Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Scottish Cottage Garden in Summer

The cottage gardens of Scotland are often deceptive, hidden places. Walk down a village street in the rural south of England, as I did a couple of weeks ago, and you will be assaulted by a wonderful amalgam of scents, and sights and sounds. But as anyone who has visited Scotland will know, many Scottish villages consist of one or two streets of terraced cottages, some long and low, some two storey, often whitewashed. There are few front gardens – although increasingly there will be hanging baskets and tubs and window boxes – and it is very easy for the casual visitor to drive past, without giving a thought to the secret gardens that lie beyond the quiet village streets.
Behind these old cottages, you will often find a wonderland of large, sheltered gardens, containing ancient apple trees, old roses, riotous flower beds and luscious vegetables. Our own sheltered, south facing garden has been cultivated for some 200 years, and the soil is almost disturbingly fertile. Plants can assume gigantic dimensions, with very little help from me. I almost never use chemicals – the occasional organic greenfly spray is the most that I allow myself – because so many of the plants are tough as old boots, and besides the garden is home to all kinds of birds, beasts and insects that I have no wish to harm or discourage. There are newts in the pond, a family of hedgehogs in the hedge, bumble bees (a threatened species now) nesting somewhere in the depths of an old stone seat and the occasional woodpecker, who pays a visit to the bottom of the garden and startles us with his tapping. Oh, and there are sparrows galore. They nest in an old swallows nest which they clean out vigorously each year, and then raise several broods, using our little glass roofed pergola beneath, as a kind of larder - I think they believe that the trapped insects are provided solely for their convenience.
I’m a passionate but rather lazy gardener – not as steady as I should be, but I get there in the end. How else would I have discovered that it is best to plant your tulips very late, in this part of the world, so avoiding the prolonged rainfalls of October which used to rot my bulbs in the ground!
The west of Scotland is warm but can be wet and windy, even in summer. This year though, has been exceptionally fine and dry so far, with just enough rainfall (usually at night) to keep the plants happy. The cottage gardens, ours, and those that we can see from our windows, are as lovely as I have ever seen them and the subtly scented Himalayan rose that clambers up through an old conifer is such a riot of pale pink that each sight of it makes my heart leap. You know the feeling – you want to grasp it, and hold onto it, but the season passes and the petals fall. Now, however, at the start of July, there are still a good many buds left, and many more blossoms still to come.

No comments: