Head Gardeners blog – Autumn 2016

28/10/2016

Garden Trees lawn misty WS5 11Here in the garden department, following an especially dry Summer period, we started to notice some early mornings feeling quite Autumnal from probably about the middle of August or thereabouts. We still had some very warm and sunny days to come, especially at the very end of the month, but inevitably, our collective thoughts were toward an Autumn work schedule.

Summer 2016 was maybe the driest I can recall in my time here, with one possible exception. At times, there was reasonable levels of rainfall both just north of our location, and marginally to the south…Killruddery however, remained stubbornly dry, the lawns gradually turning brown, grass growth becoming increasingly negligible, ornamental plants under demonstrable duress, and of course, theGarden Autmunal Trees WS5 11 long ponds looking unpleasantly swamp like as the water level dropped. We had a period of pretty good summer temperatures, with close to zero rainfall for a good 6 weeks, and it took a hefty toll on the gardens appearance.

The question, during such periods of when to water, how much water etc. is not a straightforward one, particularly on the kind of scale by which we operate in the formal gardens. In a more domestic type scenario, or in a more contained environment with a smaller footprint, some of the considerations are less broad. In short, if you decide to water on a small(ish) scale site, the practicalities of administering water are a lot more manageable…as is the prospect of delivering adequate water, which is at least as big a consideration as whether or not to water in the first place. Leaving aside matters of water conservation (at Killruddery we have our own wells) you need to decide if and when watering becomes essential. When watering plants in the open ground in times of drought, a good soaking with less frequency is more advisable than a ‘little and often’ type approach. Smaller amounts of water being administered can lead to more shallow rooting, potentially encouraging plant roots to begin to move toward the soil surface – where the water you are providing is available. This doesn’t aid the long term durability of plants. There are times however, when if certain plants are to be sustained, watering is necessary. We never water lawn areas, even those close to the house. To do so would be utterly impractical, and would be to begin something we would not be able to continue. Of course, it would mean I wouldn’t need to worry about the grass colour, or whether we can feed or not…

Some of our ornamental plants inevitably will need watering from time to time. We would tolerate a degree of suffering on the part of our plants, and will certainly (reluctantly) accept things looking IMG_9828-(people-in-the-garden)lacklustre and below par before we begin to intervene. And when we take the decision to water, it needs to be done in a targeted yet thorough fashion. The obvious early candidates are the likes of our many clusters of primula, located in the Rockwood amongst other places, also things like Hydrangeas, and any young or recently planted material. As the dry spell continued, watering had to be extended, meaning trailers full of water being transported around the garden. Finally, on August 17th, while our annual outdoor theatre event was taking place, what I would call some decent rain arrived. Poor Zorro cut a forlorn figure for sure, and the other cast and crew members, visitors and Killruddery staff who stoically endured the awful (unless you were of the garden department) conditions would I’m sure have favoured a further postponement of the badly needed rain, but I must confess, I was relieved we finally were receiving a good soaking.

The huge reduction in growth resulting from the summer conditions, does afford one or two other opportunities… The long ponds, now looking well below their best (they never look great when almost empty…), had a large amount of material removed – branches and other assorted debris. We also took the opportunity to reduce the presence of the water lilies. Visitors who know Killruddery for a number of years may recall the second long pond being almost entirely filled with lilies…beautiful in their own right, but not in keeping with the design of the garden. The long ponds act as the central axis of the gardens, a large part of their intended function being to act as giant mirrors, on a clear day, the surface reflecting the trees etc. in the general vicinity. This design concept was obviously impaired by the presence of large amounts of foliage, and therefore we’ve employed various measures in recent years to reduce their population. We still have a considerable number of them, happily growing in the round pond at the Beech hedge – having of course travelled downstream wildlife-on-pondsover a number of decades. Mother nature truly never misses an opening…

Late summer also sees the usual flurry of hedge cutting, weed control (some additional time available with the slowing of grass growth in almost all years, not just when very dry), nursery work – propagation by cuttings, potting, and many more. On the subject of nursery work – something I personally have always really enjoyed, this time of year is perfect for harvesting seed from many of the ornamental we commonly grow. Some of the easiest of subjects where seed harvesting is concerned are things like Poppys, Primula, Foxgloves, Sweet pea and many more. Timing is of obvious importance – too early and seed is unripe, too late and the seed maybe dispersed by the time you get to it. Gather seed on a dry day, straight into a paper bag. Plastic bags or indeed damp seeds are unsuitable for harvesting due to the greatly increased likelihood of rotting. Seed should be dried, cleaned and well labelled. I usually leave anything I collect in the Garden office for a few weeks (unless we’re Autumn sowing) to dry out completely and hopefully to allow the seed heads/ pods to open naturally and shed the goods. They should then be cleaned, ensuring freedom from pieces of chaff, stems, old seed pod and any general debris. You’ll almost certainly also encounter some very tiny, random creepy crawlies too – they will need to go… We use a series of small sieves and tweezers to ensure adequately cleaned seeds, though some subjects can be tricky. Some seeds will produce good results from Autumn sowing, though it’s advisable to ensure you can provide some amount of shelter from the worst of the winter weather. Germination will probably be a little slower than sowing in spring, but it can be a useful practice, and is particularly helpful Garden Bluebells and Wild Garlic MS5 11to us to spread the seed sowing programme rather than have it overly concentrated within a few weeks of the year. Seed harvesting commences around the end of August, and depending on species, can still be under way for many weeks depending on species.

Another annual Autumnal occupation is the planting of Spring flowering bulbs. I’ve yet to place my order, but can say that as is usual, it will feature a couple of varieties of Narcissus, Bluebells – Hyacinthoides non scripta – (The English Bluebell is a better choice than it’s more vigorous/ promiscuous Spanish counterpart), and maybe some Frittilaria or Cyclamen. There’s tremendous value to be had with Spring bulbs, particularly things like Narcissus. Prices are reasonable, failure rate low, and the speed at which they will bulk up can be impressive. As much as it may seem quite a chore to head out some morning, armed with a small trowel or spade, maybe in the wind or rain, and get planting, you be glad you did when flowering time comes round and colour about your garden may be in short supply. I strongly encourage bulb planting….consider large drifts at the edge of lawns, underplanting around deciduous trees, planting through areas that will later be filled with summer perennials – here you’ll achieve a great display, which will wind down as your herbaceous plants push through for their turn in the spotlight. Personally, I prefer to group particular varieties together, rather than opt for something described as for example ‘mixed daffodils’. In recent years, some of my favourites have included Narcissus Actea, N. ‘Mount Hood’ and N. ‘Jack Snipe’. For something a little different try Frittilaria meleagris, or any of the large Frittilaria imperiallis – a little more expensive but an impressive sight when grown well. Spring bulbs will begin with Snowdrops and Eranthus, probably around the end of January, and extend with many forms of daffodil, crocus, tulips, etc right through to late May depending on your choices. I recommend paying some attention to the floweorangery-border-line-outring time of your chosen varieties, thereby spreading any display you might achieve.

Finally, one of the more notable items of work we managed to complete over recent weeks was the planting of the Orangery border. It’s a high profile spot, seen by pretty much all visitors, and of course those attending events around the Orangery or house area. For most of the open season, visitors will have noticed the 3 Trachycarpus fortunei (palm like trees) standing alone in the otherwise empty bed. It’s an exposed site, receiving full sun (when there’s any to be received…) and tends toward being quite dry. Sometimes, when an important area requires a change, a horticultural equivalent to writers block can occur….however, we hit upon a planting plan, and began collecting the requisite plant material. Opting for pastel colours, and remaining mindful of the importance of this particular spot, as well as the specific site conditions, we used a mix of perennials chosen on the basis of form, texture and flowering colour and period. We planted densely, and expect a reasonably full effect relatively early into next season. We have some more planting in mind over the coming weeks and months, Autumn into Winter being the most favourable time to carry out planting jobs.

Hopefully, by the time we welcome back our visitors and members next Spring, looking forward to another great year of unique events and family fun at Killruddery, we’ll have some notable additions to the gardens and maybe even one or two specimen trees or new features to show off.

In the meantime….this garden doesn’t sleep…