Giving the greenhouse a future

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The north side of the Greenhouse needed most work, being shaded from the sun.

This past week, the joiners have been giving the Greenhouse a makeover. We have a timber-framed greenhouse here at the Scottish Country Garden which is quite old, and which, interestingly had a life somewhere else before it came here in the 1970’s/ 1980’s. We know this because there is a fitting for a light bulb at one end, but no switch nor any wiring in the greenhouse itself or over to the house! In truth, it is actually two greenhouses bolted together, hence it has doors at either end!

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Inside of the Greenhouse, before work started. There are two vines on the north side, a Black Hamburg grape (near) and a Kiwi Fruit, both of which had to be heavily pruned to allow access. The sills behind these plants exhibited the most rot, owing to the summer humidity levels here when the plants are in full leaf

In the last couple of years, though, we’ve noticed that some of the wood had become quite rotten, including some quite important load-bearing timbers. Some of the window-sills and frames had also been starting to come apart, and weeds had actually started to grow in the softened wood behind the vine.

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Work underway, showing the temporary support required to enable rotten timbers to be cut out and replaced

We didn’t want to lose the greenhouse as it’s a bit of an old friend, (and the cost of replacing it would be significant). As regular readers will know, it’s heavily used in the spring and summer, so we managed to find a local joiner who has beautifully restored it to its former glory, and just in time before the winter.

While we don’t heat our greenhouse, we do over-winter some tender plants there, including a Canary Island Palm, a Bay Tree and some young Pride of Madeira (Echium), which we have grown in pots and which have been outside during the summer. We’ve also put the surplus potted young herbaceous plants in there for safe-keeping; the early spring sun will coax them into growth nice and early, and will help grow them on to a decent size ready for spring planting-out.

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Back to normal! The far table has young Echium (Pride of Madeira) plants over-wintering, and to the left of that some Lonicera (Shrubby Honeysuckle) cuttings which we struck in September, and which have already made root! The table on the right houses miscellaneous young herbaceous.

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Preparing for the summer show

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Delphinium ‘spires’

A break in the weather from a succession of warm, dry, sultry days to a breezy mixture of sunshine and showers is welcome. These past two weekends there has been much ferrying of watering cans to far-flung corners of the garden just to keep the newly planted bedding plants in existence but they don’t really develop properly without a decent shower of real rain.

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Aquilegia and Foxgloves

This weekend saw the final lot of summer bedding being planted out; the Good Lady has been planting up the Dahlia beds (Bishops Children and T&M Dwarf Mixed) and Mesembryanthemums under the hybrid tea roses; these will knit together over the summer providing a wonderful multi-coloured backdrop of brightly-coloured daisies. Meanwhile the Cosmos and Sunflowers are developing thick stems and putting on good growth.  The dayglo-flowering Californian poppies have also been planted into the borders, providing a shock of neon brilliance to the demure herbaceous visitor! We’ve had good germination of bedding this year so have been filling spaces in the borders with more Dahlias and African marigolds (Calendula) and have also been planting up a few more terracotta pots.

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French marigolds, which smell as good as they look!

This year, the spring bedding has been really excellent, with the black tulips only just going over now and the winter pansies still merrily flowering their heads off! 20130626-202225.jpgWhile we’ve planted up most of the pots with summer bedding (Cosmos, French marigolds mainly), we’ll let the spring ones run full-term as I always despair at the Council parks which proceed to rip up their spring bedding just when it is at its best, only to replace it with several weeks of bare soil before they put their summer bedding in!

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the colourful shade border, just coming into its best – the subject of a future post!

We’ve also been planting out and potting on some of this, and last, year’s biennials and perennials. The Echium fastuosum ‘Pride of Madeira’ and the baby Hostas I’ve been moving onto larger pots for planting out next spring; the former is frost-tender, won’t flower until next year and I’ll need to be able to move them into the greenhouse come the autumn. The latter, while making good growth and starting to show some interesting leaf variations (in terms of shape, size and colour) are just too little to put out, but they should be fine for next spring. The Pyrethrums we’ve been planting out in various places and we now have a line of young Catmint (Nepeta) along the front of the west-facing Yew hedge; I don’t think it will flower this year (it normally flowers in June/ July) but the young plants are thickening up well and should make a good show this time next year. The Aquilegia ‘Firecracker’, Acanthus ‘Bears’ Breeches’, and the Echinacea “Magic Box” should be ready in a couple of weeks. Other herbaceous seedlings are making rather slower progress and will be gradually potted on as they develop.

So the greenhouse is gradually emptying, leaving more space for the tomatoes, now planted into the soil, which are making good progress, with some early fruit forming already. Our Black Hamburg grape too is showing many clusters of fruit; it requires a weekly prune at this time of the year, its shoots growing about a metre a week!

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shrub rose in the Kitchen Garden, variety unknown, which has never flowered like this before. It was cut back hard two years ago, produced lots of growth but no flowers last year, was not pruned over the winter (I never quite got round to it) and is now covered with these amazing 5 inch flowers!

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?

Seeds of Discovery

In a month or two’s time or so, the seed-sowing season begins. Here at the Scottish Country Garden, we wait until the sun’s rays provide a decent heat in the greenhouse, which usually means getting going mid-March to early April.

This year’s seed-order comprises a mixture of the instant (hardy annuals, flowering this year) and the longer-term – hardy perennials. We try to grow all our perennials from seed, if we can. This year, some of the things we’re going to have a shot at include:

Aquilegia x hybrida ‘Firecracker’: we grew Aquilegias a couple of years ago from seed and they provided a long-lasting and very colourful show. A real cottage-garden favourite, I wouldn’t be without them. Even their early spring foliage emerging from the ground cheers me up!  This one should inject some oomph into the borders!

Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Mixed’: the marvellous little autumn flowering Cyclamen File:Cyclamen hederifolium Flowers BotGardBln0906a.jpgwhich you can naturalise. We might try some of these at the foot of our free-standing apple trees.

File:Dierama pulcherrimum 1.JPGDierama pulcherrima ‘Slieve Donard Hybrids’, the “Angel’s Fishing Rods”, this variety originating from the marvellous Irish Garden of the same name. I’m not sure how easy these will be to grow, but even if we can germinate a few, that will be well worth it.

Echinops ritro subsp. RuthenicusEchinops_t&m use only : you might have worked out that we’re quite a fan of thistles here! This is the blue, spikey thistle, a herbaceous classic which I grew up with but which we don’t have here, yet!

File:Meconopsis grandis1.jpgMeconopsis grandis: the iconic Himalayan Blue Poppy which does very well in the wetter, milder west of Scotland. We’re going to see if we can grow this in our shade border but Meconopsis does have a reputation for being temperamental and short-lived! But it’s a real topper and we’re going to have a go!

We’re also going to try Astilbe arendsii ‘Showstar’with its wonderful ferny spring foliage, and more Candelabra primulasFile:Fairhaven Water Gardens 2 - geograph.org.uk - 251605.jpg in the shade border too. We tried to grow the latter last year but it had a poor germination rate, so I’m going to start them off sooner to see if this helps.

Phormium ‘Rainbow Striped Hybrids’: no, I didn’t know you could get seed for them either, but you can (Thompson and Morgan are our suppliers). I really like the tall strappy leaves which grow to 5 to 8 feet. They have a real jungley feel, augmented by the exotic-looking flowers come out on long poles in the spring.

I used to think that Agapanthus only grew in the warmer south of England but, perhaps helped by a combination of global warming and plant breeding, they can now be grown up here in Scotland, so we’re having a shot at ‘Headbourne Hybrids’ from seed. Fond memories of these growing in the Walled Garden at Alnwick, Northumberland, one of my favourite gardens, and by the side of the roads growing wild on the island of Madeira.

Talking of Madeira, and this is being a bit ambitious, we thought we’d have a go at the “Pride of Madeira”, Echium fastuosum.File:Close-up of a "Pride of Madeira".jpg This will be a challenge as the south east of Scotland has a slightly different climate from the garden island in the Atlantic! Echium is a half-hardy biennial so we will need to plant it in a warm, south-facing alcove and give it some frost protection in the winter. If we succeed, our prize will be towers of purple-blue flowers reaching 12 feet! Dust of dreams indeed…

(Special thanks to Thompson & Morgan Ltd. for their permission to use certain images in this post)