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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The week the trees turned green…

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the North, south-facing, border

(Well most of them!) The garden continues to come to life with many of our broadleaved trees now in leaf, or in the process of bud-break.20130512-115333.jpg The beeches on the drive take a little longer, but all around there has been a real sense of the arrival of summer this week. Sadly that also includes showery interludes, which is why I’m inside writing this, and not outside cutting the grass! Hopefully, the rain will go off soon…

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The Good Lady has been continuing to attack the south-facing border this past week, allowing me to get on with pricking out the bedding plants in the greenhouse. The ‘Bishops Children’ and ‘Dwarf Mixed’ Dahlias have all been moved into 3 inch pots now and we’ve also been pricking out the Mesembryanthemums  (‘Livingstone Daisies) into modules of 9. The greenhouse is looking quite busy now with additional temporary shelving set up, which we’ll remove again around the middle of June when the bedding goes out, making space for the tomato plants! Delighted to say that we’ve had reasonable germination from the Echium ‘Pride of Madeira’ which I’ve potted into modules for the time being.

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My favourite apple!

As this is frost-tender, my plan it to move them on into bigger pots for the rest of the year, greenhouse them over the winter and plant them out next Spring – they are biennials and won’t flower until next summer. That should work as long as we don’t get too cold a winter…

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Plum blossom

Good to see that the fruit trees round the wall are continuing to come into bloom – there is a very small apple on the north wall which I’m particularly fond of as it produces huge light pink flowers from much darker buds.

Last week, I was also a bit concerned that the plums had suffered quite a lot of winter die-back, but they are looking far better this week with some really good snow-white blossom.

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an old apple, about to burst into bloom, with daffodils in the background

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the West border, facing east, with Bergenia in the foreground

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Early hostas, with mahonia and cherry blossom in the background

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for no late frosts as a frost at this time means no plums later on – which is what happened last year.

And the herbaceous just keeps on growing, talking of which I’ve been planting some of the young Eupatorium (Joe- Pye Weed) and Pennisetum ‘Tall Feathers’ in the new west-facing border; they’ve both been showing really good growth since we potted them on in the spring and will cope well in the borders on their own. I’ll be planting out more of last year’s seed-sown perennials in the next few weeks.

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a Lime tree (Tilia sp.), at dusk

Now, is that the rain off?

Preparing for spring

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A calm, dry weekend allowed us to finish off the herbaceous border work for the winter. All stems have now been cut down to ground level, allowing the new growth to come through unimpeded. Some plants are already starting to make some good progress and I think that the colour and form of some of the new herbaceous shoots as they come through equal the flowers that come later on.

wpid-20121103_092640-1.jpgWe’ve also given the hybrid tea roses a good prune back this year, having found that the harder we prune them, the more blooms we get. In the cuttings bed, meanwhile, all of the hardwood cuttings we took from the self-same roses last autumn seem to have come through the winter, with some promising buds and new shoots appearing. It won’t be until later in the spring or early summer when we’ll be able to see for sure which ones have struck root.

In the greenhouse, I had a look at last year’s seedlings which are now starting to show signs of life. The baby Hostas and Rudbeckia Goldsturm are now pushing out new leaves, as is the Acanthus (Bears Breeches) and the Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker). As the grass, Pennisetum ‘Tall Feathers’ has remained evergreen in the greenhouse unlike the ones we planted in the autumn outside, they were in need of potting on from their 2”x 1” modules, as were the Eupatorium ‘Joe- Pye Weed’, although these have been dormant over the winter. Significant root growth suggests, though, that these are about to burst into life!

I took a wander round to the old pleasure grounds to see if the carpets of snowdrops were out yet. Walking through the woods, the calm air was filled with the heady scent of the Viburnumwpid-20130303_114250.jpg

bodnantense which are the best I’ve seen them for years. Some of the snowdrops are out, but by no means all. I was rewarded, though, by the sight of a pair of beautiful Roe Deer at close range.

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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!