Slugs, Scents, and Soakings

Pimus contorta in flower

The weather seems to be a month behind. We’re now in April. Cold. Wet. Windy. Now and again the clouds break and a bit of watery sunshine filters through. Moluscs have taken over the garden. A batch of brassica seedlings potted up last week has been stripped to skeletons. Weather for slugs.

Meconopsis 'Lingholm'

Several jobs, half-done, sit abandoned, waiting for more clement weather – if it ever comes. I’ve known too many Shetland summers where one Atlantic front simply replaces another, then another and another.

The garden progresses regardless of the constant soakings it receives. All the blue poppies are out and the members of “fertile blue group 2” look particularly stunning after the rain. Meconopsis ’Lingholm’ is the most stately with peacock blue lampshades opening from violet-stained buds. The short stature of M. ‘Willie Duncan’ makes it an ideal candidate for windy gardens; its enormous flowers look like blue satellite dishes.

Meconopsis 'Willie Duncan'

Lodgepole pines, Pinus contorta, feature large in the shelterbelts and and are laden with tawny male flowers, the red females just starting to expand on the tips of the new growth.

When the wind drops, the whole garden is still filled with the scent of balsam poplars. The bitter-sweet perfume carries on the air and whenever visitors ask about its origin they are disappointed when I lead them to a mundane tree rather than some spectacular flower.

Near the steps that lead from the front door to the Temple Terrace, there’s a more intimate scent, one that sends me straight back to my childhood, when my sister and I used to pick large bunches of lily-of-the-valley in the forests of northern Bavaria.

Convallaria majalis is gradually taking charge of the raised beds alongside the steps. Now and again, if there’s a good crop, I pick a sprig or two to keep in a small vase on my bedside table, but more often than not, I just sit on the steps, bend closely into the flowers and inhale deeply.

Another favourite scent for May is that of Narcissus poeticus, the pheasant’s eye, the last of the tribe to flower and a bulb that revels in damp, cool conditions.

Enkianthus campanulatus has no scent, but its little striped bells are reminiscent of   Convallaria majalis. The cultivar ‘Red Bells’ is particularly showy and there is also a charming white form, E. campanulatus ‘Albiflorus’, but I’m never sure if this is a garden cultivar or a natural variation.

This ericaceous Japanese shrub needs warm summers to ripen its wood for flowering the following spring, and the Shetland climate doesn’t always oblige. It is best planted in full sun, and even if the flowers are sparse some years, there’s always the compensation of spectacular autumn colour.

It is relatively slow growing and makes a perfect subject for a large pot. I’m not sure whether it is the root restriction or the extra warmth provided by the container, but there is freedom of flowering, regardless.

Enkianthus campanulatus 'Red Bells'

Coming across a mystery plant is always exciting. According to my – somewhat shambolic – records, Dicentra macrantha came from Beth Chatto five years ago and vanished without trace the following winter.

It’s a miracle how it survived a complete dismantling and replanting of its bed last year, but here it is, complete with two large dangling flowers. Thrilling

Last Sunday the most extraordinary thing happened. A tiny lamb kept calling for its mother. A ewe eventually answered and came towards it, but each time the lamb approached her she butted it and knocked it to the ground

James went to investigate and found the lamb had only just been born. It was still covered in blood and membrane, and despite extensive searching no mother could be found.

“Oh no, not another caddie lamb” (we reared one last year), was my initial reaction, followed by a firm resolution to advertise him on Radio Shetland’s lamb bank.

Two hours later, rubbed down and settled with a belly-full of milk in front of the Rayburn, I was wondering what to call the little woolly creature with dark legs, smoky eye make-up and a black chevron on the crown of its head, when our friend Victor walked through the door. He doesn’t mind having a sheep named after him.

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One Response to Slugs, Scents, and Soakings

  1. Alison Moy says:

    The Meconopsis are very beautiful. This blog post makes me long to see you and the garden! I think Victor is gorgeous. Ship him to London if you get fed up of him. Think he’d be able to hack the northern line with me? I couldn’t leave him at home hungry…

    Ali xx

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