Spring has sprung at Great Dixter. I have just spent 4 glorious days volunteering at this heavenly garden in East Sussex. Heavenly, because no matter what time of year you visit, there are always plants to discover which will delight and knowledgable gardeners who will happily identify these wonderful plants for you. It’s slightly overwhelming to know where to start, but here are some of the plants and practices that I picked up on when I was there.
Great Dixter is gearing up for its first opening of the year and the gardens are putting on a great show. Hellebores ranging from pure whites to deep purples abound,
and Snowdrops (Galanthus), in many shapes and sizes, (and available from the Great Dixter Nursery!) are carpeting the ground in many of the borders.
Together, they make sumptuous combinations.
Tucked away in the shadows of a Fatsia japonica was a Pachyphragma macrophyllum (above) who’s purest white flowers shone out from the shade. This is certainly a plant I will seek out to plant in shadier gardens and is available from, amongst others, Beth Chatto’s nursery in Essex (who offer mail order) and Beeches Nursery in Suffolk.
Crocuses glowing in the sun, and seen en masse in the fields of Great Dixter, really seem to capture the spirit of the place.
Cardimine quinquefolia, above, and appearing in many areas of the gardens at this time of year, is altogether a much more delicate affair and a fantastic companion to a purple Hellbore or a dark-leaved Bergenia.
Add the vibrant green of the flower heads of a Euphobia foetidus, E.robbiae or E.wulfenii (above), and you can really create a very lively spring grouping indeed.
Mahonia japonica is not just a pretty face. It’s vibrant architectural form is also accompanied by the sweetest of scents, akin to that of Lily of the valley. If your Mahonia is looking rather top heavy and ‘leggy’ then wait for the flowers and berries to finish then cut right back down to a few buds above ground level, and it will grow back nice and bushy from where you pruned to.
James is thinning out a black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) so that the stems will become see-through and have more of an impact. Here’s a before pic.
And an after pic.
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ’Karl Foerster’ still has an impact with its upright form throughout the coldest months.
And Yew hedging and topiary play an important role in the garden, giving structure and height to the borders in winter and providing a contrasting background to the perennial plants throughout the rest of the year.
Working alongside Head Gardener Fergus Garrett, Assistant Head Gardener Siew Lee Vorley (above) and all of the staff at Great Dixter, the hows and whys of the gardening methods are revealed. For example, wooden boards are always used to stand on when working on the borders to avoid compacting the soil and disturbing the plants. The staff at this garden are wonderful to work with as they are so happy to share their extensive knowledge with you and I always come away feeling enrichened and enlightened.
Louise lets me know that as compost is added to the soil, a ‘tickling fork’ is used not only to incorporate the compost into the soil, but at the same time the border soil is flicked up to encourage self-sown seeds (from the plants previously in the bed) to germinate, rather than using compost as a thick layered mulch to prevent weeds appearing.
Graham explains that to give a depth to this Euonymous fortunei ’Emerald Gaeity’, some stems are pruned back deep in to the plant, similar to when your hair is layered, to give it more life.
This is one James, another member of the gardening team, prepared earlier in the ‘Long border’. Pruning this way avoids leaving the plant looking static, giving it a much more dynamic and energetic look.
And talking of the Great Dixter team, the silky soft Connifer is the much- loved latest addition to the household in Northiam.
Ready to help with the potting-up anytime.
A continuation of the creative flare at Great Dixter is this very fetching secateurs holster, lovingly crafted by Siew Lee and admired by many.
And finally, no visit to Great Dixter is complete without spending time gazing at (and buying) the plants in the incredibly well-stocked nursery. There is always an abundance of plants that are new to me and the staff are fantastic at helping you choose the right plant for the right place in your garden.
The foliage of this Ligusticum scoticum had ‘buy me’ written all over it, and I certainly did purchase a few of these intriguing perennials to experiment with in one of my border designs. The Nursery is currently open Mon to Fri: 9.00am -12.30pm. 1.30pm – 4.30pm and Sat: 9.00am – 12.30 and will be open all week from the beginning of April. Their catalogue is available on-line and you can always call to check to see if the plants that you want are in stock.
And lastly, no really, I was very fortunate to be shown around the nursery and gardens by Kathleen, who pointed out which plants were ready to have cuttings taken.
Lots to say about this, with a fair amount of pics too, so will send out another post in next couple of days to try to do justice to this fascinating topic.
The Gardens and House open 1st April to 30th October this year, but the gardens will also be open this Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th March from 10.00 to 16.00 to view the Snowdrops, Crocuses, Hellebores and many more wonderful plants. Most definitely worth a visit this weekend.