If I could stop time…


The Green Lane


Rudbeckia, with cranefly

If I could stop time, it would be at the end of August.


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.


‘Cuckoo pint’, or ‘Lords and Ladies’ (Arum maculatum)


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.


the ‘Kitchen Garden’, with Sunflower in the foreground, Buddleia ‘Gulliver’, Verbena bonariensis, Dahlia ‘Bishops Children’, with Sweet Pea frame in the background.


Eucryphia ‘Nymansay’, with Achillea ‘Gold Plate’ in front


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!


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!


Lilium (variety unknown)


Montbretia (Crocosmia)


Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’



the Sunflower Border


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.



Christo’s influence


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!


Mesembryanthemums or ‘Livingstone Daisies’




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.


Yucca filimentosa Adam’s Needle


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


Eryngium alpinum


Echinacea ‘Magic Box’


Potentilla Monarch’s Velvet


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!


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



East-facing wall, made of whinstone

You know, all this talk of energy conservation’s not new. Solar power, in particular, was used by the Victorians in the design of their walled gardens in order to prolong the growing season and achieve above-average yields, including of some quite exotic fare, like pineapples! The walled gardens played a key role providing fresh fruit and vegetables to the Big House and the surrounding estate and the growing season had to be stretched for as long as possible.


Gable-end of the south wall, showing the flared base

Here at the Scottish Country Garden, we have a two-acre walled garden. It has 3 metre-high walls and is surrounded by protective woodland. This creates a unique microclimate that is, for much of the year, several degrees warmer inside than out, exemplified  by the lawns inside growing 2-3 times faster than the grass outside, and in active growth for roughly a month longer at either end of the season. The garden is positioned to maximise the power from the sun’s rays on the south-facing border at the hottest time of the day (just after noon) and in fact, in common with many gardens, it’s not square, but more of a parallelogram!  But the cleverest trick is how they built the walls. The best material is clearly brick – it stores the heat – but bricks were expensive in Victorian times (not aided by the Brick Tax of 1874) and much dearer than locally hewn stone.


West-facing wall, of brick, with apple and pear ‘pillars’

Most of our walls here are, then, built from locally hewn whin stone (there is a quarry not far away which still extracts this stone), but where it mattered, brick has been used. So we have whin east-facing and north-facing walls (getting relatively weak morning sun or no sun at all) and brick west-facing walls (which get all the afternoon sun). Interestingly, though, while the outside of the south wall (which receives full sun) is made of brick, the inside south-facing wall (which is the north wall of the walled garden, still with me?!), comprises a 2/3 base layer of whin, with the top 1/3 brick! Perhaps the architects felt that the relatively sheltered south-facing wall inside the garden didn’t need as much heat-storage as the south–facing wall outside? (They were probably right!) But perhaps it was in recognition that many climbing plants, while they like full sun on their faces, like to have their roots in the shade.


South-facing wall, with whin base and brick upper

In Victorian times, the gardeners would grow different crops on each wall: along the south walls would be apricots, nectarines and peaches; the north-facing walls would house gooseberries, currents, morello cherries as well as late varieties of plums and pears. Sweet cherries, early plums, apples and figs faced east, with more peaches, greengages and early pears facing west.

Here, we have most of our apples and pears growing on the east and west-facing walls, and on the ‘outside’ south-facing wall (round in the kitchen and secret gardens). Inside the walled garden, we have some elderly plums, wall-trained gooseberries and a very rapidly growing magnolia, amongst other things, growing on the south-facing wall, with a further plum and a cherry growing on the west-facing wall.


‘Outside’ south wall, of brick, with apple and pear fans

Best place to be in winter? Definitely inside the walls!

It’s apple time…


Here at the Scottish Country Garden, there are two major jobs we need to do each year; one is the hedge-cutting, the other – the annual fruit tree pruning. Whereas the first is done by a petrol trimmer, the second task has to be done by hand, with secateurs.image

We do this each autumn once the leaves have fallen off the trees, although it can take quite a few weeks to complete the job, particularly if interrupted by early winter snow-fall.

In the garden we have 82 fruit trees, mostly apples but we have quite a few pears, plums, a greengage and a Morello cherry. With the exception of the cherry, all the trees were here when we arrived, and most of them are very old, probably planted when the walled garden was originally planted in the mid 1800’s. When the walled garden was restored by the previous owners in the 1970’s, the existing stock was augmented by a number of fan-trained and espalier trees.

Most of the fruit trees are on the west-facing and east-facing walls in the walled garden, but the plums mainly live along the south-facing wall. We don’t really prune the plums, and if they do need attention, we do this during the growing season as winter-pruning can expose the cut wood to disease.

As well as 9 full-size traditional free-standing cooking apples, we have 38 pillars – these are single-stem trees where the fruits grow on very short spurs off the main stem. These are all quite old – we call them ‘the old men’, and were clearly planted by the 19th Century gardeners as a space-saving measure. These trees are all quite vigorous and put on about 60-90cm of growth each year.

imageIn the kitchen garden, growing against the south side of the south wall of the garden are further

apple and pear trees. These are mostly grown as fan-trained trees, although we do have a number of espaliers, with their distinctive ‘90-degree’ branches, in the walled garden to offer contrast.

All the trees extend to the full height of our 10’ walls but we don’t allow them to get any taller. Most can be reached by ladder, but for the larger ‘cookers’, we have a long-handled lopper which is a marvellous invention, although it does require a steady hand!

May is a marvellous month here with a succession of scented pink and white blossom set against the fresh ‘apple-green’ foliage and illuminating the walls for much of the month. While the blossom was quite good this year, in common with many commercial fruit-growers in the UK, the apple crop here was extremely poor as a result of a succession of late frosts hitting the blooms. Some of our trees are quirky fruiters at the best of time, but this year very few pears and apples made it to the kitchen table!