Weather Watching

Regular visitors to the croft garden know that I have a obsessive fascination with the weather. Every morning the shipping forecast is the first thing to permeate my consciousness – except the notion of early morning tea! The predictions for shipping areas Malin, Hebrides and Bailey and the outlook for inshore waters from Ardnamurchan Point to Cape Wrath determines what I wear and my plans for the day.
I have become accustomed to the fact that here the weather can change in an instant and even on the sunniest of days keep a weather eye for an approaching squall on the horizon. I’m still a novice at predicting the speed at which a the wind can rise and too often get drenched or battered by hail when running for shelter.
More insidious are the haars or sea frets which steal across the horizon like a silent predator and wrap a summer afternoon in a light blanket of wet white cloud. As the temperature drops rapidly and the air becomes saturated, it is time to pull on a fleece, pack away the gardening tools and head for home. Once again afternoon tea in the garden is cancelled!


Red sky at night

Night skies over the Monachs and North Uist

Night skies over the Monachs

The days are now beginning to shorten and the sunsets are returning setting the skies alight before the dark clouds creep over the horizon. As summer drifts into autumn the sun sinks a little further to the north-west each night. In late June and July the sun glows beyond St Kilda and now it hovers over the isles of the Monachs.
To the south and east the hills are transformed by the approaching darkness, the lengthening indigo shadows emerge from the valleys and gulleys until their character is obscured, only to be revealed by the warmth of a rosy dawn.
Beinn Mhòr, the big mountain, a towering 620m (2,034 ft), sits on the eastern horizon with its smaller companions. It is not in the Munro class, but the hills of South Uist are recognised as wildlands and retain an aura of mystery. The beinns are cloud conjurors, draping their flanks with wisps of lacy cloud, cloaking their presence with banks of grey mist or summoning the dark riders of the storm from the Atlantic.

In the lands of the north mountains are the haunt of wizards, shamans, necromancers and sorcerers who will reveal their power with fiery celestial displays as they attempt to capture the sun before it disappears over the western horizon. Enchanted the unwary dreamer is spellbound and as the curtain of clouds lifts a glowing citadel appears  ……….. Hy Brasil, Asgard, Tir nan Nog or something more mundane? You can never be sure in the islands on the edge of the world.Evening over Beinn Mhor, South Uist

A grand day out

It was if I’d sat in the chair after a hard days labour and nodded off to find that I’d missed the summer and it was the day of the North Uist Agricultural and Produce Show. Definitely a touch of the Rip Van Winkle!
The North Uist Show marks the end of the summer events and is not to be missed, your absence will be noted! It exists in a wonderful time warp and is about as Hebridean as you can get. Gently chaotic, when everything happens in its own good time in a mixture of English and Gaelic, where everyone knows everyone and visitors are warmly welcome. It is a very special day out and this year we had one of our few sunny days – a day for a goose burger or a hot salmon bap rather than an ice-cream! No fast food, no commercialism, just an old-fashioned country show.
This year the islands’ bakers seem to make a very special effort with more tables than ever groaning with mountains of plain and fancy cakes, scones, clootie dumplings, shortbread, pancakes and oat cakes. Jewel like jars of preserves jostled with hand-knitted socks, the most delicate filmy shawls, and carved horn crooks! Predictably there were hardly any entries in the vegetable and flower sections, a very sad comment on the summer. I’m rather relieved I wasn’t judging this year as I’d given everyone a prize for participating!

Snakes in the garden

Whipcord cobra lilies (Arisaema tortuosum) and viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare )

Whipcord cobra lilies (Arisaema tortuosum) and viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare )

I am beginning to think that my role as a gardener is limited to trying to maintain some semblance of order within the garden. I now know how Hercules felt when standing in front of the Augean stables with a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow!
This “summer” has been more contrary than usual, some plants have refused to grow whilst others have been turned into rapacious trifids. Carefully sown seeds and nurtured young plants have either sulked before going into a slow terminal decline or been skeltonised by an army of molluscs and caterpillars. Venturing into the croft garden without a machete is foolhardy even for the experienced gardener and not a place for apprentices. Linger too long and you will be cocooned in chickweed or buried by the advancing front of mint and borage. The Head Gardner was reported “missing in action” in the rhubarb patch for a whole afternoon.
The garden has always been a place for the curious and there are always new discoveries to make and wildlife to encounter. If you believe in magic or better still “fairies” there are wonders to behold.
Even in the cool north-west, you can encounter exotic wildlife lurking in the undergrowth. There has been no shortage of woolly bears waiting to turn into garden tigers. Fortunately their rarity and beauty saves them from the fate of any leopards (Limax maximus – leopard slug) found slinking in the undergrowth. They may be vegetarian, but as alien invaders with nasty habits they are undesirable visitors.
The arisemas (cobra lilies) always take me by surprise when they appear, their presence is always advertised by their very distinctive aroma. This is not to everyone’s liking, but as they are pollinated by flies the rather “gamey” small is perfectly apt. Arisemas are probably more of an acquired taste than the other aroids but I admire their elegant forms and I am fascinated by the variety of leaf forms and spathes. They are perfect for a woodland garden, so I’m not sure why they manage to survive in my seaside garden. A. tortuosum is probably one of the easiest to grow and produces enough offsets to risk a garden trial. I grow other species in pots, but at some stage I’ll try some more in the garden. Many species are hardy, but they are susceptible to wet winters when the corms disintegrate into a slimy morass.
The synchronicity of the cobras with the vipers is pure serendipity as the bugloss is a biennial which self-seeds around the garden. This is the wild form, I also grow a cultivar which is very floriferous, but lacks the elegant stature of the native species.

Viper's Bugloss "Blue Bedder" (Echium vulgare)

Viper’s Bugloss “Blue Bedder” (Echium vulgare)


Arisaema tortuosum