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It’s amazing to think that spring is just around the corner. Throughout the castle landscape, tens of thousands of daffodils (Narcissus) are peeping up through the grass ready to flower in March and April; the variety ‘February Gold’ should be flowering by the end of this month!
The most effective flowers at this time of the year are the ‘Eranthis’, known as ‘Winter’s Aconites’. With their bright yellow flowers, it’s not surprising to learn they are part of the ‘buttercup’ family and originate from Southern Europe across to Turkey. They can form a spectacular carpet of yellow when planted under deciduous trees, juxtapose them with snowdrops and you have a wonderful combination of gold and white.
‘Snowdrops’ are a seasonal favourite, especially for their vast numbers of keen followers known as a galanthophiles. Galanthus plicatus is believed to have been brought back by soldiers returning from the Crimean War in 1853 and 1854. This, in turn, ignited collectors’ enthusiasm in Britain. By 1892, snowdrop passion had taken hold and a specialist Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) conference was held where James Allen revealed his extensive hybridising work to an audience keen to try new cultivars and seedlings.
Over the winter months, Alitex of Petersfield built our new Tropical House. It’s an exact replica of a Thomas G. Messenger glasshouse that stood here on the site at the end of the nineteenth century. An aluminium structure texturally mimics a natural wood grain to beautifully emulate the original. It looks wonderful alongside our original Jones & Clark (later Clark & Hope) Vine House, dated 1854.
When the vegetable garden was restored in about 1995, the foundations of the Messenger glasshouse where exposed. Research in an old Messenger catalogue, dated at the beginning of the last century, revealed that here at Arundel there once was a three-quarter span Messenger & Company of Loughborough Pineapple House.
The interior grating of our new Tropical House was copied from a piece of grate dug up from the ruins of the old Pineapple House. This glasshouse is a ‘lean-to’ design with a central division and has cold frames attached on the outside, ideal for hardening off plants and growing our herbs and lettuces in summer.
In the Tropical House, we have Pineapples growing in clay pots as they would have been grown in the Victorian times. We also have exotic pawpaw trees, passiflora - passion fruit or granadilla, miniature banana trees, coffee plants, anthuriums, hibiscuses, chilli collection. Cucumber plants are trained like a vine, allowing the cumbers to hang from the glasshouse roof, which makes it easier to harvest them. We even have a baobab tree which is normally found in Africa and is known as the ‘upside down tree’ as the branches look like roots in the air!
In our Victorian Vine House, our grape vines look rather different at this time of the year: we lower the grape vines carefully so that the vines lie horizontal, allowing their sap to flow evenly throughout the vine. They will be raised again before we open the gardens on Tuesday 2 April.
A few tips from the Arundel Castle Garden Team:
· Start ‘chitting’ your potatoes, which means sprouting the tuber before it is planted into the ground. This is best done by putting them ‘eyes’ upright in a light, cool but frost-free place, about six weeks before you intend to plant them out. We put ours on a window ledge in the potting sheds.
· A word on spring flower arrangements: make sure you pick fresh daffodils and keep them separate in water for a day or so before adding them to any mixed display, this protects other flowers from wilting as the narcissus stems can be quite toxic. Naturally, if you just want a vase of daffodils you can arrange them straight away. There are so many varieties of narcissi these days that one is spoilt for choice.
· At the end of February, start to sow half-hardy annuals and tender bedding plants under cover.
· Check that the frost has not lifted your newly planted trees or shrubs. If it has, firm them back in.
· Complete your rose pruning.
· When the weather is dry, prepare seed beds for vegetables.
Arundel Castle and Gardens will be open from Tuesday 02 April to Sunday 03 November in 2019 - Tuesdays to Sundays inclusive, May Bank Holiday Mondays and Mondays in August.
For more information, please visit www.arundelcastle.org.