Neolithic Tidyness

Thanks to concerted efforts and the excellent help from Szabi, our Hungarian Wwoofer, the garden has now reached excessive levels of tidiness: even the Thyme Steps are swept clean of debris. It’s almost too much to bear and I feel compelled to leave the odd pile of weeds, a trowel, and a pair of secateurs or a brightly-coloured rubbish bag lying around to regain some of the garden’s lived-in look that is, or rather used to be, my comfort zone.

Thyme Steps

Not that long ago the view from the garden’s east gate to the next gate, which leads onto the land of our neighbour, Jimmy Tait, used to be crowded with ‘work progress’ hacklobash, or paraphernalia as one says in the English language. Now it is tidy, bare, and very long. I love it, especially its central section where two very long and worm-eaten pieces of sea timber hold South Africa in place, provide a 5-seater bench, and a leaning-on spot for my collection of Neolithic tools.

They crop up all over the garden, which has me believe they were manufactured here – probably about 4000 years ago. Their presence gives an edge to any digging or planting. Coming upon a subterranean stone always raises my adrenalin levels, but coming upon an extensive stretch of what I call Neolithic paving can be a real pain in the neck. It impedes drainage, prevents tree and shrub roots from penetrating deeply, and has to be dug up, which is time-consuming and back-breaking.


The Peat Bed is built on such paving, raised up to improve drainage and to create additional soil depth, and it was there I came upon the first ‘turn-up for the books’ last week.

Blackbirds – about forty are residents of the garden – have a very annoying habit. They pull plant labels out of pots, before dropping them wherever they please. Last autumn I planted the bulbous contents of a label-less half-pot and, as is often the case, forgot all about it, until a patch of little ‘lilies’ appeared this spring. One of the seedlings developed a fat, round, reddish bud, which opened into – wow! – Nomocharis mairei. A first for Lea Gardens and without a hint of a doubt the highlight for 2011 – until it was trumped by the first bud on one of my dream plants.

Nomocharis mairei

Philesia magellanica is a little creeping evergreen shrub from southern South America, related to the legendary Lapageria rosea, a climber with large, waxy-textured, pink bells. I managed to raise Philesia from cuttings several times, but all the young plants thus produced failed to get a head of steam and, tried in various locations, eventually faded away.

A vigorous young specimen, purchased from Glendoick Gardens two years ago, is still in its original pot, on my ‘observation ward’ at the north side of house and now graced with a large, delectable pink bud. What bliss.

Philesia magellanica

Coincidentally, I’ve just received an email from Ken Cox of Glendoick, who has identified my mystery rhododendron as R. pachysanthum. He says – modestly – “looks like”, but if he doesn’t know, who does?

There’s been a huge influx of Red Admirals, they are everywhere, but are especially fond of Buddleja globosa – sweetly scented, and Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’, an unhappy container specimen – once upon time.

Quite often, plants have languished in pots for years, because I was unsure what to do with them. Roscoeas, members of the ginger family with orchid-like flowers, are a case in point. I only have two, and Roscoea scillifolia ‘Pink Form’ is too anxiety-provoking for words. It rarely appears above ground before mid-summer, starts thinking about flowering in mid July, but only if it feels like it, while the asymmetrical cream flowers of its cousin, R. cautleyoides have been and gone.

Roscoea cautleyoides

In May a dead fish floated in the pond, with about a million tadpoles feeding on it eagerly – there wasn’t a trace left of it the next morning.

Bullying usually happens to the incomers, those that are different, but in the pond it’s the other way around. Two beautiful blue goldfish, spotted red and pink, known as the ‘blue meanies’,  have no manners whatsoever. Not only do they fail to keep a respectful distance from their fellow fish, as is standard pond etiquette, they harass and chase those hatched and grown in the pond to the point of complete exhaustion – or desperation.

In the latter case the poor victim jumps out of the water and more often than not, lands on the marginal predator net – in two or three inches of water, writhing and gasping. I’m sure that’s how the tadpole meal met its end.

When I rescued yet another near casualty I also found its tormentor and there was a split-second, as I held the little blue fish in my hand, that I felt tempted to knock it on the head and give the tadpoles a feast.

I now wish I’d popped it into a large tub of water – the ones we use for plunging plants. These little blighters greatly disturb the tranquillity of the pond. Those peaceful evening cruises are constantly interrupted by the aggressive, hectic behaviour of just two fish.

trouble at'd pond

Bullying of the herbaceous and fruticose variety goes on constantly, but is often overlooked by the gardener. I only realised when looking at last year’s photographs of the Long Border, that a fine stand of Campanula ‘Sarastro’ had been all but squeezed out by its neighbours, Geranium ‘Patricia’ and a vigorous orange Asiatic lily.

In several parts of the garden the tree canopy is closing fast which means high time to lop off a few branches here and there. How fortunate to be married to a man with a chainsaw

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