Gardens according to Rab
I am a keen gardener. I have enjoyed many years of growing my own vegetables and soft fruit, trying to beat the weather and the bugs without too many chemicals. I don't grow too many vegetables these days and I've taken to growing more shrubs and flowers and making the garden look and smell nice.
Tomatoes are a great love of mine. I'm afraid to try new varieties as the commercially grown tomatoes are tasteless. I've stuck with Ailsa Craig for years now although they are subject to greenback and I would be grateful to here from anyone who has tried the new varieties and has found they have good flavour and good ripening qualities. The things they sell in today's supermarkets are raunchy and taste more of turnips than tomatoes. I am all for good science which improves the quality of all our lives but I don't see any benefit in these modern tomatoes other than that somebody is able to make a business out of selling them as food when they are not anything like tomatoes. I bought some vine ripened tomatoes from a local stall one day and they proved to be the same unnatural creations with a beautiful colour but the same turnip flavoured raunchiness lay below their rosy red skins. I have come to the conclusion that you can't buy a tomato any more. You have to grow it.
My present garden is a new project for me as I only recently moved house. It was totally neglected for many years and I have a big problem with wire worm. I don't believe in using chemicals. In my previous garden I had access to good farmyard and horse manure and I had large compost heaps as I cut nearly an acre of grass for a small caravan site. I also had chickens. The soil was very light and sandy and it took a bit of feeding. Where I am now the soil is a varied mixture of good old well worked garden soil with added soot and subsoil which has been brought to the surface by previous tenants in an attempt to level areas for pigeon huts and the like. One such pigeon hut was not 100 yards from my present location and belonged to Montgomerie brothers. My great uncle John Montgomerie and his brother William were the proud winners of Rennes in 1953. It fell on me to clean and feed the doos as we know them locally at the age of 10. As these gardens are on such a steep incline, my uncle Jonnie had suffered a mild stroke and was advised by the doctor not to climb the hill to his pigeon loft. I came every morning to feed and water and every evening to bed them down. I picked my raspberries from the adjacent garden which was overgrown with willow herb which seemed to naturally support the raspberry crop. My uncle Jonnies brother Willie Montgomerie had an excellent vegetable plot. Pigeon manure or doo pen as we knew it, was invaluable stuff to the vegetable gardener. It was also mixed with fresh sharp sand from the river Ayr which helped to lighten the heavy clay soil. I had to collect a fresh bucket of sand from the riverside once a week to scatter on the floor of the pigeon loft every day after cleaning. So having arrived here some 30 odd years later to set up my new garden has been a bit like coming home. My new garden is well placed for sunshine and drainage and a certain amount of shelter from the prevailing winds. But it is on a very steep incline and I have spent many hours of hard labour building retaining walls and steps.
After two years I am beginning to settle down to having more of a decorative garden than a productive one as the problems of getting manure up the hill for the rain to wash back down the hill make it impractical as a vegetable plot. I still have my soft fruit and I grow leeks and a few herbs and a small tasting of epicure potatoes. I take cuttings from everything I see that I like and my plant collection is now quite staggering. My biggest problem is deciding where to put the shrubs I've grown from cuttings without creating a future problem when they over grow their site. It would be nice to think that I could eventually find the right place for all my plants where the colours didn't clash and each area had something of interest in bloom all summer. But maybe that's what every gardener can only dream about. It's a bit like expecting the children to come home from school as well dressed as you sent them out in the morning.
I recently started to visit flower shows and after two I have decided they are not for me. Begonias the size of your head and vegetables grown for looks are of little interest to me. I do like to meet other gardeners who have an interest in good food as the first reason for gardening and who prefer organic. I don't mind using artificial fertilisers on some flowers or shrubs. I have some very good gardening books but the thing that interests me is taste and fragrance and manageability of plants. It is always nice to hear about the successes of peoples new varieties. I have many lovely rockery plants and hardy perennials. I always prefer to grow hardy perennials as I don't have time to grow too many annual bedding plants. This year I've brought on a host of mixed foxgloves having only ever grown the wild foxgloves before. I will report on how they do next year. My favourite plant of recent years is Dianthus Deltoids which produces a lovely crimson carpet and the only problem I have with it is wondering where I'm going to plant it next as it is such an easy plant to grow but the red colour dominates my garden now. I thought about using it to make a large sort of cushion and interplanting a design with bedding plants but I don't know if the red background is really just too much or if I am beginning to tire of the plant always dominating my garden. My trouble is I can't throw away a healthy plant. I also have the Cheddar Pink which seems to be a very near relative although it doesn't quite stand so proud. I can visualise me starting to plant this in the wild soon but I don't know if I would want the Ayrshire countryside to turn red. I think I'll need to look at some of the garden design software to see if I can get a little program that would allow me to design things over the winter and get an idea of what the finished product would look like. Software is usually good value for money but it is a disappointment when you pay for something up front only to find that it's not good enough to do the job. I would be grateful to hear from anyone who has dabbled in garden design programs that could help me design flowerbeds.
Well my foxgloves were lovely but I had far too many and I will just have to wait and see what has become of the billions of seeds they have produced. I will leave those that have reseeded to grow on for another season unless they are too thick in which case I'll just pull them out when I'm weeding. I'm going to make a point of planting no annuals this year so I can concentrate on getting my perennials better placed.
After tidying up the garden this year I have discovered that the steep slope is a wonderful thing for the reseeding of plants. I can imagine that it won't take me long to gather a large collection on rockery plants. I'm delighted with this as I was always more fond of rock gardens than any other form. I hope to develop the top of my garden now into a very large rockery.
I have had little time for the garden over the last 9 months but nothing has suffered much from my neglect. My plants are all doing well and I hope to be able to build a new retaining wall this summer. Aquilegia is a great favourite of mine and the last two years my aquilegias have been slaughtered by a green caterpillar which I think is the larvae of some kind of saw fly. I gave up growing gooseberries because of gooseberry sawfly. I wonder if any organic cures exist for this type of pest. I wonder too if it's the variety that is wrong because my uncle Willie never was bothered with this when I was a boy. The only thing I can remember him using was soot water. He once said to me, "When you get a garden Robert, you inherit a hundred thousand enemies. And when you've dealt with those with a thousand legs and a hundred legs and six legs and four legs, your down to your two legged friend who will slip in and steal the wee bit of cabbage you have left." Munt as we knew him, was a great wit and is sadly missed.
I recently got back to my garden after being made redundant from my constant night shift job which was really good while it lasted but I'm glad to be back in the land of the living and much as I enjoyed my work I will never work night shift again now at my age. This year has been very good for growing things for various reasons I can't quite explain. Number one we had a very warm and early spring. Number two there are literally no aphids in my garden. And the weather has never really been too wet or too dry. I have been remarking to people that I haven't seen a ladybird and I have only found one greenfly so far and it was on a rose that I recently bought and planted. As I don't use sprays I cannot understand this. I am now wondering if the boys setting fire to the grass in the fallow ground all around me this spring has had anything to do with it but my daughters garden at Mauchline hasn't been subject to that and she has no ladybirds or aphids either. Could it be the warm weather? It's strange. Could it be the large population of foxgloves in both our gardens? Knowing what a normal year is like I'm beginning to worry that something more sinister is at work but that's maybe just my natural paranoia. There are plenty of bees and wasps and the dreaded midge but where are the greenfly and the ladybirds. I suppose it's logical to assume that with no aphids you wont get ladybirds cause they won't have much to live on but as a gardener who uses no chemicals this year has been an absolute haven.
I'm starting a new wall next week and hope to be tidying up the garden and building 3 retaining walls and a summerhouse so I can enjoy being in the garden more of the time. We'll see how things progress and hopefully it'll be the start of the garden I have planned since moving here but the work of retaining walls will make access and maintenance a lot easier. The swans are back at the front door and have started nesting just across from my window so it'll be interesting to see if they get peace to bring up their brood. First of the good weather I'll take some photos of the swans and add them to my collection.
Well I've had to neglect most of my plants as the work progresses to build my retaining walls and move the soil around. I was going to head this with The 41 steps as this is the number of steps I have to climb to reach just the greenhouse level. Every concrete block and every pail of ballast and every bag of cement has been taken up these steps and it has at times seemed like an impossible task but I have to resolve myself to taking it one step at a time. The terrible part of it is that the garden itself has gone back the way and I have to keep moving shrubs to temporary new homes and I can see that I'm not going to have room for a lot of my shrubs. It will be worth it in the long run though as this will give me basically 3 good level areas to experiment with. I also won't have to worry about the temporary wooden steps and their maintenance as they are now solid concrete. I've finished the 2 major walls and I've just now to complete a smaller wall in front of the greenhouse which will give me a good level area outside the greenhouse to put out my boxed plants to harden off. It's been hard to try to take in an overall vision of what I'm trying to achieve as it's all too much so I have to just keep at the building for this year and take it a bit at a time. I can see also that it won't all happen this year so I will finish the last wall and then get on with the gardening side things. The walls themselves are pretty ugly at the moment but I will be growing things on them eventually and they will take on a new appearance.
The first wall my neighbour who's a bricklayer helped me to build 7 years ago is now a picture with honeysuckle and a Virginia Creeper and I'm sure the rest of them can be blended in with plants too. I bought myself a hedge trimmer so my beech and hawthorn hedges are beginning to take shape and I can see a way to them being very easily maintained now with less than 2 days work each year. The weather has been great and it's a pleasure to be up there looking down on the voes with the swans and ducks. My summerhouse may not happen this year now but who knows we'll just have to wait and see.
Well the first frosts are here and it's time to just tidy things up and get on with moving the larger shrubs around. It's my new ambition to get some hens again in the spring and get my summerhouse built next year.