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25 Jul 2022

Crathes Garden blog #15: The hot days of summer

Written by Susan Bennett, garden guide at Crathes Castle, Garden & Estate and author of Notes from Crathes blog
A flowerbed bursting with purple geraniums and taller, pink flowers behind.
Geranium pratense ‘Plenum Violaceum’ on the Blue and Pink Border
Our expert garden guide has been sharing a blog offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what the team are working on in the garden at Crathes. This month, she considers the effect of rising summer temperatures.

As the first red alert for heat in the south of England was recently issued by the Met Office, gardeners once more turned their thoughts to coping with extreme weather. Scotland is renowned for its cool climate, but for how long? For the last decade the head gardeners at Crathes have been planning for rising temperatures and our current head gardener James is now, literally, ‘feeling the heat’. Choosing plants that will cope with hot dry summers is now routine and the aeoniums that feature in much of the bedding at Crathes are more than just another fashionable craze. Who would have thought a decade ago that Aeonium tabuliforme would flower outside in North-East Scotland and that bananas would overwinter outside?

Circumstances have contrived to keep me away from Crathes for the last few weeks, but I managed a brief visit the other day and was pleased to see that the Welcome Building project is more or less complete. The ‘green’ roof is actually pink at the moment, with the sedums in flower. These flowers came in a roll, like turf. There is a mix of various sedums including Sedum spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’ with crimson flowers, Sedum spurium ‘Fuldaglut’ with bronze-red leaves and rose-pink flowers, and Sedum kamtschaticum with yellow flowers. Sedums cope well in the heat and provide a good habitat for bees and butterflies as well as other insects and invertebrates. They retain water by only opening their stomata at night.

The flower bed beside the building has been planted up and includes Fatsia, heucheras and unusual foxgloves. The Clematis viticella ‘Étoile Violette’ has been there for many years and is always a summer beauty. James reckons the gardeners have spread about 130 tonnes of soil and used 60kg of grass seed in the landscaping. When I visited, James, Stephen and Emily were busy raking the last few tonnes into place. It has been essential to water the newly sown lawn, but generally the grass in the garden will just have to wait for the rain to return. James is thinking more and more about the importance of water recycling (see my earlier blog ‘Challenges’).

A deep-purple flowering clematis climbs a tall stone garden wall behind a flower bed. Green leafy shrubs fill the bed.
Clematis viticella ‘Étoile Violette’ in the bed beside the Welcome Building

Inside the building there is a display about the history of the garden. I am mightily impressed by the large, beautiful solid oak bench that has been fashioned in a local timber yard from one of the Crathes oaks that fell in the winter storms. This bench will go on storing the carbon, sequestered during its lifetime as a living tree, for another hundred years or more. The old walnut tree that also fell in the storms will be used in a similar way. The council have passed the building for use and it is now open, although people will need to get a token from the shop to operate the door.

A long, oblong, chunky wooden bench stands in the middle of an outdoor building, with one wall made up of a large floor-to-ceiling windows offering views over a garden. Exhibition panels can be seen on the far wall.
The solid bench crafted from the Crathes fallen oak tree

Entering the garden, I feel a bit like Alice; the abundance of flowers that Crathes is famed for is overwhelming. The later-flowering Deutzia monbeigii provides a fountain of flowers at the top of the White Border, and the Blue and Pink Border is exactly that, with a riot of old favourites including blue Eryngium alpinum, the pink rose ‘Céleste’, pink Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta’ and the violet-blue Geranium pratense ‘Plenum Violaceum’. The sweet peas at the entrance to the Camel Garden are all they should be and I am amused to see that the hazel supports have produced a topknot of leaves. ‘Divine’ might seem a little excessive in description, but really the scent of sweet peas cannot be equalled.

The Evolution Garden is also brimming over and I can see that the Japanese willow might need to be taken in hand. The nearby Philadelphus ‘Beauclerk’, beside the Trough Garden, is overladen with flowers. Philadelphus have four (or multiples of) petals and other flower parts, whereas Deutzia, which tend to flower earlier, generally have five or sometimes six.

In my ‘new’ garden at home, I am planning a raised bed and fruits, and I have been learning about all the berries that I can eat. Outside my window is an Amelanchier, which I read is good for jams. But as I type I notice a pair of blackbirds helping themselves. I hadn’t thought that the fruit was ripe, but the hot weather has turned the berries black. Trying one, I find it quite sweet and tasty, but I think the blackbirds will beat me to it, especially as most of the fruit is out of reach.

The little Chilean guava (Ugni molinae) that I purchased last autumn, after seeing it at Crathes, has come through the winter and is now showing white flowers; I expect red strawberry-flavoured fruits in October or November. The Crathes plant, which is a pink cultivar, was razed to the ground in the hard frosts of 2021, but has recovered. I didn’t manage to check it this month but it was doing well in June and I imagine it is thriving and loving the heat. It’s good to know it is a plant that can recover from hard frost, cope with drought and still deliver a bowl of sweet goodness.

A close-up view of a plant with small, green, waxy leaves and bright red berries.
Chilean guava fruits on the Aviary Terrace, November 2020

Life is a little less hectic in the glasshouses just now with the bedding plants all out. The main summer display is of pelargoniums and cala lilies. The streptocarpus leaf cuttings are now in flower – amazing! Joanna has been experimenting with pelargoniums in the soil beneath the new vine in the vinery. She finds that ‘Chocolate Peppermint’ doesn’t do so well because it grows close to the ground and suffers from botrytis mould. However, ‘Royal Oak’, which has similar colouring on the leaves, is more upright in growth and is doing well. ‘Lady Plymouth’, which we both favour, is also in excellent health. ‘Lady Plymouth’ is mainly grown for its pale mint-green, variegated leaves although it has attractive clusters of pale pink tiny flowers in the spring. I am also a great fan of Pelargonium capitatum, which is also growing well.

The fig cuttings that Joanna took are thriving and one has been planted in the trough of the Trough Garden. I do fancy a fig in my own garden now that the summers are heating up, but will I have room and would it be safer to stick to apples?

James has been showing groups round the garden. The European Boxwood and Topiary Society, who had to postpone their 2020 visit, finally made it this spring. The visitors were surprised to see the box in good shape and wrongly assumed it was all replacement plants. You can read about box management at Crathes in my earlier post: ‘Castle, cottage, and fine design’. The RHS has also visited and made complimentary comments; they especially admired the glasshouses. Apart from these occasional visits, garden guiding has been in abeyance since the COVID pandemic began, but James hopes to develop the service next year.


  • The reconstruction of the Rose Garden is now scheduled for August.
  • Emily reports that hundreds of froglets have been escaping from the dipping pool, as well as some newts. Joanna has even had newts in the glasshouses – not something she was aware of before.
Bright pink and purple sweet peas grow in profusion in a flower bed.
Sweet pea heaven

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