Whilst everything remains uncertain, the garden at Crathes is definitely gearing up for visitors. Joanna reports that the June Border is coming on nicely and that planting out has started in earnest. The half-hardy beds are filling up, the bananas and succulents are finding their place, and the purple bell vines, Rhodochiton atrosanguineus, are being planted out near the entrance to the Aviary Terrace. I have not seen the bell vines outside before so am looking forward (hopefully) to seeing them later in the year. With Mike and Tim back the Golden Garden is getting a much needed weed. Joanna is working on the White Border and planting out sweet peas. And with, at long last, some rain, the plants should be happy in their new surroundings. The sweet peas, if planted near the gate, will pervade the entrance area with their delicious scent.
It is the most brilliant of designs; how sad I am to miss the June Border this year. Sybil Crozier Smith, Lady Burnett, was the creator of this fine achievement. Of course it did help that she had both a castle as a backdrop, and a Victorian doocot to use as a destination feature. Between the castle and the relocated docoot she planted an abundance of her favourite cottage garden flowers. The vision was hers. Along with box edges and a Portugal laurel topiary the resulting scene is one of the loveliest of views that visitors can experience, and at its best in mid to late June. Whilst castles and doocots are in short supply, the planting has inspired generations of gardeners to emulate just small portions of the fine effect.
In 1937 the lower kitchen garden was mostly fruit and vegetables enhanced by flowers borders, but in the north-west corner the Camel garden had been planted up with Sir James’s growing collections of exotic shrubs. Otherwise there was an abundance of vegetables, soft fruits, apples and pear and other tree fruits. The Doocot stood on the green up beside the present estate offices and some distance from the garden. In 1938 the Doocot was re-positioned in the south-east corner of the garden as a decorative feature – no longer for the pigeons – and a new path was cut diagonally from the Portugal laurel to the Doocot. Lady Burnett filled the borders of the path with peonies, oriental poppies, lupins, goat’s rue, irises and other favourite flowers. For over 70 years – excepting the years of the Second World War when it was replaced with vegetables – it has been a delight.
The Fountain Garden parterre is not Sybil’s design, but the blue planting may well be. Again it is cottage garden flowers that contrast so well with the Victorian formal box compartments and the dark green yew hedges. Blue since at least 1928, the flowers change, but remain faithful to the general effect. Today catmint (Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’), hardy geranium (‘Rozanne’), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and one variable (last year it was Echium ‘Blue Bedder’) fill the parterres.
I may be biased about Crathes, but who could argue with Christopher Lloyd who wrote in his classic book The Well Tempered Garden (1970), ‘The most impressive example of a planned garden that I have ever seen in Britain is at Crathes Castle’.
People always ask about the box. So many classic gardens have been devastated by box blight. Does Crathes have problems? Yes, but it is carefully managed so that the problems are not able to spread. So far the garden has avoided major damage.
The basic principles of box management are that healthy, well fed plants are less likely to succumb to blight and other problems; that air should be able to circulate around the plants; that new plants should all be propagated in-house; and that it is essential that box trimming takes place in dry weather. When the Fountain Garden was recently restored, the beds around the fountain basin were damaged by heavy machinery, and the opportunity to renovate those beds nearest the basin was taken. The problem with the parterre beds is that the build-up of compost in the beds, needed to keep the herbaceous plants healthy, results in the level of the soil on the inside of the box edging being too high thus excluding the circulation of air around the base of the box. Since there was a surfeit of fairly recently propagated healthy box plants no longer needed in the Learning Garden (where the Evolution Garden is now being developed) it fell to Steve to replant the inner parterres accordingly. The herbaceous plants were removed, the soil level adjusted and the plants replanted with appropriate care. The other parterres will have to wait – especially in the present circumstances.
I was much surprised one day when a visitor entered the garden and immediately thrust her head into the box near the gate. She just loved the smell. It is not to everyone’s taste.
There is much more to June at Crathes than the June Border. In particular the roses are beginning to bloom. The Scotch roses always come first; brief but lovely and always highly scented. The Moyesii roses will also be in flower – again highly scented and with magnificent hips in the autumn. Joanna sent a photo of ‘Nevada’ – which possibly has Moyesii as one of its parents. It is grown at Crathes as a climber.
Irises too will be looking good; they are found in most of the herbaceous borders. Here are some of the flowers of June.
Apologies for some problems with positioning the images! Take care everyone.