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.
There is a real sense of the growing season coming full turn as harvesting continues in the West Dean 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 three to four 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! in 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! Pots of plants from the Victorian 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 short courses either held in The Orangery or the house itself. The plants are carefully selected to suit the course whether 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.
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.
As 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 (a doctor’s 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.