Green Sculpture

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The hedge cutting continues.

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the west-facing front of the hedge, trimmings from the sides still to be raked up, top still to be trimmed!

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the (highly toxic) berries of the English Yew (Taxus baccata)

The main feature of our Walled Garden is a large T-shaped arbour made out of English Yew which effectively divides the garden into 3 sectors. It runs about half the length of Walled Garden and very nearly its full width. Along with some of the apple trees, and the larger specimen trees outside the walls,  it’s one of the few original features of the garden, evidenced by a photograph taken in 1903, which features the Head Gardener and his family standing in front of it.  Judging by the height of the hedge, it had already been around for quite a few years!

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20131018-175824.jpg110 years on, the hedge remains roughly the same height – around 2 metres, although it has towers and free standing ‘goblets’ on each corner which extend to 2.5 metres. It comprises approximately 568 square metres of vertical hedge. However, its width ranges from 1.5 to 2 metres and its branch and twig structure is so tight that it is possible for an adult to sit on top of it without sinking inside!

The hedge is cut once a year in September or October. On the shaded sides, its growth is fairly minimal, 1 – 1.5 inches compared to 2 – 3 inches on the south sides. On top, this extends to 6-8 inches or so. The hedge takes several weekends to cut; we have tried leaving it a year but the task becomes a mammoth one if it is left, as the growth in the second year significantly exceeds that of the first.

20131018-175806.jpgOriginally we used electric trimmers but they couldn’t handle the size of the task, and required several reels of cable, so for the last few years, we have used a petrol machine which does the job admirably. We cut the hedge by eye rather than using strings and it is broadly level although heavy snowfall sometimes presses parts of the hedge down, causing gentle undulations. For the high-level work we have a Henchman platform which we’ve found essential as petrol hedge trimmers and wobbly ladders aren’t natural bed-fellows!

Interestingly, the hedge does not appear to be a single variety. Some have longer, more feathery fronds than the typical ‘tight’, broad-needled variety and some tinge a lovely bronze colour in the autumn, returning to the uniform green in the spring. Courtesy of the local bird population, one or two other plants have crept in over the years including holly, rose and elder!

20131018-175937.jpgFor much of the year, particularly the spring, the hedge is a major avian hotel where blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows and a range of smaller tits and finches all nest, hence trimming has to take place in the autumn, when the nests are empty. It also appears to be appreciated by a variety of insects – I noticed a ladybird this morning sunning itself up on top!

The hedge feels a little like a maze if you walk up the middle of it. The east-west axis is quite wide and we wonder whether at some point there was a double herbaceous border running its length, perhaps growing more choice, tender plants.

The hedge trimming is quite a lot of work, particularly when it comes to cutting the top. It stretches out before you like a very long road! For 10.5 months of the year, though, there is really no maintenance and it provides a beautiful dark green foil for the rest of the garden and is a nature reserve in its own right. In the winter, it provides structure and height to an otherwise flat landscape.

20131018-175908.jpgIt’s also a curiosity, a talking point, a folly perhaps? A piece of garden history, a green continuum linking me with all the former gardeners of this place, providing us all with an annual obligation to tend this great green sculpture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Gardener and his family, 1903, with the same hedge!

 

 

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view from the Sunflower border, now a popular bird-feeding station! The tall tree in the distance (to the left) is a larch (Larix decidua)

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View from the top…

 

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Dynamic Autumn

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The new west-facing border starting to take shape, with the translucent spires of Pennisetum ‘Tall Feathers’ prevalent

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Nerine bowdenii

Autumn has arrived at the Scottish Country Garden, a time of year when the weather titans battle it out for supremacy, as evidenced by the contrast of this and last weekends. The Autumnal equinox is here with its high winds and horizontal rains (last weekend), interspersed with really quite summery days where the temperatures can still exceed 20 degrees C (this weekend).

Most of the harvest is now in round about us – not a bad one, by the looks of things. There has been a frenzy of farm machinery of late as the fields are turned around in time to get the winter crops underway before the first frosts slow their growth. Neat rows of winter barley shoots are showing through the bare soil, like immaculately drilled soldiers in some vast military parade. Roe deer can be spotted easily in stubble fields early in the morning hoovering up spilled grain.

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An Autumn display with Echinacea Magic Box, Sunflowers, Dahlia ‘Bishops Children’ and Eryngium alpinum in the background

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Rowan berries – harbingers of a cold winter or product of a good summer?

The first of the autumn colours are now showing with beautiful reds, crimsons, and oranges the order of the day with the cherries, cotoneasters and rowans, the latter laden with ripe clusters of berries much beloved of the birds of the field, although hopefully not a harbinger of a hard winter to come.

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The Kitchen Garden, with apples in the background, Buddleia ‘Gulliver’, Verbena bonariensis, Dahlias again with some contrasting greenery along the front in the form of some self-seeding, late-season poppies

In the pond, the water lilies are starting to slow down, although blooms are still apparent from the more vigorous varieties.

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Carpets of Mesembryanthemums under the roses

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Cosmos with its feathery foliage

The walled garden is bearing up well, despite last week’s high winds, with continued shows of colour from herbaceous and bedding alike. The dahlias and mesembryanthemums are now at their best, but other colour abounds too. The Red Admiral butterflies have arrived to share the fallen plums with the Peacocks – two most exotic winged visitors at this time of year. We’re trying to keep the pots of bedding looking good, too, by feeding them with high potash tomato food.

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Growing in the Shade Border, the white delicate spires of the almost-black foliaged Actea, with autumn colours of Ligularia ‘Desdemona’ in the background, an old apple tree and the west-facing border in the distance

The dry June and July have resulted in a late flush of August weed growth so the last few weekends have seen some frenzied hoeing – quite achievable still in the sunny borders where the surface soil dries out, given half a chance; not so easy in our shade border where the sun will now not reach until next spring.

We’ve been planting out some of the herbaceous we grew from seed at the beginning of the year in the new west-facing border; these plants should root well over the next month or so while the ground remains warm, giving us a good show from next spring. We planted the first phase of the west-facing border last year from scratch and it’s now starting to look rather good. The spare herbaceous plants have been potted on and will be overwintered in the shelter of the greenhouse for planting out next spring or giving away as gifts!

The strimmer too has been busy these past three weeks cutting back the long grass under the old apples in the walled garden and in the Secret Garden, enabling easier access to pick this year’s apple and pear crops. We’ve never had so many of our fruit trees bear fruit in the ten years we’ve been here, including some trees which I never thought would ever fruit again.20130923-191557.jpg I’m particularly pleased at the crops borne by the wall-trained apple and pear trees in the Secret Garden, now enjoying more light as a result of our cutting back the overgrown beech hedge during last winter; these trees have not fruited for years and it’s very exciting to see them enjoying their new lease of life!20130923-191747.jpg

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I hate to lose trees; it’s sad to see a healthy tree cut down and just as bad to see one blown over in a gale. Each winter, we’ve been worried about this happening to one or both of the Lime (Tilia) trees that grow just outside the gates to the Walled garden and perilously near to the house. Well in excess of 100 feet tall, these 150-200 year monsters are blasted by the westerly gales each autumn and spring, which is scary, particularly as one or two trees on the estate round about us have been less lucky, blown over as a result of a single storm. If the same happened to one of our trees, there would be little left of our house, so we decided not to cut them down – that would have been very sad – but instead remove 40% of their top growth, reducing the ‘sail’ in the process. Limes regenerate from cut wood, so by this time next year, the sawn timbers should be less obvious and we should be able to sleep better at night when the winds are blowing.

For more on Autumn, visit The Four Seasons.

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One of the Limes near the house, its canopy reduced by 40%

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Dahlia ‘TM Dwarf Mixed’ with the blue-flowering Malva in the background