Volunteers in the garden

It’s the season for weeding, and our garden volunteers have been taking a hands-on approach to keeping the garden free from unwanted plants. Head Gardener Dan shares what the volunteers have been up to as we prepare the garden for summer.

Perhaps not surprisingly, our volunteers have been weeding like mad over the last couple of weeks! At this time of year, as temperatures rise in combination with a fair smattering of rain, weeds begin to germinate faster than we can pull them out.

The problem can be particularly bad in newly planted areas, such as the new borders linking the Lychgate to the Pergola, which we installed this spring. The recently cultivated soil, improved by several tons of compost, is the perfect breeding ground for weeds, especially as we water it heavily to help establish the new planting.

Luckily, we have plenty of helping hands to call upon to get on top of it all. Weeding borders before invasive species set seed is essential to slowing down the proliferation of unwanted plants throughout summer. 

All of this is very labour-intensive, but we don’t let that put us off. Although we don’t currently operate a completely organic model, we’re not far off, and we’d much rather get down on our hands and knees and remove weeds by hand than spray chemicals everywhere. While this may be much more efficient, it can also have a negative impact on the wider environment.

Thankfully, our volunteer team are a skilled bunch and although weeding is the main task at this time of year, they have really been working hard on all sorts of other things.

Watering and feeding are other time-consuming tasks that require lots of volunteer help. We grow loads of summer annuals in pots, particularly around the terrace area, and they often need daily watering and weekly feeding to help them look good all summer long.

We mostly use soluble foods, which we stir into water, and water directly into the pots with watering cans. High potash feeds are good for pots which we want to flower prolifically, and balanced foods are good for evergreens – such as bay trees and box plant – which we also have scattered around in pots to give the summer displays more structure.

Planting all the pots in the first place can be a mammoth task in itself! We aim to have our nursery glasshouses almost completely emptied by the end of May, with all sorts of annuals and half hardies – grown in the frost-free glasshouses over winter and early-spring – being planted in containers and seasonal borders.

In recent weeks, our volunteer team has been planting salvias in the Fuchsia Border, dahlias in the Walled Garden, and sunflowers in the Herb Circle, to name but a few.

This is all good work in preparation for the summer ahead. Winterbourne, like many Arts and Crafts gardens, is intensively planted and requires constant and careful attention to keep it looking its best. In this respect, we’re indebted to our volunteer team whose dedicated work is vital to the ongoing management of the garden.

Or, to put it another way, their input means we can dream bigger and achieve more. For that (and the thousands of weeds they’ve pulled), we’re extremely grateful.