12 May 2015

The Primrose path

May is probably my busiest time of year. After a long winter and a colder-than-average early Spring, we've had a few warm days and everything, flowers, weeds and grass, has sprung to life and is growing like crazy. There isn't much grass to cut at Hill Top but at Monk Coniston, one of the other gardens I look after, there is enough to keep me busy for quite a few hours. I cut it the week before last and I've just been over there and it already needs doing again!

Given the amount of work to do at this time of year, it probably wasn't a great idea to take a week off for a 'boys trip' (or more accurately a 'middle-aged and increasingly decrepit blokes trip'). We stayed in a remote and basic bothy near Inverie in Knoydart on the North-West coast of Scotland, and spent three days mountain biking and walking whilst dodging the rain and snow showers. 

Quite snowy on the tops!

One of the highlights of the trip (apart from the excellent Old Forge which claims to be the remotest pub in Britain) was the sheer number of wild flowers.
On one of our jaunts up an unpronounceable Scottish munro, large areas of the lower slopes were literally covered in wild primroses, accompanied by wood anemones, dog violets, lesser celandine and even a common lizard warming up in the sun. The surprising thing was all these woodland flowers were growing quite happily a long way from the nearest woodland. We came to the conclusion that at one time in the past (before the clearances?) the area would have been wooded, and although the trees have gone, the flowers have remained and are thriving thanks to the very low grazing pressure. We saw quite a few Red Deer but no sheep at all while we were there.

Primroses by the thousand

Back in the real world, my little greenhouse is bursting at the seams with all sorts of vegetable and flower seedlings all waiting until they are big and brave enough to go out and face the slugs and snails and mice and rabbits and cold and wind and rain of Hill Top garden. I've got marrows and broad beans, hollyhocks and everlasting flowers, lettuces and kale, pumpkins and French beans and I'll be planting them out over the next few weeks. I've put in my onion sets and planted potatoes already and I'll be sowing seeds like beetroot, peas and spinach straight into the ground as soon as I get chance. I'll keep you updated on their progress.

Waiting to go out

Other plants looking good at the moment include the white wisteria on the house wall which is just coming into flower and the Azaleas opposite which will soon be their usual riot of colour. Having looked back at some photos from last year, the flowering time seem to be about two weeks behind last year. 

Something which you just have to see and hear if you're in the area is the 'Harmonica Botanica' currently installed in the fern house at Wray Castle. A plant growing in a pot has electrodes clipped to its leaves and roots and the change in resistance as the plant grows is fed into a box of electronic gibbons which converts the signals into wonderful soothing, constantly changing music. One of our visitors found it so relaxing that they fell asleep and missed their bus home! Here's a link showing the Harmonica when it was installed at Cragside, apparently the gardeners there are really missing it. It's at Wray Castle until May 20th so pop along if you can.

My musical link this time isn't one of my all time favourites but it ticked too many boxes to pass up, especially in the week following the somewhat momentous result in the general election 'North of the Border'.

See you next time

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener