Creating a Garden 2: the Grand Tour
Although we have clear blue skies, the sun still slinks low over the horizon and its weak winter rays are insufficient to penetrate the frost. This is a garden tour that bears no resemblance to a wonderful Sunday afternoon amble around a perfect English Yellow Book Garden. There are no riotous extravaganzas of herbaceous borders, not a whiff of the perfume from rambling roses cascading over walls and arches, and sadly no tea and homemade cakes on the terrace.
We are held firmly in winter’s icy grasp so there are no plants to distract us. The winter is one of the best times to look at the structure of the garden, to examine the bare bones which form the design framework and underpin the vision. The structural colours are muted to blend in with the bleached hues of the winter landscape and to fade into the background in the strong light of the summer.
1 – Through the garden gate
2 – The lean-to
3. The lean-to is a garden in a shed. It is built on the side of the big shed, has a wooden framework clad in larch and a polycarbonate roof. There is a large window at the far end. The east side is partially covered with mesh which is open to the elements and partially “glazed” with polycarbonate.
There is a central large raised bed which is used for growing, bulbs, succulents, alpines and small plants which cannot withstand our wet and windy climate.
Originally the area beween the big shed and the “in-between garden was a general depository for wood, driftwood, fencing stakes and assorted other bits and pieces “that might be useful”. When the idea of a lean-to was proposed I was expecting another shed. However, although the Head Gardener’s building projects are never modest or predictable, this one took me by surprise.
3 – The in-between garden
This is the oldest part of the garden, and has been re-designed a number of times. The boundary walls give some shelter from the wind, but it is too exposed to grow shrubs, unless they are very small or prostrate.
Breeze blocks are a pragmatic option for wall building. Bricks are not available and our granite is not suitable for building supporting walls. I have managed to get some honeysuckle to grow on along the walls and I might try some ivy or even a clematis.
The raised bed on the south side was originally desiged for ericaceous plants and housed some beautiful sculptured driftwood logs. Unfortunately, the plants did not like the exposure to the north wind and the mice decided that tunnelling under the logs would make a very safe place for raising a family. So this bed is scheduled for redevelopment.
4. – The alpine house
The alpine house sits in a fenced compound, with the solar panels on the south side and the greenhouses and garden shed to the north.
5 – The greenhouses
You can never have too many greenhouses or sheds. The greenhouses were built in 2018-2019 and sit in a fenced area with the garden shed. They have a breeze block base (to be timber clad this summer), a wooden framework covered with polycarbonate panels. Ventilation is provided by a series of louvered glass panels in the sides. Although they have an electricity supply, these are not designed to be heated.
6 – The rock garden
The rock garden is an expanse of glaciated Lewisian gneiss (Precambrian metamorphic rocks) with bands of quartz. It is a beautiful feature, which needs minimalist planting. There is no soil, so pockets have to be constructed. Predictably the weeds always seem to find a niche, while I struggle to excavate a planting crevice.
12. Looking north east across the rock garden. The garden slopes down towards the house, so the border of cobbles is not only decorative, it is functional. It channels the rain water run-off from the rock surface down and away from the house. In the top left corner in front of the fence is a built in garden seat, sheltered by the greenhouse and green garden shed.
13. Looking south west. The back of the house and log store are visble to the south. In the foreground, is a triangular raised bed. This has been planted for a couple of years, but is scheduled for a make-over.
7 – The periphery
When we put in the stock fence last year, we needed to have a gap between the fence and the house for purely practical reasons. The options were to do nothing and just strim the grass once a year, put in a gravel path or put in a low wooden fence and create a peripheral garden. The area between the wooden fence and the stock fence is the wild garden. This requires minimal attention, we just graze it with 4 or 5 sheep for about a month in the winter – the grass gets cut and a light dressing of organic manure is applied all at the same time.
This is the end of the tour. In the winter the garden can look bleak and skeletal, but the eye is drawn beyond to the wider landscape – stormy seas, dramatic cloud formations, rosy dawns and golden sunsets. Today I can see snow on the hills of Harris and the Cullins of Skye – these panoramic views are an integral part of the garden and do more than compensate for the absence of trees. On days when the horizon is shrouded in low cloud and obscured by rain squalls, there is often something in flower in one of the covered gardens.
I deliberately chose a series of photographs taken on the same day at the beginning of January. If you would like to see more, the following photographs were taken in April last year and show a little more detail.