New Beginnings

13 January 2020

A new decade needs to be approached with a degree of organisation. Consequently, on our first day of volunteering in 2020, the garden team thought it would be a good idea to clean out our “Howff”, or tool-shed, which had become a muddle of spades, rakes, builders bags, wheelbarrows and all the assorted detritus of a working garden. So, on a relatively dry day last weekend everything was duly taken out from the building onto the cobbled courtyard at the Cottages.

We sorted all the tools into families; spades and forks for digging, hand tools for weeding, rakes, grass cutting and edging shears, broken or damaged tools and archaic tools which we hope will eventually be displayed in a kind of gardening museum as a tribute to all those gardeners who haves worked here before us.

The Dream Team

Two of us washed down and brushed up the tools, another two checked them over for sound shafts and fittings, straightening any that were bent or buckled using the old vice that is attached to the bench, they then rubbed all the wooden handles with Danish oil and carefully hung the now gleaming equipment on the appropriate nails, and the rest of us sorted throughout the smaller tools, secateurs, hand rakes, wire snips, gloves, ear defenders and eye protection goggles, duly depositing them in particular boxes and storage containers. Old, torn compost bags were consigned to the bin as we rapidly created a large pile of bits of cardboard, broken rope, cracked flowerpots, fingerless gloves and a half-eaten packet of biscuits.

Super tidy

Thankfully the rain stayed off and we were soon able to give the courtyard a final sweep having managed to find a home for most of the tools on the long, stout plank with large nails which occupies one wall of the howff enabling us to keep most of the tools off the floor. We were delighted with the finished result as there seems to be so much more space now and we can find things easily – though I wonder how long this newfound order will last. I suppose it will be up to us.

New Year, New Shed (Space)

Don’t think that I am trying to market the garden team as the horticultural answer to a Marie Kondo makeover on your tool-shed, as we will be too busy to hire ourselves out but as a form of therapy I highly recommend that you set aside a dry day to finally get round to clearing your garage or shed as you will get a terrific lift from the space and order you will create and it may well enthuse you to make an early start to the gardening year.

Spring is not too far away . . .

It has been a mild and wet winter and actually a dark winter because of the grey rain clouds that have prevailed. I always have a pot of hyacinths in the house at this time of year as the wonderful perfume they give off is enough to brighten up the darkest day and it reminds me that flowers, sunshine and spring weather is not far away.

Hyacinths are associated with the Spring, the rebirth of nature after winter’s ‘death’, and they are an important part of the Persian New Year celebrations which take place around the Spring Equinox, roughly March 21st. Legend has it that the God Apollo created the hyacinth from the spilt blood of his lover, the divine hero Hyacinthus, who was killed accidentally when a discus thrown by Apollo bounced off the ground and struck him fatally. The Greeks considered it to be the most beautiful of flowers and if you look closely, the flowers are supposed to be inscribed with the initials “Al” “Al” which means ‘Alas’.

Highly scented flowers

The bulbs we grow are usually the ‘prepared’ Dutch bulbs which have been specially treated and prepared to grow as a large single flower stem with a drumstick head of flowers whereas the original, wild hyacinth is a medium blue colour and tends to have three simple flower stems each carrying a few, widely spaced blooms. Both flowers are highly scented, and the outside blooms are a welcome feeding station for early pollinator insects. Be careful when handling the commercial bulbs as they can cause skin irritation and the bulbs themselves are toxic so make sure your pets don’t try to eat any part of them.

Snowdrops are flowering

Snowdrops are stalwarts of the spring arsenal and I noticed some of ours have been flowering since the 4th of January this year, 3 days later than 2019 when we had flowers for New Year’s Day. They grow beautifully intermixed with acid-yellow flowers of Winter Aconites, (‘Eranthus hyemalis’) or the black leaves of Lily turf (‘Ophiopogon nigraescens’), but perhaps nicest of all is when they carpet the woodland ground with their shy white blooms. From a distance it can look like lying snow. I’m excited to see how ours will do this Spring as I spent many weeks laboriously transplanting several thousands of our bulbs around the gardens. They are at risk of loss or damage as we begin the structural work of restoring the Cottages and outhouses, so we have to move them to a temporary safe location until their former home is safely reconstructed. 

Origami Geese

Geese seem to be an intrinsic part of life at Bannockburn House. Rarely does a day go past without at least one large, squawking flock flying overhead. The east side of our gardens open out onto farmers’ fields which are thick with lush, green grass and since there are few trees interrupting this landscape, squadrons of geese seem to swirl and swoop across these fields looking for suitable grazing land, frequently occupying holding patterns above our land before filing down onto the grassy surface.

When they are on feeding expeditions, they do not follow the traditional ‘v’ shaped flight pattern but seem to fly in a great muddle with no particular leading bird and randomly change direction wheeling north or west at a whim. The light catches their outstretched wings creating dark shadows on their pale feathers which creates a flickering effect on the birds making their motion look very stilted and jolting. As they approach, they seem to move as though they are made from origami paper.

The Enclosed Garden

Things are moving on in the Walled Garden which, technically, we should call the Enclosed Garden. Why? Because it does not have a wall completely surrounding it rather, it has a holly hedge enclosing the area where the growing takes place. This is where we shall begin growing vegetables this year as part of our contribution to Climate Challenge and Awareness. We have received funding from the Climate Challenge Fund operated by the Scottish Government to help us clear the gardens and create the necessary paths and water supply to begin to create a productive garden.

It will take some years to establish the exact layout and patterns, but we hope to create a Victorian Kitchen garden and it will be exciting to watch the beds mature and settle back into the routine of a working garden.

Get Involved!

If you want to get involved in this work then please join us as a volunteer, the more the merrier, we are always looking out for enthusiastic and energetic people to help us on this rewarding journey.

You can contact Ross on [email protected] or pop up to the house on a Wednesday at 10am to meet the other volunteers and get involved.

Blog written by Margaret in our Gardening Team.