The colours of June

Mine is usually a June garden, but this year it has mostly been a May one. That, I think, is mostly due to the frost-free winter. The June weather has not been wonderful, but the long evenings this far north mean that on the rare occasions the sun is out, the colours linger late._DSC0253

The wild flowers in the garden seem to change year by year. The wild hyacinths (bluebellls to those of you down south) have spread rapidly over the past five years, and have been spectacular this season. The Solomon’s Seal (that blurred number in the background above) has also been excellent. On the other hand there is no sign this year of the butterfly orchids which were speading  over the bank. None. Not even a leaf. I trust they are only taking a rest. Here’s one from last summer:P1010804

As regular readers know, I like working with large blocks of colour (and am lucky enough to have the space to do so). One of my favourite combinations is Primula pulverulenta against the blue of the himalyan poppies. That’s not a mix I would want to see indoors, but outside it works surprisingly well.

A fantastically useful plant for a big vibrant red/orange statement is Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’. Like all euphorbias, it is unpleasant to work with because of it’s corrosive sap, and it also annoys me because you can’t just snap off its dead growth in spring, but have to cut out each stem separately. But I wouldn’t be without it. I use it against a background of yellow whin.

Finally, here’s a combination of rhododendron and azalea that pleases me. Unfortunately the timing is always just a little wrong, with the yellow not reaching its peak until the lilac is past it._DSC0256 But I guess that’s life.

Meditation on grass

I don’t normally contemplate grass. But when the stuff is growing like a carpet on speed, and it’s so wet that the mower would sink axle-deep into the mossy sponge that was once a kind of lawn, there’s not much else to do, really.

But long grass does look good in the rain. It looks good in the wind too, with great ripples rushing up the steep bank. And when I stumped out in my wellies to the top of the bank, which I normally keep mown, I found it transformed into a dusky haze of purple.

You get a huge variety of shapes thrown in for nothing. Nature does the designing and demands no fee. I am not tempted to try to improve on the work.

I do religiously cut the bank to the ground every year and remove the cuttings in an attempt to reduce fertility, and I like to think that the colour and variety of flowers and grass  is partly due to this.

Orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) and its yellow cousin create threads of colour all over the bank. Unfortunately, they are quite invasive, and I’m constantly digging them out of the borders where they seed themselves. This year has also been remarkable for the number of purple orchids (dactylorhiza spp) and lesser butterfly orchids (Platanthera bifolia).  It must be the wet: You can see my floating lawn behind the flower.

Grass has a number of large predators, which rapidly ruin the display through their ability to consume it in huge quantities. Luckily they live on the far side of the fence.

Being picky about Shakespeare

Whenever I read ‘A Midsummer Night’s dream’, I wonder whether Shakespeare ever actually saw a bank covered with wild thyme. Certainly not around Stratford on Avon, where it would surely be swamped by lush grass. Here, wild thyme readily grows on banks in the Pentland hills, but the peaty soil would never support the other flowers on Shakespeare’s list, such as musk roses, and certainly not oxlips, which like calcium. Still, in fairyland all things are possible. On my bank, there’s no chance of wild thyme. I do grow it though, round and over two huge stones which once, I think, were the base for the saw in the old sawmill:What does grow on my bank is moss. When you read advice about cutting and removing grass to reduce the fertility of potential wild flower meadows, you do not get a disclaimer to say that if you do this on a north-facing,  wet clay bank in Scotland, the build-up of moss is likely to stifle the ability of wild flowers to seed themselves. They also don’t tell you how long it takes. But after forty years of cutting the grass (first by scythe and more recently by brush cutter), it has definitely thinned down and the wild flower population is increasing. The white splodge in the picture is made up of oxeye daisies (leucanthemum vulgare) which are gradually increasing in number, as are the orange and yellow hawkbit.  About five years ago, the first Greater butterfly orchid (platanthera chlorantha) appeared – a good indicator of nutrient-poor soil. It’s now spreading, to my delight:Another relative newcomer is the Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) which appears in large numbers some years and very sparsely in others.So I have hopes to see a few more species arriving. The biggest menace to them is not actually the moss but the suckers of a nearby white rugusa rose, which spread out to twenty feet or more from the plant itself, and which no amount of cutting seems able to control.