The season is turning and quite frankly I’ll be glad to see the back of a pretty gloomy summer! We should be busy harvesting plums as I write this, but we’ve had the worst crop in years. The combination of a dry spring followed by a cold and wet summer has hit the trees hard and our yield is down by almost 70%, we barely have enough fruit to make the usual batch of plum gin and only a handful have been available for our visitors. At almost 60 years old, many of the trees growing against the walls are reaching the end of their lives and soon we’ll have to think about replacing them. It seems a shame to take away old trees but it opens up all sorts possibilities for interesting new varieties.
Whilst many flowers are past their best by now, our humble Dahlias seem to go from strength to strength. At last they’ve out-grown the threat of slug attack and are producing bloom after bloom to brighten up the garden in the late summer sunshine (when we’re lucky enough to get any!). I love the variety and exuberance of the flowers, we grow all sorts of different shapes and sizes, the solid apricot pop-poms of ‘Linda’s Baby’ are always a popular with florists but my favourite is the magnificent ‘Café au Lait’ with its huge creamy waterlily like flowers.
There are a few other gems still going strong in the cut flower beds; Rudbeckia with their golden yellow flowers, deep purple Japanese anemones and of course sweet peas in their hundreds filling the walled garden with perfume. Above all else it is the sunflowers that cheer me up when summer is coming to an end, they’re so simple and reliable, we grow a variety called ‘Red Sun’ that towers above its neighbours with glorious marmalade coloured flowers and songbirds love to feast on their seeds through the autumn.
Way back in 1823 the 5th Duke of Gordon sponsored an act of parliament to legalise the distilling of whisky in the highlands, almost 200 years later a very different and more fragrant type of distillation is occurring at Gordon Castle. We’ve been bust cutting back our rosemary and lavender and collecting the flowers and foliage in preparation for extracting their essential oils. If we were serious lavender farmers the best time to cut the flowers would be back in July when the percentage of oil is at its highest, but we can’t bare to deprive our bees and our visitors of the chance to enjoy them so we wait until later in the season. We load 800 litres of flowers and foliage into our still along with 100 litres of water which is then brought to the boil. As the steam rises up through the flowers the oils are extracted and condensed through as series of coils emerging as pure golden oil at the end of the process. For every 800 litres of lavender (or rosemary, mint and geranium) we get just 200ml of oil which then goes into our Flower Garden range of bath and beauty products.
It might seem strange for a productive gardener but I’m always slightly reluctant to start harvesting the wonderful plants that we grow, it seems such a shame to ruin a perfect row of cabbages by digging them up! At this time of year the beds are starting to empty; the onions have been lifted for drying, the peas have been pulled up and the potatoes are rapidly being boiled, fried and roasted in the café, leaving behind big patches of bare soil in the vegetable beds. I can’t hate to see empty space in a kitchen garden, we fill in as much as possible with fast growing salad crops but there are only so many lettuces that we need! The answer to this problem lies in what are known as ‘green manure crops’, these are fast growing plants that suppress weeds, add nutrients and improve soil structure. If you have an area that would otherwise stay empty through the winter, try sowing mustard, phacelia, alfalfa or fenugreek seeds to fill the space and hold the soil together. Simply cut them down and dig them into the soil in the spring, it’s a great way to add organic matter to your vegetable beds.
We’ll be busy through September harvesting apples and preparing for our annual garden market on the Saturday the 28th. This year the market will be bigger than ever, it’s a great way to enjoy the garden with live music, craft stalls, a barbecue and of course plenty of fresh produce from the garden to try out. As always everyone is welcome so drop in and say hello and if possible please bring some sunshine with you!