Welcome to West Dean Gardens in February

This week the gardens reopened to the public after the winter closure.

A big, big welcome to our garden visitors and friends for the 2017 season; enjoy the gardens and watch them develop throughout this year.

As usual when I start writing, I trawl through the work of the past month to see what's new to tell you and startlingly this time it's the new gardens car park which greets you as you visit the gardens. Historically this newly-gravelled area was a grass covered site, but despite our best efforts, the area has deteriorated so we have resorted to using gravel instead. All it needs is a few umbrellas and deck chairs as we've created our own beach for summer!

I can report that 2016 was a dry-ish year at West Dean, 200mm down on the average 1100mm (about 41 inches in old money). It started with a rain-filled bang so the mighty River Lavant roared along through the early months of the year; but despite a good burst of rain in June the rainfall in the remaining months was less than average. As a consequence the water table, when checked for depth, fell rather than rose, over December 2016 and for the early part of January but it's rising now so the river may flow this year - who knows for how long? We are all hoping that the tributary will run as there is now a new rather splendid dragons-tooth Bognor rock bridge straddling it, made by the fair hands of the gardens manager. Despite it being January, and despite some really cold mornings, a team of gardeners and volunteers have been braving the elements to cut back the herbaceous material around the gardens. So far it's taken all of January to do this and there is still more to do. The race is on to finish though before spring bulbs erupt and to keep in front of the men who mulch. Why, oh why, do people think that gardeners take it easy over winter?

Anne, the border queen, continues to prune which is her lot in life over the winter period. I must pass on her observations though as you might be interested. She says that the growth on the rambling roses this season has been remarkable and we've pondered over the set of circumstances which has made this so. Mild 2015-16 winter? Good spring rain? Good June rain followed by glorious sunshine or a combination of all of these? Anyway she is a very happy gal as there is loads of wood to train in for once.

Once again you arrive after the completion of the glasshouse cleaning and winter pot wash. Nothing new on this score as it happens every year. Setting up glasshouse displays for the beginning of March is an annual task too so now we are potting furiously to achieve this goal. As you know the glasshouses are an intrinsic part of the West Dean visitor experience and again this year two of our glasshouse ranges will be refurbished, so please consider our glasshouse appeal if you'd like to make a donation.

Are you trying to become fitter? For 2017 'Doctor Sarah' suggests a regular walk up to St Roche's Arboretum to help body and spirit. You will be greeted by magnificent scenery and views across the Lavant Valley, and it's well worth the effort. You can then richly reward yourself with a tasty smackerel at the Gardens Restaurant on your return.

We'll have loads of spring bulbs to see this coming month and we're a delightful venue for special days like Valentine's Day (she says modestly) or any day so look forward to seeing you some time this year.

Sarah Wain, Gardens Supervisor