Little Sparta Trust
The Garden
George Gilliland began work as the new Head Gardener at Little Sparta in February 2012. He is currently helped, on a part-time basis, by Ralph Irving and monthly reports detailing their activities and experiences are published here. Click on the images to view enlargements.

December 2017

All is frozen as temperatures plummet and we are iced over in a sparkly white haze and the skeletal shapes of the garden loom in morning frosts.

From early in the month heavy rainfall overbrims the burns which gush and foam down their course - then all becomes icy solidified sculptural forms.

We creep above zero and the frozen water surfaces turn into milky translucence as they thaw back to dark bottomless green. Mirrored puddles glint winter light back upwards.

As snow and frost melt the waters burgeon and flow through the garden again, though the supply from the spring source is still frozen somewhere in the pipeway over the moor - we will just have to wait for it to shift itself clear.

The last of the leaves flitter from the tree canopy and are collected up as frosted fragments. The pathways are kept clear - any fallen debris is blown away or raked up. With the ground having been sodden all season there is a plentitude of moss - on the formal lawned areas this too is cleared away.

Storms and winds have moved their way through, though the air is now still and sullen. There is no major damage to report this time.

Tree work has been completed with removal of overgrown or misshapen trees in the woodland and the Front garden - tidying areas and making space for renewal. New planting can now be planned for spring. The main noticeable differences from those which have gone are the conifer behind Henry Vaughan, remaining pines in the Roman Garden, cypresses at the entrance to the Temple Garden beside the Baucis & Philomen building - and the cherry tree in front of the Temple of Apollo has been thinned out and reduced. In the Woodland Garden a lot of old deadwood has been taken out along with thinnings behind the Flautist / Stone Carver urn. Old roots have been stump ground out to leave space for newcomers. Hopefully also the increased light will extend diversity and density of ground cover planting which has been choked out by the shade in these areas.

What is left behind from all this work is a new stock of logs stacked in the woodshed, and piles of bark chips to be spread for weed suppression.

There is planning for repairs to the Top pond aqueduct and to the worn areas of the grass pathways. There are a few more of the artworks in storage which still need repainting or small repairs.

The glaucous green spikes of snowdrops have pushed through the dark heavy earth and will soon lift into flowering.

So the year in the garden ends - with all tidied away for new beginnings.

November 2017

We survive a near miss from a tree fall at the Top pond by the obelisk Il Riposo di Claudio. Peace disturbed for a time but all cleared away and order returns.

More planned work with trees continues - in the Woodland Garden by the Pyramid lower branches are removed from pines and conifers to raise the crown levels and let more light filter through. Other bits and pieces of deadwood and overlapping braces are thinned out giving this whole area a bit of a tidy.

Clumps of snowberry are also trimmed back along the edges of the Parkland where it meets the Allotment and wooded areas.

Along the front facade of Temple of Apollo apple trees and shrubs are cut back to keep them more formalised and in check. The cherry tree here is a problem as it is overbearing and out of scale in relation to the building and the rest of the planting - it will eventually have to be taken down and replaced. In the Hortus also the fruit trees are trimmed into shape and the roses pruned - they will always struggle for light in this confined space and we can only hope for a better floral display next year, if they make it through the winter and receive a little more pampering come spring.

Trees which have been identified for removal over the winter have been marked up (a coded sequence of spray painted red dots and lines…) - clearing areas where there is crowding to bring back proportion and light - and in particular finishing work around the Roman and Front garden.

The fishing craft and sailing boat pavers have been brought in to the house and repainted, then placed out again and covered so that they will be fresh and clean in the springtime. The Picturesque fence rail has also been repaired and repainted.

Many of the pot holes along the track (in particular by the cattle grid) have been filled in and repaired - the track remains muddy from the passage of farm traffic - but at least it is a less bumpy journey to get up and down to the garden. The track will still need a full resurfacing again in the spring to prepare it for a new season.

Elsewhere the vast bulk of fallen leaves have been gathered up and and got rid of on a smouldering fire. There are still more to come but they have not yet been dislodged by what frosts we have had to date. And while it has got much colder and wetter there are still days when the sunlight makes you wince and the skies are a searing transparent blue.

For the most part though days are now dulled down to a low grey silvery cloud cover. A continual dewiness clings to the grass. The heavy wetness underfoot leaves flattened shadow trails of trodden passage behind.

October 2017

The garden is closed and most of the small works have been brought in for storage. Just about all of the larger pieces have been wrapped up in situ so that all is ready now for the coming wintry months. The sudden shift in how everything appears in its new coating brings a real change to the appearance and feel of the garden.

There are plenty of small jobs renovating works which become apparent at the same time - most of them straightforward enough. A repair to the gate posts at the Goose Hut, the top rail of Picturesque has been brought in for repainting, the gnomon of the Four Seasons sundial needs reset - these and many other similar pieces need attention. It is a list which will be taken care of over the coming weeks.

For now, after everything is covered there is an additional blanket of leaves - clearing these becomes a regular task - in winds and blustery squally showers much of the yellowed canopy drops, but enough clings on to still colour the skyline and wait for the first frosts.

One much threatened storm passes through without much damage, the only notable loss an alder tree by aqueduct. Here, as elsewhere, the sky turns a peculiar shade of orange, and all is oddly silent.

The water source on the hill clogs up with silt but has been cleared and is running again - at least it gives a chance to clean out the Temple pond when the water level has fallen. The burns and streams are cleared as much as possible of leaves and branches to keep the system running freely.

The rosa rugosa hedge around the Kailyard perimeter has been cut back.

The grass has been cut for hopefully the last time - now it is just a question of keeping the lawned areas and grass pathways tidied of leaf fall. The damaged and muddied sections of pathways can now get a chance to recover before being resurfaced and reseeded in the spring.

Planning for winter jobs continues and readying for next year.

Bonfires at the beginning and the end of the month clear away much of the collected debris.

There is a tangled sense of conclusion and continuity.

As drifting lines of geese tie themselves in and out of knots in the air...

September 2017

Low cloud, low light - the end of the season.

The Eclogue sheepfold is strimmed down and also the St Just stones cleared around.

In the Temple pond the area by the Aircraft Carrier has been cut back of overhanging hosta and nettles. The stone base has been cleaned of moss making the whole thing sharper, especially as a reflection in the water.

The flower patch and the cobbles in front of Baucis & Philomen temple have also been given a tidy up. By the Temple of Apollo shrubs and fruit trees have been given a trim - the cherry tree in particular here will need to be cut back hard in the winter.

All of the straggly growth in Julie's garden has now been cut down so that the works themselves at ground level can be seen more clearly.

Some dead wood stumps in Huff Lane have been removed and the hedging given another trim - and the blackcurrant bush pathway in the Parkland has been pruned along with fruit bushes in the front garden by the redcurrant allee.

By the top pond there has been further packing around the edges and repairs made to the waterways. At least the sheer volume of water from recent rains has got the aqueduct running again and all the ponds are brimful - but a more substantial job still remains - the perimeter edge of the pond will need dug out and reinforced and the stability of the aqueduct foundation structure needs to be investigated.

On the moorland more rose bay willow herb has been cut down before the flower heads set seed. Fingers crossed this will retard at least a bit of regrowth next year.

A more welcome late burst of colour comes from the tufty blue flower heads of devil's bit scabious which bob and sway in profusion among the tall grasses by the lochan.

Repairs have been made to the little wooden foot bridges by the font and top pond where the slats have just rotted through - these will do for now but they need to be entirely renewed - a straightforward enough job for the winter.

A section of the slate top of the Battle Monument has been nudged off by cattle rubbing themselves against it - the whole thing will need to be lifted off, re-pinned and set. The surrounding boggy area has been very churned up by the trampling of hooves.

Rain soaked ground means no end to squishy and muddy paths - some sections of rubber mat reinforcing have been put in by the tree column base Pantheon where the walkways were just becoming destroyed by footfall. Another area suffering really badly is the car park - a combination of lying water and constant traffic has made this whole entrance very muddy and rutted by tyre tracks. No amount of intervention at this stage will help - the area needs to drain and re-stabilise and will hopefully recover over the coming months when it is not being used.

As everywhere leaves colour and fall in the mild misty air. We are in autumn.

August 2017

There is an undecidedness to the weather and the season - already it is feeling autumnal as we try to cling on to the last muggy days of summer. The ground underfoot is still very waterlogged and squishy in places, which causes problems for maintenance of the narrow grass pathways in particular. The paths around the top pond by the tree column base Pantheon are suffering very badly becoming muddy and unsightly and making for slippery passage.

All this water but we are still experiencing problems with the ponds. The Temple and Claudi ponds have been cleaned again, but there are problems with the top pond by the aqueduct entrance. The water has found a way out around the structure and is leaking - the area has been dug out and built up with sand bags and compacted by furious jumping, but it is a sneaky leak and keeps finding a new route around. It seems there is a weakness in the foundation to the aqueduct structure itself, which will require more extensive investigation and intervention - but this will have to wait until end of season, as it will mean draining the pond to clear and access the source of the problem. In the meantime, as much as possible is being done to keep everything running.

Further down in the system a leak by the dam of the Xiape pool has been repaired.

The annual cull of rose bay willow herb has taken place around the perimeter of the loch, on the hillside above Carthago - and in front of the Goose Hut - where it has become overly dominant in size and colour - it cannot be eliminated but hopefully regular intervention will keep it under control. By contrast the bright dense mounds of heather flowering in the moorland make for a sumptuous sight.

The Camouflaged Flowers brass silhouettes and name plates have been given a fresh clean and polish and are gleaming once more.

The large yew hedge entrance to the English Parkland has been trimmed, along with the hedging in Huff Lane and elsewhere.

Quite a few of the stone works have been given a clean of moss etc., where they are greening up - TO/RY, A/OR, Our Cat, No Ripe Rasp, Batty Langley 'Delightful Entertainments' urn, Georges Couthon spiral column. This work continues.

The beds of the Kailyard have been given a good clear out - an attempt to keep ever invasive ground elder at bay. The harvest this year is a poor one. Raspberry canes here and in the front garden have had this years growth cut back, leaving new growth ready for next season.

A couple of sections of the metamorphic trellis in the woodland have needed repair - fortunately just enough of a supply of the seasoned rhododendron wood required was found hidden at the back of the woodshed.

Leaves are already falling and much of the remaining floral and green growth is going over - all too quickly things are drawing to a close.

July 2017

Everything is drenched with rain - even when the sky clears the ground remains soft and soaked underfoot - which makes grass cutting an intermittent challenge between showers. But of course the rain brings its benefits too - all growth is refreshed and re-greened.

Overhanging grasses, meadowsweet and nettles have been cut back along the edges of the waterways in the Parkland, so that the course of the stream remains visible and clear.

In the Hortus the roses have been staked up, the box clipped and the beds tidied. The cloud pool too is regularly cleaned of fallen leaves and weeded around.

In the Temple pond the willow surrounding the marble paper boat has been trimmed back and the little Durer island / piece of turf kept in check.

A new morello cherry tree has been planted in Julie's garden behind the Idyll des cerises column so that eventually ripened fruit will fall from overhanging branches into the bowl below. This whole area has been weeded out again - a section of day lilies has reestablished itself in re-exposed space, and clumps of foxgloves and campanula jostle each other for position bringing tall spikes of colour.

The top and middle ponds in the wood have been weeded again, but more than likely will need tackled at least once more before the end of the season as the weed has ideal growing conditions this year.

A misshapen tree and some bushy undergrowth has been removed by the buried capital at the top pool bringing more light into this area, and allowing the piece to be seen more clearly in its proper setting.

The allotment / garden of Epicurus has been given a clear out. The herb garden here makes a nice adjunct to the wooded area around it, so is worth persevering with. The strawberry patch too in the woodland garden has been tidied but still struggles with light levels - there are a few more trees that can be taken out here later on to rebalance this area.

The ivy on the gable end wall of Baucis & Philomen temple has been pruned hard back. Overgrown branches have also been loped off by Claudi bridge to allow for easier passage.

A job which is often forgotten - the little round roof tunnel light into Dido/Aeneas grotto has been cleared of grasses growing above and around it allowing the sky back in.

The grass edges around the Virgil cobble circles and Woodland Flute are clipped to keep their formality. All of the other stone works in the Parkland and woods have been strimmed around so that they sit clear of their grassy surroundings.

Fruits bushes are turning colour - a flush of yellows, reds and purples.

And somewhere in between deluge and brightness lies the remainder of summer.

June 2017

All of the hedging has been given a light trim along with some of the topiary box, but it is that time of year where when you turn around things have grown up again - at least all is fresh and vibrant. The hedges and grassy edges of Huff Lane have also been tidied up before it becomes too straggly.

The remaining cut weed in the loch has been raked out and barrowed away to be hidden in the undergrowth. The sheer bulk of this has been a surprise and challenge to get rid of.

Cleaning of art works continues - the Wave stones have been washed - the Present Order / Saint Just, the sailing boat / reef knot silhouettes, the pretty path - it is a continual round to keep on top of everything and have them looking, if not pristine, at least clear and legible. The Nuclear Sail has been cleaned and given a treatment of linseed oil and now looks suitably ominous again against the dark waters of the loch.

Further things have been planted out in the Kailyard from the greenhouse, the camouflaged raspberry canes have been weeded around - there is an abundance of red-currants coming on.

We have switched from bright sunshine and almost claustrophobic heat to much cooler showery days - at least it means not having to think of watering the container plants.

The ponds - Temple, Claudi, and the cloud pool have been cleared out again - hopefully rainfall will top up the troublesome Temple pond which still refuses to maintain its correct water level. The top and middle ponds still await further intervention, as the weed has come back again - it is obviously relishing the growing conditions this year.

There is a general round of pruning overgrown branches - by the Dido / Aeneas grotto, the Hegel stile, and all the pathways where the edges are closing in.

We have a profusion of gallium aparine, robin-run-the-hedge, in the beds and borders - it is fairly easily pulled out by the arm-full but still clings to everything.

The sunken garden in the front has been spruced up and replanted with a few new rock plants - lamium, scabiosa, lithodora, acaena, parahebe, woolly thyme - hopefully these will naturalise in and form a sparkly green carpet effect around the stone inscriptions.

A few other new plants have been spotted in around the borders to fill gaps. In Julie's Garden by contrast the fresh growth has to be kept under control as improved light levels from the lower yew hedges mean dormant understory planting has sprung up with replenished vigour- it is a matter of seeing what comes through and keeping all in balance.

The hydrangea by the temple of Baucis and Philomen has been cut back from the portico leaving the stone work and pillars clear of any growth.

A few straggly misshapen whitebeams have been removed by the little tomb to Our Cat, and a sorry looking yellow conifer nearby also cut down letting in new shafts of light at the entrance to the woodland garden.

Finally this month we were also joined for one week by a film crew from ARTE tv who are making a 30 minute documentary on Little Sparta to be screened next year - the weather was at its finest and most atypical - it will be splendid to see the summery results.

May 2017

The air is mild and we are surrounded by the sounds and movements of spring.

The caddis flies are hatching and the trout rise and flop back under the mirrored water's surface.

A deer's white rump is seen bounding over the fence at the top of the garden by Shadow: the hours hand - an infrequent visitor.

Cherry blossom fills and then falls and is replaced by the creaminess of hawthorn and its sticky perfume.

The starry white flowers of wild garlic and delicate blues of forget-me-not crowd each other out. And in the tree canopy above the bright green light zings.

In the greenhouses vegetable seeds are coming on ready for planting out in the Kailyard in due course. Also the Allotment / garden of Epicurus - has been tidied and weeded out.

The ponds and waterways have all been weeded and the system kept running and levels topped up - particularly to the always mysteriously disappearing Temple pond. The stepping stones in the middle and upper ponds have been de-mossed to make for less precarious passage.

In the loch for the first time this year we are using a system of boat and underwater cutters to clear the bulk of the canadian pondweed - it seems successful, but still there is the laborious and time consuming job of pulling in by hand all the cut waste and piling it up hidden in the surrounding undergrowth to decay away.

The bottom pond in the English Parkland has also been pumped out from a heavy build up of silt - again this makes a good job and the water is now clear and free flowing but the pumped out silt has made a bit of a mess in the lower areas of the garden - mostly out of sight, but a couple of patches need to recover quickly so that there is no visible scarring of the landscape.

More works are cleaned - the Diana / Artemis bridge and the buried Capital in the woodland. The area around See Poussin / Hear Lorrain has been opened up and the planting revised.

One further last surprising movement of note - the item of time sundial - T/IM/E - on the side of the house was found fallen - its old securing just weathered away. Luckily it was cushioned on its way down by a topiary box ball underneath so it suffered no damage. It has now been glued back securely in place.

April 2017

The main change in the garden in this month is the annual process of revelation - the works which were in storage have been placed out and those which were wrapped in situ are unveiled again. Fortunately this time with the generally mild winter there is no significant damage to report. Now a process of cleaning and general maintenance begins - all looks fresh and it is a pleasure to see again pieces which when covered did not even get a second glance.

The weather has been mostly springlike as all about us leaves are opening and greening.

The grass is growing again and being continually tidied, cut and strimmed - there is a bit of reseeding needed in some areas. The wild flower patches have been tended and some more annual seed put down in these also.

Primrose flowers have appeared among the grass around the edges of the garden and illuminate dark spots in the woods.

The daffodils have bloomed and are now just as quickly going over - as the whin blossom begins to shimmer like the crests of waves rolling down the hillside.

In the greenhouses vegetable seeds are coming on ready for planting out in the Kailyard in due course. Also the Allotment / garden of Epicurus - has been tidied and weeded out.

The Hortus has been given a quick once over - cutting back the herbs in the beds - the roses look healthy enough but no sign yet of the catmint companion underplanting - we will just have to wait and see if it sprouts again.

It seems our resident hare has nibbled all the tops off the bluebells - so we will miss out on that bit of colour - obviously a tasty treat in lieu of anything else.

The strawberries and raspberry canes have been ‘camouflaged’ and a few more plants put in the containers by the entrance ready for the new season.

All of the hedges are filling out and will soon require a first trim.

The ponds need weeded out again - especially the one in the lower parkland requires attention, but has been left undisturbed until all of the frogspawn has disappeared.

The old rotten wooden trellis in the front garden has been replaced with new - supporting the roses and honeysuckle which forms the backdrop to the Pompeiian colonnade. The new oak stile is now also installed in position at the top of the wild garden and looks well.

For a few days darkening clouds envelop the garden as snow and hail blow through - but just as soon after we return to clear blue sky and stillness. The soundscape has changed, birdsong is everywhere. The aerial compositions of spring surround us.

March 2017

Preparations for the new season continue with the painting of the Claudi Bridge (terre d'egypte) the Cube Form (porphyry pink), and the stone fruit baskets Silence After Chatter (county cream). All wooden benches, the aircraft carrier model and plant boxes have been re-treated with oil for preservation and to enhance their colour.

At the same time the Claudi pool has been weeded out and further down the waterways pond weed pulled out and the edges tidied back.

The aqueduct from the centre pond has been repaired for leaks and is running well again. There is plenty of water but still lots of silt at the source clogs up the system - it is easily and regularly got running again.

Stone slabs forming a bridge passage have been stabilised over the lower pond aqueduct and the ground either side banked up for future ease of access with the mobility scooter - the site for the new shed / garage for this has been made ready at the entrance.

Snowdrops are just about over and now we have the first daffodil blooms.

Erratic weather systems blow through - gales, sleet and snow storms - then in glaringly bright days everything warms up ready to get going, only to be followed by the return of grey wintry skies.

The broken wooden gate at the bottom of the track - the car park entrance - is repaired, and a small repair also made to the main entrance gate - The Fluted Land - which seems to be very slowly and gradually sinking - it will one day need to be repositioned.

The new stile (An Escalation of the Footpath) has been completed - and awaits only the carving of its inscription to be finished.

Other pieces - a repair to the base of the Liberty column in the Temple garden - a small section of stone flaked off but was found and just about seamlessly reattached. The repaired stone pavers - schooner, yawl, corvette, caravel - have been put back in position.

Now also a full round of grass cutting and scraping off leaves, twigs and mossy residue in all the lawned areas. The path edges have been strimmed back - reseeding will be required again in some bare patches and hopefully germinate quickly.

Seeds have been ordered and planning done ready for the Kailyard and allotment.

Wee new born lambs abound in the fields around the garden. A joy to see and hear.

After the equinox and the clocks going forward - the fullness of spring is tantalisingly close. For a few days at least of glorious sunshine - in every stem and branch - the promise of burgeoning blossom and leafiness.

February 2017

Repairs of artworks are ongoing and many of the restored pieces have now been completed awaiting collection and reinstallation.

The main job this month though has been the jet wash cleaning of the brick and stone paths and patio areas - which is made more difficult by our familiar water source problems - silting, freezing and airlocks - once it is running again it is just a question of working through all these areas in the Front and Temple gardens and into the woodlands.

There is a decision process of what areas or level of moss to leave and what to clear away. Not a random choice but decided by the positioning of works and practicality for ease of passage.

The greenhouses too have been cleaned out and left prepared for coming season - all is spic and span.

Continuing renovations in the front garden mean preparation and planting of new trees - by the Appledore bench a few new apple trees - James Grieve, Howgate Wonder, Bloody Ploughman. And in the Roman garden all the old cypress has been removed and replaced with yews which will grow into a fine formal hedge enclosure.

By the front entrance also in the car parking area, a few plantings of greengage, weeping birch and others will in time edge this area in pleasant dappled shade and add to the western wind break.

The grass in the English Parkland has been cleared as much as possible of late fallen leaves, twigs and branches. Another bonfire awaits.

For the most part now we have enjoyed mild clear days - then a spate of storms - we have not seen the last of the snow and frost. But in the bright sunshine snowdrops dominate - filling the ground like tom pieces of fallen cloud.

Here are the first signs of spring - flights of returning oystercatchers swoop overhead, and in the ponds the repetitive throaty burblings of the frogs mating chorus.

January 2017

The first snows have come and gone, but for a few days at least the garden was stranded in the depths of winter. Inevitably this brings with it too its consequences - once all the whiteness has disappeared - there is a collapsed section of stone dyke at the entrance - this has been rebuilt. Also the wooden gate at the end of the lane - the car park entrance - the top bar has split: a temporary repair with metal strapping is holding this together, but it will probably need a sturdier repair or replacement later on.

The wooden stile at the top of the garden (An escalation of the footpath) which had rotted through is being remade, and should be in place for the start of the new season. The smaller stile at the back of the Temple of Apollo which marks the public right of way is also being repaired.

In this area too a site is being cleared and prepared for a new shed to house mobility scooters which will bring further access to the garden. A few more trees have been planted around here and wood chip from the clearances in the front garden has been spread as mulch and weed suppressant.

The water source on the hill has been both freezing and clogging up with silt but is now running again.

A bit more pruning of trees and collecting fallen branches keeps the woodland in order.

A new silver birch has been planted in front of the St Just column base in the front garden. When the weather improves the remainder of replacement trees for the Bring Back the Birch, the sunken garden and Appledore bench areas will be planted. More yews will also be planted by the Roman Garden continuing the renovation of this part of the garden.

The logs left from the tree felling have been stacked away in the wood shed.

Drainage pipes at the bottom of the Parkland and at the back of the lochan have been rodded out and cleared of the heavy ochre silt which blocks them up and leads to the ground around here being saturated. These are now running freely again.

The first bulbs are now peeking through, but the only actual thing in bloom at the moment are the yellow flowers of winter aconites which shine bright against the dark earth like little lemon bon bons.

The ground is heavy - when it is not frosted all is muddy and sodden - the clouds sit flat and low. Spring seems a long way off.