Of shady characters and rabbits with idiosyncratic tastes

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Lime (Tilia) in winter with its textured bark and red twigs

A very Happy New Year to you from the Scottish Country Garden! I hope that 2015 presents an even better gardening year for you than 2014!

Continuing our review of how things have gone here…

This year, we put in a few plants near the gates, but outside the rabbit-free world of the Walled Garden. To the right of the gates before you enter the Garden is a smallish bed, which has always been a little, well, disappointing, with dusty soil attempting to support a few random daffodils. It is sheltered by a stone wall on the east side and the gable-end of the house on the south side. It is also shaded by one of our sentinel Lime (Tilia) trees, so it is a challenging space!

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The new Hosta and Fern bed – picture taken in August 2014

After several preparatory barrow-loads of home-made compost, saying farewell to the dust, we planted the area with several varieties of Hostas and ferns, decorating the area with one or two interesting pieces of wood foraged from the woods. Not quite a ‘stumpery’ in the Victorian sense, as recently brought back into fashion by HRH Prince Charles at his Highgrove garden but echoing the Woodland on the other side of the drive.

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Colchicum album in the Shade Border this year, successfully transplanted!

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Hosta – fleeting autumn tints

I knew that the Hostas were likely to be safe from the local rabbit population (they don’t like the sap) but was less sure about the ferns. We do have some native species (Polystichum) growing in the Woodland but they are of a different variety. I did though want some winter interest so decided to take a chance on four Dryopteris species (affinis, affinis ‘Cristata The King’, affinis ‘Pinderi’ and carthusiana) all species that can cope with drier shade, and which are evergreen. So far, they have remained free of the bunnies’ attention, as have the new hosta varieties: Aristocrat, Brim Cup, Fire and Ice, June, Liberty, Devon Blue and Orange Marmalade. While the Hostas won’t appear until April/May, the aforementioned random daffodils, boosted by the 4 inches of new compost, should get things of to a good start in March or so.

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Golden Fishing Rod bamboo in the Shade border

The Hostas and ferns were sourced from Long Acre Plants in Somerset, England. They specialise in plants for shade and supplied many of the plants for our north-facing shade border in the Walled Garden, which we planted up three years ago, all of which have thrived and are starting to knit together nicely.

Round the corner from this new bed and facing west is another border which was in some need of attention and which only had some rather scrubby Feverfew growing there. Again, there are no defences against rabbits here and I did want to try to avoid putting up wire mesh as this is an ugly option. By way of an experiment, I planted the area with varieties reputed to be unpopular with rabbits. I had to accept of course that the rabbits were unlikely to have done the same research as I had, and therefore there was a distinct possibility that local tastes might prevail.

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Anemone Hupehensis Praecox (in the Shade border)

Four months in, some of the plants, at least, are proving rabbit-resistant: Bergenia cordifolia ‘Winterglut’, Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’, Schizostylis ‘Pink Princess’ (possibly wrongly labled as it appears to be producing pure white blooms even now in December)  and Kniphofia ‘Flamenco’ have all remained largely untouched apart from the occasional chewed leaf! Iris ‘Blue Shimmer’ (a Dutch Iris) will also be fine although this looks a little bedraggled as Irises tend to do over winter.

Interestingly, the Japanese Anemones x hybrid ‘Queen Charlotte’ (pink, semi-double) and Whirlwind (white) have fared less well, having been chopped back to ground level, despite us having other Japanese anemones flourishing further along, again unprotected from rabbits; I’m hopeful, though, that they will come away alright in the spring as some leaves have returned since the initial attack! Two species of Geranium have received similar treatment – ‘Johnson’s Blue’ and ‘Samobor’(deep purple flowers with patterned foliage) as have Sedum ‘Gooseberry Fool’ and Verbascum ‘Pink Petticoats’. Sedums and geraniums we have growing elsewhere, also accessible to the rabbits, so I am hopeful that at least some of these new plants will re-emerge in the spring with sufficient vigour to out-do them! Time, aided perhaps by a handful or two of pelleted chicken manure, will tell!

 

Autumn Gold

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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…

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Fires in the fall

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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A November wander round the walled garden…

imageThe beginning of November heralds the onset of the quieter winter period. We’ve finished the strimming of the longer grass areas of the policies and very likely witnessed the last lawn-mowing in the walled garden. The leaf raking is in full swing and one might be forgiven for assuming that the garden is now ‘closed for the season’.

And yet, there are flowers to be found. While the tea roses are now a bit lanky, mild spells encourage buds to break and fine blooms to result.

imageOur David Austin roses are probably at their best now; while they have bloomed almost continously since June, many of their blooms have ‘balled up’ and been spoilt  in all the rain we had during the summer. As long as we don’t get it too severe, they could still be flowering at Christmas!

imageThe herbaceous border continues to present interest – we have pink mallows still flowering and the wonderful Rudbeckia shoots out its cheery flamboyant bright yellow daisies like the big finish in the Fireworks display.

Talking of fireworks, in the south facing border, our pink Nerines have put on an excellent show this autumn – such an exotic, tender looking thing and yet tough as anything,image as long as it gets some hot sun to toast its toes in during the summer – ah, well, maybe next year….

A few weeks ago, we cut back our Lupins and they are now putting out a new flush of smaller, but still very imageattractive blooms. Not to be outdone, a nearby Delphinium is giving them a run for their money with its sky blue and white spires.

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With such a mild winter last year, our 2011 sowing of Verbena bonariensis has really delivered this summer and autumn with its spectacular explosions of lavender-coloured clusters. They’ve been really good this year round in the kitchen garden against a very late-flowering buddleia and providing a variation on a theme to the metallic blue of the Eryngium sea hollies, but if we get a hard winter we’ll need to repeat-sow next spring.

Lurking at the back of the west border I discovered the beautiful white goblets of a Colchicum spec. album; how it got there is somewhat of a mystery! In the spring, when its strappy leaves start to appear, I shall lift the clump, divide it, and give it a new home where we can appreciate it. Colchicums are one of a range of autumn flower corms and bulbs which really deliver value at this time of the year. Another are Cyclamen, and we got some recently from the garden centre which we’re trialling in a pot. imageThey are supposedly hardy, but we shall see; so far, they have coped well with a few frosty nights! Next year, I’m hoping to grow some C. hederifolium from seed, which is the autumn variety you usually see at this time of year, often naturalising under established trees.

Our new East facing border has done quite well this year, although we have used annuals to deliver the colour. We transplanted some Antirrhinums from another area of the garden and they have never stopped flowering. Same story with the African Marigolds and the Californian Poppies (Escholtzia) in their shockingly bright colours of yellow, red and orange, and you’d think that hailing from these countries, they’d have given up at the merest hint of autumn. While most of the herbaceous perennials in this border have been too young to flower this year, the Achillea ‘Summer Berries’ imagehave put on a great show – a nice contrast to ‘Gold Plate’ which we have elsewhere in the garden.

Finally in the shade border, which faces north and gets little sun, the Hellebore ‘Ballard Red’ imagehas thrown up its new clutch of flowers –  a real touch of the exotic at this time of year. We have other Hellebores in the garden, but none flower in the autumn.  The Japanese anemones – we have the white ‘Honerine Jobert’ and the imagepurple ‘Praecox’ –  too have been superb this year, relishing all the damp weather.

And yes, round in the kitchen garden, we are still getting modest pickings of sweet peas with their marvellous scent, evocative of those warm summer evenings we occasionally had a few months ago…image