Dan Pearson’s masterplan for Dartington Hall’s grade II listed gardens expresses the idea of a many-sided life through five areas: arrival, culture, production, play and gardens.

Work has already started on the gardens area, the rich historic formal landscape setting for Dartington Hall. The gardens team are working on tasks with existing features – starting the process of considered planting edits and subtle design interventions. They’re undertaken slowly and carefully to protect and enhance the special character of this place.

Below is the latest in our series of regular blogs from members of the gardens team who share the news from the ground. For more on why we’re revitalising our gardens for the 21st century, click here.

In my previous blogs, I’ve talked about our various endeavours and tinkering around the garden in relation to Dan Pearson’s masterplan, but this update is all about the first major project proposed by the plan – catchily named ‘Phase 1’, if I remember correctly.

You might remember this from the Open House event of November 2018 – where the public got to hear about Dartington Hall’s ongoing and future plans – as ‘Phase 1’ was a key part of this exhibition. The area under consideration was the Valley Field and logically the project was entitled the ‘Valley Field Plan’ and was to commence in the New Year.

Well – eventually 2019 arrived, and it was deemed right and proper that the work should begin! As has been a theme of my blogs, much of the initial work involved the use of big boys/girls toys with a number of the mature trees lining the Valley Field stream earmarked for felling.

These included a couple of mature alders (Alnus glutinosa), a mature beech (Fagus silvaticus) and a caucasian wingnut (Pterocarya fraxinifolia).  Over a number of days the team, with the addition of two new younger and ‘better looking’ members of the gardening crew, got to work. Our new recruits are Laura, an early season transfer with a National Trust background and a high energy, ‘get stuck in’ kinda attitude and Hamish, a by-now Dartington veteran from our ‘volunteering stable’ and with tree climbing aspirations.

Richard, as always, was wielding the chainsaw with scalpel-like precision and carrying out the felling, with Mike guiding the fall of the large alders with a strategically positioned rope and mechanical persuasion from our tractor.

Richard showcases his chainsaw skills

Richard showcases his chainsaw skills

Observing health and safety

Observing health and safety – very important

Over the next few days many, many tons of wood were processed, with the tree trunks being snedded up (removal of side limbs for brash), brash neatly piled and chipped, and trunks and limbs logged up and removed by tractor and tailor. The area was then tidied and ground repaired so as to try and be as unobtrusive as possible.

Other much smaller shrubs were also removed as requested by Dan’s Masterplan, leaving a clear area for part of the next phase in the spring – which would be the division, removal and relocation of some of the large clumps of Gunnera manicata to various locations along the Valley Field stream. Gunnera resemble a particularly spiky rhubarb on steroids and would not seem out of place on the set of Jurassic Park. This work would be timed to happen before the Gunnera was due to unfurl their enormous spiky leaves and become very difficult and prickly to handle.

Gunnera manicata

Gunnera manicata

Moving the Gunnera manicata

Moving the ‘rhubarb on steroids’

Spring arrived, and the team enjoyed moving the emerging Gunnera crowns to their new locations which were chosen to spread the clump out along the stream, providing a more exotic, adventurous look and play possibilities for children. With the outside chance of a dry sunny summer, unlike our typical British affairs, the crowns were given a bit of TLC by being mulched with composted wood chippings stored in our yard, with the aim to retain moisture and suppress weed growth.

Later in the season, while ground conditions were still dry, we took the decision to call in some local contactors with a stump grinding machine to grind down the alder and beech stumps so that they were flush with the ground – providing a neater look and reducing the possibility of a trip hazard. And a very fine job the gentlemen did too.

More work is planned for the Valley Field as directed by Dan Pearson, and we will keep you informed on our progress.

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