Sunlight and shadows: my gardening year in 2015


Strange, unkind weather typified 2015. Winter went on and on till June, and was followed by a cool, wet summer, then an autumn mild enough to bring out the primroses. Finally winter returned, dominated by relentless rain and storms. Waiting for a clement day was futile: I learned to don four layers of clothing and get on with it. I had a mission: to quickly develop the awful front garden of our new flat into something beautiful. I worked on the garden every weekend through all types and kinds of weather. I found something soothing in gardening in the toasty warmth of my thermals with the melting snow dripping from my hood. The quiet, the loneliness, the feeling of being tough. Proper gardening happens in winter, it seemed.

My hard work paid off. By late spring, the ugly front garden of our new flat on its quiet, tree-lined street of south Edinburgh had shed its concrete paving slabs and dwarf rhododendrons and become this:


The privilege and opportunity of having a garden you can start from scratch is one that many gardeners can only dream of. In my naivety and inexperience I muddled through as best as I could, adoring every minute and getting plenty of things wrong. The wonder of a garden is that everything can be edited or at worst dug out and begun again. A straggly mistake of daisies was evicted, as was the compost heap behind the shed. Never again will I attempt to grow bearded irises in damp shade, and my ‘Black Paeony’ poppies, beautiful though they were, lasted about 12 minutes in the wind tunnel of our garden and were not, looking back, worth the trouble of sowing.

I got plenty of things right first time too. That bench was one of them and I’m so delighted that I placed it there, in the sun, where I could take a seat and observe my horticultural creations while drinking a cup of hot black coffee. In 2016, an important gardening project of mine will be to greatly improve the vista from this bench, which unfortunately currently includes the shed and a rusty incinerator. Another wonderful addition to the garden was my cold frame, which allowed me to experiment with a much wider range of seedlings and cuttings, as well as protect my less hardy plants from frosts.

Experimenting with wider range of seedlings thanks to my cold frame

Plantwise, the stars of my garden included some showstopping David Austin roses, my late ‘Menton’ tulips, apricot foxgloves, and of course these incredible ‘Café au Lait’ dahlias, which surpassed all my expectations.

David Austin rose ‘Boscobel’
David Austin rose ‘Tess of the D’Urbevilles’
Apricot foxgloves
Tulip ‘Menton’
‘Café au Lait’ dahlia

But aside from the showstoppers, I very much appreciated the steady reliables, those plants that flowered all summer long, and sometimes well into autumn too, or filled a space attractively, or just went well with the other plants around it. My Heuchera ‘Silver Scrolls’ prospered from June till, well, now, and provided magenta flower spikes for numerous Monday vases. Likewise, a Tiarella provided a background haze of of gorgeous, ghostly white flowers all summer long, while old favourites, drumstick primulas and grape hyacinths, valiantly provided much needed spring colour before anything else had developed. My sweetpeas were so prolific, despite the shade, that I was almost reduced to begging strangers to take armfuls away with them. They formed the basis of most of my summer vases, as did the profusion of Cosmos ‘Purity’. Both of these will become long-term staples in my garden.

Drumstick primulas
Grape hyacinths
Heuchera ‘Silver Scrolls’
Cosmos ‘Purity’

Come the end of summer, my garden was almost unrecognisable from its drab former self. The best pictures of summer can be found in this end of summer review. What especially pleased and suited my aesthetic taste was the chaotic, tangled floral melange in which flowers tumbled and fainted among other flowers creating a wild, bohemian scene. In 2016 I hope to improve this to even greater effect.

It wasn’t just the garden that grew. Edinburgh Garden Diary received four times as many visits in 2015 as in 2014, thanks to my wonderful followers. I learned an enormous amount from you all, admiring and envying (and I admit copying) your botanical achievements endlessly. A most interesting addition to my gardening life was participating in Rambling in the Garden’s ‘In a Vase on Monday’ challenge. Some of my favourite creations include ‘In chaos, a cosmos‘, ‘Last chance rail,’ and of course those dahlias in ‘Fading dahlias on an unpainted shelf‘. Cosmos and sweetpeas featured in almost every vase throughout the summer. 2016 will certainly see me experimenting with new cut flowers that I have not grown before.


2015 was essentially a year of enormous experimentation. I learned which plants would not tolerate the terribly poor or variable light levels in our front garden, and more surprisingly which not only tolerated the shade but positively thrived, despite being promoted as sun-lovers. It was also a year of not being able to garden, let alone write about gardening. The renovations on our new flat kept us frantic right through till September, and on the day we finally moved in to our freshly painted abode we got engaged, meaning that we had to move straight on to preparing our wedding. No gardening, let alone blogging, occurred for months on end. Desperate to return as quickly as possible to my greatly missed quiet life of long walks and gardening, I managed to organise the wedding in just under three and a half months. The happiest day of my life? Yes, that would be the first day after we got back home and, leaving my lovely husband asleep indoors, I was at last able to put on my thermals and woolly hat and spend a whole precious day pottering about alone in the drizzle.


5 thoughts on “Sunlight and shadows: my gardening year in 2015”

  1. My favourite was your “Privet Education”. It is truly an education to see how well that hedge has responded to your instruction.
    For the future, I’m looking forward eagerly to seeing the spring bulbs in flower. But I wonder if we shall get anything worthy of the name Winter before Spring, and, if not, how the bulbs that need a touch of frost will cope.

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