The garden at Charleston is like a supermodel: it always photographs well. And what a joy it was to be back in the garden this week after a winter break for us volunteers. I returned to the garden on a perfect winter’s day – bright and cold – the downs behind creating a chiaroscuro effect of light and shade.
I always love the first view of the walled garden as you walk through the little gate in the wall near the gardener’s shed and greenhouse. The vegetable patch is still a work in progress but that did not detract from the quiet beauty of the garden at this time of year when it is still closed to the public.
Before we set to work I wandered around and took a few pictures. It is difficult to remember now what the garden looked like in the height of summer. The sculptures have all been wrapped up to protect them against the cold weather and most of the perennials have been cut back to ground level. The tree surgeons had been the day before and trimmed the hedge on the other side of the pond, opening up new views.
The first snowdrops are out in the orchard, although they have not yet fully unfurled. On the eastern wall running alongside the pond, one of the other volunteers has put in new wires for the roses and other climbers with careful precision.
Our task for the day was pruning a few of the garden’s many apple trees, a task I have always shied away from as I have never quite understood the science of pruning fruit trees. Once we got going though, I soon got the hang of it.
We chose trees that were in the sunshine as the air was bitterly cold in the shade. Then we cut back last season’s growth to two or three buds, selecting outward facing buds and making sure the sharp blade of our secateurs was closest to the part of the branch that is remaining.
We cleaned our secateurs thoroughly before we started and we also carried anti-bacterial wipes around with us to clean as we went, as some of the trees are suffering from bacterial canker. We also took out any branches that were crossing or too crowded. Apparently you should be able to throw your hat through a well-pruned apple tree!
Winter pruning is carried out to promote growth, then in the summer when the tree has put out new spurs, these will need thinning out to one or two per branch to ensure best fruiting.
After pruning we mulched the roots of the apple trees and surrounding beds with some of the lovely Charleston compost that head gardener Fiona has been making. It was wonderful to be outside in the open air after spending too much of the last month indoors. Now I can’t wait to see the apple blossom in the Spring.