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Garden Centre

Scotland's climate is perfectly suited to a variety of plants. An annual visit to the north provides Christopher Lloyd with the opportunity to select some of his favourites

Every year for more than the last 30, I have taken a busman's holiday in Scotland, usually in June or September-October. At times, the climate is likely to be too foul and the days will certainly be too short for any temptation to lure me there, but in summer or early autumn the chances of striking some good days are reasonable and I don't moan unduly if it is chilly or wet. The Scots, in any case, are ready for the worst. Bad weather is far more tolerable than it would be in the Mediterranean. Fires at midsummer are quite normal; so is central heating and there are always practical arrangements for drying soaked clothes.

Most holidaymakers in Scotland stick to within a few metres of their cars or caravans, so it is easy to be out there on your own and some of the tracks take you into wild and exciting hinterland. For the most exciting and varied flora, you should seek out those areas where the rock is lime-rich or volcanic. You may suddenly come upon these in quite unexpected places, although geological maps make most of them predictable.

Ferns are a special pleasure, many of them strongly orientated towards acid conditions or, conversely, to alkaline. In the latter case, the little green spleenwort, Asplenium viride, is one of my favourites. You never see it in cultivation, which it does not favour, so, all the more reason for seeking it out in its natural habitat.

There are certain basic differences between gardening in Scotland and in southeast England, which is my stamping ground. The ambient atmosphere is far cooler in the north. Even if the sun is blazing for several days on end, it still remains cool in the shade. This means that plants, like border phloxes, which flourish in both climates, flower later in the north, and they grow taller and lusher, without encouragement by irrigation. Those that are early-flowering with me (and I notice this also with a number of hebes), quite often fit in a second crop in the autumn. In Scotland, only one crop can ever be expected.

You seldom find leaf burn in the north, so yellow foliaged shrubs do particularly well. One that always strikes me is the Japanese maple, Acer japonicum 'Aureum'.

Then there are the large-leaved rhododendrons, which best like to be swathed in eternal mists, but most have complete shelter from wind. The last can only be provided by planting suitable shelter trees and shrubs, so that behind them there is a great hush (the air, of course, will be thick with midges). Then the leaves of these rhodies will grow their largest, and they are so beautiful at all times of the year that flowers are a comparatively small consideration. These conditions are best met in the west, where rain-laden winds blow in from the Atlantic.

In the east, rainfall is quite often low by comparison with most of England, but cool air still prevails. Right on the North Sea coast, there is very little frost and snow seldom lies. So you may be rather astonished to see a shrub like the tender Abelia floribunda, with drooping, elongated magenta trumpets, flourishing, whereas you had lost it in the winter in your own southern garden.

However, one of my keenest gardening friends lives bang in the middle of Scotland, where winters are apt to be severe. (He therefore emigrates to India from November to April!) He can grow blue poppies and other members of the poppy genus Meconopsis, to perfection, although they can never be left to themselves for long without some attention.

The arisaemas, which are mainly Himalayan members of the arum family, as exciting for their leaves as for their flowers, do splendidly. Many Lilium, like L. duchartrei, which is pretty impossible in the south, thrive. L. pyrenaicum makes huge colonies that often survive the garden in which they were originally planted. Their greeny-yellow turkscap flowers are highlighted by bright orange stamens.

I could run on, but you get the idea. We southerners don't have it all our own way.

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Other Christopher Lloyd Articles
   Autumn Pruning        Bountiful Bulbs
   Christopher Lloyd visits Scotland        Inheriting the Earth
   On Hindsight...        Preparing for an Exotic Late Summer
   Starting Out - Do's and Dont's        While the Sun Shines?
   Winter Planning        Winter Skeletons