Yes folks, it's official, Spring has sprung! How do we know this? Not because we have passed some arbitrary date such as the 1st of March but because we are gardeners and are attuned to all those subtle, sensory signals that silently but insistently say "Winter is past, the sap is rising, it's all before you, a new growing year awaits. Less welcome is the insidious voice in your head that says "get moving, there's a hundred jobs to complete before the dam breaks and we are swept along on the rising tide of rampant vegetative growth that is enthralling and terrifying in equal measure'.
Two jobs we are now racing to complete are our bare root shrub planting programme and our annual mulching round. The first, bare root shrub planting, is not something that amateurs are likely to get much involved with unless they are planting extensive hedges which require large numbers of plants. However, when you are working with a large canvas like West Dean Gardens you often need to make generous sweeping brush strokes to cover large areas of your picture and this is where bare root plants come into their own. This is principally on grounds of cost because they are roughly a fifth of the price of equivalent container stock. This means substantial savings in the budget which can then be spent on more choice and pernickety plants. Equally some subjects actually seem to transplant better from bare root production and if planted properly and given the right after care roar away more rapidly than pot grown material. We are just in the process of planting 350 plants each of Portugal Laurel, Cherry Laurel and Box which should take three men approximately 3-4 days to do. This is basically green (evergreen actually) wallpaper that forms the backbone of a lot of shrubberies through the garden and which replaces extensive Victorian plantings of Japanese Spotted Laurel that have all decided to mass suicide over the last couple of years, that's gardening for you!
The other job, mulching with 3" of wood chip, is essential in a large garden maintained to high standards with a small staff such as West Dean. Without it we would never be able to stay on top of the weed population but it also helps to retain moisture, adds valuable organic matter to the soil as it breaks down and is also aesthetically pleasing giving a nice unifying effect throughout the garden. It's also free as we generate sufficient for our needs by "chipping" all woody waste on site with our slightly noisy but fearsomely efficient chipper. A virtuous, thrifty and ecological circle of recycling that can't be beat!