March’s garden blog – Spring will be a little late this year

31 March 2023

This has been a cold Spring

This has been a cold Spring and although we have had a few warm, sunny days, the consistently low night-time temperatures we have been experiencing have really held things back.

While light is an important factor for some seeds to germinate, soil moisture must be adequate, but the biggest wake-up call from nature’s “Spring alarm clock” is soil temperature. Some plants are adapted to cool weather climates (spinach, kale), and some come from warmer climes such as watermelons and tomatoes. A cool-season crop like lettuce can germinate with soil temperatures just above freezing, while a tomato seed won’t even think about starting to germinate if the soil temperature is below 10°C so you must be patient unless you have a warm airing cupboard or other suitable warm spots.

We have started the growing process for our seed potatoes by setting them out in egg boxes or similar trays so that the light will stimulate the dormant buds to begin to grow. This is called ‘chitting’ and forces potatoes to grow sprouts before they’re planted, giving them a head start and reducing the amount of time you’ll have to wait before they crop (great for less-patient gardeners!). ‘Chitting’ should also help to ensure a better harvest when the time comes.

Trays of potatoes being prepared for the season ahead

Image of potatoes chitting in front of a window

Shelter belt growth

Approaching the polytunnels the other day I was pleasantly surprised to notice just how much the ‘Shelter Belt’ has grown. We planted this area in February 2020, with funding from The Mushroom Trust, to create shelter from the east wind as this part of the gardens is effectively open all the way to the North Sea.

If you stand up near the Cottage and look across to the northeast you can see the white lights flashing atop the Queensferry Crossing. Not surprisingly it can be bitterly cold if a strong easterly is blowing. The shelter belt consists of 811 native trees and bushes and will ultimately form a hedgerow containing Hawthorn, Blackthorn (sloe), Wild Rose, Rowan, Viburnum and a thicket of trees – Birch, Scots Pine, Holly, Bird Cherry and Crab Apple with a locally-grown oak tree planted every 10 metres.

When these trees and bushes mature they will provide a veritable larder for wildlife with all the berries and fruit as well as provide nesting places and, of course, it will help to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Compare the two photos below to see how much this has grown in three years.

Uncovering the ponds of Bannockburn House

Our garden landscape is constantly changing at Bannockburn House as we gradually work on restoring more of the wider landscape and bringing it under some sort of control. Currently, we are weeding, digging and slowly taming the area known as ‘Clementina’s Garden’.

This lies just south of the Enclosed Garden and contains the remnants of what was once a stunning, sunlit rock garden and water feature with fish resting in the dappled shade. It is also where previous gardeners grew their soft fruit – blackcurrants, raspberries and other delicious berries. Currently, it is growing weeds, grass and more weeds, particularly nettles.

The race is on to remove as many of them as we can before they build up a crown of stinging leaves but we are conscious that this wilderness is also a vital home for many insects and small creatures and nettles, in particular, are the favoured plant for Tortoiseshell butterflies looking to lay their eggs – so we have to reach a compromise of sorts. Live and let live.

We don’t know when this part of the garden was designed and built but apparently the waterfall and route the water takes down to the main pool are supposed to mimic the ‘Falls Of Killearn’ which, we are led to believe, was Clementina’s favourite spot. Who was Clementina? Well, that is a story for another day but here, for the record, is what the area looks like just now.

Image of the uncovered pools at bannockburn house

Image of the uncovered ponds at Bannockburn house