Deck the halls with boughs of holly

11 December 2019

As I write this, the late autumn rain is falling, and the wind is blowing hard but in the next few weeks we will reach the Winter Solstice – the turning point of the year! 

Winter Solstice 

Solstice comes from the Latin ‘sol – sun and ‘sistere’ – to stand still. At the Winter Solstice, the Sun’s path has reached its southernmost position and at 04:19 a.m. on Sunday, December 22nd, the sun will stand still. The North Pole will be tilted farthest away from the Sun, delivering the shortest day of the year for us in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you will be experiencing mid-summer when the nights are shorter, and the day is at its longest.

2019 in review 

You might think it is a quiet time for gardeners but quite the contrary, this is a time to catch up, to clean, oil and sharpen tools, order seeds, wash down greenhouses, repair broken doors and fences and send off machinery for annual maintenance. A time to make plans for 2020 and think back over the past twelvemonth period, the highs and the lows. So, what actually happened ‘up here’ in 2019? 


January 1st started off with an incredibly mild day. It had been a mild winter and there were snowdrops flowering at the House on Ne’er Day. It will be interesting to log and compare the first flowering day in 2020.


February was the month when we began to prune our venerable, old apple trees in the Walled Garden. These veterans had not been pruned for many decades and so it was with a degree of trepidation that we began the task of removing years of neglected growth in the hope that we might rejuvenate them into more vigorous trees.


Our snowdrops had finished flowering by March, and we were inundated with Ladybirds.

We decided to grow some potatoes in the garden and start the process of bringing the old vegetable garden back into use but most important of all, we appointed the Conservation Architects, Simpson and Brown and Landscape designers; ‘The Paul Hogarth Company’, who will be responsible for our plans to restore the house and gardens.


April was warm and sunny, the pear tree blossom was stunning, the plum tree too, but by the time the apple blossom was coming out, the rain was becoming a regular event. Apple blossom doesn’t like rain, but crucially, the pollinating insects that are essential to fertilise the fruit buds are not water babies and they stayed in their warm, dry hidey-holes leaving the apples, for the most part, unfertilised. Our daffodils were stunning as ever. They really do brighten up the darkest corners and dingiest days – a welcome sight after winter drab.


Once Spring gets going, it is unstoppable and so we quickly passed on into May.

The blossom changed to cherry and hawthorn, and there were bluebells popping up all over the place. At last our reluctant pollinators were on the wing, bumblebees, masonry bees, solitary bees, honeybees and many other winged lovelies. The year was passing swiftly and very soon it was June


I hesitate to call it ‘flaming June’ as, if you cast your mind back, there was such torrential rain in the middle of the month that the town centre of Stirling was flooded, canoes were plying forth instead of taxis and teenagers swimming past the banks and clothes shops in the main street. Meanwhile, two miles away, there was no such rain and the water butts at the Bannockburn House were left parched and thirsting for a refill.

This was the month we discovered that our water pipe was cracked and a new supply was needed; work in parts of the garden was delayed because of Bumble bee nests and the cutest of all happenings was the discovery of “Bunnie Prince Charlie” – a frightened, tiny, baby rabbit, stranded overnight in the House and found hiding in a corner of the Laigh Hall.

He was carefully rescued and duly delivered to the SSPCA animal rescue centre at Fishcross, where he was rehydrated and eventually released when a bit stronger and older.


July was the month when we finally finished planting our potatoes, better late than never! We were working flat out to get the gardens and house ready for our Summer event and the time flew by.


The Summer Fayre was set for early August and the weather was kind to us. Hundreds of you came along, determined to enjoy the relaxed summer atmosphere and everyone had a grand time. 

Good music, good cakes and a chance for all ages, in fact, all generations to share our wonderful house. I watched as children young, old and really old, followed the geometric ceiling pattern we had cut in the grass at the back of the house, or picnicked on the same grass that we had been cutting regularly for weeks to try and coax into a lawn. It is so rewarding when you all come along to share this wonderful house and its gardens. If you enjoy yourselves, it makes it all worthwhile for us. Especially as we had just discovered that our potatoes had ‘blight’ – a disease that can ruin your crop in a matter of days.


Then all too soon the holidays were over, the schools went back, and it was September.

Time to get ahead before the autumn comes, we thought, but no, our plans had to change as a film crew appeared. 

Can you stop making it tidy please? Could you make it look like it is all overgrown and derelict? Please don’t cut the grass for the next 5 weeks….”

Film Crew

They were 18 months too late – we‘ve spent the last year trying to make the place tidy and cared for! 

Well, you can judge for yourselves – if you can, try and watch Channel 5 on Boxing Day evening, 9.00pm when you’ll see Bannockburn House starring in a ghost story. You may not recognise it because they did manage to make the front drive look overgrown and neglected and through the use of some fantastic props and decor, they completely transformed parts of the house. 

You can have fun trying to identify all the different locations, but I warn you, make sure your doors are locked, the lights are on and you are sitting comfortably because it might be quite scary!!! #TheSmallHand


Soon it was October and suddenly there were mushrooms everywhere. Fungi of various sizes and shapes, some alone, some in massive groups. It rained and we finally got time to create the new water supply to the house and gardens. It was muddy, wet and dirty work but the excavations for the new trenches threw up some interesting pieces of Victorian china, broken plates, bottles and jars – tantalising fragments with pale blue patterns, delicate green lines, beautifully painted roses – but, frustratingly, never enough to create even one complete dish.


The rain washed the days away until it was NovemberWe raked leaves, tidied up after the film and moaned as the days grew shorter and colder. We did some metal detecting. 

and discovered several old name tags from apple and pear trees that must have grown there in days gone by. There is no orchard mapped there from 1860 onwards so it’s highly likely that these name tags are over 160 years old and belong to a previous orchard – an exciting discovery indeed.


And finally, December, unbelievably the rain has recently stopped the wind has died down and I’ve just heard on the radio that we might have snow this week. The Christmas Fayre 2019 has been and gone, Santa has flown back to Lapland, the Reindeer are fattening up for the hard work ahead and all-around halls are being decked with holly.  

Thank you 

A huge thank you to everyone who has helped out this year with the gardens – our amazing volunteers who turn up in all weathers and literally sing and laugh their way through rain, hail and snow and all those local businesses who have helped us as we begin the gradual restoration of this wonderful old place.


On December 17th we shall have been the owners of Bannockburn house for two years, but we can’t do this all on our own. We need you to come and help us – it really is fun. 

Please, if you have a few hours to spare, think about joining us at the House, there is something for everyone here. 

Why not make it your New Year’s Resolution? Contact us now on [email protected].