Since I started the retaining wall down the drive I have become quite excited about what I can plant here. It’s not quite what I envisaged when I was playing fantasy gardens in my head. Indeed it has turned out in many ways to be a far better ‘microclimate’ than I was thinking. Because the wall gives a possibility for a well drained, south facing slope I am able to plant some of the more tender plants that would otherwise struggle to survive a wet winter here.
Having built the wall and the main steps from the house direction, I spent a bit of time getting two minor retaining walls and some further steps from the drive in the best place. I hope I have put the paths where the dogs are most likely to want to run, since they can be a bit heavy footed at times. The plants that I had collected were laid out in their pots to decide a planting arrangement. I bought a few sacks of multipurpose peat free compost to try and improve the soil a bit, that was forked in before planting the plants. The final stage was to sprinkle over various plant seeds that will hopefully provide some infill until the plants grow big enough to cover the soil. I still have to finish off the north east corner back to the bank behind the barn (behind the lower Land Rover in the slideshow above), with some more steps, and I have the last few plants to go in at the bottom corner and at the far side of the path at the top of the bank.
As well as the Mediterranean herbs, rosemary and sage, that I bought in Portree, I also have a number of plants that I have been propagating over the past couple of years. The plan is to have a windbreak at the top of the bank that will provide forward shelter a bit for the plants. Although they will still get the driving salt rain onto them on occasion, hopefully this will provide a modicum of protection. I have some Escallonia cuttings which are pretty well grown. I am hoping that some of these have pale coloured flowers and some the standard dark pink that is more common around here. The Escallonia has lovely flowers in the early spring, glossy green evergreen leaves and it seems to enjoy Skye’s bracing weather. It can get a bit big for itself, but stands cutting back if necessary also. I have also grown from seed this year some Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) which I have seen in flower around here and am hopeful it will fruit for me. The fruit makes very nice jelly – like a lemony flavoured apple and the flowers are lovely. Since these have been grown from seed I won’t know what the flowers and fruit are like until they happen. Anyway, they should also make a tough wind resistant shrub at the top of the bank. I’ve got a couple of shrubs that my mum gave me that were looking for a home – a variegated philadelphus (which should have lovely scented flowers if I’m lucky) and a variegated cherry laurel. Hopefully these will be tough enough to cope with the wind there.
Since I haven’t finished clearing the orchard area of couchgrass, I have made the decision to plant some of my asparagus plants on the drive bank. It isn’t ideal, the asparagus has a reputation for not liking root competition, and I also haven’t really improved the soil much for it. It is probably a bit too exposed also, but that should improve as the Escallonia grows (competing at the roots as it does so!) I just don’t think that leaving the asparagus in pots for many more years will do it much good either. It should like the well drained sunny aspect anyhow.
I’ll put the planting plans in below although I suspect that the labels won’t be legible online.
The seeds that I have surface sown include a sedum mix for roofs and walls, birdsfoot trefoil, bush vetch (vicia sepium), mexican marigold (tagetes minuta – old seed that never germinated well when it was fresh!), pot marigold (calendula sp.), Broom (cytisus scoparius), Licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra), Some sort of buckwheat that was supposed to be Fagopyrus dibotrys but has turned out to be a variety of annual buckwheat, Caraway, Crithmum maritimum (rock samphire). I’m hoping that the bank will act as a nursery for some of these plants that can then be transplanted elsewhere; particularly the broom, which seems to struggle in pots for me.
I have also sown, mainly in with the asparagus, some milk vetch saved from the polytunnel. I have been growing it amongst my asparagus there in the hope that it will make a non-competitive ground cover. So far it doesn’t seem to be doing any harm anyhow. It has fairly inconspicuous flowers, and lovely curled seedpods. Hopefully it will provide a beneficial groundcover here on the drivebank also.
At present the planting looks a bit bare. Soon the weeds will start growing as well as the groundcover seeds and the rest of the plants. I hope I can keep this bit of the garden looking like someone cares, so will have to try and keep on top of the weeds in the early stages. At least I don’t think I have couch grass on this bank, although there is the very fine red tipped grass that is almost as bad!
We are concerned about the central area of the tree field where we have planted a band of ash trees. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t planted quite so many in such a large band, but I did have my reasons. I had read that planting larger groves of the same sort of tree is better – they look better together than smaller groves or a complete mixture. Also the soil there seemed a little shallow, not really thin – just over a spade depth generally, and I’d read that ash trees have shallow roots, so thought logically that they wouldn’t mind the soil being shallower. So far so good. However, the ash hasn’t grown that quickly. Particularly below the trackway.
I think there are three reasons for this. First they don’t take exposure too well – there is quite a bit of dieback overwinter and those that are more sheltered suffer less. Secondly the area which I planted them in is just slightly well drained, and shallower on the downhill side. This is a good thing in some ways; ash trees don’t like to be sat in water. However in the spring when we get a nice dry spell, I wonder if the trees are getting slightly starved. There is competition from the particularly fine vigorous grass that likes the same well drained drier conditions. Those that we managed to mulch along the track edge have done better. The third aspect that I wonder about is that I found what appear to be vine weevil larvae all over the field, and again they like the drier conditions in this area. Maybe they are also eating the ash roots?
In the longer term I expect that we will have to replace the ash trees with something else (something that will like shallow drier soil…). In the meantime I’ve obtained some spruce and pine seedlings and have planted them to form extra windbreaks in the future. Hopefully they will give the ash trees a little more protection in the medium term, and if we do need to remove the ash due to chalera dieback, will protect whatever we replace them with as they get established. I have marked the position with hazel stick cut from new hazel trees that were a birthday present. These were rather larger than I have planted in the past, so I trimmed them back when planting so they would not suffer too much from wind rock. We will aim to mulch some of these new spruce to give them a head start against the grass, but there are so many other things needing doing…. at least we will be able to find them from the hazel twigs when we do get round to it.
Although the spruce trees are tiny, I have planted them in a double spade width hole as I did with the original plantings. It is easy to see now which way the prevailing wind is, by the direction of the grass strands across the turf. I managed to plant a couple of bands of spruce perpendicular to the wind direction two or three trees deep amongst the ash trees. The pines I mostly planted at the edges of the trackway and the very edge of the tree field where the track goes next to the southern boundary.
Finally the drive bank is starting to look like I’ve been working on it (see also here for earlier work). To any person skilled in the art, it looks like a pile of stones rather than a retaining wall, however, I know I can walk securely on the top layer of stones, so am pretty happy with it. As a happy consequence of my ineptitude, there will be plenty of planting crevices to squeeze in a few little plants in the wall itself. As it weathers, and with some planting to soften it, I think it will look well.
The area between the ramp (unfinished – it will have steps) and the sycamore tree should be quite a favoured microclimate. It faces south west, but is partially sheltered by the workshop on the far side of the drive from the prevailing winds, and I’m also intending to plant some shrubs at the top of the bank behind it. It should be well drained; being a bank with loose rocks on it’s face, and these rocks will absorb the sun through the day and protect a little from the frost. It should be shaded first thing in the morning, so any frost can gradually melt rather than having an extreme change of temperature. I’m therefore hoping that I can try a few things in this bed that are a bit tender. It should certainly suit some mediterranean herbs like rosemary and lavender, maybe sage. I have an Atriplex halimus (salt bush) plant that I grew from seed, that may do well there, although it may grow a little big. If any of my Tropaeolum speciosum seeds germinate this would look stunning clambering up the tree. In the short term I also have some perennials that I grew from my HPS seed last year. I’ll have a bit of an audit over the weekend, since I am hoping to go to Portree next week (I need more compost) and can get some more plants if necessary. I’d quite like this area to be a bit more ornamental in nature, rather than the more unkempt back-to-nature look that most of my garden has!
I managed to relocate two large lumps of white fuchsia roots to the road side behind the house (the house backs onto the road so our front garden is at the back, and the rear garden is just the road verge and bank). The dogs like to run along the fence harassing pedestrians and chasing Donnie’s truck and the odd stray sheep. The ground therefore is challenging for hedge planting, since it is compacted and trampled as well as having almost no wind protection at all. There may be some forward protection due to the house behind and the spruce trees by the driveway. At some point in the past it looks like someone attempted to put a second pedestrian access down the bank behind the house. All that remains is a zigzagging canyon, forming a trip hazard and eyesore. I have therefore planted the fuchsia roots at the top end of this zigzag, buttressing them with rocks and rubble and backfilling with soil and stones where I have been excavating the second tier retaining wall by the drive. In my experience, fuchsia are tough plants so I expect the roots to survive both the relocation and the location to thrive. In the event of them failing, I have got some younger stems covered with soil which I’m intending to stick in the ground to try and take new plants from.
The strawberry plants at the top of the bank by the sycamore, which got covered with soil when I was excavating the fuchsia and the ramp a few weeks ago, seem to be surviving under their blanket. There are several fresh leaves appearing. These are running alpine strawberries, which I bought in to try as a ground cover and am hoping will have useful berries (no sign last year). On the bank below, near the tree, I found a single plant of sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata). By appearance it could have been a number of things, but the aniseed fragrance is a dead give away. I suspect that I threw a few seeds around there in the hope that some would sprout. I didn’t notice the plant last year, but this must be it’s second year judging by the little taproot. I’ve transplanted this a bit further back near to where I have planted a bladdernut (staphlea pinnata). I noticed that the good king henry plants, that I planted near the bladdernut last year, seem to be coming back OK. The other plants that have been growing around the sycamore are……more sycamores. I’m collecting them up into a little bucket and am considering planting them down in the tree field where the ash aren’t doing so well. I didn’t plant many sycamore (just some potted seedlings I had been given) mainly because it has the reputation of being a somewhat anti-social tree. However, I’m now just thinking if it grows….
Being as the year is just about over, it seems appropriate to have a little look back at this point in time.
I haven’t written about some of the trivia that I’ve been doing more recently at home, partly because much of it is unfinished yet, and partly to catch up with my holiday garden visits. Over all we have been pleased with the way the trees have grown this year. S. managed to pick a nice tree to bring in and decorate this Xmas. It’s getting a little more difficult to find a spruce tree that is small enough and isn’t being an important part of a windbreak.
The ash and alder as usual, along with the spruce, have grown well. You can also see how the trees with a little more shelter grow a bit better. Even some of the hazel is growing a bit better in places. I’m a bit worried about the ash however. Although it grew well again this summer, as we saw, as usual there is quite a bit of die back. This time the bark staining seems to match the characteristics of chalera. I had a look online at the woodland trust and forestry commission sites and the way the staining goes up and down from the leaf buds does seem to match chalera, however, there is no internal staining of the wood when I split it down the middle. I’ll send the pictures off to the woodland trust. These ash trees were ones they helped us buy, so they should be able to give us some advice about it.
I have grown a few new unusual edibles for the first time. Oca, wapato (sagittaria latifolia), marsh woundwort (although I also found this growing natively in the tree field I think) and edible lupin. This last was part of Garden Organic members’ experiment. In summary I’d have been better off eating the lupin seeds they sent rather than planting them. I’ll do a brief post about them separately however.
I’ve managed to grow some new perennials from seed, now I just need to get them through the winter. Some of them came from the Hardy Plant Society seed distribution list, and some were bought from various suppliers. I have a number of cornus kousa, a couple of canna indica, several akebia triloba, two different passiflora, broom, watercress, astragalus crassicarpus, a couple of campanula varieties and dahlia coccinia. A few others germinated and perished including gevuina avellana (second time of trying) and hosta. Many more seeds also never managed to germinate for me. I have quite a few little plants waiting for their “forever home”. One korean pine is still alive, but very small. A saltbush plant is doing quite well in a pot, but I’m not sure if its atriplex halimus or a. canescens.
Crop wise I grew physalis peruviana for the first time on Skye. I seem to remember growing it in Solihull and not being particularly impressed. Here in the polytunnel it has grown quite huge and is still alive at the end of December, although with a little mildew. It could grow as a perennial if it isn’t too cold, which was one reason I gave it a go. The berries are nowhere near ripe however. Along with many of the things that needed potting on and watering it got a bit neglected due to the super hot early summer. I don’t think it was a fair trial therefore, since it didn’t get an early start. The plants have grown huge compared to the fruits produced. I seem to remember reading that this can be due to good nitrogen content of the soil (producing lush foliage and little fruit) however this does seem unlikely for me!
Another plant that got a slow start, but made good growth is tomatillo. These were so stunted when I planted the few survivors out that I nearly didn’t bother. Once in the ground they grew away fine. I’ll have to check how they are doing now.
The tomatoes managed to ripen a few delicious fruit before I had to harvest them due to mildew on the vines. The supersweet 100 was earliest and quite prolific. The first in the field wasn’t but did pretty well for a standard salad tomato. I like it because it is a bush variety, and it stayed quite compact. This makes it easier to grow close to the edges of the tunnel. Spread out on the window sill we did get a few more fruit to ripen, but many just went mildewy there.
Achocha needs to go in earlier. I couldn’t resist ordering the giant bolivian variety from real seeds again this year even though I know it really struggles to get going for me! This year I didn’t get any fruit before the plants got killed by the frost! S. doesn’t really like globe artichoke. He finds it a bit of a fiddle to eat. This is a pity, since I have managed to get a few more plants of a known variety to germinate and hopefully get them through the winter. I will try one more in the tunnel and the others outside anyhow. I want to try eating the cardoon stalks next year. It is a case of remembering to tie them up to blanch at the appropriate time.
I’m fairly pleased with the way the apricot is growing: a bit more quickly than I was expecting. I’m hoping I may get a few blossom this spring with any luck! Still got a bit more formative pruning to do, but it’s looking good so far, as long as it stays small enough for the tunnel! The boskoop glory grapevine did well. I didn’t manage to harvest all the grapes before they started to go mouldy. The autumn was a bit cool and windy, although not unusually so I would say. The new Zalagyongye vine started to set the single bunch very late and they stayed very small, although were quite sweet. Hopefully it will do better as it gets older.
I’m wondering whether to give up on the kiwi vine. I picked the fruit a week or so ago, they were starting to drop off the vine, but still don’t seem very sweet. Judging by the grape, it hasn’t been a good year for ripening, but considering the size of the vine and the use we get of the harvest (there are more pleasant jams to make) I’m not sure it’s worth the space it takes. S. wasn’t keen on getting rid of it because it is a lovely big plant. It does also produce a huge amount of large leaves which have dropped off and formed a mulch layer in the tunnel which is nice. I’ll need to rake them off the paths though. Since S. spoke up for it I’ll prune it back a bit, give it one more season and then we’ll see. If I do take it out I was thinking of replacing it further up the tunnel with a kiwi-berry actinidia arguta, or kolomitkes. These have smaller, hairless berries that ripen earlier, so are likely to be more successful for me. The plant is also a little less vigorous, so takes less pruning.
I have two pineapple guava at the bottom end of the tunnel. These have not flowered yet, but are growing well. I have been nipping out the longer shoots to encourage the plants to grow bushily. This will stop them getting too big too soon and also maybe more dense flowering if and when that happens. I don’t know whether they will ripen fruit for me. They need a hot summer to ripen. However the flowers are supposed also to be delicious, so I would be happy to settle for those!
A number of strawberries fruited in the tunnel. I had them from two different sources, and I can’t remember now which is which! I did get a few very delicious berries, but struggled to keep them watered and lost a few plants. I have managed to pot up a number of runners from one of the successful plants, so can move those into some of the gaps. I also have a number of different strawberries outside some of which managed to ripen a few berries, but need a big of feed and weeding really.
Still in the tunnel the asparagus is starting to look promising. It is still shooting up spears now however! I’m hoping that next year I can try and harvest a few shoots, so watch this space. Another success has been the milk vetch which I grew from seed. In one of Martin Crawford’s books he suggests it as a non competitive perennial ground cover with shallow roots. I’ve planted it in various places around the tunnel. I’m hoping it will cover the ground around the asparagus plants, since they don’t like competition from weeds. If they managed to fix a bit of nitrogen that also wouldn’t be bad!
The sweet potato harvest was rather small. I think I didn’t manage to water the plants enough. They were lovely big plants when they went in. I’m wondering whether they were actually a bit too big. One of them had rather more tubers than the other, but they were all a bit tangled up, as if the plant had been a bit pot bound and never really developed tubers beyond the roots already started. The other had longer roots, but several only just starting to thicken. Either it had been cut back by the cold too early, or it just didn’t grow quickly enough. Unfortunately, I don’t think either of these plants or tubers are likely to survive the winter. I’ll give it a go however, since it will be silly to fork out that value again. If I can plant them out earlier, and feed and water them better, they may stand a better chance….
Somewhere near the sweet potato are two dahlias. These were dahlia coccinia. I grew them from seed from the HPS list, and they have attractive burgundy foliage and pretty red single flowers. I didn’t try eating the petals of these, although they should be edible along with the tubers. I have a couple more that grew and flowered in pots. These need to be moved somewhere frost free over the winter so they don’t rot. I’ll try and post about harvest another time when I’ve tried them. Apparently the taste and texture is variable….
The climbing nasturtiums were a little slow to get started. I think they got a little dry in the hot earlier summer. Once things cooled down there were a couple that did very well, including one growing through the apricot that hasn’t got killed by the frosts yet. The one opposite this had the most beautiful tiger red flowers however. I’ll try and get seeds from this! I’m not keen on eating them, although I believe all parts are edible, but I do like the flowers. I also like the way outside that the circular leaves catch rainwater and form droplets.
The unknown citrus is still looking quite green. While it is still mild I will wrap it in some fleece to try and protect it a bit this year. Unless it has some established branches it will never flower and we won’t find out what variety of fruit it has.
The polytunnel pond has held water which is a good start considering I had to repair the liner before using it! I grew watercress, marsh woundwort and sagitaria latifolia in pots in it. The watercress has escaped from its pot and seems to be mainly floating round on the surface. I think it will die back overwinter, so am not sure whether it will return or not. The pond was also very useful as a means of soaking seeds trays and watering from the bottom. I’m very glad I designed some very shallow shelves around the edges, as well as much deeper ones! It was certainly welcomed by Mr. Toad, and although there were insect larvae and algae it never got stagnant or a noticable source of pests. Midges breed on damp vegetation of which there is plenty outside, so it didn’t contribute to those Scottish pests either!
Having seen Sagara’s successful olive fruit, I have to conclude that none of my olive flowers did set fruit. The plant itself looks pretty healthy though. It has grown a bit and bushed out. I’m hoping it will overwinter alright in the ground in the tunnel, since the soil in there should be fairly dry and it is protected fully from the wind. Fingers crossed for more flowers next year. I have read that olives fruit better with cross fertilisation, so maybe I should look out for another variety. I’m not quite sure where I would plant it though!
Since I only got one surviving five flavour berry, I have obtained another two plants from two different suppliers. They are both supposed to be self fertile, but should also fertilise each other, and the surviving seedling. Both are planted out in the tunnel and mulched now for the winter. The passionflower and akebia were still very tiny plants as we went into the winter, so I’m not sure they will survive. I’ll try and remember to bring some into the house to overwinter as insurance if I can find the spare plants!
The yacon grew quite huge in the tunnel, at least above ground. It has pretty well died back now, but the oca is still green in there, so I may leave digging both until the oca has finished its stuff. I had not split the Yacon plants which I think did give them a better start this year. I think I will maybe try and propagate a few more plants for outside growing, but generally leave the inside plants as undisturbed as is compatible with digging up the edible tubers! The oca and Yacon outside have been harvested (I’ll write about that together). The oca seemed to be doing better outside, but died back more quickly. The Yacon outside seemed a lot smaller: we’ll see what the harvest is like!
I’m reasonably pleased with the landscaping I achieved in the tea garden extension and orchard area. I need to carry on eliminating perennial weeds (couch grass particularly) and get on with ground cover planting. I’m also putting up some windbreaks in the tea garden extension, thanks to our new grocery supplier at the shop, who make their delivery on a pallet. I was particulary pleased to recieve a scarlet pallet! Next year I also want to do a bit more work in the fruit garden to change the path layout, and maybe get rid of the autumn fruiting raspberries, which are really too late to be worth the effort. I also have started a retaining wall along the driveway. This gives me a nice south facing well drained site. I need to get a good windbreak planting along the top. I have some escallonia cuttings coming on nicely, which I know do very well here. These have nice raspberry pink flowers. Although the plant is not edible, it is tough, quick growing, evergreen and attractive, which I think will be enough in this location.
I’m definitely looking forwards to 2019 and all the exciting things growing next year.
We continue to have a snowy winter. Showers interspersed with milder days so sometimes it’s icy and underneath the soil is sopping wet. Down the northern edge of the tree field the dogs have made a cut through path to the pond at the bottom. I sometimes use it to go down that way, and sometimes go the longer way around the main rides. Since the dogs don’t pay too much attention to where the baby trees are, some are rather close to the path.
Last year I moved an oak that was right in the path. S. mowed along the path in the summer and it was tricky to zigzag between all the trees. I therefore moved three trees to improve the line of the path and make it easier to mow should we choose to do that again. There were two birch and one hazel that were definitely in the way and I moved them to the lower windbreak line, which does still seem to have a few gaps in. I have also been given a number of lodge pole pine seedlings (thanks again Frances) and those have been safely planted, some near the byre at the top, and some down in one of the lower windbreaks.
The other things I have been doing are mainly in the polytunnel. This week I got round to pruning the apricot for it’s second year training. Again this was a rather brutal procedure, cutting both main arms down to a length of about 12 inches.
I need to be alert to how to train it during the summer growing seasons now, since this will be the last dormant pruning. From the rhs website:
“In summer, choose four shoots from each ‘arm’: one at the tip to extend the existing ‘arm’, two spaced equally on the upper side and one on the lower side. Tie them in at about 30 degrees to the main ‘arm’ so they are evenly spaced apart (using canes attached to the wires if necessary)
Rub out any shoots growing towards the wall and pinch back any others to one leaf”
Not that I’m growing on a wall, but the principle will be the same I’m sure.
The other very exciting thing that I’ve been doing in the tunnel is creating the pond, that I’ve been wanting for a while. I had some remnants of pond liner from when my mum had a large pond made in her previous house. Unfortunately during storage both sheets have been slightly damaged by mice making nests, and I didn’t think either would be quite big enough for a pond approximately 6 feet by 5 feet and 2 feet deep. The first step therefore was to mend the holes and extend the best liner so as to make it big enough. While that was curing, the hole for the pond was finished off, with shelves at various depths around the edges. I had some more bits of automotive carpet underlay which I lay mainly on the shelves and the base to protect the liner from stones in the soil. Luckily the liner extension wasn’t needed in the end – the slope of the sides meant it wasn’t quite as deep as I’d calculated – just as well, since it was impossible to stop the liner creasing at the joint, so it would have leaked anyhow! I used the wooden terrace side as one side of the pond, and another plank as a hard edge to access the pond on the opposite side. Filled with water and edged with flat stones, the pond is now settling in nicely. The few plants I’ve got so far (tigernut and sagitaria latifolia) are dormant in tiny pots at the moment, so I’ve made a very shallow shelf that they can just sit on in just a little water, as well as deeper shelves for bigger marginal plants in the future. I’m hoping to get some other plants, and of course watercress may well be worth a try, although I’m not sure that we’d use very much.
While I was in the polytunnel, I took the opportunity to tidy up a bit on the rhs as you look downhill: levelling out the soil (some of which had been heaped up from digging out the pond). I also managed to clear out a load of couch grass that had grown in the bottom corner of the tunnel near the kiwi and bramble plants. In fact it is growing around the kiwi root, and I expect it will come back again this year. It also is able to punch it’s way through the plastic walls of the tunnel. I’ll have to keep an eye out and keep knocking it back. Since I choose not to use poisons it will be impossible to eliminate in this situation. Anyway, half the tunnel us now clear and weeded. I need to start watering it a bit, it has got very dry particularly on the surface. Once it is damp again, I expect that some of the seeds will regrow – there are some nice claytonia seeds in there that prefers cooler temperatures so grows better in the tunnel in the winter.
I’ll write a post soon about the mashua and yacon harvests in the tunnel.
I’ve been trying to take photos of the same views every 3 months to give a record of how things have changed over time. I didn’t start from the word go, but some of the photos date from when we first bought the site in 2007, since they are good views! It has been ten years that we have been here now, so I thought I would share some before and after shots.
View from above the road.
This is taken from the prevailing wind direction (South West) As you can see we have been trying to establish a wind break of trees along the top of the bank. Our property boundary is the middle of the road The ones by the road have done fairly well, the ones further along to the SE/right less well. The soil is either too shallow, or too wet (the rock shelf holds the water) for them to thrive. The spruce that were by the house have all provided their tops as christmas trees in the past to stop them getting too big (they are very close to the house).
These aren’t quite the same angle but give an idea of how the fruit garden has evolved. The willow fedge was planted in 2009, and is still a bit sparse in places due to the soil being a bit shallow. I put rubbish such as dock roots and bramble thinnings on the uphill side of it to try and build up the soil. The tree that you can see in the centre on the earlier picture was a pear tree that did not survive. The soil is a bit shallow there, even though I had built it up a bit I think the tree got a bit dry. The morello cherry that was planted at the same time is doing well, you can see it in silouette against the polytunnel in the recent picture. I pruned it to open it up a bit this year. It had one cherry last year! The monkey puzzles here were planted as 2 ft trees in 2009. You can’t see them in the earlier shot, but I can see two ( towards the left) in this year’s shot.
From above orchard looking towards river
Again, not quite the same view point. The picture from 2009 must have been just after shearing! I can just see the fenceline at the bottom where we had started planting the trees in the pond area at the bottom. Note no deer fence in the earlier picture. They are definately starting to look like trees now, and even woods maybe in places!
From North corner by river towards house.
The trees here had been in a couple of years by 2012. The deer fencing however had only just been erected, and we soon noticed a difference in the growth of the trees – or at least the growth which has survived. Two houses to the north of us have been erected since we’ve been here. These alders are amongst the best grown trees now. We may consider coppicing them soon, before they get too big.
River from viewpoint
The first picture was taken as we were planting trees along the south boundary. You can see the temporary fence that excluded the sheep. The deer fence on the perifery went up a few months later. The spruce in the centre are slightly close together pehaps, but won’t grow back once cut down. That will leave a clear space for planting something else. It’s fairly damp there, so maybe more willow. We’re especially pleased with the growth of the alders on the right hand side here. In six years they have grown from foot high transplants to being able to exclude vegetation partially underneath them, and becoming an effective wind break.
We deliberately planted quite a wide variety of trees in the areas that are to be coppiced. These include birch (betula pendula and betula pubescens), Common alder (alnus glutinosa), hazel (corylus avellana), Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), Oak (quercus petraea and quercus robur) Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra), Aspen (populus tremula), Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa). We also interplanted with some conifers (larix decidua and Picea sitchensis) at closer spacing. There are also a small amount of more ‘interesting’ trees such as wild cherry, crab apple, cherry plum, as well as over flow trees from the wind break trees (see below), mostly along the ride edges, and some willow from self seeded willow near the pond. The reasoning for planting a wide range was partly not ‘putting all our eggs in one basket’ which we may well be very grateful for. The sweet chestnut, for example, we didn’t expect would set nuts for us, since we are too far north and cool and damp for it, but it just doesn’t seem to like Skye at all. It may be the salt wind, but I think the new wood is not ripening off, so we are getting a lot of die back each year, and that a miniature coppice stool is growing, rather than a tree. The ash may well succumb to Chalera die back in the future, although in the meantime (once protected from the voles which adore eating it) it is growing quite satisfactorally. We also don’t know what future weather changes hold for us, maybe the climate will get drier and hotter in which case the chestnut may do better again, who knows…
#2. Windbreak design
We used various books to create our windbreak design, mostly the late Patrick Whitefield’s Earth Care Manual, but also Ben Law’s The Woodland Way, Ken Broad’s Caring for Small Woods and Ken Fern’s Plants for a Future helping with species selection. The principle is simple – a triple row of trees planted in a staggered fashion perpendicularly to the prevailing wind direction with slow growing, fast growing, and shrubby trees planted alternately, so as to create succession in wind cover in the future. It’s a bit early to say how effective it will be. I think if I were to change the design at all it would be to include a lot more Spruce to give quicker short term protection, These could be removed in a few years once the other trees had filled out. The trouble is probably that most of the ‘fast’ growing trees aren’t that fast actually.
#3 Leaving unplanted areas for future planting or ponds
It seemed like a good idea at the time and we have thought of a few other ideas for these little spaces that we have left: possible shelters for temporary wood drying storage and turning areas for vehicles.
#4 Leaving rides for access
It has been lovely having these paths to walk around the woodland. Hopefully they will be wide enough for the Land Rovers to take a trailer round to pick up the wood (and other) harvests. In the meantime they give us an area where we can walk and throw fetch toys for the dogs and avoid trampling too much on the trees. We can more easily mow these areas to make the grass shorter and therefore less damp to walk on. As the trees grow up it means that we can look at the trees without being too close to them.
#5 Pruning to create unbranched stems
This has the two fold effect of creating less branched wood making the future harvest more useful, and also giving a quick harvest of kindling wood.
#6 Not doing too much at once
Making a virtue out of a necessity perhaps, but I think it is better for us not to have done the whole lot in one go. It means we learnt a little as we went – so we never planted sweet chestnut after the first year since it did so badly, improved on the vole guards in later years, increased the interplanting of conifers and the quantity of alder.
Most of our efforts to date have been focussed on creating a woodland area that will in the future generate most of our wood fuel requirements. When we bought the house we put in a wood fired Esse range cooker which has a back boiler. This we use for most of our cooking, hot water and house heating requirements. It doesn’t really generate enough heat for the house in the winter, but the house is another story….To try and futureproof our lifestyle it seemed sensible to avoid the need for mains electric and bought in fuel as far as is practicable. With limited time, we have planted the trees in phases, starting with shelterbelts around the house and garden area. Then we gradually evicted the neighbour’s sheep that were keeping the grass short, about an acre at a time over 6 years. Now I can back fill and play with more unusual plants and crops. I’ll post about ‘lessons learnt’ or what we would have done differently as well as what went well later.
We didn’t really consider a conifer plantation, although it could be a productive way of planting – thousands of acres in Scotland have to have been planted for a reason! I think that the uniformity of this type of planting put us off – lots of bad things to be said about monocultures….. Also practically, we would have had to replant every 20 years or so since once cut down most evergreens are killed. We did consider short rotation coppice, where a fast growing wood species such as willow is cut every 2 – 5 years. This seems to suit more automated heating systems such as wood chip fed boilers, or rapid heating rocket stoves, or masonry stoves. It didn’t really seen to suit an electric-free system that we could use for cooking with and heating a draughty old croft house. So we have ended up with long rotation coppice, whereby mainly deciduous trees are cut down every 7 to 30 years depending on species, and allowed to regrow from the stumps.
To protect the regrowing coppice we have designed in shelterbelts every 20m or so. These are planted roughly perpendicular to the main wind direction (I shut my eyes and faced the wind with my arms outstetched – no need for a compass), and comprise of a mixture of different species. Using various reference books (notably The Earthcare Manual – Patrick Whitefield, The Woodland Way – Ben Law, and Caring for Small Woods – Ken Broad) I decided on a three row mix of trees, with a mix of slow growing (Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), sessile and common oak (Quercus petraea, and Q. robur), Beech (Fagus sylvestris), added Holm oak (Q. ilex), fast growing (Silver and downy Birch (Betula pendula, B. pubescens), Common alder (Alnus glutinosa), lodgepole pine (P. contorta), added whitebeam (Sorbus aria) and western red cedar (Thuja plicata)) and shrubby (yew (Taxus baccata) (did not like it here), hazel (Corylus Avellana), holly (Ilex aquifolium), rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), cherry plum (Prunus ceracifera), hawthorne (Crataegus monogyna)) trees in an alternating fashion. The idea is to slow the wind down, not to stop it, or make it go round.
The main tree coppice areas are planted with a mixture of trees, since we didn’t know what would do well. They were selected to be mainly native broadleaved trees that should like our mild damp climate, not mind the salt wind, and grow fairly fast (again with reference to the books mentioned above). The main species are Ash (Fraxinus Excelsior) (We had to stop planting this after a few years due to spread of ‘ash dieback’ in UK – just as well we have a mix of species), Hazel (Corylus Avellana), Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra), sessile and common oak (Quercus petraea, and Q. robur), Aspen (Popular tremula), Common alder (Alnus glutinosa), and Silver and downy Birch (Betula pendula, B. pubescens). Groups of the same sort of tree are planted together, although we also experimented with interplanting the coppice trees with Spruce (Picea sitchensis) and Larch (Larix decidua). A few xmas trees (Picea abies) did not like the salt wind and have barely struggled to survive.
In addition, we have included ‘rides’ or trackways within the planting. These are (hopefully) wide enough to drive a vehicle round to aid in harvesting, and loop round so there should never be too far to carry the fuel to harvest it. Along the edges of these tracks I have planted trees and shrubs that have additional or alternative uses as potential food crops – crab apple (Malus sylvestris) (some of which I have successfully (and unsuccessfully!) grafted eating and cooking apple varieties onto), Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) more holly and rowan. I have now started backfilling with some more interesting fruiting or otherwise useful trees and shrubs: sloe or backthorn (Prunus spinosa), dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), monkey puzzle (Araucaria araucaria), chokecherry (Aronia melanocarpa), also some small leaved lime (Tillia cordata) and willow (some Salix pupurea, and some sort of native dog willow that has seeded itself in. In a slightly sheltered spot below the barn I have planted some orchard trees – probably a bit prematurely, since they really do not have enough shelter, but hopefully by the time they are ready to fruit in a few years, the shelter (a thuja plicata hedge) will also have grown up. I have also left a clear area just below the barn for a future pond. There is a slight plateau area, so it shouldn’t look as odd as it sounds having a pond at the top of the hill. I have a small fruit growing area/tea garden near the barn also (more about that later).
Note: I am using ‘I’ and ‘we’ rather at random here. My husband and I own the land, but the tree planting is mainly my project at this time – the chainsaw is his. I have had considerable help in the planning from my friend Amanda Baker, and in the execution by Amanda and her partner David Clements.