During the last few days my garden has been visited by hundreds of redwings feasting on rowans which are plentiful around Torphins. They have flown in from Scandinavia and will move on, probably up Deeside where the rowans are equally abundant. There are other signs of the approaching winter: the occasional frost, the long skeins of geese with their evocative calls, and the turning leaves. At Crathes the garden is being ‘put to bed’. It sometimes hurts to cut back flowers before they are properly over, but a large formal garden like Crathes has to keep to a working routine otherwise there will be no time in the spring to do all the necessary work required to show the garden at its best throughout the four seasons.
The main herbaceous borders (June, Double Herbaceous and Blue and Pink) all get the same treatment. The plants are cut back by hand to just above net height. The nets can then be removed and stored for next year. I am reminded of the hanks of wool we used to wind into balls as Mike twists the netting round Steve’s arms until he (Steve) looks rather like a scarecrow with immobile arms stuck out. With the netting out of the way the electric cutters can be used to clear what is left. Then the beds will have to be weeded, both before the winter and then again in spring. There’s no easy way to get that glorious summer show. Herbaceous borders are hard work.
The white border is only netted in part and Kiran and Jenny (volunteers) have been cutting back and weeding. Kiran rebels at cutting down the acteas and one plant is left to appease. The hydrangeas are also left on this border for they are autumn specialities. In the Upper Pool Garden the north herbaceous bed gets cut back a little later and the central beds with the salvias and fuchsias will be left as long as possible. The beds beside the glasshouses are also full of salvias, and dahlias are still putting on a good show.
Elsewhere some of the tender plants are being taken indoors: bananas, carnivorous plants and succulents. Whereas bananas and tree ferns did well over last year’s mild winter, the cycads in the Evolution Garden looked as if they were dead for much of the year. However, I now see two small sprouts from two of the crowns. Maybe it’s too late for them to survive another winter; time will tell.
In the glasshouse the pelargoniums have been cut back for winter and and the Metalis range of miniature cyclamen has taken their place. This range comes with silvery leaves and in with varying colours of flowers. The flowering flat topped Aeonium tabuliforme and the pineapple lily, Eucomis bicolor, have been taken in so that the seeds can finish ripening and can be collected. Of the eucomis seeds collected in 2020 nearly all germinated and are now being potted on. How many years it will take to achieve a flowering bulb is all part of the experiment, but the original plants can be planted out again next year to make another show.
Seeds collected from the carnivorous Sarracenia purpurea which were growing by the dipping pool this summer have already been sown and are now germinating. Baby cobra lilies, Darlingtonia californica – the other American carnivorous plant – have been gathered from the adult plants and are now being grown on. Joanna also collected seed from Callistemon citrinus (bottle brush) and the little purple roscoea. The roscoea germinated only to be eaten by slugs and the bottle brush has not as yet germinated. Seeds bought last year that have germinated include a new, red, passion flower, Passiflora vitifolia, and the intriguing Bowiea volubilis – the climbing onion, from Africa, which I have had to look up online; I fancy growing one of these myself.
I have been catching up with the Trust Ranger Service. There are now three fulltime rangers in the North East – Lynn, Roddy and Viv, with Rachel as seasonal ranger. They also have help from volunteers. They cover 10 Trust properties and are based at Crathes. Recently they have been involved with a bat survey at Haddo. Toni, who used to be a ranger here, helps with such surveys. We talk about the Crathes Millpond. The engineers have finished their survey and will report to the Trust. There is about half a metre of silt in the pond. This has washed down over about 30 years from the 40 kilometres squared catchment area which drains into the Coy Burn.
The silt reduces the water holding capacity of the Millpond, increasing the likelihood of flooding. It can also be detrimental to wildlife especially when the silt gets churned up. Control of the sluices is particularly important for the trout and salmon. The silt is to be removed to a watertight container until it can be distributed for use in the garden or on the fields; it is, after all, full of good organic matter. Otters and kingfishers have been seen about the Millpond; an otter was recently seen in the middle of the day in broad daylight so it is worth keeping an eye out when walking in this area. There have been no recent records of the invasive mink and grey squirrels, but the native red squirrels are common. Three successful heron nests have been seen which, considering the damage caused by storm Arwen, is very encouraging. A record of the northern dragonfly, Coenagrion hastulatum, which is endangered in Britain where it is only found in the highlands of Scotland, is of particular importance.
Emily, our apprentice, has now been here about a year. Fortunately Covid did not make too much impact on the year, although some of her college days were rescheduled. She spends one day a week in the glasshouses. It’s always a balance between learning new skills and helping where the work of the garden is most needed. This month she has been with Steve making up soil mixes for trees and shrubs and for the glasshouse pots. These mixtures are kept in bays next to the potting shed. A lot of riddling was involved. She has also spent some time tidying up the vinery with Joanna and trying to rid the glasshouse hoya plant of the mealy bug. These bugs are aphids which secrete honeydew which attracts sooty mould. Emily has been using a toothbrush to remove the bugs from all the plant nooks and crannies where they protect themselves with a white cottony looking cover. She finds this job quite satisfying. Outside she has been with Andy learning about keeping the yew pillars in trim in the Golden Garden and getting practice with the mower. Some jobs, like clearing the north border in the Upper Pool are repeats from last year, but this is an opportunity for consolidation of learnt practices. The garden really benefits from all Emily’s hard work and in return Emily gets excellent training and the opportunity to learn about caring for the Crathes garden with its great diversity of plants.
Progress is being made in the entrance building. A walnut bench with two stools has arrived, made from the old walnut that fell in storm Arwen. An attractive theatre of plants growing in the garden is maintained – mostly by Joanna.
Contractors will shortly be working to clear much of the damage done in last year’s autumn storms.
The Rose Garden is beginning to look like an exciting design with the hard landscaping just about finished.
The bullfinches are back eating up the seeds of the enkianthus avenue.