Preparing for the summer show

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Delphinium ‘spires’

A break in the weather from a succession of warm, dry, sultry days to a breezy mixture of sunshine and showers is welcome. These past two weekends there has been much ferrying of watering cans to far-flung corners of the garden just to keep the newly planted bedding plants in existence but they don’t really develop properly without a decent shower of real rain.

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Aquilegia and Foxgloves

This weekend saw the final lot of summer bedding being planted out; the Good Lady has been planting up the Dahlia beds (Bishops Children and T&M Dwarf Mixed) and Mesembryanthemums under the hybrid tea roses; these will knit together over the summer providing a wonderful multi-coloured backdrop of brightly-coloured daisies. Meanwhile the Cosmos and Sunflowers are developing thick stems and putting on good growth.  The dayglo-flowering Californian poppies have also been planted into the borders, providing a shock of neon brilliance to the demure herbaceous visitor! We’ve had good germination of bedding this year so have been filling spaces in the borders with more Dahlias and African marigolds (Calendula) and have also been planting up a few more terracotta pots.

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French marigolds, which smell as good as they look!

This year, the spring bedding has been really excellent, with the black tulips only just going over now and the winter pansies still merrily flowering their heads off! 20130626-202225.jpgWhile we’ve planted up most of the pots with summer bedding (Cosmos, French marigolds mainly), we’ll let the spring ones run full-term as I always despair at the Council parks which proceed to rip up their spring bedding just when it is at its best, only to replace it with several weeks of bare soil before they put their summer bedding in!

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the colourful shade border, just coming into its best – the subject of a future post!

We’ve also been planting out and potting on some of this, and last, year’s biennials and perennials. The Echium fastuosum ‘Pride of Madeira’ and the baby Hostas I’ve been moving onto larger pots for planting out next spring; the former is frost-tender, won’t flower until next year and I’ll need to be able to move them into the greenhouse come the autumn. The latter, while making good growth and starting to show some interesting leaf variations (in terms of shape, size and colour) are just too little to put out, but they should be fine for next spring. The Pyrethrums we’ve been planting out in various places and we now have a line of young Catmint (Nepeta) along the front of the west-facing Yew hedge; I don’t think it will flower this year (it normally flowers in June/ July) but the young plants are thickening up well and should make a good show this time next year. The Aquilegia ‘Firecracker’, Acanthus ‘Bears’ Breeches’, and the Echinacea “Magic Box” should be ready in a couple of weeks. Other herbaceous seedlings are making rather slower progress and will be gradually potted on as they develop.

So the greenhouse is gradually emptying, leaving more space for the tomatoes, now planted into the soil, which are making good progress, with some early fruit forming already. Our Black Hamburg grape too is showing many clusters of fruit; it requires a weekly prune at this time of the year, its shoots growing about a metre a week!

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shrub rose in the Kitchen Garden, variety unknown, which has never flowered like this before. It was cut back hard two years ago, produced lots of growth but no flowers last year, was not pruned over the winter (I never quite got round to it) and is now covered with these amazing 5 inch flowers!

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A Midsummer Evening in a Scottish Country Garden

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Sometimes, some green can be relaxing and a welcome antidote to the explosion of colour that surrounds us in our borders at this time of year. This year, having our big mower  out of commission for a while forced us to reconsider the value of grass as a plant in its own right. We therefore decided to leave the new grass areas in the walled garden unmown just to see what happens. The grass is now developing seed-heads which, back-lit against the late evening sun, are quite beautiful, the whole area shimmering like brushed velvet in a light breeze. Later in the summer, we will start mowing this grass once again but not before this particular display is over. In the meantime, we will continue to use the Flymo to carve interesting grass paths round the edges, and in some of the informal areas through its midst, saving us a lot of time, and a lot of fuel!

For the rest of this post, we thought we’d let the photos tell the story. We hope you like them.

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the first of the newly-sown wild flowers starting to show, with the new Medlar, currently in flower and the wonderfully-scented lupins over to the right

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the verbascums and lupins of the south border, with the grey- leaved giant thistle starting to make its presence felt

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the herb garden, probably at its best at the moment, with some young rocket and flowering chives

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some cottage-garden favourites in the south facing border – foxgloves (Digitalis), Delphinium and more lupins!

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a spectacle of lupins, sentinals of our new Acer palmatum Sangokaku

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Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’, we think!

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Granny’s Bonnets (Aquilegia), all colour-combinations possible!

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and finally, out in the Policies, the extraordinarily-ornate and exotic blooms of the blue Iris, completely hardy in our cold climate!

Of Golden rain and Granny’s bonnets

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Laburnum vossi

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the giant thistle, Onopordum acantheum, still a baby, with Verbascum in the foreground

A week of high pressure, sunshine and warmth has really pushed the garden on. Indeed, this has been a weekend of watering to ensure that the sunflowers, new herbaceous, sweet peas and transplanted polyanthus don’t suffer a check. In previous years, we’ve found that the sweet peas can often suffer quite a check in growth once planted out. This year, we germinated the seed much later and as soon as they were ready to go out (early May), we planted them out. No yellowing leaves, no check – something to note for next year – don’t be in too much of a hurry to plant them in the spring!

20130609-172034.jpgThis weekend, we have started to plant out the Dahlias – between the two teacup yews in the walled garden and round in the ‘kitchen garden’, the air of which is now filled with the scent of the white lilac.The dahlias should provide a welcome blast of strong colour right through until the first frosts. As well as a dwarf variety, we are also growing Bishops Children again with its lovely dark-red foliage, a perfect foil for the almost tropical-coloured blooms. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll get the other bedding planted out; for the moment, it can stay cosseted in the greenhouse, with a weekly feed of Phostrogen to keep it moving.

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Tree peony in the woodland (species not known)

The rhododendrons in the woodland this year have been marvellous and just keep on coming – a positive legacy 20130609-171910.jpgfrom last summer’s washout! With them the focus of attention at the moment, I nearly missed the tree peony flowering there – unlike the yellow Ludlowii which seeds itself in the walled garden, this one is a more modest size and a has a rather old-fashioned, poppy-shaped, dark red flower.

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the east-facing border, with Perennial cornflower (Centaurea Montana) and Heuchera in the foreground

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lupins in the south-facing border – quite a spectacle!

As the days go on, the herbaceous starts to change from green to technicolour – irises, geraniums, blue perennial cornflower, lupins in all shades, to name but a few, but my favourite are the Granny’s Bonnets – aquilegia,

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Aquilegia, ‘Granny’s Bonnets’, surely one of the most diverse cottage-garden perennials

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a contrast of golden and dark-purple acers (Crimson King) growing in the policies near the pond. The deciduous trees at this time of the year are at their best.

which we grew from seed a couple of years ago and which are themselves now starting to set seed. Each clump offers a different colour combination – some blowsy, some quite unassuming – all very beautiful.

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Laburnum vossi

Finally, our Laburnum, now freed from the deep shade caused by a tall holly,  is in full blossom now – a cascade of golden rain – surely one of the most beautiful early summer trees.

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the south-facing border looking east, with Aquilegia in the foreground, Verbascum and lupins in the distance

Seeds of Discovery

In a month or two’s time or so, the seed-sowing season begins. Here at the Scottish Country Garden, we wait until the sun’s rays provide a decent heat in the greenhouse, which usually means getting going mid-March to early April.

This year’s seed-order comprises a mixture of the instant (hardy annuals, flowering this year) and the longer-term – hardy perennials. We try to grow all our perennials from seed, if we can. This year, some of the things we’re going to have a shot at include:

Aquilegia x hybrida ‘Firecracker’: we grew Aquilegias a couple of years ago from seed and they provided a long-lasting and very colourful show. A real cottage-garden favourite, I wouldn’t be without them. Even their early spring foliage emerging from the ground cheers me up!  This one should inject some oomph into the borders!

Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Mixed’: the marvellous little autumn flowering Cyclamen File:Cyclamen hederifolium Flowers BotGardBln0906a.jpgwhich you can naturalise. We might try some of these at the foot of our free-standing apple trees.

File:Dierama pulcherrimum 1.JPGDierama pulcherrima ‘Slieve Donard Hybrids’, the “Angel’s Fishing Rods”, this variety originating from the marvellous Irish Garden of the same name. I’m not sure how easy these will be to grow, but even if we can germinate a few, that will be well worth it.

Echinops ritro subsp. RuthenicusEchinops_t&m use only : you might have worked out that we’re quite a fan of thistles here! This is the blue, spikey thistle, a herbaceous classic which I grew up with but which we don’t have here, yet!

File:Meconopsis grandis1.jpgMeconopsis grandis: the iconic Himalayan Blue Poppy which does very well in the wetter, milder west of Scotland. We’re going to see if we can grow this in our shade border but Meconopsis does have a reputation for being temperamental and short-lived! But it’s a real topper and we’re going to have a go!

We’re also going to try Astilbe arendsii ‘Showstar’with its wonderful ferny spring foliage, and more Candelabra primulasFile:Fairhaven Water Gardens 2 - geograph.org.uk - 251605.jpg in the shade border too. We tried to grow the latter last year but it had a poor germination rate, so I’m going to start them off sooner to see if this helps.

Phormium ‘Rainbow Striped Hybrids’: no, I didn’t know you could get seed for them either, but you can (Thompson and Morgan are our suppliers). I really like the tall strappy leaves which grow to 5 to 8 feet. They have a real jungley feel, augmented by the exotic-looking flowers come out on long poles in the spring.

I used to think that Agapanthus only grew in the warmer south of England but, perhaps helped by a combination of global warming and plant breeding, they can now be grown up here in Scotland, so we’re having a shot at ‘Headbourne Hybrids’ from seed. Fond memories of these growing in the Walled Garden at Alnwick, Northumberland, one of my favourite gardens, and by the side of the roads growing wild on the island of Madeira.

Talking of Madeira, and this is being a bit ambitious, we thought we’d have a go at the “Pride of Madeira”, Echium fastuosum.File:Close-up of a "Pride of Madeira".jpg This will be a challenge as the south east of Scotland has a slightly different climate from the garden island in the Atlantic! Echium is a half-hardy biennial so we will need to plant it in a warm, south-facing alcove and give it some frost protection in the winter. If we succeed, our prize will be towers of purple-blue flowers reaching 12 feet! Dust of dreams indeed…

(Special thanks to Thompson & Morgan Ltd. for their permission to use certain images in this post)