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18 Nov 2020

Brodick Castle Garden – what have we been up to?

Written by Tim Keyworth, Interim Operations & Garden Manager, Brodick Castle
Brodick Castle is seen bathed in an orange glow from the sun, from the garden below. The tall beech trees in the foreground have glowing orange leaves.
The beech trees by the castle; photo credit Fraser Aitchison
After storms in recent weeks, the trees have lost the majority of their summer canopy. The castle, shop, playpark and café have closed for the season, and the thoughts of the gardening team have turned towards the winter ahead.

Autumn at Brodick Castle has been something to behold this year, with a wide range of striking colours on display. These have ranged from the bright yellows of the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) to the splendiferous shades of the American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). Both were complemented by the bronze leaves of the common beech (Fagus sylvatica) – the stand of beech trees by the castle was a particular highlight of the past few weeks, especially on the (very) occasional bright day.

A close-up of some branches of a fairly small tree, with maple-type leaves. The leaves are a range of shades of red and purple. A gravel garden path can just be seen in the background.
The stunning leaf colour of the American sweetgum

The gardens at Brodick Castle are perhaps some of the warmest in Scotland. The climate here is ideal for growing unusual plants as a frost is very rare. However, the biggest challenge in growing conditions here is definitely the wind (the gusts are raging as I write this) and excessive periods of autumn and winter wet. It is for the latter reason that an important job of the last few weeks has been to lift some of our tender plants that were ‘plunged’ earlier in the season, while protecting others in situ such as the banana plants. I have no doubt that a lot of these plants could be left unprotected and would survive the winter; after all, many of our tree ferns are never protected from the winter conditions but they quite happily set seed in the woodland. It would, however, take longer for some of the plants to establish in the following growing season.

Our preferred way to provide protection to the plants left in situ is to build a frame using bamboo or birch harvested from the garden, and then to pack it full of bracken. The materials for this task are often collected with the help of our garden volunteers. The frames themselves can be things of beauty, but this year, with time and labour at a premium, the easiest way was to use netting to keep the winter bedding in place.

A fairly tall shrub, with bright green leaves and yellow flowers, is shown being supported with canes in a flower bed. Around the base of the canes are piles of bracken and ferns. Brodick Castle can just be seen in the distance.
The yoke-leaved amicia from Mexico has been protected from the worst of the winter conditions.

Another fairly major job undertaken over the past month or so has been lawn maintenance in the walled garden. This was well overdue and focused on the middle two lawns in this space. An excessive amount of moss and thatch was removed from the lawns through the scarification process before the lawns were aerated, top dressed and overseeded. The moss has certainly bulked out the compost heap! The plan is to carry out the same process on the remaining lawns next autumn, before continuing the turf maintenance regime on rotation in the coming years.

Frustratingly, during this process, an infestation of chafer grubs was discovered – the classic signs of damage had been hidden by all the moss before it was removed! This means that several applications of nematodes will need to be applied to control the grubs next year. It sounds gruesome but the nematode enters the natural body openings of the larva and quickly kills the grub. This will protect the roots of the grass from being eaten during spring and autumn, when the temperature of the soil is ideal for the chafer grub to feed. The good thing about using nematodes to control pests is that there’s no need for chemicals, making it safer for wildlife and people alike.

Beds of bright red tulips, standing very erect, surround a paved stone sundial area in a large garden. Purple muscari grow among the tulips.

The summer planting display around the sundial space in the walled garden has been removed and the red cabbage has been harvested. This has allowed the planting of our spring display of tulips, with 1,000 bulbs planted in drifts throughout the borders. Two varieties were chosen for the display to complement each other nicely: ‘Havran’ is a particular favourite of the team here as it boasts elegant maroon/purple flowers, while ‘Apricot Impression’ changes from shades of red to tangerine. It’s always best to wait until at least November to plant tulips, because they’re prone to fire blight if planted too early in the season. They also require good drainage to do well.

There’s plenty to get stuck into in the gardens over the coming months and I look forward to updating you on our progress throughout winter.

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