By Barry Howse:
The Castle Grounds
The Estate Team have had a productive winter with the usual seasonal tasks of hedge cutting, pruning and leaf clearing, whilst also making time to enhance and develop other areas.
This year we have increased the size of the wildflower meadow, putting in new gates and a stile allowing ease off access and more space for native wild flowers.
Before the dormice began to hibernate in October, we carried out a dormouse survey which we will be continuing over the coming years, to monitor their population.
Several deer exclosures have been erected around the estate. These are 4m x 4m fenced off plots that will exclude deer from grazing in these areas. This will allow us to monitor and compare the intensity of grazing and the effects it has on the plant communities.
In some areas we have been focusing on the reduction of conifer tree species, to encourage uptake and development of native hardwood trees and increase flora and fauna diversity through increased light levels in the woodland. We are embarking on the final stage of forestry commission conservation work to reduce the amount of rhododendron ponticum – an invasive non-native plant with allelopathic and disease-carrying properties. Areas of woodland have been restored to their pre-Victorian state to enhance ground flora and enable the woodland to begin the recovery phase of its life cycle.
After many years of service and countless amounts of footsteps, the bridges and steps in the woodland have been renovated, largely using materials sourced from the estate.
We hope to add a labyrinth/maze in spring this year, located in the field at the east gate of the Rose Garden. It will be a trial at first, being mown in and marked with rope and posts. If successful, this will be something we can develop the following year. During your visits this summer you might notice the estate team has grown, incorporating some new members of the mowing fleet. We hope to use a number of our winter resident sheep to graze some of the amenity lawns and cut down on the amount of mowing needed around the estate.
Along with all the other winter tree work undertaken by the Estates Team, it was a sight for sore eyes to see the removal of a leylandii screen previously known as ‘The Stage’. This has opened views of the newly created 'Autumn Colour Avenue' mentioned later in the Gardens section. In this area we will install a curved bench for visitors to enjoy the picturesque scenery, with several cherry blossom trees either side leading on from the apple orchard.
The Victorian Cascade is a hidden rough jewel of the estate to the east at the back of the Folly Pond. It has been left to gather silt and stagnate for many years, but following an ecological survey, we are now able to restore this feature to a cascade once again.
The Castle Gardens
The dry and sunny start to the New Year is certainly helping us with the winter tasks in the gardens.
Since the end of October, we have been busy finishing hedge cutting – which we managed to complete in record time by the end of November. Bulbs have been planted in the Elizabethan, Sundial and Rose and Shakespeare Gardens. We also made a start on the massive task of mulching the gardens in the autumn. Thanks to the large compost bays built by the Estate Team in 2017, this year most of the gardens will be lucky enough to be mulched using 'home-produced' compost, or leaf mould.
Largely due to kind donations, new tree planting has been possible this winter. We hope that the 'Autumn Colour Avenue' along the slope in front of the Magic Garden will be a riot of colour this year.
In the Apothecary Garden, the soil has been replaced in all the planters along with the gravel. We are continuing to develop the planting in the Lower Garden and new, butterfly-friendly plants will be added this winter and spring.
We are now in the process of winter pruning, with the wisteria and climbing roses already complete and we look forward to the shrub roses in February.
In the meantime, we will begin cutting back the perennial plants, dividing and weeding – the warm weather has certainly kept the weeds growing – ready for mulching the borders. If this summer is as hot as last year, then mulching will be even more crucial for the plants.
We have improved the accessibility in the Elizabethan Gardens this year by creating a path around the steps to the Rose Garden, meaning visitors will be able to enjoy the whole of the Elizabethan Garden without going back on themselves.
We will be replacing the Boules court with a bench/picnic area this coming spring to provide a quiet, comfortable place to relax and take in the surroundings.
»Laying the groundwork since January 2017 «