ECOSYSTEM isn’t a word you expect to hear much in an area of high-density housing. But in Edinburgh’s Pilton, there’s a garden crammed with so many plants and trees that 29 species of bird have been counted as visitors.
The 90ft by 40ft space at 10 Pilton Drive North is as unpretentious as its neighbourhood on the northern edge of the capital. Yet the owner means business when it comes to attracting wildlife. Fraser Drummond has lived there for ten years and created a garden where you look out and don’t see space, but an abundance of green growth.
When he arrived, the garden was mainly lawn, and with it, weeds. Now, it is divided into rockery, herbaceous and ponds, with the emphasis on having something to look out on all year round. “I like that you don’t get a sense of the time of year when looking out because there’s so much evergreen,” says Fraser. “Other gardens have immaculate lawns and shrubs, but this is a garden you can wander about in.”
Visitors come for the spring flowers. Just now, fritillaries and the dog’s tooth violet, Erythronium “Pagoda”, are about to explode. The red and yellow striped Kaufmanniana dwarf tulips are in flower, while, polyanthus, cowslips and the pale-green cups of Corsican hellebore have lifted the garden towards a season that Fraser says arrives with a bang.
“The garden is all just an adjunct for birdwatching,” he says, and is proud of having attracted a woodpecker. “This is a key species. If you have a woodpecker it means the environment is healthy. There’s an ecosystem here, the frogs eat the snails and slugs; there are butterflies and moths, there’s a fox here every night, and a sparrowhawk every day. Where you’ve got birds you’ve got the whole of nature, and where you can’t afford chemicals you’ve got an abundance of nature.”
This is an organic garden. A rain butt feeds a fish tank in his greenhouse, and the nitrogen-rich water then gets recycled on to the soil, along with ash from Fraser’s fire and home-made compost. As well as the birds, frogs thrive in the ponds and the healthy environment also brings in a fox, squirrels, hedgehogs and rabbits.
Fraser’s approach to gardening is strongly informal, which he sees as all the more important in a built-up area. Letting plants flourish where they want to is a key to successful gardening. “I don’t just grow edibles in rows, they grow where they want to.” Rhubarb grows by the side of the pond along with chives. His fruit trees include plums, apples, pears, damsons and berries.
At the rear of the garden there is a band of willow, ash and elder. Beyond this is a new development of flats in what used to be open ground. A 150-year-old hawthorn hedge and mature lime tree in the nearby street have long gone, and Fraser laments the loss of such natural features. “This is Granton. In this area there is no concession to the environment at all.”
He collects unusual trees and shrubs and these include a Ribes speciosum, the fuchsia-flowered currant that produces red flowers in spring. Year-round colour comes from the narrow evergreen leaves of plants such as Euphorbia mellifera, or honey spurge, and Reyneckia carnea, an unusual lily that provides ground cover. The garden’s sensory nature is accentuated with scented myrtle and daphne.
His summer highlights include a giant red hot poker Kniphofia northiae and a Stewartia pseudocamellia, an American relative of the magnolia, which flowers in August. He collects rowans, with 11 species in the garden. Among these are a dwarf rowan Sorbus reducta and a very unusual Chinese species Sorbus gongshangiensis, which produces a mass of pink flowers and berries.
The first area includes a windmill palm tree (Trachycarpus fortunei) before the garden splits from side to side with a yew hedge. Beyond an arch lie the ponds and a path meandering to the back of the garden with its erythroniums, capitata primulas and snakeshead fritillaries, the latter having been in flower six weeks early.
All his plants are allowed to multiply. There is not just the odd primula but 15 species, not just Corsican hellebore but niger and dark hellebore orientalis. Not even the water butt is allowed to sit apart from nature, clothed in a Japanese loquat.
If this seems like a lot of garden, Fraser makes it sound easy: “If you do all the weeding in early spring it’s not bad after that.” He is blessed with good, free-draining soil. The prehistoric land was a beach close to the Firth of Forth. It’s not all plain sailing though; he has lost a Dicksonia tree fern from last winter’s heavy snows, and a photinia “Red Robin” shrub to a virus.
At the front he has a gravel garden with free spreading grape hyacinths and self-seeded geranium. More rowans bring bees and thrushes. “Even though it’s low maintenance, I planted it for nature.”
• 10 Pilton Drive North is open for Scotland’s Gardens on Sunday, 15 April, 11am-4.30pm