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.
This Year's Reports
Clear bright skies are followed by dull dank grey days - we flip flop back and forth between crisp sharp frosts and unseasonably mild weather.
The water source is running again - for all that it soon freezes over once more and the ponds and loch have a broken glassy surface.
A bonfire of leaves and prunings has rid us of a lot of waste - as more leaves and branches fall - the pathways are kept clear. The ground is heavy and sodden, everywhere is slippery and wet.
The wooden entrance gate for A Cottage A Field A Plough has been cleaned of its old varnish and most of the ingrained stains removed - a substantial bit of work has revived the wood and will now allow it both to age more naturally and still keep it preserved for some time to come.
All of the fishing boat pavers have been brought indoors and repainted - a stone fleet at harbour in the study - they take on a very different presence and appearance.
The wild stone carved inscription the sea's waves sheaves has been repainted in situ on the hillside. Another wild stone inscription aither or has been repainted and the 'or' lettering re-gilded gold as it was originally.
The most transformative planned for work in the garden this month has now been completed and the designated trees in the front area have been removed - at Bring Back The Birch, the sunken garden and the Roman Garden.
The Lycurge tree column base has been removed for cleaning and repair and will be put back in place when this area is replanted - along with a new birch for the St Just stone base.
It has become apparent that at least a couple of the sycamores were suffering from some form of vascular or fungal disease and their life span would have been very limited, so it is also a timely culling.
The immediate change in light levels and space is striking - the new trees which have been ordered will be planted in springtime when the earth and grass have settled. Where the old roots have been ground out is a bit messy at the moment, and will require a bit of care and attention, but should recover.
A few of the larger trunk base sections have been cut down to size and kept as informal little tables or stools for the reception area. One further benefit of all this felling is that we should have a substantial supply of logs for the future. The wood shed will be cleared out and restocked.
The wind shifts again, the days shorten, the sun settles into the years end.
A further transformation - as the garden takes on the appearance of winter. The first frosts bring a ghostly white fuzziness to the trees and object forms - the ponds and loch freeze over - the air is cold and sharp.
The start of the month also brought blustery winds and most of the leaves have now fallen to the ground in a succession of bronzes and golds. Some gathered to be burned later on, while others left to form a mulch on the beds and understory planting.
A number of our trees have also been tested by Government Agency this month for Phytophthora ramorum - a foliage disease now prevalent under certain conditions in woodlands - a specimen larch cutting was taken away for examination, but fortunately we have been given the all clear.
The water source to the Temple Pond has silted up and frozen over also - it will just have to wait until it thaws and it can be got going again. In due course the ponds will be drained and cleaned as much as possible in advance of winter so that the cold weather at least has some benefits in repressing the regrowth of pond weed next season.
The wooden entrance gate for A Cottage A Field A Plough has been brought in and work begun on stripping it of old varnish. It will be cleaned back to a fresh surface and treated with oil so that it colours and ages more naturally when it is put back in position.
Some of the broken inscribed fishing and sailing boat pavers from the front garden have been taken for repair (schooner, yawl, billyboy, catamaran) - the remainder will also be repainted over the coming weeks. The carved lettering on the Azure & Sons sundial will be painted in to make it more legible where it has worn away. Most of the other painted inscriptions throughout the garden - on wood and stone - will also be refreshed where required.
Arrangements have been made for the removal of the designated trees in the Front Garden - a major intervention awaits.
With all the additional water from snow melt and defrosting there is a substantial run-off of water from the hills and through the garden - all of the aqueducts are gushing - the lower part of the English Parkland is temporarily flooded.
And while on clear days there is a crisp crunchiness... with the heavy rains this changes to a soft slushiness... these are the sights and sounds of the season underfoot.
The garden goes under wraps... as the annual transformation from display to the hidden takes place.
All of the small or delicate pieces are brought indoors, along with wooden works and benches to preserve them from the worst of the coming weather.
The majority of pieces though are covered or wrapped in situ, taking on a completely different appearance and character. It is really a process of concealment and transformation - as boats and poems, obelisks and hand grenades are hidden under foam or sacking - even the newly rebuilt monument becomes an amorphous shrouded cube in a blue tarpaulin.
Repairs can now also begin and plans made for further pieces to be remade as part of our ongoing programme of improvements.
The Kailyard and allotment have been cleared out - and the rambling rose perimeter hedging cut back. Raspberry canes and blackcurrant bushes have been weeded out at the base and the plants tidied for next year.
The roses have been pruned in Julie's garden - and the virginia creeper at the gable end of the house cut back from climbing over the roof and chimney stack - as its leaves turn to red and gold and fall like coloured hankies to the ground.
As leaves fall it is also a chance to identify further tree branches for pruning - in particular to let light filter through into the front garden where it has become very shaded.
More substantial change is planned for the Bring Back the Birch area at the bottom of the front garden - a removal of existing sycamores and a replanting of geans (wild cherry) so that the visual and verbal pun makes sense. The one existing small birch tree here - which is currently out of place - will be moved to the Saint Just column base.
In the sunken garden the astrantia edging has been cut back to keep it in check from self seeding everywhere - the trees here are also to be removed and replaced with a new decorative cherry by the tall upright stone tree column base denoting Lycurge (Lycurgus - the legislator of Sparta).
In days of bright sunshine - longer fall the shadows from the mountains tall - for much of this month we have enjoyed the low late autumn light as it stretches out.
Other sure signifiers of the time of year are the sound of geese screeching overhead in V formations, wild ducks settling on the loch, and blackbirds feasting on bright bunches of rowan berries.
Now for the most part our mornings begin in frosty mistiness - the air clears and cools - the hills are shrouded in low cloud - there is a quiet stillness.
The light and the colour of the sky alters and we are in autumn.
Throughout the garden continuing problems with the reliability of the water source seem to be under control. Repairs have been made to the aqueducts in the woodland and the lower pond in the English Parkland. Some subsidence of the pathway around the lower pond has also been built up and stabilised. By the top pond a couple of overhanging alders on the bank were causing some problems and have been removed. The banking around the aqueduct entrance has also been built up with sand bags as this was identified as a potential weak spot where we were losing water.
The spring source itself is now running well and where we were having problems with the Temple pond this is now brim full and almost opulent.
Julie's Garden has been given a good weed out - the yews have settled in well apart from one in the corner which has yellowed and dropped its needles - hopefully just a blip in its development and it should recover. Nettles abound having seeded themselves from the outer entrance of the garden and the fields beyond, but are now back under control in this more formal setting. The entire perimeter of the back of the Temple of Apollo has also been weeded clear of willow herb, nettles and brambles.
In the Hortus and by the gable end of the house there are a few unexpected late blooms from the roses. The Cloud Pool in the Hortus has also been given a good clean out and the gravel and stone sets raked over and strimmed to keep them from being overgrown with weeds and moss.
The growing season is at an end apart from the grass which seems to have enjoyed the changeable conditions and still requires cutting and attention - where it is left to grow more informally now the swathes of seed heads catch the light like jewels and sway in the breezes.
The rebuilding of the Monument is finally completed with the slate top in place - it really does sit well in the landscape now and has a solid and eloquent presence commemorating the Battle site.
Patchwork repairs have been made to the heather thatching of the Goose Hut - the flowerheads of the new heather tufts look like camouflage patterns on the walls where they have been tied in - a somehow very appropriate intervention.
The autumn equinox has marked a definite switch in the weather - is is now much cooler with blustery winds and heavy showers, though there are still a few random glimpses of blue sky and bright sun.
One casualty of the high winds: the flag has blown down (undamaged, but it will remain in storage now until spring) - and one benefit: perfect conditions for the first big bonfire of the season, marking the closure of the garden to visitors, but only the beginning of further activity in it.
The heady scent of heather fills the air in the moorland above the lochan - and the bright purple flowerheads blaze amidst the greens and yellows of the grasses.
The hedges have been given a bit more attention preparing them for the end of the season - the large yew hedge at the top of the English Parkland has been trimmed back and the front perimeter hedging kept in shape. There is also a first cutting for the new yew trees in the Roman Garden and Julie's Garden - these have established very well in their first year and are filling out nicely.
The crops in the Kailyard are now passing over and going to seed - apart from a few late flowerings of sweet pea, poppies, mint and bergamot.
The fruit canes are bare and straggly also. It has not been a great year for these soft fruits - so there have not been very many ripe rasps to fill the larder... There are though still a good few red and blackcurrants left on the bushes - the rest harvested or stripped by the birds.
The repaired Azure and Sons sundial has been returned - and by the Temple pond the scallop shell water source has had its lettering redone so that the carved letters of Goddess Shell are now fully legible. In the Front Garden the remade oak column sundial Be In Time Fruitful Vine has been installed back in place and looks well.
Most of the sapling trees have been repotted into larger containers to grow on - a good supply of vigorous and healthy specimens to be planted in place and fill any gaps next year.
On the moor beyond the garden the cattle have been giving us water problems by dislodging the pipes which run the water from the spring down the hill, trampling over where the pipes are jointed and breaking off the supply - this, along with an erratic supply from the source spring itself is something which needs regular intervention or repair.
At the same time the ponds have been generally quite full and have been cleaned out - the Top and Centre ponds in the wild garden weeded out again and the Temple pond banked up.
All along the water courses in the Parkland - by the edges of the burn and ponds - these have been cleared where the planting had closed over on itself. Meadowsweet, reeds, nettles and grasses cut back so that the movement of water can now be followed all the way down and we can see - (as IHF himself saw it) a - Bare stream racing like a Bugatti...
Winds more like autumn presage the leaves leaving the trees and the sea sound effects in the canopy are at their most stormy.
At least the flag flies full and heraldic at the entrance against the surrounding hills and the greying skyline.
As the garden moves through summer there are plenty of regular and irregular tasks to be taken care of.
Around the red and green Apollo and Daphne silhouettes, the laurel has been trimmed so that the figures do not entirely disappear into the undergrowth.
The rebuilt Monument on the track has been uncovered and the area around it reseeded with grass, but this will quickly naturalise to the more robust boggy plants which populate the banks of the burn.
The first fruits of the allotment and Kailyard are in evidence and being harvested and weeded in equal measure. The redcurrant and blackcurrant bushes are heavy with berries - an abundance awaits.
There is still water trouble with the supply to the house - something seems to have lodged itself in this section of pipe and will not be persuaded to move or decompose - just part of the continuing battle with an illogical system.
The box hedging in the front garden and Temple garden has been trimmed and looks sharper - all the other hedging will also be cut back again as it puts on prolific spurts of new growth.
The parterre in the Hortus has also been given another good tidy, the roses here need plenty of support as they begin to flower and require constant dead-heading.
Heavy rainfall has meant the edges of the narrow grass pathways have again closed in with meadowsweet around the loch and sweet cecily in the garden flopping to the ground. These, and our old enemy Rosebay willow herb have been given a selective removal and thinning out in all areas, including the hill above the loch by the Saint Just stones.
Repairs are finally being made to the damaged sections of the Hand Grenade gate finials which were assailed by a falling tree earlier in the year. At the same time repairs are being completed for the base of the Shadow n. column sundial at the top of the hill. The gnomons on Dividing the Light and Four Seasons in full Sail sundials have also been reset in their respective positions.
The slate Azure and Sons sundial has been taken away for re-carving some of the corroded lettering, and, as for the others, the missing stainless steel gnomon of this work will be replaced.
It has again been a month of many seasons - the erratic weather changes from day to day and hour to hour - somehow appropriate in a garden which marks the passage of time in so many different ways.
Its been a very mixed bag of a month with heavy showers scattered with occasional flashes of blue sky. Typical Scottish summer I suppose.
The lochan has been restocked with about two dozen brown trout - if the heron or the otter do not get them, then we can hopefully sustain a healthy population.
In the woodland garden the inscribed pavers of the 'pretty' path have been repainted bright and new amidst the glooms and shadows.
A general clearance of overgrown branches and other prunings have been disposed of with a midsummer bonfire.
All of the ponds have been weeded out again - the top, middle and Claudi pool in the woodland - and the Temple garden pool. Here the water supply continues to puzzle, but a repair to the Caddis shell supply point looks as if it might in part help the situation. Just a question of monitoring the loses and gains of water from source to outlet.
There has also been a bit of a struggle with the water supply to the house - an airlock in the pipe from the reservoir tanks has been cleared and all is running freely again.
Grass continues to grow almost as quickly as it is cut - the wet and warm conditions ideal for it to thrive - both where it is wanted and not welcome.
The same conditions have also meant plenty of weeding - of ground elder, nettles, and so forth. The paths have also been cleared of overgrown sweet cicely as it flops with the wet and blocks passage through the narrow walkways. There has also been a thorough tidy of the Hortus enclosed garden and cloud pool areas. Roses have been staked and tied up here, and in the front garden also camouflage poles have been used to support the creamy plumes of Goat's Beard flowers. An unexpected flash of artificial colour and pattern amidst the green borders.
The Girl into Reed tree plaque has been moved in the woodland to a new position by the centre pool - easier to read and in scale and harmony with its surroundings.
Building work on the monument proceeds slowly but surely. There have been a few hiccups with design and timings but hopefully all should be resolved and come together soon.
A prototype flag has been flown from the pole at the entrance - the black outline of the Lyre and the blood red Oerlikon gun declare the presence of Apollo in the garden - his music, his missiles, his muses... A few design tweeks and it can take its permanent place.
One other incident to report - an intrusion by some curious calves into the English Parkland via the compost heap - luckily turned back in time before they had the chance to cause any damage or invite their friends and families in - the damaged section of fencing has now been repaired and we are fully secure again.
After the vagaries of last months weather we seem to have moved fully headlong into spring. A few weeks of bright warm days brings a rush of growth and all of the plantlife begins to look fresh and verdant.
A few more of the pathways and brick patio areas in the Temple garden have been renewed, the existing bricks being beyond repair or reclamation. This work will continue until we open for the season. They blend well with the existing palette and it is good to be finally replacing these scruffy sections.
For other paths and throughout the garden - the grass has begun to perk up and after a few cuts is looking good - some reseeding has been required in worn patches and shaded areas, and will hopefully germinate and establish before being trampled over by too many feet.
All of the box hedging topiary pieces and the hedges of Huff Lane have been given an initial trim and kept in shape for the summer.
Around the loch wildflowers and grasses have also been sown, but here will take a while to for these areas fully recover from the large amount of silt which was brought out and dumped during cleaning of the loch itself. The paths and edges of the waterway themselves are stabilised but just a bit bare for the moment.
Everything is readied now for the Monument to be rebuilt - just a question of coordinating builders and suppliers and getting it all done.
Intermittent water supply to the Temple pond and its disappearance continue to puzzle. There is plenty of water from the source but the level just seems to seep away and then refill - it is kept topped up as much as possible by a supply from top pond. The warm spell means more weeding is required in all of the ponds as conditions have been ideal for regrowth of elodea and its compatriots here too.
In the Hortus - the rose beds have been underplanted with nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low' (catmint) which should give an effect similar to lavender but without all of the trouble we have previously experienced. A row of nepeta has also been planted along the allee of redcurrants in the front garden, bringing a bit of colour and structure to this central axis of the garden.
The greenhouses have been emptied of much of the seedlings brought on for the Kailyard, which has been planted out with rows of beans, courgettes, rocket, swiss chard and salads - hopefully we will get a good crop of produce by the end of the summer.
All is in place for the opening of the visitor season, as the garden celebrates its 50th year.
Bon anniversaire Little Sparta!
Not quite the cruellest month, but April has proved a bit of a challenge presenting us with just about all of the seasons in one day. By its end we are fully covered in snow having experienced balmy sunshine, freezing rain and hail.
But in amongst all of this much has progressed. Everything has now been uncovered and brought out of storage. Only a few minor damages were found on the artworks - the columnar sundial shadow n. the hours hand at the top of the moorland - a small section of the base has come away (it is sitting in very boggy ground and probably caught a late frost) - but this is easily repaired.
The Claudi bridge and cube form have been repainted and look particularly fresh and striking against a white background.
The lochan has finally been dug out and the weed and silt removed - a bit disruptive but hopefully the ground around the pathway edgings will recover by early summer. All of the waste has been disguised as best as possible where it was dumped and these areas will be seeded over so that they blend quickly again back into their surroundings. The good news is that we may not have to take this radical approach again as there is now the possibility of using a specialist weed-cutting boat. Once it has refilled and settled the lochan will also be restocked with brown trout.
In the woodland brick pathways have been extended in the shady areas where in spite of our best efforts no grass would grow. These do look fitting in place and actually enhance this area which looked a bit gloomy and worn.
By the entrance area new trees have been planted along the perimeter edge, eventually forming another windbreak and screen behind the oil tanks. These have been seeded underneath with a wildflower mix which again will hopefully make it through the downturn in weather.
New trees have also been planted throughout the garden, some of which are - a silver birch by Henry Vaughan in the front garden, an alder by the square column at the western boundary of the wood restitit et magno cum love templa tenet, poplars on and around the ile des peupliers, and a fan-trained espalier cherry in Julie's Garden.
In the greenhouses all plants which were in storage have been put out and vegetable seeds have been sown for the new season in the Kailyard.
In the Kailyard itself new brick paths have replaced the old worn wooden boards and turf - it looks much more presentable and ready for action. A new brick pathway now also gives level access from the front garden to this area.
Work has begun on the brick paths in the Temple garden with suitable clay pavers which are a close match for the old Scotch common bricks previously used and talked about in the last report. These will at least stabilise these areas and be in keeping with the original intention and effect.
When all has thawed these works will continue...
At last we seem to have turned the corner into
spring - with bright brisk clear days interspersed
with showers from dark grey cloud laden skies.
From things being halted by the weather its
changing now brings about a rush of activity.
One big job completed is the jet-wash cleaning of
all paths and patio areas. All surfaces are
cleared of moss and green - though others left
deliberately to age and soften.
There is still some residual damage from the
bleaker weather - in the centre pond in the
woodland - ?L?Ile des peupliers? - the island
itself was uprooted as the tree collapsed over.
There was no way of saving this so the tree has
been cut down and will be replaced by a new
specimen - it might take a few years growth though
before the tree plaque can be hung in position
Works in storage in the temple have been cleaned -
the wooden benches as usual treated with teak oil
and the painted carved stone baskets freshened up.
Frozen or flooded conditions have still meant no
work in lochan, but the top pond has been drained
and cleaned and refilled. So too the Temple pond -
which is now alive with hoards of burbling
croaking mating frogs.
None of the artworks in the garden have been
uncovered though - their unveiling is being left
as late as possible this year to prevent any
damage from late frosts and to monitor how they
have come through the winter months.
The garden itself is showing plenty of signs of
regrowth and renewal with drifts of snowdrops
throughout, and carpets of yellow aconites setting
off a golden glow - bright highlights in the dark
earth. Daffodils are also starting to push through
- and we are beginning to see buds forming on all
the shrubs and trees - sure promise of a rush of
The new flag pole as been installed at the front
entrance (without ceremony).?
Finally another item to do with ?frogs? - this
time the indent found in the moulding of a brick.
The long standing work on repair of pathways has
met with another unexpected obstacle - the main
brick Finlay used was a Scotch common made locally
(in Carluke). These also have the lettering of the
maker impressed on the inner surface - ?GISCOL' -
easy enough to identify however the company
which manufactured them went out of business some
years ago and the modern equivalent (as with so
many things!) is just not the same. It seems they
are also very difficult to source as architectural
salvage, so this has turned into a bit of a quest.
So, if anyone happens to know of a supply of such
reclaimed Scotch common bricks please do get in
touch - they would be most gratefully received!
At the very least In the meantime patch repairs
are continuing, so that all walkways should be
level and sound by the time the garden opens
There has been no change to the unpredictable
pattern of weather - the tail end of storms
Gertrude and Henry bring snow, winds, heavy rain
and squally showers as well as some bright days.
This means also a continuation of the difficult
conditions in the garden.
Luckily this time there is no damage to report,
but access via the track through potholes and
puddles is still a challenge - there will be a
fair bit of repair work to be completed here, but
again, no point in proceeding until the spring
arrives and the weather settles.
What work can be done in the the garden around the
saturated ground conditions has been completed. In
Julie's Garden the new yew hedge has been planted
- the difference in this area is now is striking.
The garden is bright and the perimeter in scale
and will form a tidy backdrop to the artworks once
they are replaced there. All of the oil tanks have
been camouflaged with netting and trees are ready
to be planted on the outer edge of the garden
entrance which had been hidden from view before.
This area which has served as rough storage for
old stone and as a dinghy graveyard will be tidied
up and in a sense now be embraced by the rest of
Yews have also been planted in the Roman Garden in
a short line at the entrance by the Ledoux
column and a further group in the curved bed here
which serves as the backdrop to the aircraft
carrier works. Some of the snow berry has also
been taken out of this section and a continual
gradual replacement of the cypresses with yew is
planned around the Hypnos
herm to form a more architectural niche
as setting for this work.
There are now a good number of whips planted to
make a tree nursery - including Scots pine, sweet
chestnut, sessile oak, goat willow, alder, rowan
and blackthorn - a bit of long term planning to
fill spaces and reestablish other open areas.
The water levels have still meant putting off some
jobs, but fortunately there has been no further
Piles of recycled bricks await the repair work on
pathways throughout the garden - and where grass
has shown no signs of recovery in the woodland
brick pathways will be extended here also, so that
rather bare muddy ground at least there will be a
firm footing for passage.
Cleaning is about to begin on the stone path and
patio areas - and in a first sign of better days
ahead, snowdrops are beginning to show their heads
above ground as small beacons of spring.
The turn of the year sees also the turn of the
seasons from a generally mild month of December to
the snow and freezing conditions which mark the
New Year. Overall though the most significant
effect of the weather has been the amount of
continual rainfall. While we have not been flooded
as in other areas, the ground is heavily saturated
- the water levels are high in the ponds and loch,
and there has been some almost inevitable damage
from the sheer volume of water.
Sections of the track up the garden have been
washed away again - there seems to be no way of
avoiding this, in spite of the work completed in
resurfacing the track earlier in the year. It will
just have to wait now until spring to be properly
repaired - any makeshift repairs made have just
been washed away again.
In Julie's Garden the old cypress hedging has now
been cut down. It is a bit of a shock to see this
area bared - but it is ready for replanting now
with yew (once the ground is defrosted). The one
benefit of the old hedging - in concealing the oil
tanks on the perimeter - will now be taken over by
camouflage netting - somehow appropriate to a
The rowan trees here have been top crowned so that
they remain more in proportion and are a better
shape. The fan espaliered cherry against the gable
end wall of the Temple of Apollo will also need
replaced as it is well past its best.
Trees have also been taken down in the Roman
Garden in readiness for replanting with yew in
this area and some of the snow berry bushes
Some of the new replacement artworks have been
completed - the oak plank bridge That
Which Divides and That Which Joins are One and
The Same - by Charles Gurrey, has arrived
and been installed in place. It has then been
covered over again for the rest of the winter to
be revealed bright and new in the springtime. Also
the glass fishing float A
E I O blue (the colour of the vowels) has
been remade by Alison Kinnaird. The new flag pole
has arrived and will be put in place awaiting the
eventual unfurling of a new flag.
We have also had one piece of significant storm
damage in the woodland - a section of dead tree
fell on one of the Hand
Grenade finials - it somehow caught the
corner of the base (with obviously quite a mighty
thud) and this section has been chipped off. The
damaged piece can be repaired and put back
together again - but of all the ways the branch
could have fallen its almost as if it sought out
its victim. The remainder of the tree has now been
A selection of native broadleaf trees have been
ordered for planting - to fill gaps in the front
garden and for along the perimeter edge of the
entrance area where they will eventually form
another effective windbreak to the garden.