Donald far’s yer troosers?

Storm damage in the Go Ape area, mostly due to storm Arwen, 8 February 2022.

You probably know the Scottish traditional song that begins ‘Let the wind blow high, let the wind blow low’, made famous by Callum Kennedy and Andy Stewart half a century ago, so I’ll not bother you with the lyrics. But it got into my head as I was contemplating the most recent storms, Malik and Corrie, and it won’t go away. Like the wind you might say. We had not recovered from November’s Arwen and Barra when more amber warnings were given. Often amber warnings come and go without too much damage, but not so Malik and Corrie who visited us on 29 and 30 January; sadly, killing someone in Aberdeen, and causing widespread devastation. The food vans were back in Torphins and round about to provide for those who had lost power. Once more the gates at Crathes were locked and the trails closed. The gardeners and rangers worked against the clock because local people always look on access to Crathes as their right. The estate, castle and gardens were all open by the next weekend.

Because I hadn’t really caught up with all the destruction of Arwen and Barra I’ve lost track of which storm caused which particular bit of damage out on the estate. A trip down the back drive left me appalled and saddened. Emotion welled up as I looked on the devastation, the huge grand firs criss-crossed around the plantation like pick-a-sticks. The chain saws had been busy clearing for access – all those individual trees; all that carbon stacked and likely to be released into the atmosphere. Go Ape, where my grandchildren have enjoyed swinging high up through the trees, lay destroyed. Grand firs, Abies grandis, grow very quickly and I could count the rings easily on the cut tree trunks: roughly forty-six rings though not at the base of the tree, suggesting that they were probably planted some time after the 1953 gale and chosen for their rapid growth.

Walkways from Go Ape came down with the trees, 8 February 2022.
Storm aftermath, back drive, 8 February 2022.
Grand firs stacked up by the back drive, 8 February 2022.

Later that day, by chance, I listened to Roddy Hamilton, one of our rangers, talking on the radio about the effect of storm Arwen and the destruction that I had just come upon.* Like me, he had been appalled, but he talked about the resilience of wildlife and some of the benefits of blow outs in the woods. Even the herons, whose heronry trees were also destroyed, he thought might return. I hope and expect that some of the fallen trees will be left to rot so that insects, fungi, birds, mammals and others organisms can benefit from the apparent chaos; after all it’s nature’s way – the cycle of life. 

It’s easy to count the tree rings, 8 February 2022.

On a positive note, I have been meeting with Dave, a volunteer who is labelling the trees around the castle. James is keen that we produce a leaflet in connection with the new labelling. Dave is an experienced birdwatcher so I have been learning more about birdsong as a bonus. 

Dave’s work with the tree labels, 8 February 2022.

As ever, the weather dominates the gardener’s year. Last year it was late frosts that did the damage and we may well see those again, but it’s good to see the survivors doing well so far.

Echiums have survived so far in the Upper Pool Garden, 25 January 2022.

And there’s plenty of the routine winter work that needs addressed. James oversees everything and catches up with administration, working in the garden when possible, recently around the East Lodge. Andy and Emily have been pruning; Mike and Steve have been filling in and re-positioning plants in the herbaceous borders; Joanna, pleased to be nearly finished with the painting, has set up an attractive white display; and the volunteers have been weeding, clearing leaves, tidying up neglected corners and helping wherever needed. Davy and Kevin, out in the grounds, are mostly clearing up after the gales.

Shadows accompany Andy and Emily as they prune the climbers in the Upper Pool Garden, 25 January 2022.
Steve and Mike sort out the planting in the Double Herbaceous Border, 19 January 2022.
Paper white narcissi are the stars in the glasshouse just now, 8 February 2022.

Whilst they work, I scout about looking for garden stories: have the viburnums benefited from the hard pruning they received; how many flowers are there on the winter iris; is the daphne yet in full bloom?

Viburnum grandiflorum foetens group in the Rose Garden has benefitted from a hard prune, 2 February 2022.
Iris stylosa ‘Mary Barnard’ has lots of flowers this years, 8 February 2022.
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ at the viewpoint 8 February 2022.

The light is magnificent. To date the year has been exceptionally sunny. It’s not difficult to find colours: bright cobalt blue skies fading to white; yellow winter jasmine; shining  green moss; 50 shades of green/blue conifers and the subtleties of bark and lichen: grey; brown; green; maroon, even black. And let’s throw in a pink castle and a robin redbreast. Shapes and long shadows accentuate the garden structure – it’s a feast for the senses and not just the eyes.  

Blue skies, pink castle, grey lichen, 19 January 2022.
Pink castle with yew shapes, 25 January 2022.
Robin redbreast, 25 January 2022.
Yew shapes, 19 January 2022.

As the sun warms the garden the bees appear searching for the scents that tell of nectar rewards and maybe pollen:  witch hazel and daphne by the viewpoint, sarcococca on the Yew Border, honeysuckle on the Aviary Terrace, viburnums in abundance, snow drops and snowflakes everywhere. The drumming of the woodpecker makes me smile; a sure sign that spring is on its way. The tits are busy announcing their presence and Dave alerts me to the mistle thrush song – a rather mournful version of a song thrush. What a joy to think of the year stretching out before us with lengthening days and warming temperatures. I lay a hand on a tree trunk and feel the heat of the sun on the bark.

Lonicera standishii from the Aviary Terrace, 8 February 2022.
The bark of the Lawson’s cypress is warm to touch by noon, 8 February 2022.

For taste we will have to look to the past. For centuries the southern half of the Crathes walled garden would have been overflowing with vegetables and fruit, but today a diversity of flowers and shrubs has overtaken the kitchen garden. There will be grapes to eat in due course but just a few bunches.

Emily and volunteer Sheila have been spreading muck in preparation for the new vine; nice frieze of shadows on the wall, 7 February 2022. Sheila Watt

This assault on the senses leaves me with heightened awareness; almost a sixth sense though not as defined in the dictionary. This spirituality which – for me – has no connection with religion is surely where our feeling of well-being springs from. This is why it has been so important to clear the trails quickly, so that people could regain their right to walk in the woods; to see the light, hear the birds, smell the pines and, when inclined to, hug a tree.

Sun dazzle, 8 February 2022.

Up dates:

Westhill Rotary have been helping to clear Rhododendron ponticum at Crathes.**

All Aberdeenshire schools are to receive an apple tree as part of the Greenspace Project

The wind continues to be unpredictable and as I write a yellow warning for high winds is expected: storm Dudley. I doubt it has finished with us yet, so hang on to your kilt Donald.

Yew walk and castle, 25 January 2022.

*Keith Community Radio: KCR 107.7 FM

**see NTS North East Ranger Service facebook page

6 thoughts on “Donald far’s yer troosers?

  1. Thank you again for another inspiring post – sad to see the destruction – hope the oncoming gales do no more damage – but it is uplifting to see new growth burgeoning . Hopefully some of the fallen with give rise to new life and enable the cycle to continue. What would we do without gardens and Mother nature?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely pictures, and wonderful to see how things are faring (even though a lot has been damaged). It’s a resilient place, isn’t it? The yews look beautiful, as always, and it was nice of the robin redbreast to pose for you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are so many robins in the garden all singing away and fighting for territory. They are very tame because the gardeners keep turning up tasty morsels. The blackbirds are very tame too.


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