Diary of a Cultural Gardener - September 2019
Our monthly diary to see what September had in store for our Cultural Gardener, Katy Merrington.
I always enjoy the first feeling of September when the mornings are surprisingly cool but by middle of the day it is pleasantly warm. I am constantly swapping my jumper on and off when working outside and have noticed the leaves on our trees already beginning to turn beautiful tones of red and orange.
I have been taking the long whiskers of new growth from the 120m Fagus sylvatica (beech) hedges. Taking the tips from the ends encourages the plant to put on more side growth. We won’t give the hedges their full proper cut until next year, when they will take on a very formal shape which will contrast with the naturalistic planting
Whilst there is still some warmth in the soil I have done some autumn lawn care to build our lawns’ resilience. Scarifiying the thatch out the of the lawn can look drastic, but it prompts the grass to put on more growth and allows the light and air needed at its base to get in.
The garden volunteers and I have been doing lots of weeding this month, which is normal at the establishment phase of a garden. Eventually the herbaceous perennials in the garden beds will knit together and their roots will form an interlocking network which will make it harder for weeds to germinate and find the light, water and nutrients that they need to grow.
Fortunately the weeds at the moment are small and many of them will pull out easily. As the nights get cooler less will germinate. We need to keep removing them, because they pinch the light, nutrients and water from the garden plants that we are trying to establish.
We weed by hand and don’t hoe the beds as we have a fine composted bark mulch on the surface of the soil and this stops weeds from being able to germinate and push through. We try not to disturb the mulch as this brings up weeds’ seeds from the soil beneath.
Weeds are fascinating and can tell us a lot about the soil, for example we have nettles germinating and this is a sign of fertile soil. During the first months of the garden the most prolific weed was Chenopodium album(Fat Hen), which likes disturbed soil. It is related to the plant Chenopodium quinoawhich the food grain Quinoa comes from. Weeds are really crafty hardworking plants. Fat-hen produces two types of seeds some with a brown seed-coat and others with black harder coat. The two different types of seeds germinate at different rates and allow the plant to have some seedlings coming through quickly and others waiting in the soil for years before they get the right conditions to get growing.
I am enjoying getting to know our regular visitors and sharing with them small observations as the garden as it develops. One lady recently drew my attention to the bird song they could hear. Apparently, despite walking across the site every day on her way to work and back, she had never before heard birds singing here. It is uplifting to think that the project is already attracting more wildlife for us all to enjoy.
With children having returned to school after the summer holidays we’ve had quite a few big school groups visiting the gallery to do creative workshops. We have been lucky with the weather to be able to deliver many of these, such as group willow sculpture building, in the garden. The response from the students has been incredible, with them reporting how enjoyable and relaxing they found spending time in the garden. Many of the students independently choose to use their lunch break to do more drawing in the garden too! It reminded me how lucky I am to get to work in this beautiful space every day.