Amgueddfa Blog: St Fagans Castle Gardens

A Year at St Fagans Gardens.

A Robin sitting on top of a hard pruned Yew hedge

Robin on a Yew hedge

Ever wondered what gardeners do in winter?

Hello and sut mae. This is my first blog entry and it’s my story about being a trainee gardener and Welsh learner at St Fagans over the course of 14 months. I’d better start by telling you a bit about myself. I arrived on the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme (HHSS) last September and I’ll be blogging about what I get up to until I finish the course in November.

Before I became involved in the scheme I was a self-employed ‘maintenance’ gardener for several years in Cardiff. My technical knowledge was limited and I was really looking to learn new skills through practical experience. I also wanted to expand my knowledge of plants and horticulture techniques. In the past I’d tried doing this through books and YouTube videos, but I soon realised that what I really needed was some kind of gardening guru to guide me. When I heard about the HHSS scheme I got very excited and knew it would be perfect for me as it was an opportunity to learn a huge amount in a practical hands-on way, with guidance from experts in the field.

So, here we are in mid-Feb and I can’t believe I’ve been on the scheme for just over 5 months already. It’s been incredibly busy and I haven’t had much time to stop and think. The months have flown by. In this post I’ll be talking about what I and the other trainees have been doing over winter. Lots of people think that winter is a quiet time without much going on in the garden. A time to tidy up the shed, clean your tools, and think about your summer planting scheme. Don’t believe that for a second. Trust me, there’s plenty to do!

During the winter months the daylight hours are shorter and weather conditions can be harsh at times, but in a place like St Fagans the gardens are so varied there’s always a job that you can get on with. There are lots of plants that benefit from pruning at this time of year including fruit trees and bushes, late flowering shrubs, roses and some climbers. In the past few weeks we’ve tackled a few of these, and used different techniques to suit the individual needs of the plants.

 

Why prune at this time of year?

In winter, deciduous plants shed their leaves and that makes it much easier to see its general structure. There is also less chance of transmitting diseases from one plant to another or attracting insects to fresh pruning wounds. Sap producing plants will bleed heavily if you prune when the sap is rising. Many of these are dormant over winter and bleeding is not so much of a problem if you prune at this time of year. As you may have already gathered, this post is going to focus on winter pruning techniques.

The first thing to remember when pruning any plant is the 4 D’s: always remove Dead, Diseased, Damaged or Displaced material, in that order!

There are 4 main types of pruning:

·         Formative pruning encourages growth and builds the basic framework in a young plant.

·         Maintenance pruning improves the look of the plant as well as increasing the amount of fruit or flowers.

·         Regenerative pruning – If you have a plant that’s been left to itself and grown out of control for a few years, there’s no need to panic. Certain plants can be restored. This type of pruning can help you manage the growth, size and the overall look. It’s often an intimidating prospect. But, if you have an idea about what you’re doing and you feel brave, it can give your old plants a new lease of life. And save you throwing them out, when all they need is a good prune.

·         Specialised pruning creates and maintains an attractive look. If you’ve always wanted a hedge in the shape of an elephant, then Topiary is a form of specialised pruning that might be right up your street.

Now that you know the basic rules, I’ll talk a little bit more in depth about what we’ve been doing recently.

 

Pollarding Lime (Tilia) trees

It’s best to Pollard Lime trees annually in late winter or early spring if you want to restrict height. Prune the new shoots back to a bud, 1-2cm from the pollarded head. This will also stimulate new shoot production for the following spring.

Wisteria

Wisteria can grow 10-12ft in a season, it’s a beast, and benefits from pruning twice annually in summer and winter. At this time of year we prune the lateral growth back to 2 or 3 buds on each spur shoot. These spurs will bear the following season’s majestic display of flowers.

Standard Apple Trees

Apple trees are pruned to manage fruit buds and the shoots they grow on. Not, as many people think, to control the size of the tree. Start by concentrating on one main branch at a time. Find the leader and work your way down to the main trunk. Cut the leader by a third, leaving a bud facing the direction you want the new growth to follow. Prune back any laterals to 2-3 buds. Thin out large groups of spurs because too many will produce small fruits and it’s much better to have less quantity, but bigger and better quality.

Hard Pruning Yew (Taxus baccata) Hedges

We decided to prune back hard the Yew hedges down by the ponds because they had grown too wide, and in places the height was obscuring the pretty spectacular view. Yew responds well to renovation pruning, but it’s best carried out staggered over a few years. This year we concentrated on one side and the top. We used string lines tied to bamboo canes to mark out a straight cutting guide. We cut back hard using loppers and secateurs to reduce the height and width, and to re-shape where needed. After hard pruning it’s always good idea to apply feed and mulch at the base to give the plant a bit of extra nutrition and TLC while it recovers.

Rose Pruning

A few of the other HHSS trainees from other gardens on the scheme joined us just last week for a Rose pruning workshop led by St Fagans gardener Julie. Our task was to give the Roses a light annual prune. Different Roses respond better to different styles of pruning. We were each given a specific Rose bed, a map, and a list of the Roses with their pruning preferences. I was working with ‘Gruss an Teplitz’, which are a beautiful and fragrant old Hybrid Tea which prefer to be pruned thin. The first move was to remove any dead, diseased and damaged or displaced material. The 4 D’s! Next I thinned out the centre to produce a well-balanced open shape, and removed any crossing stems to stop them from rubbing against and damaging each other. I removed some of the very old, less productive wood to encourage new growth from the base. Always remember to prune to just above an outward facing bud, and make sure the cut slopes away from this to shed water.

 

Les jardins du château de St Fagans montrent à quoi pouvaient ressembler la propriété du conte de Plymouth et sa famille à la fin du XIXe siècle et début du XXe siècle.

Ces jardins sont bordés par un parc paysagé arboré qui nous mène vers 4 étangs en cascade surplombés par des terrasses formelles finies en 1871 et pensées par le paysagiste James Pulham.

S’en suis de magnifique parterre qui nous mène vers différents jardins comme le Dutch Garden entourant une fontaine, la roserais recréé comme elle avait été pensé en 1899 ou encore l’Italien Garden qui a été restauré il y pas longtemps grâce à des récits et photos d’époque pour retrouvé sa beauté d'antan.

Ces jardins regorge de secret historique comme les serres construite en 1899 et, de très belles variété de plante et de vieux sujet comme un hêtre planté en 1872.

Alors n’hésitez pas au cour de votre visite de questionner les jardiniers présent qui s’occupe avec passion de ces jardins.