Monday, 15 June 2009

The Walled Garden Moves to Centre Stage

As the late Rhododendrons flare up in the woodlands, scattering flashes of colour where a month ago there was a riotous festival featuring every shade in the rainbow, the walled garden comes into prominence with its summer borders. There are roses old and new, aliums big and small, herbs that promise to alleviate every ailment, and what's left of a great display by gorgeous aquilegia and poppies. Interesting shoots in the borders show there's much more to come so watch this space!

To the right of the entrance to the walled garden, nestling in a neat scree, is a collection of succulents, many from the Canary Islands. For this southern African author, this is a reminder of home - colours like the soft pink shades of aeoniums and the brilliant Mesembryanthemum 'Livingstone Daisy' emerge from the hard grey surround as they do in dry and dusty gardens all over central & southern Africa. Roddy the head gardeners asks me to mention they are not hardy and had to be over-wintered under cover.

There's so much going on, this blog could last a month so we've settled on a rose theme. Stunning climbing roses add colour and texture to the walls on the south facing side.
The saying that 'the old ones are the best ones' could refer as much to roses as jokes. The red Rosa Moyseia, the Purpureus cystis and heavily fragrant Rosa Fantin Latour are utterly heavenly.

There's an eclectic mix of colours in the herbaceous borders. Here, the purple of Centaurea hypoleuca 'John Coutts' contrasts vibrantly with a red rose rambling up the south facing wall.

Within the middle borders is this pretty clustering of yellow, thistle-like Cephalaria macrophale with aquilegia behind.

The stunning fat heads of these Allium cristophii add silvery purple accents at ground level, often below creamy clusters of roses climbing over arches.

In the Avenues, outside the walled garden, this lovely Cornus Kousa demands tactile attention. Papery looking leaves and an old parchment colour make the flowers look completely fake - you have to touch them to be assured they are for real.
Most people pop into the loos on their way out, and what nicer farewell than to stroll back past this planting of three roses (Rosa multi flora, Leo's Eye and Pauls Hymalean Musk) on the path that leads back to the car park.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Now the garden is showing off!

It’s May & our fabulous woodlands are bursting with springtime colour. Pay a visit and you’ll quickly understand why Picton Castle is famed for its Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Camellias & Magnolias.
There is so much to see everywhere & new things are coming into flower every day—it’s a tough job trying to pick out a few ’best things to see’ because it is all so beautiful.
How about peeking into Bluebell Walk to see the blue mist, then strolling up the Front Drive to the first right turning to enter Peep-In. After Tree Fern Glade, veer right to return to the Front Drive. Now go onto the castle forecourt and go clockwise around the castle to take in the stunning colour in the Avenues.

Viburnam plicatum—to be found along the Front Drive

Doesn’t this rhodie —also on the Front Drive—look like a Tequila Sunrise!
Into Peep-In, past the burgeoning herbaceous borders en route to the Fallen Woman, and there's a stunning young, yellow Rhodie set shyly to the left of the path. It's Rhodie No-Name. This stunner flowered for the first time last year and still hasn't been named. Head gardener Roddy scornfully dismisses all the office suggestions as 'too suburban'. Huh!!

Tree Fern Glade is the source of great relief. After this hard winter, everyone is delighted to see new fronds rising from the trees. There was doubt they would survive the snow and frost. Isn't life wonderful!

The stink of Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) is with us again, on the approach to the stunning Acer Palmatum purpureum and the enchanting stretch of Primula pulverulenta. Gardeners wonder how long before the Skunk Cabage is banned - it seems to be taking over large stretches of countryside waterways...

Bluebells, azaleas, rhodies and prunus form a colourful scene for the carved heads that guard the front door into the castle. Can't be all bad being a stonehead.

What a pity there isn't more opportunity to really enlarge this picture. The colours are stunning. In the front, what Roddy refers to as 'just an ordinary' rhododendron luteum. It deserves more respect than that - the scent is heavenly! Assorted azaleas and a gorgeous white R. decorum in the background.

On the corner of the path between Walled Garden and courtyard is a lovely medley of R Hinyo Giro and R Hinyo mayo, and a Vibernum plicatum (Japanese Snowball Bush) Grandilorum to the right.

There's a bench in the middle of this pink haze. Be Barbie for a few minutes while you enjoy the vibrant colours of Magnolia x soulangeana 'Lennei', another azalea hinyo and a M. soulangeana in a cluster.

It's Old Port time again! Gardener Karen obligingly drove the tractor and trailer in front of what we think is the world's biggest rhododendron, to show the scale of the huge plant. It's stunning - a true natural wonder. In some ways, it's a shame it's in front of a Sequioadendron tree - the world's largest living thing - as the size of the tree makes the rhodie look small!

And finally, the jewel in the crown. The fabulous red of R. Picton Surprise is just coming into flower - you could find it as you approached the courtyard on the path from the walled garden. It really is an amazing colour.

Try to come and see us. The colours, diversity and scale of the woodland gardens are just too much to sum up in this small space.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


Although we open to day visitors on 1st April, there are a good many people wandering around the gardens already. They’re mainly our garden group members, alerted last week that the incredible Magnolia Cambellii x Robusta was in flower, and savvy season ticket holders who walk the gardens year round.

The best things to see now are on the path to the walled garden (which is still taking its time to wake up to spring) and on the Front Drive leading into Peep-In.

The absolute star of the garden is the outrageously, awesomely beautiful Cambellii. Sadly the lawn around it is thick with its waxy petals. Having wowed the crowds (well – up to six people at a time) for two weeks, it is now on its way out. The Magnolia Stellata opposite on the edge of the avenues is about to break and other Magnolias scattered through the Avenues are already heavy with blossom.

On the same path, Camellias Alba Plena, Donation and Adolph Addison are gearing up for a major show, with a backdrop of contrasting Rhododendrons already in vibrant colour. Look out for Rhododendron Sheldonii – these vibrantly red varieties are just beginning to flower and should be stunners for a couple of weeks to come.

Further south, there’s a pretty Prunus Okame in flower, with hellibores and daffodils sprinkled around it in the grass – an idyllic little woodland tableau on a more delicate scale than the flamboyant Rhodies.

The Front Drive is more a series of competent soloists rather than the full orchestra at present, although bristling buds indicate that is soon to change. Rhododendron Arboreum, and others, are beginning to bloom high in the trees where they get the most sunlight.

In Peep-In, the herbaceous border leading to the fallen woman is a mass of lovely hellibores, blue lungwort and young Rhododendrons in delicate white flower.

When you reach the fallen woman, established Rhodies in yellow, cream, white, pastel pink and near red beckon through the leafless trees. My camera does not even begin to capture the magic of enticing glimpses of colour drawing one ever deeper into the wood.

It’s just a week until we open to day visitors. They have a real treat in store for them!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


If you think February gardens are grey and boring, think again. At Picton Castle, there are pretty stirrings of colour in the woodlands, and succulent buds bristle with promise of wonderful things to come, some within a week or two.

Some brave Rhododendron are already in the flower – notably a very large tree-like specimen in Peep-In Walk and another in the Avenues. Photographed after last week’s snow, the flowers are a little bruised by cold but still a welcome splash of colour.

Smart planting of hellibores and snowdrops together bring a delicate touch to ground level in the Avenues. This is probably the only part of the garden where you have to go ‘off-path’ and it’s a tricky business trying not to step on the masses of daffodils, bluebells and other bulbs thrusting through the grass. It’s worth making hop-skip-and-jump progress around the towering trees and budding shrubs to see what’ll happen next.

There’s a race among the Magnolia to spring into flower. The photo archive reveals an interesting contrast between last year and this year. The 2008 picture of a splendid Magnolia Cambellii x Robusta was taken in late February. The snowbound picture was taken on 5th February 2009, but tight grey buds seem unlikely to ‘ripen’ within two weeks.

Nearby a Magnolia Stellata (photographed here in the background, behind a Rho. Nobleanum) is going great guns to make a show for next week’s Half Term opening. We’ll track progress.
Peep-In is probably the most interesting part of the woodlands right now.
A splattering of cheerful yellow Winter Aconites look lovely in a herbaceous border but bring despair to head gardener Roddy Milne. His team planted a dozens of them but the woodland mice seem to have feasted during the lean winter months!

The tree fern glade has a slightly comical air, with ferns like wounded arachnia wearing straw caps to protect their crowns from frost.

Nearby, in the winter light, the cocoa brown trunks of the myrtle avenue gleam in the winter sunshine, creating a magical pathway.

Clumbs of whispering bamboos provide linear greenery in unexpected places and laurels brace against cold winds, providing the shelter against vicious weather. It's is the sheltered environment that allows Picton’s famous Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Magnolias to thrive, and that make a winter walk in the woods such a delight.