Packwood's garden blog - year in review
Robyn, Packwood Gardener
Throughout the last year, Robyn, one of the gardeners here at Packwood, put together a selection of brilliant blogs focusing on different parts of the gardens throughout the year. From the kitchen garden to the yellow border and the famous yews to the carolean garden each blog focused on the history, development and gardening techniques associated with that part of Packwood’s beautiful garden.
Last year was challenging in many ways for the gardening team with extensive furloughing and essential tasks which took priority. In her own words, Robyn has put together a review of the year to document what 2020 was like for the gardening team and its impact on the gardens.
Life before lockdown
On the week beginning 16 March 2020, my to do list included any number of jobs to get things growing again in the kitchen garden. The winter was spent preparing all the beds ready for the season ahead. It looked perfect; all the plots covered in a beautiful blanket of mulch ready to nourish the soil. There were spring onions and lettuces to direct sow, rhubarb to harvest and brassicas to start off under glass.
By the end of the week, following the news of a national lockdown, the to do list included removing picnic benches, taking away the plants from the café, and talking staff who live on site through watering, venting and heating in the nursery. Years of training had to be condensed into a quick overview.
It was a slightly chilly but glorious day, and we tried to keep positive and think ‘this might just be for three weeks, we’ll be able to keep on top of everything if it’s just three weeks…’
Life during lockdown
During the start of lockdown, Ashley remained as the sole gardener at Packwood. After joining us just a year before, the responsibility for maintaining this gem of a historic garden and keeping the plant collection alive now lay with him and a dedicated skeleton staff team, all of whom had to make sure Packwood was safe and secure. For two months he mowed lawns, potted on annuals and helped ensure our precious plants didn’t keel over in the heat of an unusually warm spring.
Looking after a garden with a reputation such as Packwood’s is no mean feat. A team of committed and experienced gardeners are required, with a wide range of skills and training. All of this knowledge is put towards developing and maintaining a beautifully crafted place, rooted in history but always looking forwards and trying new things. Now though the focus had to be on essential tasks only, keeping the garden and wider estate safe whilst preventing significant deterioration.
The antics of our kitchen garden cat Milo provided some light relief though, as did regular WhatsApp photos and messages keeping the furloughed garden team up to date on all the progress the team onsite were making. These messages cheered us up and helped us still feel connected to a garden we had abruptly needed to walk away from.
When I was asked to return to work to support Ashley and the rest of the team as the needs of the garden increased, you can imagine my response! On my walk round the garden on my first day back, we discussed the priorities over the coming weeks as we prepared to reopen. Now we had to focus on looking after the lawns, borders and a complete reorganisation of the nursery.
Life after re-opening
Ultimately, we had to use the time and manpower available for the parts of the garden where there would be most benefit. Priorities had to lie with what our visitors would see on the new one-way route. This involved cutting back and removing anything that had died off, and a general weed and tidy. To begin with, we focused on the first foot or so into a border that visitors would notice most, but left working further into them until a later date. Lawns still needed to be cut but striping them wasn’t a priority anymore, it was more important for them to just be trimmed and neat for now. During lockdown nature had obviously taken over somewhat. This had blurred the edges between the formal garden and more naturalistic areas, such as along the causeway. We didn’t have time to strim along there as we usually would, and as it happened the increase in wildflowers seemed to have a noticeable improvement on our butterfly population.
All of the shade bays and cold frames needed a thorough weed and sort through by now. To improve the health of our tender perennials we put them all outside and began a regular, weekly feeding programme. We didn’t lose anything from the collection of succulents and tender perennials that had been present at Packwood before lockdown.
The world had changed, and the garden’s needs and our approach had to adapt too. Although the look of some areas might not have been quite what it was under a full complement of staff and volunteers, I like to think the atmosphere, the thing that makes Packwood really special, was still preserved.
Looking forward, there is still much to do. However, while the atmosphere may have a timeless quality, we don’t just stick to what’s always been. Packwood’s garden doesn’t look the same as it did one hundred, or even fifty years ago, and it’s now going through another new phase in its long history. I’m proud of what we achieved against all the odds in the bizarre period of time that was 2020.