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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Of bees, blossom and barking deer!

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the north-west corner of the Walled Garden

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Summer may have arrived!

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an early border favourite, Dicentra ‘Lady in the Bath’ or ‘Bleeding Heart’

The garden has really moved on this week, particularly in the herbaceous borders which despite limited colour have a wonderful lushness to them. That said, the shrubs are performing well: the first of the tree paeonies are coming into bloom with their big yellow globular flowers. We have dark red ones too in the woods but these come a little later.  Tree paeonies seem to seed themselves quite freely so we have quite a few and the Good Lady has been potting up more for transplanting later on.

Our newish Magnolia stellata is also good this year as is the flowering quince (Chaenomeles).

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Chaenomeles (Flowering Quince)

The challenge at the moment is keeping the weeds at bay in order to set the plants off to best effect and that is now the current focus for our weekend labours!

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apple blossom

As those wiser than me predicted, the fruit tree blossom is going to be quite spectacular this year. Some of the wall-trained apples are already fully out, some still to come. This year will see the full range of fan trained apples along the south side of the south wall flower for the first time in many years following our restoration of the beech hedge to more a manageable size in the Secret Garden.

We should also see a good crop of plums if the snowy white blossom is anything to go by, much enjoyed by the bumble bees with their contented humming.

This past couple of weeks has seen the most action in the greenhouse. Yesterday, we completed the potting-on of the last lot of summer bedding – some Calendula- 20130525-201620.jpgnice cheery yellow fellows for later in the summer. We’ll start planting out our bedding in 2-3 weeks time; we try to grow the plants on as much as we can in the greenhouse. I’m in no hurry to plant it out as the bedding will see us through until October, possibly later, and there’s plenty of other stuff flowering at the moment. And we’re still getting some chilly nights although not the snow that our friends up north have had this week!

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In the woodland the long awaited rhododendrons are starting to bloom with their wonderfully outrageous colours; there are a few very old plants in the old Pleasure Grounds flowering also; these will be about 100-150 years old probably but remain quite a spectacle.

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our newest Rhodo ‘Horizon Monarch’

 

 

When I was looking at them this morning on our early dog-walk, a Roe Buck crossed our path, stood looking at us for a while and moved on into the depths of the woods- not in any great hurry, where we heard him barking, a little like a dog with a sore throat!

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the fan-trained apples on the south side of the south wall

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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February Dawns

Aside

Always good to get to the end of January –  a long, cold, damp, dark month in Scotland, but as we turn the corner into February, we see the days start to lengthen, certainly at the end of the day and stronger, brighter sunlight during the day… when the sun comes out, which it did yesterday.

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Box (Buxus) cuttings in the greenhouse

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Climbing rose-before

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Climbing rose, after!

Very cold it was first thing, though, so I started the day in the warmth of the greenhouse finishing the annual glass-washing. We do this once a year at the start of the season and it makes quite a difference to the quality of the seedlings and young plants. The glass gets dirtier on the inside than on the outside, due to algae build-up, the deposits associated with regular condensation, cobwebs and old leaves from the vines last year. For the last couple of years, I haven’t bothered with the outsides; the rain usually makes a pretty good job, but with all the damp of last year, quite a lot of algae built up on the north side. All ready now for the early sowings of sweet peas and lettuce!

The shrub pruning continues. We have now started on the wall-trained ornamentals – the quince (Chaenomeles) near the gate gets an annual haircut, shortening all the side shoots to a couple of buds to allow a decent show of early spring flowers. We also have a few climbing roses growing up the south side of the house. I find that it pays to be quite merciless here – think hybrid-tea rose when you’re pruning climbers and you won’t go far wrong!

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V.bodnantense ‘Dawn’

Since the snow departed last week, the Viburnum bodnantenses, ‘Dawn’ and ‘Deben’ (lighter pink than ‘Dawn’), growing beside the house, seem to have taken on a new lease of life, with a whole array of lovely, lightly-scented, new buds. These shrubs we don’t prune, as they don’t get too big and keep themselves tidy. I’ve noticed that many bloggers have been celebrating their bodnantenses recently with their non-stop flowering from late autumn to early spring. Another shrub I’m really pleased with this year is our Mahonia. Not sure which variety we have but think it might be Charity. Ours is around 10 feet, the height of the walls. It has marvellous snakey-bark trunks, those spikey glossy glaucous-green leaves and flowers over a long period; ours has been gradually coming into flower since before Christmas and will do for another few weeks, I suspect.  The bulbs too are on the move, although I’m surprised that not more of the snowdrops are out yet – held back by the recent snow, I shouldn’t wonder, but something to look forward to over the next couple of weeks.

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Mahonia, possibly x Charity

The good weather hadn’t just brought the gardener out! Down in the field at the foot of the Glen, the Good Lady and I witnessed a couple of Roebuck rutting this morning and the mice-like Tree Creepers with their buff-coloured undersides and grey backs raced up and down the limes, holding on upside down to its capacious branches with seeming effortlessness. Meanwhile, the woodpeckers were out, their staccato, hollow drumming reverberating in the woods outside the walled garden. wpid-20130105_120706.jpg

February is here. Nature is preparing for the spring…