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Volunteers' Blog - February 2023

Throughout the first two months of the year the Friends of the Garden Volunteers have been kept busy. The Garden, seemingly asleep at the start of the year, is now waking up all around us. The snowdrops below the winter garden have been magnificent, as have the hellebores in the Woodland Garden. Now the daffodils, including those we planted in the carpark in aid of Marie Curie, are beginning to flower.

In the greenhouse the seed group have, as ever, been working hard and I am told that the sale of seeds from the Visitors Centre have been going well. When I popped into see them the other week there was a heady smell of lavender as a large number of flowers were cleaned ready for the seeds to be packaged.

An evocation of Provence or the Norfolk lavender fields here in the depth of a Durham winter. The number of flowers being processed made me wonder if perhaps we could diversify our range with a line in lavender sachets alongside the seeds.

In mid-January the University held a Biodiversity Event in the Visitor Centre. A number of Friends, including those from the Volunteers, attended this interesting and informative series of talks and discussions. Along with the usual papers that such an event provides was a packet of tagetes seeds carefully packaged by the seed group. Tagetes, although not a native species (they are originally from Mexico) are easy to grow and will enhance any garden. We hope that those who took their seeds home use them to brighten up their own gardens.

Those of us working outside have been equally busy. Over the autumn and winter the pond had become full of leaves and other debris. Over a number of weeks many tubs of leaves, branches and the occasional coffee cup lid have been removed and the water is now running a lot clearer out of the fountains.The three fountains represent the Tyne, Wear and Tees. The Friends have agreed to pay for more attractive spouts to be installed and additional work to the line the rill that runs from the Terrace.

The strong winds that we experienced in January brought down many small branches and twigs in the wooded areas of the garden. It is important to remove these before the grass starts growing making them more difficult to see when the mowing season begins. It can be an expensive mistake to hit a large branch even with the industrial machines Peter’s team use.

When the weather was less than perfect, we joined Peter and his team with their annual maintenance programme of the chairs and tables, used by those sitting on the terrace. Carefully rubbing down each piece of furniture then applying teak oil. This we found can become a very messy job if you try to rush. More haste less speed. We estimated that each chair takes over an hour to ensure that every side of every upright and horizontal bar is covered.

Other outside jobs that have kept us busy are brushing down the steps in the winter garden. The scent of the Daphnia in full bloom, as well as Mahonia and Hellebores, make this a particularly attractive part of the Garden early in the year.

In addition, an extremely dedicated band of volunteers have been tidying, edging and removing weeds from the path that leads through the American arboretum past the Magnesian Limestone Bed down to Fungate.

We have also worked on the Fossil Fern bed, removing horsetails that have spread across the area as well as more leaves and dead fern fronds.

Even in the months when little is growing there is plenty to keep the Volunteers busy. If you would like to join us we meet every Wednesday at 10 am at the Visitors Centre, you will be most welcome.

Alex Taylor