Believe it or not I’ve had to add mowing to our list of jobs this month. Who’d have thought our visitors would be enjoying sunshine, warmth and the smell of freshly cut grass at the beginning January! Trying to deal with the unpredictable weather is a huge challenge for gardeners, but it hasn’t always been like this, twenty years ago snow was almost guaranteed in October and the ground would stay frozen from November until the end of February. My father in law told me stories of driving the tractor across the frozen pond at Leith Hall where the ice would be so thick they could light a bonfire on it for Burn’s night.
Recently a colleague told me that the world is so big there is no way we can affect the climate. To my mind I can’t see how 7.8 billion people could fail to change the climate. Of course there are natural cycles and changes to weather patterns over the years. Our orbit around the sun changes over time, volcanic eruptions and ocean currents can affect the climate but none of these factors can explain the huge increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and corresponding increase in global temperatures over the last 200 years. This increase coincides exactly with the start of the industrial revolution, fossil fuel combustion and the huge increase in energy consumption from the 1970s onwards. Scientists predicted that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to higher temperatures, a shift in the seasons, and more floods, wildfires and storms. This all sounds depressingly familiar to me. Despite all of this doom and gloom human beings are a remarkable species and I think the best parts of our nature will overcome these problems. But it’s no good just sitting back and hoping someone else with sort it all out.
We’ve been trying to think of ways to lower our impact on the environment at the walled garden and there are a few simple things you can do at home to do your bit. Using organic peat-free compost for sowing seeds and potting up is a good place to start. Peat bogs are a hugely important environment that have been almost totally wiped out in Britain (we’ve lost 90%) just so that we can pot up our petunias. It takes 9000 years to form a 10m deep peat bed and just 50 years to clear, releasing even more co2 into the atmosphere. Many of the gardeners I’ve worked with believe that peat is the best growing media but this is not necessarily true. The Victorians did very well with little more than mixtures of loam, leaf mould and home-made compost. There are plenty of good organic composts available in garden centres, they tend to be more free draining than peat but this can actually be a good thing, lowering the risk of over-watering and rotting roots.
We always recycle our pots by reusing them every year and from now on we’re only going to buy biodegradable pots to sell plants in. If you ever need to buy plastic pots be sure to buy the brown ones, steer clear of the black ones because the sensors in recycling machinery can’t recognise black plastic and they’ll go straight into landfill! And from now on we’ll only be using wooden plant labels that will end up on the compost heap rather adding to the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean.
We are making the most of the unseasonably warm weather in the walled garden, pruning for hours on end is much more bearable when your toes aren’t cold and we don’t have to worry about levering leeks and turnips out of frozen soil when the chefs call! The kale is still growing happily and we even have some lettuce still standing in the salad beds. I hate to sound like Mr Mcgregor but the blasted rabbit is still on the loose in the garden, nibbling our beetroot at night and disappearing to goodness knows where during the day, if it was up to me rabbit pie would feature on the menu in the café every day!
The warmth has brought on the spring bulbs very early this year, even the tulips have started growing. The plants in our greenhouse have been basking in the sunshine filling it with the scent of ‘Paper White’ narcissus and vibrant pelargonium flowers. The micro-green seed we sow every week have been germinating at a rate of knots, only to be snipped back by the chefs and whisked away to the kitchens. Very soon we’ll start sowing the first flower and vegetable seeds and if the warm weather continues maybe we’ll see fruit blossom in January for the first time since the garden was built.
It hardly seems possible that another year is coming to an end and we have certainly packed in a huge amount over the last 12 months across the whole estate and Walled Garden. From the fishing to the castle, the cottages to the garden, from the professional to the personal, it has been a busy time.
After one of the driest summers last year, Ed (our Head Gardener who you may know from his monthly diary feature in the P&J) & our brilliant team were once again toiling in the rain and cold which helped replenish our water supplies and the lake. This didn’t make for an easy growing season, with a cold spring (apart from the glorious Easter weekend where the highlight was Angus’ nephew Alexander being the “giant Easter bunny” hopping around the garden and even waving to the children from the top of the wall!) into a very changeable Summer with more rain by May than we had in the whole of 2018! Our big project for the winter was planting up the soft fruit area, which we have all but completed and looking forward to a fantastic crop of strawberries, raspberries, black currants, gooseberries, tayberries and many more in 2020. We may even do a few pick your own weekends so keep an eye out for those on our events page. Our first flower festival weekend was a great success with five local florists using our beautiful, Scottish grown flowers to create arrangements placed around the garden for visitors to enjoy and I gave a few guided tours showing how to condition and cut flowers & to explain that we sell our flowers for weddings, parties, events so please pass on the word.
The outdoor theatres were as popular as ever and luckily only one was “brollies up” but still the show went on. Our annual birthday celebration was very well attended and we were able to showcase a couple of talented youngsters who sang in the courtyard entertaining visitors sitting outside. We even hosted the very first Speyside Gin Festival which attracted over 400 revellers to the ‘garden party’. It was a huge success and will be popping up at another location next year!
Our big news for the Garden was the visit of Arne Maynard who designed the layout of the Garden but had not been back for a couple of years. He was impressed by the progress we had made and produced his new plan for our amazingly long central borders which we can now start to plant with more perennials, rather than the 22,000 annual seedlings we are currently growing! We are also going to plant “Rowan trees” in between the pear tunnels which will give more height and make those vast paths seem more enclosed. It was lovely to have his expert input once more and discuss planting rather than building so exciting times ahead. Davy – who does all our hard landscaping – is currently laying bricks around the planting squares and we have completed another 500m of metal edging allowing us to finish two paths around the cherry orchard. Children still enjoy running up and rolling down the sides of the mounds and the grass maze proves popular with all ages. The permanent planting of copper beech will have to wait another year!
Our many different types of salad leaves kept the café supplied and we even found some other local outlets so if you know of any business who would like fresh produce locally grown then please ask them to get in touch. Sadly our market day was a “washout” with torrential rain all day but the brave souls who did come and support us were shown an incredible array of apple and pear varieties and beautiful veg straight from the Garden available to buy. The pick your own sweet peas suffered but flowered right into October. A special mention to our wonderful volunteers and “woofers” who make such an invaluable contribution to how the garden looks and a real difference to what we are able to achieve. It is a lovely way of keeping fit, enjoying some good company and taking some fresh produce home with you so do come and join our merry band.
We have had some amazing publicity for the Garden this year from the dizzy heights of Gardens Illustrated to the Telegraph, English Garden and Daily Mail. This will make a huge difference in terms of our visitor numbers and has been a huge boost to morale to have 3rd party affirmation and praise of what we are trying to do and achieve a centre of excellence in kitchen gardening. Thank you to all the journalists and photographers who made the Garden come to life for a wider audience.
As I write this, we have had wreath making workshops, a Christmas market and welcomed Santa to the Garden for the first time, his grotto looks magical and we hope everyone enjoyed the reindeer parade. It takes a huge amount of effort from our small team to put on events like this, in time, effort and financially and we try our best to think of every eventuality and make every experience a good one. Our December long Winter Festival was a huge success and we hope to plan another selection of events for next Christmas!
We had an equally busy year with weddings, a delightful lunch in aid of Macmillan, the NGS AGM, the Moray chamber of commerce dinner and of course providing first class service to our fishing parties throughout July, Aug and Sept. Refuel festival had better weather than most, the circus big top appeared once again and we have started work in the Tower Hall which will give us a fabulous space able to seat 200 people for any event so if you are looking for a venue after May 2020 do get in touch. The first film festival on the lawn of the Castle was a huge success mainly due to the fact the sun finally came out and shone brightly all weekend and allowed many of us to relive our youth to such classics as top gun, grease and for the wee ones we had Jungle Book and Harry Potter!
We continued to work on our several holiday cottages – including our romantic hideaway Quarry Gardens Lodge being awarded 5* by VisitScotland! We also welcomed the addition of Kennel Cottage which was the founding home to our beloved Gordon Setter.
The 2019 Gordon Castle Highland Games and Country Fair was a huge success. With more accurate reporting, we were able to identify successful marketing streams, visitor numbers and overall awareness. This resulted in over 8,000 visitors (70% from Moray), coverage in five national newspapers, three broadcast companies and four lifestyle magazines. For our 10 year anniversary, 2020 will focus on involving the local community. We will be looking to work with local school pupils to design an anniversary emblem – a symbol of Highland Games in 21st century and what it means to them.
A much better season on The Spey (not difficult after the drought of 2018) but still not as good as we had hoped. It provided a mixed bag for fishers with high water providing tricky conditions and some weeks getting “Lucky” one party in Aug catching 64 for the week. But some big fish were caught allowing Angus to hand over to the delighted fishers our 20lb club badge.
Everyone remains concerned about the decline of the iconic Salmon and we are doing everything we can to support the Atlantic Salmon Trust in particular who have been tracking smolts from the river to the Moray firth to try and get scientific data as to where the problems are. The river or the sea or a combination of both. We await over 15 million points of data currently being analysed and hope for a clearer picture of what needs to be done.
We have made good progress as far as getting our Gin and bath and body products out to a wider audience and into some hotels, restaurants and retail outlets. We would still love to hear of any businesses you think we should approach as personal introductions are usually much more productive than trade fairs! Our Inverness airport shop is attracting rave reviews and reaching over 850,000 travellers as they pass through so definitely a few more people will have come across our G logo.
On a personal level we must thank Dave Duncan, our factor, who retired in Sept and his wife Lyn for their unstinting support and hard work in helping us achieve so much over the last 11 yrs and we welcome Toby Christie who has arrived with great enthusiasm and ready for the challenges ahead. Our tribe of children continue to thrive at their various careers, the youngest Geordie, having just spent 3 days up here with 26 friends has made us feel very old and our gin played a full and numerous part in his 21st celebrations! Feeling even older, my gorgeous granddaughter Sienna, is adorable and we hope that she will greet the arrival of no 2 (due over the Highland Games w/e!) with a smile.
A very merry Christmas and happy New Year
We are looking forward to all the developments in 2020 and would just like to thank all our hard working and committed staff without whom none of the above would be possible. Huge thanks to you all , friends, customers, clients and visitors for your continued support which means so much to us as a family and business. Hoping for a kinder and more understanding 2020 and wish you all wherever you may be.
Wherever you may be we wish you all a happy and peaceful festive break, Angus and Zara
August is always a good month in the garden, the beds are full, visitors are streaming through the gates and the gardeners are happy. Harvesting is the biggest job at this time of year, it can be hard to keep up with the demand for fresh peas, new potatoes, kale, beetroot and salad leaves for the café, but it’s a lovely to see the garden earning its keep. For me one of the greatest pleasures of the summer is harvesting the first Apricots. They start off firm and tangy and slowly turn soft and fragrant as they ripen, I just can’t help tasting them as I work my way along the south facing wall picking them.
It’s amazing the difference a couple of degrees can make! The weather has gradually warmed up and plants that I thought were a write off back in June have started to flourish. French beans are twisting their way to the top of the poles and the pumpkins are snaking their way out of the veg beds onto the paths. Our courgette plants have doubled in size in just a week and in the blink of an eye their tender little fruit will turn into whacking great marrows. Our leeks are starting to bulk up and the onions are getting a good baking in the sun ready to collect and string up in the potting shed in a couple of weeks time.
After a difficult few months, at long last our tomatoes are ripening. They’ve battled their way through nutrient deficiencies, cold weather and an overly acidic water supply, but now we’re being rewarded with trusses of colourful fruit from 14 different varieties. Tangy ‘Orange Fizz’, super sweet ‘Golden Crown’ and the exotically striped ‘Green Zebra’ are brightening up the green house but to be honest you can’t beat plain old ‘Gardner’s Delight’ for taste and reliable cropping. We grow our tomatoes alongside big pots of basil, both plants like the same conditions, with the addition of some stringy mozzarella and a little olive oil you’ve got an instant summery salad!
Anyone who works outdoors can be in little doubt that the climate is changing. I have no time for the small minority of politicians who pretend global warming isn’t happening! As gardeners we’re finding the weather increasingly unpredictable. It seems we’re getting long spells of extreme conditions; from weeks of unseasonably cold and wet weather this summer, to almost three months without a drop of rain last summer. We’re trying to do our bit in the Walled Garden, we only use biodegradable plastic bags and recyclable punnets for our produce, our vegetables go from plot to plate using zero fossil fuels for transport, and I’m pretty sure all the trees we’re planting will offset any carbon emitted by our tractor and mowers.
There’s plenty you can do in your own garden to help combat climate change. Most of the fruit and vegetables we consume are brought in from abroad so growing your own produce has to be one of the most environmentally friendly hobbies possible, cutting down on packaging, transport and refrigeration. Planting fruit trees will help absorb carbon and whilst I’m as fond of a neatly cut grass as the next man, why not try turning part of your lawn into a wildflower meadow? Meadows only need be cut once or twice a year, they’re wonderfully beneficial for insects and save you the bother of mowing every week!
In between all the harvesting, we spent August gearing up for our Big Flower Weekend on 17th & 18th August. To celebrate all that is great about Scottish grown cut flowers, we invited local florists and flower farmers to the garden to give talks and demonstrations and decorated the garden and potting shed with all sorts of wonderful blooms. Our own cut flower beds were a riot of colour at the moment, overflowing with dahlias, scabious, sunflowers, cosmos, gladioli and a host of other floral delights. Our next big event is our Garden Market on 28th September. Head over to our events page to find out more!
I love the garden at the height of summer, everywhere you look plants are spilling over, bees, butterflies and birds are darting to and fro, mice are scuttling across the paths and gardeners are busy hoeing, watering and tending to the plants. The walled garden seems to take on a life of its own in August, all we can do is try and contain its exuberance a little and do our best to harvest the fruits of our labour!
It seems unusual to me to be working in a woolen jumper and thick overcoat during July, but then I’ve only been in Scotland for four years and I’m coming to expect almost anything from the weather this far north. The plants in the Walled Garden are as disgruntled as I am this summer. Our courgettes are sulking, refusing to flower or even put on any growth, and the French beans look decidedly sorry for themselves.
No season is perfect for every plant in the garden, and what is bad for one variety is often good for another, our brassicas are loving the cool temperatures and moist soil with huge healthy Kale leaves and wonderful Romanesco cauliflowers leading the way. Never count your chickens however, there’s invasion of Diamondback moths on the way and we’ve already seen the first of them. Tiny little buff brown ‘T’ shaped moths flitting here and there through the cabbage patch, their larva will strip a plant within just a few days if not dealt with. If you see the moths in your garden at home keep a close eye on all your cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli and kale. Regular squishing sessions should keep the caterpillars under control, but it’s best to protect your crops with very fine mesh such as ‘Enviromesh’ to avoid the problem all together.
For the first time slugs have been a major problem in the Walled Garden this year, our runner beans have been decimated, along with nasturtiums and lupins. Whilst I’m doing my upmost to destroy these dastardly mollusks, my children are collecting them up, feeding them and keeping them as pets! They inevitably escape and leave slimy trails through the house as they make their way back to the garden to gorge on our precious vegetables!
Whilst there is not much I can do about my children, there are plenty of ways to deal with slugs and snails. If you have a small garden or green house, beer traps work very well, sink a jam jar into the soil and half fill with beer and the slugs will sniff it out and spend the last few moments of their existence happily inebriated. On a larger scale ferric phosphate slug pellets can be effective, they’re certified organic and will not harm birds or wildlife. The traditional metaldehyde-based pellets won’t be available to buy from next year, and I don’t see the point in growing beautiful healthy vegetables and then surrounding them with toxic chemicals! If you are truly overrun, introducing nematodes into your soil may be the answer. Tiny, microscopic parasites, nematodes can dramatically reduce slug populations if applied at the right time of year. A product called ‘Nemaslug’ is widely available for amateur gardeners and is highly recommended.
Although the garden is growing very slowly this summer, the plants in the greenhouses are thriving. The cucumbers and melons are shooting upwards with the first baby fruits showing and our ornamental gourds are starting to produce their amazing knobbly little squash. With all glasshouse crops, especially those grown in pots, it’s really important to feed regularly. Don’t believe claims on compost bags such as ‘enough nutrients to feed plants for 6 weeks’, we’ve already seen nutrient deficiencies in both our cucumbers and tomatoes. We apply liquid high potassium feed twice a week, and every month with give our plants both iron and calcium. A sure sign of a hungry plant is pale green new growth or little brown or yellow patches on the leaves.
Out on the walls our fruit trees seem to be growing well with plenty of apples, pears and plums starting to swell up. I’m always excited to see the first figs ripening in July. It’s a competition between me and the birds to get them as soon as they’re ready (the birds normally win) but there’s nothing better than eating them on a summers morning straight from the tree, still warm from the sunshine.
We’re picking cut flowers almost every day now to decorate the café, cottages and castle and we always make up a few extra bouquets for our visitors to take away and brighten up their homes. The sweet peas are the most popular with their bright colours and wonderful scent. There’s nothing like fresh flowers to show someone your love or appreciation and often the most common flowers can make a wonderfully simple arrangement. Alchemilla, Sweet William and Nigella go together to make a beautiful and vibrant combination and you can add in larger flowers such as roses or irises to create a more elaborate bouquet. If that sounds too complicated just come to the walled garden and we’ll do all the hard work for you!
One of the benefits of working as a gardener is that you have to time to notice changes and rhythms in the natural world. This year we’ve seen a big increase in the numbers of both insects and birds in the garden. We’ve been invaded by ladybirds! A mild winter and warm spring have brought them out of hibernation in droves and we’re very glad to see them feasting on the aphids that have ruined our crop of tulips in the cut flower beds. Every garden has its own ecosystem with each different layer of life connected to the next. The fungus and bacteria in the soil support plants that in turn feed the insects that feed the birds and small mammals that then feed the bigger animals such as buzzards, owls and foxes.
What we do as gardeners can make a huge difference the balance of life in the garden. Over the years we’ve been trying to encourage more insects by planting wild flowers, using less pesticides and by gardening in a more organic way, and It seems that this year all of our hard work has paid off. We’ve been blessed with a huge variety of birds coming into the walled garden and making it their home. Alongside the regular visitors (oystercatchers, swallows and robins) we’ve seen blue tits, chaffinches, thrushes and we even have some wagtails nesting in our bug hotel in the play area.
The spring display seems to have come and gone in the blink of an eye this season, the daffodils and tulips flowered their socks off and disappeared by the beginning of the month. Even though the fruit blossom is almost finished, the bees have done their job and our trees are laden with fruit, we’re all set for a heavy crop this year. The herb beds are looking lovely at them moment. Full of flavoursome and fragrant plants, they are as beautiful as they are productive, the cloud pruned rosemary hedges are covered with sky blue flowers making them look like rivers winding their way through the plants. We love to see the chefs making their way through the herbs, foraging for flowers and leaves to brighten up their dishes.
Now is a great time to plant out sweet peas, being hardy annuals we could have planted them much earlier, but if you wait until May they hit the ground running and soon shoot up their wigwams. Building a wigwam is dead easy and if done properly should be strong enough to take the weight of the plants and stand up to strong winds. The first step is to put down a tape measure along the length of your plot and use a strong stick or ideally a metal bar to make a row of holes 1 foot deep and 2 feet apart, make another row of holes opposite the first ones 2 feet away. Push eight foot canes into all of the holes and use the heal for your foot to firm them in. Cross each pair of canes over each other and tie them together as tightly as you can about five and a half feet from the ground, if you don’t tie them tightly the whole structure will collapse later in the year! Finally place canes horizontally into the ‘V’ of each pair and again tie them tightly to brace up the whole structure. As well as sweet peas, wigwams are really useful for runner beans, climbing French beans or even Morning Glory.
May has to be one of our busiest months and we’re making the most of the lovely hot and dry weather to plant out hundreds of flower, herb and vegetable plants, it’s a race against time to get them all in the ground before they out-grow their pots! We’re a little late in the veg beds this year, there seemed little point sowing into bone dry soil, so we waited for the more clement conditions and it seems at last we’re getting some proper ‘growing’ weather. We’ve seeded rows of carrots, parsnips, beetroot and planted out cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower and there’s plenty more to come! The brown neatly raked soil is giving way to the lush green of young plants and it’s a great feeling to see the garden fill up again.
As another year comes around, we’re all busier than ever in the walled garden, planning, pruning and ploughing, trying to make the most of this mild winter before the freezing weather arrives. The building work continues, Davie our landscape gardener has his work cut out laying paths and metal edges around our cherry orchard and building the beds and training posts for another 80 step-over apple trees.
We’ve got a lot planned for 2019, starting with our new soft fruit beds in the south eastern quarter of the garden. As with all of the projects at Gordon Castle, the fruit garden will be on a grand scale; 10 varieties of raspberries, 7 varieties of strawberries and 8 varieties of gooseberries will be grown with redcurrants, blueberries, blackcurrants and a myriad of other sweet and juicy delights. Most of the fruit will find its way into the capable hands of Dillon our head chef but there will be plenty left over for our raspberry gin, jam and biscuits. There will be fresh fruit for sale from our potting shed shop and the chance to pick your own later in the summer. We’ll keep you updated with regular reports on our progress.
We have plenty of events planned for the year ahead; the Highland Games, our big birthday party, the garden and Christmas markets, outdoor theatre plus a full program of gardening and floristry courses. We’d love your feedback on how you would like to use our beautiful garden, so please get in touch with your ideas for courses or events.
The seemingly endless task of pruning the 250 or so fruit trees trained against the walls has fallen to our senior gardener, Monika, this winter, and she is doing a sterling job. There’s still plenty of work to do but our grand old plum trees have never been so well tended, lets hope we get a bumper crop this summer. Watch this space for a how-to video about pruning and training trees in your garden.
Leeks, beetroot, swiss chard and kale are still being harvested, good healthy fare after the excesses of the festive season, but most of the vegetable and cut flower beds have been stripped bare and the soil turned. At least 20 tons of well-rotted horse manure has been dug in this year to ensure the plants are well fed throughout the year.
Even in the depths of winter signs of life are appearing in the garden; delicate yellow winter aconites in the lawns outside Garden Cottage and the pale pink blossom of our winter flowering cherries add a welcome splash of colour to the dark January days. New shoots are starting to appear in the greenhouse as well, this year we have a wonderful selection of potted spring bulbs for sale to brighten up your house and garden.
The sun rises a little higher in the sky every day and we can start to think about the season ahead with a little optimism. I’m expecting an early spring this year and before too long our crocus will start to flower, soon after daffodils, tulips, and muscari will herald the start of the growing season. As always please drop in and warm up in our cosy café and if you’re feeling hardy why not have a stroll around the garden and see how we’re getting on.
Following on from our Christmas Market yesterday we thought it would be a nice idea to do a festive wreath tutorial! This is one of our Christmas favourite jobs so we thought we would show you how we like to make them and just how simple it is.
Before we begin, if you’d rather watch a video tutorial, just here and Ed, our Head Gardener, will show you how in our step-by-step guide. For those who would rather follow our guide, read on!
All you need is a sharp pair of secateurs or scissors, some florists wire and garden string.
We start off with a pre-made moss base, you can buy these from craft shops, ours are 12 inches in diameter. The advantage of moss bases is that you can soak them in water to keep them fresher for longer.
The first step is to cover the base with foliage to bulk them out and provide a background to the other decorations. This year we have used Thuja plicata foliage but almost any evergreen tree or shrub can be used, in the past we’ve used evergreen oak and juniper.
Cut the foliage into pieces 6 to 8 inches long, lay the first piece on to the wreath and use the florist’s wire to hold it in place. We use wire on reels so we can simply coil the wire round the foliage and wreath as we go. Keep on tying on the foliage to the base, trying to use the natural curve on your material to follow the curve of the wreath. Keep the foliage pointing in the same direction to get neater results.
Once you’ve completed the background foliage you can start adding the next layer in the same way. We use a layer of holly next, preferably with lots of berries to add some colour. There has been a great crop of berries this year around the estate so we’ve been spoilt for choice, but it’s well worth cutting holly in November to get the berries before the birds! It’ll store for several weeks in a bucket of water.
Once the foliage is added you can start adding decorations. We like to use natural materials such as dried fruit (including chillies), dried flowers, pine cones, and cinnamon sticks, but almost any decoration you put on your tree would work on a wreath. The easiest way to add the decorations is to cut up 6 inch lengths of florists wire, loop it round the decorations and then poke it through the base and tie at the back if necessary. Wire is much easier to use than string and it tends not to show up as much.
The last step is to tie on a small loop of string so you can hang your wreath up. You can use your wreath inside or out, they will last longer outside but beware or hungry birds if you’ve added berries or fruit!
Here are some of the creations from the participants of yesterday’s wreath workshop led by Zara – aren’t they gorgeous! These can be made to order and start from just £15. Send an email to Ed our Head Gardener to order. Do drop in to the Walled Garden for a spot of Christmas shopping, enjoy a mince pie in the café or just to admire our festive decorations!
One of the most common questions we get asked at this time of year is ‘what do you do in the winter?’ The seasoned gardeners amongst you will chuckle at this question because really winter is when the hard work begins in the garden. For the next month or so all our efforts will go into stripping out most of our plants and putting the garden to bed before the serious business of cultivation begins. Our borders and cut flower beds have turned a buff brown colour as the plants have exhausted themselves from the exertions of the summer months. Trailer after trailer of dead plant material will be taken out of the garden and piled onto steaming compost heaps ready to break down and form the ‘black gold’ that will feed the soil and nourish our garden next season.
We always take the opportunity in October to gather the last few flower stems and hang them up for drying. If you choose the right varieties you can have colourful flowers to brighten up your home (or potting shed) right through the winter. Roses, larkspur, sea holly, lavender and cornflower are all suitable flowers for drying but seed heads and thistles such as nigella, poppies and teasels can look great too. All you have to do cut them just as the flowers are opening and hang them in a cool well-ventilated place away from direct sunlight such as a garage or garden shed. Dried flowers can make fantastic and long-lasting autumnal wreaths, we like to add rose hips, crab apples and even chillies.
As the weather cools and the grass stops growing, our landscape gardeners, Davie and Mark, return to the arduous task of building the garden. Putting their skills to good use laying bricks, building paths, installing posts and rails for our fruit trees and making plant supports. Early on in the project we made the decision not to use contractors for the construction of the garden, we build everything ourselves, even down to the benches and planters. It’s a slow process, we’ve been going for over four years now and there’s at least another years’ work to do, but it means we know every inch of the garden and we can set very high standards. When they’ve finished Davie and Mark will have laid over 48,000 bricks and 2.4km of paths!
With Halloween approaching our crop of Pumpkins has started to appear as their foliage dies down, and its been the best crop we’ve ever had. We grow 11 different varieties from the tiny ‘Jack B Little’ through to the enormous ‘Atlantic Giant’, they make great soups and curries, not to mention pumpkin pie! We start to harvest the first of the winter vegetables during October, its been a great year for leeks and as soon as we’ve had a frost or two we’ll dig a few parsnips and cut a few sprouts. Its all about rationing for the next few months, we’ll not see any new shoots in the garden until next march when the purple sprouting broccoli comes back to life, so we have to pace ourselves if we’re to keep the café in fresh veg through the winter.
Now is the time to dig the last of the tatties. Choose a dry sunny day if you can, lift the tubers and leave them on the ground to dry and the skins to set for a day or so before packing them into paper bags and storing them somewhere cool and dark. Take your time to lift every tuber, being careful not to leave them any in the ground, the last thing you want it a potato plant pushing its way up through a neat row of carrots next season! Potatoes should last for months if stored properly and checked regularly and the longer they’re stored, the sweeter they become as their starches turn to sugars through the winter.
The first skeins of geese have stared to grace the skies over the garden, for me this is a sure sign that autumn it truly upon us. Our apricot trees have turned a beautiful buttery yellow, the beech trees surrounding the lake to the west of the walled garden will soon be a riot of gold and burnt orange and we’re hoping our cherry orchard will add a flash of red and scarlet to the show. Autumn is a great opportunity to take a well-deserved break from the cycle of sowing, weeding and harvesting, so get out into the garden and enjoy the crisp clear mornings before the light goes and the hard graft of the winter begins!
If you love the season – but don’t love the garish costumes, pumpkin pie and screaming children that tend to accompany it – then our dried flower wreaths are for you. Plus, it’s not October specific – we have ours on show all year round!
To make our dried flower wreath you will need:
Secateurs or sharp scissors
Jute string or florists wire
A rattan wreath base (ours are 16 inch rattan bases from Hobbycraft)
A selection of dried flowers
Making a wreath is much more simple than it looks. We use pre-made wreath bases to speed up the process but you can make your own from willow, birch or hazel branches twisted together and held with florist’s wire.
Choose a selection of dried flowers, often just 3 or 4 different types of flower and foliage look better than lots and lots. Always leave 2 – 3 inches of stem on the flowers and simply push them into the wreath, one type at a time, working your way round the wreath.
We find it is best to start off with foliage and larger flowers first and leave smaller flowers until the end.
Dried fruit can be really effective or even nuts and berries but beware the birds may help themselves if you hang the wreath outside!
Don’t feel you have to cover every inch of the Wreath with flowers, you need a surprising amount of flowers to do this and often just a few flowers can look just as effective. If you feel the flowers are not secure on the wreath you can tie them in using string or peg them with florists wire. One of the benefits of dried flower wreaths is that they will last many months inside or out!
Some of the dried flowers we use are:
Nigella seed pods
Cardoon and globe artichoke
Teasel (don’t go near these with a fluffy jumper!)
To dry our cut flowers we try to cut them just before the flowers are fully open, they are much more likely to retain their colour and petals this way.
Cut them with the stems as long as possible to make them easier to hang.
Hang the flowers upside down in small bunches (only 6-8 stems) in a cool dry place with good airflow and out of direct sunlight. Bright light bleaches the colour out. We don’t recommend using a greenhouse, the flowers seem to be more prone to rotting in that environment. We string them up in the rafters of our greenhouse.
It often takes 2-4 weeks for flowers to fully dry out. It’s well worth experimenting with different species to see what works best.
Today we have a blog written by our gardener Liz who joined the team last summer.
At Gordon Castle Walled Garden we have decided to try growing a variety of heritage or heirloom vegetables. The definition of heritage/heirloom is a plant that has been in cultivation for 50 years or more. Some people insist that 100 years is the magic number. Whichever is correct, modern agriculture really came into its own in 1945, following World War 2. Nowadays, as well as the Walled Garden, there are many people who have allotments of their own and take great pleasure in growing their own vegetables.
So, some of the vegetables we have decided to grow are: brussel sprouts – Evesham Special, beetroot – Mr. Crosby’s Egyptian, cauliflower – Dwarf Efurt (sometimes known as snowball) celeriac – Giant Prague, Musselburgh leeks, and peas – Kelvedon Wonder. There are lots more we are trying, the list could go on for ever.
Today I sowed some of the beetroot and celeriac. Sown into modules of 104, watered from the bottom, then put into the sunken greenhouse until they germinate. Once hardened off, they will be planted and left to mature, tended to by our team of gardeners until harvest is ready. There’s something so lovely about going to the garden to harvest fresh vegetables for your evening meal. We take great pride in providing delicious Scottish produce for the café – and the chefs love it too!
Once we’ve supplied the cafe with vegetables, we’ll sell any extra in the shop. The shop is open seven days a week.
We grow tomatoes in our greenhouses. Ailsa Craig – a very hardy Scottish variety, among many other varieties. A variety of potatoes, also called Ailsa Craig……another heritage vegetable.
The pleasure this gives me cannot be put into words. I would not change my job for the world.