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

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Christo’s influence

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Scottish sunflowers!

Now, I do like my hardy annuals! I know they’re a bit of work with all that pricking out, watering and whatever, but at this time of the year, up until the first frosts, these little fellows flower their heads off while much of the rest of the garden can go into ‘snooze mode’!

The youngest’s sunflowers have been a great success; all now in flower, they’re not too tall and make a grand statement in the rear part of the garden. We’ve given them a large flower bed all to themselves; I think we’ll do the same next year although I might inter-plant them with cosmos – another large bedding favourite which will extend the season a bit on either side.

Our summer’s gone a bit, well, ‘mixed’ as is so often the case at Edinburgh Festival time so it’s nice to have the bright Dahlias and Mesembryanthemums out now, although of course the latter only show their faces on sunny days! The dahlias are real class acts; we have a dwarf bedding variety between the Yew ‘tea-cups’ which are very cheery, although I do prefer the longer-stemmed and dark-leaved Bishops Children; they have even brighter- coloured flowers but are not  too big to require staking.

Some find all this brightness a little gaudy, but I like it, and the late Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter relished it; one of these days I’ll get to visit this marvellous, trail-blazing garden!

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Mesembryanthemums or ‘Livingstone Daisies’

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Dahlia ‘Dwarf Mixed’ (T&M) in the ‘Tea-Cup’ Border

The recent rain has unleashed a new flush of weeds and brought the grass back from its suspended animation, so hoeing and mowing is the order of the day until the end of August, when we’ll start the annual hedge-cutting.

I did make some time though to paddle in the pond recently to chop back the Yellow-flag irises which were starting to make their presence felt in the pond. I know I was recently raving about them, but everything in moderation so I set to with my pruning saw as these monsters have rhizomes 2-3″ thick and they need a firm hand!

I’ve mentioned the fruit from time to time this year and the family have been furiously picking the blackcurrants in the walled garden and the wild raspberries down the Glen. Both are giving excellent crops this year and the jam-making season has started! The plums will be next, with apples and pears to follow, not to mention the medlar fruits from our new tree.

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Yucca filimentosa Adam’s Needle

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Yucca again, with young Nepeta (catmint) plants, with Yew hedge behind

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Eryngium alpinum

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Echinacea ‘Magic Box’

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Potentilla Monarch’s Velvet

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Astilbe Strassenfeder

And finally, if you are visiting the Edinburgh Festival, and are missing your garden, I’d strongly recommend a visit to the walled garden at Floors Castle, just outside Kelso; its herbaceous borders are quite spectacular and well worth seeing, and at this time of the year, with the harvest now underway, the Scottish Borders are a picture. The range of colour, and variety of herbaceous, at Floors is staggering. What is more, the Walled Garden is free, there is an excellent potting shed tea room, a ‘more difficult than it looks’ adventure trail for the young gardeners, and a very comprehensive plant centre, selling quite a number of plants grown in the castle nursery, all in distinguished blue pots with the Roxburgh crest on them!

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Late summer herbaceous: mystery perennial, not unlike Willowherb, with Malva in the foreground and Japanese anemones in the rear

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!