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Diary of a Cultural Gardener - December 2020

18 Dec 2020

As winter progresses, the garden continues to shift its medium, refining its sketch and line as the deciduous leaves diminish and the stems prevail. The beech hedges which have now had a year of growth and clipping, stand more confidently this second winter in their copper coat of old leaves.

As the lush volume wanes, you begin to see more ground between the plants and the odd bulb which was scattered for planting when the vegetation was lush in autumn becomes suddenly visible, still lain on the surface unplanted, having been missed in the haste to put in so many. Each morning I do the garden checks with a fork in hand and tuck any forgotten bulbs I find into the soil, where they can grow on readily for spring. Occasionally, when I go to plant one, I accidentally dig up another bulb by mistake and then have to replant that one too and so I can go on in this manner for a short time, laughing to myself quietly. Our volunteer programme takes a break in December and so it’s not uncommon to find I’m talking to myself these days.

We have had some drenching weather this month and I try not to step on to the soil at all when it is wet, as even footprints will compact the particles and crush-out the air, which plants need as much as water. I have some square wooden boards, approximately 1ft by 1ft and they have proved very useful in these early years of the garden’s life. I use them as stepping-stones on the flowerbeds, which helps to spread the pressure and also keeps my boots from picking up mud and traipsing it onto our paths.

Throughout the winter and early spring one of the biggest tasks is mulching. We use a fine composted bark mulch which carpets the soil, making it harder for weed seeds to germinate, as well as helping the soil to retain moisture in the heat of summer. As our autumn bulb-planting disrupted this layer, we are adding some more to make up the coverage. When the weather has allowed, I have been working away at this in areas where the planting is open enough, hand-weeding first and then applying the mulch. Hopefully, by the time the spring bulbs have fully emerged, this task will be complete across all the beds.

Local people continue to visit the garden and chat with me about the difficult year that we have had and memories of spring and summer. One little girl reminded me of the amazing day in July when the swans and their cygnets visited us and took a walk amidst the flowers. Since the garden has been built and begun to flourish, so it has changed from its previous life, as a blank piece of land that you walked through on your way to somewhere else, into a place in its own right, where meaningful things can happen and memories can be made.

Wakefield is in Tier 3 and so the gallery necessarily remains closed to visitors. Working outside, I sometimes glance up and there at the high window, like a figure keeping watch is Barbara Hepworth’s marble sculpture, Totem. This sculpture was donated to The Hepworth Wakefield by Eric and Jean Cass, through the Contemporary Art Society. It is featured in the new exhibition Vision and Reality, which awaits the reopening of the building and celebrates many wonderful artworks which have been donated to Wakefield’s collection. Christmas is a time of generosity and when I see Totem at the window, it reminds me that The Hepworth Wakefield has been founded and forged out of the spirit of giving and that the construction of the garden itself was only made possible through charitable grants and individual’s donations. What timely gifts these have proved, enabling the creation of a free public garden for Wakefield, that has remained open throughout this challenging year of pandemic. A place to experience sculpture outside, and a place to find hope and beauty amidst abundant flowers and layered planting.

Katy Merrington
Cultural Gardener