Go behind the scenes, meet the team and get some great tips for your own garden at home. Join us as we look back at the week that was…
On Monday we began lifting turf on the Arboretum Lawn where two large new borders will be created over the winter. The project began several weeks ago when the Garden Team planted fifteen specimen trees in the area as part of an exciting new design that will transform the space.
Turf-lifting would have taken place much earlier in the year but this summer’s drought meant the Garden Team had to wait a long time before the grass had been softened by rain. Now the task is underway and nothing will be wasted. Lifted turf will be stacked face down in our composting area ready to supply loam for compost mixes made in the Nursery.
“In spring we’ll begin planting the new borders. There will be a woodland area with a subdued colour palate in the shade and a more ‘blousy’ riot of colour where anything goes in full sun. Once the spring planting is complete we will move onto phase two and planting to screen the boundary line with King Edward’s School.” Stephen Haines, Head Gardener
Glasshouse Area Supervisor Abby has been hard at work in the Scree Garden where on Tuesday she began the tough task of digging out two overgrown ‘dwarf’ conifers. First to go was a hemlock with tiered fountain-like foliage (Tsuga canadensis ‘Fantana’), closely followed by a more upright red cedar with golden-yellow scale-like leaves (Platycladus orientalis ‘Aurea Nana’).
The Scree Garden is an important part of the garden originally designed by Winterbourne’s final private owner John Macdonald Nicolson to facilitate his passion for alpine plants. It is an imitation of the natural scree slopes that occur in the wild when mountain faces crumble, leaving behind lots of small, loose rocks and stone to create new habitat.
The soil in this area of the garden is very poor so Abby will fill the holes left behind by the conifers she has removed with fresh top soil and grit before she plants several new species in their place. Two low growing Korean firs (Abies koreana ‘Ice Breaker’ & A. k. ‘Green Carpet’) and a mounding form of the dwarf mountain pine (Pinus mugo ‘Jezek’) are being prepared for planting.
Nerines are without a doubt the most spectacular of the autumn flowering bulbs and ours are looking stunning in the Walled Garden and South African Bulb Bed at the moment. A native of South Africa, they are truly exotic but don’t let that put you off. The hardiest (Nerine bowdenii) has been grown in this country since 1903, is hardy down to -15, and extremely easy to grow.
Some of our Nerines are planted in the ground, but we also grow a number in pots so we have the option of moving them around wherever a splash of autumn colour is needed. They naturally grow in nutrient poor soils and like to be baked by the sun. In cultivation a thin, free draining compost or soil, and south facing aspect is required.
Opinion is divided on how deep to plant the bulb. Some growers prefer to cover the bulb with soil to give extra protection from cold, whilst others leave the neck of the bulb proud to help prevent rotting that can occur in the wet winter months. We plant ours proud and this works for us. Perhaps the former approach is necessary in colder, more exposed areas of the country.
On Thursday garden volunteers Pauliina, Maya, Mike, David and Andrew headed to the Trials Field where they were tasked with tidying row after row of feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) plants. We have been growing this aromatic herb in the Nursery Area for University of Birmingham researchers who believe the plant may contain chemical compounds with important medicinal properties.
Each year the flowers are harvested, dried and stored before the compound is extracted and this year was our biggest harvest yet, but feverfew are short-lived perennials, and prone to dying off over the winter. A good tidy and selective cut-back now is important to encourage the plants to put their energy into producing strong basal growth for the winter.
“I must have tidied hundreds of feverfew plants. I was tempted to take a few bunches home with me. However, my homeward journey involves a couple of bicycle commutes and a 2-hour train ride so I decided to resist the temptation!” Pauliina Tuominen, Garden Volunteer
We have recently been joined by Huw Morgan who is retraining as a horticulturalist supported by the Work and Retrain As a Gardener (WRAG) scheme. Huw works with us on Tuesdays and Fridays gaining invaluable practical experience. His arrival is particularly timely with our project on the Arboretum Lawn now underway, and on Friday he was able to put his turf-lifting skills to the test.
WRAG trainees are required to work fourteen hours per week for one year in a notable garden under the guidance of other experienced horticultural professionals. Originally intended to assist women in returning to work after starting a family, the scheme is now open to anybody wishing to enter the industry, and has helped many fulfill their horticultural ambitions.
“After 20 wonderful years in the music industry I wanted a change and new challenge and when we moved to Birmingham 2 years ago it seemed the perfect time to make the change. I’ve always loved the outdoors and being active, which was a big reason, and finally wanted to turn my gardening hobby into a career.” Huw Morgan, Horticultural Trainee