Garden blog: October

Welcome to the first of our regular blogs where we’ll be sharing what we’ve been up to in the gardens and wider estate. Looking after 20,000 acres on the Isle of Skye is a big responsibility – we have crofters, deer management, public footpaths, thousands of trees and wildlife to care for, as well as our acclaimed gardens. It certainly keeps things varied! There’s always something new happening and we look forward to keeping you updated.

Meet the team

So who are we? Our small team comprises team manager Chris; Rhianna and John on the estates side; and Kathryn, Lisa and Rosemarie in the gardens, with an overview from Gardens Consultant Andrew Peters. We recently said goodbye to Lorna, who as well as being a star on the shinty and football fields has been a fantastic asset around the estate. We wish Lorna all the best for her next chapter.

We’re also extremely grateful for the work of our volunteers. Our latest recruit is Karen, who’s been helping with planting and digging these past few weeks. We’ve got lots of exciting volunteer projects coming up – if you’re interested in volunteering with us find out more.

Garden work

If you’ve visited recently, you’ll have noticed that the large bed between the Stables and the Gatehouse has a new addition of a beech and holly hedge. We worked hard to dig the bed over, level it out, plant up and mulch – it really was a team effort. Andrew is now working on a planting plan for next Spring. Watch our video.

A nice find in the garden this summer was Dianella Tasmanica (Tasman Flax Lily), an evergreen perennial from Tasmania with leathery, sword-shaped leaves. A member of the team noticed it due to its prominent yellow stamen and blue flowers which are followed by glossy violet-blue berries. It took us a while to identify it and it was only possible as we had an expert from Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh visit us. We have moved 20 or so of these plants to a more suitable spot, in an area we call the shade walk.

The Burnside

This is the area to your left when you pass over the iron bridge on Lord Macdonald’s Drive. It’s a place where lots of people ‘stop and lean’ to have a look at the plants, and to be honest it’s been in need of improvement for a while.  This month we started clearing the lower section to get rid of rhododendron, ash, brambles and fuschia. Come spring, this area will hopefully be clear and ready for some new planting. Exciting!

Invasive species

Some if you may know that Gunnera Tinctoria (Chilean rhubarb) is an issue on the estate. To minimise the gunnera’s self-seeding we’ve been busy cutting off the seed heads before they can be dispersed. We also have ongoing works for other invasive species such as Rhodendron Ponticum (common rhododendron) which spreads by layering, and Fallopia japonica (Japanese knotweed), which spreads underground from small sections of rhizomes.

Estate work

We recently commissioned a tree survey which has allowed us to appraise the overall condition of the trees within 40 acres of the woodland gardens. Over the next 6 months we’ll be busy implementing recommended tree works to ensure that our trees are healthy for years to come.

With so many trees on the estate, autumn presents an opportunity for us to collect the fallen leaves which are put into a composting bay and turned into mulch which we use on the gardens each year. The herbaceous border alone uses 225 square metres of mulch – that is a lot of leaves!

We have an extensive footpath network across the estate, which we maintain with strimming, cutting back hedges, filling holes, repairing fences, gates and signs. The team often walk the network to ensure that our paths stay as assessable as possible.

This time of year also brings high winds. We have a plethora of trees within the grounds and sometimes they will lose a branch or two during high winds. Due to this we sometimes have to close the gardens for everyone’s safety – we don’t want any accidents. Perhaps you remember the beech that came down in the February storms?

Maintenance of the estate buildings is ongoing and includes accommodation, outbuildings, offices and sheds. Right now the maintenance of machinery continues – the mowers are on their autumn break but they will be cleaned, serviced and prepared for their 2021 ventures. Leaf blowers, tractors, trailers, vans and lorries continue in earnest throughout the autumn.

As if that wasn’t enough, we also have deer management to be getting on with. But more on that in the next blog….