The winter months were spent principally in clearing our various gardens of leaf fall and then processing the detritus of Autumn – particularly at Bedford Square in anticipation of a continued drive to improve the horticultural merit of the borders. The next few weeks will see planting of a wide range of flowering perennial shrubs some with strong autumn colour or scent on the Gower Street side of the garden including Nandina domestica, Daphne burkwoodii ‘Somerset’ and Cotinus coggygria. This spate of planting will also see further improvements to the Fernery with the inclusion of three very impressive tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) and a number of smaller ground cover varieties. I’m a great believer in the rehabilitation of species often maligned as ‘car-park’ plants such as Cotoneater horizontalis and Forsythia. Used to good effect these perennials can add much to a garden and have the required toughness to thrive in built-up areas. When pruned carefully Cotoneaster horizontalis in particular has a very attractive spreading form as the name suggests and of course the red berries many will be familiar with.
The problem of the vast amount of leaf material produced by so many London Plane trees in our gardens has presented gardens staff on the Estate with a conundrum for a number of years, the ad hoc solution being distributed small compost heaps in discreet locations. Over the years the size of these heaps has increased to the extent that they were no longer discreet and annual removal to a tip was becoming the only option – a real waste. After considering how best to deal with this we feel we may now have cracked it with a centralised location for the processing of leaf fall into decent leafmould compost. Aluminium air ducts have been laid under the heaps upon which electric blowers are used to aerate the material and reduce the need to manually turn the compost – a massive job when considering the volume of material produced. Moisture levels and temperature are managed to ensure the quality of the finished product and we hope next year to be able to use this material to improve the soil quality of gardens right across the Estate. My enthusiasm for compost has been noted, do not be concerned.
In this vein of working in-house this winter also saw the construction of a large polytunnel and propagation area with heated growing benches and cold frames. We have collected seed from the London Estate and have received some from our sister gardens at Woburn Abbey with which we will be producing some of our own annual bedding. The polytunnel also gives us the opportunity to over-winter frost tender plants to be bedded out in the spring and summer. This gives us a greater range of available species to use in beds, window boxes and pots in all of our gardens and will begin in earnest next year.
As I approach my first full year working on the Estate this summer and I hope begin to get a feel for how the gardens work in the different seasons I look forward to meeting more of our residents and interested parties and must thank my predecessor James Gillions for his advice and assistance.
Tom Abbott, Head Gardener – London.