Meet Dan Booth head gardener at Brodsworth Hall and Gardens, South Yorkshire.
PUBLISHED: 16:38 01 December 2012 | UPDATED: 22:27 20 February 2013
Meet Dan Booth head gardener at Brodsworth Hall and Gardens, South Yorkshire. He gives us an insight into the daily life of an historic garden and offers some helpful gardening tips along the way
Before we get started Id better tell you something about myself and our garden. I began my career here over 10 years ago as a trainee gardener and have been head gardener since 2005, doing my best to continue the good work of my predecessors since the restoration of the gardens began in the early 1990s.
The gardens were badly neglected for over 70 years before English Heritage took ownership of the site in 1990. Since then, a massive programme of restoration and conservation has been undertaken resulting in a high Victorian garden in the Gardenesque style. A series of grand gardens in miniature is a well used and accurate description. They are a pleasure to work in and visit at any time of year with a diverse range of planting from woodlands and formal borders to carpet bedding and rockeries.
Now we all know that its very easy to neglect your garden at this time of year when the weather leaves a lot to be desired. But Id recommend you wrap up warm and brave the weather because with some careful pruning and clever plant selection, its possible to make a garden look good all year round.
So, what do the gardening team at Brodsworth get up to at this time of year? For us the autumn and winter are as busy as the summer, and the run up to Christmas can be especially hectic as we try our best to have the garden in a satisfactory state before we leave for our own holidays.
At Brodsworth, evergreens are particularly prevalent and are at their most influential during the winter months. Although we start clipping them in May or June it is usually not until December that they are completely finished, making this one of the best times of year to see the Formal Gardens.
Once all of the ground level shrubs have been clipped we head skyward to start tackling the really big clipped examples. Many of these monsters are survivors of the original design making them an impressive 150 years old. The tallest of our topiary stands at around 35ft to 40ft tall and can take an entire day to clip - but you do always get the bonus of some cracking views over the frosty parkland while youre up there.
As well as the traditional topiary favourites of Buxus, Taxus, Ilex and Prunus we also employ several plants less well known for their ability to respond well to clipping. Plants such as Griselinia, Arbutus and Choisya are used to add different shades and textures to the borders. We add colour to the garden at this time of year with the odd Acer and a myriad of coloured berries on the Aucuba, Ilex and Taxus. We like the Formal Gardens to be a vibrant place even in the depths of winter.
The Rose Garden is a favourite with many of our visitors and at this time of year we begin a small amount of pruning before the majority of it takes place in February. Climbing roses can be pruned before Christmas or in the New Year by cutting out all dead wood then reducing the flowering stems by up to two thirds.
For older, established climbers it is usually desirable to cut out some of the older stems altogether so that new growth can be tied in. Newly planted bush roses can also be lightly pruned at this time of year and if you live in a windy area its always advisable to reduce bigger roses by a third or so to prevent the winter winds blowing them over or snapping large pieces off.
Rose pruning tends to create an almost lethal pile of tangled and unmanageable stems, so if you have quite a few roses it is a good idea to keep on top of the waste using a small garden shredder. Feed the prunings in at regular intervals and the resulting chips will now fit much more easily in to your recycling bin or can even be added to compost.
At this time of year there will undoubtedly be a few of the autumns leaves still knocking around and it is important that these are cleared up before spring, especially around disease susceptible plants such as roses. Piles of dead leaves can help over-winter fungal diseases and other pests as they offer insulation against the frost.
Along with the usual maintenance, winter is also traditionally tree work time at Brodsworth and this year we are hoping to complete works on the South Terrace to open up views of the South Park from the Summerhouse. This enchanting little folly was deliberately placed high on a manmade mound to afford views out over the open countryside as well as over the Formal Gardens and Rock Gardens. A large Quercus ilex and a Ilex aquifolium Scotica will be reduced by half with the removal of a rather ill sycamore completing the restoration of this once lost vista.