06 February 2012 By Billy Hawkins
Greetings dear reader! I garden at West Dean Gardens part of the Edward James Foundation with my husband Jim Buckland and a team of eight other gardeners plus about 40 volunteers and have been working there as the gardens supervisor for 21 years.
My association with Alitex began in the late eighties when Chris Sawyer from Alitex came to advise Jim and I on erecting a vine -house at our last job in Hampshire. After intense conversations on the qualities required, the house was erected and gave us great pleasure and grew delicious grapes. Since then, because glasshouses are both our speciality - Alitex’s deluxe maintenance-free, our magnificent Victorian Edwardian timber frames structures definitely not, we’ve had a lot in common.
Our splendid structures were erected in the time of Willie James who bought West Dean estate in 1891. During his tenure the whole place was given a facelift including the walled gardens and most of the glasshouses were built in his time. Since appearing on the scene a century later, Jim and the team have been responsible for restoring these beauties and maintaining them which I won’t deny is a headache at times but one I relish. There is something magical about walking into a glasshouse sniffing the air and admiring the crops or cooing over the babies as I think of it.
February is a time to finish the glasshouse preparations for the season ahead. At the end of every year all the glasshouses at West Dean are emptied of their potted crops and cleaned with soapy water and elbow grease. Dreaded glass house pests such as 2 spotted mite and mealy bug can hibernate over winter on the glasshouse structure itself, so rigorous annual cleaning is a must. As we paint our glasshouses on a rolling 4 year painting program, generally the interiors of one or two are painted over winter which means that we have to relocate the crops unless they’re fruit trees like nectarines or figs.
I might have made this sound like a real chore but it fact observing the seasons and watching the activities come around again is part of the delight of horticulture. A lot of people loathe the winter months because of the short cold days and lower light levels but I love it, it’s the dark before the windows opens onto a fresh new year full of horticultural hope.
We are delighted that Sarah will be joining us on March 8th for our Gardeners's Question Time.
And also at our Spring Open Day on March 24th.