With the frosts holding off, the garden offers plenty of colour combinations to cheer our spirits. The oranges, yellows and reds of the turning leaves remain dominant, but a few blue flowers can still be found. The nepeta beside the trellis that was cut back on 21 July has been re-flowering for a few weeks now. The nepeta in the Fountain Garden that was cut only a week or two later never produced any more flowers, but it looks equally good filling the parterre with mounds of blueish foliage. Both were cut back hard in the spring to delay the first flowering because the garden was closed. The Salvia corrugata at the top end of the Four Squares is thriving, and some of the electric blue eryngiums on the Blue and Pink Border readily catch the eye.
I have a lot of photographs of cotinus leaves – they almost seem to glow as the dark maroon colour fades. The cultivar ‘Grace’ has an orange tint especially in the autumn. Cotinus looks especially good in front of the Eucryphia glutinosa which has also taken on its autumn hue. The evergreen Eucryphia rostrevor still has a few flowers.
The dwarf, bright yellow Rudbeckia hirta ‘Toto Gold’ makes a good show in the Golden Garden. The whole corner is attractive with the yellowing leaves of Hydrangea petiolaris on the west wall and the soft brown of the dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Gold Rush’.
The gardeners have fixed up a protection for the Echium pininana. Steve has sorted the Woodland Garden pond which was leaking and had to be drained (the sludge was left) and repaired – it is an old pond. It has now filled up with rain water and the wildlife will have recovered. The herbaceous beds are being cut back and tender plants are removed to the glasshouses where appropriate. Some plants are left to ease the eye from the bare ground; others are left because they need to be split and replanted for next year.
Steve and Tim have been removing rincinus and cannas from the beds beside the glasshouses. The cannas will go inside; the ricinus can be grown afresh from seed. The salvias will be left until the frost cuts them back. Volunteers have been tidying up too – Sandra on the steps and by the Doocot; Sheila and Janice clearing away the jungle in the Evolution Garden. James has got tied up with old drain problems in the castle which surface in the garden. He has spent some time barrowing soil out of a crucial drain trap that had been long lost and neglected.
Joanna has been cleaning glasshouse one with help from Andy. The cuttings keep on coming. I note a rosemary cutting labelled ‘Mrs Jebb’s upright’ and wonder who Mrs Jebb is. She is not easy to find, but I discover that there is a garden called Brooklands between Dumfries and Castle Douglas. The estate, originally 1830, was bought by Brigadier and Mrs Jebb in 1947. The Jebbs restored the gardens and policies. Mrs Jebb died in 1968 but I could find nothing further about her. The garden is sometimes open to the public in the Scotland Garden Scheme. The rosemary is more delicate than the usual Rosmarinus officinalis – I’ll be looking out for the colour of the flowers. For enthusiasts I list the names of cuttings shown below, left to right, front to back: Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius, Corokia buddlejoides, Correa backhouseana, Cinnamomum camphora, Buddleja myriantha, Stachyurus praecox, Luma apiculata, Spirea aguta, Drimys lanceolata, Crinodendron patagua, Carpenteria californica. All are from the Aviary Terrace and mostly tender.
The fungi continue to spread across the Fountain Garden lawn showing an encouraging biodiversity. I am not able to identify them, but think that some are waxcaps. These fungi show that the lawn is free of pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilizers.
Also in the Fountain Garden is Berberidopsis corallina, growing against the wall and now revealed with the cutting back of summer flowers. From Chile, this plant is threatened in the wild. It likes to grow in the shade and its red flowers are a welcome November sight.
Leaving the Fountain Garden and passing through the Rose Garden, I spied an unknown rose in flower. Noticing a label I was surprised to read ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ – the rose I wrote about in the spring (Fashions come and go – 11 April). So we do have the rose at Crathes after all!
It’s easy to forget about the Mahonia lomariifolia because it’s hidden away in the Yew Borders. It’s the most tender of the mahonias and a frost is quite likely to spoil it before I get round to looking for it. So I was doubly pleased this week to catch it in full flower with attendant bumblebee. The bee is probably a buff-tailed bee, Bombus terrestris, since the other bumblebee species should be hibernating by now; indeed it is unusual to see any bumblebee in the North-East of Scotland during November. In the south of England B. terrestris is active throughout the winter. Maybe global warming?
Along the Aviary Terrace I come across an attractive bush covered in small red berries. I have no idea what it might be called, but on a whim google ‘Chilean red berried shrub’. Up comes a perfect match directly – the strawberry guava, Ugni molinae (syn Myrtus ugni). It is apparently good to eat, makes excellent jam and was a favourite with Queen Victoria. On reflection I remember seeing the flowers back in the summer. I do fancy growing this. It might do well in a pot. It will stand some frost, but a sheltered sunny spot is recommended.
As I leave the garden on 2 November the sun casts its rays across the Croquet Lawn and the sentinels, lighting up the orange of Eucryphia glutinosa and the yellow of the tulip tree. The sentinels have not been cut this year because of Covid, but James remarks that you would hardly know. He thinks that the rest might be beneficial to the yews. Likewise the Castle lawn has benefited from a rest from events. But there’s little to commend Covid; enjoy the autumn colours and keep safe.