your zeal to hack and remove you inadvertently pierce the liner and cause a rapid reduction in water level as the water swiftly drains away through your modest incision. Fortunately we have, thus far, managed to avoid such an eventuality and the pond once more looks clothed with verdure but not entirely swamped.

We've also been having a big push on finishing the pruning of all our trained fruit forms. Although a little unorthodox, we find that pruning now, just as the tree is leafing up and flowering, is a brilliant time to wield the knife because you can see exactly what is happening and prune accordingly. At the same time the grapes under glass are growing like Olympian triffids and have to be kept pruned and tied in otherwise they will rapidly become a vegetative Gorgons head. Their flowers are already opening and soon the grapes will set and we will then be faced with the neck cricking task of thinning the embryonic fruit in the bunch, but that's another story!

Finally I am working hard in my own garden at Gardeners Cottage, West Dean to prepare for its opening for the National Garden Scheme on Sunday 11th of May between 10am and 5pm, parking in West Dean Gardens car park and follow the signs. Sadly all of the spring bulbs will be over by then but there is plenty more to see and over the years people have very kindly been extremely complimentary about it so why not come and have a look.

Even if you don't fancy the garden, the tea and home-made cakes have won great renown in their own right!

West Dean Gardens are clearly signposted off of the A286 equidistant between Chichester and Midhurst and are open daily from 10.30am to 5pm. See our website for more details or ring 01243 818210.