February in the Gardens
February brings with it a sense of hope and excitement as hints of spring break through the winter ground. The sunnier days begin to feel brighter and there is a small but noticeable increase in daylight hours each day. Around the gardens snowdrops, camellias and crocuses are now in bloom, with some daffodils getting ready to show their sunshine bright yellow heads very soon. The beauty of Cornwall and the privilege of its climate, mean the signs of spring are felt earlier here than the rest of the country. Daily checks of the numbers of Magnolia Campbellii blooms out and around the county for the Great Gardens of Cornwall Spring Story will start soon and the countdown to spring will officially begin.
On the Farm
This month our Livestock Team have been busy caring for our flock of poultry, carefully adhering to the official advice given out by Defra, in light of the outbreak of avian flu elsewhere in the UK. Our poultry are on their holidays to an offsite location to minimise their risk of infection. So, if you have visited us recently and noticed the absence of the flock from the Poultry Yard, there is no need to worry, all are safe and well and will hopefully be able to make their return soon.
In other animal health news, we are pleased to say our beautiful cattle have just undergone their yearly, routine TB testing and the results are clear for the Home Farm.
The animal in the spotlight this month is the emu. The above archive image reveals a humorous shot of an emu running across the front lawn of Heligan House with a gentleman in hot pursuit. The image is simply entitled ‘Taylor chasing the emu’. Although we don’t know who Taylor was or if the emu was ever caught, we do know that the Tremaynes kept these exotic birds on the estate. During the Victorian era it was considered to be an emblem of status and highly fashionable to keep exotic pets as well as to have exotic plantings. We are unable to say whether the emus the Tremayne family kept served any purpose, other than to wonder if the feathers and eggs from the emus were valued in some decorative way. During Love Birds week here at Heligan from the 10th-18th February the emu’s eggs will be on display in The Barn, with the possibility of also featuring on the Heligan Kitchen Menu!
In previous garden updates we have mentioned the arrival of a new Berkshire boar to the Home Farm, he has been named ‘Timmy’. Our love story this month, to tie in nicely with Valentine’s day, is the story of ‘Timmy’ meeting his sows, ‘Thelma & Louise’. The trio, who are all newly in love, will bring the pitter patter of baby trotters Heligan’s way this coming May.
In the Gardens
February is the perfect month for a ‘spring clean’ and that is exactly what the Gardening Team will be up to this month. The glass houses will undergo a window clean, tidy and freshen up, so they are prepared for another busy growing season ahead.
The mushroom bales prepped last month in the dark room, in the Melon Yard, are yielding a daily crop of chestnut mushrooms. These mushrooms are featuring daily on the Heligan Kitchen menu for all visitors to enjoy and are also available to buy in the shop.
The season to sow is now upon us and this month the Team will be sowing heritage varieties of; onions, tomatoes and sweet peas. These seedlings will start off their growing journey under cover and once sprouting, will be planted out in the productive gardens later this spring.
The Gardening Team will be pruning the apple arch in the Kitchen Garden and espaliered pears in the Melon Yard. Late winter is the best time to prune to ensure a good cycle of fruiting wood and stimulate good growth for Spring while the trees are in their dormant phase.
The Productive Garden Team will be heading out into the wider estate to coppice hazel which will be used as a traditional form of support for our 6ft pea varieties later on in the season. Along a similar line to the pruning of the apple and pear trees, coppicing stimulates growth and generates woody stems for firewood and or charcoal making.
February begins to see wildlife awaken as light levels and temperatures increase. The wildlife in the spotlight for February is the Barn Owl. We are very lucky to have a breeding pair of barn owls nesting on the edge of the Estate and on the rare occasion they can be seen flying over the outer Estate fields. During February the hooting pair will be snuggling and cheek rubbing, carrying out courtship, as they prepare for the nesting season ahead. Visit us this half term to find out more about the barn owls at Heligan, with a chance to meet a barn owl up close and personally, as part of our Love Birds week.
It truly is the month of love, as in other romantic news, the great spotted woodpeckers can be heard very clearly drumming on tree trunks throughout the woodlands on the Estate as they perform their breeding displays. Follow the Woodland Walk down to The Lost Valley as quietly as you can, to see If you can sneak a listen.
The beloved robin is also being very vocal as they display signs of courtship and start to build nests. There is an abundance of robins around the Estate and you don’t need to listen too carefully to be able to hear their beautiful song.
Frogs have emerged from their winter sites and have gathered at their favoured ponds for breeding. We have spotted our first lot of frogspawn in the wildlife pond behind The Hide, this may seem early but frogs generally mate earlier in Cornwall due to our milder climate.
Badgers undergo housekeeping in February and they will remove old bedding from their setts, making it nice and clean for their new cubs, which are due to be born during this month.