Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Blackness Castle, the boat that never sailed

It's years since I've visited Blackness Castle and indeed quite a while since I've walked on the beach next to it come to think of it. David and I didn't fancy travelling far on our day off so we headed up to the River Forth and Blackness Castle. The sun was shining and it felt quite warm too, not to bad for the beginning of March. We chatted with the ticket guy about the filming of Outlander there as you do as a fan. We noticed the series has left a trail of products through the shop.

Approaching the castle

One of the great things about today's trip was Bracken could go around the castle with us, Historic Scotland seem to be very tolerant of well behaved dogs and their well behaved owners in their properties these days, which makes for a great day out for all of us.

Exploring the castle

We were lucky with the weather as the sun was out and it wasn't too cold either. There's lots of climbing stairs indoors and out so wear comfy footwear, but the views are well worth it. From the mountains of Ben Lomond and Ledi to the west and north and right out beyond the Forth bridges to the east and the Ochil hills to the north, there's plenty to see.

The trio of Forth Bridges from Blackness Castle

The Ochils with a sprinkling of snow

Originating in the 15th century this castle has been both fortress, prison and noble home, protected by it's huge impressive curtain walls and boat shape this building has withstood wars and prisoners until Oliver Cromwell broke it's defences in 1650. Finally decommissioned after the first world war it was then passed into the care of the nation as a tourist attraction.

Inside one of the towers

The banqueting hall

From the towers you can walk around the curtain walls, looking down into the rocky courtyard or over into the river Forth. There are plenty interpretation boards around the castle explaining every day life for the inhabitants and about the history of the castle. We passed a pair of pigeons enjoying the sun on the wall, they weren't phased by us passing. 

Modern castle inhabitants

Bracken and I at the top of one of the towers

Looking back at the castle from the walls

Back down into the courtyard the walking is trickier as a lot of the surface is the original rock. Here down at sea level you can imagine on a stormy night the water thrashing against the thick walls, seeping in through the gateway to the pier, it must have been cold and exposed keeping watch a few centuries ago.

If you are an Outlander fan you might recognise this scene  (minus the fuzzy dog) both in the 1700's and 1960's

An imposing building

After walking around the castle and walls we walked out onto the pier where you feel you are out in the middle of the river. From here you can also get a sense of the boat shape of the castle and see why it was called the boat that never sailed. Bracken is never keen to walk over bridges or wooden walkways so he was pleased to get back on solid land. 

Walking out to the pier

The castle from the pier

Longannet from the pier

After visiting the castle we went for lunch and then meandered home, a nice relaxing day off not too far from home. 

You can get more information about the castle here

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Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A visit to Dr Neils Garden in Duddingston

Crocus in the lawns

Visiting this garden has been on my endless list of things to do for years and we finally made it this March. Located in the village of Duddingston in the shadow of Arthurs Seat on the south side of Edinburgh, this hidden treasure runs down to the shore of Duddingston Loch.

A stunning red Euphorbia, perfect for a winter garden

In the early 1960's Dr Andrew and Dr Nancy Neil began work on a neglected piece of land next to the loch and church called the church glebe (church land). Previously grazed by cattle and geese the land was very rocky and of no use for crops. Gradually the couple turned the land into a garden full of conifers, heathers and alpines. In 1997 Dr Neils Garden Trust was created to take over the running of the garden and protect it for the future.

Gorgeous Hellebores
When we visited the snow drops were just going over and the Hellebores, Crocus and Iris were coming into full flower, giving lovely bursts of colour through the gardens under the conifers and shrubs. Hamamellis and early Rhododendrons were also flowering, underplanted with Ophiopogon nigrescens and Iris ungulicularis.

Crocus opening up

Rhus typhina

Iris ungulicularis, a winter flowering Iris

Walking through the garden under mature trees and along meandering paths you eventually come to Duddingston Loch. Edged with reeds, Cornus and willow, it makes a lovely outlook from the garden and a home to many birds.

Duddingston Loch from the gardens

Weeping willows on the loch side

A happy home for ducks

In a corner of the garden, down at the side of the loch sits Thomson's Tower. Designed by Henry Playfair and built in 1825 for the Duddingston curling team to store their stones. The upper floor was a meeting room and a studio for the Rev. John Thomson who was the minister of Duddingston from 1805 to 1840. Restored in 2008 the tower forms a lovely focal point in the lower gardens. 

Thomson's tower

This really is a garden for all seasons, from spring bulbs and hellebores, to Rhododendrons, shrubs and then into autumn with grasses and autumn colour. There is a cafe open on certain days and an excellent pub selling food and fine beers in the village.

Cyclamen, Crocus and Ophiopogon

Bridge over the pond

Garrya eliptica

One part of the garden I enjoyed was the physic garden, laid out in the shape of a flower and home to Dr Andrew's special interest in ear, nose and throat medicine on one side and on the other Dr Nancy's interest in gyno- urinary medicine. Thee is a very useful board explaining all the plants and their use. The physic garden was opened in 2013 in memory of the doctors, 50 years after they started work on the gardens.


Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'

Cherry blossom

Early Rhododendrons

After visiting the gardens we took Bracken for a walk along the loch side, you can't walk far and there are lots of hungry geese and swans. It was good to get another view of the loch and garden and get the doglet a walk before heading for a late lunch. We went to the Sheeps Heid Inn, tucked away behind the main road through the village. This old watering hole boasts a bowling alley and some excellent food. Website here.

The lane up to Duddingson Village

You can get information for visiting on the website for the gardens here Dr Neil's Garden

Looking over to the gardens from the Loch

Here's looking at you

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Spring Has Sprung here in the Nursery and on the Farm

Hi, it's been a few weeks, I've just been so busy, it's that mad time of year for us gardeners and no less in the nursery where I have the work of three people to get done. I've also not been too well with one thing and another, totally the wrong time of year to be under the weather! Hey ho. so for tonight just a quick blog with some exciting events coming up at the nursery and Whitmuir and hopefully normal service will resume soon.

Gorgeous blue skies and daffodils this week in the nursery

There's so much happening here in the nursery and on the farm. Spring has really sprung. Here at Quercus we have an ever growing range of plants for your garden including plants for those tricky corners, great advice, pots and bits and pieces.
On the farm piglets and lambs are arriving daily, veg seeds are being sown and the trees on the woodland walk and hill walk are all coming into leaf. The cafe is buzzing with fresh farm produce put together to make amazing seasonal dishes by Val and her team @ Whitmuir the Organic Place there are lots of new tasty products in the farm shop too.
In Dancing Light Gallery there is a beautiful new exhibition, one of their best yet, I could go mad buying so many of the Wildlife inspired paintings and pieces of art. So if animals in art are your thing come and see this collection.
There are many events coming up, with an exciting menu for Easter Weekend, a sausage making course and Rowanbank coming back on Easter Saturday with their acrobats for an easter egg hunt. See the Whitmuir website or posters for details.
Whitmuir is the natural place to visit, we look forward to seeing you soon.

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Thursday, 9 March 2017

February in the Quirky Bird Gardens

Weather-wise February wasn't as kind as January, it was certainly wetter and with more snow showers but still not the winter cold we would expect. Still the weather hasn't kept me back in either the garden at home or in the nursery and we are still ahead, yeh! The snowdrops are in full flower and there are plenty signs of life emerging from the ground along with the birds singing their wee hearts out.

Glanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop

If you've been to the nursery you will know there are two rows of willow on either side of what we have made into the wildlife garden on the bottom terrace. Another winter job for me is to weave them into a living fence. Having been neglected for a while, last year was the first time I did them and after
being renovated then, they were much easier this year. I find it a therapeutic task, weaving in some of the branches and cutting off the excess. Once done it looks goo, lets more light into the cafe and opens up the wild life garden.

Weaving in the wildlife garden

The different coloured willows make interesting patterns

Rhubarb beginning to sprout in the garden at home

Threatening clouds over the Pentland hills viewed from the nursery

Having got really far ahead this year despite the wintery weather early February we finally go around to working on the entrance to Whitmuir Farm. We'd promised to do this not long after we bought the nursery in 2015 but so far have been just to busy getting Quercus up and running. I really wanted to get this task done this year and before the season kicks of and we and the farm get busy. I did more digging that week than I'd done in a long time and re-discovered muscles that were not happy with me! But we do now have two fan shaped borders under the signs at the farm entrance that are full of plants. Having removed the turf (aka every perennial weed and grass you can think of), dug it over (removing as many roots as possible) we then planted the borders up with tough plants that will give interest all year round. Once planted we finished off with a thick layer of bark to help with future weed control. We did finish off the job in horiontal snow, so keen were we to get the job done. I can't wait to see the borders filling up and creating an eye catching, colourful display to help attract people into Whitmuir. From tall plants at the back to create a backdrop to low, tough growing perennials at the front so as not to obstruct the line of view for vehicles turning out on to the main road there should be year round colour.


Borders de-turfed and dug over

Planting up with a hint of snow

Both sides finished with off with bark

You turn your back and it's all happening in the garden. I spent time on my day off hoeing the front garden and sweeping paths, patios and weeding the troughs on the lower level of the back garden. I also got all the plants in pots and troughs on the upper level cut  back and ready for top dressing.

Looking good in the garden in February

I always look forward to the snowdrops coming into flower, those first bursts of colour in February with their hidden beauty unless you turn the flowers up.

Galanthus 'John Gray'

Snowdrops in the front garden

Galanthus 'Hill Poe'

Galanthus 'Magnet'

Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno'

Galanthus nivalis, common snow drop

All together

Bit of a theme going on

Doing a photography shoot for a book review

One of the things I got done at the nursery was potting up bulbs into pots and containers and placing them around the seating areas in the nursery.

Designing for spring

A seating area in the nursery

Violas and bulbs in vintage pots

Narcissus 'Tete a Tete'

Birch twig wreaths

In other news I remembered I had an armaryllis / hippeastrum in the greenhouse from last year. I've re-potted it and fed it, it's now sitting on the kitchen window sill growing at an alarming rate.

So all in all it's been another very busy but successful month and we are looking forward to the rest of the year and customers coming back to the nursery. We're working hard on the new gardens and hope you will come along and visit this year.

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