Neglecting my own garden but enjoying other people’s

Non-stop travelling for the last month, preceded by tedious and back breaking weekends of shifting buckets of soil from the top of the hill to the bottom, has left the garden thoroughly neglected.

Is it bothered?  Barely!  With the exception of a major grass cutting operation, it is chugging along regardless and I’m feeling just a little unnecessary.

sweet peasThe rudbekias and dahlias are looking lovely, the pelargoniums are still going strong and pentemons are still flowering.  Colchimums, nerines, verbana bonaries and the autumn primulas are coming to life.  Late lillies and tame crocosmia are still in bloom, a deep purple clematis is looking striking in a cherry tree and the late sowing of godetia (after slugs ate the first seedlings) are pink, frilly and very cheerful.

Blueberries are ready for eating straight from the bush and a fine apple crop is shaping up both front and back. Surprisingly, given the gales we had in Scotland while I was in the US, the sweet peas at the front are still in full bloom, despite me not being around to deadhead them.

Some serious weeding and tidying is required, along with some deadheading and pot revitalisation, but I must admit I was expecting to return to a lot worse.

A garden a world away from my own

berkley botanic gardenAlthough away on a business trip, I had the pleasure of making a visit to the Botanic Garden at the University of Berkley, California.  Right up in Strawberry Canyon, on the Hayward Fault in the hills above San Francisco Bay, the garden is both hot and sunny (seasonally arrid) and yet still gets plenty of rain in autumn and winter.  It is not dissimilar to Mediterranean climates like Cyprus.

I was expecting American, arrid, Mediterranean and desert planting – but the garden was so much more than that.  A lovely old rose garden (heavenly musky smell), a fabulous little garden of foodstuffs of the world (where I saw my first caper plant!) and a lovely herb garden.

The edible garden was quite incredible – the climate had made all the fruit and vegetable goes mad – there was a purple sprout stalk taller than me and the most amazing purple beans.  Even some plants (like the caper) that I had simply never seen before, or didn’t know were edible.

It is rightly described as one of the United States best plant collections, but it was also a stunning series of gardens.  The gardens are displayed in a series of geographies, with California naturally a major part.

There were particularly interesting Japanese and Chinese gardens, also an impressive Australian garden.  Though I’m not usually into grasses, there was a beautiful drift of South American plain style planting which caught my eye – golden knee high stalks, mixed in with cotton grasses.  Not a look I’d ever want to replicate, but beautiful in this context.  Even the cacti, which usually leave me cold, were stylishly planted and very impressive.

fabulous flower combinations

Now if I could just replicate this combination!

Some lovely flowering plant combinations meant I took loads of pictures in the vague hope I will remember them and replicate them – nowhere was this more true than in the Japanese & rose garden.

I enjoyed it more than the famous Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco and the gardens at Stanford that I’ve visited in previous years.

If you’re ever in the Bay area, I highly recommend at trip over to Berkley’s Botanic Gardens – and if you’re feeling fit and the weather is not too hot, the walk up Strawberry Canyon from Berkley campus is also a lovely one.  The smell of eucalyptus, rosemary and various pines and cyprus will transport you to another world!

Loch Ness Plant Buying Spree

There are several terrific nurseries near Inverness, but my absolute favourite is Abriachan Nursery on Loch Ness.  Not only does it have an interesting selection of Auriculas, primula and other herbaceous perennials that thrive here in the Highlands, it also has a beautiful garden that shows many of the plants in situ.

Abriachan nursery

Abriachan nursery faces on to Loch Ness

Like my back garden, Abriachan is a steeply sloping woodland garden, with both dry,  sunny and cool, shady areas.  It faces South (unlike my East facing slope). And whereas I am exposed to winds straight off the North Sea, Abriachan faces Loch Ness, benefiting from a remarkably mild & stable microclimate, given the latitude.  So, while Abriachan may be a week or two ahead of my garden and probably doesn’t get quite such heavy frost, I can be near certain that if grows there, it will grow 10 miles away on my slope (provided I plant it right!)

Blue Himalayan Poppy (Meconopsis) looking surreally stunning

Saturday I popped over to the nursery with my camera and spent a hot, sunny hour pottering around their garden. I had the place pretty much to myself and was lucky enough to see one of the most delightful botanical sights I can recall.

I emerged from a shaded path into a more open, sunny border and there was a single Himalayan Blue Poppy, backlit in the bright morning light.  There was no distracting planting competing with it.  As a result this single plant had a far more dramatic impact than the drifts I have seen (for example at Aberdeen Botanic Garden).  Not only was it absolute star of the garden yesterday – it looked like it had just arrived pristine from another planet.

Naturally I had to buy one!  I already have one establishing in the back, but at just £3 for a young plant, I decided to give one a go in the front as well.  They need to be kept well fed in order to really establish, apparently.  Heck, mine can have sirloin steak if it wants it.

To accompany it I bought a lovely maroon and yellow Euphorbia for a newly created sunny spot in the front – and happily this divided naturally  into four plants when I unpotted it.  I found a lovely spotted leaved Pulmonaria for a shady spot in the back and a dark leaved creeping violet to set it off.  All these plants are welcome to spread to their roots’ content!

Given it was the lure of a fine display of Auricula that drew me to the nursery in the first place (courtesy of their blog and Flickr group), I couldn’t leave with a choice new addition of my own.  I picked up three new Auricula, including two in shades of blues.  I already have a lovely red and yellow one for the same nursery, which I have divided into three over the years, so now I am well on my way to having a collection!

Auricula theatre showing specimens to their prime

Arbriachan had a fine, shelved display of potted Auriculas, with a simple black cloth showing off the blooms to full effect – a traditional “Auricula Threatre.”  I can see why people used to part with a week’s salary for a choice variety, though £4 per specimen was my limit (clearly I’m not a real addict).

So a definite shopping spree (I blame the fabulous summer-like weather) – but there is definitely enough choice plants to keep my coming back to Abriachan for a long while yet.  Just as well give that the front garden has now been totally overhauled and has lots of tempting gaps that need filling!