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Winter news from the garden of St Michael's Mount

06 December 2016

Tea and a good book – that’s what many people assume the Garden Team are involved with over the winter months.  I can assure you tea is on the list, particularly when the weather threatens to blow us ‘over board’ and off the island but usually this is combined with propagation work or planning tasks.

Once the garden had closed at the end of September this year we set about ripping up the worn grass from the Well Terrace at the top of the East Terraces, as well as one of the lower paths.  Time is of the essence in the Autumn along with a generous dose of good weather to allow any worn grass to be removed, the areas to be prepared and new turf to be laid and sealed.  Ironically, having prepared the areas and taken delivery of the turf this year, the sun came out and we had to drench some of the rolls of turf to preserve them while we carried on laying, stripped to our t-shirts!

Turf down and being watered as and when the weather didn’t provide the necessary rain (a Gardener can always moan about the weather) we returned to a job we started in the summer; replacing the worn grass and rotting board walks with cobbles.  The job involves prising the board walks from the ground, lifting any excess turf left behind, laying coarse sand and then fixing the cobbles with a weak mortar.  Board walks, excess turf, coarse sand and cobbles are man handled from the nearest vehicular access point on the main garden path, a good 15 metres below the new path in the West Terraces.  As you might imagine moving materials isn’t a Gardener’s favourite job but that’s when we call in favours from the Boatmen.

Autumn is also the time for planting bulbs ready for the Spring.  In early October, our bulb delivery arrived from Holland, 5,000 bulbs including Crocus, Daffodils, Muscari and Tulips all to be planted by early November.  The bulbs have been chosen for beds, borders, containers, and of course, a number of varieties of Tulips to be cut for vases in the Castle.  This year we have potted a small number of the ‘Cut Flower’ Tulips and they will be bought on in the polytunnel – hopefully flowering a few weeks before the main crop.  Each year new varieties catch the eye of one of the Garden Team and a new list is drawn up in August, 2017’s display will include Tulip varieties like ‘Sweetheart’, ‘Apricot Emperor’, ‘Calgary Flame’ and ‘Purple Prince’.

As the routine maintenance work slows down, if the grass ever stops growing, the winter project list kicks in.  This winter we have allocated time to the garden’s shelter belts in the Far West and in the East, surrounding the Secret Passage.  In both areas, we are planning to prune back the shrub cover, remove unwanted plants like Rhododendron ponticum, and assess the planting opportunities.  It’s likely the so called ‘Secret Passage’ maybe a little less secret for a year or two but in removing Rhododendron ponticum we are reducing the risk of Phytophthora which often targets this Rhododendron species. 

Other jobs on our to-do list involve alterations to the Cut Flower border, annual tree inspections, hedgecutting, winter pruning of Hydrangeas and Fuchsias, clearing Hottentot Fig and, if the weather allows, we will be up on the cliff faces continuing to strim, weed and plant the grass ledges above the garden.  Here’s to a winter of fair weather!

So, the turf is down (complete with worm casts now), the bulbs are settled, and probably on their way up, the kettle is on . . . so where is my book?

Lottie Allen, Head Gardner