11 February 2013 By Sarah Wain
Snowdrops and winter aconites throughout West Dean Gardens point towards the appearance of spring, its February and the rain continues.
Actually as I write it’s turned to snow but despite our web feet and numb fingers the cycle of seasons keeps rotating unwaveringly, involving us in the rhythm of the annual work that makes the garden. In this weather for me it’s a case of don’t think about it just do it!
In the walled garden last year, one of our fabulous wooden glasshouses was rebuilt by the West Dean works department who are responsible for the maintenance of our glasshouse range. This free span house was originally built in the time of our founder’s father Willie James (late 1800’s) to grow malmaison carnations. These flowers used to give delight by providing heady scent to bouquets in boudoirs in the big house or as part of a lady’s corsage. Since the 1990’s and the restoration of the glasshouse range at West Dean, this glasshouse has been broken into two climatic zones, one is for tropical plants and the other for more temperate plants giving a textured and colourful display of over 350 different plants to delight our garden visitor or to be used as subjects in art course work in West Dean College.
It’s been a fascinating project to watch come to fruition; all metal fittings were cleaned and replaced, glass washed and refitted and now the doors close with just one tug - oddly this is what especially pleases me. Like any heated structure conserving heat is a priority so a well-fitting door helps. Exactly the same historical shape and style of glasshouse has been maintained.
Work on the plant collections has followed on from the rebuild of the glasshouse. Each year, where possible, cuttings are taken from the display plants in late summer to over winter in the propagation house on a heated panel. After roots have formed the cuttings are potted up into 9cm pots first, and then when established, into our lovely terracotta pots which these days come from West Meon Pottery. We’ve chosen terracotta as the pot of choice as this would have been the type of pot that Victorians would have used and they fit in with the age and style of our glasshouses; they also add to the character of the display despite the obligation to soak and scrub clean over winter. For production purposes though, we use plastic as it’s light, cheaper to buy and easier to clean. These young plants like us would now benefit from a prolonged spell of sun to make them grow and develop in the pots.