Autumn Gold

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Fraxinus, the Ash

For this week’s autumn colour, the Ash (Fraxinus) takes centre-stage. They have transformed in the last 7 days or so from mid-green to bright yellow. We have a smallish tree in the garden but there is a large one on the Estate and this is the one I’ve pictured. It stands out like a beacon amongst the other trees and, even if the sun is not shining, it creates the effect that it is. But when the sun does come out, the effect is outstanding!  This has got to be one of my favourite autumn treats!

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Cotoneaster (species unknown)

The season of seed-setting, berry-forming and fruit-bearing is well underway now. The cotoneasters are looking particularly good at the moment with red berries a-plenty. This is a great family of shrubs as, following the berry season, you invariably have wonderful autumn foliage colours to enjoy – all shades of red, orange and gold. Walking past our sunflower border yesterday, I noticed that some small creatures (birds, maybe field mice) have been extracting some of the new seeds from the dinner plate-sized flower heads. Sunflower seeds are high in fat content so this should help to see the diners through the winter!

One family of plants that does very well here, providing a floral show from August to the first frosts are the Japanese anemones. They have attractive foliage and seed heads too and seem to do very well in deep shade.

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Anemone hupehensis ‘Praecox’

But floral longevity isn’t everything. There’s a lot to be said for the seasonal show-stoppers offered by the bulb family – short blasts of temporary interest. I’m quite a fan of the Colchicum family – Autumn crocuses we used to call them, not to be confused with the true crocuses that also flower in the autumn. We’ve grown varieties like ‘Water Lily’ (pink, double-flowered) in our other gardens, but here we have the simple C. album – pure white with yellow stamens. In the spring, I discovered a large clump at the back of the herbaceous border and transplanted some to front -of-border positions elsewhere. Happily these are now flowering, showing that the transplants have been successful. The only downside? Large green strappy leaves that come through in the spring, but they don’t last for too long. Small price to pay, perhaps, for the flowers-only show in the autumn!

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Colchicum album

Fewer insects around now in the garden, although the ‘Indian Summer’ has been kind to those that remain. Just last weekend, we saw a large dragonfly hovering over the pond, looking as if it was laying its eggs. A good number of butterflies, now mainly Peacocks and Red Admirals, can still be seen on a wind-free sunny day, particularly enjoying the Verbena bonariensis. Indeed, this is a popular food plant for bees, particularly Bumbles, which now appear a little more lethargic.

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Verbena bonariensis (with diner!)

As hinted above, September and October to date have been warm, generally dry months, but for how much longer? While tempting to leave it until November 5th, the Good Lady yesterday pressed on with having a bonfire to remove all the brash taken from the lime- trees last month, conjuring up memories of previous autumn bonfires from our childhoods…

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Fires in the fall

Easter Greetings!

 wpid-20130330_172239-1.jpgAfter a week of almost nightly snowfalls, the garden has been slow to shed its white mantle, very different from late March last year when we enjoyed temperatures in the low 20’s C.

Much of the garden is still snow-covered, with the area between the yew hedges and the shade border still covered by 3-4 inches. Most of the lawn too is still covered, although nearly all the ground outside the walls is now snow-free, as are the south-facing borders in the walled garden, where the sun has had an effect.

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The shade border remains snowbound!

Despite daytime temperatures struggling to exceed 5 degrees and overnights dropping to -4 degrees or so, marked by opaque, frosted greenhouse glass, the garden is gradually coming back to life.

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the alpine primulas

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P. denticulata

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Flowering currant

Almost as soon as the snow disappeared off the alpine querns, the primulas with their simple blue flowers and serrated leaves have burst into bloom. Indeed, it is primula time of year, with the polyanthus continuing to try to put on a show, and the P. denticulata pompoms starting their journey skywards. The first daffodils have made it just in time to adorn the Easter table and the flowering currant has continued to push out it drooping blossom.

Meanwhile, the first of the herbaceous continues to produce its early ‘tufts’ of new growth, a welcome sight in the bare borders.

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the photogenic Polyanthus

In the greenhouse, some welcome sunshine in the last few days has finally triggered the sweet peas, leeks and early lettuce from their torpor. Despite no real warmth outside, the temperature in the greenhouse today reached a very acceptable 18 degrees C, so we have continued with our seed-planting – herbaceous perennials and some biennials at this stage. The summer bedding and perennials requiring a little more warmth to germinate we’ll do in 2-3 weeks’ time, when the overnight temperatures are comfortably in positive figures.

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Tree paeony bud

While growth has been held back this year (we still have some very decent snowdrops and even aconites in bloom), a succession of very cold nights has had some benefits. We should see fewer pests this year and after a very wet winter, the soil has been nicely ‘freeze-drying’ which should make it quite friable for putting in the new trees and shrubs we purchased a few weeks ago, still sitting in their pots awaiting release!

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the Walled Garden during the week

Spring perhaps is finally here.

The weather forecast hints that we may now have seen the last of the winter snows. Perhaps, for those in similar climes, this is the same for you?

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dark-leaved Hellebore

Wishing you a very Happy Easter!

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)