The long month ends…

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Yellow aconites (Eranthis) under an old apple tree in the Walled Garden

While we’ve had a lot of rain and a fair amount of wind since Christmas, one thing we haven’t had during January is excessive cold. Very few frosty nights and no snow (so far) have meant that the early bulbs have come through probably ahead of schedule. The cheery yellow cone-shaped heads of the aconites popped through in the Walled Garden shortly after New Year, with the rest under the sycamores in the more exposed Policies following 10 days or so later. These are the earliest-flowering bulbs we have here in the Garden.

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Snowdrops in the Walled Garden

The snowdrops too have started to appear, under the largest apple tree in the Walled Garden and in sheltered patches in the Woodland.  We thinned quite a few clumps in the woodland last year and I am anticipating that these may take longer to poke their heads through the leaf-litter than the established clumps. I’m no galanthophile but these early harbingers of spring always lift the spirits with their dainty blooms. Our snowdrops are mainly Galanthus nivalis as far as I can tell, but we do have quite a few  double-flowering ones too, and very beautiful they are if you take the trouble to get close enough! The daffodils and hyacinths are surging through as well, so we may be in for an earlier spring show than usual.

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Winter Jasmine

The winter flowering shrubs have been looking very good too, with no snow-related damage. The Viburnum  bodnantense have been flowering in the Woodland and the Policies since the late autumn, beautiful scented light- and dark-pink blooms on bare stems. In the Walled Garden, the yellow florets of the Mahonia x ‘Charity’ have coped well with the high winds the garden has experienced; this is a tall shrub which we have left unpruned, so it now exceeds the height of the walls and is therefore quite exposed. The winter-flowering Jamine (J.nudiflorum) too has been its usual reliable self with a mass of yellow blooms.

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Climbing rose (on south facing wall of the house)

But some of the summer-flowering shrubs have been pretty good too! Some of the  Hybrid T, climbing and David Austin roses are still pushing out blooms. They are not so large as those seen in the summer but they are still most welcome! Because we have had no snow, a lot of the structure in the herbaceous borders has remained from last summer, providing a bit more interest than we normally get at this time of the year. This structure is principally in the form of old, dried, seed-heads; not as impressive as the ‘live’ version, and somewhat monochrome, but still very ornamental.

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Newly-pruned apple trees with aconites underneath

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Early-flowering polyanthus

Since Christmas, we have been concentrating on the trees, chain-sawing timber in the Woodland and the Secret Garden and hand-pruning the apple and pear trees round the walls. The fruit trees are done annually with secateurs and, depending on the vigour of the tree, necessitate the removal of last year’s growth, which can be up to 3’ long. This effectively keeps the trees the same size, forcing the sap into flower and fruit production the following spring.

We are now on to the 7 free standing apple trees (some of which are very old and likely date back to the time when the Walled Garden was in full production) which take longer than the ‘2-D’ fan-traineds, espaliers and pillars round the walls. Hopefully, we will complete these in the next couple of weekends or so, allowing us to move on to the black-, white- and red currants and the gooseberries. That will, of course, depend on the weather, which traditionally unleashes its worst during February and early March!

 

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Dogwood (Cornus alba sibirica)

 

 

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Over the Hedge

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Over the Hedge! View from the Kitchen Garden south over the upper part of the Glen, our wild-flower area

As well as the Yew Hedge, featured in a recent post, we also have a beech hedge which runs along the south side of the Kitchen and Secret Gardens. The beech hedge is rather shorter than the Yew expanse – a mere 146 metres to cut and approximately 1.5 metres high and .75 metre across.

When we came to the Garden ten years ago, the Kitchen Garden stretch wasn’t in good shape with quite a few bare patches but since then, with an annual trim, it has grown in well.

During the winter of 2011/12, we restored the Secret Garden stretch. This had been allowed to grow into tall coppiced trees and we wondered how it would respond reducing some quite thick trunks (15 – 30cm) right back to 1.5 metres from the ground. In the past couple of years, sure enough, new leaves and shoots have appeared from these bare trunks and this part of the hedge is starting to thicken up very satisfactorily.

The sunlight now gets into this part of the garden and the wall-trained fruit trees responded very well this year with an excellent crop. We think it likely that these trees may not have fruited for 15-20 years or so, maybe more!

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the Beech Hedge, newly trimmed, leaves awaiting collection!

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

Summer days

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20130601-180944.jpgSummer has arrived, with two beautiful June days so far – long may that continue!

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The bedding-out season has begun. Our youngest had a sunflower-planting frenzy a few weeks ago and these are now all large enough to be planted out, so we’ve given them a flower-bed all to themselves and this should make a great show in August.

The polyanthus, which we bedded out in the autumn near the house have gone back to their ‘resting’ beds near the compost heap, giving us a good space to plant out the Cosmos, probably this week.

Gradually over the next couple of weeks, the greenhouse will empty.

20130601-180208.jpgThis weekend, we’ve been focussing on the herbaceous borders, filling in one or two spaces with our young Thalictrum and Rudbeckia Goldsturm plants which we grew from seed last year. They’ve come on well, although not sure whether we’ll get any flowers from them this year.

There are more herbaceous plants coming on but I don’t want to put them out until they are big enough to hold their own against the more rampant occupants!

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The apple and pear blossom has been excellent this year, with all the trees now in blossom. Sadly the pictures don’t really do justice and they certainly don’t capture the wonderful scent that currently fills the air!

Under the apples, the first of the wild flowers are coming through, including the rather-fetching bluebells – interestingly we have a whitebell20130601-180338.jpg as well – presumably a sport, as it grows next to a larger clump of bluebells!

Meanwhile the garden is full of baby birds, including 8 pheasant chicks20130601-175930.jpg which emerged from their nest atop our compost heap early in the week!

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