A Winter’s Tale – Part 1

A Robin sat in the Mahonia japonica in the Winter Border at Chartwell

The new Autumn/Winter Border is entering its first festive season at Chartwell right now. As part of my National Trust Careership trainee scheme I was asked to undertake a project where I would be in charge of an area of the Chartwell gardens. After discussions with our Head Gardener, Giles (now Gardens and Estate Manager) we decided that I would create a brand new border in the Orchard area that would have specific interest in Autumn, Winter and early Spring.

The original North Border in the Orchard

The North Border of the Orchard at Chartwell (shown above from Summer 2010) was perhaps one of the more overlooked parts of the gardens. It ran 75m in length and was only 1m deep along that distance. It contained wall shrubs and climbers such as Roses and Cherry trees as well as dense herbabceous planting of Alchemilla mollis and the like. The area was north facing however and heavily shaded from the high red brick wall that Sir Winston Churchill originally built to enclose the Kitchen Garden on the other side.

My first task was to design a new shape for the border. I decided upon a gentle flowing curve that created an interactive experience that visitors could walk amongst as well as along. At a couple of points it would come out to 6m in depth, allowing for more interesting, layered planting as well as reducing the shadiness of the area. Once the new shape was cut out and the turf removed for composting in a loam heap system, 13 tonnes of a top soil/compost mix were rotorvated into the soil to create a healthy, thick, well-structured top soil. The pictures below show some of this process:

The new border shape is marked out...

...before the edge is cut out with a half-moon edging tool

The turf is then removed, initially by hand on the steeper section...

...and then using a turf-lifiting machine for the bulk of the area

Mmmmm, lovely fresh top soil, ready for planting!

At this point there were some hard decisions to make in terms of which plants would be kept and which would have to be removed. The roses and cherries never really seemed to cope very well with the shady, cool conditions here and so were taken out. Some established Camellias such as Camellia x williamsii ‘Anticipation’ and ‘Golden Spangles’ were kept as they offer evergreen foliage and spectacular Spring flowers. There were also some exisiting plants hiding along the border such as Mahonia japonica, Jasminum nudiflorum and Helleborus orientale that were perfectly suited for a Winter border, suggesting that perhaps that part of the gardens had always been earmarked for such a venture. Some of the Hellebores were moved to the new front edge of the border while much of the Alchemilla mollis were transplanted elsewhere around the Chartwell gardens.

The site was now ready for the new planting scheme, more of which next time…



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