Saturday, 23 April 2016

the gardens of West Dean

I went this afternoon to the last Suffolk Plant Heritage talk of the season.  They take a break from Saturday afternoon lectures over the summer, presumably because people would rather be outside looking at actual gardens, or else are on holiday.  Today's lecturer was Sarah Wain, a Kew trained horticulturalist who with her husband Jim Buckland has spent the past quarter century restoring the gardens of West Dean in Sussex.

I've never been to West Dean.  I've heard of the gardens, and knew they held an annual chilli festival, and by coincidence there was a piece about them in the Telegraph a couple of days ago which made the gardens sound very nice, though after our rather disappointing visit to Kingston Maurwood last year I still harbour a residual suspicion of historic gardens attached to further education colleges.

The gardens of  West Dean, or at least the walled kitchen garden that was the subject of today's talk, are absolutely immaculate, if Sarah Wain's comprehensive set of slides are anything to go by. Renovated Victorian glasshouses and cold frames house neat rows of salad crops, infeasibly long trusses of tomatoes drip from giant cordon tomato plants inside the glasshouses, bunches of grapes are thinned and peach blossoms hand pollinated by an army of about forty volunteers, unusually knobbly cucumbers abound, and flower pots are uniformly terracotta, not plastic.  It looks wonderful.  I should think it would be at its best from high summer to mid autumn, when it was in full productive clatter.  She said that the beds of flowers for picking are designed to peak from July through to the end of summer, when visitor numbers are at their highest.

We thought about going to Sussex for this year's holiday.  There are so many gardens down there that I haven't visited, and it is a pig of a drive for the day from north Essex.  This plan foundered because there seemed to be virtually no holiday cottages for rent.  Our preferred go-to agency listed approximately fifty cottages for the whole of east and west Sussex, most of which seemed to consist of people's converted garages or pool rooms, as against five hundred for Yorkshire.  I suppose the market down there is so strong that people can rent their properties out by the year at a good rate and don't need to mess around with weekly hand-overs and bed linen.  We are going to Yorkshire.

We could have tried a different booking agent, but trust this one because their properties have so far turned out to actually exist and be pretty much as described and adequately hygienic, and the instructions for finding the key and getting in have matched up to the physical reality on the ground.  Unlike the agency who listed the flat in Gloucester docks with the wrong flat number and no warning that the latch on the front door to the building was defective and needed a special knack to open it after keying in the entry pad number, while the parking permit that would have let us leave our car somewhere legal was inside the flat we couldn't find or get into.

I digress.  We will probably not be going to visit West Dean in the near future.  But I happily would, if I happened to be near Chichester.

Addendum  There were no rabbits, blackbirds or anything else in the traps this morning, but something had taken the bait of two Tiny Friends Farm Russel Rabbit Munchies (carrot and leek) from both traps, very neatly, without triggering the mechanism and without leaving a crumb.

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