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Diary of a Cultural Gardener - June 2019

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

Whilst inside the gallery we launched our Yorkshire Sculpture International exhibition, I’ve been hard at work outside as the first herbaceous plants have arrived. It has been a truly transformative month in the garden as hard landscaping details have been completed and we’ve planted a number of the flower beds.

The Wakefield Waterfront has had a long and interesting history as a place of industry. Long before The Hepworth Wakefield was constructed, sheds, industrial units, warehouses and yards occupied the area where the gallery sits. Years ago when these buildings were demolished, a large amount of debris and brick were buried in the ground, so it has been a big project to have all this brick and stone lifted from the soil.

The foundation for any garden is its soil. All plants need soil to provide them with access to water, nutrients, anchorage, drainage and importantly air for the roots to stay healthy. June has been a month where I have been getting to know the characteristics of the soil on the site and working with our building contractors to improve the ground conditions ready for planting. I was overjoyed to discover our first worm and ladybird!

The topsoil on our site is naturally a combination of areas of sandy loam and clay loam and it’s on the alkaline side of the pH spectrum. Tom Stuart-Smith has designed the garden with plants to suit our soil, with lots of herbaceous plants such as Amsonia hubrichtii and Rudbeckia maxima; species originating from America, which can cope with the sunny, open nature of the central garden area.

After planting our plants in the garden, we cover the topsoil with a mulch of composted bark, which helps the soil to retain moisture and to protect it from compacting under heavy rain. It also has the helpful benefit of suppressing weed growth! As the garden develops, you will see an increase in worms and healthy microbes as the plants and organic matter gradually develop the soil ecosystem.

Towards the end of June, we saw the first hedges go into the garden, which give it a new sense of structure. They are Beech (Fagus sylvatica), which will hold their golden-brown leaves in the winter and give colour and sculptural form through the colder months.

We all know that the weather in June was a real mixed bag. We started the month with a week of torrential rain which meant we had to stop soil operations, as working it when it is wet causes it to compact and this is not good for planting. We ended June with some hot sunshine which has helped the new plants to grow, but has been a challenge keeping up with the watering.

So far, July has been a month of intense work. This has included the grass being laid and many more plants put in the ground. While there will still be lots of work happening onsite for a few months yet, we are planning to open the first completed phase of the garden at the beginning of August. Wish us luck!