January-long nights and a 2020 wrap up

Published: 20 January 2021

Last update: 20 January 2021

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This blog post is written by Chris Flynn, Head Gardener Chris Flynn Head Gardener
Snowdrops flowering outside Dyffryn House

Epiphanies can come to us at any point, sometimes when you’re trying to sleep and your mind starts racing, but not for the usual garden-based reasons of ‘did I turn that tap off’ or ‘have I left a poly tunnel door open…again!’ This time, for whatever reason images of forgotten work from the first lockdown began to surface starting a mini review of work highlights from the past year.

Through April, May, June and July we still accomplished a lot of additional jobs amongst the watering, reduced mowing and pest and disease management.  We have progressed the garden far beyond 2020, sticking to our perennial restoration aims. These are the positive changes that we try to make every year, the effects of which will be far reaching. This will help to continually enhance the garden, though it did mean letting some of the usual ‘core work’ pieces go by the wayside a little.

When operating an active restoration on this scale of garden it’s important to separate out the essential tasks from the basic. Often the basics are the easiest to let go as they are also recoverable within a season, whereas those that are truly essential will have far reaching benefits if completed or consequences if forgotten. Whilst prioritising some of these may have resulted in a period of copious wild plants and the formal lawns distinctly lacking in green stripes, we were still able to develop the garden and that can only ever be a positive thing.

Just days before the first lockdown a delivery arrived in the gardens. It was one of those that you place well in advance, entirely forget about and then just as the gardens team have to leave site, seven boxes appear. In those boxes were 9000 bluebells and snowdrops destined for the Arboretum. Usually a garden team of sixteen we were reduced to four, and it took a few days between two of us to get them all planted, but as I write this the first signs of those early plantings are starting to show. By April we had completed the third phase of planting on the Causeway Borders. To the existing scheme of Amsonia, Eryngium, Panicum and Echinacea we added Eremurus himalaicus, Miscanthus nepalensis and Stipa barbata ‘Silver Feather’. These will all add to the long season of the border adding more colour, texture and structure to this long flowering part of the garden. In the Exotics Garden we added Schefflera bodinieri, Neolitsia sericea, Zantadeschia ‘White Giant’, Kalopanax septemlobus as well as six new Hedychium specimens alongside a lot of other planting. All of these will add permanent structure to the garden, which we can continue to build around year on year as we layer up increasingly unusual planting.

Elsewhere in the garden we managed to get in a few minor removals and some perennial weed control done to clear planting areas for the autumn and this coming spring. In the nursery there was still plenty of propagation occurring, adding more interest to our existing plant collections as well as increasing a lot of our perennial favourites for beds, borders and cut flowers. We also managed to complete the annual cycle of pruning and training the fruit trees in the Walled Garden, which looked incredible this year. We had a bumper crop of apples and pears despite the squirrel’s best efforts!

The progress that we made wasn’t just physical, it also began some philosophical changes that will help guide the restoration principles for the garden as well as our ways of working as a gardens team. There was time for reflection (whilst working hard of course rather than wistfully staring into the distance) on how we can work smarter, achieving high impact but low resource solutions to managing different parts of the garden. Thinking about how to best achieve a balance of high horticulture and sensitive management, caring not only for exotic collections and a beautiful historic visitor attraction, but also for a unique microcosm of biodiversity and living learning resource. Balance and accessibility will be the key, Dyffryn has always felt like a place with a bit of something for everyone and long may it continue!

That was the progression during 2020 and we’re still at it now. Though we may be closed to the public for the moment there are still lots of things going on in the garden, making a difference every day.