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Diary of a Cultural Gardener - October 2019

The first year of our garden’s life has a magical quality, as each change of season allows us to enjoy the garden in a new phase of its annual cycle for the very first time. Throughout October as the days have shortened and the temperature has dropped, our 52 new trees and shrubs have changed from summer greens to fiery tones of crimson, copper and rusty red.

The sun is now lower in the sky and because October has seen huge levels of rainfall, the moments of golden sunshine have been cherished. We’ve seen for the first time the light spinning on the autumn cobwebs and illuminating the seedheads of the grasses, an affect which will be even more striking in autumns to come, when the planting further establishes and knits together as one.

There is still some warmth in the soil, so autumn is the perfect moment for bulb planting. It is the point in the year when bulbs have withdrawn all their energy back into their underground storage units to survive the cold, ready to grow in the spring, with a tiny embryonic flower already waiting inside each of them.

Over 9000 bulbs are being planted amongst the herbaceous perennials this year. We are beginning by planting the larger bulbs, such as daffodils, tulips, alliums and lilies and in future years we will add further layers of smaller bulbs to extend the spring display. We are following a bulb planting plan designed by our garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith and this includes hundreds of elegant white daffodils ‘Thalia’ and ‘Toto’ and a succession of 23 varieties of tulips.

Wakefield has an important role in the history of tulip growing. The Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society dates back to 1836, with tulip shows being held every year since that date. The society is the last remaining society of its kind in Britain and specialises in showing rare and precious tulip varieties that are descended from those cultivated in the mid-17th century, known as English Florists Tulips.

Tom Stuart-Smith was keen that for our first celebratory spring, the garden should doff its cap to the incredible tradition of tulip growing in Wakefield and his design includes a wonderful array of tulip varieties. Whilst many of the tulips selected are reliable, rich, single-coloured varieties, such as ‘Havran’ and ‘Ballerina’, other cultivars such as ‘Grand Perfection’ and ‘Rems Favourite’ have been chosen for their feisty flamed markings reminiscent of Dutch still-life paintings.

Thankfully I have not been alone in this mighty planting mission and I have been gratefully assisted by my wonderful team of garden volunteers and horticulture students from Wakefield College. We have been planting using traditional long-handled bulb-planting tools, which cut a core of soil and create the perfect depth for the bulb to sit at, which is vital to ensure the bulbs perform as well as possible. I am incredibly thankful to all who have helped and hope some new skills have been passed on along the way.

Do make sure you come and visit in the spring to experience what will be a wonderful display.

Watch our short film about the bulb planting. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more behind-the-scenes films.