Behind the scenes this winter at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Winter rose pruning

Winter can be such a beautiful time of year with cold, frosty days and clear, dark starry nights. Many visitors ask the gardeners what we do in winter when the trees are bare and plants lie dormant in the ground and yet for gardeners, this is one of the most important and busiest times of the year, when all the foundations for the following season are laid.

As soon as the garden closes in November, the gardeners spring into action, stripping the beds and borders of all the short lived annuals and frost tender plants, to make room for biennials such a wallflowers, hesperis and verbascums. The wallflowers are planted in drifts throughout the garden and we interplant with tulip bulbs that will flower at the same time. We use old cultivars of wallflowers such as Fire King, Blood Red, Cloth of Gold, Giant Pink, Ivory White and Ruby Gem which have been used for years at Sissinghurst and provide a wonderful link back to our horticultural heritage. The gardeners work in small teams, working together to plant up an area. It’s always surprising just how many bulbs are needed to create a good display with over 2000 bulbs alone going into the White Garden.

Winter work in the garden at Sissinghurst
Winter work in the garden at Sissinghurst
Winter work in the garden at Sissinghurst

By the end of November, the planting is usually finished and the garden team move onto rose pruning. Rosa Mme Alfred Carriere, the oldest rose in the garden, is usually the first to be pruned on the front of South Cottage. Despite its great age of 87 years, it has an amazing vigour and always puts on a huge amount of new growth. We generally prune all the wall roses first so that the disturbance to beds and borders caused by ladders is minimised. The Rose Garden, being the most intensively pruned area is traditionally the last area to be tackled, and is an event undertaken by the entire garden team. It is always fun to work together, discussing roses and learning from each other. In the rose garden we train our roses onto a variety of structures including hazel benders and chestnut poles whilst others are left as free standing shrubs. For gardeners, it is an absorbing and hugely enjoyable task involving both technical skill and creativity. In between all this activity, we often go down to our hazel nuttery on frosty mornings (when the roses are too stiff to bend) to make our pea sticks for the next summer.

By January, rose pruning is complete and as a team we are focussed on the imminent opening of the garden in March. We start to clear the beds of all the winter debris, perennials are finally cut down and leaves collected. We complete all our winter pruning of shrubs and mulch many areas of the garden. Other areas are forked over and will be mulched the following year. Finally we weed and sweep the paths before swinging open the great oak doors again to welcome visitors back to Sissinghurst.

Of course, this is really only the beginning. Soon we will be planting, mowing, weeding and the whole happy cycle starts again. We do hope you will come and see the garden when we open again on March 17th 2018.