In the garden: December

What with low light levels, compressed daylight hours, and frantic Christmas preparations, December is usually my month off in the garden. However, I still always find time to observe and appreciate the garden, take notice of the few plants that have made a special effort to bring prettiness to a scene that is otherwise bleak, and take some photographs so that I can continue to appreciate the changes, however subtle they might be at this time of year.



What – you mean you don’t have enough jobs indoors at this time of year? Then pour yourself a mulled wine and read a book by the fire, you lucky thing!

Looking Good

The three stars of this month are: my Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, quite the prettiest and most cheerful thing and I wish I had more of them; and the smokebush Cotinus ‘Dusky Maiden’, which has turned the most incredible colours, large puce and fiery coins dangling over the side of their coppery green pot; and Hydrangea ‘Limelight’, which is leafless and bare but for several of its delicate blooms.



Every week I look anxiously for signs of bulbs pushing up, but save for some enthusiastic muscari in pots, there is no sign of anything yet.

I will leave you with my usual views (none of the back garden this month – it is in slight disarray due to the very slow terrace-building that is dragging ever on) and a couple of my pretty robin who always pops out to see what I am up to. Just photos, Mr Robin, no upturned worms for you today.



In The Garden: October

Welcome to my new monthly In The Garden report, which begins in this glorious (and possibly my favourite) month of October. The cool, damp air is filled with the attar of log fires and fallen leaves, the daylight is dimming, the foliage in the garden is dying back, and still there are a multitude of floral charms to delight, thrill, and sometimes astonish the senses.

Looking Good in October


One of the aforementioned astonishing charms in my garden is the mass of sweetpeas that still show no signs of stopping. I have more or less ceased picking them as the stems are now much shorter, and I don’t look at them too closely as in many cases the petals have succumbed to aphids, and are more prone to getting sodden with rain. But in these cooler, wetter days the stems are nonetheless promising to produce and last till the first frosts.





Behind the sweetpeas in the back garden is a mass of Salvias including SalviaAmistad, its purple fingers growing on shoots almost as tall as the sweetpeas. On the opposite side of the path, ‘Wendy’s Wish’, ‘Love and Wishes’, and ‘Ember’s Wish’ from the ‘Wish’ triplet of salvias are looking just as good.



My dalhias remain in full stride. In particular, ‘Totally Tangerine’ has been going strong since late July, and has not yet lost steam, while ‘Café-au-Lait’ is providing me with more flowers than I know what to do with.




In the front garden, I am enjoying the upward-fluting petals of the Cyclamen hederifolium against the dark leaf-mould beneath the ‘Morello’ cherry sapling.



While some ferns are going over, the new foliage of the bronze-leaved Dryopteris erythrosora looks fresh and neat against the terracotta bricks of the terrace.



Ammi visagna is – just – clinging on and still providing pretty filler stems for my vases.



The Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ has tolerated its move into a larger pot and is still delighting with its diminuitive, neat blooms. When they age and become papery, I will see how they dry.



A plant that was underrated by me when I first bought it, this unknown Nemesia tumbles charmingly from its pot, gracing the air with its delicious vanilla scent. I brought a sprig indoors, and though it lasted only a day or so, the kitchen was filled with its gorgeous aroma.



Three or four crowns of Geranium ‘Rozanne’ continue to potter about in the borders quite contentedly of their own accord, asking nothing, giving plenty in return. The perfect plant?




Pretty window boxes of Erigeron, apple mint and sedum look set to carry on through till November.


The second flush on my roses has dallied disgracefully. But I love these tight flame-coloured buds, despite their faithless promise of blooms.


And finally – though I hesitate to put this under ‘Looking Good’ – three surviving Nicotiana seedlings eventually did their thing, one of which has possibly been taking banned substances while my back was turned. It comes in at about 5’9″, and I can’t say I’m delighted about those fleshy leaves blocking the light from everything behind it; I rescued an ailing alstromeria just in time from beneath its gigantic shadow. It’s going to need a compost heap all of its own when I cut it back.


Gardening Jobs for October

There are plenty of tasks to do in the Scottish garden in October. This month, my garden jobs have included:

  1. Finishing collecting seed from my annuals, including Calendula officinalis ‘Indian Prince’, Cerinthe major, and Papaver somniferum ‘Black Paeony’.
  2. Spreading last year’s leaf mould on the garden, particularly around my Cyclamen hederifolium, which prefer plenty of organic matter but would find compost or well-rotted manure too rich, and begin collecting fallen leaves for next year’s batch.
  3. Moving perennials that need a new spot. Now is the perfect time, as the soil is still warm and they will have time to root into their new homes before the frosts arrive.
  4. Taking cuttings of my favourite plants, either those that are not hardy and may not survive winter, or those that I wish to increase stock of. My cuttings include osteospermum, salvias, French tarragon, penstemons, mint, lemon verbena, and Nepeta.
  5. Cutting back fading perennials, being careful to leave those that still have autumn interest. Sweetpeas can also be cut down once they are past their best, but I leave their roots to rot down in the soil.
  6. Moving any self-seeded foxgloves into their final flowering positions.
  7. Monitoring the temperature forecast and bring houseplants indoors on colder nights. My rule of thumb is to bring tender houseplants indoors once night-time temperatures have dropped below 9 degrees.
  8. Planting bulbs. I plant all my bulbs such as daffodils, irises, crocuses, alliums and muscari in October, but leave tulips until November or even December, once the first frosts have been.
  9. Turning the compost heap every fortnight, and continuing to add chopped garden cuttings, woody matter such as shredded paper and egg boxes, and kitchen vegetable waste. After turning, I often ‘mulch’ the top of my heap with a modest layer of heat-giving grass cuttings for insulation and a nitrogen boost.
  10. Ensuring that tall plants such as dahlias and nicotiana are staked against winds and rain.

And so before I end, here follow a few views of the garden this month. As you will see, the slugs have been at my kale, and the Christmas tree has yet to find its spiritual home in the garden, but good things have been happening too: my Clematis montana ‘Miss Christine’ is obediently, nay, enthusiastically, making its way up the arch, my Sempervivum has divided into about 40 tiny individuals (I am looking forward to giving some away as gifts), my new tool rack is doing an excellent job of keeping the tools neat and tidy, and my native primroses, which I grew from seed, have flourished into many healthy plants that I will be planting around the garden and elsewhere (more about that later).




I realise it has been many months since I last showed you pictures of my garden. The reason for this is that I have been rethinking the way I describe the month-by-month development and seasonal changes that go on here, and it has taken me a while to come up with a tentative format. For a long time, I have been a fairly dedicated partaker in Helen at The Patient Gardener’s End of Month View, but I no longer feel that this wonderful meme quite does everything I need it to do. I fancied a change; besides, EOMV requires me to be on time with my photos, and I’m not a deadline kinda girl. There are other memes I would like to join in with, such as Tuesday View, Bloom Day and Foliage Day, but these have even stricter deadlines than Helen’s, and my opportunities for taking photos in the garden are too limited by my working week, the prevailing weather, and restricted daylight hours for me to be precise about days, or even sometimes weeks, when it comes to posting. I’ve therefore come up with a Swiss-army meme of my own called In The Garden, which will encompass a month-by-month view, ‘looking good now’, and monthly garden jobs. I’ll aim to post during the month I’m talking about: even I can cope with a 30-day deadline! I’m not scouting for joiners, since I realise there are enough memes out there already for everyone to be keeping up with. But if you wish to join in, then by all means do so, linking to my post and leaving a comment so that I can find yours.]

In a Vase on … Oops


Yesterday I messed around with my camera and these ‘Limelight’ blooms, which I’d plucked from a trailing branch the day before. Then I went for a walk with my sister through the sheep fields that border the Pentlands. We found some rose hips and some wool and other foraged bits and bobs. I came home and played around with the camera a bit more, then I studied for my Portuguese lesson. Esqueço, esquece, esquecemos, esquecem. My husband came home from work, and we drove out to Loanhead to drop his car at the garage. It has a slow puncture. Then we went to a café for dinner, came home, and I faffed about a bit more. Acho que eu esqueci fazer alguma coisa. (I think I have forgotten to do something.) Then I went to bed.

At 4am today, I woke up and remembered. So this week, folks, it’s In a Vase on Terça-feira. Desculpe-me.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by the florifiscent Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, where you will find her bountiful dahlia-filled vase and links to all the other vases created by gardeners taking part in this addictive challenge.





The Gardeners’ Question Time Summer Party

Perusing stalls, with the famous Victorian glasshouse in the background

During a week in which Britain has demonstrated itself to be exceptionally bad at several things, including but not limited to international relations, various sports, and summer, it is reassuring to remember that there are still some things we are good at. One of these is informative radio broadcasting, and another is horticulture, and therefore a day at the Gardeners’ Question Time Summer Party was just the antidote to a week of embarrassing mayhem on the international stage. As we mingled with the kindly faces of fellow Radio 4 listeners perusing stalls for garden societies and reclaimed wooden furniture, who among us couldn’t feel comforted by the sense of continuity of all that is and always has been British? The lawns, the bunting, the mildly eccentric celebrities, the fizz of anticipation as we waited to see whose questions had been picked for the broadcasts…

Friendly Radio 4 crowd mingling after the first recording

Not mine, it turned out, nor that of my friend and fellow gardener M, who was as thrilled as I was to spot Bunny Guinness doing a piece to mic about a patch of dahlias right next to the bench where we were sitting as we agonised over what questions to write on our purple slips for the ballot box. Both of us were determined to achieve the glory of putting a question to the panel. Eventually, M plumped for the ‘boring dry shade question’ (her phrase) while I wrote a plea to cure or condemn a hydrangea of mine that has odd brown patches all over the leaves. In the end, eleven far more interesting questions were picked out of the 700 submitted, and M and I no doubt enjoyed the show all the more for not having to sit in the front row with the other questioners, fearfully waiting our turn to have our quavering voices broadcast to 2 million listeners.

Pippa Greenwood, Bunny Guinness and Bob Flowerdew, the panellists for the first broadcast. Bob Flowerdew has spotted my camera and flashed me a most charming smile.

Elsewhere in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh, where the party took place, we enjoyed demonstrations on composting, bread-making, and crop rotation among others, ate our lunch to the strains of a local Scottish folk band, and admired the Botanics’ wildflower meadow and bounteous summer borders, as well as the giant lily pads and other tropical wonders in the glasshouses. At a plant disease Q&A session, I was finally able to put my hydrangea question directly to Pippa Greenwood, who helpfully diagnosed a magnesium deficiency, which I might cure with a foliar spray of diluted Epsom salts.

The Gardeners’ Question Time Summer Party is broadcast on Radio 4 in two parts, the first today (Friday 15th July, repeated on Sunday), and the second at the same time next week.

Pippa Greenwood interrogates me about my hydrangea, and diagnoses a magnesium deficiency


A display about horticultural hygeine



Crop rotation education
Anthurium display inside the tropical glasshouses
Tropical scenery inside the glasshouses
Big enough to sit on. Giant lily pads inside the glasshouses

Absence makes the plants grow faster

Next to sunshine and warmth, the best thing to help a growing garden along its way is not to constantly watch it, or so I’ve found in the past few weeks as I’ve dashed straight from Derbyshire to Portugal to Cumbria with barely a second to draw breath or do any laundry. In those frantic few hours between destinations I just about managed to water my seedlings, but apart from that, almost three weeks had passed before I was able to spend last weekend in the garden and take a proper look at progress.

And quel progress. The sunshine had been working hard during my absence, and the plants, far from dying pathetically without my unremitting attention, had instead shot up, bloomed, spread, and be-decked themselves with leaves, without any supervision from me at all.

Crocosmia sprouting

The crocosmia, which I divided up from the large potted specimen in our rented back garden, after a hesitant start, is sprouting healthy green blades from its new position by the hedge and the gate. I am intending it to grow up and over to flop slightly across the edge of the path. Indeed I am hoping for a lot of general plant-flopping over the edge of the path in order to soften the edge somewhat and create a less formal, more casual, romantic look.

Hosta Devon Green
Hosta Patriot

The hostas, Devon Green and Patriot, which I despaired of ever seeing, are at last visible. I adore shining, healthy hostas and am so thrilled that mine are both arriving. I can’t wait to see what they will eventually look like. These are both on the shady side of the path where again I hope they will soften the hard line of the edging.



Hurrah for my Primula denticulata, the drumstick primulas! They are the most cheerful thing in the garden, these uplifting, gravity-defying lollipops, and I just adore them for all the healthy, vibrant colour they have supplied throughout this recent time of sparsity when I had little else going on bloom-wise. Imagine: this lot were originally a single plant, which I divided last autumn, and this year I should get another two or three plants from further divisions. Wonderful things.

Hydrangea macrophylla

This hydrangea is weeks behind everyone else’s (I do a great deal of glancing over other people’s front garden fences as I walk along; don’t you?) as it was a rather sickly thing when I bought it on the sale shelf of the garden centre. But it has been persuaded out in to leaf by the recent warm weather and I hope that a year of love and attention will stand it in good stead for lots of future blooms, which I believe will turn out to be bluey-white.


I am very pleased with these fat, healthy muscari, which fade from Delft blue to palest sky at the tips. Not bad for a Homebase impulse buy. You may have noticed from this and all my pictures that each plant is rather lonesome in its area of bare soil. I have plans for the bare patches, in short my white cosmos, delphinium Pacific hybrid, and aubrieta seedlings, and some dark ‘Black Paeony’ poppies which I will sow directly into the soil next weekend.

‘Denim’ primula

This odd little ‘Denim’ primula was a novelty Easter gift from my mother last year. It stayed outside all winter, alternately drowning and parching, and I am quite amazed that it has forgiven this treatment so generously by coming back into bloom here at the edge of the path. It is a funny-looking plant, but I am quite fond of it.

Morello cherry, with developing blossom buds just visible.

Now here is one of my most exciting horticultural treats: a morello cherry tree. One of the things I most wanted was to look out of the front window and see blossom in the spring. This tree, presently about 4′ tall, is planted in the furthest corner of the garden in a position calculated to overcast as little of the precious bed space as possible, the garden being shaded enough by buildings and large trees as it is. The morello cherry is one of the few fruit trees that will tolerate shade, and since the front garden receives only about 4 hours of sunlight in the summer (almost none in the winter), this was an easy choice. I am delighted that blossom is developing on the spindly branches; you can just about see the buds in the lower of the two photographs.

Bearded Irises: ‘Dusky Challenger’ and ‘Frost and Flame’

These bearded irises ‘Dusky Challenger’ and ‘Frost and Flame’ were chosen to contrast against one another. They are planted in the sunniest patch just behind the edge of the path.

Helleborus x sahiini ‘Winter Bells’

Hellebore season is somewhat over now that so many other plants have advanced onto the stage, but I should mention this ‘Winter Bells’ of miniature blush-and-coffee flowers that I bought on sale from Crocus and planted near to the cherry tree, where it has settled in very well. It is so cheerful and I am looking forward to seeing its charming blooms next winter when little else is on show in the garden.

Bergenia Eroica

Another triumphant, cheerful display here from my Bergenia Eroica, bought at the garden centre at Bodnant Garden in Wales. I have just flicked back through my blog to remind myself of its name, and in doing so saw from the photos I posted in March’s End of Month View how much everything, including this, has grown and spread in just this short space of time. The ability to photographically track these week-to-week developments is one of the many advantages of garden blogging.

Acanthus hungaricus

And here comes my Acanthus hungaricus, which I bought to compensate for the death of the self-seeded acanthus that was growing out of my mother’s compost heap and which she gave me last summer. I was so taken with her acanthus, with its striking, tall flower heads, that I knew I had to have one of my own. The hungaricus is slightly more delicate in colour and habit than the more usual mollis, I am led to believe.


And is that a tulip ‘Menton’ flower bud just coming through? I am looking forward to seeing these in bloom very much, having planted them in a panic very late in January. Tulips are probably my favourite spring bulb, and the ‘Menton’ should turn out to be the most elegant, pretty apricot pink colour.

Potato bags

Finally my potato bags. I’m afraid I cannot tell you the name of the potatoes I am growing inside these bags because I am typing this 130 miles away in Cumbria instead of in my office at home in Edinburgh where I keep the tags from all the plants I buy, ready to be organised into a file. But they are sprouting well and being earthed up, and watered too (hopefully) by The Brazilian, who is being a good egg at keeping the garden extremely well hydrated in my absence. I have been in Cumbria all this week and weekend, and won’t be home till next weekend, so The B has promised to send photos of the tulips and cherry blossom should they come out while I am away. And I of course will post photos of the garden next weekend for my End of Month View.

End of month view: March 2015

When a project becomes an obsession, it consumes your time, your money, your thoughts, your very soul. The front garden of our new flat has been my obsession for the past three months. During this time I have thought of little else, spent money on little else, used my free time for little else than digging, planting, heaving unwieldy loads of concrete, earth, gravel, and armfuls of hedge, from here, to there, to back here again, to the car, to the tip, to hell and back, it sometimes seemed. And it was all in pursuit of an aesthetic vision that was sometimes hazy, sometimes felt unachievable, but drove me on through sleet, rain, sub-zero temperatures and aching muscles…

November 2014

Do you remember this? This was the garden that we bought in November 2014, with its concrete paving and overgrown shrubs.

January 2015

And this was the view at the end of January 2015, shrubs gone but privet hedge still very much the boss.

I played around with different garden layouts on quadrant paper. The shed would go in the darkest corner, along with a small compost heap. I wanted a curving path leading from this to the gate, and an area to sit and admire the view, with space for potted plants and a climbing rose. There would be a sunny bed, a shady bed, and a blossom tree in the North West corner where it would not overshadow the beds too much.

What to edge the borders with, and what to tread underfoot? My first edging choice was wood, but I could not find a source of what I considered to be inoffensive wooden edging. Plastic? Eugh! Bricks? Pretty, but my Aunt Kate warned me that they harbour slugs. Everedge? Have you seen the price of that stuff? I am not Rockefeller. On with the search. But search as I might, the only viable option seemed to be Everedge. Bendable, long-lasting, attractive and a piece of cake to install, it was screaming ‘Perfect’ to me. But the price… ouchio.

Fine. Maybe I could find the funds for Everedge. I would turn off the heating and rifle through bins for my lunch. Before long, I convinced myself that three figures for garden edging that would eventually be hidden under clouds of lavender and catmint was entirely reasonable, and soon enough five heavy slabs of dark brown Everedge arrived on my doorstep.



Here is the shady bed outlined in Everedge. Finally, a garden is emerging, a garden no longer dominated by a very bossy hedge.

Now for the paths. Having admired the reclaimed brick paths of more than one garden blogger, I think this would have been the option had I had more time, energy and money at this stage. Grass was a no-no (too much upkeep, not enough sun). Flagstones? Ah, sigh. Probably six times the cost of the Everedge. What about gravel? It is inexpensive, quick to lay, free-draining and not wholly unattractive. What’s more, it gives a pleasing crunch underfoot.

20150330_130249-2On Monday, we took delivery of a package that was too big for the letterbox.

Spreading the gravel was surprisingly fun. Perhaps not the back-breaking part where we shovelled it out of the bag into the wheelbarrow, but definitely the pouring out and combing it smooth with a rake. Ah, that lovely crunch; the satisfying way it smoothed over the sins of the bumpy, muddy, rocky ground below; the contrast of the dark soil, black Everedge outline, pinky-grey paths…


IMG_0043And so here, at last, is my End of Month View: March 2015. Ta-da!

It will look even better once the plants are more than an inch high. So, exactly what plants do we have?


Well, this is Scotland, after all. A wee winter heather…

IMG_0032Leaf buds reluctantly emerging on a hydrangea aspera ‘Macrophylla, which I bought for a song from the garden centre sale shelf.


A yellow honeysuckle for the railings. The honeysuckle is in a race with the weather… I need to paint the railings, but cannot until the temperature reaches 10 degrees on a dry day, by which time the honeysuckle may have begun winding around the railings. Come on, sunshine!


Cyclamen, from Bodnant, to naturalise under the morello cherry tree…


… and a Bergenia Eroica, also from Bodnant, just coming into bloom. The foliage will turn to ruby red in winter.


And my beloved drum primulas, divided from the vigorous specimen I planted in our rented flat’s front garden last spring. This one will be divisible again before long, and is working hard to give my mostly bare garden some delightful spring colour.

IMG_0008And another vigorous primula, again divided from clumps in our rented garden.


The white tulips, Menton tulips and white narcissi that I planted very late in January are bursting through the soil in a most gratifying manner.


Alliums are a garden must, in my opinion. This is one of several that I bought from Bodnant’s inspirational garden centre. It does not appreciate the wind that has been howling through the depleted privet and damaging its long, floppy leaves.


A camellia japonica ‘Mathotiana Rosea’, also from Bodnant. The Brazillian had been sitting an exam in North Wales while I borrowed his car for a blissful morning at Bodnant, and he did raise an eyebrow when I brought his car back to him filled with a jungle of new plants. The camellia is in a pot of ericaceous compost. The soil in Scotland tends to be acidic, but I have not tested ours, so the pot is to be on the safe side.



A garden is not a garden without roses. My darling Granny gave me a generous birthday cheque, and with it I raided David Austin’s virtual shelves for five roses; here are two: a climbing Shropshire Lad for around the sitting room window (joined by a clump of ‘borrowed’ snowdrops from our rented garden), and a yellow Lady Gardener, the latter sprouting famously already…


..while my poor hellebore ‘Double Ellen Red’ is doing rather less famously. It caught a fungus while wrapped in winter fleece, and I am not convinced it will make it back to the land of the living. One lives in hope…


And where is my hosta Devon Green? No where to be seen… yet.


A geranium pokes a cautious head forth through the stony soil. I can’t recall its name.



Two pots… the first contains a lily, whose shoot excitingly appeared yesterday. I transplanted these inherited muscari into the pot to make it look less empty. The second contains dianthus, bugle and stonecrop, all going cheap at Homebase.

And I’ve been busy sowing seeds…


… sweetpeas…




Still to sow: black poppies, white cosmos, apricot foxgloves…


Here is my new compost heap, currently containing privet hedge and leaves, shredded down. Our soil is desperate for some organic matter, though this won’t be ready for a year or two.


And the privet is already growing back! Privets use a lot of nutrition, and if you don’t directly feed them they sap the nutrients from the soil, leaving other plants gasping. I have poured what seems like gallons of liquid feed onto the roots (which are fully cleared of the half-foot of dead leaves), plus generous handfuls of chicken manure pellets and wood ash. All this will help it grow back healthily without depleting the soil.

So, there we have it. Plenty of sweat and toil, and plenty more to do. And I couldn’t have done it without my friends… The Cousin, who uprooted the cotoneaster, then dug over the entire garden without even being asked to, before single-handedly pushing the damaged wall back into place. My friend Fiona, who donated a sunny afternoon to helping me hack back the hedge. And The Brazillian, who kept me company on tip-trips, helped me heave the concrete, spread the gravel and burn the shrubbery as well as supplying constant cheering-on, encouragement, and not a little patience.

End of Month View is hosted by Helen at The Patient Gardener. Do visit her blog and find out what she and other garden bloggers have been up to this month.


Botanic panoramic: February 2015

The Brazilian and I went to the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh.
We went primarily to view the snowdrops. They were beautiful, although not as plentiful as I imagined they would be.
They clustered under the trees and in among the grass.
It was the most beautiful winter’s day imaginable. A deep blue sky, and even some warmth.
The snowdrops were not the only starring bulbs. A handful of crocuses had come out too on this spring-like day.
Naturally there were plenty of hellebores.
Hellebores are one of my favourite plants, and I was interested to see the many different types they had in the Botanical Gardens, such as these H. orientalis.
The Garden looked impressively green for this time of year.
Sun-starved Edinburghers wandered dementedly through the luxuriant light.
There was a great deal of eye-catching foliage…
… like these beautiful Bergenia ‘Margery Fish’.
… and berries galore (Skimmia japonica reevesiana)….
… and galore…
… and galore (Gaultheria poeppiggii)….
…. and galore!
But even more fetching were the dried stalks and seed heads, all that remained of glorious summer past.
These spiny structural remnants had no name beside them, or I’d have ordered some for my own garden.
Old dried hydrangea flowers with their pearl-button petals are another favourite of mine.
The sunlight highlighted the twists, imperfections and eccentricities of the bare bark and gnarled branches of deciduous trees such as this Pyrus salicifolia, a willow-leaved pear. (It may not be lost on those interested in botanical nomenclature or in botanical sources of pharmaceuticals that salicylates, such as aspirin, originate from willow bark.)
This diamond bark reminded me of a baked apple lattice.
While this ancient old Parotia persica resembled a mad old bag lady.
And these dead grasses looked like wild blonde hair.


I adored the many viburnum (viburna?).
These pretty stars belong to a Vinca difformis. Did you know that alkaloids from Vinca species are an important treatment for some types of cancer?
We found more hellebores…
…and more snowdrops. Since we’ve touched on the subject of botanical pharmaceuticals, Galanthus species are the source of galantamine, a drug used in the management of various types of dementia.
This wicked looking Rosa sericea omeiensis comes from China.
Parts of it look like the perimeter fence of a high-security unit.
Although I’m not much fond of bamboo in gardens, the stripes on this one were so interesting to photograph.
And I loved this hazy scene of intricate red branches lit up out of the shadows here and there by sunlight.
I’ll be back as often as possible with further reports on what’s blooming, springing, swaying, sprouting and bursting throughout the year at the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh.

Edging, Rubble and Hedging Trouble: Resolve and Realise February 2015

cropped-img_0145.jpgThank you to Jen at Duver Diary for starting ‘Resolve and Realise‘, in which we share our gardening to-do lists for the month ahead. I do hope you’ll take part too. I have to admit that while I enjoy reading gardening memes on other people’s blogs, so far I’ve had to be realistic about joining in with them. Given the current state of my garden, there won’t be anything ‘In a Vase on Monday’ for a while to come, and the dark evenings seriously impede on my ability to produce photographic blooms for ‘Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day’. But lists are something I can join in with and even excel at, no matter how dark and miserable it is outside. Our new garden consists of piles of dirty gravel and rubble so there is no shortage of jobs to be done. I’m desperate to get it into decent form in time for summer, and these lists will be perfect for focusing the mind to the task ahead. Furthermore, being relatively new to gardening, I’m not confident about when certain gardening tasks should be done, so following the Resolve and Realise lists of more experienced gardeners will undoubtedly give me some much needed guidance. My list for February: Paint coldframe a lovely shade of white. Start compost heap, mainly for burial of privet remains (see below). Tame horrible privet hedge and rescue the wall it is attacking. Sand and paint garden bench so I have somewhere to sit and admire the bare soil. Mark out and prepare beds for planting so that eventually I have something other than bare soil to admire. Plant honeysuckle, hydrangea, hellebore, sarcococca, hosta. Sow sweetpeas in new root trainers. Buy pear tree for far corner. Lift, divide and replant crocosmia corms. IMG_0220Half the fun of lists is ticking items off. Although I did not make a Resolve and Realise post for January, I made a mental to-do list and this is what I achieved. As you’ll see, I have mainly been shopping: Buy coldframe too late for plants that the frost has already killed. Order garden edging and keep quiet about how much it cost. Paint garden shed in duplicitous shade called ‘Concord Grape’ (AKA white. Was supposed to be stone grey). Order sweetpeas and root trainers which will be the first inhabitants of the coldframe. Buy hedge trimmer. Mend the terrifying bit of wire the seller cut through and ‘soldered’ together. Remove concrete rubble (one final car load for the tip tomorrow morning). Dig out root stumps (four down, three to go).IMG_0300

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I used to work with a lady who said that all the time. I think she sort of meant, ‘anywaaaay’, or perhaps it was just her way of reserving space on the crowded verbal airwaves of our department.Garden plan

Anywaaaay… to say that I’ve been thinking incessantly about our new garden would not be hyperbole. I think about it when I go to sleep. I think about when I wake up. During my lunch break at work, when everyone else is chatting or reading magazines, I design garden layouts on quadrant paper. I spend my weekends hauling cement blocks to the tip, levering root boles out of the ground, hoisting soil and sand and gravel about, in short doing a lot of the type of gardening that constitutes hard labour rather than the pretty sort of gardening that involves dividing, cultivating, deadheading, and planting seeds. That’s why I’m not showing you any photos of the new garden today. It still looks like a building site.

I think about the new garden so much that I have been forgetting that ‘back at the ranch’ I have a perfectly good garden that is doing all the delightful things that gardens do in early spring. So this morning I went out with my camera to pay them homage.

My esteemed hellebore ‘Winter Moonbeam’ is coming into flower. I have cut back the old leathery leaves as one is supposed to do, to allow the new growth to shine forth in all its Neapolitan glory. IMG_0003I planted the hellebore in March 2014 and it has done pretty well in this corner. There are few advantages of having to stay in this flat for an extra few months while the renovation project goes on in the new flat, but one of them is that I may have time to divide this hellebore before we leave so that I can bring it with me.

Now, what on earth is this snapdragon doing out at this time of year? Is this normal? Yes, the garden is sheltered, but we’ve just had two weeks of a steady minus two degrees and there it goes still blooming away like it’s July. I’d like to divide this too, but I’m not sure that’s kosher for an antirrhinum (chime in if you know).

IMG_0005The crocuses are coming up. This north-east-facing front garden doesn’t get a lot of light at this time of year and I recall that last year these didn’t come out until a good few weeks after everyone else’s.

IMG_0006The snowdrops are coming out too, along with new shoots of the rather bossy Spanish bluebells that are simply everywhere in this garden.


Here are more snowdrops together with a charming primrose (and more bossy Spanish bluebells). I have divided this primrose and potted it up for the new garden.


The lobelia goes on and on, although it’s starting to look less sure of itself…


And here is one of my drum primroses stalwartly surviving the cold. I divided and potted these up for the new garden too.


IMG_0018And the roses, which I brutally pruned in Autumn, are also coming freshly in to leaf.

IMG_0008The hydrangea is too.


While watching it from a nearby window is a vaseful of its dried hydrangea flowers.


And the Skimmia japonica ‘Fragrans’ is budding, although the only fragrans I could smell was the laundry powder on the sheets that a girl was hanging out on the back green washing line as I took the photos.


Finally, tonight is Burns’ Night, so,

‘Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,

And dish them out their bill o’ fare,

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware

That jaups in luggies;

But, if ye wish her gratefu’ pray’r

Gie her a Haggis!’

An Autumn Tidy-up

Autumn in Scotland is breathtakingly beautiful. I think it is my favourite time of year. Every morning I travel by train to Stirlingshire and the views knock me dead, they really do. I can hardly describe the sight of the rising sun striking golden trees above a ground mist with the billowing Ochils in the distance… you have to see it to believe it. And when I see it, I think again and again how lucky I am to live in this country of elegant colours and subtle lights, and how views like this make up for all the rainy Junes you can throw at me.

In the garden, November is a contrary time. On the one hand it is a time of death and decay, while on the other hand certain flowers are still in bloom, including my inexhaustible lobelias and some hesitant purple primroses. I even harvested a couple of tomatoes at the beginning of the month.


Gardening jobs at this time of year largely involve tidying, especially of leaves, and preparing for next year. But this November I won’t be making many preparations for next year: the Brazilian and I will soon be leaving this flat and its gardens to some future tenant, someone who, I hope, will take good care of the gardens, and who will enjoy the bulbs I planted last year. And in turn, we will be taking on a garden of our own; more of that soon.

Nonetheless, the broom awaits. Last weekend I cleared two large sacks of leaves from the front garden. We are collecting them in the backgreen to rot down for leaf mould.


Other Autumn tasks include pruning of roses. It is done to reduce the size of the plant by about a third in order to lessen wind-rock, but mine are so sickly I spent some extra time removing dead wood and some of the more hopelessly diseased twigs and branches. I can hardly believe that these bare sticks were once bedecked by these glorious flowers. Still, one or two of the roses had some buds still to come, which I cut and brought indoors.



I also cut and brought indoors many of the huge hydrangea blooms. Our hydrangea was so overgrown it could barely stand. Actually, that is an understatement: the entire plant had flopped right on to the floor. It received a severe pruning, from which I gathered armfuls of these enormous dying blooms and put them in vases all over the flat.