The Glyndebourne gardens never sleep. The theatre is dark and the rehearsal rooms are quiet but the gardeners are busy even in the middle of winter. Their first regular job, as soon as a cold spell appears, is to make sure that tender plants are cosily tucked-up for the winter.
The Bourne garden (the area close to the opera house) is planted with many exotic plants that do not normally grow in the this climate. In mild winters some plants survive but the garden team can’t afford to hope for kind weather and have to prepare for the worst. Tents made from bamboo canes and covered with horticultural fleece are constructed to protect our echiums, the tall blue flowers that are such a spectacular feature of the gardens. The fronds of the tree ferns are cut off and piled on top of the plants’ trunks to protect the vulnerable crown. Most of the green-leafed bananas that grow in this area of the garden are left in the ground and usually survive but the flamboyant red-leafed form are lifted and replanted in a greenhouse for the winter.
The team ensure that at least one mature example of plants such as Geranium maderense and Fuchsia paniculata are over-wintered in the greenhouse. Cuttings are taken or seed sown of all the other tender plants. Plants that are on the borderlines of hardiness are usually left in the gardens. Some winters they pull through, other winters they die. The disappointments that happen after a bad winter are part of the unpredictability of gardening, and there are always back-ups waiting in the greenhouse to take their turn in the spotlight.
The borders are given an initial tidy by removing dead foliage and cutting down many of the perennial plants. Head Gardener Kevin Martin does not think that the garden should be over-tidied: he wants to make sure that as many seed heads as possible are left for birds and insects.
Each year the gardeners use the winter to undertake important projects. One of the team’s tasks this winter is the renovation of some of the gardens yew hedges. Many of the older hedges have grown so wide that they are extremely difficult to clip. A further problem with old yew hedges is the tendency of branches to collapse, creating large bulges in the side of the hedges. To renew the hedges they have to be cut back to the central stem. The bare branches that are left after the job is done are not attractive, but the treatment will benefit the hedge hugely. Yew is a vigourous shrub that responds well to these drastic measures and in two years time will have fully rejuvenated. To help it along, generous quantities are Glyndebourne’s compost will be spread around the base of the plants.
Even in winter the gardeners’ day begins at 7am. They are the first to arrive at Glyndebourne and on snowy days their first job is to make sure that Glyndebourne stays open for business. Snow is cleared from the batch and the roads to the car parks are gritted so that everyone else can get to their offices and workshops.