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!

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When the swallows return…

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Primula ‘Wanda’

Those masters of the sky, with their unparalleled aeronautical brilliance, the swallows have returned. How these tiny, light-as-a-feather birds make it all the way from Africa amazes me, but they do, and here they are, albeit a little later than usual. Wheeling and screaming round the house, they re-familiarise themselves with their mud nests of previous years, which they will lovingly repair before the first clutch of eggs appears. They will be joined in the next few days by the House Martins, who nest on the East and West sides of the house.

The bumble bees, the Lancaster bombers of the insect world with their low, comforting hum have more to choose from on their menu now, as every few days new plants come into bloom.

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Spring has finally arrived!

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Magnolia ‘Susan’

All the daffodils are now in bloom, to be joined by the first of the photo 16flowering trees, the cherries in the Policies. Our Magnolia soulangiana ‘Susan’ (we think), in the south-facing border, is pushing out its purple candles which will in time open into large goblets, all before the leaves start to appear. We have planted a new, lighter pink, Magnolia soulangiana further down this border, so hopefully it will provide a welcome contrast.

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early Plum blossom

Behind the north wall, the shelter belt of larch, Scots Pine and broadleaves has come to life, now joined by the first of the fruit trees in the walled garden. On lifeless twigs, the delicate snow-white blossom of the plums has been joined by the first of the pears.photo 14photo 1

There’s been quite a lot of activity in the garden this weekend. We’ve given the new grass we sowed last summer its first cut, which will help thicken it up. It’s looking good, though, and a lovely shade of emerald, helped by the showery weather we’ve had recently. In the east- and south-facing borders, we’ve been trying to fork out the more tenacious weeds – creeping buttercup, nettle and willow-herb, which I hope will reap dividends later in the season. Good to see plenty seedlings that we would wish to keep coming through, though, including foxglove, golden feverfew and honesty – all good cottage-garden favourites.photo 12

photo 2 - CopyIn the greenhouse, most of the perennial seeds we planted a few weeks ago are at least starting to come through, which is encouraging! The first of these to emerge, the Pyrethrums I have now pricked out into modules. In the hardy annual department, I’ve also been pricking out the cosmos, french marigolds and Californian poppies. Last year, we had quite a lot of root-rot with the Californian poppies while we were growing them on, so I’m using more perlite in their compost as an experiment to see if we can avoid this.

I’ve also started off some Verbena bonariensis from seed as it looks as if few, if any, of last year’s plants have made it through the winter. It’s at the limit of its territory for winter hardiness here – some times it gets through, sometimes it doesn’t.

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Forsythia

The Good Lady has been refurbishing the herb bed; unfortunately our elderly curry plant and lavenders didn’t make it through the winter, but we have planted some new lavenders which we grew from seed last year. She’s also been planting spinach and rocket in short lines, with spring onions, basil, parsley and a second sowing of lettuce started off in the greenhouse.

Earlier in the week, The Good Lady potted up small handfuls of wildflowers into 5 inch pots to get them really well established before we plant them out, and the speed they are growing is incredible, even in the space of a few days. We’ve also started off a second tray of ‘Bee Mix’ which we found in the seed box, photo 15which should help out the insect population later in the summer. Meanwhile we’re giving last year’s perennial seedlings a really good feed each week to really push them on as I’m keen to get at least some of them into the open ground and established such that they will flower next year.

Countdown to Christmas

This year has got to go down as the wettest we have had for a very long time. In the sheep field beside the house, we’ve had a large puddle that’s been there continuously since the summer, to the extent that I wonder if it will ever dry up. wpid-20121202_084440-1.jpgWe’ve never had this before other than for a day or so after a torrential downpour.

Fortunately, the weather at the weekends has been really quite good with some lovely, albeit cold, ‘blue sky’ days. We’ve had no snow to speak of so far, so we’ve been able to complete the apple and pear pruning – always good to get this done before Christmas.

imageIn the greenhouse, we’ve done the annual winter tidy-up, removing the spent tomato plants, pruning the grape and kiwi vines, and brushing down the paving and the potting tables. The Canary Island palm, the olive and our rather diminutive bay (I think Scotland is perhaps a little too cold for it!) have also come in for the winter to join the overwintering seedlings. The shelter that the glass offers should be sufficient to protect them unless it gets really cold.

We’ve also tidied up the Herb bedwpid-20121221_121319-1.jpg, removing the fallen leaves while retaining the plants that are still green, to give some interest for the next few weeks at least; I also noticed some quite nice rocket that had been sheltering under something else! Everywhere I go now, I’m joined by our trusty Robin, tame as anything, as I help unwittingly uncover his next meal. I’m trying to leave herbaceous plants that still retain some structure; it seems a shame to cut everything back before you need to, particularly as the birds can still derive benefit from some late-season seedheads. Talking of which, down at the foot of the Glen last weekend, in the marshy area, we noticed a large flock of yellowhammers (I think) with their canary yellow bodies swarming around the seedheads of the reeds and rushes – ornithological fast food!

Dust of dreams

Just placed my next year’s seed order with Thompson and Morgan (http://www.thompson-morgan.com/). Seed catalogues are the gardener’s equivalent of the holiday brochures – they seem to radiate the warmth of a summer day and help to transport us through the cold and darkness of winter.

Here at the Scottish Country Garden, we try to grow as much as we can from seed (annuals, perennials, veg and herbs), and T&M have an excellent selection of perennials to choose from. They also have some wonderful discount offers from time to time too if you order online. Worth joining their email list just for this!

imageSeeds are always a leap of faith and it can be hard to reconcile the seductively colourful pictures on the outside of the packet with the little pinch of brown dust within, but most times the latter does indeed transform into the former! This past spring was rather cooimagel, damp and dark in Scotland with the result that while our seed germinated quite well, some succumbed to damping off disease. Our greenhouse is not heated so we are reliant on solar power, which wasn’t much in evidence during 2012!

Despite this, though, we now have a nice little brood of Hostas, Acanthus (Bears’ Breeches), Kniphofia (red hot pokers), Morina, Thalictrum, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ and Candelabra Primulas ready to plant out next year, with a batch of Joe- Pye Weed (Eupatorium) and Pennisetum ‘Tall Feathers’ grasses already planted in situ.

I think more patience is needed with perennial seedlings than annuals (don’t throw out the trays for at least a year they say, and in some cases two, in case they are slow germinators!) and I think you just have to accept that germination may be variable, or in a couple of cases with us last year, non-existent! (I rather ambitiously thought I’d have a go at growing acers from seed; as per instructions, they’ve been in the greenhouse, in the fridge (to simulate winter) and are now back in the greenhouse again.   Now we’re going into proper winter, so if that doesn’t leave them totally confused, I don’t know what will! That said, I’m still kind of hopeful they may appear next spring!) Perennials don’t have the same rate of growth as annuals but it’s image

hugely more satisfying to grow your own than buying a ready-grown plant from a garden centre. If you’ve got a bit of space to fill, growing from seed protects the bank account too (that’s the Scot in me), allowing you to plant drifts of the same species to eye-catching effect!

So what have I ordered for next year? Ah, well, we’ll leave that for a future post!