Routine work continues in the erratic weather with tidying of beds, regular pruning and pot washing. The bothy and glasshouse four are being painted. Goodness knows how long since the bothy was painted – it’s only for gardeners – but as a rule one glasshouse interior is painted each year. Contractors do the exterior painting when required.
During January the garden is only open at the weekends. If you do visit, be sure to go in the glasshouses where the lovely scent of the paperwhite narcissus will lift your spirits.
If you are walking the trails when the Walled Garden is closed take time to visit the viewpoint near the castle. This area is now beginning to develop nicely. There are a variety of witch hazels to see; Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Rubin’, H. x intermedia ‘Aphrodite’, H. x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’, and (I think) H. x intermedia ‘Pallida’. If you bring a flask of coffee and use the seating area you can enjoy the gloriously scented group of Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’.
Take care when you walk on the grass at this time of year – there are bulbs pushing through all over the place.
Sycamores, Acer pseudoplatanus, are not native trees, but they can be useful – they provide a good habitat for mosses and lichens and they are an important nectar source for the bees. Sometimes, however, they outdo their welcome. In the area to the south of the emergency drive and the Woodland Garden the sycamores have been taking over. There are some ancient and revered sycamores growing there, but for twenty years or more younger sycamores have been crowding out the native oaks.
James Hannaford has been keen to restore the woodland in this area to a more native ecosystem. As well as some oaks, there are a few hazels and some blackthorn in the area. The project started in the spring with Thistle Camp volunteers helping to pull out the hundreds of young sycamore saplings. Young hazels were planted in the first cleared area. James has liaised with Forestry Scotland who approve of the project and have issued a felling licence for the larger sycamores. James, Davy and Kevin set to work to clear the area.
Meantime, the Rangers got youngsters involved with the oak tree part of the project. Some young regenerated oaks were available from the estate and from Castle Fraser, but more were needed. Youngsters (some general public; some from Banchory Primary School) collected acorns from the estate and planted them in pots. With luck those that germinate can be planted out in a year or two. As one child remarked ‘this acorn might be a growing at Crathes in three hundred years time’. Oak trees provide a greater biodiversity than any other native tree. This is a project conceived with the health of the planet in mind. In time the blackthorn will produce flowers for the pollinators and sloes; the hazels will produce catkins, that provide pollen for the bees in the early months of the year, and nuts; and the oaks will produce acorns as well as hosted an amazing range of invertebrates, fungi etc. and providing nesting sites for birds. I wondered what might take the sloes, other than humans stocking up for sloe gin, and found hawfinches listed as a possibility. The Breeding Birds of North-East Scotland (Edited by Ian Francis and Martin Cook 2011) tells us that hawfinches are rarely seen, but are thought to breed occasionally in lower Deeside. Red squirrels love the hazel nuts and, according to the Woodland Trust, they prefer the acorns when they are still green. Last autumn I watched jays at Crathes burying acorns for future use. Badgers too will enjoy the bounty. The complex ecosystem of a native woodland will slowly develop.