Friends of Crarae Registered Charity SC033244
Friends of CraraeRegistered Charity SC033244

Volunteer Work Crew

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 and Victoria will add you to the crew!


You can follow along via Twitter @friendsofcrarae or Instagram @thefriendsofcrarae we would love to hear from you.


Victoria Winters 2021

Thursday 9th December 2021

The final work crew of the year, before COVID guidance sadly stopped us working with the team as we were from more than 3 households. John and I were joined by Lennie and the guys were dispatched, with Derek, on leaf duty whilst I weeded the herbaceous borders - I had to work quickly because each bag of leaves were to be applied as mulch to the cleared border. I only slowed down when I discovered a huge mouse nest under the Schizostylis leaves (river lily). I missed having Jock along after his antics the week before, but dont think the mice did!

Thursday 2nd December 2021

A couple of weeks off as the Garden inspectors were in! Todays work crew of four plus Jock the collie had a ball. Jock was extremely happy to be back in the gardens and decided that galloping and rolling around playing and photobombing was the only way to cope with the very frosty conditions - see our Instagram feed for a video of his antics. He had a stick or stole magnolia leaves from raked piles and encouraged everyone passing to throw them or play pooh sticks in the river with him. We drew the line at that, it was too cold! John, John, Anne and I the serious members of the crew, were on leaf and storm damage mitigation, collecting the little twigs and branches, swathes of eucalyptus bark and huge magnolia leaves. The sunrise at 08:20 was awesome too!


Thursday 18th November 2021

A work crew of three plus Jock the collie, who spent a lot of time under trees as it was very wet and cold. Thank goodness for thermals and waterproof over trousers! We cleared a significant amount of herbacous growth, ferns and grasses from around the exit gate and plant sales area (they were taller than me!).  We also uncovered the area around the old stone wall. We filled the trailer very quickly with arisings. 


Thursday 11th November 2021

A work crew of four today - John and John installed coldframes at the workshop whilst Jock snoozed in the greenhouse. Anne and I were on herbaceous perennial and shrub pruning duty. We then all headed to the gorge side and helped clear up the huge prunig/deadwooding job that Derek and Peter had started with one of the arboreal rhododendrons. We managed without dropping any in the river, falling in the river or blocking the stairway and path for visitors - result! And we were all captivated by the faery tent village that appeared in the pond garden.


Thursday 4th November 2021

A work crew of three, John, John and me (oh and Jock the collie, but my phone was playing up) we were blessed by a fantastic sunrise as we were leaving for the garden, John and John were on leaf clearing duty from the lower lawns and then headed into the woodland garden to replace the wire netting on the overlook at the burnside with Jock at their heels. I diligently worked on edging the lawn and cut back some lawn-side bamboo and some herbaceous perennials. Then raked everything up! Phone battery died afer an hour so my photo diary was cut short.


Thursday 28th October 2021

After a week off for good behaviour (and the tree surgeons were working in the gardens so the drive was closed) John and I were a work crew of two working with Derek and Peter - Robert the Head Gardener was away as he had been married on the 26th! We deadwooded the species roses and weeded out the persicaria so the strimmers could follow us in.  We also pruned back and tidied up the clematis that had overtaken the toilet block (it was even growing in through the window). Working in the lower garden is always a pleasure, we get to meet more visitors this way, they are always happy to stop and chat after they have been around the garden. Derek got to meet a fellow grand scale gardener today and the feedback was lovely. He was amazed with the scale and variety of planting and he said there is nowhere like Crarae! We agree.


Thursday 14th October 2021

Back down to the entrance this week, more Gunnera wars and a lot of hydrangea pruning in the rain. Jock was with us but as we got closer to the road he was put on guard duty in the landrover, which involved a lot of sleeping in the dry. Very sensible. We had to perform emergency overhead pruning as an enormous coach appeared, it was the largest vehicle to drive along the entrance road since MArch 20 lockdown, no way was it going to fit under the 18 months of growth and  damp overhanging cotoneaster without bogging down in the verge or scraping the paintwork. We got thumbs up from the driver!


Thursday 7th October 2021

A very damp work crew of four today. The two Johns, under the watchful eyes of Jock, replaced the chicken wire anti-slip measures on the top bridge over the burn whilst Anne and I reclaimed the pathway from the overgrowth. It was very wet again. Jock was an unofficial ambassador for the garden as he welcomed some hardy souls from a coach party across the bridge. Derek and Peter covered the little bridges further up the glen after leaf blowing duty.


Thursday 30th September 2021

A work crew of two today working with Robert and Peter who were in the ditches stopping a flood. John and I cleared the overhanging trees from the boundary line to give us better access to the planting areas. For 3 hours. It was a VERY wet day, the ditches were running full pelt by the end. Jock was in a huff as he didnt get to join us - you can see him huffing in his kitchen on our twitter feed!

Thursday 23rd September 2021

A work crew of three today working with Derek and Peter. The war on self-sown Gunnera began in earnest. John and John cut down the enormous rhubarb like leaves and dug out the roots, I was on piling up duty and removing brambles. Jock was supervising and watching the amazing blue drangonfly that was darting around. Derek and Peter cut down a tree and discovered a waterfall, we also found a lazy wasp nest when collecting the branches, hence no photos from that area! Ouch John.

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.


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