Living the High Life

The new fountain with the west end of the Yew hedge in the distance

Since August, I think I’ve spent more time in the garden above the ground than on it. Perched atop ladders of varying heights and invariably encased in a cloud of 2-stroke exhaust, it’s hedge-cutting and fruit tree-pruning time.

The south east run of the Yew hedge, with the vacated sunflower border in the foreground, itself surrounded by a low Lonicera hedge

As I’ve discovered, yew grows quite fast when you don’t want it to, and tends to die when you do.

Our elderly yew arbour has certainly been doing quite a lot of growing these past three seasons and the trusty Castelgarden trimmer has been contending with fronds of some 60-80cm, although interestingly the hedge is made up of two or three varieties of yew, with some growing less vigorously than the rather less hesitant ones of a more wiry consistency. By the time I had got to near the end of this herculean task (started in August, completed in late November – later than I would have liked), some of the fronds had turned a rather nice bronze colour. Still, worth doing despite the lingering back-ache, as the hedge’s now clean lines give an architectural crispness to the winter garden and a rich dark-green foil to the hoar-frosted grass.

The west end of the Yew hedge with one of the Laurel roundels in the foreground

And then it was on to the Laurel roundels at either end of the yew hedge. Again original features, these 4 Portuguese laurels had put on around 90cm of growth on top  with stems approaching 6cm thick, so this proved a tough job for the trimmer as well as its operator! Incidentally, for all this high work I used a Henchman Hi-step ladder. We have an old steel one, which is quite heavy, but they now do lighter aluminium ones. Individually-adjustable legs and a non-slip platform with guard rail allow you to lean out over the hedge without fear of toppling. Not a nice feeling if you are working with power tools.

Inside the “T” of the hedge!

And then, just before Christmas, I finished the beech hedge which runs the full length of the Drying Green and the Secret Gardens. Half the length of this hedge had been allowed to grow to full tree size under the previous owners; we chain-sawed it back around 7 years ago and in the intervening period, it has returned to being a hedge again, producing new shoots from the old wood, such that you can’t easily tell the ‘new’ hedge from the old!

Time now to sharpen the trimmer!

The beech hedge that runs the full length of the Kitchen and Secret Gardens, with a large variegated Holly in the distance. The bantams get an early visitor!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Year’s Resolution?

The Pleasure Grounds in the Snow

“So, Dad, when are you going to bring back your blog?”, my youngest asks me every so often.

I find myself reaching for the usual book of excuses. “Too busy” or “Well, I did it for a whole year, so there’s really nothing more to say”, or “Not got time to do the garden these days, let alone the blog”.

Youngest shrugs shoulders and goes back to Plants vs Zombies.

But each time he asks the question, it gets me thinking.

I started this blog back in autumn 2012. It arose out of a half-term project my older son came up with, to create a WordPress blog, which launched him into the world of social media and generated a real passion for photography which he has taken to an advanced level in the past couple of years. Well, half-term ended and I was left with a rather content-light outline blog, which I felt obliged to keep going, but which I got rather hooked on as time went on.

The New Fountain

I charted just over a year in our garden, until February 2014, revisited it in winter 2014/15 and then decided to call it a day. I had too much going on at the time both at home with an elderly relative and with incremental pressures at work, and something had to give. I didn’t have much time for the garden and a family of rabbits found its way in, taking advantage of our aging labrador’s dwindling rabbiting abilities. As the rabbit population started to grow, our enthusiasm faded. The garden had become a bit of a chore.

Since then, we’ve kept the garden going on a care and maintenance basis; we’ve kept the grass cut and the worst of the weeds pulled, we’ve even added one or two new plants and trees and we installed a new raised pool and fountain, but we haven’t been able to find the time we once had. Until this autumn, perhaps, when the elderly relative’s estate was finally wound up and I took on a new job of fewer hours and significantly less pressure.

Pip, who arrived April 2017 (Photograph: Lorimer Macandrew – http://www.LMacandrew.com)

Oh, and Pip joined the family. Pip likes chasing rabbits, so the rabbit family has moved out. Things that we plant no longer get eaten.The garden has started to become a more attractive place. We also managed to cut the hedges this autumn, removing the substantial growth of the past three years – a major exercise and perhaps the turning point.

So, what prompts this post, nearly two years on from the last one? Well, I need something to motivate me and to help me measure progress. The old blog certainly did that. After all, I needed to do something in the garden to give me something to write about! So, things got done.

But I also had to post some pictures so I had to make time to actually look at the garden we were tending – what’s growing, what’s flowering, what shapes and forms look interesting? Before I had the Blog, I became very aware that all I looked at was the ground – the next weed to be dug up, or the next shoot to be pruned. I wasn’t really benefiting from the fruits of my labours. I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

Some of the current Garden volunteers

Most of all, I miss the chat of the blogging community all working out there in the global garden. The wonderful comments, the words of encouragement, the contrasting and very often similar garden notes from across the world. And the great hints and tips.

Will I be able to keep this going? Well not as regularly, perhaps, as I did before. But there’s no harm in making it a New Year’s Resolution.

Wishing you all the very best for a happy and prosperous New Year.

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From snow to snowdrop…

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the first of the Snowdrops flowering in the Woodland

018While the snow has more or less gone here –  and we only got a light dusting here compared with much of Scotland, it’s been a cold week with temperatures sitting around 0 degrees C. And yet, despite the rock-hard ground, the snowdrops still manage to keep growing. This is the first weekend that the flowers have been properly out, although those that have managed to snatch a glimpse of the winter sun have stolen a march on the others.

Good to see some of the earlier daffodils nosing through as well, although the ones we planted in the autumn have yet to make their debut.

This weekend, we’ve been continuing to work on the apple and pear trees, trimming each twig back to just one bud above the basal cluster. This has to be done by hand with a pair of secateurs, and we have around 80  fruit trees in the Walled Garden so this task takes most of the winter months! A pair of warm gloves are essential for this task, as one’s fingers quickly turn to blocks of ice, and I wouldn’t be without my Gold Leaf ‘Winter Touch’ gloves, the only gardening gloves I’ve discovered so far that actually do keep your hands warm when the mercury sits around zero!

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A quiet month

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A harbinger of spring: Polyanthus

Not too much happening in the Garden this past couple of weeks. While the weather was quite good last weekend, it was very cold with a layer of snow and rock-hard ground, so little scope to accomplish much.

A trip to the local DIY store was therefore arranged to stock up on sundries such as dahlia- and tree- stakes, and wire mesh.

It’s maintenance time in the Scottish Country Garden with rotten posts in the sheep field needing replacing. We have a visiting flock of Hebridean sheep here at the moment which are small and well behaved but during the summer months we have the altogether more robust, and significantly larger, Cheviots which think nothing of trying to force their way through the wires in search of the grass that is, of course, always greener on the other side! This puts pressure on the old posts and an annual review is required. The over-wintering sheep are welcome, however, and allow the grass to be nibbled right down, removing all the flattened down thatch and allowing us to see the extent of the mole runs in the field which also need to be dealt with at this time of year.

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Increasing the defences!

Yesterday I was strengthening the rabbit protection around some of the young trees that we have been planting on the boundary between the Policies and the sheep field to give some protection from the westerly winds. The dahlia stakes are good for this as they last for quite a while and are altogether stronger than traditional bamboo canes. We’ve also moved over to using  .9 metre high chicken wire which should prevent the rabbits reaching up and nibbling the emerging shoots of the young trees. These are a collection of self-seeding Acers, birches and rowans which we’ve nurtured from young seedlings- nothing special but good for wind-breaks!

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Winter Aconites under the old apple trees in the walled garden

Next week, hopefully, it will be back to finishing off the apple and pear pruning which has taken rather a back seat in light of the freezing weather.

That said, it’s encouraging to see the daylight hours starting to extend particularly at the end of the day, and some much stronger light during the middle of the day.

While it has been very overcast today, a family of four buzzards has been circling over the Walled Garden, with the birdsong appearing to be on the increase in preparation for the nesting season. It’s also exciting to note that the tops of the Dutch crocus I planted in the autumn are now starting to nose through the grass. Harbingers of spring!

 

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And looking ahead…

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The Winter Aconites make a welcome return!

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Our curious pillar apple and pear trees, newly pruned

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Rhododendron Horizon Monarch

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The snow arrives!

Today was one of blue skies and blizzards, heralding the arrival of snow in this part of South East Scotland. We’ve had a very strange week with the temperature going up and down like a yoyo between 0 and 12 degrees C, culminating in two nights of storms. Not as windy as further north and west, though, and no damage so far. More snow and rain is forecast for tomorrow so the seasonal apple and pear pruning may have to be postponed for a further week! Over the last few posts, I’ve been looking back at some of the things we’ve been doing during 2014, but what of the future? As time doesn’t currently allow for more cultivated beds, any further areas we develop have to pretty much look after themselves. This spring, we put some more Rhodendrons (including R. ‘Scyphocalix’ and R. ‘Virginia Richards’) into the wood and while we greatly enjoy their annual spring display, the woodland tends to go a bit quiet for the rest of the year. For the last couple of years, we have managed to get the rampant nettles under control, allowing access to what is a very pleasant space and I’m keen to plant it further with species that give some summer interest. The challenge of course will be finding rabbit-proof plants as there is a small population that live in this area. I’m fairly hopeful, however, that I’ll be able to do this with plants like Aconitum, Hosta, Euphorbia, Polygonatum, Pulmonaria and Persicaria, all of which do well elsewhere in the garden and which are supposedly rabbit-proof! I’d particularly like to grow some of the larger Hostas like ‘Sum and Substance’ and ‘T Rex’ which grow to nearly 3 feet tall. I’m also keen to create some interest to the east of the lily pond and south of the house. At the moment, this is just grass and the space is quite open and exposed. However, there are some deciduous trees that we don’t yet have in the garden, some of which I’ve grown in our other gardens and none of which are too large, which offer spring, summer and autumnal interest. Of particular interest would be Betula utilis ‘Grayswood Ghost’ (one of the best white-barked birches), Prunus serula (the Tibetan cherry with marvellous peeling bark), P. subhirtella autumnalis rosea (which flowers in the winter from, bare stems), Liquidambar styraciflua Worplesdon (one of the best trees for autumn colour) and Sorbus cashmiriana (a rowan tree with white berries as opposed to the usual orange or red). All should do quite well, not growing too large as to block out the morning east light from the pond.

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Of bulb magic and luminous trees…

cropped-wpid-20130427_145635.jpgNow, I’ve got to admit that I’ve never been a big fan of bulbs. Well that’s not strictly true – I like the bit where they flower but planting them, well, that’s another matter, particularly if you’re planting them into compacted ground or grass. The effort of chopping out a big heavy sod of cold wet turf just to put one or two bulbs in has never appealed, particularly if you have a large sack to plant!  Until this autumn that is, when, on a recommendation from Bob Flowerdew on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners Question Time, I splashed out and bought a long-handled bulb planter. A bit of a luxury really as a perfectly adequate hand-held bulb planter lurks in the back of the potting-shed but I’ve never really used this as I found it murder on my wrists and really not much use unless the earth is well dug. My new planter on the other hand is like a small spade and neatly chops out a lozenge of turf and soil with minimal effort. So I’m now very into planting bulbs, inspired by the wonderful wildflower meadow interplanted with Camassia and Tulips that we saw back in the spring outside the front door of Howick Hall, not far from Alnwick in Northumberland (highly recommended by the way, particularly Silverwood in the spring with its amazing rhododendrons and azaleas, and a very classy tea room!)

002Two years ago, somewhat reluctantly, we put the two large vegetable beds in the rear part of the Walled Garden down to grass. Now, grass isn’t the most exciting plant on the planet but the vegetable beds were simply too labour-intensive to keep on and usually ended up as a celebration of all the local weed species.

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To try to bring some colour to this mass of green sward, a couple of years ago we started planting daffodils under the old apple trees that line the ‘vegetable bed’ lawns and this autumn we added in some further varieties: Narcissus Thalia (pure white with slightly whorled petals), Barrett Browning (white petals with bright orange cups), Pueblo (white petals with lemon yellow cups) and Tazetta Pacific Coast (canary yellow). In the lawns themselves we have also planted drifts of Crocus chrysanthus (Blue Pearl, Cream Beauty, Prins Claus and Gipsy Girl).

In the main lawn, we planted the first phase of early-flowering C. tommasinianus running from the old apple tree in the south east corner in a westerly direction; if these are successful, we will continue the planting next year to form a metre-wide stripe of light purple running the full length of the lawn up to the gates, flowering in February/ March. A temporary show, undoubtedly, but I’ve seen this done before and it looks most effective, providing a bright colour statement at a rather monochrome time of year. Talking of the old apple tree, we’ve put in some spring-flowering Cyclamen coum underneath it, again naturalised in the grass. Happily, the corms have started to sprout and there are signs of some early blooms!

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The Secret Garden, featuring old variegated Holly and wall-trained pears (January 2015)

And finally, round in the Secret Garden, we’ve been planting some scented Jonquila daffodils including Martinette (yellow flowers with orange trumpets), Pipit (lemon yellow flowers with creamy cups), Pueblo (again!), Sun Disc (rounded yellow petals petals which fade to cream with canary yellow cups) and Suzy (paired flowers, yellow petals with bright orange cups). I have been uncertain as to what to do with this area as its open aspect has been good for the fruit trees trained on the walls – they used to be heavily shaded by an overgrown beech hedge and didn’t flower for many years; the Secret Garden offers fine views of the hills to the south so I am slightly reluctant to plant it up with more shrubs that then detract from the view and start to block out the light. This year, we’ve been mowing the grass weekly in the Secret Garden to get rid of the more pernicious weeds including cow parsley, nettles and willow herb and by the end of the season the area had turned into quite a reasonable lawn, making the area a bit smarter and more accessible. The Daffodils should give a little spring interest as harbingers to the apple and pear blossom following in May.

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Ornamental Plum (Prunus cerasifolia Nigra) with sunflowers behind (August 2014)

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Ornamental Plum, with Box plants added

Back in the grassed- over vegetable areas in the Walled Garden, we took advantage of an excellent bare-root tree offer from a certain German grocery chain to purchase two Ornamental Almonds (Prunus dulcis) and two Flowering Plums (Prunus cerasifolia Nigra). We have put one of each in each grassed area to give a bit of height and interest. The different foliage colours (light green for the Almond, dark purple for the Plum) provide excellent contrast, particularly with the midday and afternoon sun shining through them) and I look forward to their delicate pink flowers emerging before the leaves come the spring. This autumn we have dug out a one-metre radius planting circle round each tree to allow a ring of Box (Buxus) to be planted; as this grows it should provide some architectural winter interest. In between the tree stems and the Box we may plant some autumn-flowering Cyclamen hederifolium; we have some young plants over-wintering in the Greenhouse which we grew from seed during 2013.1273

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Of shady characters and rabbits with idiosyncratic tastes

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Lime (Tilia) in winter with its textured bark and red twigs

A very Happy New Year to you from the Scottish Country Garden! I hope that 2015 presents an even better gardening year for you than 2014!

Continuing our review of how things have gone here…

This year, we put in a few plants near the gates, but outside the rabbit-free world of the Walled Garden. To the right of the gates before you enter the Garden is a smallish bed, which has always been a little, well, disappointing, with dusty soil attempting to support a few random daffodils. It is sheltered by a stone wall on the east side and the gable-end of the house on the south side. It is also shaded by one of our sentinel Lime (Tilia) trees, so it is a challenging space!

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The new Hosta and Fern bed – picture taken in August 2014

After several preparatory barrow-loads of home-made compost, saying farewell to the dust, we planted the area with several varieties of Hostas and ferns, decorating the area with one or two interesting pieces of wood foraged from the woods. Not quite a ‘stumpery’ in the Victorian sense, as recently brought back into fashion by HRH Prince Charles at his Highgrove garden but echoing the Woodland on the other side of the drive.

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Colchicum album in the Shade Border this year, successfully transplanted!

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Hosta – fleeting autumn tints

I knew that the Hostas were likely to be safe from the local rabbit population (they don’t like the sap) but was less sure about the ferns. We do have some native species (Polystichum) growing in the Woodland but they are of a different variety. I did though want some winter interest so decided to take a chance on four Dryopteris species (affinis, affinis ‘Cristata The King’, affinis ‘Pinderi’ and carthusiana) all species that can cope with drier shade, and which are evergreen. So far, they have remained free of the bunnies’ attention, as have the new hosta varieties: Aristocrat, Brim Cup, Fire and Ice, June, Liberty, Devon Blue and Orange Marmalade. While the Hostas won’t appear until April/May, the aforementioned random daffodils, boosted by the 4 inches of new compost, should get things of to a good start in March or so.

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Golden Fishing Rod bamboo in the Shade border

The Hostas and ferns were sourced from Long Acre Plants in Somerset, England. They specialise in plants for shade and supplied many of the plants for our north-facing shade border in the Walled Garden, which we planted up three years ago, all of which have thrived and are starting to knit together nicely.

Round the corner from this new bed and facing west is another border which was in some need of attention and which only had some rather scrubby Feverfew growing there. Again, there are no defences against rabbits here and I did want to try to avoid putting up wire mesh as this is an ugly option. By way of an experiment, I planted the area with varieties reputed to be unpopular with rabbits. I had to accept of course that the rabbits were unlikely to have done the same research as I had, and therefore there was a distinct possibility that local tastes might prevail.

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Anemone Hupehensis Praecox (in the Shade border)

Four months in, some of the plants, at least, are proving rabbit-resistant: Bergenia cordifolia ‘Winterglut’, Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’, Schizostylis ‘Pink Princess’ (possibly wrongly labled as it appears to be producing pure white blooms even now in December)  and Kniphofia ‘Flamenco’ have all remained largely untouched apart from the occasional chewed leaf! Iris ‘Blue Shimmer’ (a Dutch Iris) will also be fine although this looks a little bedraggled as Irises tend to do over winter.

Interestingly, the Japanese Anemones x hybrid ‘Queen Charlotte’ (pink, semi-double) and Whirlwind (white) have fared less well, having been chopped back to ground level, despite us having other Japanese anemones flourishing further along, again unprotected from rabbits; I’m hopeful, though, that they will come away alright in the spring as some leaves have returned since the initial attack! Two species of Geranium have received similar treatment – ‘Johnson’s Blue’ and ‘Samobor’(deep purple flowers with patterned foliage) as have Sedum ‘Gooseberry Fool’ and Verbascum ‘Pink Petticoats’. Sedums and geraniums we have growing elsewhere, also accessible to the rabbits, so I am hopeful that at least some of these new plants will re-emerge in the spring with sufficient vigour to out-do them! Time, aided perhaps by a handful or two of pelleted chicken manure, will tell!

 

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