19 March 08 | kvh | 1 Comment Had a good walk with the Head Gardener, Ed Ikin, at Nymans this morning. A bright, sunny day in early spring with a strong bite to the wind and the threat of storm clouds! The magnolias (Nymans has 63 varieties) were superb – some had even been in flower since end of Feb! The winter was extremely mild – everything gets earlier and earlier, it seems. They have planted 14 new trees in the Arboretum during the Autumn and there is a new project to restore the pond nestling in the hollow down there. They have to raise money, of course. Walking down the Laurel Walk towards the composting area it was hard to believe that these used to be clipped entirely by hand. The Nymans staff are hugely into composting – they measured the temperature at the inside of one of their heaps at 70c. They add grass clippings as the nitrogen content helps to speed up the “cooking”. A new alpine valley is being created just below the Heather garden. They have a list of all the alpines formerly grown there in the ’20’s and are going to try and restore – using Ingwersens Nursery over at Turners Hill – just as the Messels did originally. Hope to have it done by spring ’09. A bit early for the rhododendrons – although some were coming out – including a Rhododendron macabeanum with beautiful, frilly lemon-coloured flowers (this wins prizes for Nymans). Unfortunately, their rhodo’ area got severely compacted by heavy machinery brought in to clear up after the Great Storm of 1987 (unlike Sheffield Park, where the then Head Gardener, Archie Skinner, is credited with the foresight of being extremely careful about allowing heavy machinery on site – for this very reason, i.e. to avoid the heavy compaction which causes so much damage to roots.) In the Rose Garden, so beloved by Maude Messel, Ed shared with us the secret of Nymans’ organic sprays against pests. For one spray they mix 1tspn bicarbonate of soda to 1 litre of water and add 1 drop of oil plus a drop of eco washing up liquid. Another spray, against fungus, simply consists of 1 part milk to 10 parts water! Ed told us that garlic granules are extremely effective for controlling aphids! (presumably sprinkled around the base of the plant?) Visitors this summer will get a shock when they see that the towering old holly hedging at the back of the “June borders” has all been cut down. They are establishing new hedging which will take about 5 years from re-sprouting on the old plants to get to the desired 8 feet. It takes a brave and courageous gardener to make these bold decisions – which upset people in the short term but are, of course, for the long term good.