13 December 2012 By Sarah Wain
Cold but sunny frosty days in December are to be treasured in the gardens of West Dean as the combination of a clear sky and low rays of the seasonally adjusted sun, light the surrounding landscape in a fabulous way. This type of weather feels like a reprieve after the dampness of most of 2012.
At West Dean, the mighty River Lavant is thundering through the gardens on its way to Chichester Harbour, providing plenty of opportunities for a vigorous game of Pooh sticks although you’d have to be nimble on your feet to keep the sticks in sight as the water is roaring along lickity- split. Still it’s fabulous to have such a dramatic feature marking the boundary of the gardens and it’s been one of the few benefits of a wet season to see it flow most of the year, most unusual for this particular winterbourne.
It's natural effects like these that make me happy that I chose to be a gardener rather than pursue an indoor occupation. Despite the freezing working conditions at times I wouldn’t trade the experience although I’m sure my back would if asked. The cyclical nature of the seasons and our work is one of the benefits, like seeing plants grow to maturity, which is nowhere more evident than with trees - particularly fruit trees. Even in winter, these trees can be dramatic - especially covered in snow. I often ponder why more gardeners don’t plant fruit trees, particularly in trained forms. These are more manageable than standard or half standard trees and are inherently beautiful throughout the year in leaf, in blossom, carrying fruit or covered in snow.
Mowing is now complete in time for the eruption of the naturalised bulb display throughout the gardens. First to push themselves into view are snowdrops followed by crocus and early narcissi. These jewels are thoroughly worth planting in any garden- cheap to purchase and requiring minimal maintenance throughout their lifetime. I love the affect they create and the way they mark seasonal change; obligingly they bulk up or self-seed creating carpets across the lawns. Hoorah for bulbs!
But for now the cycle of work is still pot washing in the mornings, ordering seed for the kitchen and cutting gardens, working on plans for 2013, glass house work and border maintenance. Enough to keep us all busy despite the cold.