Even by Shetland standards, the weather in the last two weeks of May has been nothing short of atrocious. The garden’s been thrashed by gales from all sides, but thanks to the extensive shelter it now affords, only the trees on the frontline have suffered any serious damage. A few plants in the eastern extension will need staking, but all looks surprisingly good despite the weather.
The paths were littered with this year’s twigs and leaves, but it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good; much of the old foliage of evergreens, usually shed over a period of weeks, has come down in one fell swoop, ready to be swept up.
Sadly the storm has also dislodged a few Meconopsis petals, but M. betonicifolia ‘Gote Svanholm’, a cultivar new to me, is sailing through it all in enchanting sky blue.
At present the paths, strewn with the confetti of cream rowan petals, look festive.
The heavy downpours of the past weeks have filled the pond to the brim, putting short shrift to my plans for its margin which involves working with cement.
Every bed and border is squelching underfoot, necessitating a return to the gumboot, footwear usually put into summer storage by now.
Trollius, a genus known as butterballs in Shetland, is most appreciated in its deep orange forms, but my favourite, difficult to establish in ordinary garden soil, is Trollius ‘Alabaster’, which revels in the damp beds around the pond.
Terrestrial orchids, northern marsh and heath spotted, plentiful one year in the wild flower meadow, and inexplicably rare in another, have become my favourite weed. They seed themselves everywhere and, free from competing turf, grow into giants, reaching a foot or more in height and adding a touch of glamour to the most mundane plantings.
June brings aquilegias, irises, geraniums and herbaceous peonies. I’ve never been successful with all those delectable cultivars of Paeonia chinensis, but have a small selection of species which are doing well. Paeonia veitchii and its compact pink form P. v. woodwardii have been in the garden for several decades and are going from strength to strength, as does P. officinalis, which is more often than not encountered in its double form P. officinalis ‘Rubra Plena’, arguably the most sumptuous plant on the June planet.
I have a very soft spot for this ancient plant and its heavy, double flowers, filled to the brim with crowded petals. During wet weather the sturdy stems tend to bend under weight of the blooms and need a little discreet support.
I’ve already mentioned tree peonies last week, and there is one I can highly recommend for the smaller garden. Paeonia potaninii rarely grows taller than a metre, branches from the base and enchants with deep red single flowers. There are also white, yellow and orange forms.
Nothing can beat the appearance of something completely new. Hosta fortunei, faithful retainer in the South Border for more than two decades, has decided to present me with a sport – a yellow leaf with a little green in the margin. New hosta cultivars are two a penny, but as this is a first for Lea Gardens I shall label it and separate it from its parent this autumn.
Three days of dry and sunny weather have made up for all that went before. The first tiny froglets have emerged from the pond. All the trees are in full leaf, and suddenly all is lushness and delight.
Have I mentioned that Victor is very advanced for his age? He managed to ascend as well as descend all manner of stairs at the tender age of just 5 days. His father Bruno, a caddy last year, could get up stairs, but needed help to get down until he was three weeks old.
Victor is turning out to be a gourmet sheep. At present he is specialising in decapitating anything that flowers – my garden has become his salad bowl. Last Saturday James bought him a handsome black collar so he can be tethered, which he doesn’t like – yet. He still revels in the comfort of the house, and some days there are some three species gatherings on the sofa late at night.
Our first Wwoof volunteer ( I have learned not to call them woofters) has arrived, and it never ceases to amaze me what a difference an extra pair of hands can make.
The garden looks decidedly smart, with all the grass cropped short, beds and borders weeded, and all the vegetables planted and sown at long last.
More often than not it’s the garden’s stalwarts – its unsung heroes – that become beacons and landmarks. Every morning, as I venture out, trowel and secateurs in hand, I am greeted from afar by the white foam of Saxifraga trifuricata, flowering its heart out in nothing but hardcore and gravel on the garden’s eastern boundary.