People often ask what the gardeners do in the winter. It's easy to presume that it is a quieter time of year. But the reality is that the winter is when all the big jobs happen. It is a really physical time for all of us, which can be good to help you keep warm on cold days!

One of the main jobs in the landscape garden is to carry out tree work. Some of this will be general health and safety stuff such as felling any failed trees, with ash dieback this is constantly monitored. Some of the work is opening up some of the important views from various seats across the eighteenth century landscape garden. Sometimes it might involve a tree surgeon up a tree and us on the ground pointing out branches to remove so that the crown of the tree is lifted and the view is reopened. In more recent years we have had an addition to our tree work, thanks to high winds. Storm Isha brought down 11 trees across the estate. The clear up job can be huge. Often we use diggers with grabs to keep the work safer and more manageable. It is always sad to lose a tree but we make sure that we put every part of it to good use.

The brash is either chipped and mixed in with our compost or used as a mulch around shrubs. Sometimes in the wider estate we use it to make dead hedges which add so much benefit to wildlife. The timber is either seasoned and used as chip in the biomass boiler to heat the house and the visitor centre , or it is logged and used elsewhere. Nothing goes to waste.

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In the formal gardens all the beds have been mulched with our own homemade compost. The compost is 12-18 months old and made up of food waste, shredded paper, grass clippings, wood chip, and waste from the gardens. Teaming with worms and microorganisms the compost acts as a healthy feed for the soil, but also really helps to lock in moisture. During some of our very hot summers it is clear to see which beds have been mulched and which haven't.

In some more weedy areas, where we have problems with bindweed, we have put down layers of cardboard and then added a thick layer of mulch on top of the cardboard. The reality is that it won't stop the bindweed growing, but blocking out the light does slow it down and make it more manageable. Mulching the beds is hard work in a garden which, thanks to Lutyens, has steps everywhere! We trundle wheelbarrows of heavy compost up and down ramps all day. We leave them in piles and our brilliant volunteers go around 'spuddling' the compost across the beds.

Across the estate we have lots of Hazel coppice within areas of woodland. This makes a great wildlife friendly understorey. At regular intervals the stands of hazel are coppiced and the pea sticks and stakes that come from the stands are bundled up ready to use in the formal garden for more natural looking plant supports. Sawing the branches is one of my favourite ways to keep warm on a frosty day.

On top of all this we have been busy with all the winter pruning - figs, vines, wisteria roses and apples are all pruned throughout the winter to encourage health and growth for the year. The seed sowing has started. Some clearance work has started in the shrubbery to renew and refresh some tired areas. So as you can see, there is absolutely no time to sit still!

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Things to look forward to:

The shrubbery at this time of year is amazing. As a woodland garden it has many plants that flower early, before the canopy of the trees blocks out the light. Many of these plants are highly scented to make sure that the limited numbers of insects around at the early time of year, visit the flowers and get the plant pollinated. Look out for Magnoila stellata, Ribes odorata, Sarcococca, Coronilla, Maianthemum. The shrubbery is an absolute joy between now and May.

We have some Guinea fowl that have joined our Golden Sebright Bantams. You will probably hear them before you see them! They do make quite a racket. And look out for their remarkable feathers - black with white dots.

We have planted an avenue of sweet chestnuts near to the Turkish tent and we are really looking forward to seeing the grass grow here and watching the trees grow and mature.

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