Check back here to follow the exploits and achievements of the newly reinstated Volunteer Friends of Crarae Work Crew. Have in mind when you read the blog that the gardens are over 50 acres in size and there are currently only two full time gardeners employed by the National Trust for Scotland. Additional resources come from volunteers, either through the Friends programme or NTS Thistle Camps and occasional specialist contractors.
In 2020 all Thistle Camps and volunteering was cancelled and both gardeners were also furloughed for the entire growing season (March to July). This blow to the garden maintenance schedule compounded the challenge already facing the relatively new staff due to significant periods of time in 2017, 18 and 19 when the gardens had either no Head Gardener, no garden staff at all or just one full time stalwart!
There are years worth of projects and remedial work to catch up on, in addition to new paths to create and diversions to manage. Periods of very wet weather in 2019 and 2020 resulted in landslides and flood damage along the burnside. If you are local and fancy helping out on a Thursday morning or one Saturday a month please email email@example.com and Victoria will add you to the crew!
Victoria Winters 2021
Thursday 16th September 2021
A work crew of five today working with Robert. We headed back up to Sir George's seat. The gunnera roots were dug out, Jen and Anne cut back and unwound ivy from a collection of small trees. Both Johns wielded pruning saws, spades or shears taking down and out the blow in trees and Victoria continued to tackle brambles, ferns and bracken. We were accompanied by Jock who took his supervisory role very seriously and lay under a bush in the shade until tea break. Robert followed us with the strimmer, opening up the paths. There were clouds of goldcrests below us and the sun was very kind. It was a magical day to be working outside.
Thursday 9th September 2021
A work crew of one today (Victoria) working with either Robert or Peter in turn. Today was actually the first rainy day since the work crew Thursdays started, which in itself is amazing! Working below the canopy gave pretty good shelter but the long wet grass definitely overwhelmed my old and only partially waterproof work boots. They gave up being waterproof about an hour in. We worked on the trail either side of the forest track, dead-wooding, removing blow in trees and pulling bracken. There was a fair bit of spiky and very dead berberis to be removed, I had to resort to guantlets. We found a wasps nest that had been raided by a badger - the wasps were desperately trying to save their grubs, moving them to a new location. It was fascinating to watch but we decided not to work too close to their nest in case they decided to blame us! Even though the crew was dimished in number we still managed to create two trailer-worths of arisings.
Thursday 2nd September 2021
Four of us in the work crew plus Jock the sheepdog and Peter tackled undergrowth today. We were working up at the far reaches of the garden below the Fagus sylvatica 'Crarae', the Crarae beech - which, if you havent discovered it yet, please do investigate, it is the only mature specimen that we know of. We removed blow in trees, gunnera, brambles and Peter and John P brashed a swathe through the bracken ready for the strimmers to follow behind. Our Chairman John H is actually in the 2nd photo! somewhere. Anne and I pruned out what felt like a million western hemlock babies and pulled brambles, before she escaped the work crew with Jock to give a presentation at a conference and I dead-wooded the pentanthera rhododendron collection that lined the path. These are some of my favourite summer flowering rhododendrons and a riot of bright colours. We discovered a rare double-flowered Eucryphia glutinosa and a patch of harebells on the long walk back to base.
Thursday 26th August 2021
Two of us in the crew today, plus Peter and Eilidh. Peter and John H cleared the gully ditches, Eilidh barrowed away the spoils and I climbed the banks and deadwooded the rhododendrons and shrubs over hanging the paths. I also swept up after the team and was spotted pushing a barrow up side of the flight of steps! Much to the amusement of all. It was also Eilidhs last day as a volunteer as she begins the next chapter of her life in Edinburgh at University. Robert Carroll did her (and us) proud, laying on a suprise tea break with CAKES! He did the big reveal, setting up the table, including table cloth and flowers! in the tool shed and opening the sliding doors to much applause. Thank you Eilidh for all of your hard work and we all wish you the very best for the future.
Thursday 19th August 2021
Today was the day I forgot my phone/camera. There were 5 in the volunteer crew today plus Eilidh. She and Anne P painted the new guard rails on the gorge walk and then cleaned up the seating area by the burn, removing all of the moss and encrusted lichen. I dead-wooded rhododendrons, removed a weeping cotoneaster that had grown over the path and seating space and pulled out a huge pile of brambles from the river bank plus all of the blow in wild raspberry canes. John H and John P barrowed in, raked and laid down about 20 barrow loads of sand as a base for the new surface of the accessible path. We were also joined by a curious set of robins and Jock the sheepdog who kept us all amused and did a fair bit of PR welcoming garden visitors to the new path.
Thursday 12th August 2021
Today's 4 teamed up with Head Gardener Robert Carroll and 1st Gardener Derek Shankland to tackle the low level accessible path to the gardens. There had been flood damage and bank erosion over the winter and earlier in Spring and whilst a long term solution is in the plans and budget Robert thought it vital for our less mobile visitors to create a temporary fix. John H our Chairman single handedly tackled the bamboo walk and pruned it back to create a light airy and much wider trail alongside the burn. New volunteers Jen and Keith P joined us. Keith set about cutting back part of the upper bank and removing tree stumps to ensure an appropriate width of path ready for when we moved the metal sleepers into place. Jen worked with Eilidh removing the gunnera and blow-ins from the river bank and I tended the bonfire for the arisings. Bamboo makes a sound like firecrackers when burnt - who knew?
Thursday 5th August 2021
Today's 3 teamed up with 1st Gardener Derek Shankland and seasonal gardener Peter to remove silt and self-seeded grass and weeds from the pond. John P, Derek and Peter all donned wellies and water proofs. John H barrowed tonnes of silt away. We were joined by NTS volunteer Eilidh who gave her time throughout August before heading to Uni. She and I dead-wooded roses and removed all of the blow ins all along the trail leading to the pond garden. Once there I concentrated on removing chickweeed, brambles and wild raspberries from the plants in the area and Eilidh set about pruning back the hedge and entrance to the bridge. I also removed a buddleia that had finished flowering so that the view from the bridge towards the 103 year old Rhododendron falconeri grove was opened up again, showcasing some beautiful still flowering Rogersia. I went back a couple of days later to take photos of the pond after the disruption had settled and the surface was mirror perfect.
Thursday 29th July 2021
Today's 3 teamed up with 1st Gardener Derek Shankland and newly appointed seasonal gardener Peter to tackle some dead wood. We set about dismantling a long dead Acer micranthrum and various old rhododendrons, clearing up the arisings and fixing broken steps and hand rails on the access path to the mill lade valley. We also started on a stand of creeping bamboo, pruning it back to discourage it from taking over the footpath near one of the wonderful giant redwood trees in the gardens. Peter, John H and V all left John P halfway up the flight of steps awaiting a hammer........he may still be there.
Thursday 22nd July 2021
Today's 3 teamed up with Head Gardener Robert Carroll with a view to improvement. We trekked through the gardens to the Flagstaff Viewpoint. A rocky promontory beyond Crarae Lodge accessed via the cool shady mill lade valley path with, usually, a magnificent view down over the lower gardens to Loch Fyne and the hills of the Cowal peninsula. The hedge of the deciduous, golden yellow flowered, deliciously scented Rhododendron luteum had outgrown its space, the only view to be had was by standing on the bench! Armed with secateurs, loppers and a hand saw plus lots of water, flasks of tea, hats and sunscreen we set about lowering the planting and removing rogue self-seeded plants. It was hot work on a very sunny day but the sense of achievement amazing! Anne and I reckoned that Robert and John H looked like Himalayan plant hunters in their unintentionally matching hats amongst the greenery! We ended up with a pile of prunings taller than me, about twice that in the pic above.
Thursday 15th July 2021
The first volunteer work crew arrived at the Gardens. The intrepid 3 teamed up with Head Gardener Robert Carroll and tackled a thorny problem. Knee pads and a spike proof jacket was the order of the day for the Secretary of the Friends of Crarae Victoria (and no there arent any pictures (well I hope not!)). She spent a good hour crawling into shrubs and azaleas in the lower garden and digging out or cutting out blackberry suckers. Some of them were so entrenched it took all three volunteers to pull them out. We filled the garden trailer with brambles, blow-in ferns, bracken and prunings in just under 3 hours. We nearly lost John P amongst the bracken on the azalea bank and Anne did a fabulous job pruning the hydrangeas; whilst Robert removed a tree stump, pruned an unruly crab apple to reveal the stunningly beautiful magnolia beneath, repaired the lawn surfaces and diligently cleared up all of our weeds and prunings.
June 8th 2021
Before the volunteer work crew was formally 'inducted' into garden volunteering, Victoria (who had volunteered at the garden in the past) snuck in to do a spot of weeding! The midges were fierce that damp morning and all seemed to live in the moss and weeds that she was lifting! There was way more than one barrow full. Both herbaceous beds were tackled over an eight hour stint, seriously earning gin-related brownie points and negating the need for additional exercise for at least the next 3 weeks.