Ragley Hall Gardens in Winter, Warwickshire
PUBLISHED: 10:23 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:33 20 February 2013
With winter fast-approaching Ross Barbour is as busy in the garden as ever and looks forward to six months in the Frumpery and a spot of pruning
I am often asked what we do in the gardens during the winter when the obvious tasks like the grass cutting and weeding which keep us busy through the Spring and Summer cease. The fact is that the Autumn and Winter months are just as busy, albeit with a different set of tasks.
Seemingly endless leaf collecting and routine border maintenance are a couple of the essential jobs we need to complete, but the autumn and winter months are also when we get stuck into renovating some of the tired looking areas and start any new projects that have been planned. Work for the next six months is going to focus on the Fumpery (area of ferns and stumps) which desperately needs a revamp.
Ten years ago when it was first constructed it brought a fresh new look to an empty unmanaged space, but now its starting to look a little old and tired. Its always nice to re-use materials that are either left over or are byproducts of other jobs within the garden and we have been hoarding the timber which has come from essential tree work in the garden over the last couple of years to build some new raised beds in this area. We also plan to extend the decking around the new pond so Judith Izzo, our education officer, can use it more efficiently for pond dipping as her school visits increase.
I also like to prune our roses in November, with over 850 plants of nine different varieties in the new Rose Garden we all get stuck in and knock them off in a couple of days. I like to do this in autumn because by early Spring there is so much new growth pruning can set them back, delaying flowering. They dont usually suffer from the cold of Winter and are growing well by Spring, but be careful in some areas as Autumn pruning can leave them prone to frost damage.
When we prune we are quite ruthless, cutting them back hard and quite low to about 30-45cm. We try and open up the middle of the bush to create a kind of bowl shape. This allows air flow through the plant as it grows taller, reducing congestion in the plant making it less susceptible to pests and diseases. It is also important to look out for any damaged, diseased or crossing stems and remove these too. The removal of all the old leaves from the ground is also very important to reduce the spread of potential problems next year, for instance blackspot, which can over-winter on the old foliage.
There are also 10,000 tulips to go in the ground during November and again we all work together to plant them as quickly as we can. This is done every year and when they are finished they are removed ready for the summer bedding to be planted. This gives me the opportunity to change the variety every year trying different colour schemes. Last years Apricot Impression was so good I have ordered a mixture of Red Impression and Pink Impression for next years display.
There is going to be a change to part of the Spring scheme for next year. An event booked for February at the Hall requires a marquee to cover most of the terrace in the Rose Garden and a dance floor that will be laid out over two of the beds that usually contain 3,000 tulips at that time. To get around this we have designed a Spring display which will include Euonymus fortunii Canadale Gold, an evergreen shrub with large green leaves and a deep golden yellow margin; Omphalodes cappadocica, an early flowering perennial with fantastic electric blue flowers; deep, rich scarlet and gorgeous primrose yellow Erysimum Wallflower and Viola and Primula. Although these can easily be planted up when the event has finished, I still want to plant some bulbs in amongst it including tulips, Narcissi and Iris. So to solve this dilemma the bulbs will be potted up now and kept dry in the polytunnel until they start to show in the spring, once I see the tips appearing then they can be watered and cared for until they are ready to be planted.
When the display has finished it would normally end up on the compost, but we are using the same kind of plants that are in the Winter Garden. This means that when we lift these plants they can be replanted there to fill in the gaps. The bulbs will also be re-homed in the Winter Garden and I will have the advantage of being able to see where the existing bulbs start and finish allowing me to plant up the spaces, something I would not be able to do if planting them in Autumn. So expect some changes in the Gardens at Ragley next season, Id best get on and lend a hand or it will be Christmas before we know it.
Ross Barbour has been head gardener at Ragley Hall for 10 years. The gardens include a prairie, meadow, rose garden, herbaceous borders and a winter garden. Ross can be contacted on 01789 762090 ext 147 or email firstname.lastname@example.org