Jan 042017
 
Geranium maderense

January 2016 dawned with a frost, only – 0.4°c, but still a frost. This, following the wettest month for more than a century. December 2015 was also the warmest since 1910 with an average UK temperature of 7.9°c compared to the normal average of 4.1°c for the month of December. Temperatures tumbled as we approached mid-January and with all the moisture in the ground the gravel crunched as the ice crystals yielded to the weight of footfall.

We need the seasons; seasonal differences are what we expect in horticulture. The changes we are now experiencing in climate and weather patterns are causing much consternation to land managers. This winter we cut grass on 17th December 2015 and then again on 25th January. An interval of six weeks, during a season in which we would not normally mow the lawns leading to undue pressure on the machinery and our winter work programme.

The few frosts we did experience were not the overnighters when the ground remained white for days on end but fleeting drops in temperature until mid-morning when the mercury rose and the need for salt on the roads was negated.

The Snowdrops flowered for the longest duration I have known. Due, I believe to the even temperature through the flowering season and a lack of bright sunlight.

The weekend of 19 – 20th March saw two days of warmth and direct heat from the sun. This caused the colour to fade but from late December until well into the second half of March is an exceptional season for Galanthus.

March was a dry month with 23mm of rain falling in comparison to last March when 51.4mm fell. Less rain also meant more sunshine, 103.6 hours over the month.

In addition to the cold spring holding the colour on spring bulbs for a longer duration than normal, the blossom on Prunus and Malus was exceptional during April and May. Moving through to midsummer the colour white became prominent. The Hawthorn hedgerows were full of May blossom and white flowered Lilac appeared from the corners of myriad gardens through the city. Two Geranium maderense planted out in the autumn of 2015 were strong plants and full of flower from late May lasting through to the frosts of November. A reward to see these plants, native to the Island of Madeira, thriving through the past mild winter; the reward tempered by the smell of foxes, from the multitude of blooms, that is overpowering, more so after rain,

June was a changeable month with torrential rain and intense sunshine. All keeping the garden looking green and lush for the late opening on the longest day.  The rain in torrents continued into July, very localised, prompting the Met Office to issue an appeal for home weather stations to download their daily recordings to the Met Office computer. This would then make forecasting of localised storms more accurate and flooding hopefully preventable.

This has been the year of the Rose. The profusion of flowers, the numbers of individual flowers per truss and their longevity have all contributed to the season of the rose. Although there have been torrential downpours the blooms have not turned to mush as is normal in a usual year. With the long, warm summer evenings conducive to sitting out in the garden until dusk envelopes you the sounds in the garden become more pronounced. The falling of rose petals is quite therapeutic on such an evening.

Tetrapanax papyrifer

Tetrapanax papyrifer

Summer provided us with plentiful rain and a fair amount of sun. There were no prolonged spells of hot dry heat allowing vegetation to grow well until early September when we had to set the irrigation systems to run through consecutive nights as the soil moisture levels receded. This did not bother the Tetrapanax papyrifer. The architectural foliage grew to proportions not seen before. It admirably filled the gap between the steps and the south face of the glasshouse range.

Hedera helix

Hedera helix

September was warm, one of the warmest and driest I can remember. A slow, calm run into winter with the added benefit to the wasps and bees of Ivy, Hedera helix, flowering prolifically and providing a source of nectar. One rampant clump overhanging the wall in the back lane was alive with wasps and bluebottles in the October sun. In those first few days of October listening to the sound of Conkers falling and hitting the ground is a sure sign of temperatures dropping and heavy dew forming on the lawns. You know it is cooler when Pete arrives for work in shorts as usual, yet combined with a woolly bobble hat lovingly knitted.

A dry, warm September/October resulted in a display of autumn colour that held on the trees in the still dry climate. The rain finally arrived, falling torrentially, late on Halloween evening.

Euonymus alatus

Euonymus alatus

The morning of 1st November necessitated the first scraping of ice from the windscreen this autumn, temperatures sat just below zero to freeze the moisture in open exposed areas. With sunrise the colours in the tree canopy were highlighted. The deciduous woody shrub, Euonymus alatus was notably vibrant.

A bright sunny start to November and several mornings of frost then a period of yo-yoing temperatures; a white frost on the 10th and awakening to a high of 15.3°c on the 14th. Yet even with 21days of grass frost recorded during November the forecast is that 2016 will be the warmest year on record, following on from the previous two years which were also record breaking as warm years globally.

Geranium maderense

Geranium maderense

December temperatures in Edinburgh also reached +15°c during the first week of the month with also a few days of frost. This must be one of the most benign autumns into winter we have experienced with only one named storm which was more bluster than substance overnight of 19/20 November. The first Snowdrop of the season, Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’ was flowering on the shortest day.

Storm Barbara and Connor disrupted the festivities. December ends mild and relatively dry. Apples left on the tree have yet to be pecked at by the garden bird population showing that with the mild weather and unfrozen ground there is still a plentiful supply of soil grubs.

Enjoy the open spell of weather while you can, we are now looking at longer days so more time to spend in the Garden. Good wishes for the New Year and through 2017.

Dec 202016
 

As a base layer, the colour brown dominates at this time of year. Ideal as a foundation layer to the glitz of Christmas. Stephanandra tanakae has fine warmth of colouration in the receding leaves. The sterile sepals of the Lacecap Hydrangea, H. macrophylla ‘Lilacina’ remain throughout winter protecting the dormant buds beneath. Now brown, in good light on a winter day the remains of the lilac pigment show through. To make up a trio the even russet brown of the leaves on Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ contrast with the felt white terminal buds.

Magnolia 'Elizabeth'

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Lilacina'

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Lilacina’

Stephanandra tanakae

Stephanandra tanakae

Dec 132016
 

Sitting in an exposed site within the rock garden are plants of Alyssoides utriculata. This short lived woody perennial has seed capsules that resemble bladders. It is found in central Europe, growing on cliffs through the Alps and the Balkan ranges. With the onset of winter the delicate cellulose structure disintegrates, leaving the lignin outline to reflect in the sun. When flowers are at a premium it is unusual features such as these that catch the attention within a garden.

Alyssoides utriculata

Alyssoides utriculata

Dec 062016
 

Two Euonymus sieboldianus are planted side by side in the Garden arising from two different collecting expeditions. They are deciduous branched shrubs covered in fruit; each plant having a different hue of fruit, glowing as the low sun sets. Both were collected in Honshu Province where the parent plants grew on Mount Hakusan (20031043) and Mount Akagi (20071451) .

Euonymus sieboldianus (20031043)

Euonymus sieboldianus (20031043)

Euonymus sieboldianus (20071451)

Euonymus sieboldianus (20071451)

Dec 302015
 
Primula denticulata

January 1st dawned wet and mild, the north block metrological station easily touching 14°C. Walking around the Garden on New Year’s morning; Snowdrops – in flower. A first at RBGE for Galanthus nivalis, we expect these to bloom in February. To complement, there was also one solitary Winter Aconite, Eranthis hyemalis showing colour but still in tight bud. This after 2014 which was the warmest year on record, each of the past four seasons of 2014 recorded temperatures almost 1.5°c warmer than the average. Records also show that this was the mildest New Year’s Day since 1916.

Our first cut of the lawns was made on the 6th January on a day when the gardens metrological station recorded a balmy 11.2°C and ground conditions were dry. Sunshine and a light breeze from the SSW added to the spring like ambiance.

Mid-month storms blew through and snow fell; yet Crocus were showing developed buds with good colour in the lawn at the east gate.
A week of sub-zero overnight temperatures sucked the moisture from the soil and left the blackbirds scratching around in the leaves to uncover their breakfast as the daylight arrived. The early flowers went into a state of suspended animation as temperatures dropped and snow flurries settled on frozen ground.

During February the weather turned dry and by the 12th we had reached the 13th consecutive dry day. Sunshine and frosty nights were also a characteristic of the first half of the month.

March came in, as weather lore decrees, like a lion. The anemometer at the west recorded gusts in excess of 50mph as midnight struck. Sleet showers added to the misery during daylight but the sight of carpets of Snowdrops moving in unison was a reminder that the Met Office officially deems the first as the start of spring.
However unlike the proverb, March did not go out like a lamb. Gales and light snow storms brought the month to an end, although the Forsythia were blossoming the lawns had not put on the even growth expected of spring.

Primula denticulata

Primula denticulata

Swathes of Primula denticulata brightened the peat walls in the week after Easter. The Magnolias were also at their best during early April. Indeed April was the month we thought spring would last forever, warmth and settled conditions through most of the month allowed blossom to flourish and fresh young growth to expand. Unfortunately temperatures plummeted and hail storms concluded the month.

May was cold, much lower temperature than usual. The foliage on the Geraniums planted out in the Palm House border turned purple overnight following planting. My tomatoes, planted in an unheated glasshouse refused to put on any growth until June. Usually, these romp away and need strings to support the growth within 10 days of planting. Not this year.

Colchicum speciosum

Colchicum speciosum

It was the middle of June when the sun warmed us and even then the coolness of the evenings was evident. Although temperatures were low many days of gusting wind caused soil moisture deficit through full leaf tree canopies sucking water from the soil to keep hydrated.

June was the month when, after many years of waiting the Amorphophallus titanum flowered. The first time the Titan Arum had flowered in Scotland and it drew crowds for days. The draw being its accolade as the smelliest flower. It opened early evening of Friday 26th June and the smell of rotting flesh could be experienced in the corridor, thirty paces away.

When the highest July temperature recorded in Britain (36.7°C) occurred on 1st July at Heathrow we were a more comfortable 23°C. Apart from that initial burst of heat, what can i say of July, the grass grew prolifically, turn your back and the mower was needed again. The Atlantic lows kept the temperature down and the sun behind clouds during July. Looking at the cards from the sunshine recorder there are very few that were burnt in a continual line showing a full day of sunshine. Most days we had intermittent sun then cloud cover. Even the butter on the kitchen table was not soft enough to spread as low temperatures continued throughout July, recording an overnight low of 7.6oc on the 9th: Miserable.

August improved and then September arrived with settled weather and the borders of tender perennials and South African bulbs revelled in the climate of SE Scotland. The Autumn Crocus, Colchicum speciosum were stretching due south craning the flower stalks at awkward angles to give the open goblet of petals maximum exposure to the heat.

Honey from hives south of e gate lodge 10 9 2015 from Himalayan Balsam flowers Brian Pool

Honey from hives south of e gate lodge 10 9 2015 from Himalayan Balsam flowers Brian Pool

The bee hives placed in the rough meadow behind the east gate lodge produced a good quantity of honey. Brian the beekeeper explained that the dark colour of honey in the plates is indicative of the bees feeding on Himalayan Balsam. Huge swathes of this are found due south of the Garden on the banks of the Water of Leith. The bees arrive back at the hive with a white stripe down their back, pollen traces from rubbing against the anthers on entering the flower.

The dry weeks of September and much cooler overnight temperatures gave a good start to the autumn colour. Sunshine and warmth were with us for the best seasonal weather for decades.
On the last day of September the sun shone from 6.30am continually until 5.15pm. To start October, on the first we had continual sunshine for eight hours. Both days saw a spectacular sunrise and sunset. Temperatures in the high teens/ low 20’s were achieved on many successive days.

October brought a slow and prolonged autumn colour season. The benign weather and lack of rain saw tree canopies colour spectacularly. Another benefit of the mild autumn was the tomato harvest, not the tastiest, but my plants, following a slow spring establishment produced a bountiful crop that ripened fully. Compliment this with a vase full of freshly picked sweet peas on the last day of October that still scented the room and there may be benefits to our changing climate!

As the winter arrived so did the rain and any perceived benefits of a warmer climate disappeared. We experienced the wettest November since 1976 and this was followed through December by storms that fell onto already saturated ground making it difficult to garden.

In the middle of December the birds provided a mini dawn chorus on the way to work around 7.00am, the night had been so mild. The other interesting fact with these unseasonably high temperatures at this time of year is the absence of windchill.
The data below was taken from the garden weather station following a mild night with a high of 16.4°c recorded at 6.00am.
Conditions at local time 10:35 on 19 December 2015
Temperature and Humidity
Temperature 15.4 °C
Windchill 15.4 °C

The question being; will there be a showing at RBGE of Winter Aconites on New Year’s Day 2016 following this exceptionally mild weather?

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2016 with opportunities to garden and grow plants to perfection.

Dec 222015
 
Mowing 17 12 2015
Mowing 17 12 2015

Mowing 17 12 2015

We practiced contrasting traditional horticultural practices in the second half of December, one seasonal and the other not so.

Following a mild wet autumn we recorded an overnight (17th December) high of 15.6°C, slightly lower during the day at 13°C. This prolonged weather pattern resulted in steady growth of the lawns resulting in patches of long unkempt grass in need of a topping cut. The difficulty being the saturated state of the soil had prevented access with mowing equipment. With a break in rain falling and the sun shining we took the opportunity to mow the front lawns. Even gaining, for Paul, filmed mowing the Palm House lawns, national news coverage.

In contrast a ground frost overnight on the 13th December blackened off the Dahlia foliage, traditionally the time to then lift the tubers, for dry overwinter storage. Use a fork, away from the root zone to avoid damaging the rounded tubers on prising from the ground. As they are pulled from the ground give a good shake to loosen off the bulk of the soil. Collect together and store upside down in a cool environment to allow to dry out.

Lifting Dahlia tubers

Lifting Dahlia tubers

Lifting Dahlia tubers

Lifting Dahlia tubers

Dec 152015
 

A midsummer flowering favourite that is, as we head for the shortest day, awash with flower buds and carrying a selection of open flowers. The weekend frost had a culling effect but colour is still evident. A native to Spain where it was collected from a plant growing in limestone rocks in open Pine forest at 1000metres. The leaves are covered in fine hairs which when dry give a silvery appearance to the plant. A woody shrub to one metre in height.

Cistus albidus

Cistus albidus

Cistus albidus 19921224A McBeath 2566 (3a

Dec 072015
 

The season of herbaceous seed heads is with us. This tall Ligularia fischeri has elegance in the way it displays the seed and empty seed capsules down the length of its brown stem. The pods reflex back once the seed has expelled and with the rilling detail, resemble air rifle pellets. A native of Japan where it is found growing in moist north facing ravines shaded by large trees. The stems reach 2 metres with, in season, yellow flowers.

Ligularia fischeri

Ligularia fischeri

Tall sentinels of seed

Tall sentinels of seed

Ligularia fischeri

Ligularia fischeri

Dec 022015
 

A warm autumn and benign lead into winter has produced many out of season horticultural surprises. The Raspberry ‘Autumn Bliss’ was prolific in fruiting  and even now has a few remaining, if tasteless, fruit on the tips of the canes. Rosa ‘Stanwell Perpetual’ is producing vase perfect flowers and unusually for this time of year relatively strongly perfumed. Unfortunately the rogue in the pack is the Sow Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus. Flowering profusely and full of milky latex, the growth and development of these annuals are usually curtailed by the lower temperatures of the season.

Sow Thistle

Sow Thistle

Rosa 'Stanwell Perpetual'

Rosa ‘Stanwell Perpetual’

Raspberry 'Autumn Bliss'

Raspberry ‘Autumn Bliss’

 

Dec 302014
 
Cornus mas

Cornus mas

Storm clearing over the Pentlands December 2014

Storm clearing over the Pentlands December 2014

Rhaphiolepis x delacourii

Rhaphiolepis x delacourii

The forecast New Year’s Day storm did not materialise, allowing the Castle fireworks to herald in the start of 2014 with a great colourful spectacle. Storms blew in during the following days resulting in the Garden closing on Friday 3rd. One casualty of the high winds has been squirrel drays; I have never seen so many fallen to the ground. Despite the storms the relatively mild weather continued, yet on the night of the 5th a frost slipped in and whitened the lawns.

With only sporadic frosts through November/December 2013 to mid-January 2014 it was not surprising that tomatoes remaining on the vine in the lean to glasshouse on the west facing wall of the Fletcher Building were still edible.
As the weather forecasters said “January was an unseasonably mild month”. We took a picking of spinach from unprotected overwintered plants at home.
Here in the Garden mowing continued through the winter. Machines were out in both December 2013 and January 2014 topping the sward to maintain the appearance of fine turf!

Edinburgh’s rainfall was below average and consequently we did not suffer from the flooding events occurring in other parts of the country which dominated the news through all of January. In retrospect the most benign winter I have experienced. Very few days of frost and only a smidging of snow here in Edinburgh. We used very little salt and grit on the garden roads this winter.

The second week in March saw a settled dry spell with sunshine, just coinciding with the Cornus mas flowering. The heat from the sun bringing out the scent from this deciduous multi-branched small tree. The previous weekend English strawberries were on sale in the supermarkets; a week earlier than last year.

Dawn on Monday 24th March introduced the whitest and coldest frost of the winter, just as the Camellias and Rhododendrons commenced flowering. The early bright sun took the colour out of the petals as the thaw was so rapid. Having said that we experienced the best season in memory for Rhododendron blossom due to the mild winter weather and no frosts to speak of during the later peak flowering season.

Laburnum trees were laden with golden chains this May. In addition, leaving the garden on Friday 16th May with the sun shining and the temperature just touching 21oc the scent from the long pendulous flower trusses of the Wisteria, another member of the family Leguminosae, growing against the south facing wall in the yard was filling the air. Flowers were observed on other woody species such as Rhaphiolepis x delacourii, an evergreen shrub that previously had not been known to bloom so prolifically in the Garden.

Rhubarb however did not appreciate the weather with less growth and the consequent crumbles on the dining table were fewer than from the lush repeated growth of rhubarb stalks during the cooler, wetter spring of 2013.
This was the warmest spring in Scotland on record with the month of May and the previous 5 months all above the average temperature.

Sudden torrential rainstorms of May were followed by sunshine, and long evenings with bright light.

June and the short torrential rain storms continued. However an anticyclone sat to the NW of Scotland and gave us a week of heat and stillness for midsummer. As usual the Garden remained open until 10.30pm on the longest day and we were inundated with visitors, queues formed to walk through the Front Range. Visitors enjoyed the evening with acrobats in the trees and stilt walkers on the ground.

The smell of creosote liquefying from old wooden sleepers stored in the nursery was an indicator of the heat rising and settling in the mid 20’s. Bees were everywhere, taking advantage of the prime flowering season.

The Poppy meadow cultivated on the front lawn as a memorial to the 100 years since Britain entered the First World War in 1914 was well admired. The meadow also attracted masses of pollinating insects. Flowers continued to be produced on the Cornflower until the frosts of the second week of December.

By mid-August the weather had changed, a drop in temperature and even a warning of the risk of hypothermia for walkers and climbers from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. In the Garden, suddenly, it was topcoat weather.

September was one of the driest for decades, autumn colours commenced early due to the dry soil around the root zones. From the 20th September the Conkers started falling, an exceptionally plentiful crop this year likewise of Beech mast. These distinctive shaped nuts plumped up well. They have a good taste if you can be bothered to split the husk open. Yet, the Sweet Chestnuts were, as usual, their small insignificant shells with no filling. No opportunity for a roasting from our trees. Michaelmas Daisies have also appreciated the September weather. Very little rain fell to spoil the colour of these composites.

Opening the south facing metal clad shed doors mid-morning at the tail end of September, I burnt my hand; the heat from the sun had been so intense, absorbing into the metal.
On the morning of 2nd October the air felt much cooler, even traces of a ground frost on the front lawn where cool air had accumulated during the night. A plant that I remember as winter flowering during the 1970’s; Viburnum x bodnantense was not only providing a good show of colour at this early date but also exuding a powerful scent in the cooler air.

Snow fell overnight on the 7/8th December giving the Pentland Hills a covering. With freezing temperatures at the Garden we had a covering of ice on the paths but no snow. The “weather bomb” that caused disruption on the west coast resulted in the Garden closing for one and a half days over the 9/10th December. We opened on the 11th having checked the garden for damage to the tree collection only to experience heavy wet snow falling. All is not in retreat though; the white buds of Galanthus ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ are evident amongst ground foliage and leaf litter.

It will be interesting to see if the bedding Geraniums still flowering at the back door survives into spring. These are the 2013 plants that suffered no die back last winter and have flowered complacently for 19 months.

Best wishes for 2015. Remember gardens are to be enjoyed for each of the twelve months of the year so plan and plant well for seasonal interest. To make the most of this; wear appropriate warm and waterproof clothing as the prevailing weather conditions dictate. As illustrated by the attached image of a storm blowing through the Garden from the west.