As the first red alert for heat in the south of England is given out by the Met Office, gardeners once more turn their thoughts to coping with extreme weather: winter storms and summer droughts. Scotland is renowned for its cool climate but for how long? For the last decade the head gardeners at Crathes have been planning for rising temperatures and James is now, literally, ‘feeling the heat’. Choosing plants that will cope with hot dry summers is now routine and the aeoniums that now feature in much of the bedding at Crathes are more than just another fashionable craze. Who would have thought a decade ago that Aeonium tabuliforme would flower outside in the North-East of Scotland and that bananas would overwinter outside.
Circumstances have contrived to keep me away from Crathes for the last few weeks, but I managed a brief visit the other day and was pleased to see that the Welcome Building project is more or less complete. The ‘green’ roof is actually pink just now with the sedums in flower. The flowers came in a roll like turf. There is a mix of various sedums including Sedum spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’ with crimson flowers and ‘Fuldagut’ with bronze red leaves and rose pink flowers and Sedum kamtschaticum with yellow flowers. Sedums will cope well with the heat and provide a good habitat for bees, butterflies and other insects and invertebrates. They retain water by only opening their stomata at night.
The flower bed beside the building has been planted up and includes fatsia, heucheras and unusual foxgloves; the Clematis viticella ‘Etoile Violette’ has been there for many years and is always a summer beauty. James reckons the gardeners have spread about 130 tonnes of soil and used 60kg of grass seed in the landscaping. When I visited, James, Stephen and Emily were busy raking the last few tonnes in to place. It has been essential to water the newly sown lawn, but generally the grass in the garden will just have to wait for the rain to return. James thinks more and more about the importance of water recycling (see ‘Challenges’ 16 November 2021).
Inside the building there is a display about the history of the garden. I am mightily impressed by the large, beautiful solid oak bench that has been fashioned in a local timber yard from one of the Crathes oaks that fell in the winter storms. This bench will go on storing the carbon, sequestered during its lifetime as a living tree, for another hundred years or more. The old walnut that also fell in the storms will be used in a similar way. The Council have passed the building for use and it is now open although people will need to get a token from the shop to operate the door.
Entering the garden I feel a bit like Alice; the abundance of flowers that Crathes is famed for is overwhelming. The later flowering Deutzia monbeigii is the usual fountain of flowers at the top of the White Border and the Blue and Pink Border is exactly that, with a riot of old favourites including blue Eryngium alpinum, the pink rose ‘Celeste’, pink Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta’ and the violet blue Geranium pratense ‘Plenum Violaceum’. The sweet peas at the entrance to the Camel Garden are all they should be and I am amused to see that the hazel supports have produced a topknot of leaves. ‘Divine’ might seem a little excessive in description, but really the scent of sweet peas cannot be equalled.
The Evolution Garden is also brimming over and I can see that the Japanese willow might need to be taken in hand. Nearby Philadelphus ‘Beauclerk’, beside the Trough Garden, is overladen with flowers. The philadelphus have four, or multiples of, petals and other flower parts, whereas the deutzia, which tend to flower earlier, generally have five, sometimes six.
Gardening sustainably has at last become mainstream at the great garden shows that I watch on television. In my ‘new’ garden I plan a raised bed and fruits. I have been learning about all the berries that I can eat. Outside my window is an Amelanchier which I read is good for jams. But as I type I notice a pair of blackbirds helping themselves. I hadn’t thought that the fruit was ripe, but the hot weather has turned the berries black. Trying one I find it quite sweet and tasty, but I think the blackbirds will beat me to it, especially as most of the fruit is out of reach. The little Chilean guava, Ugni molinae, that I purchased last autumn after seeing it at Crathes, has come through the winter and is now showing white flowers; I expect red strawberry flavoured fruits in October or November. The Crathes plant, which is a pink cultivar, was razed to the ground in the hard frosts of 2021, but recovered. I didn’t manage to check it this month but it was doing well in June and I imagine it is thriving and loving the heat. It’s good to know it is a plant that can recover from hard frost, cope with drought and deliver a bowl of sweet goodness.
Life is a little less hectic in the glass houses just now with the bedding plants all out. The main summer display is of pelargoniums and cala lilies. The streptocarpus leaf cuttings are now in flower – amazing! Joanna has been experimenting with pelargoniums in the soil beneath the new vine in the vinery. She finds that ‘Chocolate Peppermint’ doesn’t do so well because it grows close to the ground and suffers from botrytis mould. ‘Royal Oak’, which has similar colouring on the leaves is more upright in growth and is doing well. ‘Lady Plymouth’, which we both favour, is also in excellent health. Lady Plymouth is mainly grown for its pale mint green, variegated leaves although it has attractive clusters of pale pink tiny flowers in the spring. I am also a great fan of Pelargonium capitatum which is also growing well. The fig cuttings that Joanna took are thriving and one has been planted in the trough of the Trough Garden. I do fancy a fig in my own garden now that the summers are heating up, but will I have room and would it be safer to stick to apples?
James has been showing groups round the garden. The European Boxwood and Topiary Society, that had to postpone the 2020 visit, finally made it this spring. The visitors were surprised to see the box in good shape and wrongly assumed it was all replacement plants. You can read about box management at Crathes in an earlier post: ‘Castle, cottage, and fine design’, 8 June 2020. The RHS has also been visiting and making complimentary comments; they especially admired the glasshouses. Apart from these occasional visits, garden guiding has been in abeyance since Covid, but James hopes to develop the service next year.
The reconstruction of the Rose Garden is now scheduled for August.
Emily reports that hundreds of froglets have been escaping from the dipping pool; also some newts. Joanna has even had newts in the glasshouses – not something she was not aware of previously.