Head Gardener, Richard Squires, shares his news from the past year in

Antony Woodland Garden

I have now been looking after Antony Woodland Garden for 16 months having arrived in the midst of the storms of February 2020. I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year in this wonderful garden. The setting is amazing and the garden contains nearly all of my favourite plants. I’ve also enjoyed getting to know the area. I think it goes without saying that this has been a difficult year. Whilst the garden remained open through the summer, we have not been charging entry fees and the lack of income has placed serious constraints on both maintenance and development.

Despite this, I have been very busy, initially just getting to know the garden and assessing the best way to manage it. With a garden of this size, 100 acres, lots of the issues tend to be more about logistics than horticultural techniques. Not just how and when to prune a particular plant but about how to prune hundreds of them.

I’ve been looking in detail at the various plant collections within the garden and working out strategies for pruning. Many plants, Camellias in particular, have grown to quite a size and have sometimes become tall and straggly and are growing into each other. I have continued a process that had started before I arrived of pruning selected groups of plants quite hard to regenerate them so that eventually we get plants clad in foliage and flower rather than tall stems with growth only at the top. The essence of managing a woodland garden lies in managing light levels. We need to sustain a balance between areas of light and shade and to this end I have been limbing up trees to let in more light and in some cases we have had to make difficult decisions about removing certain trees when areas have become overcrowded.

I’ve also been dealing with a backlog of storm damage, fallen trees etc. and I’ve had a lot of bonfires. A fallen tree gives an opportunity to have a bonfire. Whilst it’s burning, I can carry out any outstanding pruning in the vicinity, clearing dead wood, and shaping and re-generating shrubs, disposing of all the arisings on the bonfire. My plan is to create pockets throughout the garden where all pruning is up to date and dead wood and rubbish has been cleared. Eventually I hope all the pockets will be connected. This may take some time although we are about to acquire a woodchipper which will speed things up a bit and eliminate the need for so many fires.

One of the most important parts of my job is to manage the plant collections within the garden. These include a national collection of Camellia japonica, many other Camellias, Magnolias, Rhododendrons and Hydrangeas and many specimen trees. Luckily there are good plant records on site and I have been using these to familiarise myself with the collections. I have made a few changes to the labelling system and have started work on re-labelling plants and checking and, where necessary, updating the records for the whole garden.

I’ve also been working on the creation of a management plan for the garden which lays out how we want the various areas of the garden to look and details the maintenance and developments we will be carrying out to achieve this. In some cases, we just want to preserve the look of an area, but gardens are constantly changing as plants grow and to preserve areas we need to look ahead and anticipate and shape the changes. Using the existing topography, with perhaps some re-shaping, making use of the views out from the garden and managing the existing plants by pruning etc. as well as introducing new planting are all ways we can create pictures in the landscape and this is what really motivates me.

I’m very pleased that we have been able to re-open the garden this year so that visitors can see the work that is taking place. If you visit the gardens you may well see me and I’m quite happy to chat about the garden and what we’re doing. If you want to hear about the garden in more detail I will also be leading regular garden tours. The next tour will be held on Sunday 11th July and will be a Guided Tree Walk. Please remember that Friends of Antony Woodland Garden are entitled to one free guided tour each year. (Please see the website for more details.)

I have a couple of volunteers who assist me in the gardens and their work is extremely helpful. I’m also looking for more volunteers to help in 3 different areas:

  1. Assisting with tasks such as clearing brambles, maintaining paths, weeding, pruning etc.
  2. Helping with plant records and labelling of the collections.
  3. Guiding our visitors around the gardens answering their questions and possibly leading occasional garden tours.

If you feel you have appropriate skills for any of the above, or a willingness to learn those skills, and are interested in helping please contact me, [email protected].

Happy Summer Solstice to you all!

Richard Squires
Head Gardener
Antony Woodland Garden

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