Few of us will regret the passing of 2020. Gardens and green places, however, have been a star turn during this difficult year as the outside world became the safe place to be. Those of us who have gardens realise how fortunate we are; not only is it a safe place to be, but – for those who are not frontline or keyworkers – it is also somewhere to while away the hours with purpose.
Whilst Crathes is very different from a private garden, and though Lockdown was tough with much of the staff on furlough, it, too, has been a saviour. The estate and garden opened in July, staff and volunteers gradually returned, and Crathes worked its magic.
For me, the magic continues through the winter. This particular winter we could do without, but generally I welcome the changing seasons. There is always something new to see; something to learn about; something to raise the spirits. Even on 10 December when the forecast let me down and the rain made everything dull and dreary, I returned home with a feeling of wellbeing. And there was something doubly good about the contrast of the sunny day of the following week.
Originally there were four Juniper communis in the Upper Pool Garden, one in each corner of the beds that surround the pool. Recently they suffered wind damage and eventually all four were removed. James has taken the bold step of planting out Metrosideros umbellata ‘All Gold’ in their place. Three survived last winter with the help of a wigwam of protective netting. Metrosideros is a New Zealand plant that may in time produce attractive crimson flowers. Actually it is the bright red stamens that make the plant showy, similar to the flowers of the bottle brushes (and the eucalyptus) to which it is closely related. There are cuttings coming on in the glasshouse so replacements are available. There are no protections in place as yet. Sometimes the protection causes more damage as the wind has its way – often enough the wigwam was blown over.
James has been pondering on the dipping pool at the corner near the glasshouses. For many years it has been covered up and used to display summer begonias and other tender pot plants, but Peter Sim remembered when it was in use. Apparently there are steps down to enable filling up the watering can. No-one was sure how the water would work now and James wondered if a bog garden might be the result. The wooden boards that covered the area were rotten and something had to be done. When I passed last Tuesday I saw that the drainage rods had been in use and a cone covered a hole in the path. I could hear the water flowing freely. I await developments with interest.
After the frost came more mild weather. Joanna and Steve (volunteer) have been moving plants from the glasshouses to create more space.
Work is always tricky when the soil gets sodden, Steve (gardener) and Mike managed to lift the last of the salvias – Salvia corrugata – which were looking black and slimy. The next week volunteers Sheila and Alyson were pruning in the Golden Garden and Steve was clearing leaves in the Woodland Garden exposing the multitude of bulbs beginning to emerge from their summer rest. Reflections of winter trees decorated the pool and the sun glanced its charm over the Doocot.
Colour is still to be found in the main garden. A yellow rose and the occasional red penstemon; Fuchsia reflexa still flowering in places; Correa backhousiana looking to be in the peak of health, and the Fascicularia bicolor having developed yellow stamens. The yellow berries of Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’ still hang in the Golden Garden, the red leaves of berberis bushes in the Upper Pool Garden and the pinks fruits of Euonymus hamiltonianus warm even the gloomiest of days. On the Doocot Border there are white stems of Rubus cockburnianus from China lined up against the white bark of the Himalayan birch, Betula utilis jacquemontii.
In the glasshouses the leaves of pelargonium ‘Contrast’ catch my attention along with the classy paperwhite narcissi in more subtle attire. The glasshouses remain closed for the time being, but Joanna’s Christmas wreath brightens up the outside.
The Evolution Garden, now ready for planting, waits until spring. There is no shortage of the lower plants for the evolution tale: mosses, liverworts and ferns are already thriving – many on the stumps that have been brought in from the estate. The mosses are often at their best in the winter; they are certainly more conspicuous.
There is no shortage of stumps on the estate. I am particularly attracted to a massive piece of rotting tree near the highland cattle field. Fungi, mosses, liverworts, ferns, flowering plants and trees sprout from it in profusion. I wonder how long it will take to return completely to the earth. As I write on the shortest day of the year, the planets Jupiter and Saturn are about to come together in the night sky. There is so much mystery in the world. I reflect on the rotting log and the turning year; the cycles of life on which we all depend, and I feel a glimmer of hope.
In the more immediate world the gardeners, and many more folk, are badly in need of their holiday. Over the weekend there is alarming news of a new strain of Covid. It may be that the gardens have to close for a while. The festivities will be different this year, but 2021 must be better as the vaccine rolls out – have a peaceful Christmas and stay safe.