18 June 2012 By Billy Hawkins
Two events had us fizzing with excitement at West Dean Gardens this week.
First, 101.1mls of rain was recorded at 9am on Monday morning; I was so shocked when I opened the gauge to lift the bottle out to check the rainfall as it had overflowed into the container bucket which had never happened before in all the years I’ve been recording. I would need to search back through our 100 year old records to see whether this amount is a record for West Dean or not - but cheekily we’re saying it is.
As a consequence the mighty River Lavant is bowling through the gardens lickety-spit, an extremely unusual sight in summer. Normally it's almost disappeared from above the ground at this time of year, as it rises and falls with the water levels in the chalk aquifers of the South Downs.
Sadly this summer rain is not great for a flourishing kitchen garden, many crops require summer warmth as well as rain to survive, thrive and ripen, and sunny weather in quantity is lacking so far this season. Our dwarf French beans, which looked so cocky during the mini heat wave at the end of May, have gone into a sad decline and will need replacing. Poor old outdoor tomatoes wish they could join their pals under glass as they are suffering from the inclement weather too. But leafy green vegetables such as cabbages and chard think its Christmas and are growing well.
Fortunately many of the food crops under glass: aubergines chillies and more tomatoes are looking handsome- you can really feel the advantages of glasshouse gardening when its raining and blowing a gale as at least you can control watering and protect against wind - unlike the crops outdoors. I know we bang on about the weather a lot in this country but it does test a gardeners ingenuity when it is as unseasonal as this.
Secondly Jim Buckland the Gardens Manager of West Dean Gardens (and my dearly beloved) was awarded the Associate of Honour by the RHS for distinguished services to horticulture. His face was a picture as he opened the envelope – he’s rarely lost for words but he was then. The presentation will take place at the RHS Hampton Court show in July.
A bit of Jim’s background
Jim Buckland arrived at West Dean Gardens in1991, an Honours graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and having already had a career encompassing the management of historic and public gardens in both UK and Australia. Over the past 21 years with the support of a small permanent gardens team - about half the number that would have been employed in its Victorian heyday and an army of volunteers, he has redeveloped and designed to bring the nineteenth century gardens into the twenty-first century. Hoorah say I!