Having not visited the garden at Great Dixter for over a year, I went twice last month and it has been quite a heady experience.
The first visit was with a group of fellow writers for a look round the garden with Rachael, one of the gardeners and a talk by Fergus Garrett, the head gardener, both very generous with their knowledge and experience.
I went back a couple of weeks later for another look round the garden and for the annual plant fair, where I bought bare-root peonies, an exciting prospect.
Having spent all that time there and talked to the people who run the garden was a reminder of how proper gardening really makes a difference to how a garden looks and how well plants grow.
Working to improve the soil is a big part of proper gardening and at Great Dixter the soil is really nurtured. Sometimes in the excitement of the colour, scent and look of plants, it’s a part of gardening that can easily get overlooked.
Nurturing the soil means
- avoiding walking on it so that the the structure is preserved, especially when it’s wet or frozen, they put boards down and walk over them.
- adding plenty of composted material to it each year, they add a whopping 25 tons each year at Great Dixter.
Compost is usually added as a 10cm/4in layer on top of the soil in early autumn, it doesn’t need digging in, worms pull it down into the soil over the winter months.
In the garden or at the allotment, rich, nurtured soil will:
- support all the plants that we cram into our garden, in the wild they grow more sparsely
- and it makes a very hospitable place for roots to grow, the bigger the root system, the more nutrients and water they take up and the healthier the plant will be. Plants with a small root system are more likely to suffer when there’s little rainfall.
I like the sustainability aspect of all this too. Good soil needs less watering because it holds onto moisture for longer, rather than it all draining away quickly before the roots can soak it up
Healthy plants have fewer pests and diseases so there’s less temptation to use chemicals or to spend time and money on dealing with the problem.
A visit here for me means a 4 hour round-trip on the motorway, which makes my heart sink a little, but I will be back in the summer.
There are lots of different types of compost, the sort of compost used like this as a mulch, can be easily made in a compost bin, though it’s hard to make enough, but it’s usually available from local councils in the form of green waste. It’s not the sort of potting compost that you buy from garden centres.
all photos: Jill Anderson