For some strange reason, some people in the hobby that ‘claim’ to know me think that a move to the Scottish Highlands is like moving to the North Pole. This occurred again this week. I received an email from a bod who commiserated with me at not being in a position to enjoy the hot weather experienced in the south of Britain over the last few weeks. I read that particular bit of stupidity as our weather station sensors, particularly the north facing ones were reading 28 degrees Centigrade…
Now, things across the UK have cooled down a little over the last few days; but generally, Nairn and the west end of the Moray Firth enjoys a fairly unique climate (ask the RAF at Kinloss) and many parts of the West Coast experience such mild conditions that frost tender plants and palm trees are commonplace in gardens. Why does this interest me enough to hit my blog, you may be wondering?
Railway modelling is not my primary and all-consuming interest. I cycle, do a lot of hill walking and…I love gardening. No garden railway for me but a big project to restore a two acre woodland garden located about 200 metres from the east beach in Nairn. Sarah and I are five years into the project now and our philosophy is simple: use minimal chemicals or avoid them altogether, encourage wild life, plant for insects and bees and encourage birds. This has had a fundamental impact on the choice of plants and how we look after the wilder parts of the garden. No designer hybrids here, nor decking and fancy foliage planting which do nothing for the bee population.
The garden is in a very dry location, on light sandy soil which is free draining and roughly neutral in pH. No chance of growing the Scottish Highlands staples such as rhododendrons, azaleas, Meconopsis and other acid-loving plants. The dry, mild and sometimes warm climate here is more akin to cooler, drier and higher parts of the Vaucluse or Drome area of the South of France, certainly at times, although the summer season is so much shorter. We have dry cold winters, warm dry summers and the climate is perfect for soft fruit growing, vegetables and my all-time favourite plant: Lavender. In fact, it grows like a weed here… We could grow grapes under glass with ease but outside….the longer although dry and cold winters would prevent this. On a note of reality, drive five miles inland and this unique coastal strip climate gives way to more typical Scottish upland weather where growing things like garlic and Lavender becomes nigh impossible. Still, on the coastal strip between Dalcross and Forres, garlic, carrots, soft fruit and other more interesting crops are grown commercially and the beaches of Nairn are usually well populated in summer.
This is Lavande Vraie (the packet says ‘Plante vivace pour massifs!); bought as seed from a garden centre near Avignon, propagated in the green house here in Nairn and thriving, much to the delight of our bee population.
These guys like it a lot! Plants like Lavender (we grow many different types of English and French Lavender and other beneficial plants) are vital for our bee population, both bumble bees and honey bees; both of which nest in the garden.
Butterflies like it too. We are keen to provide for our insects given they are so vital to the pollination of fruits and flowers. Yet I never fail to be amazed at how people regard vital pollinating insects and those that are great natural predators in the garden as undesirable. We frequently hear of people asking about pesticides for killing hover flies, bees and other harmless and beneficial insects because they have some fear of being stung, or because of their children being stung or because they know not that most insects are harmless. Bees are not going to harm you if you keep out of their way…nor do wasps…and you should not kill them, not at all. We should educate our kids that such insects are so important to us. A result of the encouraging insects is that we have swallows nesting in our wood shed for the first time since moving in, and bats turned up last summer.
This small wasp’s nest is situated 15 feet from the kitchen window… Yup, that may seem wierd and a little scary. Nonetheless, they have as much right to live here as we do. This colony consist of smaller wasps which like to strip green fly from plants as a food source, bringing a nmuch needed benefit to our garden. They don’t bother us and we leave them to it. Like any bee or wasp colony, avoid getting into flight paths and don’t disturb the nest itself.
It’s a shame that most peoples’ instinct would be to destroy such an amazing structure! Give it a few months and it will be abandoned as Autumn sets in and cooler weather returns. Those built in our porch in recent years have not caused us any harm at all.
Onions and garlic grow well in our mild conditions. We pulled our garlic and Japanese onions a few days ago. They were planted last Autumn to over-winter in the garden, providing an early crop whilst the summer onions and shallots are still growing.
Good quality compost is vital to a garden like ours; being used to condition the sandy soil, as a weed suppressant and to lock in what little rain we get from time to time. A two acre garden gobbles up a lot of compost. This 10 ton lot is bought from a local company that deals with green wast from recycling centres. It’s heated to around 65 degrees centigrade to kill weed seeds and then used on farm land and sold to gardeners for a nominal amount.Whist it is superb compost, the amount of plastic waste in it is surprising. And that is down to people who cannot be bothered to take more care when recycling green waste; throwing bin liners of green waste in the skips instead of emptying them and recycling the plastic separately.
Anyway, that’s a brief glimpse of the gardening activity here in our little corner of Nairn and the climate we enjoy here. Well, the sun is breaking through again – off to have breakfast – in the garden!