From snow to snowdrop…


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


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.


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!


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…


The Winter Aconites make a welcome return!


Our curious pillar apple and pear trees, newly pruned


Rhododendron Horizon Monarch


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.


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!


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.


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


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


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!


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.


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


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.


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.


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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Of Russian Giants and toasted tomatoes…


Sunflower Russian Giant

In 2013, you may recall that we grew a bed of sunflowers from a packet of pet shop bird seed. We got some excellent blooms but the plants were quite short – around 3-4 feet. This of course might have been down to a lack of moisture during their formative stages but the seed was unlikely to have had much pedigree!


The Sunflower border. The wheel-barrow gives a sense of scale

This year we pushed the boat out and purchased some Russian Giant sunflower seeds from Thompson and Morgan.

While the packet promised plants growing up to 10 feet with 12 inch blooms, we took this with a pinch of salt, as one does. Maybe in the south of England in a sheltered spot in top quality soil with weekly feeds of tomato fertiliser – perhaps? Not a bit of it, we truly did get plants if not ten feet tall, very nearly that height, with, yes, 12 inch blooms. Granted they were grown in our Walled Garden in full sun but the only fertiliser they received was a single application of pelleted chicken manure. Needless to say, these Russian Giants will be making a welcome return in 2015.


Dahlia Bishops Children surrounded by the feathery foliage and purple blooms of Cosmos

And yes, the weather was good this past year, apart from August when it went curiously autumnal, as it has a tendency to do during the Edinburgh Festival, reverting to summer in early September. We had a long, very mild autumn, with dahlias blooming and butterflies fluttering by well into December – very unusual. Talking of dahlias, last winter was so mild that a good percentage of the Bishops Children tubers survived in the ground to come up anew in May. This is very unusual for the east of Scotland, leaving us with a surfeit of dahlia plants (having grown the usual quantity this spring anticipating no resurgence of the 2013 generation).


The September border at the Drying Green (previously known as the Kitchen Garden) with the butterfly attractants of Verbena bonariensis and Dahlia Bishops Children with spent blooms of Buddleia in the foreground

We’ve had quite a good spring and summer too, evidenced by lower than usual water levels in the Lily Pond. I don’t remember quite so many butterflies as this year, with extraordinary numbers clustering on the Buddleias and Verbena bonariensis during August, including a Comma, rare in these parts, which was rather exciting. We also had the wonderful Dragonflies laying their eggs in the Pond this summer – surely the natural world’s prototype of the Chinook Helicopter.


Sweet Peas, with photo-bombing Dahlia!

IMG_2262Summer bedding performed well too, with some good carpets of Mesembryanthemums taking their customary place between the Hybrid Tea roses and one of the best seasons for Sweet Pea which provided scented weekly vase-fulls for the house from early July right through to late November.


Some over-wintering residents in the Greenhouse: Echium ‘Pride of Madeira’, corkscrew- trained Olive and Canary Island Palm

Sadly there was a casualty to all this warmth, though. Some super-warm days in June ‘toasted’ our greenhouse tomatoes, despite reasonable ventilation, and while we did everything we could to keep the plants going for the rest of the summer, they never really recovered and a lot of the fruit succumbed to blossom end rot. I’d always thought of tomatoes as being able to take any amount of heat – clearly not! Interestingly, other co-habitees in the greenhouse, including the ‘Pride of Madeira’ Echiums and Agapanthus ‘Headbourne Hybrids’, sown last year, were less affected, although the Agapanthus did go a little limp for a few days!


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Ten Months on…


Dawn backlighting our Silver Birch

Season’s Greetings!


Frost animates the seedheads of the Phlomis

Ten months have elapsed since I last filed a report. A growing season has passed.

However, while my posts may have faltered, the Garden has continued to flourish. A fortnight’s annual leave over the Christmas and New Year period, coupled with the seasonal norm of numerous hours of darkness, have afforded me the luxury of providing an update on some of the things that have been happening this year here in our corner of South East Scotland.

Over the next couple of weeks, then, a short series highlighting some of the happenings from the Scottish Country Garden 2014.


A rose for Christmas Day!

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