Thursday, 2 April 2020

April in the Garden

"Although we’re working in unique and unprecedented times, there is still plenty to keep myself and my garden team busy at Borde Hill. We’re having to adjust to the new working conditions, ensuring we work in different parts of the garden, and have breaks at different times during the day, but being out in nature is helping to keep spirits high.

April brings a busy time in the garden. The start of British Summer Time heralds a new season where flashes of colour begin to appear across our numerous garden ‘rooms’, and the bright mornings filled with birdsong are hard to beat. 

Across the garden we’re continuing to mulch borders to lock in moisture and protect against weeds. 

In the Garden of Allah we’ve finished cutting back the cornus and salix, to ensure they achieve their full size later in the season, whilst in the Blue and Autumn Borders, the team have been coppicing the cotinus and sambucus for foliage. It’s time to prune your hydrangeas and reliable summer-flowering penstemons. 

It’s important to prune spring flowering shrubs such as chaenomeles after they finish flowering, as well as ensuring you protect new shoots of plants such as delphiniums and hostas to avoid the slugs and snails getting them. In the Rose Garden, new shoots are beginning to show, and we’re feeding the roses to ensure a strong display of colour later in the season. 

Now is the time to fertilise your lawn, and at Borde Hill that means tending to both the South Lawn and also that in the Azalea Ring. As the weather has been good, we have started to mow the lawns, and will sow grass seed from the middle of the month to encourage a good covering throughout the year. 

In the glasshouses we’re checking that the heating is effective as frosts are still likely, but also ensuring they are well ventilated as the days begin to warm up. It’s important to watch out for aphid infestations and we often damp down the glasshouses during warm spells to lessen the chance of red spider mite. The team are propagating perennials from basal cuttings including delphiniums, and these will be used to bulk out our herbaceous borders.

Any annuals sown recently should be pricked out, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for damping off. Also note that half hardy annuals can be sown now, and for those with more of an indoor focus, it’s worth remembering to water and feed houseplants, cacti and succulents. 

It’s a beautiful time of year with much colour across the garden, including: Magnolias, Rhododendrons, Narcissus, Hellebores, Viburnums, Stachyurus, Primulas, Leucojums, Fritillaries, Camellias, Chaenomeles and Flowering cherries.”

Andy Stevens,
Head Gardener

Friday, 6 March 2020

March in the Garden

Andy Stevens, Head Gardener at Borde Hill, says

‘All the wet weather we’ve been having has been a real nuisance but we’re still very much on track for 14th March, the day the Garden opens to the public for the 2020 season. That’s a full two weeks earlier than usual – because of the mild winters and early springs we’ve been having in recent years, our fabulous magnolias are now in flower much earlier than they used to be and we want to make sure our visitors get to see them in all their glory.

‘I’m really looking forward to doing tours of the magnolia collection for visitors on 23rd March and 3rd April – warmth and rain last year came at just the right time for them, so the trees are loaded with buds and they’re set to put on an amazing display. It will be wonderful to see the great reaction they get.

‘But the gardening team and I can’t spend too much time sitting back and admiring them ourselves as there’s still lots to do at this time of year. One of the biggest jobs is mulching all the borders with composted woodchip to keep weeds down and help keep moisture in over the summer. We’re also lifting and dividing groups of perennials like sanguisorbas, rudbeckias and phlomis in the Paradise Walk and the Blue Border, and checking all our trees and shrubs for broken branches and loosened stakes caused by the recent high winds. There are lots of narcissus to deadhead too, and we’ll soon be planting summer-flowering bulbs, including lilies, in the Italian Garden and pruning summer-flowering Hydrangea paniculata, perovskia, buddlejas, caryopteris and ceratostigma.

‘Now’s also the time, as perennials like delphiniums, aconites and thalictrums, start to emerge in the Blue Border, that we start putting in hazel and birch plant supports for them. It’s so much easier to do it now so that the foliage grows up through the supports, rather than waiting until the plants start to flop over - it’s impossible to prop them back up again neatly.

‘Over in the Italian Garden, we’re getting ready for a redesign (more news about that soon!) and the first step is to move some of the evergreen shrubs like sarcococcas and box there. And, at last, we can start to remove winter coverings from tender perennials like tree ferns and bananas in the Round Dell. Spring is only just around the corner, hopefully!’

The Garden opens to the public on 14th March. Andy’s Magnolia Tours costs £12 per person (including entry to the rest of the garden). Here’s what’s likely to be in flower this month:

* Magnolias (80 old ones and 100 young ones)
* Chaenomeles (Japanese quince)
* Camellias
* Epimediums
* Rhododendrons
* Anemone blanda 
* Pieris
* Crocus
* Narcissus

* Hellebores

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

There's plenty to do before the Garden re-opens on 14th March

Andy Stevens, Head Gardener at Borde Hill, says…

The garden is still closed to the public for the winter but it’s not long now until we re-open on 14th March, and there are plenty of jobs the team and I need to tackle before then.

One of the key tasks is pruning the wisteria that covers the front of the garden entrance building. We do it once at this time of year, before it starts into growth, and then again in August to keep it tidy and in check. We’re also about to start renovating the deciduous mixed hedges around the Azalea Ring and at the edge of the Garden of Allah, thinning them out and cutting back old wood to encourage new growth. The big deciduous hedge all around the South Park has already been cut back by a farmer for us, so that now has nice straight edges and looks so much smarter.

As winter-flowering shrubs like wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) have finished flowering we’re beginning to prune them back to keep them in shape, and deciduous grasses like Miscanthus and Molinia that we left over winter to add interest and structure to the Grassy Knoll are now being cut right down to the ground.

There are Cornus on the South Lawn by the tearoom, on the West Bank and in the Garden of Allah and it’s the colour of their new young stems that we grow them for, so we’ll soon be cutting them back to ground level too, a process that’s known as ‘stooling’.

And it’s time to start all our dahlias tubers into growth, so we’ve begun to bring them out of their storage crates and into the Propagation House, where they’re going into trays of slightly damp compost. Dealing with dahlia tubers is always a bit nerve-wracking – when they come out of the ground at the end of their flowering season the trick is to keep them moist enough that they don’t dry out, but not so wet that they rot while they’re being stored over winter. We always put them in a cool outbuilding known as the Boiler Room (though there’s been no boiler there for years), which is slightly damp and stays at a relatively constant temperature and, so far, they’re all looking good.

By far the biggest job of all at this time of year, though, is pruning the roses. We have over 1000 here at Borde Hill, so it’s a major undertaking. We’ll spend several hours each day on it over a three-week period – so if anyone reading this has just a few roses to prune, spare a thought for us! It will be worth all the hard work, though, when they come into flower – the Rose Garden is always a glorious sight in early summer.

One last thing I’m champing at the bit to do this month is mow the lawn. It’s been such a mild winter that the grass hasn’t ever really stopped growing, but we are on clay here and it’s just too wet to get out there with machinery, so grass-cutting is going to have to wait until we finally get some prolonged dry weather. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait too long.’

Although the Garden isn’t yet open to the public for spring, there are plenty of bulbs and shrubs in flower for the Stephenson Clarke family, the Tennants living at Borde Hill and the gardening team - to enjoy themselves this month before they throw open the gates on 14th March:
  • Crocus
  • Narcissus
  • Galanthus
  • Camellia
  • Rhododendrons
  • Hamamelis
  • Garrya elliptica
  • Daphnes
  • Mahonias
  • Skimmias
  • Sarcococca
  • Osmanthus
  • Azara

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

January in the Garden

The seasonal cleaning mission starts long before spring has sprung at Borde Hill Garden and it’s all hands on deck.

What we get up to this month is very much in the hands of the weather, but can range from dispersing worm casts from lawns in drier conditions, to turf repairs if it’s suitably mild. If it’s still chilly, (which is fairly likely), it’s important we make sure all the greenhouse heaters are in working order too. The glass must also be checked, to make sure as much light as possible is being let in on these shorter days. 

If conditions do turn out to be frosty, we must be extra vigilant not to walk on icy grass, as this can cause burn or scorch marks. Whereas if we’re not frozen or waterlogged, ground conditions will be suitable for established deciduous trees and shrubs to be moved. 

Elsewhere, regardless of the conditions we’ll be inspecting stored dahlia and begonia tubers for signs of fungal rot, and taking hardwood cuttings of Cornus and Salix.

We’ll also remove old and diseased hellebore leaves and continue with all the regular tidying and weeding of beds that happens year-round.

Beyond that any vacant plots will be dug, while in terms of planting we’ll be putting in bare root deciduous hedging plants and bare root roses. Like we said, no resting on our laurels around here.  

What to look out for in the garden this month 
Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’
Sarcococca spp
Chimonanthus praecox
Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’
Cornus mas
Iris unguicularis var. angustifolia
Abeliophyllum distichum

Friday, 6 December 2019

December in the Garden

The weather can’t seem to make its mind up at the moment, but at Borde Hill Garden we’re well-prepared for any circumstance. The greenhouses all have heaters for days when the cold bites, and special vents that can be opened up on milder days. It’s the plant equivalent of a smart heating system – except in this case the smart ones are our dedicated team of gardeners, who are always one step ahead of the conditions. 

Elsewhere the leaves are a job that needs constant attention at this time of year, and we’ll be clearing them from lawns and borders throughout the month. If the weather decides to gift us with a short warmer spell, we’ll also then mow the lawns to keep them looking neat and tidy. 

We retain perennial stems for wildlife to nibble at, or for winter interest, but where that’s not the case, we’ll finish cutting them all back this month. 

Similarly, we’ll be out pruning acers, birches and vines. We do this now rather than later to avoid them bleeding, which can damage the health of the plant.

It’s now also the right time for hardwood cuttings to be taken, in preparation for next season. On the planting front we will focus on deciduous trees and shrubs if the ground isn’t too frozen, and we’ll continue to dig over and incorporate compost to any vacant areas. Doing this now and leaving the ground rough means winter frosts will naturally break it down. The drainage on the outdoor pots will all need checking ahead of winter hitting in earnest, and we’ll be surveying all the over-wintering plants for pests – aphids in particular.

What to look out for in the garden this month
Camellia sasanqua
Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’
Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’

Callicarpa bodinieri Profusion
Liriope muscari