The first snow of 2020 fell this week, but it was not of much account. It didn’t do any damage, but the occasional hard frosts of winter did; in particular I mourn the lovely Stachyurus praecox, its flowers now all shriveled and brown.
The shrub with the small white flowers on the white border has not been bothered by the frost. The old label says ‘Viburnum bodnantense album’, but there does not seem to be such a plant. However, the description of Viburnum farreri candidissimum fits the plant perfectly. The flowers are pure white and the leaves fresh green. Sir James Burnett (who gave Crathes to the National Trust for Scotland in 1951) noted a ‘Viburnum Fragrans v. Alba’ in his planting book – V. fragrans is the old name for V. farreri and one of the parents of the bodnantense viburnums. Sir James’s list gives the location as the Camel Garden and there is an older plant there, but how old it is I cannot tell.
I missed the main drama of the month. I had seen the fallen branch the previous week, but by the time I returned only the stump of the eucalyptus remained. The decision to remove the whole tree was taken in the light of the cracks in the low wall below the tree. The constrained roots appear to be causing damage to the wall, perhaps as the tree was blown about – Jo used to listen to its creaking noises with alarm when the winds were high. If the tree fell due to weak roots it might well have landed on the glasshouses. A MEWP (mobile elevated working platform) was hired and James, who is trained in tree surgery, took the tree down with assistance from Andy and Mike. It took a whole day of careful considered work – there is no sign of damage to any surrounding plants. There were three very tired gardeners at the end of the day.
The stump will remain meantime and may well sprout; more arrivaderci than farewell. The lovely new sprouts have rounded leaves instead of the longer leaves of the mature tree. They much sought after by florists.
When the stump was reduced further a mystery was revealed. The present Eucalyptus gunnii was planted in the 1980s, but its predecessor, Eucalyptus whittingehamensis was planted around 1920 and the concreted recession in the wall relates to that tree – it died in 1982 (see The gardens and landscape of Crathes Castle pp 102 and 179). Recently, I was given the The Heritage Trees of Scotland. I have the first edition, but this second edition (2006) has lots of extra interest. One tree that caught my eye was the Whittingehame Eucalyptus. Whittingehame House in East Lothian was home to Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. Through his mother’s family connections (his mother was a daughter of the 2nd Marquess of Salisbury) eucalyptus tree seeds, collected in Tasmania, were planted in the 1840s. In the severe winter of 1894-95 these all died excepting a particular tree, thought to be E. gunnii, and its offspring. Following this development, there was much interest shown by the distinguished tree experts Elwes and Henry who assessed the tree as a hybrid of E. gunnii and an unknown parent. Seed and plants deriving from the surviving tree were distributed throughout Britain. The Plant List considers the name the E. whittingehamensis to be unresolved.
Nobody likes weeding the Rose Garden. The hybrid tea roses of the corner beds are especially vicious. There are plans ahead for a major change of design for the garden, but that is for the future and in the meantime the weeding has to be done.
Pruning is definitely more welcome than rose bed weeding which is just as well because it it never seems to end. With the hard ground last week pruning was the main focus and the weeding was forgotten.
In the glasshouse there has been some re-organisation but most of the winter jobs are now complete. The cast iron grilles in house four have been sanded and painted and are now ready for use. The purple Australian mint, Prostanthera sp, is giving a show and the hyacinths are about ready to flower. The peach is in flower in one of the lower houses – the sun makes lovely shadows on the newly painted white walls. Because the glasshouses are entirely organic there will be insects about to pollinate the flowers.
There are just a few orchids at Crathes and some are kept in the warmer houses not presently open. Dendrobium delicatum graced the show house recently but it became sticky with honeydew from aphids. Its place has now been taken by the lovely Coelogyne cristata (pronounced, I think, sol-odge-jen-e; odge to rhyme with lodge) which is looking very good this year. When the weather warms up biological controls will be ordered to deal with the build up of pests.