Of Russian Giants and toasted tomatoes…

IMG_2253-0

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!

1272

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.

IMG_2272

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).

IMG_2265

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.

IMG_2266

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.

038

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!

 

Autumn Gold

20131006-084442.jpg

Fraxinus, the Ash

For this week’s autumn colour, the Ash (Fraxinus) takes centre-stage. They have transformed in the last 7 days or so from mid-green to bright yellow. We have a smallish tree in the garden but there is a large one on the Estate and this is the one I’ve pictured. It stands out like a beacon amongst the other trees and, even if the sun is not shining, it creates the effect that it is. But when the sun does come out, the effect is outstanding!  This has got to be one of my favourite autumn treats!

20131006-084424.jpg

20131006-084516.jpg

Cotoneaster (species unknown)

The season of seed-setting, berry-forming and fruit-bearing is well underway now. The cotoneasters are looking particularly good at the moment with red berries a-plenty. This is a great family of shrubs as, following the berry season, you invariably have wonderful autumn foliage colours to enjoy – all shades of red, orange and gold. Walking past our sunflower border yesterday, I noticed that some small creatures (birds, maybe field mice) have been extracting some of the new seeds from the dinner plate-sized flower heads. Sunflower seeds are high in fat content so this should help to see the diners through the winter!

One family of plants that does very well here, providing a floral show from August to the first frosts are the Japanese anemones. They have attractive foliage and seed heads too and seem to do very well in deep shade.

20131006-084508.jpg

Anemone hupehensis ‘Praecox’

But floral longevity isn’t everything. There’s a lot to be said for the seasonal show-stoppers offered by the bulb family – short blasts of temporary interest. I’m quite a fan of the Colchicum family – Autumn crocuses we used to call them, not to be confused with the true crocuses that also flower in the autumn. We’ve grown varieties like ‘Water Lily’ (pink, double-flowered) in our other gardens, but here we have the simple C. album – pure white with yellow stamens. In the spring, I discovered a large clump at the back of the herbaceous border and transplanted some to front -of-border positions elsewhere. Happily these are now flowering, showing that the transplants have been successful. The only downside? Large green strappy leaves that come through in the spring, but they don’t last for too long. Small price to pay, perhaps, for the flowers-only show in the autumn!

20131006-084544.jpg

Colchicum album

Fewer insects around now in the garden, although the ‘Indian Summer’ has been kind to those that remain. Just last weekend, we saw a large dragonfly hovering over the pond, looking as if it was laying its eggs. A good number of butterflies, now mainly Peacocks and Red Admirals, can still be seen on a wind-free sunny day, particularly enjoying the Verbena bonariensis. Indeed, this is a popular food plant for bees, particularly Bumbles, which now appear a little more lethargic.

20131006-084525.jpg

Verbena bonariensis (with diner!)

As hinted above, September and October to date have been warm, generally dry months, but for how much longer? While tempting to leave it until November 5th, the Good Lady yesterday pressed on with having a bonfire to remove all the brash taken from the lime- trees last month, conjuring up memories of previous autumn bonfires from our childhoods…

20131006-085146.jpg

Fires in the fall

Midsummer makeover

20130728-193733.jpgThis past week has seen a change in the weather, still warm but thundery downpours have appeared on the scene. Good news for the garden as no need now for supplementary watering. I’m waiting for a barrage of previously dormant weed seedlings however!

This week  we’ve been giving the garden a mid-season makeover, hence a rather longer post than usual.

20130728-194655.jpg

Making hay…with the sunflowers in the background and the giant thistle to their left

20130728-193807.jpg

Giant Thistle (Onopordum acantheum

The new grass areas in the walled garden whose seed heads gave us that rippling velvet effect earlier in May have now been strimmed down and the hay cleared; the rain and wind had flattened it so it was time to clear it. From now on until the end of the growing season, we’ll mow it short like the rest of the grass in the walled garden. We’ve left two long drifts of long grass under the old apple trees though as the wild flowers we planted there are still flowering and we want to give them a chance of setting seed.  Some of the hay is now drying under the staging in the greenhouse; it will be appreciated by the hens and the elderly resident in the greenhouse when dry.

20130728-193825.jpg

the first of the Dahlias

20130728-193836.jpgThe dahlias, cosmos, and mesembryanthemums underplanting the roses have  been enjoying the sun and this has started them into bloom so we’ve been keeping the hoe going around them to keep them tidy. The sweet peas too have been excellent, although shorter-stemmed this year- we can pretty much pick a vase-full a day at the moment and indeed we need to otherwise they will stop flowering!

20130728-193901.jpg

Cosmos

The other annuals we’ve given their own bed to are the younger son’s giant sunflowers which at around 4 feet at present are not particularly giant but they are very stocky which means they won’t be subject to wind- blow. They’ve been lapping up the sun, they’ve starred to flower and I’m pretty sure they’ll put on a great show – one flower that can’t help make you smile! Not bad for a small bag of parrot seed…

20130728-193817.jpg

The area I’m most pleased to have got under control is the shade border as that had become somewhat overrun with our old favourite- willow herb and creeping buttercup, I was a bit concerned that it might suffer during the dry spell – particularly the damp-loving Ferns ( including Shuttlecock and Royal ferns), the Candelabra primulas and the Ligularia, but this border lives in almost total shade of a high wall with no overhanging trees; it locks in whatever rain falls like a giant swampy sponge and all plants sailed through, although I did give a can- full to the Ligularia as it is in full bloom at the moment and did look a little stressed.

20130728-193949.jpg

20130728-194048.jpg

In the greenhouse, everything that doesn’t answer to the name of tomato has been moved outside for a break in the sun, including the perennials which we have still to plant in the  new west-facing bed; this area has now been sprayed with glyphosate to clean the ground of perennial weeds, ready for planting in 2-3 weeks’ time.

We’ve been selectively spraying glyphosate in the woodland too – just nettles this time. We started this spraying programme last spring as the whole area was overcome with nettles making it virtually impenetrable to humans as well as stifling the other plants that were attempting to grow. Most of the wood is now clear and we’ll only need to spray occasionally, just to get rid of nettle seedlings. So far we’ve only planted new rhododendrons into this area but I’m keen to plant it with some woodland perennials too if we can get the ground clean enough.

20130728-194203.jpg

Hosta

20130728-194242.jpg

20130728-193920.jpg

Nymphea Colonel AJ Welch

 And finally, proof that plants can  pick up the internet! In a recent post, I was bemoaning the fact that my yellow waterlily never flowered and that I would probably be replacing it. No sooner had I written this this that not only the original plant but also it’s rather annoying and similarly useless progeny,replanted at the other end of the pond courtesy of one of the gardening ducks, decided to revolt by each producing not one but two splendid canary yellow blooms! The compost heap grim-reaper no longer beckons!

P.s while on pond matters, large blue 3 inch dragonfly spotted hovering over the pond this past week. These almost prehistoric insects fill me with awe; we have nothing else like them in Scotland, closely resembling a mini helicopter. Sheer magic!

20130728-194113.jpg

20130728-194129.jpg