A very warm welcome back to our first garden blog of 2021 from the Victorian Walled Garden here in Kylemore Abbey.
Winter showed its face within the past few weeks and Kylemore was covered under a light blanket of snow. The coming few days are promised cold again, so let’s hope it won’t be too severe around here. Saying this, as gardeners we prefer clear frosty weather to wet stormy conditions. The landscape looks completely transformed with snow, especially here between the mountains. For me, it feels a bit like Germany, my home place which I could not visit for over a year by now.
Few plants like Grapes need a bit of frost in order to be pruned and our friends, the slugs and midges, might be deterred a bit more by the time summer comes around.
Pic1 The first of the snowflakes are peeping through a layer of last years leaves
Pic2 Early morning in the Flower Garden, the snow did not melt that day.
Pic3 View from the Herb Garden, grey snow-laden clouds hanging in between the mountains
January kept us very busy. We cleared the outside of the north wall from the dreaded invasive Rhododendron ponticum. That was last done nearly twenty years ago, at the time the garden was re-opened to the public after the restoration was finished. It is incredible how fast and furious the wild Rhododendron is taking over native plants and structures. The newly exposed limestone walls show fantastic craftsmanship for the time it was build, at around 1867. The masonry work on the battered walls, which are about four meters high, is in perfect condition. A few areas need re-capping but the structure in it self is flawless.
Pic4 The outside of the battered limestone wall as part of the surrounding garden wall
Mosses, lichens and tree seedlings like the rough surface and the crevices in between the stones, which came from a limestone quarry close to the garden. Talking about lichens, Kylemore must have been and still is a heaven for the latter. We found early references, dating back to the 1870th, where a Mr. Charles du Bois Larbalestier (1838-1911), originally from Jersey, who stayed in Kylemore as a tutor to the sons of Mitchel Henry, collected different types of Lichens on the Kylemore estate. He was such a keen lichenologist that he even discovered new species on the estate, mainly on tree barks and rocks, which were later published in ‘The Lichen Flora of Great Britain, Ireland and Channel Island 1876’ and his collection was exhibited in the British Museum of Natural History. A quote of Mr. Larbalestier says: ‘Among these plants you will, doubtless, find many good things and even perhaps some that are new’ (Mitchell, 1996).
Already 150 years ago it was known that lichens are indicators for air pollution, the more there are, the less pollution. Recent studies from different universities proved the fact that the abundance of lichens here in Kylemore is very unique.
I have to say that I am fascinated by the old founding’s, especially if you think about how remote we are here, on the western shores of Ireland. There is plenty more research to be done and new findings are nearly certain, it can be addictive!
Pic5 Stepped wall of the garden with 12 bens mountain range in the background
Wintertime is pruning time for apples and pears. Ours are getting an annual pruning where we cut out the old, diseased and deadwood. Last years growth will be trimmed back by half to encourage fruit spurs. Few of our apple trees, unfortunately, have canker so I had to go a bit harder on these trees in order to cut out the cankered wood. In normal circumstances, we would only reduce the growth by about 20 %.
Pic6 Apple tree with canker before pruning…
Pic7 …. and after pruning! The grey fluff on the bark is actually a lichen and won’t harm the trees! It looks more like a warm winter coat.
I kept a few shoots of healthy apple trees as grafting material. These will be grafted onto M26 rootstocks.
Also, the wall trained pear trees were pruned last week. Different varieties of Heritage pears are growing along the west- and south-facing red brick walls where they have optimal protection from strong winds and a warm spot since the brick is retaining the heat from the sun.
A light summer pruning of apples and pears can encourage the ripening of fruits if required.
Pic8 Trained pear trees
February means propagation time all over again. It feels a bit like a Déjà Vu.
I listed and uploaded a few pictures in chronological order below to show the different steps needed for propagating plants from seeds.
We use strong plastic broadcast trays in two different sizes, depending on how many seeds you want to sow. These trays have small holes on the bottom to drain off excess water. We would sow around 150 seeds into a full-size tray.
Pic9 Broadcast tray, clean well before sowing
Your second step would be filling seed compost into the tray to about 1cm below the top. We mix Vermiculite into the compost to improve the structure of the compost for better aerating and holding water. We are also sieving over the compost to create a more levelled surface for the seeds so they germinate more evenly.
Pic10 Tray with seed compost, sieved on top
Pic11 Compost aid Vermiculite, easy to get in garden centre’s
Now we are ready for sowing! If the compost is very dry you should lightly mist it before sowing.
Before you sow the seeds make sure you have an idea how many seeds you have in the package. Most times it looks less then you think it is. So instead of sowing 150 seeds, you could easily end up sowing 300. The seed package should have the amount printed on it.
Since seeds are getting more and more expensive, especially the Heritage seeds we are using, you don’t want to waist too many. Most seeds last for several years and could be used for the coming year.
We are using a small scale, used normally for diamonds, to weigh the required amount. Well, our freight is not as valuable as diamonds but still important to keep our garden going. Below is an example of the weight of around 120 Cabbage seeds which we sow into one broadcast tray. As you can see they are weighing 0.62 gram.
Pic12 Cabbage seeds on a diamond scale!
Once you are happy with the seed amount you can either sow them with your fingers or put them in a seed dial like the picture below shows. These dials are very handy and easy to use. The numbers indicate the size of the opening the seeds are coming out, so the smaller the number, the smaller the seed. They are especially handy for really small seeds like Lobelia or Petunia seeds. They are like dust and nearly impossible to sow by hand. Sometimes people use folded papers where the seeds are tipped into the trays from.
Pic13 Ready for sowing with a seed dial
It is important to sow seeds as evenly as possible. We teach our students to sow in rows, let’s say for 120 seeds you sow 10 rows with 12 seeds each.
With a bit of practice, you get the hang of it pretty fast. I for example sow diagonal, don’t ask me why. Everybody has their own tactic which is perfectly fine as long as the seeds are evenly spread. Once the seeds are sown you sieve a very light layer of compost over, really only as high as the size of the seeds. Seeds might not grow if sown too deep. Few seeds like Lobelias, the really fine ones, don’t need any cover, or maybe only a sprinkle of Vermiculite. So it is important to follow the instructions on the packages. Other seeds like Sweet peas for example should be soaked for 24h before sowing.
After finishing the sowing and top dressing we use a light board to press gently on the surface so the seeds have good contact with the soil.
Pic14 A light board is used to press gently down on the compost
We are nearly there, just a few more things. Labelling is essential unless you only sow one variety. We sow several hundred and would end up with a huge mess if the labels would not be there. These labels are re-useable and kept for many years. Use a pencil for writing on them, pens or markers are washed off after a while when watering the trays. Also, pencil is easily rubbed off if needed.
Pic15 Labelled tray with Curley Kale seeds
Last but not least, give your tray a light mist if necessary. If the compost is wet enough there is no need. We use these water guns with different settings, so the mist setting is the one we use on seed trays. Few seeds, mainly annual flower seeds like Petunias need around 18 to 20 degrees Celsius in order to germinate. They need to be put onto heat mats or hot boxes. Most vegetable seeds don’t require heat though.
Pic16 Water gun
Since we have many thousand seeds to sow each year it is very import to keep records about sowing, potting on and planting. A simple record book or diary will do the job. We write down the date of sowing or potting, the variety we have sown, the amount and tray size, heat requirements and the name of the person who sowed the seeds in case they die….so we can blame somebody ( in the case below I would have to blame myself though)! Just joking, but with many different people propagating here in Kylemore, it is good to keep track who is doing what in case we have questions.
Pic17 Our propagation record book
These are all the news from behind the walls of the garden here in Kylemore for now. There is plenty to do within the coming weeks and we won’t be short of work. The first early seed potatoes need to be put into light in order to sprout so they can be sown around St. Patricks Day. Also, the Herbaceous Border is getting a big tidy up, digging and forking job done, but more about this in the next Garden Blog.
Pic18 Our companion the Robin is watching every move we do in case we dig up a lovely juicy worm…
Below are the usual garden tips and hints.
Your Head Gardener
Things you can do in your garden in February
To Sow / Propagate:
~ Grafting apple trees
~ Sow vegetable seeds of Kales, Cabbages, Spring Onion, Lettuces, Broad beans, Radishes indoor in trays
~ First sowing of Flower seeds like Tagetes at the end of the month
~ Take cuttings of Red-, Black – and White Currants
~ Plant bare- rooted trees and hedges
~ Divide and transplant perennials in borders
~ Divide & replant chives (also great in borders and good for black flies on roses)
To maintain & prune & feed:
~ Compost heaps could be turned and activated with powdered Seaweed
~ Pruning of apple and pear trees
~ Service all garden machinery and sharpen blades of hand tools
~ Top dress and feed herbaceous borders with own rotted compost