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1 FEB

A return to winter?

winter

It’s been a very funny month in the gardens. The start of January felt very spring like, and we found ourselves cutting grass and spraying hard surfaces for weeds, which is something I found very alarming. Plants were being fooled into waking up, and I was relieved that we saw a return to a colder weather pattern towards the end of the month. I expect that it’s going to be a very unsettled and bitty spring after this, with a few false starts, and maybe that’s going to become the norm.

Work in the gardens is always ongoing, and we are already under pressure to finish some of our larger projects before Saint Patricks week. I see this as the traditional start of our tourist season and it’s nice to have the castle and gardens looking their best for this. Some current projects include a new wall on the approach to the castle with new interpretive signs that explain some of the castle history and certain features, renovation of our board walks and replanting our bog garden in the lower rock close area, opening up new fruit and vegetable beds in the kitchen garden, and a new walk through the Himalayan valley.

The rest of the grounds and gardens also need the usual seasonal maintenance, and I often have to judge the weather, and in some cases push the boundaries a little in order to get everything done on time. There are a lot of jobs to do over the next few weeks in preparation for spring. We have already put in our indoor early potatoes and are about to start sowing seeds including tomatoes, peppers, indoor salad crops, leeks, sweet pea and assorted bedding plants for this year’s displays. Put in shallots and garlic now if you didn’t do it in the autumn. We have just pruned our grape vines and winter pruning of fruit trees should be finished as soon as possible. Do not prune stone fruit such as plums or peaches in the winter. Leave this for spring and summer. It’s never too early to mow the lawn if weather permits but watch out for emerging spring bulbs. Herbaceous plants can be moved or divided as the soil dries out and bare root plants can still be planted for the next few weeks. If you have a tree or shrub that’s in the wrong place, then now is the time to move it. Dig around it carefully and take as much root as you can then stake it in its new position until its roots take hold.

There’s some good early colour around the grounds, with drifts of snowdrops and cyclamen popping up, but our daffodil avenue is currently stealing the show. It’s planted up with over 30,000 Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation', a classic yellow trumpet-type daffodil and one of the earliest blooming. It can tolerate cold, snowy weather and it has a long blooming period. We even had a few up in December.

Although it’s not the best weather, there is still plenty to see in the grounds and gardens. I love walking around the lake at this time of year and watching all the birdlife. I’m looking forward to the spring, and to seeing life renew itself all around the gardens. Adam

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