Gorgeous autumn is a time to visit West Dean Gardens 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.
For the first time ever we are blanching the stems of cardoons in the Kitchen Garden as would have been done historically in country estates like West Dean. The enormous leaves of each plant have been gathered up and tied firmly to a stake inserted 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 neighbour’s 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 garden 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 orchard on all the many trained tree forms and are looking particularly moreish. 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.