This month I have been admiring the plants that grow in the borders beside the glasshouses. A few more salvias have been learned: Salvia elegans – bright red and a little more elongated in flower than S. fulgens; Salvia ‘Amistad’ which is deep purple with an even darker purple calyx – thought to be a Argentinian hybrid between Salvia guaranitica and an unknown salvia; Salvia ‘Cerro Potosi’ a shocking pink one with the wide lower lip; and the tall pink Salvia involucrata with the pronounced corolla tube. All of these are good for the late summer, and mix well with the pink Diascia personata. Behind them the dark leaves of Ricinus communis and cannas add height. Although some salvias will survive the winter, it is always advisable to take cuttings here in the North-east of Scotland.
The Zaluzianskya ‘Midnight Candy’ always (I usually visit in the mornings) looks as if it’s about to flower; I suspect that it opens up and looks great later in the day – nearer midnight maybe. Fuchsia ‘Mrs Popple’ seems to do well every year. It dies right down in the winter and comes up smiling for summer.
Some interesting plants grow in the narrow border behind the salvias. Commelina tuberosa is a striking true blue. It looks like a tradescant, to which it is related. Beside it a tall dahlia, possibly the wild species, Dahlia sorensenii, mingles with a white agapanthus.
There’s another lovely blue salvia – I haven’t found its name – that grows in the planting at the top of the four Squares. This combination of blue salvia, agastache and cerinthe; pale pink cosmos and fuchsia; and the deeper pink Lychnis coronaria is particularly attractive, especially when framed with the castle behind. Lychnis coronaria is one of my favourite plants. Not only does it look good, it’s good for insects, it seeds itself readily, and is largely rabbit proof.
I always have a smile when I see the rogue Verbena bonariensis has again survived the winter in its crack in the wall. This is another of my favourite flowers, but it doesn’t do so well in the north and usually has to be re-planted every year.
One of the weeds I noticed in the garden last week is Enchanters nightshade: a pretty little native wildflower, but not so welcome to gardeners. The problem is the persistent rhizomes.
On my last visit I took some time to visit the area to the south of the woodland Garden where James had begun his oak project before Lockdown (see ‘Sycamores can be a Nuisance’, 16 January). Without the Thistle camps and other volunteers to control them the sycamores are making a comeback. There are, however, quite a few naturally regenerated oak seedling – it will be interesting to see if they are crowded out by the sycamores. The deer have obviously been eating the rowan saplings.
On the way I passed a rather fine group of fungi sprouting from the remains of an old stump. Thinking about the estate, I am very sorry to hear that one of the rangers is losing her job. There will only be two rangers to look after eleven properties now and some educational work is bound to suffer. The gardens are almost back to pre-lockdown staffing with Cecilia and Kevin doing a job share. The volunteers can return next week.
I didn’t manage to get up to the Upper Pool garden earlier in the month because of the hedge trimming. I nearly missed the eucryphias – the high wind has blown a lot of petals across the Croquet Lawn.
Crathes has a few different species. Those in the Upper Pool garden are E. glutinosa which usually loses its leaves in the winter. Before they drop they take on an attractive coppery colour. E. nymansay on the Doocot Border is evergreen and flowers a little later. The specific name relates to Nymans, a garden on the Sussex Weald (now National Trust), and is said to be a corruption of ‘Nymans A’ (as opposed to Nymans B). The Burnetts of Crathes were friendly with the Messels of Nymans. Eucryphia lucida ‘Ballerina’ on the June/Doocot Border is pink and did exceptionally well this year. We also have in the garden E. rostrevor and E. moorei. Oddly the eucryphias are native to South America and Australia, but nowhere else; perhaps remnants of the time when the two continents were connected through Antarctica.
The Upper Pool garden is at its peak about now. There are quite a few salvias doing well and a lot of orange lilies – I think some sort of tiger lily – beautifully spotted. Leopard lilies would perhaps be a more appropriate name. They contrast well with the purple cotinus – a contrast of hot colours that Sybil, Lady Burnett, chose for this garden. She was fond of, and at one time had, the blue Salvia patens in some of the Fountain Garden parterres.
If you have enjoyed reading about Crathes you might like to purchase my book The gardens and Landscape of Crathes Castle a four hundred year story which is available online at speybooks.co.uk or by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a mailing address.