Garden Manager Andrew Bentley tells us about the exciting developments in the gardens, as the ‘darling buds of May’ leave Chawton House Library.
Some moments later Pop took his glass of port to the kitchen door, staring out at the summer darkness and the rain. Mr Charlton felt an impulse to join him and stood there staring too, thinking of how spring had passed, how quickly the buds of May had gone and how everything now, had blossomed into full, high summer.
‘Listen’ Pop said. ‘Perfick.’
Everybody listened; and in the dark air there was the sound of nightingales.
‘The Darling Buds of May’
H.E. Bates (1958)
These are the last lines of one of my all-time favourite books. A book I return to each May, as it so wonderfully captures the essence of this month in the countryside. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you get yourself a copy and be ready to be entranced!
Battling the mercurial elements
This month has brought such extremes of weather here in South East England. Just as our three Wisterias came into blossom and the Box hedging put on new growth, I awoke one morning to a pretty hard frost. The blossom and new growth suffered badly and I took little consolation from a number of visitors telling me they had experienced the same fate in their own gardens. Still, as we ever optimistic gardeners say “There is always next year!” Then came the rain…almost continuous for a week. Great for gardens but not so great for gardeners – especially when the grass is growing like it is an Olympic sport but it is too wet to cut it!
Now at the end of the month we are experiencing heat. This makes everything droop…including gardeners. I appreciate the high twenties in degrees Centigrade might not sound like much, but with the humidity and actually being outside working in it for eight hours a day it takes its toll.
A new experience for me in the heat is trying to look after the plants I’m growing in the polytunnel. Oh my goodness, polytunnels can get hot! Walking into ours this last week has been like entering a sauna fully clothed. This has led to extra vigilance in watering everything on a regular schedule which can take a lot of time up. Still, I hope to sell a good number of these plants on our National Garden Scheme open day on Sunday 28th, which will bring us income towards our operating costs.
At the start of the month I spent a week away from work on a training course to obtain my chainsaw tickets for machine maintenance, cross cutting and felling trees. I found myself in conifer woodland somewhere in the middle of Wiltshire – a location that felt so remote I struggled to find it each day I went! It was physically and mentally a tough week and I discovered I was at least twice the age of the other delegates, so keeping up as we cut a swathe through the woodland wasn’t easy! But the upshot was that I am now qualified to do most of the tree work around our estate – and I understand the intricacies of a centrifugal clutch system….
New arrivals at Chawton House Library
May has seen the arrival of new born Lambs in our parkland. This provides never ending entertainment with Lambs bounding around and their mums giving chase to check they are ok. They are twice as loud and twice as amusing and the visitors have lots of “Awww!” moments when they see them. This is particularly the case on my estate rambles as we walk through the parkland as part of the route, so we get fairly close to the animals. I recently led a group of Primary school children around the estate which should have been fun but nearly all the children showed up in shorts or skirts – not ideal attire for dragging yourself through bushes and nettle patches! Still, we had the opportunity to conduct scientific experiments establishing what leaves other than Dock (because we couldn’t find any) would ease the pain of nettle stings!
An interview with BBC Radio Solent
My reputation as a man who seems to know what he is talking about led to the producer of a BBC Radio Solent gardening programme come and record a tour and interview with me recently. Again the weather played its’ part! As we were walking the garden with this journalist asking me questions the heavens opened and the rain began. Trying to record a conversation under an umbrella in the pouring rain isn’t easy and I give her full credit for gamely continuing despite this. It’s being broadcast this weekend and I look forward to seeing how good the edited version comes out!
On a similar note, I am once again invited to take part at the unusual plants fair at Gilbert White’s House next month. Last year we did a ‘gardeners question time’ with a panel of three of us. This year they want me to give a talk and I have chosen the title ‘The influences, rise and consequences of the English Landscape Garden’. Now all I have to do is think of what to say for thirty minutes…