With the garden now open during the week I can finally check out the damage done by the hard frosts of February. Much has gone, but there are surprises. The aeoniums that were put into the polytunnels have suffered; the Echium pininana that did so well in the early part of the winter are definitely dead.
Other plants like the Fascicularia bicolor look as if they might be gone, and many of the plants on the aviary terrace are damaged but could recover – Callistemon rigida, Correa backhousiana, Cinnamomum camphora, Crinodendron patagua and Carpenteria californica. Some, like the correa will probably re-sprout from the base. The cinnamomum and the crinodendron were getting rather big so they may have merited a cut back anyway. The Pseudopanax ferox always looks a little dead, so it’s difficult to judge, but I am really hoping it has survived.
The surprises include Fremontodendron californicum on the west wall of the Upper Pool Garden and Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’, pictured above and below, which is said to need winter protection in exposed situations. At Crathes a group of this daphne seem completely unharmed up on the viewpoint. Just as last year in the mild winter, they bloom in profusion this year, wafting their perfume over hundreds of yards and attracting hundreds of bees from the apiary. The viewpoint seat is a good place to sit and enjoy all the surrounding winter flowering shrubs.
Whilst we have all been in Lockdown with the wall garden and castle closed, the gardeners have been beavering away, developing projects and – despite the snow – making good progress. Projects abound. With gardening, patience is essential, but it’s very satisfying when an area begins to take shape. The viewpoint project, started some years ago with the removal of rhododendrons (mostly R. ponticum) and the development of an easily accessible path and seating area, is now beginning to show its potential.
Over the winter a large conifer has been removed and an elegant fence has been erected to prevent people running over the slope and tramping on the plants below the seating. Red hot pokers have recently been added and vines are to be grown along the wires of the fence.
Behind and to the side of the viewpoint, trees and shrubs, some planted many years ago, are showing their worth. The weeping Katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum f pendulum, was planted 20 years ago in memory of Jeffrey and Jean Boughey. Jeffrey was a highly regarded administrator at Crathes from 1986-1993.
Thinking about the rhododendrons leads me on to Caroline’s Garden. A large Rhododendron ponticum has been removed from this area on the West Drive. There are specialities in Caroline’s Garden including some rhododendrons, but the R. ponticum is an unwelcome invasive alien that would take over much of the estate if allowed.
Amongst the specialitites are two unusual Japanese trees: the Japanese pine, Sciadopitys verticillata, and the Japanese wheel tree, Trochodendron aralioides. Both are County Champions on the Tree Register. There are two wheel trees in pots beside the shop that are outgrowing their containers and need a place to thrive, so the removal of the rhododendron makes a welcome space.
The dipping pool project beside the glasshouses has moved on a pace since my final visit of 2020 (see Goodbye to 2020). The boards have now been removed and a new stand pipe installed. The water that flows constantly into the pool is just the water draining from the garden and beyond; there is no mains water here. The metal pipes over the edge are thought to have been connected to a pump and the glasshouses. James thinks that the steps down that enabled the gardeners to fill up their watering cans would make good shelves for water and bog plants. If a longer stand pipe was installed the water could rise almost to the brim of the pool. But first the condition of the crumbling walls would need to be addressed and no one is sure how much that will cost.
In the Upper Pool Garden the conifer Chamaecyparis pisifera was getting too big and crowding out a corner of the balustrade beside the Victorian terrace. This has been felled and the stump will be removed. The large stone which can now been seen clearly is said to have come from the wall of the Crow Wood field. T 1687 G apparently stands for Thomas Grant who built the dyke. Another large stone on the north wall of the Upper Pool Garden, said to have come from the same place, has STB carved into it – this it is thought for Sir Thomas Burnett. I await with interest the new planting scheme for this attractive corner below the balustrade and look forward to seeing the creeper removed from the finial above.
Tim has had another reprieve due to Covid. His apprenticeship time has now been extended to August. With James’s support, he has taken on a personal project of measuring the carbon footprint of the garden. This important undertaking could have far reaching consequences. I watch him tying up the newly pruned vine in the Upper Pool Garden. Using the natural string makes it a fiddly job, but does away with all those plastic ties. You can see the large stone with STB behind the bottom of the ladder.
Another project expected to take place this year is the cutting back of the yew hedges on the west side of the Rose and Fountain Garden. This will help to brighten up the yew borders presently rather overlooked by visitors. Those who remember previous cutting back projects will realise that it will take over a decade for the yews to re-sprout and cover the gaps.
One of the plants that grows largely unnoticed on the yew borders is the winter flowering sweet box, Sarcococca, from China and the Himalayas,. There are two species growing in the borders: S. confusa and S. hookeriana var digyna (the variety digyna is said to be hardier). The flowers are insignificant and without petals, but the fragrance will make you linger.
The bodnantense viburnums are also casting their scent across the garden. They dislike the frosts, but have perked up since the weather got milder. In the Golden Garden and Red Garden the tulips that we didn’t get to see last year are now re-appearing and surely we will enjoy them this year.
The regulars jobs continue. Tim has been painting the glasshouse; Mike and Steve have been pruning; Cecilia has been weeding; Joanna has been attending to the orchids and her cuttings and seeds; James, David and Kevin were working away up behind the Wildlife Garden – something to investigate on my next visit. The volunteers should be back next week to help deliver the magic that is Crathes.
The future looks hopeful. The walled garden is open Monday to Friday 10.30 – 3.30 and whilst there are still some restrictions in the garden most of it is now accessible. It will probably be into April before the facilities and the castle are open, but a walk into spring will do wonders for your spirits.