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 archived here. Click on the images to view enlargements.

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November / December 2013

The garden is fully prepared for the winter - any remaining stone works which had been left uncovered have been wrapped or brought in to storage. Certain pieces will be restored in the coming months and all will be given a clean before the start of the next season.

The weather has remained generally mild - though we did suffer the consequences of the first storm a few weeks ago. Quite a few trees have fallen or had limbs damaged - the most significant loss was two of the Scots Pines at the end of the lochan. One of these was already split and weakened - but as it fell took the tree beside it down also. These have been cut up and removed and only the stumps remain. A new group of replacement specimens will be planted n the early spring, and other gaps filled throughout the garden.

Planning for any other planting in beds and borders can be thought out and prepared for in the coming months and is a good winter exercise.

The only artwork which suffered in the stormy conditions was the metamorphic trellis at the lower end of the English Parkland. This took a hefty whack from a falling branch, but has been put back together and reinforced. The rough wood sections of this structure are now noticeably decaying and will need to be fully re-fabricated at some stage.

The top pond has been drained and weeded out - this will remain emptied throughout the coming months as frost is a good deterrent to the weed returning. The wooden aqueduct in the middle pond has been secured with sandbags where it was eroding and the structure made sound for another while at least.

The final rounds of clearing and gathering leaves has been completed and the trees are now bare and skeletal. General tidying has continued to leave the garden clear as possible and see it through the bleak days ahead.

The major piece of work which is now going on though is at the lochan and its replacement sluice structure. All of the old rotten wooden construction has been taken away - revealing tne extent of just how badly corroded this area was underneath. The water has been siphoned out and the drained form of the loch exposes the great patches of weed which had lain hidden - and which will now hopefully be more easily tackled and controlled.

The new design is in the form of two large drain pipes which sit on a concrete substructure and which will act as overflow and maintain the water level. A smaller lower pipe will act as control when the loch is to be emptied at the end of the season - this mechanism will mean much less intervention required to maintain the water levels and clarity.

The pipe structures are covered in earth and a continuation of the existing bank and pathway is formed which will be seeded and grassed over and should have time to establish itself before next summer. Perimeter planting can be reintroduced and with any luck this large scale intervention should be completely disguised and disappear into the landscape without notice.

This long awaited work on the lochan looks very much to be a success having already faced and survived the first full spate after heavy rainfall.

So the garden continues unseen and unvisited but very much ongoing. Even the quiet times are filled with activity.








October 2013

Preparation for the coming season has meant most of the stone stone works have now been wrapped or covered and the majority of small moveable or fragile pieces brought into storage for winter. Now all of the sculptural forms left out in the garden take on an added layer of mystery in their plastic camouflage.

Falling leaves are a main occupation now, as they are collected and used as mulch - in particular keeping the lawns and grass pathways clear is important so that they are not damaged or suffocated by the bulk of autumn residue.

TheKailyard and allotment have now been cut back and cleared out, and any perennial plants have been covered with a blanket of leaves.

The raspberry canes have been pruned back and blackcurrant bushes in the front garden and winding lane in the Parkland kept in check with the hope for another plentiful production next year.

In the front garden the semi formal allee of red currants have been pruned back hard - these plants are now very much past their best, but should still be fruitful for some time - some new plants underneath are beginning to establish themselves, and so this feature can be kept going without altering its appearance too much.

By the Claudi bridge the edges of the pool have been cleared and weeded so that the dominant intended planting of rhubarb is given a chance - crowns have been split and new plants put in place to fill out any gaps.

Throughout the garden all hedging has been given another quick manicure and trim. Rambling roses and pollarded trees along the perimeter of the Kailyard have also been pruned back.

On the terrace in front of the Hortus (Swallows Little Matelots, etc) a number of broken pavers have been replaced and the whole area renovated and repointed.

The curved plinth at the end of the loch for the wooden bench Elegy has been remade with a new layer of concrete brickwork.

While the weather has remained generally mild, we are now experiencing the first frosts - a sure sign of the winter to come - as is the sight in the skies above the garden of all the geese flying west in their honking V-shaped formations.






September 2013

The change to autumn is fully apparent as leaves take on a dazzling display of colour and begin to fall.

Tidying the garden for the end of the season brings the usual round of cutting and weeding - in particular trying to keep under control the invasion of nettles and bishops weed which seems to appear wherever you turn.

A large clump of Crocosmia which was growing on hillside above lochan has been uprooted - since it appeared too formal and out of place there, and replanted in other areas around the front garden and by the Temple of Baucis & Philomen.

Hydrangea petiolaris on the gable end walls of the temples has also been pruned back, and the cherry trees and shrubs by the Temple of Apollo have been lowered and reshaped.

Further autumn pruning has taken off a few substantial overhanging branches which were starting to rub along the eaves and causing damage to the roofs of the work shed and Loo buildings.

In the Roman Garden some of the old deadwood has been removed from the pine trees and the surrounding beds dug over and tidied. A good bonfire awaits.

A new group of concrete paviors have been made with the embossed patterns of fishing nets and broken column sections - using the same template as the originals which are randomly placed among the garden paths. These have been used to extend the entrance pathway into the Kailyard area, where the grass has been badly worn away.

In the Hortus the formal beds of roses and fruit trees have been cleaned out and top dressed with a substantial layer of compost - a few more of the beds around the garden would benefit from this treatment also to give them a fresh lease of life.

Finally, Evening Will Come They Will Sew The Blue Sail has been removed from site and sent off to be remade. The work was in a very poor condition - practically illegible and the wooden structure no more than hanging together in its upright position facing due west. It will be a welcome return to the garden to have this work back as new again, a signature of continuity and change.






August 2013

As it begins to feel like autumn there is an abundance of soft fruits - particularly blackcurrants and brambles which seem to have enjoyed the conditions this year and make a fragrant and colourful (not to mention very edible!) display.

All of the trees (particularly the rowans and sycamores) are laden with seeds - and rose hips the size of small apples are ripening along the hedges and throughout the garden.

Water problems seem to have been overcome - the installation of another feed from the top pond direct to the Temple pond seems to be keeping it amply topped up. An experiment with a biological agent ?Crystal Clear? in the same pond however seems to have been a failed effort to keep blanket weed and algae away and hand weeding looks like the continuing best solution.

All the other water areas are continually maintained to keep levels and clarity as consistent as possible and as leaks develop in different places throughout the system they are identified and fixed as best as possible. The loch is holding up and should now see us through the season, with the hope that a more permanent reconstruction of the sluice area might be imminent.

The yew hedging and box hedges have been given yet another trim to keep everything looking as sharp as possible.

In the Hortus the espaliered fruit trees have been pruned - we have had a small crop of pears and apples this year which will hopefully continue now that these are established.

In the Kailyard and allotment many of the vegetable plants have deliberately been left to go to seed for their decorative effect - though plenty more have been harvested and eaten.

Rose bay willow herb - our ?obstreperous companion? has been culled back on the hillside above the loch to keep it in check from completely taking over, but now flowering, banks of it define certain areas of the garden and the transition from the wild to the cultivated.

General gardening continues - grass cutting seems a never-ending but always necessary task, and weeding and clearing throughout all of the garden spaces keeps going.

In the greenhouses most things are coming to an end - the last thing to go out is a good quantity of purple creeping thyme propagated over the past few weeks - so that now lots of hidden niches, pots and containers have been filled up with little bits of thyme - a planted pun for the garden.

Now we can only hope that the good weather continues with a wish for the possibility of a late Indian Summer.






July 2013

The prolonged spell of good weather brings both its pleasures and its problems. The pleasures are pretty obvious - the garden looks at its best, all the planting still looks lush and verdant. As for the problems they are inevitable also - the lack of water leads to a necessity to keep everything watered as much as possible and this is time consuming (since it all has to be done by hand) and the drought conditions mean the water source has run down to its lowest levels.

The impact of this is most noticeable in the levels of water coming into the garden ponds and the loch. In particular the Temple Pond seems to have suffered the worst and levels have dropped severely spoiling the appearance of the pond.

An airlock in the system from the source has been cleared and a new feed pipe has been put in place temporarily siphoning some water from the top pond to supplement this and to bring it back up to original levels. There appears to be an ample supply to the top pond now and we intend to install a more permanent supply from here to the Temple Pond which can be adjusted as required.

We can now hope that last couple of days heavy showers might top up the water source for the time being - enough to refresh the ponds and see us through remainder of the summer.

The drop in water levels and the heat has also unfortunately meant ideal conditions for pond weed to flourish and a another round of weeding out the loch in particular has begun again.

In other areas of the garden a new step to the patio overlooking the Dovecot has been constructed giving easier access to this space (which sometimes feels like a forgotten corner of the garden). The pointing of the cobble base for the Shenstone wheelbarrow has been dyed to the same colour of the cobbles themselves so that the whole becomes more unified and subtle, so that the barrow itself stands out more clearly.

In the Hortus new annual underplanting is being tried out beneath the roses since the lavender which was there fared so badly over the past winter. A formal row of lavender pots in the greenhouse thrives however and acts as a floral homage to what might have been. A little corner of Provence in Little Sparta.

The Sea Poppy containers have been refreshed and plumped up with new fishing nets - this makes them more colourful and attractive as features - the container behind the rhubarb patch in the Kailyard in particular, which has lain empty for some time now brings a new focal point to this space.

The willow tree and overhanging planting in the Temple Pond has been cut back around the Paper Boat plinth and the Aircraft Carrier (Homage to Villa D?Este) making a more subtle framing to these works.

Again, a busy round of tending the grass throughout the garden areas continues, including cutting back the Eclogue and Goose Hut enclosures - though perhaps in future these could be left to grow as meadow.






June 2013

The prolonged spell of good weather has brought an abundance of colour and blossom as everything seems to have come into flower all at once - some things earlier some later than usual, but all a wonderful balance.

The golden head of Apollon Terroriste has been placed out and the area around and in front of it replanted with ferns and wild flowers - enhancing its natural setting. The area surrounding the Fragile stone nearby has also been cleared away and replanted, softening its appearance.

By the end of the loch the Nuclear Sail has been cleaned of accumulated algae and polished and treated with linseed oil - its brooding form now stands out stark against the skyline, its dark shadow reflected in the water below.

The loch itself (against many expectations) has held up and still looks clear and full - all earlier interventions seem to have worked to stall the loss of water. As for the other waterways and the ponds, these are beginning to need weeded out on a regular basis to be kept clear - in particular the middle and Claudi pond had been starting to clog up - and it will be a continual round of all the others through the season to keep them looking fresh.

At the Goose Hut the entrance door has been repaired - it had been lying adrift after curious visitors forced it open to look in - new hinges have been put on to make it more secure.

In the Allotment and Kailyard among the more usual salad and vegetable crops (which are proving very productive) are planted - appropriately enough - rows of Russian Red Kale and Roman Globe Artichokes.

The metamorphic slates on the roof of Baucis & Philemon temple have been re-gilded with gold leaf and catch the direct sunlight in the late afternoons.

All of the box hedging has been given a light trim to keep in shape and Huff Lane has been trimmed back to maintain its intended formal outline.

Around the entrance to the grotto of Dido & Aeneas honeysuckle has been cut back and overhanging branches pruned into shape. There is also some replacement camouflage planting in front of the Apollo & Daphne silhouette figures - a group of photinia will give a fine display of red green foliage throughout the season.

The usual round of grass cutting continues, all of the reseeded pathways have come on well and seem to be settling in. It is also a regular task now to keep on top of weeding throughout the garden and cleaning and maintaining all of the works.

In the Hortus roses have been suffering from an infestation of sawfly - the infested leaves have all been cleaned away and we should still have good flowering this year. A few plants however did not survive from the winter and these have now been replaced with new specimens among which are Penelope and Strawberry Hill.





May 2013

The loch has yet again proved time consuming requiring almost daily intervention to prevent water escaping from what appears to be damage both from water voles and also decay to the front apron of the wooden sluice. As was reported last month this has been dammed up with sandbags, but no amount of trying to bank up this area has fully resolved the issue.

For the moment the loch does look full and brimming, but water is escaping under the sluice as fast as it comes in from the burn source. If this dries up later in the season then we will undoubtedly lose a volume of water which will alter the levels and appearance of the loch. In the meantime it is just something to continually have to work around.

Oars have been replaced on the two boats Evermore and Never Enough - the existing sets had become worn beyond recognition or usability. The boats themselves merit considerable repair or replacement at some stage as neither are water worthy - the fibreglass hulls of each have been holed or split by wear and aging.

Throughout the garden now there is a sudden rush of growth and everything looks green and fresh - the repaired grass pathways have germinated, but it remains to be seen if they survive the first few tramplings from visitors this early in the season. As grass grows so it has to be cut and this will be a main occupation for the coming months throughout the garden.

The Claudi bridge has been repaired and repainted - again, there is a issue of condition with this work as the concrete surface is bulging and cracking as it weathers and will eventually give way.

The Cube / Form on the front patio has also been given a fresh coat of paint and all of the stone and slate works washed and cleaned again - as they will be regularly throughout the season.

Additional shrubs have been planted in various areas throughout the garden - Snowy mespilus behind Line Light Lade in the English Parkland and Viburnum lantana (Wayfaring Tree) in front of the 1794 column in the woodland.

In the car park the grass banks have been strimmed back and a new group of Aspen trees have been planted by the garden entrance sign.

The raspberry beds have been weeded out and the Allotment and Kailyard planted out with herbs and vegetables.

A new replacement gate and trellis fence between the Temple and Woodland gardens has been made and installed by local carpenter Andrew Abernathy - and gives a new structure and focus to this area of the garden.

Finally, the golden head of Apollon Terroriste is being re-gilded at the moment and will be finished and set out in place again for the beginning of June - where he should shine brightly for the rest of the summer.






April 2013

At last there are signs of a belated beginning to spring, with much catching up to be done given the delays of the past couple of months.

The work on weeding out the loch has been finished and the water looks clear and free flowing for now, but no doubt the weed will grow back and need to be restrained again later in the year. A double walled sandbag dam has been built in front of the sluice which should last through the summer. Water has also been escaping around and under the sides of the sluice, but these points have been found and also dammed up with sandbags. The other ponds and waterways have also now been fully reinstated where they were drained for cleaning.

Pressure washing of stone and brick pathways has continued and the most badly decayed areas of brickwork have been assessed for repair.

All of the remaining external works have been unwrapped and cleaning has begun on these - this has also given the chance to assess the condition of these works for any other damage from the ravages of winter. One piece which has noticeably suffered is XAIPE stone bridge. Two of the dressed stone blocks under the arch have cracked and split, and while water is not flowing through at the moment, they will inevitably shift as time goes on and need to be taken away and repaired.

The repaired GATES / STILES stone has been returned and will be set out in due course along with any other small pieces which have remained in storage. The wooden rail front gates Rousseau / Citoyen de Geneve and The Fluted Land have been cleaned and treated with teak oil.

New trees have been planted out to replace others fallen or removed throughout the garden. Most notably by the entrance gate A COTTAGE A FIELD A PLOUGH on either side of the gate pillars crab apple trees ?John Downie? have been planted - which give white blossom in springtime and orange red fruits in late summer / autumn. Misshapen cypress have been removed from this area and these new trees will be trained as standards more in keeping with both the homely and the formal feel of the garden.

A row of dogwood ?Cornus Alba? has also been planted in the front entrance area to the garden to disguise some of the piles of bricks and debris left in this working yard space. A group of these have also been planted in the GIRL INTO REED grove to fill up this space and give some more interest and structure.

Another piece which has been replanted is A Woodland Flute - the existing tree specimens here had become out of proportion and heavily pruned back - new trees balance the stone work plaque and cobble roundel and should hopefully last for at least five years before any further replacements required.

In the glass houses further sowing and planning for the Kailyard and Allotment has been continuing, along with tidying any planters and troughs - including the camouflage pots of strawberries and hostas for the Roman garden and around the sundial in Temple garden.

Finally all grass paths throughout the garden which had been so badly damaged by the waterlogged conditions of last summer have been reseeded and top-dressed, and hopefully will germinate in time for the reopening of the garden.





March 2013

Another month interrupted by the vagaries of weather, but as we defrost into April it looks like finally something like spring has begun.

Cleaning of artworks has continued - all uncovered pieces throughout the garden have been washed down and tidied as required. All of the inscribed wooden benches - Huff Lane etc have been cleaned and treated with teak oil before being set out in position as the weather improves.

The boundary yew hedge between the Kailyard and English Parkland has been trimmed back again to keep it looking as tight as possible.

The time consuming work of weeding out the loch has begun again - mostly completed but had to be abandoned once the water froze over. This can now be finished off as the weather improves and a more robust sandbag dam can be reinstated at the sluice to hopefully see us through the season.

Cleaning of stone and brick pathways has begun - Julie?s Garden, patio areas by the house and the front garden have been completed and this work can continue now all the snow (hopefully) has passed.

The damaged GATES / STILES stone has been taken away for restoration and will be returned in time for the start of the season.

A decision was made to paint the inscription on the large wild stone boulder THE SEA?S WAVES SHEAVES which sits by the side of a path in the woodland. The carved lettering had become weathered to the extent where it was illegible, and the repainted inscription gives the work a new lease of life.

The circular Cloud pond in the Hortus Conclusus has been cleaned and prepared and this area kept as tidy and formal as possible.

In the glass houses some sowing and propagation has begun, but much depends upon the elusive improvement in the weather.

It has been too cold to do much else as regards planted areas apart from general tidying - but one feature which has been improved is the winding grass edged pathway through the English Parkland. This has been made narrower in keeping with the scale of other pathways through the garden. The edging will be allowed to grow up in a less formal structured form as befits its original intention.






February 2013

This month has brought a mix of sharp frosts and clear bright days. Much of the early preparation work for the spring has begun.

Sheds and greenhouses have been cleared out and the woodwork treated with preservative. A little renovation should keep them going for a bit longer - though the greenhouses in particular are just about holding together.

The large split pine tree at end of loch which had fallen and been damaged further by the weight of lying snow has been cut back. A large section of the felled trunk has been left at the base of the tree and now makes an informal bench or seat to look back across the loch towards the Goose Hut.

Cleaning has begun on artworks - the brass Camouflaged Flowers silhouettes have been polished, and Angelique Et Medor has been removed from the middle pond and the text repainted in white - which should make the reflection easier to read in the water when replaced. All other uncovered stone works in the front garden have been washed and this work will continue as weather allows other wrapped pieces to be uncovered and prepared for the season.

One work which has suffered considerable damage in the winter is Gates/Stiles in the Parkland - the Gates stone has shattered and split down the centre - probably as the result of water saturation and then freezing. This piece now requires extensive restoration work.

Box forms and hedging have been trimmed throughout the front garden, the Temple Pool garden and the Hortus Conclusus - also throughout the garden roses have been pruned, and rosa rugosa hedging around the Kailyard and in the woodland has been tidied back. All other formal and informal hedging (beech, hawthorn, privet etc) throughout the garden has been given an initial trim for the year.

The hazel bushes by the Virgil / Phyllis bench in the parkland have been removed (but reused elsewhere) as they were badly misshapen and will be replaced. Also a semi-mature beech tree which was growing in the line of view to the obelisk at the bottom of the parkland has been removed and replanted in the woods.

The large leyandii hedge at woodshed entrance and around Julie?s Garden has also been faced and lowered by about 1 metre to keep it tidy and in check. Trees, bushes and shrubs have also pruned back here and throughout the front garden.

Finally the replacement perimeter fence at the back of the loch and lower end of the English Parkland has been finished - so we should be safe again from any marauding sheep.






January 2013

We have of course been suffering from the effects of the prolonged period of snow and freezing conditions over the past couple of weeks and this has impacted on what work can be done in the garden.

The beginning of the new year though was mild enough to allow a start on clearing the ponds and waterways and make good progress on preparations for the season.

The Upper and Middle pools were drained down to their lowest levels and weeded out, and the edges redefined. Hopefully getting them cleared out this early will discourage any new growth of weed and it then becomes more easily controlled during the later months.

The Temple pool has also been weeded out and clumps of reeds thinned along the edges. The connecting waterways throughout the garden - Claudi Bridge, Pebbled Brook, Line Light Lade - have also been refreshed.

The final lower pool in the English parkland has been cleared of a build up of silt - this was used to build up and top dress the central island - and again, overgrown clumps of reed have been cut back and the water weeded out.

Only the loch remains to be done - but was frozen over before weeding could begin.

It appears that drainage works to the paths around the garden have been reasonably successful - though it has been difficult to gauge with the volume of surface water still lying on the ground, but at least the pipes installed are running clear.

Works which were placed indoors in storage have been washed and cleaned and pieces which require repainting or treated with wood oil etc will be completed in due course.

Now that all the snow has just about melted more general tidying can continue and the cleaning and renovation of outdoor works can begin along with continuing repairs to pathways.

Replacement trees and shrubs have been ordered and will be planted out where required - in areas such as Woodland Flute - when the ground becomes more workable.

Finally temporary repairs and the change in weather seem to have deterred any further incursions from our neighbouring sheep for the time being - replacement fencing will commence as time and conditions allow






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