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!

 

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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

When the trees start to hum

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We have three large, elderly lime trees that form the backbone of our woodland. In the last few days they have changed colour from, well, green, to a rather splendid livery of variegated buttermilk and green.

And they have started to hum. A gentle, therapeutic hum, not too loud, but a hum nonetheless that finally stops when dusk beckons. And starts again a few hours later when dawn returns.

For the limes have started to flower, and I’ve never seen them flower quite so much. Every twig has a cluster of fluffy, rather modest flowers; so many of them, though, that the trees have changed colour. Last year, we had some storms in May that lashed the lime trees and damaged their flowering clusters. This year, perhaps having benefitted from that rest, the limes are making up for it!

A honey scent fills the air and this has attracted, from miles around, bumble and honey bees, hoverflies, wasps, as well other insects – millions of them, humming in harmony. Bees have had a struggle this past year, so hopefully we’re doing our bit to help restore the numbers.

This year is turning out to be quite a good insect year here – many butterflies are appearing in the garden and enjoying the range of flowers and grasses. August is traditionally our best butterfly month, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else appears in the next few weeks!

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