Diary of an Orkney Gardener – May

 In Blog, Caroline Kritchlow

I didn’t expect to spend Sunday afternoon in a long queue, preparing to embark the Hamnavoe in the hope of spotting whales, dolphins and puffins, whilst having a chat about next year’s Garden Festival.

The life of a dweller of The Orkney Isles is, apparently, as varied as its weather, not to mention its gardening. The lady who tentatively tapped my arm had heard the ‘Guru’ slot on BBC Radio Orkney and, as a new arrival to the island, was keen for some hints and tips on what to grow, or not to grow (that REALLY is the six-million-dollar question!). I explained to her that the growth in the garden this spring was amazingly luxuriant, as if the plants have endured a terrible winter and have thrown their leaves in the air shouting ‘come on let’s grow!’ It has to be said (very quietly so that no jinx occurs) that there has been significantly less wind this spring; no lambing gale, no daffodil gale, just long, light days combined with some much welcome sun.

Much needed protection for the Orkney geraniums

Despite this unusual calmness, close planting has still proved to be an essential strategy for me. One of my closest friends, a very knowledgeable gardener, often comments that the garden at The Quoy is overplanted, but my retort is that plants give essential support to each other when the weather arrives. Indeed, in the perilous balance of the new Orkney geranium garden, the sparseness of the planting has led to increased access for starlings. ‘Little David’ has now been pecked into oblivion and I have now planted a forest of sticks, string and redundant wire hanging baskets hoping they will ward off these iridescent pests!

Lovely burst of colour from the tulips.

One of the delights of May has been the amazing show of tulips. They stand tall and straight amongst the green mounds of what will be Junes’ floral fanfare. They always surprise me with their resilience, withstanding a good 40mph blow with no trouble at all. I always empty pots of these jewel like bulbs and plant them in the wild garden and, for the first time this year, they have looked splendid as they get established in the shelter of the willows.

It has also been the time for setting out the supports, made by the ingenious Kevin from under floor heating pipe and fencing wire. 150 of these will support the tall perennials in the long beds in the walled garden and allow daisies to tower up to six feet high.

So, I am going to enjoying this verdant, luscious green-filled interlude, but like an acrobat on the tight rope I am waiting for a strong breeze to upset the balance, hoping beyond hope that all the horticultural safety nets that have been put in place do there job when that wind finally arrives…and as surely as a slug will eat a hosta, arrive it will!

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