Rose Discoveries - Beauty in a Shattered City.

If you know Christchurch as we do, it is very sad just now to see the cleared sites and demolition work that followed the Earthquakes earlier this year. However, walk down to Hagley Park, their botanic gardens and it is thriving.
In Mid December we walked into their rose garden and I was blown away. I am still seeing images of the garden in my mind's eye.
Usually, I walk into a rose garden and what do I  see? Well it can be lovely , but all too often the garden can be dry soil, defoliation, spotty yellow leaves far too much bare earth
Not an enthusiast then?? Well all changed now. Christchurch showed me how it can be done,
Look at these arches, look at these red reds.  Let me share some photographs with you.
What you don't get in a photograph, is the shimmering sunshine and the scented air around some of the rose beds...just lovely
Many Happy Returns
Large bed of  "Many Happy Returns"   white, pink bud.
It was the white roses that made the most impact. Fantastic.
Molly Kirby
Molly Kirby...a sizzling orange, clean shiny foliage.

A bright yellow bed of " Casino"
The red voluptuous "Ingrid Bergman"
Ingrid Bergman
The roses were all looking wonderful. Why?
1.  Well New Zealand has a kinder climate. Christchurch has milder winters and hotter summers that we have in UK, and certainly more than we have in Scotland.
And Roses love warmth. We sometimes forget that and wonder why we lose rose bushes, particularly Hybrid teas in a bad winter. At Abriachan we only grown shrub roses and climbers as others just can't take the cold.
2. The roses looked well pruned and well fed. Like all plants that you want to see bloom on the new growth you have to ensure they are well fed. Blood fish and bone or dehydrated Chicken manure are my favourites, followed by tomato feed to get lots of blooms.
Nancy Hayward
3. New Zealand breeds many of its own roses and they were well chosen, but there were also very good looking David Austin varieties and old well known varieties such as "Compassion" and "Iceberg"  They looked great so I believe they are using good clean material for propagation.

Just wonderful. No wonder they call Christchurch the Garden City

The Badger and The Bees

The Buzz from the Hive
Autumn and time for the beekeeper to relax a little, take stock of the honey crop and start to prepare the bees for the winter. However, there were one or two surprises in store for us yet at the Abriachan hive; never a dull moment with bees.
Pressing the Honey
In September there was an outbreak of American foulbrood in Inverness-shire, the beekeepers worst nightmare.
This is a virulent disease that decimates the developing larvae, will eventually wipe out the colony and is highly contagious.
As with foot and mouth, the infected hive, with its bees is destroyed and a standstill order placed on the apiary until further inspections are carried out.
Bees have a flying range of three miles and along with many others, we were within range of the infected apiary.
So we had a tense week while we waited for the Government Bee inspector to call. Thankfully we were given a clean bill of health.
A more recent threat to the hive has been of a larger and hairier kind.
For the first time the gardens have played host to badgers. Not only have they found the flowerbeds attractive but unfortunately the hive too and Don found it tipped right over and the roof removed earlier this month.
Even with the hive strapped up and weighted down with boulders, there has obviously been a return trip, as the metal mouse guard that covers the entrance (yes, mice love hibernating in hives!) has been ripped off in an effort to reach in side.
All is quiet at the moment but at list the intruder has inspired this years label for the honey jars!
AbriachanApiary 2011
(This Guest Blog written by our wonderful bee keeper Rebecca)

Loss of a great four legged friend

It is a sad day at the nursery, our Viszla 'West' has come to the end of a long and happy life with us at Abriachan.
He was over 120 dog years and while he tried his best to stay with us a little longer, his poor wee heart could no longer cope.
We will miss him very much, he is part of the fabric of the nursery and part of the Davidson family.
He was always to be found somewhere, guiding visitors round the garden, excavating holes to try; unsuccessfully; to catch mice, pathetically shivering by the heater, even in the height of summer, burying today's lunch, searching for yesterdays lunch, chasing deer and endearing himself to all.

He made us laugh, he kept us company while weeding, he drove us mad with his door scratching skills. He was great.
We got 'West' as our second nursery rescue Vizsla, our first was 'Blue' and I think there are many visitors who didn't notice the change and may think we have had the same dog for 25 years.  They had very different personalities, yet both loved the limelight and the attention of the nursery visitors. (Especially the women)
They would eat like horses and never gain a pound, West's ribs were always on display and on occasion we would get looks from people that suggested they were about to phone the RSPCA, unaware of the huge haunch of venison that he had inhaled that morning. I know, I know, venison! - he was spoilt rotten, turning his nose up at meat that other dogs would give their left leg for a sniff of.
Our lovely neighbour also has several beautiful vizslas and West would make frequent solo adventures through the woodland, somehow through/over/under??? the deer fencing, over the stream and once there, position himself under the window and cry piteously until allowed in to play with his girlfriends.  If they were not at home, he would reappear 5 minutes later back on the nursery looking nonchalant, and would stroll insouciantly past you, as though he had been very busy helping in the polytunnels the whole time.
We have film crews come by the garden every few years and both Blue and West would pull out all the stops to get screen time.  They would stand casually on top of a rock looking out over the loch, with the middle distance stare of a catalogue model, pretending not to notice as the cameraman lined them up for a tracking shot, or they would develop an overwhelming devotion to whoever was being filmed talking to the presenter, coming in with the trademark vizla-lean, where they stand very close and then gradually put all their weight on your legs until you buckle under the strain.
We hope you had a chance to meet him if you visited Abriachan, and thank you for all the attention and love you gave him over the years, it made him very happy.
He was a bouncing puppy one moment, a grave elder statesman the next. A companion, a watchdog, a ladies man, a hunter, a poser, a neurotic mess, a friend. 
We will miss you West.

Cut flowers for Christmas?

I remember about 12 years ago, when we had that run of mild winters., that I used to be able to cut a pick a bunch of late flowers for Christmas day.
Well certainly not the last 2 winters. But I am hopeful this year.
We have a lovely show of late blooms just now as November settles in.
The Schizostylis, Kaffir Lilies, have bloomed as never before, I take it to be the mild weather and lots of sunshine. They are South Africans so love the sun. Lovely satiny blooms of red and pink.
The annuals have not finished of course and you can still find blooms on the Larkspur (The few that the mice left in peace) and Cosmos.
Most showy is the old pot Marigold, Calendula. A lovely show or rich orange and yellow, planted with bright green parsley.

Of course Dahlias are at their best in autumn. We still have a good show of Bishop of Llandaff and Fascination, and the latter with its orange and red colouring looks lovely in autumn groups.

Rhododendrons have become confused and we have had a few flowers on a good few of them….cilipense, impeditum and Elizabeth.
And roses. I often had a rose bud in that Christmas bunch. The constitution of many roses is to repeat flower, but often they don’t get the chance. This year we had a lovely second flush of Shot Silk, the rose on our house wall and a few blooms on Madame Isaac Pereire .
The David Austin Roses Alan Titchmarch, Tam o Shanter. and Prospero have bloomed well, but I have struggled to Get the Alan Titchmarsh roses to open even in the house. They actually looked their best when the petals fell.
Next years roses have just arrived bare rooted from David Austin, they look excellent and Don is potting them today.

A Woodland in November

I decided it would be good to walk through the garden once a month to share the highlights with you,
Often weeding, moving, lifting and sweeping..… you lose the wood for the trees. So this is my monthly exercise - finding the woodland.
I am starting near the bottom of our steep drive. We have a row of beech trees near the road, planted when we came here 28 years ago, they are now magnificent specimens. Each autumn they take their time, slowly, yellow, gold, a flash of red and then in October the colours deepen to a wonderful glowing copper bronze. They have been wonderful.

The wind is now taking them away, but there is still pleasure as they swirl and gather in groups at the edge of the tarmac.

Walking up the hill you pass the magnificent Acer Bloodgood. Can an Acer be too big?  I see that it’s winning the battle with the white lilac next to it. It is being squeezed out.
Up the steps and into the woodland and the first splendour that you meet is the Witch hazel. Our shrub is Hamamellis pallida, which has lovely pale lemon spidery flowers each winter, on the bare stems. The leaves are large and a clean acidic yellow, very noticeable this autumn. As the leaves fall off I can see myriad swollen flower buds. It will be a great show.
Hamamelis mollis

Rodgersia aesulifolia
Collapsed Hosta
The Rodgersia are colouring and collapsing, the Hostas are suddenly collapsing and they all flare with colour before they go down. As always the grasses are at their best before winter sets in. The most satisfying this year has been Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster', its bolt upright stems standing wonderfully well and mixing with Rudbeckia.
They look wonderful together in vase. 

As you wander up the steps you can’t but see the evergreens. They take on a glossy glow that lasts through the winter. Holly and Ivy both gaining prominence as the colour show fades.
Finally up to the big oak at the top of the garden.  The most magnificent plants we have and a gorgeous deep bronze colour.  Just now it is full of Jays, who have decided to turn up on Loch Ness and eat their way through the acorn crop.
They are noisy. Screeching and airborne when you or the dog appear. They remind me of scaled down Cockatoos. Squawk.

Making leaf mould & a recipe for potting compost

Leaf mould is a lovely old fashioned term, and brings to mind old Estate gardens and poorly paid, overworked garden boys.  It often appeared as a magic ingredient alongside weathered soot and wood ash and ground up toe nails!
But for us it is a natural plentiful resource and a vital ingredient in our potting composts. Over the years we have steadily reduced the amount of peat in our mixes and leaf mould is really useful.
The native trees that shed their leaves for us are Hazel, Birch and Oak, and of course we are a garden and we also have lots of Maples, Cercidiphyllum , Chestnut and Larch.

The leaves fall onto beds and along the paths.
This make for easy pickings and any dry day from late October onwards, there is often someone out there, with a bucket, a rake and a collection old compost bags.
Rebecca hard at work with the rake
The leaves are poured out into compost bins constructed from wooden pallets and when we have a bumper year, we make wire netting cages to take them all.  
There they sit for 2 years, slowly mouldering.
Each leaf has its own characteristics.
Oak is tough and takes 2 years to rot down.
Hazel is much softer and takes a year to 18 months.

Inevitably there is the odd holly leaf in the mould. They are a pain, literally.  They are always a surprise, and take forever to rot so they retain all of their prickles. Again natures wee joke.
Leaf mould is also a great mulch, in fact it is nature’s mulch in our woodlands
We like to return some to the beds every year.

Here’s our recipe for general purpose potting compost
Sieved Leaf Mould 1/3rd
John Innes No3 1/3rd
Grit/Gravel 1/6th depending on the plants to use it
Fibrous Compost 1/6th to 1/3rd (You could use peat, but there are now many more sustainable alternatives available)

Happy gathering,  M

For more advice about the benefits of leaves read Donald's Autumn Blog from 2009

The Turning of the Season

It’s cold now. A depression roared in from the Atlantic last week and we still have blustery showers, and the first snow on the tops.  When I say snow on the tops I don’t mean Ben Nevis, the Ben has had snow for some weeks now, but snow on the hills opposite us on south Loch Ness…...hills around 200ft
The mornings have become dark and I have become very sluggish getting out to the garden. In less than a week the clocks will go back and we will have some brighter mornings, though colder of course.
No frost yet, but raw, wet mornings. I keep glancing at the met office forecasts looking for a mild settled spell to see out the last of the autumn colour. No luck that I can see.
The colour is still wonderful and now that the flashy early reds of Acers and Horse Chestnuts and Geans are through, the colours are taking on russet depths that clothe and pillow the hills in birch and oak.
A bright sunny day would be food for the soul.
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