curiosity about the ways of the world

Here’s to a new season of unruly gardening

Here we are at the start of a new season. Though of course the promise of a new season has been poking through the ground since Christmas. Now there are snowdrops everywhere I look but they are being nudged and jostled by bright yellow sploshes of narcissi. Bluebells and wild garlic are racing to catch up. Which season are we in, exactly?

Looking through old blogposts it’s almost quaint to note how I marked the comforting rhythm of the four seasons.  Four seasons? More like two now I often think: winterish and summerish.  A fast-changing climate blurs the differences between May and September even in Scotland – flowers bloom early or late; spring, summer and autumn can appear in the same border at the same time. Wetter and wilder, winter blows hot and cold in the most unlikely places. Perhaps our only fixed certainties remain in the predictable shortening and lengthening of daylight hours. 

The first snowdrops at Pond Cottage, now spreading through the woodlands and round the garden_photo Fay Young
Winterish welcome to first shoots of spring at Pond Cottage

At Pond Cottage, we welcomed our first Scotland’s Gardens Scheme visitors just over two years ago during the suspended animation of Covid lockdowns. In fact our very first appearances in SGS were on the website by video (made with added musical magic by Tommy and Morgan) – in early 2021 garden visits were not yet allowed. It is hard to believe that by autumn that year some of our first visitors wore face masks and we all diligently applied hand sanitiser at the tea stall. 

The coronavirus legacy lurks (perhaps all the more dangerously because it is not often acknowledged) yet the pandemic now feels oddly distant, like another world and time. 

I hated lockdown but it reconnected me with important truths. I need the company of other people and I become more happily alive in green spaces. I am not alone in that discovery.  I remember the emotions of our  first Garden Open days, the exhilaration of meeting people ‘in real life’ again – real life glowing with autumn leaves – and the simple pleasure of face to face conversation over tea and cakes in the sunshine. (We were surprisingly lucky with the late summer weather of 2021).   

In a time of restricted movement, gardens and green spaces were newly valued as precious places. Room to breathe.  Views to lift the spirits.  A reassuring sense of constancy in the company of old trees – strong and sturdy, their age itself a reminder that life goes on. 

Life goes on? That feeling returns with oomph in a sudden burst of new growth . At Pond Cottage right now, snowdrops still sparkle from the Sika plantation on the other side of the pond to the birch trees by the front door. Last year they put on hard hats to make their way through builders’ rubble, This year they have been equally undaunted by storms as they appeared through heaps of storm-dumped larch cones.

Honouring the larch felled by Storm Isha. Who knew the larch was carring so many cones? Photo Fay Young
A basket of larch cones

Our trees have suffered this winter. Windblown and battered by storms. The ground is littered with fallen timber. A heartlifting old blackthorn was felled to the ground. Our tallest larch split in two by Storm Isha covered the lawn in beautiful lichen-encrusted branches. And cones. Whoever knew the tree was bearing so many cones! We feel the losses, and yet we’re learning that Nature doesn’t just give up. The blackthorn stump has new shoots. The monolithic half of the larch still standing has branches ready to sprout.

And the unruly piles of fallen branches have been so full of foraging birds that we felt compelled to recreate the unplanned constructions on the edges of the lawn and paths in places where plants struggle to grow.  In earlier winters we might have burnt the brashing. I do love a good bonfire but this year year that doesn’t feel quite right. For one thing it’s too wet, for another, we don’t want to be sending steamy smoke full of CO2 into the atmosphere. And we want to honour the beauty of the tree. We spend hours heaving branches into giant ‘birds nests’ and (we hope) decorative wigwams where birds may find shelter and food. Ray turns Leylandii logs into an intriguing fairyland feature among Phragmites in the wetland. It all turns out to be unruly good fun.

Piles of storm-felled branches are popular with foraging birds round the newly cleared lawn at Pond Cottage: photo Fay Young
Tidied up? Piles of storm-felled larch are proving popular with foraging birds (looks better in real life).

Right, it’s time to get to work. In the time since I began gathering thoughts for this post daylight has stretched by two hours.  Sunrise, sunset.  Gardens grow and gardeners persist.  We are a stubbornly optimistic lot. Planting and sowing seeds for years ahead.  We look forward to seeing you. 

The Pond Garden is open for seasonal highlights by arrangement through Scotland’s Garden Scheme supporting the inspiring work of Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS).

Feature image (and log pile) by Ray Perman

1 Comment

  1. fay

    I like the fairytale look of Ray’s log pile. Since I posted this a few weeks ago he has created another with a more undulating form.
    Now he is working with Lindsay, our lovely gardener, to clear space for a greenhouse (very exciting for me). So many branches from the dear old blackthorn destroyed by one of the winter storms. They have been piled up near the burn. They will almost certainly be nesting sites for the birds busy foraging round the cottage.

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