Grow Your Own: The Winter Garden

Grow Your Own: The Winter Garden

Discover the winter garden with Darren Venables, Heard Gardener at Chewton Glen.

"I’m always asked what gardeners do this time of year. After a couple of weeks away at Christmas I always return with lots of new ideas and projects planned to allow us to continue to improve the gardens.

The first job every year is to take down all the hotel’s Christmas trees and displays. The cut trees are chopped up to make wildlife habitats for ground-nesting birds such as robins and hedgehogs. The rooted trees are returned to our yard to acclimatise them before being planted out - this year around the Tree House car ports. The trees we use are Norway Spruce and Nordman Fir and when these are mature they form beautiful tall evergreen trees with dense branches which are ideal for nesting songbirds. One of the main problems we experience with replanting cut trees is that the roots have generally been aggressively cut back to keep them in small pots, leaving very little of the soft fibrous root growth that trees need so badly to enable them to grow healthily. Because of this we always put lots of bedding soil around the roots which contains plenty of readily available nutrient for the tree to absorb as soon as the new roots develop.

The next task of the year is to help increase the foraging material for Jennifer Williams. We have planted 100 black elder flower shrubs in a plantation. These will be allowed to grow into large shrubs so Jennifer can pick them easily, using the flowers for decoration on top of jams and jellies and the berries for mixed berry jam.

With the short gloomy days at this time of year, I wanted to create a colourful display that was different from anything we had done before and as we now grow so much veg in the Kitchen Garden I thought I would give ornamental kale a go. I have been really pleased with the results.

We have continued our work in the nursery and soft fruit garden in preparation for spring. The first thing we did was chop the phacelia green manure down to the ground. The green leaf growth was left on the surface for a few days to dry out and start to break down before being dug into the soil, improving soil structure and available nutrient.

We then sorted the raspberry crops. We had been trying two varieties: Joan J has been so good compared to the early Minerva crop that the decision was taken to remove the early raspberries and re-space the Joan J plants to double their original spacings. The raspberries have now been cut back to six inches from the ground to allow lots of fresh healthy new growth to form over the next few months, ready for a bumper crop this summer.

Our black, white and redcurrant crops have been swamped with the phacelia that was planted around them to help break up the soil they were struggling to root in. The phacelia has now been cut down, exposing the plants, and it is really good to see that the green manure has helped them. The plants are looking much healthier with lots of new buds. They are still very small so all we have done is to remove any dead or crossing growth on them, but the amazing blackcurrant smell now being produced by the blackcurrant bushes tells me we must be doing something right.

Work now begins in earnest to get us ready for spring. As we are using lots of perennial plants this summer we are making sure that all the plants currently growing in the nursery are potted up, cleaned of dead leaf and fed, ready for them to start to grow in a few weeks as the warm afternoons heat up the polytunnels. It always amazes me how much of a temperature lift you get in the tunnels from even an hour’s sunshine outside; preparation for summer is well and truly underway.