Winter can be the most exciting time in the garden. There is no denying that back in May when I started volunteering at Charleston just as the annual literary festival was getting under way, the garden was looking divine with romantic tumbling roses, gorgeous towering hollyhocks and heavenly blue delphiniums. Then, later in the season came clouds of Japanese anemones, dazzling dahlias and sensational salvias. Now, the colour is all but gone and yet there is a different kind of magic; that of change and anticipation. As the herbaceous plants die and are cut back, it is possible to see the bare bones of the garden and for head gardener Fiona to make her plans for the coming year, a fascinating process to observe.
My first task this week was clearing wild alliums from the border closest to Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s studio. This was not as simple as it sounds as I had to carefully avoid digging up snowdrop bulbs and make sure I did not mistake the red hot pokers for large alliums (without flowers they look more similar than you might think). The test is whether the leaves smell of onion when you break them. Wild alliums spread easily, but are relatively easy to remove, either by gentle tugging by hand, or with a small fork. However, we did have to dig up a clump of ox-eye daisies to ensure all of the alliums were separated and discarded, before replanting the daisies. Fiona thinks it will take some years before all of the alliums are removed, but we made a start.
Next up was planting Primula auricula ‘Dusty Miller’ under the box hedge running alongside the vegetable garden. We finished clearing the area and replanting bulbs that had been dug up in the process, then set to planting scores of the pretty little auriculas, which had suffered from being left in a box in the office for too long. First of all we carefully removed any damaged leaves by hand (they were showing signs of botrytis), then planted each little plant in its own pile of grit, making sure to firm it in well. Vanessa Bell painted auriculas, so there is evidence for them in the garden.
Big changes are afoot in the vegetable garden and next week when I return, the raised beds will have been removed and rearranged. Here is the view this week for comparison.