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 garden volunteer Steve was busy working on a display change in the Alpine House again. This time, it was South African bulbs taking centre stage and in particular the brilliant yellow-flowered Albuca tenuifolia. South African bulbs make up an important part of the display at this time of the year with most alpine species waiting until spring to flower.
Albuca is a genus of flowering bulbs in the Asparagaceae family more commonly known as the slime lily (in reference to their slimy, mucilaginous sap). A. tenuifolia produce tufts of narrow, grass-like foliage and loose-spires of nodding, bell-shaped pale-yellow flowers.
Most species are best grown in pots in this country and kept frost free throughout the year – so the Alpine House is ideal. A free draining soil is essential , as is full sun and a long dry period when the bulbs go into dormancy replicating their native habitat in South Africa.
Back in 2017 we took the difficult decision to remove a large Pinus strobus that had outgrown its spot in the Rhododendron Border hindering the growth of the shrubs beneath it. Since then, the Rhododendrons have started to respond well with more light and water now penetrating the border.
Now attention has turned to under-planting the border and in particular the empty space around the old pine stump left behind. Several weeks ago the Garden Team began planting the area with shade-loving, woodland dwelling perennials such as winter-flowering hellebores and the tough-as-old-boots male fern (Dryopteris felix-mas).
On Tuesday, Head Gardener Dan continued by planting dozens of similarly tough Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’ – the ubiquitous dwarf daffodil that makes such a cheery-yellow display in early spring. But there’s still plenty left to do with plans to extend the under-planting further next year continuing in the direction of the Sandstone Rock Garden, adding layers of interest and complexity to the planting in that area.
Wednesday saw our garden volunteers hard at work in the Stream Lawn area of the garden beginning to put the garden to bed for winter. Cat and Liz were focusing on cutting back faded perennials in the Stream Border, whilst Mike was busy clearing fallen leaves from beneath a nearby sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua).
This process of cutting back and leaf clearing will continue for several more weeks now as the Garden Team assesses which herbaceous perennials should remain for the winter providing form and structure and which would be better cut back immediately, and keeping lawns healthy by clearing leaves that fall on top of them blocking essential light.
“I am currently considering a career change to horticulture and so I am keen to get some hands-on experience before I take the plunge! It’s been fantastic so far – the Garden Team have already given me lots of varied experience and I feel right at home working alongside them all.” Cat Watton, Garden Volunteer
As autumn arrives it has been interesting to see how our new borders on the Arboretum Lawn change and develop. Some perennials like the michaelmas daisies (Symphyotrichum ‘Audrey’ and S. ‘Samoa’) are still in full flower but it’s now the surrounding tree-scape that is really stealing the show.
The brilliant Acer ‘Osakazuki’, bright-red in autumn, now makes the perfect focal point at the end of the small grass path that dissects the new borders parallel to the Pergola. And of course, at the centre of it all is the huge tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) with beautiful golden-yellow autumn leaves shaped like the flowers of a tulip.
Yet, even in autumn thoughts turn to next summer and on Thursday the Garden Team finished planting hundreds of ornamental Allium bulbs. We have chosen to plant A. christophii which has huge, exploded-star shaped purple flower heads, and A. ‘Purple Sensation’ which is taller, but with smaller, darker flowers that will emerge in May extending the season of interest in the new borders even further throughout the year.
Volunteer florist Marie ended the week by creating some brilliantly autumnal displays in the House using dried seed heads and squashes harvested from the Walled Garden. We grew lots of squashes this year including both summer varieties with soft skins ready to be eaten fresh, and winter varieties with hard skins perfect for storing at the end of the year.
Of those we grew, two mini pumpkin varieties proved by far the most popular with visitors. ‘Jack Be Little’ produces a mass of tiny fruits up to 15cm across (but often smaller) all perfectly formed with rich orange skin, whilst ‘Hooligan’ is equally diminutive but squatter and streaked with green and yellow.
“Squashes are like toddlers – they’re always hungry! Turn in some compost and slow release fertiliser to start them off and feed roughly every 10 days with high potash feed once you can see fruits developing. They’re also prone to powdery mildew when they’re drought stressed. You can either sink a pot next to your squashes when you plant them, and water directly into the pot so the water goes straight to the roots, or form a mound of soil around the plant to stop the water running off onto the rest of the bed.” Leighanne Gee, Outdoor Area Supervisor