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Interview with Head Gardener, Darren Little

Darren Little, our Head Gardener and island resident, has been looking after the gardens during our closure and they are looking spectacular. We caught up with Darren to see what he has been doing to keep the gardens looking so beautiful, and highlights what plants to look out for during a Summer and Autumn visit . 

What have been the biggest challenges to maintaining the gardens during closure?

One of the biggest challenges for me was not to just maintaining the gardens, but the whole island. I was the only gardener working during lockdown as I live on the island. I would maintain the gardens then concentrate on other areas around the island. Once I got into a routine, I would literally be working around in a circle covering the majority of the island. The boating team assisted through this time cutting the grass around the Mount, so my time could be concentrated on the gardens.

Are there any new plants that we can see in the garden?

We have introduced a few more Agaves into the gardens on the higher levels, Agave Montana and Agave Ovatifolia. We have also mixed Geum Totally Tangerine with Salvia Nachtvlinder. In the West Terraces we have introduced some more plants to bring out that Mediterranean feel within the gardens. These plants include, Alstromeria ‘Indian Summer’, Anaphalis margaritaceae, Banksia blechnifolia, Cuphea Cyanea and Salvia ‘Clotted Cream’ .There are about twenty five new additions into the West Terraces and these names are just a few. Approximately 480 plants were planted just in the West Terraces alone. This spring there have been over 1500 plants planted on the island.

What are the plants to look out for during the summer? 

At the moment in the East Terraces the Geum Totally Tangerine is mixed with the Salvia Nachtvlinder. And as these are both flowering at the same time and are the same height, they are looking fantastic planted together. Also cascading down the walls are Drosanthemum bursting out in a light lilac.

The Alstromeria ‘Indian Summer’ in the West Terraces has been in flower since the end of April and will continue throughout the summer into October.

The Allium purple sensation and Allium ‘His Excellency’ are now starting to flower in the walled gardens and are nice and tall so they wave their heads above the mixed plantings. Also, the Phlomis russeliana is bursting into life with its whorls of hooded, soft yellow flowers. The Kniphofia ‘Sunningdale Yellow’ are standing proud over the mixed plantings.

 In July we will see the Aster amellus ‘Violet Queen’ Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Carradona’ all flowering together in the middle wall garden. Visitors will also find Crocosmia ‘Paul’s Best Yellow’ starting to flower amongst the Phlomis and rudbeckia fulgida.

In the East Terraces there are Gazania Bicton orange and Gazania daybreak in large drifts with its full orange flower kept down low to the ground and Osteospermum Cannington Roy with light purple flowers also low. They both stand out in large drifts and are great to cover large areas of ground.

The Bulbine frutescens with its fiery orange flowers can be seen in the West Terraces also planted near the Tulbaghia purple eye, both long flowering, and bringing all year-round interest.

What are the plans for the summer in the garden?

When time allows the gardening team need to gain access onto the cliffs to remove the vegetation that is beginning to take hold. While the gardens have limited access, the team will be able to continue this throughout the summer. We have lots of plants in stock to plant out in the autumn once we have weeded the cliffs.

When will you cut the long grass?

On the island we leave some areas of grass to grow wild and long. These areas are peppered with wild flowers and are beneficial for wildlife. Long grass helps insects to thrive, creates feeding opportunities for birds, and shelters small mammals. Usually by July, these areas have self-seeded and are beginning to die back, and we will then cut them.

Do you water the plants in the gardens?   

We don’t water any of the plants in the gardens, unless they are newly planted to get them established. The majority of the plants come from South America, South Africa and around the Mediterranean basin. Those countries have hotter dryer conditions than we have. It’s easy to think that you need to water however, I’d advice to research the plants growing conditions before you commit to regular watering. 

Do you propagate your own plants?

We have a small glass house on the Mount where we can propagate some of the plants that go back into the gardens. We will take around 2000 cuttings a year of various plants and propagate in a mist bench, this gives us a chance to refresh any that are starting to show signs of deterioration, or want to extend into larger drifts. Some cuttings will be grown on for a few years until established and ready to go out, these will be mainly shrubs that will be used for hedging and shelter belts.

Do you have time to admire the gardens yourself?

As I live on the island I do walk around the gardens with my family during the evenings, this gives me time to view the gardens in a more relaxed way. Normally as you are working in the gardens you are head down concentrating on looking after the gardens, and tend to miss the beauty of them. When time allows, we do also go around the Mount in a boat to view the gardens from the sea. This gives me an ideal opportunity to see how we can view areas that require attention, whether it be ivy climbing up the castle walls to tall unbalanced shrubs that need reshaping.

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