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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Snowdrops and stillness



For the first time for months, the wind dropped, the sun came out, the sky was blue and the birds sang. It certainly felt like the first day of spring, although in reality I fear we may have more days of winter to contend with. While we did certainly get some flurries of snow this past week, we have had to contend with none of the extreme weather that our English and Welsh gardening friends have suffered. If your gardening world is currently underwater or you have lost much loved trees this past week, huge commiserations.


This weekend we finished pruning the fruit bushes, concluding with two wall-trained gooseberries. These are fan-trained against our south-facing wall and are actually quite a good way of growing this bush with its evil daggers of thorns, as one doesn’t need to reach deep into the bush to extract the berries. In truth, we tend to leave the fruit to the blackbirds who also build their nests in there (I discovered two or three left over from last year’s nesting season, which I left for this year’s incumbents!); for me, it’s worth growing them for the very early-spring flush of apple-green foliage followed by the bee-attracting flowers in May.

Next week, noting that some of the early herbaceous is starting to come to life, I’ll be returning to the borders to finally cut back last year’s growth…

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The long month ends…


Yellow aconites (Eranthis) under an old apple tree in the Walled Garden

While we’ve had a lot of rain and a fair amount of wind since Christmas, one thing we haven’t had during January is excessive cold. Very few frosty nights and no snow (so far) have meant that the early bulbs have come through probably ahead of schedule. The cheery yellow cone-shaped heads of the aconites popped through in the Walled Garden shortly after New Year, with the rest under the sycamores in the more exposed Policies following 10 days or so later. These are the earliest-flowering bulbs we have here in the Garden.


Snowdrops in the Walled Garden

The snowdrops too have started to appear, under the largest apple tree in the Walled Garden and in sheltered patches in the Woodland.  We thinned quite a few clumps in the woodland last year and I am anticipating that these may take longer to poke their heads through the leaf-litter than the established clumps. I’m no galanthophile but these early harbingers of spring always lift the spirits with their dainty blooms. Our snowdrops are mainly Galanthus nivalis as far as I can tell, but we do have quite a few  double-flowering ones too, and very beautiful they are if you take the trouble to get close enough! The daffodils and hyacinths are surging through as well, so we may be in for an earlier spring show than usual.


Winter Jasmine

The winter flowering shrubs have been looking very good too, with no snow-related damage. The Viburnum  bodnantense have been flowering in the Woodland and the Policies since the late autumn, beautiful scented light- and dark-pink blooms on bare stems. In the Walled Garden, the yellow florets of the Mahonia x ‘Charity’ have coped well with the high winds the garden has experienced; this is a tall shrub which we have left unpruned, so it now exceeds the height of the walls and is therefore quite exposed. The winter-flowering Jamine (J.nudiflorum) too has been its usual reliable self with a mass of yellow blooms.


Climbing rose (on south facing wall of the house)

But some of the summer-flowering shrubs have been pretty good too! Some of the  Hybrid T, climbing and David Austin roses are still pushing out blooms. They are not so large as those seen in the summer but they are still most welcome! Because we have had no snow, a lot of the structure in the herbaceous borders has remained from last summer, providing a bit more interest than we normally get at this time of the year. This structure is principally in the form of old, dried, seed-heads; not as impressive as the ‘live’ version, and somewhat monochrome, but still very ornamental.


Newly-pruned apple trees with aconites underneath


Early-flowering polyanthus

Since Christmas, we have been concentrating on the trees, chain-sawing timber in the Woodland and the Secret Garden and hand-pruning the apple and pear trees round the walls. The fruit trees are done annually with secateurs and, depending on the vigour of the tree, necessitate the removal of last year’s growth, which can be up to 3’ long. This effectively keeps the trees the same size, forcing the sap into flower and fruit production the following spring.

We are now on to the 7 free standing apple trees (some of which are very old and likely date back to the time when the Walled Garden was in full production) which take longer than the ‘2-D’ fan-traineds, espaliers and pillars round the walls. Hopefully, we will complete these in the next couple of weekends or so, allowing us to move on to the black-, white- and red currants and the gooseberries. That will, of course, depend on the weather, which traditionally unleashes its worst during February and early March!



Dogwood (Cornus alba sibirica)



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Warm Winter


Lupins in December? Who’d have believed that?


The Hybrid Teas are still producing quite reasonable blooms

What an amazingly mild couple of weeks we’ve had here in Scotland. Temperatures of 14C in Inverness, 13C down here in South East Scotland with the last few nights not dropping lower than 10C! Many summer nights (and days for that matter!) are colder! Very strange weather! Still, it’s to turn colder next week…




Not quite Africa, but these Marigolds are enjoying the winter warmth

We’ve entered a relatively quiet time in the garden, hence fewer posts, with the winter clear-up now underway. The leaf-raking season has run on longer this year but our leafmould box is nearly full now. Last weekend was spent cleaning up after the storms of the previous week. Despite our trampoline ending up lodged against an apple tree, the Greenhouse remained unscathed but there was a mass of twigs and small branches to clear up from the lawn.

This weekend, weather permitting, I’ll be tidying up the borders, removing material that has been broken by the wind or has simply turned into a brown mess. I’ll leave what I can though including all the upright material, including attractive stems and seed-heads which can be quite ornamental in a monochrome sort of way, but, with a zing of frost, a real Christmassy feature!

There’s some strimming to be done, too, under the old apple trees and round the edge of the policies in preparation for the spring bulbs, and with all this warmth we’ve had recently, we may well see these starting to come through much sooner than usual, starting with those marvellous yellow winter aconites!

The Christmas holidays approach – a welcome break from the daily commute, heralding the start of the winter pruning season…


The delicate bloom of a David Austin rose

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Giving the greenhouse a future


The north side of the Greenhouse needed most work, being shaded from the sun.

This past week, the joiners have been giving the Greenhouse a makeover. We have a timber-framed greenhouse here at the Scottish Country Garden which is quite old, and which, interestingly had a life somewhere else before it came here in the 1970’s/ 1980’s. We know this because there is a fitting for a light bulb at one end, but no switch nor any wiring in the greenhouse itself or over to the house! In truth, it is actually two greenhouses bolted together, hence it has doors at either end!


Inside of the Greenhouse, before work started. There are two vines on the north side, a Black Hamburg grape (near) and a Kiwi Fruit, both of which had to be heavily pruned to allow access. The sills behind these plants exhibited the most rot, owing to the summer humidity levels here when the plants are in full leaf

In the last couple of years, though, we’ve noticed that some of the wood had become quite rotten, including some quite important load-bearing timbers. Some of the window-sills and frames had also been starting to come apart, and weeds had actually started to grow in the softened wood behind the vine.


Work underway, showing the temporary support required to enable rotten timbers to be cut out and replaced

We didn’t want to lose the greenhouse as it’s a bit of an old friend, (and the cost of replacing it would be significant). As regular readers will know, it’s heavily used in the spring and summer, so we managed to find a local joiner who has beautifully restored it to its former glory, and just in time before the winter.

While we don’t heat our greenhouse, we do over-winter some tender plants there, including a Canary Island Palm, a Bay Tree and some young Pride of Madeira (Echium), which we have grown in pots and which have been outside during the summer. We’ve also put the surplus potted young herbaceous plants in there for safe-keeping; the early spring sun will coax them into growth nice and early, and will help grow them on to a decent size ready for spring planting-out.


Back to normal! The far table has young Echium (Pride of Madeira) plants over-wintering, and to the left of that some Lonicera (Shrubby Honeysuckle) cuttings which we struck in September, and which have already made root! The table on the right houses miscellaneous young herbaceous.

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Maple glow


Autumn colours can be so fleeting. These pictures, of an Acer in the policies, were taken just last week; this week, the leaves have gone.

This week, the Good Lady has been digging out the end-product of last year’s leaf-raking – some lovely dark crumbly leaf-mould which we’ll use to improve a rather impoverished flower bed just outside the gates to the Walled Garden. We’ll probably plant it with a selection of shade-loving plants as it faces west and is sheltered to the south by the house wall.

I used to think that plants for shady places were rather boring, until I discovered an excellent specialist nursery, Longacre Plants in Somerset (http://www.plantsforshade.co.uk), which specialises in, well, plants for shade! We purchased most of the plants for our shade border in the Walled Garden a couple of years ago and they arrived beautifully-wrapped and beautifully healthy. I’ll be checking out their website again soon, I suspect.

That, though, is for next year. For now, it’s on with filling the leafmould box with this year’s leaves which tumble down around me as I type!20131117-185005.jpg

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