Last winter's rain has acted like rocket fuel to the gardens, there is fabulous growth on trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials everywhere. As a result the early season wild flower display was floriferous in the extreme - always a glorious sight. Shortly it will be mown down (before it falls down!), however there will be a second flush of wildflowers allowed to develop in restricted locations for late season enjoyment.
Colour is coming to the borders, roses are strutting their stuff and the yellow and blue border is beginning to look exactly that - yellow and blue. Here we're winning the battle with Nigella (love in the mist) which seeds everywhere if left to its own devices- but what a lovely plant! New plantings opposite the Pergola and in the Sunken Garden are being lovingly attended by garden volunteers and staff and are worth a visit if you haven't yet been to the gardens this year.
Under glass, William - who normally manages trees and shrubs throughout the gardens with Stuart, has been pruning the grape vines and thinning bunches of grapes. In each bunch over 50 % of the grapes are removed to allow the remainder to swell and develop comfortably. It's one of the most laborious tasks we do in the glasshouses but very rewarding. The peaches are colouring up too although the colour is deceiving as they are still rock hard…but not long now! Elsewhere aubergines, chillies and tomatoes are all potted or planted in their respective glasshouses ready to develop and produce the goods.
Pesky snails and slugs have proved to be a challenge this year, after the mild rainy winter there are squadrons of them roaming the beds. They have reduced a few plants to an unrecognizable state which is not a common occurrence with us as we don't generally have hoards of them. Just shows how each season brings its own set of challenges.
Anne 'the Border Queen' has completed the planting and sowing in the cutting garden area and will now be paying attention to its upkeep. Like a spinning top she rotates from border, to border pinching back, weeding, staking and tying in where necessary. Her workload is relentless at this time of year and it requires an energetic person like Anne to keep on top of it all.
Shaun 'the Kitchen Gardener' has been erecting hazel and cane supports for various crops such as peas, beans and small gourds in the Kitchen Garden. The gourds have just been planted along with celery, more peas, dwarf French beans and chard and the next generation of parsley has just been pricked out ready for harvest in July through to the winter. Winter squash are about to go into the ground as are a selection of grafted tomatoes - let's see how they cope with the great outdoors. We're even training a couple of tomato varieties up wigwams just to see how productive they can be.
As ever, St Roche's Arboretum beckons those who delight in a healthy stomp before a hearty West Dean tea-break or lunch at the Gardens Restaurant. I really do entreat you to make the effort to see for yourself the wonderful landscape at the top of the valley - just follow the orange markers along the track through the Parkland into the Arboretum.
Like all gardeners at times we feel as though we're struggling with the weed population and after the winter rain the weeds are showing unrestrained vigour. Jack who's in charge of looking after most of the grounds, and his merry band of volunteers hope to have all the gardens weed free in time for the Design and Craft Fair featuring MADE, 20-22nd June 2014. Come and try your hand at the crafts on offer, you may be pleasantly surprised by your latent talent!