Sweet Peas - The Sweet Smell of a Mammoth

The sweet peas are coming to an end.
The stems are getting shorter and there is more than a little late infestation of green fly, but they have been magnificent and as they say “owe us nothing".
I have always loved sweet peas. They have been an annual highlight and the first few blooms are always eagerly awaited and their scent inhaled with a pleasure and nostalgia.
Mammoth Mixed
We are the only nursery I know that sells sweet pea plants in individual sweet pea tubes and in individual colours.
Until this year we have always planted the left overs. By that I mean that after we have sold some thousands of sweet peas, the ones left are those that have lost a label, taken a knock or are an unfashionable colour, and so, in they go, supported by a few hazel branches.
This year Donald experimented with a variety bred especially for poly-tunnels and they were planted in an orderly row and wired up. As reported, they have been wonderful.
The variety is called Mammoth - not a pretty name. The plants are vigorous, the stems have been long and straight, the flowers have been huge and have kept coming, but the most wonderful thing has been the wonderful, pleasurable fragrance. The scent of these sweet peas meets you at the door and is a rare pleasure as you cut the blooms.
In water the flowers have lasted almost a week, a long spell for sweet peas , and we have had a big enough crop that we have been sending bunches to market. We will certainly be growing them again next year.
Mammoth is, as I said, especially bred for indoor, poly tunnel cropping. Outdoors we are still recommending the old Spencer varieties as they are the hardiest and have the best colour range that we know.
My favourites have to be the lovely white Honeymoon, and the deep crimson Winston Churchill.
In addition to the Spencers we grow Old Spice mixed, smaller flowers, with a heady, almost tropical, spicy scent. We also grow a single old variety called Matucana. This has deep purple and red flushed flowers and the most remarkable scent of all.

Winston Churchill

Most folks in the north of the United Kingdom plant their Sweet Pea seed early spring. We often get them in late February/ March ..... but you can plant in autumn on the hope of an early start and early flowers. Always keep your seedlings up and away from mice; they seem to smell them a thousand yards away. Early spring means the day ends with a patrol of many mouse traps.

The seedlings are very hardy and do not need cosseting. However this past spring was so cold in April that it certainly put them back and they were looking very pinched for a while, before they grew away strongly.
Sweet peas love a rich soil and if you are organised enough to know where you will be planting them next year, then this an excellent time to dig a trench and fill it with as much homemade compost and animal manure as you can get your hands on. They will love the rich diet and will reward you with months of undiluted pleasure.

Autumn Shrub Sale At Abriachan

Tuesday 11th- Tuesday 18th September
£5 each or any 4 plants for £15 (Buy 3 get 1 free)
(Nursery Only Offer - No Mailorder Available For Offer)

I asked Don for a couple of shrub names to give a flavour of some of the shrubs available and got given this rather substantial list - so here we go, have a wee look, there is bound to be something to suit and plenty more at the Nursery
Viburnum bodnatense dawn
All good shrubs that do very well in Highland Gardens
Good autumn colour
Spirea firelight
Parotia persica

Two antipodeans
Prostrantera cuneata ... Australian hardy shrub
Pittosporum cuneata ... From New Zealand

Great variegated Hollies
Ilex Silver Queen
Ilex Northern Lights

Showy brooms
Cytisus Goldfinch
Cytisus hollandia

New Zealand hollies, great for coastal and windy gardens
Olearia macrodonta
Olearia haastii

Another two evergreens that are wonderful in windy and coastal gardens and flower all summer
Escallonia iveyi
Escallonia macrantha

And Beautiful summer flowering shrubs
Lavatera olbia rosea
Deutzia Pink Pom Pom
Weigelia Bristol Ruby
Weigelia florida variegata

And wonderful spring flowering shrubs
Ceonothus Concha …… A heavenly blue
Kolkwitzia amabilis

And a selection of Rhododendrons

Loved by butterflies
Buddleia Black Knight
Buddleia Loch Insh

Shrubs for winter flowering
Sarcocca confusa
Viburnum bodnatense dawn
Olearia macrodonta
Phew - Get in quick, the Great Shrub Sale only lasts for one week !

Autumn Supplement

It is Autumn at Abriachan and that means it is time for our Autumn Supplement crammed full of great offers.
Primula Scotica
At the end of summer we have rows and rows of plants that we have propagated over the summer. We like to offer them at a really good price before we pot on.
I also know that many of you have been waiting for some of the precious Auriculas and Primroses, as we sold out early in the spring.
So VoilĂ !
Auricula Grey Monarch

Alongside them are some plants that really appreciate being planted in autumn, Digitalis ( Foxgloves), Hellebores and Candelabra Primroses.

Digitalis purpurea alba

We are also selling good range of Schizostylis (Kaffir Lilies) These blooms are wonderful in the autumn garden, glowing and providing border colour to catch the eye in the late summer sunlight.
Once owned always  loved.
Schizostylus coccinea major
 We hope you find something to tempt you,

Click here to go direct to the website where you can order online,
Click here to download the autumn supplement pdf (order form included)

Don has done a wonderful job taking photographs of the auriculas this year and the website is looking a lot more colourful with all the thumbnail photos (Click on a thumbnail to see a larger photo of the plant), we hope this is a helpful aid to choosing some new plants, sometimes reading descriptive text only can be a bit dry, so we are doing our best to  gradually add photos of every plant we sell.
Best Wishes,
The Davidson Family


Should I be using the word opulence, should it be abundance?
The dictionary tells me it is great wealth or luxuriousness  and I do feel this piece is about a luxuriance of flower and foliage.
 It is July and it has so far been a very wet summer, storms and grey skies.
However it has become a little warmer and plants have their heads up and are showing off their worth.
July always means roses, mock orange and campanulas but it also is my month of opulence.

We have been at Abriachan now for 29 years and each summer I am surprised that a plant that I planted; more in hope than wisdom; is suddenly a star and a major player on our summer stage.
One such, is a seedling New Zealand clematis, it now crowns a group of hazel trees for many weeks and is now substantial enough to be visible from the car park.

Rose pauls Himalayan musk, tumbling over a terrace and full of flower and fragrance. Is anything as nice as a the heady midsummer scent of roses?

 Rose Rambling Rector has grown steadily through a Alnus incana and is now a magnificent pillar of white. A truly breath-taking sight.

We also have a wonderfully vigorous Rosa Wickwar with attractive light grey-green leaves and just now crowned by a mass of single, creamy flowers with golden stamens, that are scenting the air.
Wickwar has some lovely floral trails , but to see it best you need to see it from above , as is often the case with plants such as roses and clematis that climb through trees.
Maybe we should think of a tree top walk!

But the star of this mid-summer has been native honeysuckle. I see it everywhere doing well, but we had a jaw dropping spectacle. One of our oaks had a curtain of honeysuckle, it must have been 40 ft high and it was broad and bright and truly magnificent.
Some sights you only see once in a gardeners life and this was one such.

I am currently reading about Monet’s gardening life, I believe he would have loved our curtains and pillars of midsummer opulence .

Following my nose

Rain again…in fact a ferocious storm, with sheet lightening.
Further south from here the storms were terrible and many people were flooded. Here it was short and very sharp.  
Afterwards it was warm. The air was clear and is almost fizzing, washed clean.
What did people say - you could smell the ozone? 

That combination of warmth and rain liberated some of the earth smells and the newly mounded earth on the potatoes, felt warm and smelt spicy and earthy.
Walking on up the steps I can smell apples, it is the green sharp apple smell of Rosa rubiginosa, Sweet Briar or Elgantine. This rose has single pink flowers in June/July…and is pretty enough, but you should grow it for the wonderful scent of apples that follows a summer shower.

Close by is Madame Isaac Pereire, a full blown dark, dusky pink rose with the perfect old rose scent; and she is so generous with that scent that she perfumes the air around the blooms; intoxicating.

On through the woodland paths and the deciduous azaleas are still scenting the damp warm air, and as I go further up the steps there is that honey scented area. I have never been able to pin down exactly where that scent comes from, but it perfumes the air almost all year….maybe I'll stop looking and just accept it.
Around and on to the open hill side and the birch trees have that glorious peppery tang.
And this week I have been putting pots of night scented stock into corners near to where we will walk in the evenings. In 2 weeks I hope to smell their wonderful sweet-shop scent of the tiny stock flowers when I drive in around dark. Aahhhh.

My top five favourite garden smells: (for today)
1. Balsam poplar
2. Lily of the valley
3. Honeysuckle
4. Old roses
5. Dianthus Mrs Sinkins (And a sneeky number six -  Sweet peas - of course)
M Davidson

A freshly planted border of annuals

'Planting for Colour - Annuals' - That was the title of my talk and demonstration last week in the latest RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) event at Abriachan.
Driveway annual border - Summer 2010
We looked at an annual border first.
This is the headland area near to the road and our aim is always to have a blaze of colour from July onwards. I reckon we have succeeded every one of the past 25 years to do that; sometimes the rain has damped the show and sometimes the sun has accelerated it.  All good fun and I wish I wish I wish I had taken a chronological record of things, but it is patchy.
In truth the border is becoming a bit of an annual and perennial mix, as over the years we have gradually planted some plants that have surprised us and become perennial and other edging plants are cheekily encroaching on to the plot.
Here are the principles I use:
* First and always, I plant three Scot’s Thistle, Onopordum acanthemum. This is for drama and the photo opportunities. Onopordum is a biennial, hence they will make a large silver rosette in this first year and then will shoot up to flower with their fabulous purple thistle heads next spring.
  * Then I think about colour and drama and reach for Dahlias. Each year I try a new variety and this year it is a red double called Murdoch. The others I use a lot are
o Arabian Nights - A tall rich red double.
o Moonfire - Apricot yellow single , ted centre; dark foliage
o Bishop of Llandaff - Vivid red double on dark foliage.
* Then height and strength. No staking here. I usually go for Nicotiana, the tobacco plants. My favourite is Nicotiana affinis, but just as good is Nicotiana sylvestris, which has whorls of white flowers. Avoid the dwarfed hybrids like Domino…no bottle.

* Then more tall and filling…and always I reach for Cosmos Sensation. Feathery foliage and substantial pink and purple flowers.  It also shoots away fast, I only like to weed that corner once before the foliage grows over.
* Then the middle height. To contrast and compliment the Dahlias, Rudbeckia bulks up and gives an excellent late show.
* Then at a lower height about 25cm, my favourite is annual barley grass Hordeum jubatum and Opium poppies,  imagine them dancing in the breeze.

* Calendula, ordinary Pot Marigold Orange King is excellent and weather proof. If it looks like yet another cool wet summer, I can guarantee a show with these.
* Covering the edges; White Bacopa , Bidens or Sanvitalia are excellent and I have used trailing Lobelia Sapphire. All good and pretty edge frills .
* Filling spaces …..And there always seems to be a few, Tagetes, Cornflower, Night scented stock. Lovely
I hope everyone walking up from the road will stop and stare, and enjoy that corner as much as I do.

To end, here are my best annuals to plant this summer of uncertain weather. …still time.
Sow in June plant out in July enjoy from late August to November and even Christmas.
1. Tagetes… long season and utterly reliable.
2. Cosmos Sensation…the others don’t cut the mustard
3. Rudbeckia.... I like the tall ones, give a long late seaso, try to find Irish Eyes
4. Pot Marigold... well fed this gives a great show.
5. Parsley…..yes curly leaf parsley, strictly a biennial, but it is the most vivid green you can get and a wonderful contrast to marigold orange.
MD Abriachan June 2012

Azaleas - A memory of colour

My midyear resolution is to look through some of the old photographic slides we took during our first sojourn in New Zealand. Well, that is if I can be bothered schlepping through the attic manage to find the time, It may have to wait until Cat returns here for the next rugby world cup!

What I would be looking for, is a fabulous garden, I don’t even remember exactly where it was/is, but somewhere in the South Island of New Zealand there was a wall of deciduous azaleas in full colour, backing onto a still pond. It took my breath away.
Azalea Luteum (Yellow) and Azalea Persil (White)
I think many gardeners have moments like that and these sights burn themselves onto our retinas and we find ourselves trying to replicate them over and over. Of course there are many gardens in Scotland that have Azaleas, and there are places on the far west, Arisaig and elsewhere that have Azalea lutea naturalising and thriving, but that wall of colour was the moment for me.
Azalea Golden Eagle
It was orange, red and yellow and that is what I have tried to replicate at Abriachan.
We have Azalea Gibraltar and Golden Eagle doing very well , and they are large enough now to make real impact.
Azalea Gibraltar
When I don’t know what varieties to choose to plant, I go to the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs and look for ones with First Class Certificates or the newer Award of Garden Merit. And they have never let me down.
From there I planted Persil, a lovely white with yellow markings and my very favourite - Irene Koster. She is a soft pink with yellow makings, but best of all, her fragrance is wonderful. I have planted several amongst the upper woodland section of garden and she is sublime this year.
Azalea Persil
Azalea Irene Koster
Azaleas are one of those wonderful plants that lift their fragrance into the air, so if you have one or more, visit them in the evening or even in the middle of the day when any warmth will intensify the scented air. 
Just lovely, I must plant many more, and that's a resolution I will definitely keep.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Donald on Beechgrove

Donald was lured away from the nursery (Where he has been flat out like a lizard drinking, in the usual May madness) last night to be a panel member on Beechgrove Garden's - Potting Shed radio show at Aigas Field Centre.
Mark Stephen was the presenter and the panel consisted of: Carol Baxter, Donald Macbean and our very own Donald Davidson
The programme was broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland on Sunday 20th May at 12.05pm
Hereis the i-player link- usually available for 7 days:

Remember, you can come in to the nursery any day to quiz Donald in your own personal question time :)
Photograph copyright BBC
Donald is also available to come and do talks or lectures for your garden groups/societies, do give him a call on 01463 861 232 to see when he has space in his diary (All he asks is that transport and accommodation (If required due to distance from Loch Ness) is provided) 
As well as covering all manner of horicultural topics, Donald often lectures on his time living in the Falkland Islands, with many fabulous slides of the wildlife, the flora and the people.

Auricula Favourites

Has anyone written poetry about Auriculas….I have not seen it, hence I felt inspired to write a verse.
Catch your breath colour
Can it be real?
Tiny perfect picture
Can it be real?
Audacious, subtle, side by side.
Elusive scent, forms the memory first.

I’ll keep on with the day job.

It is like a birthday tea in the poly tunnel just now and you don’t know here to look first, a dizzying array, the dazzle of the alpine varieties and the solid globs of the doubles .
And then beyond the colour you begin to see the symmetry and the subtle beauty of the farina and the paler washed colours.

Do I have a favourites, of course I do, and they change from year to year.
That is partly because different varieties perform well each year…and surprisingly unpredictable.
So this year’s favourites:

Soft Blues: Wedgewood, Walton and Bradmore Bluebells
Bradmore Bluebell
Bold and Red: Favourite and Trudy and Rene…….All border auriculas, strong and beautiful.
Fragrant beauties: The nicest are Queen Alexander and Old Clove Red.
Old Clove Red
Breath-taking Greens: Great Parrot. and the fancy Salad

Beautiful doubles: Golden Chatreuse, Nymph and the new Shaun
Golden Chatreuse
The show stealers: Sirius, Rodeo and Gee Cross
Gee Cross
And best of all …when you have left several auriculas in the room overnight, the scent…cloves, rose, capture it and remember.



April/May 2012
Abriachan Nurseries 2012 Auricula Offer - Online Catalogue Available
* * This offer is from 2012, we still get a lot of traffic to this post, so if you end up here looking for great prices on beautiful Auricula, do have a look at our online catalogue which has a great selection and offers throughout the year. 

For the greatest selection, come into the nursery and have a chat.

Old Fashioned Primroses

It is cold. After a wonderful sunny March as is often said “We have paid for it!!”
Cold nights, freezing dawns, cold days, five degrees….rain….lots of it…and snow on the tops, and sometimes even at our lower level.
You wake to a skim of snow that thaws over the morning.

It is the young birds that worry me. Birds nested early and enthusiastically in March. I hope they can keep those babies warm.

Plants just slow down. After a fast start, many spring plants seem almost to be suspended slowly opening their flowers and holding them close to retain a little warmth.

This year there has been markedly increased interest in the old fashioned primroses, one of our specialist groups of plants.
Primula Wanda

Primula Amy Smith

What are old fashioned primroses? Well they are cultivated primroses, often of some antiquity, all good garden plants and hardy.
Most are singles, some are wonderful old doubles and some are polyanthus form. 

This month, April, I am canvassing the villages around Loch Ness in my bid to be re-elected as the Local Highland Councillor, I am often looking over walls into gardens as I am going around.  I see lots of old primroses; they are the ones that have survived for generations, passed from mother to daughter, neighbour to neighbour.
I see Wanda, that great old magenta primroses, an old yellow polyanthus and recently a lovely pale mauve pink primrose, whose name no one seems to know.
Primula Lilacina Plena
Look across the range of primroses we sell, and you see some wonderful old varieties.
These plants do not have the zazzle colours, red, orange, yellow & pink that you can buy in supermarkets and garden centres, but they do have quiet subtle charm.

I have more than one favourite and the plants do look different from year to year.
This year, the pretty Amy Smith with soft pink flowers on dark bronze foliage and Lady Greer, which has dainty Polyanthus heads of biscuit yellow.
And of course then there are the doubles, how could I garden without the old alba plena and the glorious Quakers Bonnet, lilacina plena, but they really are another story and a wonderful one at that.

Plant of the month - Primula Auricula

Plant of the month - April
Primula Auricula

We have a wide collection of these extraordinary little plants.
Intense colours and subtle dustings of farina make them unique and exquisite.
Hardy, easy to grow and guaranteed to delight.
£4 - £6 each

If you too love Auricula and have some photographs squirreled away on your computer, consider adding them to our 'Auricula Addiction' group on Flickr.

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