Elephants in the Garden.

Chaffinch on seeding mallow

The evenings are really starting to draw in now and we’ve already experienced our first frosts. This is a little early for Skye. It doesn’t seem to have damaged the plants in the polytunnel yet though. I have brought in the Tamarind seedling that my neighbour gave me, and have also potted on and brought in two pepper plants and two sweet peppers. The vines on the pumpkin nuts have died back, so I have brought those three fruit in to keep safe. The shark’s fin melon vine still looks healthy and I have cut it back and dug it up, so that I can try and overwinter it indoors, since the plants are perennial in milder climates. Last week I removed all the rest of the tomato fruit and made a chutney. It burnt on the pan a bit, but tastes alright. I still need to remove the remains of the plants yet.

sharks fin melon
Single Sharks fin melon before potting up

I mulched the DRG side of the new front garden area I have been working on with cardboard, and dug up, divided and replanted one of the daylillies from the original DRG. This one has quite large orange flowers. Daylillies are another of the ‘edimental’ plants I have been growing. The flowers, known as ‘golden needles’ are esteemed in parts of China and dried to be eaten as a vegetable. I think the leaves and roots are also edible, although have not tried them at all yet. Slugs certainly like the leaves, so I have protected the newly planted divisions with a cut off plant pot collar. I’m a bit disappointed that the grass is growing back quite a bit in the new area by the DRG. I obviously did not clear as much as I had thought. Since I have seeded as well as replanted this area it is a bit difficult to know what to do for the best. I guess I will have to try and spot mulch the worst patches….

As the autumn progresses the leaves are falling audibly off the sycamores in the front garden. I hadn’t realised how well the swales I had made would trap the leaves. This will hopefully enable an auto-mulching of the plants in the dips. I’ll have to reconsider what I planted there, with a view to maximising this benefit. Certainly the asparagus will appreciate an annual mulch, so I’m extra glad now I planted them in the dips rather than on the humps, but maybe there are other herbacious perennials that would benefit similarly. It will be interesting to see whether the leaves are still there after a winter gale or three….It was pretty windy last week and the leaves still seem to be staying put.

Catching leaves
Catching leaves

Rather than leave it till all the leaves had fallen from the willow fedges, I decided to prune and tidy them earlier. This will reduce the vigour of the willow slightly and make the fedges less likely to get damaged in winter winds by providing less of a catchment for the wind. I painstakingly cut the willow into short lengths to put on top of a newspaper mulch along my new pathway around the former DRG. I first tied the willow into bundles to make it easier to handle, but it was still pretty tedious. I could have used the shredder, but my memory of shredding willow last time was that was pretty tedious as well, and rather noisy.

Mulching DRG path with willow and cardboard

Anyhow I had a good win this week! There is a band of ‘tree surgeons’ going round the area at the moment who are cutting back trees which are too close to powerlines. I noticed them shredding the prunings onto their little tipper van and asked them if they wanted to dispose of them locally and they did!  So I now have a pretty big pile of ready shredded spruce branches to use as mulch material on paths, and possibly in my blueberry patch when I get round to planting that up.

mulch pile
If you don’t ask you don’t get

Finally a new caterpillar sighting for us. We usually joke that Dyson is a crap guard dog, and he replies that he keeps away the elephants for us. Here is one he missed:

elephant hawk moth caterpillar
Elephant Hawk moth caterpillar

A bit breezy

Once you have lived on Skye a little while, your body calibrates to a different scale of wind and temperature.  Anything above 18 degrees Celsius is “bikini weather” and the wind reaches 40 or 50 mph before we count it as “a bit breezy”.  In the last two weeks we have had two spells of “really quite windy” (= gusting to 80mph) with a few chicken houses blown over (more experienced people have them strapped down to the rock) an old tree down over the road, a tile or two blown off and an old shed exploded into bits.

We’ve got away quite lightly here: one or two holly trees rocking a bit, due to the ground being a bit damp and the normal die off of fine roots in winter, a lost tile that had been loose for ages, and few more splits in the polytunnel.

The big split originated from where the Apricot had stuck a branch through, so again it was mainly my fault for not mending the hole sooner.  The funny thing was the way it propagated straight down one of the creases from where the plastic had been originally folded.  It is interesting how that still acts as a stress concentration feature.

new tears
Split extension

Initially the split extended over one polytunnel bay and after the first winds last week I managed to stitch it together with my polytunnel tape.  This time I could reach by standing on a step stool on the outside.  Unfortunately I didn’t mend it well enough to prevent it from extending again in a second, slightier gustier wind last Tuesday.  That was a little tricky, since the adjacent bay went over the pond in the tunnel which made it a bit more exciting reaching it on the inside.  However with more stitching from the outside and fully covering on the inside with the last of my tape, the cover is reasonably ept again.

inside tunnel
Inside tunnel with previous repair

What I am pretty pleased about, is that the repair I did on the top of the tunnel last autumn does seem to have held well.  Although the cover is starting to resemble a patchwork quilt now, I am hopeful that it will be a little while yet before I have to replace it completely again.

Inside the tunnel most things have died back now, so when the weather is poorer I can look to tidy it up, harvest the Yacon (watch this space!), and evict the Kiwi.  Astoundingly my asparagus is still growing!  I’m not sure what to do about this.  Should I harvest the shoots now, or wait till later in the spring?  The shoots don’t seem to mature, they just get mildewed and die off….

asparagus shoots in Jan
Asparagus in early January

Drivebank revisited

drivebank from top aur 19
Drivebank in August

Well, I’m back safely.  The drivebank planting is now approaching the end of it’s first season growth, so I thought I’d do an update on how it is getting on.  Generally I’m pretty pleased.  I think most of the perennial plants have at least established OK.  I lost the Philadelphus, thanks to Dougie (bless him!) using it as a toy and pulling it out and chewing it, but the other shrubs seem OK.  The Elaeagnus look a bit bare – I think they lost a few leaves in the wind, which is a bit disappointing.  I thought they would be reasonably wind resistant.  The Escallonia of course is looking lush, and the Gaultheria is also doing well – just flowering and with small berries at the moment.  I have quite a few babies of this that came from cuttings I took back in the spring which are doing quite well too.    The variegated laurel, like the Elaeagnus, has lost a few leaves, but otherwise seems OK.  I’ve poked in a few cuttings from one of my murtillo (Myrtus Ugni)  in the hope that a slightly warmer spot may incline it to ripen fruit.  The bushes in the tea garden grow and flower well, but the fruit never seems to come to much, and I’d really like to try making jelly with this!  The fruit smell divine and taste like sherbert strawberries, incredible!  They are quite small and pippy though, so I think jelly will be more successful than jam.

murtilo fruit
Developing murtillo berries

At least one of the broom are doing very well, having put on quite a bit of growth this year.  Fingers crossed it survives the damp winter ahead.  I’m wondering whether to plant some of this down the hill in the patch with ash trees that don’t seem to be doing very well.  It is a native plant (I’ve seen it growing on the island), the bees love the flowers, it is a nitrogen fixer and tolerates dry soil, so should be OK where the soil is a bit shallow there.  Broom does in fact need it well drained, so won’t grow happily just anywhere here.

I was a bit disappointed with the lack of germination from the seeds I broadcast.  I was hoping to get a bit more coverage and blooms from the Calendula, but there were only a few came up early on and then some stragglers at the tail end of the season.  These are still blooming now, but rather sparse.  They all seemed to be different colours and forms too, whereas I thought I was expecting just single orange flowers from the packet.  There was more coverage from the unknown buckwheat, but these aren’t particularly colourful examples; I will leave the debris overwinter to protect the soil a little bit.  There seem to be one or two of the other herby things I broadcast, I’m not sure whether they are chervil or caraway or coriander, a bit tiny to pick the leaves from.   Maybe more will come up next year.

Initially I got quite a good coverage from the bittercress weed plants, which I just left to get on with it – they are too tiny to be a problem in my opinion.  I do try and take out the buttercup, docken and nettle seedlings and the various grasses that seem to have come back either through missed roots, or seeds.  The buttercups and docken are the worst, because the leaves come off, leaving the roots intact.  Sometimes I left them, but generally I tried to lever them out, because chances are they will regrow.  I pulled the leaves off the weeds and scattered them on the soil to create a bit of mulch, although this was pretty ineffective – actually the weeds were much less prolific than I was expecting, although I don’t suppose I have seen the last of them!  In fact, the bittercress seem to be making a second coming now in the cool of the autumn.

autumn bank
Looking a bit bare in October

A few things I planted to climb and/or spread, all of which are pretty tiny still.  I seem to have mixed up the Lathyrus linifolius and Lathyrus tuberosa when planting them.  I don’t expect this will matter too much, although the L. tuberosa should become a much taller plant, so may (hopefully?) be a bit much where I was expecting the smaller L. linifolius to be growing.  The Akebia again is very tiny, but is alive and looks healthy enough.  Hopefully it will survive the winter and do better year on year, to climb the sycamore.  The wild strawberry I planted at the top under the tree, is spreading enthusiastically.  I think this is supposed to be a better fruiting form that I bought from someone (I can’t remember where now).  No fruit yet, but maybe next year….

bee on oregano
Bee on oregano

All the perennial herbs have established well.  The little oregano plant was a mass of blooms which the bees really appreciated earlier in the year.  Again, it seems to be having a second wind with another batch of flowers now. The marjorum (unknown) from the polytunnel has been fine.  The lavender bloomed quite late.  This is a pity in a way, because it leaves it too late to take cuttings after it has bloomed.  I will have to take a few in the spring, and hope that I still get the flowers.  These are on tall stems, and I think the plant has the potential to get a bit big.  It doesn’t matter too much if it overhangs the steps a bit.  The sage also seems fine.  I left the main plant in a pot, which I have brought in to the polytunnel to keep it drier over the winter.  There were several smaller plants that I had grown from cuttings which I tucked in at the top of the main wall.  These I hope will be well enough drained to overwinter outside OK.   The chives as expected have been fine, they went in a bit late for flowers, but should look good next year.  I may get some other clumping alliums to go with them, as they generally seem to do OK here.  The little rosemary seems to be fine, and again at the top of the wall should be OK to overwinter.

drivebank flowers
Yellow Daylily, White lily and red dahlia

I have been quite pleased with most of the perennials I planted out.  The daylillies, which had never a flower in three years in the shop planters, have bloomed quite happily on and off this summer.  Indeed they still seem to have buds coming now!  The dahlia have bloomed quite well, with simple red daisies and dark foliage.  Also from the shop planters are the tall lillies.  These all seem to have white flowers, whereas the shorter ones left in the shop planters are yellow.  This is not quite the mix I was expecting, but the shop flowers match my icecream flag nicely.  The various campanula seem to be growing bigger now than they did in the summer, which is a bit unexpected.  Maybe they would prefer somewhere a bit more shady.  I did tuck some in by the pea wigwam in the front garden (which turned out too shady for peas) so they may do better there.  All I can say for the asparagus and artichoke is that they seem to be alive still.  Hopefully they are established enough to come back next year.  There is no sign of the nerines, which should be in flower just now, so I may have lost those.

Slightly tender plants include the salt bush, Atriplex canescens, which I grew from seed.  It still looks a bit small, but reasonably OK.  The leaves make quite a nice salad leaf with a salty juicy crunch.  The bush needs to get quite a bit bigger before it is useful for eating though!  The little Trachycarpus is forming new leaves.  This will be a slow growing plant I expect.  There is one I donated to Glendale Estate house, Hamera lodge, when I didn’t realise the uses of it, which is still only about eighteen inches tall after 8 years or so.  Admitedly they planted it in a rather shady spot I think, so it could have done better.  I’ve just agreed to look after the gardens there as well (excepting the lawn mowing) which should be fun!  It has a large walled garden, which has been virtually unmanaged for several decades, but has a few apple trees and a lot of potential.

herbs and steps
Strawberry steps catching the late afternoon sun

I have been very pleased with my “strawberry steps”.  I planted out some white alpine strawberry plants, which I had grown from saved seed (originally a James Wong seed grown plant).  The white strawberries are supposed to be less likely to be taken by birds, but still have a lovely sweet strawberry taste when properly ripe – they go suddenly bigger and paler, but it can be a subtle change.  These have bulked out nicely and ripened some fruit.  Next year they should do even better, and give a nice coverage to the steps.  Since the steps are a bit narrow, being made of curb stones I had dug up from the pedestrian gate path, it is a bit difficult not to step on the strawberries when ascending the steps.  Some of the sedum seeds I sowed there have also germinated.  I’ll have to decide whether to transplant those, or to leave them in situ.

All in all a pretty good first season.  My task next year is to finish off the wall around the corner by the barn, with more steps or a ramp for access there, and maybe continue above the steps to the pathway by the willow fedge.





Achocha explosion

south america
South America makes a bid for Skye takeover

The word sounds like a sneeze, but the fruit tastes like a cucumber.  Finally I have achieved achocha heaven in the polytunnel!  They are fruiting like mad, and the only pity is that it is now a little late in the year for salads (called ‘cold suppers’ in our house and not including too much green, since S. is not keen on lettuce).  The Bolivian giant is living up to its name with fruit twice or three times the size of the standard achocha.  It has smoother fruit with finer tentacles.

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The standard one was first to set fruit, although both were flowering months ago.  I just love the exotic appearance of the fruit and they taste OK, as I said just mild and cucumber like.  This means to me that they taste slightly odd warm.  Not unpleasant, but they don’t really substitute for courgettes in hot dishes, which I was hoping they would.  I tried some on pizza and they were fine, just odd!  I need to look up some more recipes!  I am intending to collect seed from both varieties to ensure fresh seed next year, so I am leaving the earliest fruit to grow and ripen.  They may cross however, so I could end up with something a bit unpredictable.

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Another success (so far!) are the remaining tomatoes.  As I said in a previous post I had to remove the stupice tomatoes, but the super sweet 100 are starting to ripen now and I’m looking forwards to picking the first fruit!  These were from my saved seed and I wasn’t sure whether they would come true, since I did see somewhere, after I had planted them, that this variety was a F1 hybrid.  So far it looks like the plants are all red cherries as expected, so I’m not hesitating in collecting seed again.  I have still quite a few varieties of tomato seed and I don’t have space to grow very many.  This is because I grow them direct in the soil and try and rotate them in the polytunnel beds so as not to build up diseases (like that virus Grrr!).  My plan is to grow the oldest varieties so that the seed that I have is rejuvenated, and then I can get rid of the older seed.  I was surprised how well some of the old seed did germinate, although slowly.  The seedlings didn’t thrive however and (honesty now) got a bit neglected at a critical seedling stage, so I lost them.

x super sweet 100
Super Sweet 100 tomato stating to ripen

The millefleur tomato (which came from the same source as the fated Stupice by the way) are yet to ripen.  As promised they have enormous trusses of flowers, although so far not setting as well as the other multiflora tomato I used to grow (Ildi).  It is still early days yet though and I would try them again before rejecting them.  They are heavily shaded by the kiwi and bramble above them, which I think hasn’t helped.

asapragus and millefleur
Millefleur tomato truss with asparagus

Under the kiwi and grapevine the asparagus plants are growing well and some have flowered.  So far just male flowers, which is supposed to be better for prolific spears.  However I have read (I think it was from Bob Flowerdew) that the female plants tend to have fatter spears, which I agree with him may be preferable.  Anyway the plants seem to be doing alright this year, so maybe I’ll get to harvest some next year (if they would only stop growing over the winter!).  The courgettes seem to have given up actually setting fruit, so I have left the two that remain to grow into marrows.  I’m pretty sure that at least one sharks fin melon has set too, although I will have to go on a gourd hunt soon to see if I can find and protect any pumpkin nut squash.  If there are any they are well hidden in the undergrowth.


Other news in the polytunnel is that the black grapes, Boskoop glory,  are starting to turn colour.  There are a few grapes that are going mouldy, so I am trying to pick those out without damaging the rest of the bunch.  I’m not sure if these got slightly damaged when I thinned the grapes out, or whether there is another reason for that, but I’m pretty happy with the crop overall.  The white grapes are actually already ripe!  Or at least some of them are.  I felt them and they gave a little and I sampled a few from the end of the bunch!  Being green and staying green means it is a bit more difficult to tell whether they are ripe and this seems extremely early to ripen, so Zalagyongye is a good variety to try if you have an early autumn!

grape lineup
Nice line up on Boskoop glory grape vine

I have hacked back both the kiwi and the bramble in the polytunnel and have definitely decided to evict the kiwi vine this winter.  It has shaded that end of the polytunnel too much, and needs more than one prune in a summer to keep it from getting completely rampant.  Although the flowers are very pretty and it does set quite a few fruit, these are a bit small and sharp for my taste.  If I was to plant a replacement I would try a kiwiberry – Actinidia kolomitka or Actinidia arguta.  The fruit of these are supposed to be smaller, not hairy, sweeter and ripen sooner than the larger kiwi fruit.  They still generally need male and female plants (although there are a few self fertile varieties: issai and vitikiwi for example).  I think I will leave the bramble to grow again and see how that does by itself: it will be very difficult to get rid of now anyhow!  It is nice to get early sweet clean brambles, and it has done a bit better this year than last but it has still struggled to get space and light with the kiwi adjacent to it.  The kiwi I will try and transplant.  It can grow up one of the sycamore in the front garden.  I don’t suppose the fruit (if any) will come to much outside, but I may still get flowers.

mess while pruning
Some of the debris after cutting back kiwi and bramble

The Yacon plants that I planted out first in the tunnel (on 26th March) have grown simply HUGE!  Literally some are almost taller than I am!  The ones that were planted slightly later (10th June) are much smaller.  I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t catch up more.  None had any compost in the planting hole, although I have been liquid feeding them both on occasion.  It is possible that the later ones are a bit more shaded, with large parsley going to seed nearby.  The real proof will be in the harvest of course, so watch this space.

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Finally I will just mention the Fuchsia berry.  It has put on a lot of growth recently.  The flowers are yet to open, although are getting larger.  I have pinched out quite a few of the growing tips, to make the plant more bushy, the thought being more branching = more flowers.  However, we are getting quite late in the year now for setting much in the way of fruit.  I may try and take some cuttings.  It would be good to have a back up plant or two on the windowsill in case we have a hard winter.