Margaret Pollock shares her observations from the winter garden:
Well this has certainly been a chilly start to 2021 with a hard frost, snow and ice.
The ‘Doocot Loch’ has been frozen solid and without the geese, it is unusually quiet. All that is needed is a couple of ice-skaters or groups of people curling to recreate a timeless wintry scene from days gone by.
We know that the estate workers at Bannockburn House and Sauchieburn House held regular curling matches – after all, what work could be done when ‘earth was hard as iron’ and ‘water like a stone’ ?
The first match of what would become the ‘Sauchie and Bannockburn’ Curling Club took place at the end of February 1858 and after the match, ‘toasts were enthusiastically pledged in ‘mountain dew’.
How cold a winter must that have been for them to play on a frozen outdoor pond in February? Be thankful that we will get off lightly by comparison!
I’ve been observing a clump of snowdrops to catch the first flower of this year. For three weeks, from Boxing Day till now, the tallest flower at the centre of this clump has remained shut waiting for a milder, spring day.
It finally opened on the 17th January, but I think it will be a few weeks yet before the main flowering season gets under way as the ground has been so cold.
Snowdrop buds have hard tips that help them to push up through the frozen ground and their sap contains a type of anti-freeze that offers frost-protection so they can survive in frozen conditions. Ours have spread over the decades as they are one of the few plants that deer and rabbits do not eat.
January is a good time to get stuck into the many pruning and cutting jobs around the garden. Accordingly, we’ve been cutting back some overgrown rhododendron bushes and were lucky to discover another part of our ornate fountain, an old ladder and an ancient rusty pitchfork.
We frequently find discarded tools, broken fencing or hidden pathways when we penetrate into these huge clumps of overgrown bushes planted by our Victorian ancestors. On this occasion, I also found some woodcock feathers from overwintering birds. Woodcocks are small migratory birds that fly thousands of miles to spend winter here before they return to Russian and Scandinavia to breed in early summer.
You will rarely see them as their plumage provides near perfect camouflage amongst dry autumn leaves, but when you come upon one of their beautiful stray feathers, perhaps, like me, you will find an irresistible urge to pick it up and keep it.