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Diary of a Cultural Gardener - December 2019

Our monthly diary to see what December has had in store for our Cultural Gardener, Katy Merrington.

With snowy scenes pictured on Christmas cards, there’s a temptation to imagine that December will bring winter at its fullest, all arctic snow and ice and trees outlined in silhouette. However, in reality the weather and the garden often hold on with a mild, damp solidity and some of the herbaceous perennials in our garden are still very green and sturdy. I heard a weather forecaster say that when Easter is early, we are more likely to have snow then, than on Christmas day, as during December the ground still holds some residual warmth and hasn’t yet reached its coldest point. This certainly resonates with my experience of winter-time gardening, where January, February, March and even April can bring some of the most wintery storms and the challenging moments for a garden to endure.

As the custodian of this very new perennial garden, December marks a pause between two of the biggest tasks of the year. Having just completed the autumnal bulb planting, I now have a few weeks to catch up on tool-shed tasks and preparation for the year to come, before I start on the cutback of over 14,000 herbaceous perennials in the new year.

Most of the leaves have now fallen from the trees and the end of annual phase of having to sweep and rake them is satisfying. Somehow it is usually a few weeks after picking-up the last of the bulk of the leaves that I realise that I haven’t had to collect any for a while.

December provides a time for pause and to look back at the year gone by, it is amazing to reflect that this time last year, the garden had not yet been built and that the land was still a blank flat lawn, existing only as a garden in the form of Tom Stuart-Smith’s beautiful plans and drawings. One of the unique things about The Hepworth Wakefield Garden is being able to view it from above as well at experiencing it at ground level. Looking down on the garden from the gallery windows provides a completely new perspective which allows you to appreciate Tom’s clever design, growing just as it was drawn on the plans, with its angular curves inspired by Barbara Hepworth’s Kneeling Figure. The curved paths and sculptural golden hedges have a graphic quality when viewed from above and provide a perfect setting for the sculptures which sit amongst the planting.

It is exciting to think that when we return from the Christmas break, work will get underway to develop the Grade II listed Rutland Mills, with which we share the site, providing opportunities for even more people to enjoy the garden and to view it from new perspectives.

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