It’s hard to remember but Candlemas day, February 2nd, was a bright and sunny day this year and since then we have had cold weather, snow, sleet and low temperatures. Perhaps there is truth in the ancient rhyme:
“If Candlemas day be dry and fair,
The half o’ winter to come and mair.”
It’s still winter?!
You may think that since it is cold, there’s not much going on in the garden at this time of year, but plants can be stimulated to grow by a number of factors and increasing day length is one of them. We have lots to do in the neglected gardens of Bannockburn House and each day that it stays cold and frosty gives us extra time to get on top of the nettles, brambles and other vigorous weeds that are beginning to grow as the soil warms up.
Our moles are becoming more active and there is an increase in the number of crumbly molehills dotted around the lawns and paths. This soil is ideal for mulching the narrow borders surrounding the House where we planted ‘King Alfred’ daffodil bulbs in November. When we removed turf to create these borders it took away a couple of inches of soil, and since these are such large bulbs it was tricky to plant them at the required depth. Now, thanks to the moles, we can give them the luxury of another couple of inches of top dressing, a veritable duvet.
The Robins at Bannockburn House are very curious and magically appear whenever we step into the grounds. During frozen spells, they followed us at close quarters, darting around our feet as we gathered fallen branches and dead wood and snatching at invisible, tasty morsels. One particularly brave bird has been known to fly into the House, where it feasts on biscuits and cake crumbs. It has even taken food from our hands. Now they are pouring out their glorious song, as they search for a mate.
The start of the year is traditionally the time to prune Apple trees and we have several old trees dotted around the grounds. Within the kitchen garden there are six gnarled, overgrown, espaliered trees growing against the walls. Only last week, we were excited to discover that two of these trees still have their original name tags – “Lady Sudeley” and “Allington Pippin”. Proper Victorian apples!
“Lady Sudeley” was developed by Mr. Jacob of Petworth, Sussex and was introduced in 1849. There is quite a difference between the climate in Sussex and Stirlingshire, but it is noted that this “well-known and attractive English early-season apple from the late Victorian era” has blossom with good frost resistance.
“Allington Pippin” was introduce in 1884 by Thomas Laxton, in Lincolnshire and it is described as “a versatile English apple, with a strong pineapple-like flavour, useful for both cooking and eating”. Apparently, it makes good cider! The old English word ‘Pippin’ derives from the French word for ‘seedling’ and that links to the modern word for a garden centre in France, a ‘pepiniere’.
Both of these trees have had a liberal dose of bonfire ash to give them a boost and it will be fascinating to watch them bloom and fruit as the year progresses.
If you still need convincing that the Spring is well under way look out for the splashes of golden catkins unfurling from Hazel trees. They flower at a time when there aren’t many insects around to do the job and are finished before the leaves start to grow.
These male catkins began forming in the Autumn and have passed the winter months as little hard buds, each holding about one hundred flowers. As the daylight increases, they slowly open out into long, dangly ‘lambs’s tails’ shedding clouds of yellow pollen onto each breath of wind.
To avoid self-fertilisation, each Hazel tree waits until its male catkins have died before opening the almost invisible female flowers. These are really hard to see, consisting of tiny tufts of red hairs peeking out from a round bud which will become the familiar hazelnut if fertilised. You’ll find catkins on other trees that are pollinated by the wind e.g. hazel, birch, oak and beech trees as well.
Spring has begun
Have a look when you’re out and about; you may be lucky and spot some catkins and if you give the branch a shake, a million tiny particles of golden dust will flood out as if by magic – a truly breathtaking sign that Spring has begun.
Visit https://www.orangepippin.com for information on fruit identification.
Blog written by Margaret from the Volunteer Garden Team