Diary Of An Orkney Gardener – April

 In Blog, Caroline Kritchlow

I have been battling against the wind all day in an attempt to get the garden at The Quoy of Houton into a less embarrassingly unkempt state. I tell myself that every hour is an achievement in weather like this and at least some small steps toward an orderly plot have been made.

Improvised wind defense

It reminds me of our first visit to the garden in May 2007, then a derelict wilderness of weeds, nettles and brambles. Clad in a mock beaver Jamie Crocket hat with ear flaps firmly secured under my chin, protecting me from a particularly biting east wind, I surveyed the plot. Could I really take on the job (along with my husband Kevin of course) of not only renovating the dilapidated historic farm house but performing a transformation job on the walled garden as well?

You know the answer, but eleven years down the line it is still a struggle and as the first signs of spring appear, gardening here can be particularly disheartening.

April is the month when I closely inspect the garden to assess winter damage and dispose of the casualties. There are always several. This year I said a fond farewell to my Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’, a particular delight last summer as it flowered non-stop until late into autumn. Will I splash out another £7.50? Yes, probably, because it gave such a brilliant summer show and perhaps (optimistically) the next one may come from more robust stock. It does show however, that the advice given for coastal gardens that small, silver, waxy leaved plants are suited to gardens like ours, is not always correct.

Aubretia – treated here as an annual as it never survives the winter.

My newly planted alpine garden, planted on top of a newly built low drystane dyke has taken a right hit with a 75% casualty rate –  all dianthus dead, and only the sedums showing some promise…despite great drainage, the exposure to the salty wind was just too much.

Anne Thomson Orkney geranium just showing its face.

Kevin kindly referred to my new and much treasured Orkney geranium garden today as ‘The Orkney geranium grave yard’…but I have not given up yet. Everyday come rain or shine I inspect the still soggy cold land for some hopeful little shoots.

Rest assured though, I will not be glum in my wellies for much longer, the sun will shine, the wind will drop and I will forget the April blues as I await the little red post van with its cargo of new plants ordered online, selected enthusiastically from the warmth of my fireside arm chair two weeks ago…no wonder I used to live in Hope, metaphorically I still do!


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