Sic transit gloria mundi – Northern summers are short and as August begins there is a whiff of autumn on the horizon. The days are already growing perceptibly shorter, but the glory of the machair flowers still lights up my in-between garden. Between my house, the sea, and Croft Garden Cottage lie over 18 acres of the most perfect wild garden.
The summer home of breeding lapwing, oystercatcher, redshank, snipe, elusive corncrakes, skylarks and pipits; the haunt of hen harriers, peregrine falcons, merlins and buzzards and a resting place for migrating geese and waders. There are butterflies, bumblebees, beetles, assorted bugs, other things with wings, carapaces, shells, some with slimy trails and those which buzz or hum. There are fungi in profusion, hopping frogs and cheeky rabbits; over 80 species of flowers, grasses, rushes and sedges, not counting the mosses and lichens. Rare or common, with or without names, they are all important in nature’s garden. I am not even an apprentice in this garden, I am the custodian and apart from inviting the cows to do a little grass cutting and manuring in the winter, I am required to do nothing but sit and admire.
As the summer progresses, the colours ebb and flow from white to gold, blue to yellow and pink to purple, the mosaic changes with the intensity of the light from morning to evening, day by day, month by month and sometimes moment by moment. It is ruffled by the fingers of the wind, speckled with crystals by the mist, saturated by the rain reflecting the ever-changing moods of a Hebridean summer.
Yet the picture is incomplete, gardens are multi-dimensional and not just a visual landscape. A backing track of humming insects, vibrating butterfly wings, the sush of the waves and the whisper of the wind accompanies the skylarks, drumming snipe, clamouring oystercatchers and the mournful the pee-wit pee-wit of the lapwings. An infusion of honey from lady’s bedstraw and clover mixes with the tang of salty sea air and with a tickle of grasses on bare feet releases the essence of summer.
This is a perfect garden and its transient nature is the quintessential expression of sic transit gloria mundi. For a garden it is and without some gentle intervention the biodiversity would decline as the natural succession of vegetation replace the flowers with a mixture of rushy pasture and tussock grass.
This was the situation on a piece of ground behind the house, between the solar panels and the shed. The first part of the restoration of this area was described in the Birthday Project post. Over the past two years we have been landscaping the area around the greenhouse and trying to turn it into a garden.
It would be pure hubris and folly to try to re-create or compete with the natural grassland which surrounds the house, so the intention was to compose a variation on the theme. Two years later, the landscaping has been completed and planting has begun in the small garden between the shed and the solar panels.
The beds have been edged with driftwood and beach cobbles and interspersed with broad gravel paths. Each bed is slightly different in its composition, some are lightly enriched with a little garden compost and given a bark mulch, others are almost pure sand with a gravel and pebble mulch. The soil is very well drained which encourages the plants to put down deep roots and as the minimal nutrition produces hardly, slow growing, compact forms, they should be able to withstand the gusty winds in this very exposed site.
Predictably there is no planting scheme or grand design, just a hazy vision and a vague concept. This is the evolutionary school of garden design – all trial and error. I have used plants which have performed well in the cottage garden – kniphofia, tulbaghia, astrantia, aquilegia, galtonia, nepeta, verbascum and scabious, added some herbs – chives, hyssop, thyme, sage and lovage, and some more experimental species such as dwarf iris, thalictrum, penstemon, dactylorhiza orchids, dicentras and pulsatillas.
The garden looks rather formal but as it matures it will assume a more relaxed Hebridean form. Seedlings (other than weeds) are already starting to appear in the gravel paths and some plants are becoming very assertive in their demands for space. I am inclined to let the garden settle and allow natural selection edit the original planting before I reach for my trowel. Although I have already decided that the lovage must go and that I need to remove some of the Viola tricolour, which is developing thuggish tendencies.
This garden was created to echo the perfect natural garden which surrounds the house and act as a bridge between the natural landscape and the unnatural intervention of the house and it’s associated structures. Perhaps there is always an element of vanity and ego in seeking to create a garden, but if the bees like it, that is good enough for me.
The world was very quiet and still; during the night the north wind had rested and its breath had spread across the grass leaving each fragile stem festooned with diadems. A series of whistles announced the arrival of the first visitors – attired with copes of gold, velvet black waistcoats and carnival masks they alighted and looked for the other guests. The resident pair of oystercatchers looked on with disdain at these exotic migrants while the pipits chattered with nervous excitement. Needing no encouragemnt to perform the skylarks rose in serenade while the lapwings tumbled and swooped to provide a cabaret of welcome.
The plovers are the latest group of travellers to seek a refuge from an icy April storm, but within the of the cottage garden only the hardiest will survive.Tucked away in sheltered nooks and crannies, only the tough natives withstand the harshness of a cold spring. The warmth of the sunshine is cut by the sharp icy edges of a wind which tumbles off an arctic ice cap. As the skies darken squalls rush across the horizon and aim daggers of hail at the delicate petals of the spring flowers.
During quiet interludes the perfume of jonquils drifts across the garden to entice the bumblebees with the promise of nectar. There is no buzz of bees on these cold afternoons, they sleep on and dream of the arrival of May or even June when the warmth of the sun does not flatter to deceive.
Alas it is just a myth that Spring has arrived when you can put your foot on seven daisies.