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.

Dec 232014

Euonymus spraguei is a recent introduction from Taiwan, found growing in cool temperate coniferous forest from 1100 – 2800m in association with Chamaecyparis formosensis, Pinus armandii, P.taiwanensis, Tsuga chinensis.
An evergreen shrub, at present one metre in height in cultivation, but with a sprawling habit so adept at covering ground. The shiny orange fruit is held within a four lobed seed capsule, the inner of which is padded, almost like blown white polystyrene, to protect the developing embryo. Looking more closely notice the hooked awns on the outer of the pods.

Euonymus spraguei

Euonymus spraguei

Euonymus spraguei

Euonymus spraguei

Euonymus spraguei

Euonymus spraguei

Euonymus spraguei

Euonymus spraguei

Dec 162014

The glossy red berries of the Eurasian Viburnum opulus are a treat for bird life at this time of year. This plant is also trying to send out corymbs of white flowers at the tail end of this year. A valiant effort on the deciduous shoots. A useful species when considering a mixed native garden hedge. It will grow intermingled with other species to form a wildlife sanctuary beneficial to the biodiversity of suburban gardens. Consider such a mix rather than a “leylandii” line when contemplating hedge planting.

Viburnum opulus

Viburnum opulus

Dec 092014
Camellia sasanqua

Camellia sasanqua

Camellia sasanqua

Camellia sasanqua

Camellia sasanqua

Camellia sasanqua

Camellia sasanqua, an evergreen bush itself is tucked away beneath an even greater evergreen behemoth. Yet even in this shady situation opposite the arid land house managing to push out a few flowers.
A native to Japan, where it is cultivated and hybridised with enthusiasm.
This specimen has delicate flowers with light pink petals and a central ring of yellow anthers. Some petals exhibiting a slight white variegation. There are many cultivars including ones with variegated blooms. Unlike the spring flowering species this shy autumn flowered Camellia exudes a scent on a warm day. Not a pleasant scent though, reminiscent of musty leaf mould.

Dec 032014
Lunaria rediviva

Lunaria rediviva

Lunaria rediviva

Lunaria rediviva

Just as the dampness of the short days creeps into our bodies so does the fabric of the plant world slowly decay.
These images of seed pods illustrate the gradual breakdown of the cellulose layers and then the tougher lignin decays to release the seeds held within.
The brightly coloured Physalis alkekengi lanterns are in high demand as seasonal decorations.
The silvery, paper thin elongated pods of Lunaria rediviva are equally as valued for decoration in the home. However, left alone they both provide colour in the border as winter arrives. Grow in sun or semi shade in well drained soil.

Physalis alkekengi

Physalis alkekengi

Physalis alkekengi

Physalis alkekengi

Dec 102013
Dipelta yunnanensis

Dipelta yunnanensis

A touch of breeze and the brown wafer thin seed pods of this Dipelta yunnanensis are set quivering on the leafless shoots.
The twin wing like bracts give momentum to the achene as they disperse from the parent plant in the wind.
A native to mixed forests of SW China where seed was collected in Yunnan Province at the altitudinal extremity of 2995m. The entry in the Flora of China gives an altitudinal range from 800 – 2400m.

Text and photos by Tony Garn.


Dec 052013

Xanthorhiza simplicissima; a deciduous shrub with pinnate foliage that slowly colours into early winter. Surprisingly, a member of the Buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. Native to Eastern North America where it prefers damp woodland with soil that allows the suckering rootstock to increase.
This has a suckering habit and will rapidly move through the soil forming a woody shrubbery growing to 1.3m in height. At this time of year the foliage darkens through red to deep purple, almost black. Text and photos by Tony Garn.

Xanthorhiza simplicissima

Xanthorhiza simplicissima

Xanthorhiza simplicissima

Xanthorhiza simplicissima









Dec 312012
Repairing glass following storm of 3.1.2012. Photo by Tony Garn

Repairing glass following storm of 3.1.2012

A very mild end to 2011, we recorded 12.5oC on the 31st December. On the 3rd January 2012 Edinburgh recorded wind speeds of over 100mph. The highest wind speeds for more than thirty years. A violent storm blew through from the early hours of the morning reducing 34 trees to matchwood and blowing out 600+ panes of glass from the glasshouse ranges. The storm and resulting damage led to closure to visitors for two days on the 3rd and 4th January.

The month continued with few frosts and became drier and settled. During early February when most of England and the north of Scotland were covered in snow Edinburgh basked in cold but clear sun filled days.

February continued dry and relatively mild. This gave us an ideal opportunity to progress the storm damage clear up and replanting.

Two downsides to the mild weather were the need to irrigate newly planted material through this period of low rainfall, but also the rapid growth of annual weed seedlings. At the end of February these were not noticeable; yet by the first week in March we appeared to have a green sheen covering bare, unmulched soil.

A dry warm spring; a record high temperature of 22.8oC was set for Scotland in March on Sunday March 25th; then 22.9oC on Monday 26th in Aboyne. Higher again on the 27th with Aboyne recording 23.6oC.

Everywhere is so dry, new plantings are desperate for regular irrigation, grass seed not germinating.

Flooding 10 April 2012 centre road east. Photo by Tony Garn

Flooding 10 April 2012 centre road east

April and the temperature plummeted. It was a cold, dismal and continually wet month. The wettest April for 100 years according to weather records. To compound things, late frosts cut back emerging foliage and flower buds. A particularly extensive example of frost damage affected the Azalea lawn. Two cultivars, ‘Sunte Nectarine’ and ‘Frills’ caught the early morning sun causing the foliage to shrivel back.The wettest April for 100 years according to weather records

When May arrived we thought an improvement in the climate would occur; how wrong we were. It was persistently miserable with light levels remaining low even with the lengthening days. The woody plants flowered reliably and the scents drifting on the air lifted spirits. It was not until the 22nd of May that temperatures again reached the low 20’s. Eight weeks is a long wait for sunshine and warmth, both for the plant collection and for those of us who maintain the Garden.

Mid-summer and we again experienced a long cool wet day. June continued to be wet and miserable. It was a dull month with sunshine hours reduced due to cloud cover. When the sun did break through there was intensity to it and lawns dried enabling mowing to progress. Our rainfall figures showed we had almost double the average for June.

Slugs and snails increased exponentially with the wet weather, in the evenings moving upwards from their shelter in the layer of thatch to the surface of the lawn.

Growth on hedges and extension growth on the majority of woody plants was phenomenal. Growth there may have been on Buddleja globosa yet this growth did not terminate in clusters of flowers.

Red Thread fungal infections were visible on the front lawns, a sure sign of a continual wet surface. Plantains grew bigger and Buttercups thrived in the lawns, there was a visible change in the vegetation mix where the lawns remained wet. We grew the largest Plantains I have ever seen. Admittedly these accidental seedlings were at the edge of a border bounded by a semi-permanent puddle. There was a poor set on fruit, including glasshouse tomatoes due to the lack of flight opportunities for pollinating insects with the cooler temperatures and continual rain. When these fruits did ripen they had a poor taste with none of the usual sweetness and to compound it, a heavy texture.

Flooding 10 April 2012 Rock garden -  Caledonian Hall. Photo by Tony Garn

Flooding 10 April 2012 Rock garden – Caledonian Hall

August ended with a frost overnight in Braemar. Then on September 3rd 25oC was recorded in Aberdeen, the highest September temperature recorded in the city.

At the Garden the first white grass frost occurred on 22nd September, recording -2.11oC; this a whole month earlier than in 2011. On Tuesday 25th we closed the Garden due to storm force winds and heavy rain, the previous day thunder and lightning had woken us early.

Whatever the weather the Hydrangea’s loved it; this season the mop heads were as large and as colourful as I have previously seen; lasting well into October.

Dismal news regarding conkers; the Scottish championship was cancelled in mid-October due to the lack of conkers. Certainly, the Aesculus hippocastanum on the north boundary of the Garden which always produces a crop was barren this year.

The early frosts and stormy weather conspired against plentiful autumn colour this year. The abscission layer was weakened by the early frosts and then canopies took a severe battering through stormy days and nights. Leaves fell to the ground without amassing the seasonal shades of autumn. Acer nikoense opposite the Palm House produced the best colour in the garden this season; vivid reds spread through the whole canopy.

Around the middle of November as a wave of mild weather swept in from the west we experienced a plague of midges. Working in the Garden around the 13/14th these drove us to distraction. In the east we are rarely troubled by these, certainly not so late in the season. A benefit of the mild weather was the heavy scent from the earliest flowers of Viburnum x bodnantense drifting on the air in the early mornings.

Flooding 10 April 2012 Bottom of conifer walk. Photo by Tony Garn

Flooding 10 April 2012 Bottom of conifer walk

This has been a wet year, after predictions of a fine summer and drought the rain continued to fall. It resulted in the garden closing due to flooding, something we have not done before, but when all the access paths had areas that were under water in one area or another it was not sensible to open to visitors. As the weather got colder the rain turned to snow, the first fall dusting the Garden overnight on Sunday 2nd December. The cold weather was a feature of the first half of the month and then the second half, as we began 2012, turned mild, 11.6oC on the 31st. When have you known sweet peas in flower for Christmas before? I even have strawberries flowering and forming fruit in the garden at home.

Total rainfall for the year to 8.30am on the 31st December is 972.7mm. This compares to the long term Edinburgh average of 690mm, (remember those dry summers and the warmth of the 1970’s and 1980’s?) Previously the wettest year had been 2008 with a rainfall total of 896.9mm.

The images attached represent this year’s climatic conditions experienced at the Garden. Let us hope for a more benign climate in 2013. Best wishes for the New Year.

Dec 242012
Sweet Pea 'Old Fashioned Mix' . Photo by Tony Garn

Sweet Pea ‘Old Fashioned Mix’

Sweet Pea ‘Old Fashioned Mix’ is continuing to throw out flowers, short of stalk and with an absence of fragrance, at this, the tail end of the year.

Sown on 17th April, under glass, by October the frosts will usually have browned the foliage, killing this annual. With the wet miserable summer did we notice a change as summer became autumn and now with the shortest day behind us it appears the Sweet Pea also is unaware of the change in season.

Best wishes for Christmas.

Dec 182012

Walking through the Rhododendron collection in the Garden as dusk is falling, a rapid temperature drop and the stillness of the evening. Then a sound that resembles water as it flows, gently tinkling, along a shallow stream bed. Taken together these events give rise to a rare natural phenomenon occurring at the Garden. Below are the temperature and barometric pressure graphs for the afternoon of Tuesday 11th December. As can be seen there was a steep rise in temperature from below freezing at day break to the relative warmth at midday. Then a sudden drop, again to zero, by midnight on the 11th.





Rhododendron oreodoxa var. fargiesii - foliage full extent. Photo by Tony Garn

Rhododendron oreodoxa var. fargiesii – foliage full extent

Walking through the Copse at 3.15pm on the 11th as the last of the songbirds were seeking shelter for the night I was aware of a constant noise rising from the mature Rhododendron oreodoxa shrubs. These plants have medium sized evergreen leaves of a relative sturdy nature.One of the features of evergreen Rhododendrons is the ability to reduce their leaf surface, thus reducing transpiration, in cold weather. Either by dropping horizontal rosettes of foliage to a more vertical position (see seasonal plants of interest 2nd February 2009; description of Rh. lanigerum.) or by rolling the leaves to form a cylinder.

Rhododendron oreodoxa var. fargiesii - foliage rolled with freezing temperatures. Photo by Tony Garn

Rhododendron oreodoxa var. fargiesii – foliage rolled with freezing temperatures


The source of the noise was the action of the leaves folding and then rolling to overlap forming perfect cylinders, of which the cigar rollers of Havana would be impressed. A constant, incessant chattering reminiscent of running water was amplified in the still air and by the amphitheatre effect of the planting. The noise is caused by ice crystals on the upper surface of the leaf scraping past the rigid surface of the underside of the leaf as the cylinder is formed.