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.

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November 2015

A month under gunmetal grey skies, storming winds and rain. There is little relent to the gloominess save for the crumpled piles of bronze and golden leaves which have all but denuded the trees in the woodland. So there is plenty of work in keeping the grass and pathways clear of this leaf fall, but some will also be left in the beds and borders to mulch.

It is a good time to see the structure of the garden and what needs done - quite a bit of pruning and cutting down continues - the trees and bushes in front of the Temple of Apollo have been given a tidy and all perennials in the borders cut down. All is readied for the work in Julie?s Garden to cut back and replace the cypress hedging - this will be completed before the end of the year.

In the Hortus the roses and herb beds have been kept in order, and the allotment and Kailyard cleared out of any remaining plants and the fruit bushes pruned.

By the lochan and the front entrance the wildflowers have been strimmed down - hopefully these will reseed themselves and naturalise and spread over next year and we also hope to extend these areas which have proved such a success in adding a delicate luminosity of colour and form to the garden.

All the grass edgings to pathways and surrounding works in the woodland have been given a trim back to keep them in shape. So far we have only had one tree fallen by the top pond and of course numerous branches - the steadily increasing storms will no doubt see plenty more casualties come down over the winter.

The ponds and the lochan had been drained at the start of the month with a view to begin weeding out, but the sheer volume of rainfall has meant these have filled up just as quickly and this work will have to wait for another time.

Otherwise new works are underway for worn out or damaged pieces - the oak plank bridge That Which Divides and That Which Joins are One and The Same - is being remade by IHFs original collaborator Charles Gurrey, and will be installed in place in the English Parkland in the spring. Also the tall standing sundial in the front garden - Be In Time Fruitful Vine - the original made by Michael Harvey - is being remade by Andrew Whittle to existing drawings and design.

A damaged ceramic Corinthian capital planter and a small glazed Rousseau watering can are also currently being repaired - it will be good to have these complete again.

The storms seem to be gathering in a sure sign of the winter ahead but all is safely battened down as the sound of the sea swirls round and and above us.






October 2015

The garden takes on a very different appearance as the majority of works are covered over or brought in for the winter.

The Temple of Baucis & Philomen is filled with the smaller pieces, all now aligned out of context, devoid of their placing and camouflage, a sequence of lost souls.

All other pieces outside are protected by a combination of bubble wrap, tarpaulin sacks or heavy duty plastic bags. The system devised last year of marine plywood boxes and covers has been reused since it proved effective in deterring the worst ravages of the weather - we wait and see what the coming winter months will bring.

Ceramic and terracotta pots and planters have been brought into the greenhouses, the conservatory has been emptied and the climbers and vines cut back.

Work has continued removing trees and branches in the Temple garden woodland. In the Front garden also the cypresses behind the small circular pool have now been removed and a number of old and overgrown conifers in the Roman garden taken down in preparation for replanting with yew hedging.

The rambling roses and pollarded trees in the Kailyard allotment which form the perimeter boundary have been cut back and work continues pruning blackcurrant bushes here and along the formal curved pathway in the Parkland.

All of this cutting back has meant a couple of good bonfires - one of the pleasures of the autumn season - and there should be plenty more to come as all the leaves start to fall.The change in colour is sudden and dramatic as the garden shows its openings and empty spaces in the autumn light.

We were not very successful this year with fruit trees - a paltry harvest of apples and pears, damsons and plums - probably just a result of the summer never really getting going until too late. Always next year.

There are still the odd bursts of colour around the garden where the late spell of good weather encouraged the wild flowers to keep going or put on a last display. The roses in the Hortus have been pruned back after flowering well through the season. The hydrangea at the front and gable ends of the temples have been cut back to keep them in check and formally shaped. The ivy and virginia creeper will receive a similar treatment later on.

So all is secured and the work can now be planned for larger renovation works in the garden - the renewal of the brick pathways, the removal of old hedging, the planting of new trees - all quite big interventions, but all should have settled in by the time the garden starts to grow again.






September 2015

Autumn arrives with heavy morning dews and mists hanging in valley, but these burn away by midday to glorious sunshine and full clear blue skies. The bright light and late heat in the air is a pleasant prelude to colder days ahead.

Behind the Temple pond a couple of dead rowan trees have been taken out and others pruned - the decision now is whether to plant more in their place or let the others gradually fill out which were already competing for light.

In the front garden the cypress around the winged Hypnos have been cut back to form more of a hedge and formalise the backdrop to this work. This whole entrance area to the Roman garden will be replanted and old firs which have shot up out of scale will be taken out and replaced and also be replanted as yew hedging to make a more secret and hidden entrance to this area as was the original intention.

In the front garden also by Henry Vaughan the misshapen and overgrown cypress has been removed to be replaced with a silver birch - and two other cypresses by the small round pool here will also be removed and replaced with Irish yew to be trained as columns. While this sounds like war on cypress it is done with the best intentions and in balance so that at no stage should there be any major disruption or visible change to the structure of the garden as a whole.

Quite a number of the stone works have been washed before being covered for winter  along with a general tidying back of the first leaf fall and dead summer growth. It is now possible to see where larger scale pruning will be beneficial in the woodland areas to help bring back light to the understory.  Other work for the coming months can now be planned - in particular to progress the phased replacement and repair of brick pathways.

So now is a chance to take advantage of the good weather at the end of the season and hopefully get everything covered and put away and protected for the winter.

The new curved oak bench electis arboribus amoenissimus (a delightful spot with choice trees) has been returned and looks well - it will take its place in the garden next year.

The redirected feed from from the top pond to the Temple pond has been reasonably  successful in keeping water levels up. There will always be quirks to this system so it will have to be continually monitored and adjusted - but at least we know now what we are dealing with.

Finally, the garden and IHF will feature in a forthcoming BBC television series The Story of Scotland?s Art which will be broadcast in October - a reminder by then I?m sure of sunny summer days past, and a reiteration of the importance of this place.






August 2015

As the summer draws to an end fruits ripen - blackcurrants raspberries and red currants - and disappear almost as quickly it seems as food for the birds. Then a general tidying as  bushes and canes are cut back to allow new growth for next year.

All of the waterways have been kept clean and running, apart from a recurring problem with the lower pond. The water wants to find its way out through its original course and join up with the burn down the side of the field - rather than taking the more decorative route over the aqueduct. No amount of banking up seems to deter this and perhaps will require more investigation at the end of the season when the water level can be lowered and the leak found and plugged.

In the Temple pond where there was a similar mysterious disappearance of water the level has righted itself - perhaps a water vole has re-homed itself? Also here - around the marble paper boat - the  willows have been cut back and growth around the aircraft carrier kept in check.

In the Hortus the roses have been dead headed and continue to bud and flower. New underplanting is planned for next year - and lots of catmint has been propagated, if it makes it through the winter we should have a good new colourful display.

Around the Flautist urn in the Parkland - the tree canopy level has been pruned up allowing more light to the grass around the urn base which has become very patchy. Some of the larger branches overhanging the grass pathways here also have been lopped off.

Similarly with the trees in the Virgil groves - these have been raised and pruned back so that the vista through to the end of the parkland remains clear and they are kept in proportion to the cobble circles.

Many more trees have been identified for cutting back over autumn and winter - along with self seeded saplings (particularly sycamore) which will be moved to help form a new windbreak perimeter in the car park - and a general replacing and replanting of trees which is very much part of long term planning.

All of the hedges which have been filling out nicely over the summer have been trimmed again - they will probably only require cutting back one more time before the end of the season.

In front of the Temple of Baucis & Philomen the border has been replanted with wild flowers and some simple cottage plants where it had been overcome by clumps of sweet cicely.

Throughout the garden the play of light and dappled shade is very effective at this time of year, with the tree canopy in full leaf - yet already there are the first signs of change as things start to go over and a first bonfire of clearings and cuttings heralds the coming autumn.






July 2015

Works have continued on repairs to artworks in the garden. The XIAPE bridge has been finished and looks well. The new Cullaloe sandstone blocks which form its base brighten a shadowy corner in the garden as befits a bridge of greeting.

The Temple of Baucis & Philomen - the wooden pillars (which it turns out were completely rotted through with woodworm) have been replaced with new trunk sections. The inscribed stone column bases have also been replaced with new ones and a repair made to the crack in the lintel. The whole structure should remain sound now for many years to come.

The Mare Nostrum stone which has not been on display for a good while has been cleaned and found a new home sited up in the tree canopy in an old sycamore, overlooking the front garden.

Preparation works have also begun for the new Monument to the Battle of Little Sparta - the old monument has been taken down and a new foundation has been made at the new site (on the opposite side of the track). The gates and fences around the cattle grid area have been renewed with wooden structures so that the whole area becomes more harmonious. It will be good to see the newly built brick structure settling in to its new setting against the hills.

Overall the non-event which constitutes the Scottish summer has been a bit of a challenge as far as the weather goes - predominantly cold and wet. This means working around the worst of it to get essential jobs done such as grass cutting and trying to prevent all the fresh growth from flopping over - and keeping everything looking as good as possible.

The large hedges surrounding Julie?s garden have been given a trim (though hopefully these will be replaced in the long term) and the yew hedge at the top of the English Parkland has been spruced up.

The roses in the Hortus are now in full bloom and the box hedging here and all the topiary box forms in the front garden have been trimmed again.

We have enjoyed having help from two volunteers for just over a week in the garden - George Townsend and Frank MacPherson - they both put in a sterling effort and used their time at Little Sparta to great effect.

A swathe of willow herb has been pulled up on the hillside above the loch to keep this all invasive plant at bay. The lower pond in the Parkland has been weeded out to keep the water clear and running freely. Also in the Parkland the cobble Virgil roundels have been weeded out from all but daisies which are allowed to proliferate.

All of the ponds and waterways are brimming and running well - there is certainly no shortage of water supply at the moment.

The scents and senses of the garden are at their fullest as it reaches the height of the season.






June 2015

Restoration work continues on replacement or repair of damaged pieces. The broken fragment from the Saint Just column base has been renewed  and blends well with the original stone - so should last for a good few years yet. The XIAPE bridge also is being rebuilt - a bit of a challenge in the wet and surrounded by clouds of midges - but will get there.

A temporary repair has been made to the legs of the curved slate bench Longer fall the shadows from the mountain tall - these have been displaced over time by the root growth from the tree which it encircles - the whole foundation will need to be repositioned at some stage, as the tree will only continue to get bigger.

Elsewhere, a cattle incursion in the car park meant that there was damage to some trees and the free standing stone dyke collapsed. This has been rebuilt and hopefully the cattle will not wander again soon.

The usual (it seems) recurring problems with water supply and retention continue. Not that there isn't an ample supply of rain, but the build up of slit in the source regularly clogs up the spring and needs to be cleared. Various airlocks in the piping system also present a continuing puzzle and challenge, and the mystery of the leaking Temple pond is yet to be fully resolved.

Each of the ponds and waterways has been given a clean around, but a vigorous growth of weed lurks underneath - and will require more substantial intervention to keep everything clear and running for the rest of the season.

The lush growth in the garden continues and the usual round of grass cutting and strimming takes up much of the time. All of the hedges have been trimmed back again, but seem to put on equal spurts of growth the minute your back is turned.

The greenhouses have been very productive in bringing things on and these are now mostly planted out in the Kailyard and allotment for an ample supply of salads and veg for the summer - assuming we get a continued decent stretch of good weather. Everything  is just that bit later and slower due to the position and microclimate of the garden.

A regular round of pruning and cutting back keeps all the growth around the works in check - in places the camouflage effect can quickly overcome and swamp some of the smaller works - but it is just a question of keeping everything in balance.

Preparation works continue for a couple of the larger restorations still due to be completed -new  larch columns have been sourced for the repair to the Temple of Baucis and Philomen, and the site for the new Monument to the Battle of Little Sparta will be cleared, the old monument dismantled and the new one rebuilt hopefully in the coming weeks.






May 2015

There is a fresh greenness in the garden as the fullness of spring comes upon us. With all of this growth there comes too a rush to keep everything in order - as for every leaf and flower there is a weed in equal measure it seems.

Much work is also going on with the restoration of works where necessary, and trying to get these readied and back in place as soon as possible.

The repaired Gates stone has been returned to its position in the English Parkland.

The XIAPE stone bridge has been dismantled and the broken stones sent off for replacement or repair. A cast has been made of the broken section of the Saint Just column base Exaltation is Virtue - one of the first works to be seen in the Temple garden. It will be good to see this piece made whole again.

The Camouflaged Flowers brass silhouettes and anagram name plates have been thoroughly cleaned and waxed so hopefully will remain bright for a good time. The beehives have been repainted, though the name inscriptions will also need to be redone at some stage.

Things are coming on in the greenhouses and soon will be ready for planting out in the Kailyard, alongside sowings of peas and beans, squash and beetroot. The allotment has also been tidied and the herbs well established here now are filling out this ?Epicurean? space.

The raspberries in the front garden and Kailyard have been weeded out and tied up, camouflage poles put in place, and given a top dressing of fresh earth. Wildflowers are beginning to germinate in the woodland, and new areas seeded around the Evening will come sundial which has also been planted out with some primroses, and these should naturalise and spread in time.

Major works have taken place on the track up to the garden from the carpark - the stony path now much less potholed than before - a new drain has been dug out from the field at the bottom so it should be less prone to flooding in this area, and the cattle grid has been lifted and cleaned out. All this as a prelude to work on the re-siting and rebuilding of the Battle Monument, which hopefully will be completed later in the summer.

New growth is fragile and slow in the grass pathways in the woodland, but with the soil now warmed up these areas should green up pretty quickly.

With all of these things going on it has not been possible to do much work on the brick paths - and so this has been put on hold as any major interventions now would damage surrounding planting, and is best put off until autumn and the quieter months.

The ponds and waterways have been given a quick clean and weeded out, all are brimming, the water running clear.

So we are ready for the coming season.






April 2015

For most of the month we bask in almost unseasonably good weather - as bright sunny days encourage a rush of new growth. But by the end we - almost just as inevitably - have returned to cold and grey skies with a few sleet and snow storms thrown in for good measure.

All of the works have now been uncovered from their winter plumage and those in storage put back out in place in the garden. Those which have needed it have been given a fresh coat of paint including Claudi Bridge, the Cube Form and the three beehives Bountiful, Sweet Promise and Golden Gain.

Works on the front entrance gate have been completed and two new ornamental pear trees planted either side of the gate piers. The species chosen is Chanticleer - which is somehow also aptly the name of the cockerel who appears in Chaucer?s Canterbury Tales.

Ivy has been removed from the front wall of the Temple of Baucis and Philomen and the area in front of it planted out with a few more colourful perennials, in keeping with the original intention.

Areas throughout the woodland have been reseeded with patches of wildflowers, along the pathways, by the edges of the top pond and also by the newly installed Evening Will Come They Will Sow the Blue Sail western facing sundial - which becomes self-explanatory once the shadow reaches 5 and evening commences.

A couple of pieces of damage to note after everything unwrapped - the GATES stone which suffered a fracture a couple of years ago has opened up again and needs repaired, and the XIAPE bridge - a few of the dressed stone blocks which have been showing signs of wear have shifted further during the winter and the cracks have become more obvious - these will also need to be replaced in due course.

All the other works have been given a first quick spruce up as we prepare for the annual influx of visitors. Some pieces do look a little lonely and isolated in position until their green camouflage grows up around them again.

Planning for the Kailyard allotment and greenhouses is a task for the more inclement days as well as a good time and place to take shelter. It is still bit soon to be thinking of planting anything out.

The track up to the garden will be repaired and resurfaced at the beginning of next month in time for the open season, and this might also perhaps encourage the return of our errant postie - but therein lies another tale.






March 2015

After the solar eclipse (which passed by Little Sparta in a cold dark mass of cloud) we have the first signs of spring. The weather is still temperamental but there have been sunny days and clear blue skies of promise.

The snowdrops are giving up their last flowers as the daffodils push through - there is now a sudden rush of growth all around. Throughout the woodland and wherever necessary the grass pathways have been given a topsoil dressing in preparation for grass seed. Along the sides of paths and a few other areas patches of ground have also been left aside for wild flower seeds.

We have had another round of water problems with the spring source on the hill, but managed to identify and clear the pipes where they were clogged up and all is running again. It was essential to have our water supply back for the next main task of jet washing the brick pathways and paved areas. This is now just about completed, and those areas of brick paths for renewal will now hopefully be rebuilt or prepared before opening (time permitting!).

In the English Parkland the lower pond which had been badly silted up from the earlier work on the lochan has been dug out and many tonnes of silt removed. It is good to see the water running clear in this area again.

Two new greenhouses have been erected - and with them the potential and encouragement for propagation. The old greenhouses made the base for a great bonfire and clearing away of all the fallen trees, branches and debris from the winter.

Work has been completed to remove the calcites from the brick gate piers at the entrance to the front garden - an air abrasive cleaner has proved effective and the stone has also been treated with biocide to keep it clean. It is however only a temporary solution to an unsightly problem as the salts in the structure will continue to leech through - though regular maintenance should now keep them more under control.

Calcites and staining were also removed from the Camouflaged Flowers brick structure - TEGABMOR (bergamot), and the brass silhouettes and nameplates will now be polished again for the season.

The Little Sparta name plaque on the front gate pillar has been steam cleaned to remove ingrained lichen and discolouring - the machine used (which is conservation standard) is designed for sterilisation of dental equipment - which should raise a smile?

New trees have been ordered for the entrance area and to replace losses in the woodland from the winter storms. A first mow of the grass completed - just to tidy things up and lift moss and any debris from the surface - harbinger of many such hours of work ahead.

Finally, Little Sparta and IHF also got a mention on Landmark Poetics broadcast on BBC Radio 4 - it is heartening to hear the importance and the influence of the garden and its works spread far and wide.






January / February 2015

The new year begins cold and white as icy winds and snow storms sweep across the garden. It does look splendid just to see this scene somehow as a negative of its green counterpart. But this weather also inevitably brings with it problems - not only of access to the garden (the lane up to the garden so deep with drifted snow for some days it is impossible to pass) and the freezing conditions icing over the ponds and lochan.

The fierce winds have as usual led to quite a few limbs and branches coming down - only one significant tree loss though - at the entrance to ?pantheon? area of tree column bases in the woodland one fairly substantial beech tree split down the centre and has been removed.

More general tree work and pruning continues - the lollipop shaped cypresses at the front entrance have been cut down and will be replaced this spring. Elsewhere dead wood and misshapen limbs have been removed in a general tidy up and reassessment of the trees in the garden.

Again in preparation for spring 6 tons of topsoil await as dressing for the balding grass pathways and will be spread in these areas and then reseeded. The top pond has been drained down and weeding out begun (when the water is not frozen over!)

When the weather stops everything outdoors at least there is the chance to repaint the lettering which forms the inscriptions to the fishing boat paths in the front garden, so they will look clean and fresh for the season. The carved painted lettering of the ?picturesque? fence post has also been retouched.

By the front entrance the wall plaque Two flowers together - the dry stone dyke around it collapsed ( I guess from the weight of snow getting in between the stones) - luckily the plaque itself was not damaged, and is now rebuilt back in place.

Also at the front garden - the formal entrance gateway A COTTAGE A FIELD A PLOUGH - two new cullaloe sandstone steps have been put in place to replace damaged ones. The pillars of this gateway - where the brickwork is heavily stained with calcites - will be cleaned by using an air abrasive machine and aluminium oxide powder - a test has already shown the success of this technique as a means to clear away an unsightly problem.

In anticipation of spring, two new greenhouses have been ordered - the existing ones now all but just keeled over.

The Latin inscribed curved oak bench has been sent off to be remade - oddly enough I came across the book in the library which was the source and inspiration for this piece. Giorgione?s Tempest - Interpreting the Hidden Subject, is bookmarked and underlined at the page which reads :
?It tells of a school of studiosiores, with strict rules of discipline, who watched the skies for signs of the coming of the Messiah. The chosen spot for their observations was the Mons Victorialis, which was electis arboribus amoenissimus (a delightful spot with choice trees)? - this is of course the inscription on the bench, and also to some extent explains its positioning in the garden.






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