April was such a benign month at West Dean, mostly rain-free days and glorious enjoyable sunshine. What a blossomy year so far – I feel as if the garden is garlanded with these magical blooms at present. The pear blossom was magnificent in March and April and now the orchard is a riot of pink and white apple blossom with a carpet of wildflowers including cowslips, dandelions and spears of blue camassias adding to the palette. May is definitely ‘Wild Flower Month’ at West Dean.
The kind weather is astonishing but I’m looking around the corner for another meteorological disaster- wind, rain, hail or frost. So far though the pears have set fruit and soon the apples will have too which is such a relief after the miserable months of winter rain we have endured.
Around the garden certain areas are bursting into growth, nowhere more so than the newly planted Sunken Garden. Responding to the muck and magic incorporated into the beds last year, the plants are leaping out of the ground; so soon the lion tamer will have to be brought in to sort it out.
After reporting for years about the state of the Sunken Garden it’s rather marvellous to be able to encourage you to incorporate it into your garden tour and enjoy the scene; enjoy the wisteria on the nearby Pergola too.
Much of the evergreen shrubbery element throughout the gardens has also been tamed for a further twelve months. This year you will see lots of new vistas as the diseased spotted laurel, probably planted in the late nineteenth century, comes to an end and is removed, creating in its wake many and varied photographic opportunities.
While you’re visiting the gardens do make sure you walk to its furthermost reaches to the west of the house- you’ll get a different perspective of the garden entirely. And if you’re really feeling fit and frisky, aim for St Roche’s Arboretum which is looking superb at the moment with a few areas covered in sheets of cowslips. Tea and a magnificent slice of cake at the Gardens Restaurant await you on your return. Or try our new weekend breakfasts (open from 9am) before setting off on your walk.
Within the Walled Gardens we have not been standing still either; the fruit trees are now pinned in place after an Easter training session from Jim the tree tamer. See the 2010 fruit tree plantings in the Kitchen Garden along the eastern wall for some inspirational designs. ‘Shaun the Kitchen Gardener’ continues to hurl himself from one task to another to plant, sow, weed and train at the appropriate time, training tomatoes under glass also engages him. Glasshouse winter lettuce has been consumed so now the basil collection will shortly be planted, most of these varieties are AGM (Award of Garden Merit) winners from a basil trial at Wisley in 2012 so are good do-ers for the home gardener. We are also growing complimentary trials of dill and coriander as a satellite to the main trial at RHS Wisley, all worth a look-see.
‘Anne the Border Queen’ races around the garden too, keeping on top of tying in roses and clematis on all the borders as well as controlling the exuberant border growth with her magical hazel weaving. She will shortly be planting out half hardy perennial plants and annuals to fill in all the border spaces- an interesting and creative activity.
Finally the glasshouses – Chris’ domain, are awaiting a visit from you to see how the collections grow and develop. Tomatoes, chillies, aubergines, cucumbers and melons are just some of the crops you will find growing at West Dean along with loads of ornamentals – always worth a visit.
Have you heard about our new show the West Dean Design and Craft Fair featuring MADE on the 20-22nd June? You can book for workshops and event tickets online now and entry to the Gardens is free. www.westdean.org.uk/designandcraft
Sarah Wain, Gardens Supervisor