A brief collection of practical hints on soil and climate for gardeners in Scotland.
Unless gardening in the ‘magic quadrant’ on the West Coast of Scotland which benefits from the warming Gulf Stream, the growing season in Scotland is short and unpredictable. A mixture of experimentation, commonsense and downright low cunning, however, can allow one to not only grow, but establish, perennial plants that are considered only mildly hardy, and extend the flowering period of annuals without the luxury of a heated greenhouse.
Start With Your Soil
To avoid disappointments, and indeed heartbreak, find out the PH (acidity or alkalinity) of your soil using a simple soil testing kit available at garden centres or online. Soil PH in Scotland is generally acid to neutral, so if you want to grow chalk/alkaline loving plants, you need to either add lime to the soil in localised areas, or grow those babies in containers.
Soil quality in Scotland varies wildly from free-draining sand to heavy clay, stony upland to low-lying bog. Think about what you want to grow before you spend money adding or subtracting richness in the soil; generally, working with your native soil will work better than fighting it – a vast array of plants are available now to give you space for creativity and success!
Environment, Light and Microclimates.
Your ability to startle folk by growing, year after year, something which turns into a dead stick 100 yards away down the road is based simply on your observation and attention to a plant’s environment. Whether in the city or the country, the extremes of Scottish weather can be ameliorated, or even a benefit, to many plants, purely dependent on where you place them. Experimentation is one of the great pleasures of the garden; the grief over an expensive plant turning up its toes in a cold snap is frequently offset by a dead twig unexpectedly throwing out new leaf after being frozen solid in a pot all Winter!
Growing Annuals in Scotland
Tender Annuals are generally a bit of a slog in the colder parts of Scotland; one tries to get them going by sowing them maybe a week or two after the recommended general UK sowing time to get a little warmth, either under cover or in open soil, and they still dribble along; producing masses of leaf, and maybe a feeble bloom or two around the end of August despite tiddling ‘em with sulphate of potash to encourage flowers. A month after one was hoping for glories!
However, there are the odd determined types which buck the trend and exceed expectations.
Hardy Annuals are a much better bet to start out with – as with tender annuals, you’ll probably find they will flower two to three weeks after the predicted time, but will cope much better with cold snaps, wind and rain, and even the odd June snowfall.
The west of Scotland, roughly from the Firth of Clyde up to The Minch, endures just as much rain, wind and snow as the rest of the country. However, it is warmed by the Gulf Stream, and somewhat protected from the worst climatic violence by the patchwork of islands off its coast, enabling many less hardy, and even exotic, plants to establish and thrive.