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 (Sequoiadendron giganteum at 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. Other mammals present in the garden are brown hare and speedy stoats often seen in the vicinity of No 5.
Visitors often say that it is at this time of year when 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.
Sequoiadendendron giganteum or Giant Redwood No 5
This exceptionally magnificent tree is the widest conifer in the UK and is thought to have been planted in the mid-1850s. There is an information board about the tree and the species in general. Further around the garden at No 9 on the LHS there is a second tree which is nearly as massive. The rich substrate beneath the tree provides an excellent growing medium for spring flowering bulbs and wild flowers such as sanicle and wood anemones.
Abies alba or Silver Fir between Nos 5 & 6 RHS
At an estimated 200 years old, this could be the oldest tree in the garden. Despite its age, the girth of this tree is less than 1/2 of that of the Sequoiadendron. The gnarled bark of this tree has much character but it is often un-noticed by visitors.
Prunus serrula tibetica or Tibetan Cherry No 9 RHS
Throughout the garden there are many examples of this peeling red-barked cherry. At No 9 the original tree, old and full of character, grown from seed collected in the Himalayas by Ludlow and Sherriff, was planted around 1950. Its cherries, edible only to birds and mice, have spread widely throughout the garden.
Juglans regia or Walnut No 13 LHS
Another very old tree although now hollow in the middle. After pruning around 2007, the tree took on a new life and it still produces walnuts which in autumn are wrapped in a thick green dominant smelling husk. After ripening the nut falls out of the rotting husk. The green nuts are regularly eaten by the squirrels.
Nothofagus antartica or Antarctic Beech No 17 – 18 RHS
A Chilean tree of great character with many twists and turns coming from a right-angled stem all covered in lichen. Notice the tiny leaves to deal with the high winds of Tierra del Fuego. This species has the distinction of being the southernmost tree on earth.
Metasequoia glptostroboides or Dawn Redwood Between Nos 24 & 25 RHS
Although closely related to the Redwoods, the dawn Redwood is the only species in its genus. It was only discovered in China in 1943 having previously been found in fossils in 1941. It is deciduous with needles similar to larch and has a stunning reddish brown autumn colour. This may be one of the earliest introduced trees.
Betula albo-sinensis var.septentrionalis or Northern Chinese Red Birch No 25 RHS
This is a wonderful birch with a striking peeling coppery coloured bark. This tree is now fully mature and is approximately 19m (57 feet) in height. PLEASE DO NOT PEEL OFF ANY OF THE BARK. Opposite this birch are the standing remains of an old birch and further down the hill the remains of a fallen birch. A certain amount of dead wood is left for various insect species, fungi and birds such as woodpeckers. The rotting trunks also slowly release valuable food into the ground. Slightly further on is a Thuja which was cut down, apart from the last 10m, in 2014. This has been kept to provide a frame for various climbing plants. The area beneath was also very dry but is now producing loads of little seedlings and developing into a planting area.
Corylus avellana or Hazel Between Nos 27 – 28 RHS
One of the native trees in the garden is an exceptionally tall Hazel stem at 9m. Normally hazels are coppiced but this one has grown into a tree. It should reach around 80 years of age although coppiced hazels can live for hundreds of years. Being a native, hazels are very important for all sorts of wildlife with leaves providing food for moth caterpillars and hazel nuts eaten by birds and of course the red squirrels.
Abies procera or Noble Fir Viewpoint with seat also No 30 RHS
At the viewpoint and seat at the top of the garden you can see 2 large conifers slightly to the LHS. Noble firs originate from NW America. During late summer – early autumn the trees produce massive upright cones which are usually eaten by squirrels or they disintegrate up the tree dropping their seed in autumn. A closer example is at No 30. All the trees were planted in the 1950s and have significant girths and heights for their age.
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.
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 2013, 2014 and 2015. 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. 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.
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 and goldfinches 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 waxwings will visit this year!