To write yet again about the weather and its impact on gardening in winter would seem to be either lazy, or churlish. Just because the ground is frozen, or it’s been raining or snowing here, does not mean it has been the same for everyone in other parts of the UK. Though I do actually walk around our acre each morning when I attend to the hens and note conditions, feed the wild birds and generally observe how the lengthening days are already stimulating new growth. And I have been outside on a couple of days hacking at the brambles that overtook us in 2012. How could we have let such a situation occur? Because most of the time was spent travelling!
Travelling and gardens do not mix; what one gains from the former causes neglect to the latter. A day out is nevertheless ‘permitted’ and even when we are away for longer periods, we make use of the places we visit to gain inspiration for our garden back home. Anyone can do this. Take advantage for instance of what the National Trust offers – most of the gardens and parkland that they care for is open all year round and as there are properties all over the UK, there is a tremendous choice. Plenty of specially arranged activities for families, as well. And that is important, for our children and grandchildren are the gardeners of the future who will be entrusted with the care of our landscape. Learning when young is vital.
So take yourself off to your nearest NT property, or one close at hand if you are on holiday. Look at any garden with fresh eyes: can you spot a new look, different plantings (particularly if you go their regularly)? What is peeking through in the herbaceous border? Or in the shrubbery? Naturalised bulbs? How are the paths surfaced and edged? What’s growing in the greenhouse, and more importantly, what can you learn from what you see?
Are plants and crops protected in some way? Talk to any of the gardeners, and if these volunteers cannot answer your query, they will usually refer you to the head gardener. HGs are well worth speaking to anyway, as they are often responsible for changes being made. Understanding their vision and their long-term plan is both educational and informative. Many of the NT properties are resurrecting old kitchen gardens, and though they do not look all that productive at this time of year, you can at least see the bare bones, the structure.
If you have space for a polytunnel, you may care to adopt the idea used by the NT at Knighthayes Court in Devon, of creating raised beds within the covered space. When we visited, on 7th March, 2012, on a bitterly cold day, we could really feel the warmth inside and realised how protected the plants would be. It wasn’t actually open to the pubic then, but we were given a sneak preview, and pleased we had discovered it.
I am always encouraging anyone out visiting to make notes, sketch or keep a record of what they see: of varieties being sown and grown, unusual structures, frames and how they are made, planting plans, and so on. Often whilst on the spot, I write a paragraph or two outlining atmosphere – of what I feel makes the place tick. You can’t replicate everything you see back home, but little things can so often add that ‘buzz’ or ‘wow’ factor to your own space. And don’t forget your camera – although I sketched this ‘bug hotel’ at Packwood House, Warwickshire, at the end of March, the photograph will be much more useful when it comes to building my own hotel. Notebook and camera will be much in evidence this year, for my husband and I have decided to visit one or two local NT properties every month so as to have an annual record of places we love. That’s the plan, anyway. For gardens to visit, click on the National Trust website.
And when you are back home, don’t forget to check for all your gardening requirements (all seeds, plants and other topics) on the Dobies website by clicking on the generic links. You may particularly like: vegetable seeds, vegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don’t forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don’t miss anything special.