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 2014

The generally mild weather continues and clearing and tidying the garden of fallen autumn leaves is a continual task.

There is still some late pruning and clearing of branches - the ivy and Virginia creeper on the gable end of the house and the Temple of Baucis and Philomen have also been cut back after putting on vigorous growth this year. The roses and lavender in the Hortus have been pruned back and other rose bushes in the front garden given a trim.

The water source has had to be cleared out a couple of times after silting up and is running freely again. The leak in the Top pond has been found and the area filled up with sandbags - hopefully this can now be kept in check. The repair to the aqueduct has also been successful and it is working well again.

The Temple pond has been weeded and cleared of fallen leaf litter - the water level here is still quite low so a further top up water supply will definitely be necessary and is the next job for this area.

Bulbs are already beginning to show through so all of the leaves have been cleared away from these areas and hopefully we will have a fulsome spring display.

The guttering around the house and Temple have also been cleared of leaves.

The main time consuming task this month though has been the loch - I have drained it down to its lowest level to reveal a thick congealed green carpet of pond weed - I have begun raking and gathering this up by hand and will leave the loch drained over the winter in the hope that any frosts will kill off or curtail any new growth for as long as possible.

The sluice and drain structure have worked well, but there seems to be no other alternate solution to the weed problem than countless hours of manual labour. The bulk of the gathered weed is left in piles to rot down - since its composition is mainly water it disappears quite quickly - but there is no disguising the fact that it will be back to trouble us again next year.

And so for the moment this whole area takes on the appearance of a muddy wasteland.

Otherwise the whole garden looks and feels very empty now as the days have shortened and late light stretches low over the landscape.






October 2014

The visitor season comes to an end and with it a rush to get everything covered or brought into storage for winter while the good clear weather continues.

All of the small works and moveable pieces have been brought into the Temple of Baucis and Philomen where they will remain safe for the cold months and where small restoration works can be carried out. The majority of larger pieces in the garden have been covered either with bubble wrap or tarpaulin or a combination of both - plastic rubble sacks are also a handy size to provide weather protection for smaller pieces.

A supply of marine plywood left over from the house conversion last winter has proved very handy for making boxes and simple structures for larger columns or objects such as sundials - also most of the stone benches which remain in situ have been given a plywood and tarpaulin cover.

Two different types of bespoke winter covers have also been made and will be trialled through the coming months to see if they withstand the elements and are a cost effective means of preserving the artworks - Ovidian Flowers obelisk at bottom of the English Parkland and Il Riposo Di Claudi obelisk at the edge of the top pond are now covered in protective designs by two different manufacturers.

So just about all of the artwork is now covered or enclosed - and the garden keeps its secrets.

The first storm damage of the season has brought down one tree and many branches in the Parkland and woods - along with of course plenty of leaves - the simplest means of disposal for these is a continual smouldering bonfire along with several large piles left aside to become mulch.

The blackcurrant bushes - including the winding lane in the park and the allee of redcurrants in the front garden have been pruned back to keep them as formal and well shaped as possible and also promote more fruiting next year.

The Allotment and Kailyard have been cleaned out of any remaining crops and tidied - they can be left now until the spring. The apple trees, hydrangea and roses in front of the Temple of Apollo have also been cut back and thinned out.

A repair has been made to the upper section of the aqueduct at the top pond - further maintenance will be required when the pond is drained and weeded out later in the season - there is still a recurring leak from this pond which I finally hope to pinpoint and resolve. A further water supply also needs to be put into the Temple pond as this too seems to be seeping away and the water level falling more frequently.

The newly carved sundial Evening Will Come They Will Sew the Blue Sail has been completed and welcomed back home - it will be placed out in position in the spring.

For now, heavy mists, thick dew, and the first frosts, but still mainly bright days continue all filled with the colours of autumn.






September 2014

Even though the bright days continue, there is a noticeable shift in the seasons, with leaves starting to change colour and fall. A lengthy job in prospect to collect them all up, but a pleasant enough task if the good weather continues.

Much of the flowering growth has now gone over and it is time to cut back some of the perennials which are looking untidy and finished - especially the omnipresent Astrantia and Sweet cecily.

Also coming to an end now are the vegetable crops in the Kailyard and allotment - these areas have been mostly cleared out, though some things have been left to go to seed for their architectural effect - some of the salad leaves in particular look quite exotic, alongside the big bright purple flowering heads of globe artichokes.

There is still deadheading to be done where required - which is encouraging late bloom from the roses by the gable ends of the house and the Temple of Apollo.

Another neverending job seems to be control of Rosebay willow herb - which IHF called his ?obstreperous companion?. The vast patches of this ?weed? which cover areas of the moorland, while they do look magnificent, do need to be kept in check so that it does not entirely take over. Perhaps this task might look like foolhardiness to any other gardener, but in this environment it is embraced and used and is as effective, useful and decorative as any other wildflower in context.

In the conservatory the golden hops have produced a full crop and flower heads hang densely from the bright lime green foliage - a scene which somehow illuminates this indoor space. In place of the containers of marigolds a few house leeks in pots provide interest for now, and can be squeezed in between cracks in the paving next year.

The garden has been visited and filmed by the BBC as part of a new series Glorious Gardens from the Air - it is quite fun to see a helicopter drone hovering over the garden swooping up and down and sending back pictures from a very different perspective of the whole space.

The unseen work of the garden still continues though - we have been experiencing many problems with the water supply from the hilltop source - various blockages have been found and cleared but it seems like we still have not quite got to the bottom of it as the feed to the Temple pond has dried up. Once the garden has closed to the public this will require further interventions of excavation and plumbing to try and get the system running freely again.

New types of protective winter covers are being tried out to cover two stone obelisks - Il Riposo di Claudi by the top pond and Ovidian Flowers at the bottom end of the English Parkland. These are very similar in size and shape so it will be interesting to monitor how each type of cover will work through the winter.

Now that we have just about reached the end of the visitor season, attentions very much change to readying the garden to close, and all of the artworks will be cleaned, brought in or covered, as required, and the garden take on a completely different appearance.






August 2014

At the entrance to front garden - A Cottage A Field A Plough gateway- two of the front steps are now requiring repair - one is quite badly cracked and broken - and these are a bit are unsightly at this formal area. Unfortunately the crab apple trees planted on either side of the gate pillars here have succumb to a viral infection which has also affected the damson tree and a couple of the other fruit trees in this entrance area - it does not look like they will survive but for now they will be left and monitored to see what happens.

One of the greenhouses is now in serious danger of collapse - the timber throughout the structure has rotted and the ridge timber in particular has now broken so that the building is really just holding itself together - it feels like the first substantial wind will now blow this over, and it will certainly not make it through the coming autumn and winter.

Elsewhere in the garden the curved slate bench - And Longer fall the shadows... which sits in the little grove above the loch - is showing some signs of movement from root growth underneath its base. The seat has come away from its leg at one side leaving a very noticeable gap. This means a new foundation and the seat pinned together again and put back in position.

The yew hedge between the Kailyard and English Parkland has been cut back and trimmed, keeping it as formal as possible, and encouraging new growth to fill out.

There is a need for much deadheading and clearing throughout the garden as flowering finishes and the change to autumn begins with leaves starting to change colour and dropping.

The top pond has been weeded again and a leak to the aqueduct repaired - though this is an area which needs constant maintenance.

At the other end of the garden the silt in the lower pond is still a problem for later as any intervention is impossible without creating quite a mess. However a leak from this pond has been found and closed off so that at the very least the aqueduct is running again.

The wild flowers are coming on well and continually changing and bringing lots of colour to the loch edges, the hope is that these will have established themselves enough to continue into next year and beyond. There are many other areas in the garden where this type of planting would sit well, so it is just a case of trying gradually to introduce these as time goes on.






July 2014

The continued good weather means the fresh first flush of green is already going over as we race into full summer.

The rain water barrels and half barrel pond outside conservatory have been renewed. The inscribed fishing float A,E,I,O, Blue which goes in the half barrel but which has been missing for some time since broken, needs to be remade to complete this little area. I also understand the rain barrel itself was also originally painted with the name Jim Hawkins (a reference to Jim lad from Robert Louis Stevenson?s Treasure Island) who hid in a barrel at a key sequence in the story. It would be a nice idea at some stage to reinstate this work.

In the loch and ponds weed has again been rearing its ugly head given the almost ideal mild conditions and has required quite a bit of intervention and control.

The raspberries, black and red currants have produced a heavy crop - though most has gone to the birds. For some reason the conditions have not proved ideal for the strawberries though - maybe better luck fruiting next year.

The box hedges and front garden mixed hedging has all been putting on lot of new growth, filling out nicely where there were bare patches and trained into shape.

A continual round of weeding and tidying in the allotment and Kailyard - though with due reward as we have had plenty of produce this season.

In the Hortus - we have at least had some flowering from roses this year - it seems a troublesome area given light levels and poor soil - and there is also the potential of fruit from the espaliered pear and apple trees.

Grass growing and cutting continues everywhere - the newly sown paths around the perimeter of the loch have established well - there are still a few problem areas in the woodland where heavy shade just does not give the seed a chance to take before it is walked over and the earth is heavily compacted and worn. There are some areas where the best solution might be for existing brick pathways to be a bit further extended - but that is very much a job for later on.






June 2014

The garden moves into summer and full growth - the grass and newly sown wildflower areas are coming along.

In the ponds there is much weeding to be done to keep all of these areas clean, and also to keep levels topped as much as possible from the source.

As for the largest area of water - the loch - the weed has had almost perfect conditions to flourish but is also still hopefully under control - one unforeseen problem from the installation of the new loch new sluice system is the build up of silt in the lower pond in the English Parkland which the loch drains into. There is simply not enough water now moving through this area to keep the pond at a decent level and keep the aqueduct running.

In the allotment, Kailyard and greenhouses vegetable crops are coming along and being planted out.

The large cypress front hedge surrounding Julie?s Garden has been cut back and lowered as much as possible, but the light levels in this garden now mean that this whole area probably requires substantial renovation at some future stage, as the underplanting is suffering and the hedging itself grown out of shape and proportion.

Where required inscriptions and artworks throughout the garden have been washed again to maintain their appearance and legibility. The Camouflaged Flower silhouettes have been given another polish and shine brightly on the hillside.

In the new Study Centre - the library has now been fully put back in place and the wave / rock inscription above the fireplace has been repainted by Les Edge. This space is now completed, ready for its first visitors.

Late spring has seen plenty of bird life in the garden - we have had a mallard nesting in the great piece turf island and a family of swallows have taken up residence in the Temple of Baucis and Philomen.

Given the long spell of good weather all of the beds and planting throughout the garden have been looking at their best with an abundance of flowers and greenery - a heady balance which we can only hope flourishes for rest of the season.






May 2014

The garden is coming to life again with a sudden rush of growth, the tree canopy is greening over and plants throughout the beds and borders are reestablishing themselves. All is fresh and new, ready for the summer ahead.

Drifts and patches of wildflowers have been seeded throughout the garden and woodland and will hopefully take root and naturalize giving new colour and form in these areas. Among them are Corncockle, Purple Loosestrife, Vipers Bugloss, Ox-Eye Daisyand a few other annuals for immediate presence this season - Cornflower and Field Poppy.

Grass cutting and strimming has begun again and it is just a question of regular maintenance from now on to keep all of the formal and informal areas tidy.

After a couple of heavy rainfalls earlier in the month the water source from the hill top to the Virgil stone font was silted up and ran dry but has been dug out again and is running clearly.

Mares tails and any other growth above water level in the loch has been cut down and it remains to be seen if the dreaded pondweed has been suppressed enough by the new works so as not to rear its ugly head for the season. The newly landscaped areas of wildflower and grasses around the loch are beginning to take shape with everything now just poking up above the surface - it will take a few more weeks before these areas can be walked over but in the meantime there is the promise that this will all take shape pretty soon and the scar on the land from all the moving and excavation work around the sluice will disappear.

The allotment and Kailyard have been planted out and sown with new crops for the coming season - globe artichokes have survived the winter and should strengthen and grow to their full architectural height and form this summer - and hopefully also provide some more crops than last year. The usual array of salad greens, herbs and vegetables will soon stock the larder.

Around the house all remaining boxed artworks have been uncovered as the scaffolding has been removed and all is returning to normal. Everything has survived intact and no damage has been suffered in spite of all the major renovation works going on. This also means that the final few pieces which were in storage have now been placed back out in their usual positions.

The cube form in the front patio has been given a fresh coat of paint and in the conservatory new planting has been potted up for the shelves - white African marigolds (2 Pdr Pom Poms) and Alyssum (A drift of Alysse) reference the camouflaged flower inscriptions by the entrance to the garden - and form a little gardening joke.

Work on the Study Centre and house renovations has now been completed - the new room waits to be filled again with books and learning.

All of the decoration works are now finished and the bookcases in place leaving a clean open space - quite a change from the original three small cottage rooms cluttered from floor to ceiling.






March / April 2014

Work has continued on two fronts - preparation of the garden for spring and the development of the house as Study Centre.

In the garden, the mild weather has meant that the majority of works held in store for the winter are now out in position, cleaned and refreshed.

This has also allowed for painting - the Claudi bridge and the fishing boats and sailing vessels paths in the front garden have been given a new coat to keep them going. All of the inscribed wooden benches and gates have been treated with teak oil.

One bench which has been missing from the garden for a while - the angular Waves / Sheaves / Naves piece which sat below the fallen ash tree in the front garden has been repaired and takes its place again echoing the sound of the wind through the branches and leaves.

Also back in place are two inscribed posts which had been in storage - Mare / Terre, which had its position usurped by a tree and the painted Roses Rove which needed repair to the base which had rotted badly by being in the ground. So, three pieces rediscovered and returned to their rightful places in the garden.

Cleaning of pathways has been completed and topiary cypresses and box hedges given a light trim to keep them in shape. In other areas the overgrown fernery made from broken column sections in the Temple garden has been remade as a strawberry bed - as was its original intention - a delightful and sweet surprise in a wander through the woodland paths.

The allotment and Kailyard have been cleared and made ready for new crops - various vegetable seeds have been sown in the greenhouses and should come along now quickly ready for planting out by the end of May. The parterre beds in the Hortus have been replanted with lavender around the base of the roses - these have failed badly over the past couple of seasons - maybe nature will be more kind to us this time.

10 tons of topsoil has been moved (by hand!) to form the pathways and new wildflower areas around the lochan where work on the revised drain / sluice has been completed. These have been sown with seed mixes suitable for heavy soil and wet areas, along with the hope that not all are eaten by the pheasants before they germinate! Some of the soil was also used as top dressing for beds in the front garden, with the intention of reintroducing some more diverse planting in these areas.

The lochan itself has been drained down and the weed hopefully repressed for another year - the Temple pond has been weeded out and the Upper pond reinstated where it too had been drained down for the winter - it is good to see the aqueduct raging at full force again.

In the Study Centre the new slate roof has been completed and works still to be finished off include inside decoration and making new bookcases for the library. The books in storage can then be returned in readiness for opening in the summer.

All in all a period of great transition is taking place.







January / February 2014

The New Year has brought a variety of new works happening at Little Sparta, all of which will have a bearing on how the garden presents itself this year and in the future.

Work on the lochan has now been completed - the finished galvanised steel cover structure to the new drainage system, while evident on the bank, is not an eyesore and will disappear once there is regrowth and natural weathering. So at the moment where all the construction and excavation work took place - while neatly finished off - is a bare muddy wasteland.

What now remains is the substantial job of reseeding and replanting for the coming season. Perimeter areas will be sown with wildflower mixes of native grasses and plants including Lady?s Bedstraw, Red Campion, Self Heal, Yarrow, Meadow Sweet and Ox-eye Daisy. It will take a while for some of these to establish as perennials, but it should eventually add a variety of colour and form to these areas.

Ground has been prepared for the pathways around the lochan by reinforcing these tracks with with rubber matting to prevent damage from footfall and give grass a chance to establish strong root systems.

All of the windfall branches and winter prunings have been put to the bonfire - clearing throughout the garden still continues, as the emphasis switches to preparation for spring growth.

Power-wash cleaning of pathways and patio areas in the Front and Temple gardens has begun along with renovation of some of the works in storage - in particular the slabs for the ?pretty? stone pathway have been repainted as the carved lettering in these seems to suffer quite a lot given their position under trees.

While it has been cold and wet we seem to have avoided the worst ravages of any stormy weather and hope that this blessing eases us into a mild spring season (wishful thinking!).

At the moment there is an abundance of snowdrops and beds are carpeted with swathes of delicate white flowerheads.

The other major happening the in garden at the moment though is not strictly speaking the garden itself but the development of the house into a study centre - all of the books from the library have been removed into storage and work has begun on converting the cottage into a space suitable for learning.

Artworks around the perimeter of the house have been covered or boxed in so that they are not damaged once work on the roof commences - concealed columns and yews have taken on a stark new form. Protective plywood structures have been placed over and around inscribed works and sculptural forms. There is now an added layer of mystery to what lies beneath.

It interesting to see this conversion taking place which will lead Little Sparta into a new era of experience and understanding.






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