Of Russian Giants and toasted tomatoes…

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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!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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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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

If I could stop time…

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The Green Lane

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Rudbeckia, with cranefly

If I could stop time, it would be at the end of August.

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Japanese anemone

Late summer is my favourite time of year. All around abound the steady but somehow comforting whine of combine harvesters with the occasional beep, beep, beep of their reversing signals. Days, noticeably shorter now, book-ended by a sky-full of bats and their new progeny, with house martins and swallows assuming the daytime shift as they perfect their flying skills in preparation for their imminent journey south to warmer climes. The sun remains warm, but shines a different light, a light that bathes the countryside in a soft focus, less harsh, easier on the eye.

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‘Cuckoo pint’, or ‘Lords and Ladies’ (Arum maculatum)

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Dahlia, T&M Dwarf Mixed

The green lane through the woods is now littered with leaves, spotted and curled, that prematurely dropped as a result of the dry spell back in July, to be joined by the rest during October and November. In the hedgerows, wild raspberries make way for burgeoning brambles.

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the ‘Kitchen Garden’, with Sunflower in the foreground, Buddleia ‘Gulliver’, Verbena bonariensis, Dahlia ‘Bishops Children’, with Sweet Pea frame in the background.

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Eucryphia ‘Nymansay’, with Achillea ‘Gold Plate’ in front

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Eucryphia (close-up)

In the garden, the plums are just ripening, a little later this year but the trees are laden with fruit. The bedding is at its best, with the carpets of mesembryanthemums with their antisocially- bright colours starting to meld together in a delicious colour- clash!

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Buddleia (variety unknown) with bumble bee

The late summer herbaceous has taken over from the earlier flush in June, and my two favourite shrubs are holding court: our Eucryphia Nymansay is covered from head to toe with its white, powder puff- stamened flowers and attracted to the mellifluous white and purple racemes of the buddleias, surely the signature scent in the British garden at this time of the year, it’s pleasing to see that peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies have now joined the large whites; hopefully some red admirals will appear next month to feed on the surplus plums as they drop to the ground.

I must get on with the hoeing, though. although the weeds are growing a little slower now. I shall though pause a while from time to time to enjoy this marvellous season before we start the autumn tidy- up next month. Enjoy your late summer too! And for those in the Southern Hemisphere, you have all this coming!

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Lilium (variety unknown)

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Montbretia (Crocosmia)

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Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’

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the Sunflower Border

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the Shade Border (aerial shot), with the orchard to the left of the grass path. The long grass has wild flowers in it, and will be strimmed in the next two weeks.

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