AUTUMN & WINTER AT CLUNY
Red Squirrels & other mammals
The Red Squirrels should be relatively easy to see over the winter months. In the morning they are very active around the feeders close to the car park and at the large Wellingtonia at the far end of the lawn (No 5). We supply them with peanuts, hazelnuts in their shells and pine nuts. As we go further into winter there is less for them to eat in the garden but in the afternoons they can frequently be seen digging up the bits and pieces they buried a few weeks previously! Away from the feeders, stopping, listening and quietly watching usually results in a squirrel being seen. Another mammal which we have in the garden is a brown hare and we have had her now for over two years. She doesn’t appear to be doing much damage but always appears huge when compared with the little red squirrels! The autumn of 2013 has been exceptional for mice and voles. While taking down a small conifer, a wood mouse appeared from an old bird’s nest where it had added fresh mossy material. Unfortunately we only found it when it was too late but the mouse escaped safely.
Visitors often say that it is at this time of year that the trees, particularly the conifers, stand out in the garden. Needless to say Cluny’s UK champion Wellingtonia or Sequoiadendron giganteum is always dominant but looks even more impressive after a fall of snow. The barks of various birches and cherries also stand out especially the Tibetan Cherry Prunus serrula var tibetica with its shiny red peeling bark, a number of examples of which can be seen throughout the garden. The Southern Beeches or Nothafagus species are well represented in the garden with a very twisted and lichen laden example of Nothafagus antartica or Antarctic Beech on the left between Nos 17 & 18. At the bottom of the garden past a carved birch seat is a Metasequoia glyptostroboides or Dawn Redwood. This species is described as a living fossil. It is a critically endangered species having only been discovered in China in 1941before which it was only known in fossils. It has an amazing twisted reddish trunk similar in many ways to its near relatives the American Redwoods. Not far past it there is a striking example of a Northern Chinese Red Birch Betula albo-sinensis var septentrionalis (just before turning back up the hill) growing through a large Rhodendron loderii. The birch has peeling papery orange coloured bark. There are 2 or 3 fine examples of Abies procera or Noble Fir at the top of the garden and their girth at the age of 60 years is already impressive.
Cardiocrinum giganteum (Giant Himalayan Lilies)
The impressive looking dead stalks in the garden are the seed heads remaining from the flowering stalks of Giant Himalayan lilies which flowered in June-July. The pods ripen in December/January and each capsule begins to open gradually releasing seed when there is a breeze. The seed spreads around the garden but it will be about 7 years before a flowering sized bulb is produced. The stalks provide a different architectural interest to the garden throughout the year and visitors are always amazed that this plant comes from a bulb.
Sparrowhawk (regularly visiting the bird table!), buzzards and jays are present most days and two male great spotted woodpeckers defend separate territories in and just outside the garden. There are plenty of bullfinches about and they are now feeding on the seeds of Hypericum spp (St John’s Wort), a particular favourite. There are a few treecreepers which use the Sequoiadendrons for roosting. Siskins visit the bird feeders along with the local flock of long–tailed tits which feed on the fat blocks and peanuts but only during the winter months. Other species of tits and finches along with robins, blackbirds and dunnocks occur at the feeders in abundance. Very vocal ravens and small skeins of locally wintering greylag geese fly over most days. There have been plenty of berries for visiting flocks of redwings and fieldfares. Perhaps we will be fortunate enough to have some waxwings!
The big autumn job of leaf collecting lasts for around a month from mid-November to mid-December so you will see various containers around the garden holding 3 different years of leaf mould from 2011, 2012 and 2013. Seed sowing of around 200 different species goes on over the autumn & winter. There is always plenty of cutting back and thinning out of branches to be done in a woodland garden. Some dead or dying wood is retained for the benefit of invertebrates and bird-life. Occasionally winter weather will bring down trees and large branches making our life more difficult but making the decision of which tree to take out next much easier! On wet days seed is put into packets for sale in the garden during 2014. As you go around you may see small cloches placed over certain plants of one particular group of Meconopsis. This is to shelter their rosettes from wet and subsequent freezing conditions which can destroy the plants. All other plants are left to the vagaries of nature and the weather although most have a covering of leaves to protect them and sometimes snow of course. On mild days, the long process of cleaning up of beds will begin in time for spring.
We hope you have enjoyed your visit during a more unusual time of the year. It would be good to see you again perhaps in a different season. We do not ask for entrance money until mid February but we would welcome a donation for squirrel and bird food. Thank you very much.