Moments of Glory

I have spent quite a lot of time in South America of late. South America – ironically – lies on the northern fringes of the garden but, being sheltered from all directions, it is a suntrap and even on a cold, blustery day (these have been known to happen in June), it is a pleasure to potter about there.

South America started life as “The Rook Palace”, a large circle of land, fenced with windbreak netting, featuring a dead tree and a variety of avian toys in its centre, all draped in yards of sinfully expensive fruit cage netting, to keep its residents, two rook fledglings, safe from predators.

Bacon and Rasher

Two years ago it became home to the “Schweinchen”, Rasher and Bacon, two adorable, ginger sows who, luckily, did not live up to their names. Instead, because of their enormous size and impressive fatty layers (approximate body mass index 59.7) now lead happy lives, giving birth to litters of piglets in the south of Shetland.

Then, four years ago James and I spent a weekend in Bergen, or to be more precise, at the charming “lace house” right in the middle of Milde Arboretum.

Per Harald Salvesen, the arboretum’s curator, asked what plants I was particularly interested in, and when I said South American, he took me to their S.A. collection  and as soon as I – feeling exceedingly greedy – muttered words such as Chusquea culeou, Nothofagus betuloides, or Embothrium coccineum, the plants in question were dug up and root-balled – ready for their journey to Shetland.

Rosa xanthina

This collection of trees and shrubs spent almost four years in limbo – heeled in or cramped into large pots – until this May. Freed from their tight corsets, they’ve put on an enormous amount of growth already.

They needed wide spacing, which meant a lot of bare ground in between, and what better, and more appropriate, than to fill the gaps with potatoes? Solanum tuberosum ‘Duke of York’ is ready to be earthed up, while the incomparable, late and highly blight-susceptible S. tuberosum ‘Pink Fir Apple’ is just beginning to fill out.

A stone’s throw south of South America two of my favourite shrubs are in flower. Rosa xanthina from Korea has foliage similar to that of the Scots briar and is laden with large, single, pale yellow blooms. Their perfume carries on the air.

Syringa x josiflexa 'Bellicent'

Its near neighbour, Syringa x josiflexa ‘Bellicent’ is classed as a “medium” shrub in Hillier’s Manual, but is about to reach tree size. Its arching branches hold large sprays of clear pink flowers with a strong lilac scent.

Once upon a time I used to have a wonderful lupin border, all Russel hybrids, but they eventually dwindled away, and their replacements were short-lived. Now I only grow the Alaskan lupin, Lupinus nootkatensis, with downy grey-green foliage, and slim blue and mauve inflorescences followed by mouse-fur seedpods.

Lupinus nootkatense

With all this floral colour, the garden’s superb foliage plants are often overlooked. Hostas have featured prominently for years and Hosta fortunei ‘Albopicta’ remains a firm favourite.

Hosta fortunei 'Albopicta'

June is such a forgiving month. My little Sunk Garden has been earmarked for a taking-apart and re-planting for goodness knows how long, but just now it has its moment of glory and the planned make-over doesn’t seem urgent at all.

The weather still leaves much to be desired, but there are moments, such as when the setting sun illuminates the shady kitchen garden, when days of rain and wind don’t seem to matter.

evening light in the 'Kitchen Border'

In the peat bed, as the primulas and dodecatheons are going over, the evergreen azaleas are coming into their own. Most belong to the Glendoick small mammal series with pink ‘Wombat’ stealing the show just now.

candelabra primulas

The candelabra primulas at the eastern margin of the pond are like a magnet to Lea Gardens visitors and completely eclipse my rare treasures opposite. It’s been ages since notholirions have been in flower here. Tall, glaucous stems are set at regular intervals with ravishingly beautiful wide purple bells.

I’m not certain which species I have, probably N. campanulatum, but I know that the plant is monocarpic. It dies after flowering and germinating, and bringing seedlings to a state of flowering takes about five years – well worth the wait.

Notholirion species

There’s nothing photogenic about South America as yet, but it has one essential feature: a bench to rest on and to enjoy the view, which could be almost majestic, if weren’t for all the trees that spoil it (help! I’m going native).

South America still looks a shambles with heaps of black-mulch polythene here and there, an assortment of plunging tubs, piles of stones destined to become path edgings, but for once I’ve remembered to take a “before”, or rather an almost before photograph.

South-American shambles

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