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A Plantswoman’s Guide to Gardening

June 12th 2019

News from Galloway, South West Scotland

End of May and early June…The most beautiful time of the year, and I wish I could Stop the Clock, well anyway, for a little longer period, at least. Everywhere you look, the Countryside is so beautiful, clothed in the most lovely shades of delicate green young foliage, and the thought of the whole of Summer yet to come.

When we first started to create a garden out of acid moorland with a PH 4.5, it was essential to get rid of the perennial weeds. In our case the bracken. If you give it a swipe in the early stages of growth i.e the curl, and swish the heads of with a stick, this will help deter and eventually destroy the weeds. However, if you have plenty of bracken in a wild place in the Autumn if you cut the dead heads, this makes a marvellous mulch to go round any newly planted shrubs, to protect them from the frosts in Winter. Thus avoiding the need to use weedkillers. We had an abundance of Gorse. When we planted out our small hardy hybrid rhododendrons, we had no shelter, so we used the gorse as nannies to shelter our young plants. As the plants grew stronger we cut away the gorse and gradually a garden began to take shape. On the theme of rhododendrons, for the species, natives of the Himalayas, we cut rides in our shelter belt of trees. We had planted at the star to form essential shelter for the garden and to give the rhododendrons the semi-shade they require….Thus creating a micro-climate for the plants to thrive.

I have heard the Cuckoo, (so that means I am going to live another year), and I await the arrival at Glenwhan Gardens of the Swallows and the Martins. They seem to my mind to be late this year, yet I never remember a year where everything has merged into flower so early with all the plants covered with flowers, and ablaze with the most vivid colours. And no frost.

So what better time to think about our young and future Horticulturists? I often watch BBC 2 on a Sunday morning, when they show gardening themes, and I recently saw a classroom of children with a very innovative teacher. They were creating a garden for the up and coming RHS Chelsea Flower Show. It was amazing to see how excited and enthusiastic these younglings were, and how whole heartedly the children engaged in their project of creating a Show Garden. This involved design, content and the Latin names of the plants, which the children had also illustrated, involving artwork too.


So  why  do we not encourage the young to embrace a spot of gardening and sow the seed (excuse the pun)! I remember at home in Essex making mud pies as a very small child, or if you live in Scotland there is a
lovely word for it: ‘guddling’. Incidentally, I later became a professional cook, before I took to horticulture!

I was intrigued when my mother made a little flat bed and inserted her cuttings. Maybe these early memories sparked off my own interest at those stages in my life. We all know that children love to have their own little patch of ground and see the rewards of their labours. So why not take this to the next stage?

Horticulture has a very important role to play in our future and that of the planet. Educationalists, teachers (all of us, really) have the responsibility to take Horticulture more seriously. If it was made an academic subject and treated seriously as part of the school curriculum, our young would see this subject and a possible future career. Perhaps not many young people are taking up Horticulture, as it has a certain stigma as being, what can I say, for the less ‘driven’, the low achievers. How wrong this is! Particularly, in these uncertain times of over population, Climate Change, the list goes on, but we need more hands in the earth, more passion for protecting our environment.

If I had been taught Horticulture at school as a bona fide subject, who knows what else may have come. I think I would have been very interested in taking up Horticulture and I certainly would not have considered Latin as a dead language and a waste of space. Had my instinct for plants and gardening been nurtured, I might have made a career as a landscaper and professional gardener. I was lucky enough to be at a school that had a lovely garden. We could have learned the names of the plants there, but no teacher ever thought to encourage us to know their names. So my gardening at Glenwhan was self taught over the years, but that is another story.

I would like a classroom of young ones to come and see Glenwhan Gardens in the late spring. It was awashed with the bluest of bluebells, and where you see them means there was once ancient woodland, with the contrasting bright vivid yellow of whinns, (Gorse), it must be seen to be believed. How good to compare the 20 acres of Moorland with the cultivated plants in the Gardens, and make comparisons of the changed landscape. The Wild and the Cultivated spaces.

How lucky am I to be able to keep both. What a bonus to have the bluebells still surrounding the rhododendrons and azaleas with their contrasting colours. Not to mention the yellow hammers darting about.

We are part of the Rhododendron Festival and what a festival it is this particular year. The photos in this article were taken this month, testimony to the beauty that awaits you.
Haste ye to Glenwhan Gardens!