Warm Winter

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Lupins in December? Who’d have believed that?

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The Hybrid Teas are still producing quite reasonable blooms

What an amazingly mild couple of weeks we’ve had here in Scotland. Temperatures of 14C in Inverness, 13C down here in South East Scotland with the last few nights not dropping lower than 10C! Many summer nights (and days for that matter!) are colder! Very strange weather! Still, it’s to turn colder next week…

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Achillea

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Not quite Africa, but these Marigolds are enjoying the winter warmth

We’ve entered a relatively quiet time in the garden, hence fewer posts, with the winter clear-up now underway. The leaf-raking season has run on longer this year but our leafmould box is nearly full now. Last weekend was spent cleaning up after the storms of the previous week. Despite our trampoline ending up lodged against an apple tree, the Greenhouse remained unscathed but there was a mass of twigs and small branches to clear up from the lawn.

This weekend, weather permitting, I’ll be tidying up the borders, removing material that has been broken by the wind or has simply turned into a brown mess. I’ll leave what I can though including all the upright material, including attractive stems and seed-heads which can be quite ornamental in a monochrome sort of way, but, with a zing of frost, a real Christmassy feature!

There’s some strimming to be done, too, under the old apple trees and round the edge of the policies in preparation for the spring bulbs, and with all this warmth we’ve had recently, we may well see these starting to come through much sooner than usual, starting with those marvellous yellow winter aconites!

The Christmas holidays approach – a welcome break from the daily commute, heralding the start of the winter pruning season…

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The delicate bloom of a David Austin rose

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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

A November wander round the walled garden…

imageThe beginning of November heralds the onset of the quieter winter period. We’ve finished the strimming of the longer grass areas of the policies and very likely witnessed the last lawn-mowing in the walled garden. The leaf raking is in full swing and one might be forgiven for assuming that the garden is now ‘closed for the season’.

And yet, there are flowers to be found. While the tea roses are now a bit lanky, mild spells encourage buds to break and fine blooms to result.

imageOur David Austin roses are probably at their best now; while they have bloomed almost continously since June, many of their blooms have ‘balled up’ and been spoilt  in all the rain we had during the summer. As long as we don’t get it too severe, they could still be flowering at Christmas!

imageThe herbaceous border continues to present interest – we have pink mallows still flowering and the wonderful Rudbeckia shoots out its cheery flamboyant bright yellow daisies like the big finish in the Fireworks display.

Talking of fireworks, in the south facing border, our pink Nerines have put on an excellent show this autumn – such an exotic, tender looking thing and yet tough as anything,image as long as it gets some hot sun to toast its toes in during the summer – ah, well, maybe next year….

A few weeks ago, we cut back our Lupins and they are now putting out a new flush of smaller, but still very imageattractive blooms. Not to be outdone, a nearby Delphinium is giving them a run for their money with its sky blue and white spires.

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With such a mild winter last year, our 2011 sowing of Verbena bonariensis has really delivered this summer and autumn with its spectacular explosions of lavender-coloured clusters. They’ve been really good this year round in the kitchen garden against a very late-flowering buddleia and providing a variation on a theme to the metallic blue of the Eryngium sea hollies, but if we get a hard winter we’ll need to repeat-sow next spring.

Lurking at the back of the west border I discovered the beautiful white goblets of a Colchicum spec. album; how it got there is somewhat of a mystery! In the spring, when its strappy leaves start to appear, I shall lift the clump, divide it, and give it a new home where we can appreciate it. Colchicums are one of a range of autumn flower corms and bulbs which really deliver value at this time of the year. Another are Cyclamen, and we got some recently from the garden centre which we’re trialling in a pot. imageThey are supposedly hardy, but we shall see; so far, they have coped well with a few frosty nights! Next year, I’m hoping to grow some C. hederifolium from seed, which is the autumn variety you usually see at this time of year, often naturalising under established trees.

Our new East facing border has done quite well this year, although we have used annuals to deliver the colour. We transplanted some Antirrhinums from another area of the garden and they have never stopped flowering. Same story with the African Marigolds and the Californian Poppies (Escholtzia) in their shockingly bright colours of yellow, red and orange, and you’d think that hailing from these countries, they’d have given up at the merest hint of autumn. While most of the herbaceous perennials in this border have been too young to flower this year, the Achillea ‘Summer Berries’ imagehave put on a great show – a nice contrast to ‘Gold Plate’ which we have elsewhere in the garden.

Finally in the shade border, which faces north and gets little sun, the Hellebore ‘Ballard Red’ imagehas thrown up its new clutch of flowers –  a real touch of the exotic at this time of year. We have other Hellebores in the garden, but none flower in the autumn.  The Japanese anemones – we have the white ‘Honerine Jobert’ and the imagepurple ‘Praecox’ –  too have been superb this year, relishing all the damp weather.

And yes, round in the kitchen garden, we are still getting modest pickings of sweet peas with their marvellous scent, evocative of those warm summer evenings we occasionally had a few months ago…image