Friday, March 15, 2013

Volunteering at Chanticleer

It has been a fast and furious week volunteering at Chanticleer. Days and evenings were packed with work, garden tours, lectures, and meeting other gardeners. I have jumped into the gardening season full throttle, brimming over with new ideas, new plant knowledge, excitement and inspiration. I worked alongside Emma each day, as this was something we both hoped for- and we got a lot accomplished. She is now nearly ready to plant! Emma has been very ambitious in her first six months, digging up her gardens, amending soils and growing lots and lots of plants. I have included a highlight reel of some of the projects I helped her with this week.

Above: A picture of the gravel garden looking glorious during one of the sunny spells. Everyone who worked at Chanticleer, from the office to the seasonal gardeners, were so welcoming and wonderful. I wish I could have been there a month and worked in every section of the garden. There is a lot of individuality, creativity and autonomy among the gardeners, and yet the whole place flows so beautifully. Each section blends into the next, seamlessly, though each area offers something new.


Emma was trained at Great Dixter for a year and half so many of her methods and plant material derive from that great garden.  Like Great Dixter, Emma (and many other gardeners at Chanticleer),  is growing a great deal of her own plant material from seed, which means this time of year there is constant sowing, pricking out (moving tiny seedlings into plug trays), and potting on (moving seedlings from plug trays into 4" pots). It was happily reminiscent to work together again at these tasks we shared at Great Dixter a year ago.

Above: Sowing Orlaya grandiflora seeds, spiny sea creature looking things! In the background you can see Emma's wooden, hand made soil tamper. This is used to gently flatten the surface of the soil before sowing.


Benches in the warm and humid propagation house with seeds and seedlings at various stages.

Wee Nicotiana 'Lime Green' seedlings being pricked out...


...and carefully transplanted into plug trays. We used very skinny stakes cut to a point to make a little hole in the plug for the long, wispy roots of the seedlings. At this stage, we only handle the buggers by their leaves- counting on the fact that these leaves are readily replaced, unlike stems and roots that can be easily damaged, making the plant suffer all the more during this delicate transition.

 Cold frames, already tight with material. This time of year, all frost-free zones are highly coveted.  This is the last step before life in the real world, so being brave and kicking the kids out into the cold can be hard! The pots of spring bulbs growing on in the cold frame are almost ready to go out, which will clear up a great deal of space for young, tender plants.

In conjunction with finicky greenhouse work, we hauled, dug, moved, raked, rototilled, wheelbarrowed a great deal of soil around. Here is the after picture of the vegetable garden, which was weedy and full of old vegetables from the previous season. We turned the thing over and added 30 wheelbarrows of mushroom compost. Next, Emma will rototill again and dig and place her paths.

Just in case you thought I shoveled and filled all of those wheelbarrows... I did not. Emma would dump a load into the barrows and I would wheel them to the appropriate places. The next day we did the same treatment to the long lines of asparagus running parallel to the cutting garden.


We dug, divided, and saved-for-later the lovely Carex 'Bowles Golden,' which gave the tulips a little breathing room.

All cleaned up with a little mushroom compost added and lightly turned in.

And then we made a soil mix. Emma uses Chanticleer compost with a little decomposed bark mulch, a large bucket of grit, and a few handfuls of Osmocote, a slow release pellet fertilizer. She hand mixes the ingredients first by trowing it into a pile (two times). Then she runs the rototiller over the mix multiple passes. Lastly, she screens it; creating a fine, loamy, nutritious mix. She uses this soil to transplant her seedlings from plug trays into 4" pots. The plants at this state don't need a sterilized mix and will benefit from becoming acclimated to the garden soils in which they will eventually land.

Dramatic light on the Sporobolus heterolepsis planting.

Iris reticulata

This is an incredible garden and I am honored to have spent a week here. Thank you to everyone at Chanticleer for making my visit so spectacular!

1 comment:

  1. What a special treat for you, Helen! And thank you for sharing this 'behind the scenes' look at this wonderful garden. I always try to make an annual pilgrimage there and never tire of it. ~ Joe