West Dean Gardens – October 2014

The dry September with less than 10 mm of rain recorded has been the driest at West Dean in the past 34 years. It has been accompanied by still days and at times glorious sunshine – altogether creating near perfect garden-visiting weather. It seems churlish of me therefore to wish for a drop of rain in October to keep the vegetables in good heart particularly celeriac, but a generous 15 mm right now would suit nicely.vicki isted june 2014 gardens
There is a real sense of the growing season coming full turn as harvesting continues in the Kitchen Garden. It’s been an ongoing activity here recently with a selection of harvested herbs and vegetables making their way to the Gardens restaurant thrice weekly. Cabbage, celery, beetroot, herbs and fennel are currently on the list and once they’ve been completely used up, a green manure will be sown in their place to over winter and protect the soil.

Most of the apples in the fruit garden have been picked almost 3-4 weeks earlier than last year and every autumn we set up a table for apples in crates outside the Garden Shop so that everyone can purchase and enjoy the range of apples grown here. Some will also be used for apple tasting at Grow!Cook!Eat! on 4-5 October. Apple tasting’s a bit like wine tasting and evokes some very interesting descriptive words from those who like the experience. It also brings back memories of scrumping for some! Hope to see you there in the tasting tent and do join in.Autumn in the Gardens JDW 2008 076

Pots of plants from the glasshouses, vegetables and flowers from the kitchen and cutting gardens, have been making their way over to the big house recently for many of the art courses either held in The Orangery or the house itself. The plants are carefully selected to suit the course-: abstract, impressionist or botanical; so instead of feeding the family of the house – as in days of yore, our plants are now feeding the eyes of the art student. See http://www.westdean.org.uk for course details if you’re interested.

The still weather has been particularly kind to border flowers which are holding up astonishingly well this year. Autumnal hues have crept into the scene too so a painterly picture greets you whichever way you look. I love the antique shades that creep into hydrangeas as they age making them one of the most attractive autumn plants for the garden; we’ve used them extensively at West Dean because they’re such good do-ers.

Backlit treesAs its autumn – it’s time for a bit of self-appraisal which generally means a stiff walk each day, and where better to walk to than St Roche’s arboretum? Garden visitors in the past have treated St Roche’s as a daily destination for their daily walk (Doctors prescription!) and have relished in viewing the change in seasons and continuing work taking place. The arboretum may be a bit of a sleeping beauty but that’s no reason to ignore it completely. The views right at the top as you walk across the parkland are terrific and particularly at this time of year. So please please take yourself on a voyage of discovery – tea and cake will be your reward at the Gardens Restaurant on your return.Fusion

We’re having spooky celebrations for Halloween at West Dean this year- so bring the family and see our website for details http://www.westdean.org.uk.

Sarah Wain
Gardens Supervisor

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Fruits of our Labours

As September Autumn in the Gardens JDW 2008 073slides by the damage limitation exercise that is the garden after a long summer slips into history and we can relax a little, enjoy the cooler, golden early autumn days and begin to look forward to the prospect of autumn and winter projects. It’s also the time to savour the fruits of our labours as the grapes, apples and pears ripen and are picked. Plus there is still much to  enjoy on the floral front as Dahlias and Chrysanthemums strut their stuff in the cut flower area and Colchicums and Cyclamen hederifolium bring a surprise splash of colour to the bulb borders.

Growing unfeasibCabbage Red DrumheadJuly 2009 031ly large vegetables is not a big part of what we are about but the occasional whopper is good fun and certainly generates a few comments from the visiting public. The secret lies in the seed selection. Sure you can “pump up” a normal onion with a body building regime of high inputs but to really make the big league your vegetable Arnie Schwarzneggers need to be genetically programmed to be beefy. Companies such as Robinsons and and Medwyns specialise in breeding these bruisers and with the right DNA and a little extra TLC it’s relatively easy to produce some eye popping, football sized onions or cabbage that will be the talk of the neighbourhood and might even win you a prize at the local show.

One of the great treats of September is an early morning walk through the orchard. With a light mist in the air, the spider webs like spun silver with their coating of dew and the trees heavy with red, green and golden apples it is like stepping into a real time version of Samuel Palmers visionary painting “The Magic Apple Tree”.

The visual feast can be enjoyed at any time but the gastronomic one may have to be deferred for a little longer, depending on the variety in hand. Apples and pears are not necessarily ready to eat when they appear to be and part of the skill in fruit growing is timing of picking and then post harvest treatment.

Pear Arch Sept 2010 (1)Pears are particularly demanding. Cultivars such as “Gorham” and “Williams Bon Chretien” that ripen early i.e. July-September, should never be allowed to ripen on the tree otherwise they may well become “mealy” in the centre. The best test for readiness to pick is to lift the fruit slightly and then twist it gently on the stalk; if it is ready it will come away in the hand. Early pears will ripen rapidly off the tree and need careful monitoring for ripeness, late season cultivars such as Conference, and Doyenne du Comice will still be hard at picking but will eventually ripen. Very late cultivars, “Catillac” etc, should be left on the tree until the first frosts threaten and then can all be picked at once.

Apples are slightly less fussy but similar general principles apply. Equally storage requirements for both are the same. Commercially this is a sophisticated science but for the amateur it boils down to keep ‘em cool(around 7C if possible) keep ‘em dark, keep ‘em frost free, keep the air circulating and pick over regularly to remove any bad apples because, as we all know, it only takes one to spoil the barrel!

Why not visit the gardens GCE banner for facebookover the weekend of the 4-5th October and enjoy the pleasures of our next event Grow! Cook! Eat! take the opportunity to purchase some West Dean grown fruit and get your unknown apples identified by our resident experts!

Jim Buckland
Gardens Manager

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West Dean Gardens – September 2014

Bee on dahliaGorgeous autumn is a time to visit West Dean with your camera- for when the place is bathed in golden autumnal light it’s just ripe for the creative photographer. The diversity of the gardens means there is something for everyone: vegetables in straight lines, flowers in the borders, glasshouses, fantastic fruit or even the general landscape. It’s definitely an appealing time to see the place.

As the gardens glide gracefully into autumn the gardeners’ thoughts turn to seasonal work. Currently some crops are being harvested in the Kitchen Garden and, where feasible, replaced with a sowing of green manures to protect the soil until the following spring. Some green manures produce beautiful flowers too, creating a late season harvest for pollinating insects.

cardoonFor the first time ever we are blanching the stems of cardoons in the Kitchen Garden as would have been done historically in country estates such as West Dean. The enormous leaves of each plant have been gathered up and tied firmly to a stake icardoon1nserted next to the crown. Next task is to apply a covering of cardboard and hessian wound around the base of the stems to exclude the light. Although it’s a crop still popular in some parts of the continent, it has long been out of fashion in the UK. I wonder what the blanched stems will taste like later on.

Recent rain has encouraged a lot of unwanted weed growth in the gardens so gardener Jack and a merry band of volunteers go forth each day to wage war on these intruders. At this time of year plants like thistles imitate the growth habit of their neighbours and an eagle eye is required to pick them out amongst the more desirable plants. So often we look at our feet when weeding but there comes a time when you need to look higher up to locate them!

In the cutting WDC_VIP_9116garden dahlias are shouting out to passers-by, look at me! They have responded magnificently to the warmth in early summer followed by good summer rain in August. The range of dahlias in the world is huge but hopefully our selection of 50 varieties would make any flower arrangers’ or artists’ mouth water, helpfully they’re all labelled too.

The apples are colouring up in the Walled Garden on all the many trained tree forms and are looking particularly Apple Affair in October West Dean Gardensmoreish. One of West Dean’s volunteers David comes in regularly throughout the harvest season to pick, so that the garden visitors have a chance to purchase a selection of apples to take home with them. David also organises the information notes so that you know a bit about the apple you’re biting and enjoying.

If you are a regular walker in the Arboretum then you will appreciate the progression through the seasons and about now we’re beginning to look forward to autumnal colour. St. Roche’s Arboretum-still a great place for a walk, stroll or stomp- your cCream Tea at West Dean Gardensltedhoice, and the exercise there and back will work up an appetite for one of those delicious cakes and the requisite cup of tea in the Gardens Restaurant when you return. Also it’s the last opportunity to purchase plants from the garden shop for autumn planting- often the best time for plant establishment.Grow! Cook! Eat!

Make a date to come along to our next garden event, Grow! Cook! Eat! 4-5 October and enjoy a rollicking time in the cookery demonstration tent or take a tour with myself and Jim. http://www.westdean.org.uk/growcookeat

Sarah Wain
Gardens Supervisor

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Dahlias – the Barbara Windsor’s of the Flower World!



When I started my horticultural career as a jobbing gardener at Haringey Council in North London, much of the work was mundane and pretty unrewarding. However every day during the late summer and until the first frosts, my heart was lifted by the technicolor blooms of an astonishing collection of dahlia plants. Their serried military ranks filled one corner of the large nursery that was the base for our day’s work and every day I made a detour to receive their joyous benediction before facing the harsher realities of removing rubbish from shrubberies along the Great Cambridge Road. I never did understand what, if any, their function was within the Parks Department, but I suspect it may well have been the Nursery Superintendent indulging his particular passion, this was a more easy going era before the chill wind of competitive tendering swept away any such indulgences!

WDC_VIP_9063Since that time I have always had a soft spot for their cheerful, “Carry on up the Border”, brassy and flamboyant charms. For many years deeply unfashionable and frowned upon by the more “sensitive” Bloomsbury like fashionistas of the Gardening World they are now enjoying a revival and once more grace the gardens of those in the know. And quiet rightly so because nothing else has the floral firepower nor flaunts such brilliant, clear colours to brighten the season when so much else is descending into autumnal subfusc tones. The razzamatazz of their blooms is fortunate because frankly their foliage is not a selling point, coarse, pinnate and potato like, with probably the only exception being the purple and dissected leaves of that most acceptable of dahlias, the semi-single and deep red “Bishop of Llandaff”.

WDC_VIP_9073They can be used in the border and are strengthened and work best when combined with plants whose main feature is their foliage such as grasses, Ricinus communis, the Castor Oil Plant or cannas, but the traditional way has been as I first experienced them in my youth, grown as specimen plants in their own border. As a consequence that’s how we grow them at West Dean Gardens, a whole bed of them in our cut flower area, because they make the most vibrant cut flower to light up the dullest room.

photo2They are simple to grow requiring only a reasonable soil, generous feeding and lots of sunlight, they are definitely not a shade plant, some pretty heavy duty staking and tying before they start to produce flowers and most importantly rigorous and clinical deadheading every 3-4 days, without this they will soon look messy and stop flowering if allowed to produce seed. Generally they are pest and disease free but can be susceptible to aphid infestation, easily controlled or more seriously virus attack which can’t be controlled and sadly, affected plants should be destroyed. Some people suggest lifting plants each late autumn is unnecessary but we still lift ours after the first frosts have turned their tops to mush, wash the soil off the tubers, dry them upside down and then store them in a frost free shed covered in spent compost to stop them shrivelling too much. They are then brought out again at the end of April, soaked in water if they are dehydrated and then planted with the tops of their tubers four to six inches below ground and so the cycle begins again.

WDC_VIP_9090Come and see our collection now, they look joyous and you can pick out your favourites and order them for next year!




West Dean Gardens, often described by visitors “as the best Gardens they have ever seen” are open daily from 10.30am to 5pm. We are 6 miles North of Chichester, are clearly signposted off of the A286 and have an excellent restaurant, shop and plant sales area that are open to all, not just garden visitors.

House opening A1 poster no bleedOur next event is the opening of West Dean House (College) on the 6-7 September from 10am to 5pm when you will have a rare opportunity to explore the former home of Edward James, lifelong patron of the Surrealists.

Jim Buckland
Gardens Manager


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West Dean Gardens – August 2014

WDC_VIP_8951Wow! What a difference warm weather makes to a garden! So far this summer the flower display in the cutting garden and on the borders in the Walled Garden is looking fantastic with the rudbeckia trial taking pride of place. Beneficial insects and butterflies are having a field day too. However lots of sun means that watering is high on our list of daily activities, particularly in the glasshouses; but with willing hands- including those of volunteers, we get through it each day in reasonable time.

This year the Sunken Garden is attracting a lot of attention from garden visitors and the press. Many visitors are astonished that it is now complete after years of being in a state of ruin and Jim Buckland the gardens manager, with his beady eye, is keeping the exuberant plant growth under control. Like many planting schemes it was overplanted initially for immediate effect and now requires a considered eye to remove the excess. All the hard work re-establishing the sunken garden was recognised recently with a Sussex Heritage Trust Award – hoorah!

Summer fruit tree pruning takes place through July and early August, current season’s growth is removed to help form fruit bearing spurs and to bring the shape of trained fruit back into line. Have you seen the splendid fruit tree shapes created in the Kitchen Garden? Many are reaching maturity and are dead easy to create for yourself at home if they take your fancy. I believe the magic ingredient is brown coated electric flex which bends easily into those lovely shapes you see and onto which you tie your branch or stem to form the shape.

vicki isted june 2014 gardensThe latter part of July was taken up with shearing the wild flower displays in the Arboretum. These displays get better and better each year. If you are a regular walker in the Arboretum then you will appreciate the progression through the seasons and about now we’re beginning to look towards autumn and the colour that brings. St. Roche’s Arboretum-still a great place for a walk, stroll or stomp- your choice, and the exercise there and back, will work up an appetite for one of those delicious cakes and the requisite cup of tea in the Gardens Restaurant when you return.

During the early part of this month a lot of weeding and tidying takes place all over the gardens as the team prepares for the Chilli Fiesta August 8-10th. The wild flower grasslands are razed in time for tents and stall holders and hopefully the weather will hold as it makes the experience so much more pleasant for everyone and encourages a more carnival atmosphere- which is not normally found in West Sussex that’s for sure. Of course if you are camping then calm sunny weather is a must for a superior experience, so although a drop of rain would be nice right now not for the Fiesta please!

WDC_VIP_9133This year’s West Dean Chilli Fiesta 8-10th August promises to be a fantastic three day event with a much wider programme of entertainment than before. Never been? Not your thing? Why not come along and see for yourself, and do come and say hello to me- I’ll be delivering growing demonstrations throughout the weekend- see West Dean website for details. http://www.westdean.org.uk/chilli

Sarah Wain
Gardens Supervisor

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West Dean Gardens – July 2014

June was a wonderful month for a garden visit to West Dean and July looks set to be the same. Plenty of sun filled days after the relentless winter rain have put a skip into the visitors step as they come along to enjoy all aspects of the gardens and there is certainly plenty here to tempt them.

WDC_VIP_9426Within the Walled Garden, Stuart, one of the woodies (gardeners who look after trees and shrubs) plus our French volunteer Franck have been taming unruly cordon fruit trees whose summer growth requires a decisive snip to bring them into line once again and see their shape restored. Wonderful! The same thing is happening in the vine houses where extravagant growth from the vines has been removed by William (another woodie!) so that once again they look like cordons instead of triffids.

vicki isted june 2014 gardensWhen you are in the Walled Garden you might see two gents, Malcom and Mario, replacing the top vents on some of our ¾ span houses, as after over 100 years the vents no longer operate as they should. So by renewing and rebuilding we hope that these glasshouse galleons will sail into the future for others to enjoy. Elsewhere under glass the chillies, double cordon tomatoes and aubergines are growing strongly and producing fruit. Along with regular feeding they receive regular doses of biological control agents which come by post and are used to control pests on plants – mealy bug and red spider being the main two. Visitors are always welcome to open doors to have a look at what is being grown in each house unless advised otherwise.

We are also in the process of potting up some of the small plants in the decorative houses. Glasshouse gardener Chris is selecting plants which need a larger container and rearranging the collections once they have returned repotted. It’s a time consuming task requiring an artistic eye to create a pleasing display and… wait for it…the bromeliad house is once again full of plants so do take a peek, it’s the house at the end of one of the pit houses.

vicki isted june 2014 gardensIn July the Kitchen Garden is burgeoning with summer crops, the potatoes have been harvested by ‘Shaun the Kitchen Gardener’ and now a crop of leeks stands in its place. Courgettes are cropping and the next generation has been sown ready for the top border in a month’s time. All the peas and beans are standing to attention and even the outdoor tomatoes are thriving – so far. There are plenty of benches in the Kitchen Garden where you can sit and watch the workers work – always fun especially as you don’t have to assist!

For the first time the meadow grasslands in the gardens and the arboretum are being cut and baled by agricultural machinery wherever possible. Hopefully this will cut down on the time required to complete the task. The wild flower displays, plus increasing populations of orchids, gave great delight in spring but now we require this space in the gardens for this year’s shows hence the mowing. However a further display of wild flowers will develop under the fruit trees in the Walled Fruit Garden over the next couple of months for everyone to enjoy.

Don’t forget to check out all the borders. These are located along the pergola, in front of the house and in the Walled Garden and for heaven’s sake get yourself up to the arboretum at least once this year- you’ll be ever so pleased with yourself for making the journey and delighted in the views. Don’t forget tea and cake in the Garden Restaurant on your return.

vicki isted june 2014 gardensExciting News – the Sunken Garden has won the Sussex Heritage Landscape & Gardens Awards 2014. The Sunken Garden has recently reopened after a six year period of restoration.

It’s that time again…are you ready for our hot annual event? Make a note in your diary for the West Dean Chilli Fiesta 8-10 August 2014, see http://www.westdean.org.uk for details.

Sarah Wain
Gardens Supervisor

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photo 1


As the dog days of August approach and other flowering shrubs give up the ghost those stalwarts of the late summer border, the hydrangeas, come into their own. The common hydrangea, H. macrophylla, has spawned a huge range of varieties that divide neatly into two main types, the lacecaps and the Hortensias, or more descriptively the mopheads. The latter, also known as florists hydangeas, were originally bred as pot plants and were the classic floral decoration for tarting up the podium at significant municipal events where their brassy flowers were only outdone by the chains and gongs of the mayor and other civic dignitaries. These were unsuitable for outdoor cultivation but numerous garden varieties are now available.


Hydrangea “Annabelle” by Apple store at West Dean Gardens

Whilst not being the most subtle of blooms they nonetheless have a bouncy, Barbara Windsor like vitality about them as they sprawl and bulge under the weight of their fleshy, deep green leaves and outrageously over the top “afro” flower heads. This “Carry on up the Border” quality combined with a colour range that tends to the day-glo makes them ideal for a bit of “in yer face” seaside jollity but not so suitable for low key, subtly nuanced schemes! Where subtlety and sophistication are required the lacecaps are a better bet as the impact of their flowerheads is softened by the combination of a central plate of fertile flowers surrounded by a ruff of the larger, infertile ray flowers, similar to the Viburnums. Finally, continuing their slightly fairground quality remember that both types have the chameleon like capacity to produce blue flowers on acid soils and pink ones on alkaline soils such as at West Dean Gardens. Don’t be fooled by names like “Blue Wave” if you live in the Downs because she’ll be pinker than a stick of Brighton rock!

Hydrangea sargentiana on Woodland Walk

Hydrangea sargentiana on Woodland Walk

Whilst enjoying the “full on” feel of the common hydrangea it has to be said that the more refined pleasures of the other species and their varieties are generally more companionable and easier to place in the garden. With similar flower power to a mophead but of a more understated nature H. arborescens “Annabelle” has a graceful, open habit that errs on the pendent as its stems are bent over by the weight of its large, spherical creamy-white flowers. This characteristic that lends it to spilling down a bank or casting its cloak over front of border plants that are past their best. Larger and stiffer, H. paniculata is vigorous, spreading to upright, and bears large conical panicles of creamy white flowers that become tinged with pink as they age. “Praecox” flowers early in June, and is very informal and pretty but the most popular variety is “Grandiflora” which has massive flowerheads of mainly sterile flowers in September, a real late season blast! Slightly earlier and a little less over the top by dint of its mix of sterile and ray florets H. paniculata “Floribunda” is a more understated choice. Even more subdued is the N. American H. quercifolia, the oak-leaved hydrangea. Here it is the foliage that is the major attraction, like oak leaves on testosterone they are a cool soft green, colouring rich tones in the autumn, the pyramidal cream turning purplish flowers are pretty good to! H. aspera subsp. sargentiana is another strikingly foliaged beast. Here the leaves are very bristly and very large, up to 25cm, and evenly but fairly sparsely distributed over the stiffly upright framework of stems creating a dramatically sculptural effect when well grown. Like most of the hydrangeas the flattened terminal flower heads of blue-purple fertile flowers surrounded by white sterile ones also age well remaining on the plant in ghostly, sere form till next spring.

Hydrangea macrophylla with Agapathus in foreground

Hydrangea macrophylla with Agapathus in foreground

Closely related but with a different feel is what some consider to be the Queen of the tribe, H. aspera Villosa Group, previously known as H. villosa, aah the wonders of nomenclature! In August there is no lovelier shrub as its well shaped dome of downy foliage is smothered with lilac-blue flowers, combined with Pennisetum alopecurioides, Sedum spectabile and Rosa glauca its one of the highlights of the late summer garden. Finally we shouldn’t forget that there is also an extremely useful climbing member of the family, H. petiolaris. With the same self-clinging capacity as ivy and with similar vigour it is a wonderful, more unusual subject for cladding shaded walls. Its handsome dark green leaves which colour rich yellow in autumn plus its domed white flowers in June- July make it an invaluable climber, its pretty good at cladding old tree stumps or trunks as well.

Hydrangea panic ulama

Hydrangea panic ulama

Cultivation of Hydrangeas is pretty straightforward but a few basic points are worth noting. Firstly, the name Hydrangea comes from the Greek for water vessel a reference to the shape of the seed capsule, but it might better refer to the genus’s fearsome capacity to suck up water faster than a thirsty elephant! Be warned, a large specimen can hoover up more than 100 litres a day so a moist but well-drained, moderately fertile soil is essential. In areas of low rainfall and sharp drainage partial shade is preferred but in wetter, cloudier climes full sun can be tolerated, either way shelter from cold or drying winds is required. Pruning of H.quercifolia, H.aspera subsp. sargentiana and Villosa group and H. petiolaris is minimal consisting of the removal of spent flower heads in the spring as growth recommences. H. macrophylla and H. arborescens “Annabelle” are dealt with by removing all weak, spindly growth plus a proportion of the older less productive wood to the ground each spring and then tipping back any damaged branches by up to 30cm to a fat bud. H. paniculata can be pruned as H. quercifolia etc but to obtain really huge flower spikes it is best to establish a permanent framework 25 to 60cm high depending on its position in the border and cutting all growth back to the lowest pair of buds above this framework each spring.

Jim Buckland
Gardens Manager

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