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Gardens of the Far North

The train slowed right down and sounded its horn as it approached the level crossing at Rogart Station in Sutherland. I walked along the passage rocking from side to side and listening to the clackity clack, clackity clack as it crossed the points. When I stopped at my sleeping compartment I looked out to see the train leaving on it's way to Wick.



I went to bed. A short shower of heavy rain battered the roof of my sleeper as I drifted off to sleep. It reminded me of the shed we played in as children. We liked the rain. Up next day after a good nights sleep and into the kitchen compartment to make the porridge. When all was ready I stepped into the dining compartment to sit down with my friends, Alice, Diane and Janette for breakfast.


Alness in Bloom.

We were on our first night of a four day expedition to visit the gardens of the North of Scotland. Sleeperzzz in a siding at Rogart was a comfortable and fun place to stay. We visited Alness to see the spectacular Britain in Bloom displays on our way up. The people of Alness are rightly proud of their endevour and success and the town glows with colour! Our next port of call was Dunrobin Castle, seat of the Clan Sutherland.


Dunrobin is popular with visitors from all parts of the world. The Castle displays fine furniture , paintings and many items recording the lives of generations of Sutherlands. The castle was “the best” Alice has visited. The gardens are out of this world. Designs based on Versailles, spectacular colour and texture and as a bonus, all can be viewed from a considerable height.


Andy Hughes, Falconer, with a Gyrfalcon.

During the season a dramatic and exciting display of Falconry is held twice a day. Birds such as Falcons and Eagle Owls are put through their paces to the delight of large audiences. Having seen the display a number of times I can recommend it. Falconer Andy Hughes makes sure that no birds or people are harmed during the show!

Helmsdale Hostel was our base for two further nights. This was a Drill Hall many years ago. It has a spacious open plan kitchen, lounge, dining area with a beautiful original pine wood floor. The walls are clad in wood giving the whole place a comfortable, restful feel. Two of our party occupied a family room with toilet and shower en suite. Two occupied beds in a seven bed dormitory.

Babs, the Warden, was smashing making sure that everyone was happy and comfortable. The big multi fuel fire fed with logs was a great gathering place for everyone in the hostel. It also heated the hostel to keep it warm.


Langwell Garden is at the end of a long drive which snakes through forest on the Langwell Estate by the Berriedale Braes. You don't expect to see a great garden as you make your way through the trees. Enter the pedestrian gate on the North side of the garden and wait for the reaction of your friends. OH! WOW! is normal. It is beautiful. It is spectacular and unforgettable. What a wonderful and colourful garden by any standards. Herbaceous borders in full bloom backed by fine hedges make a great impact on the eye.

We met people at Helmsdale who were either cycling or walking to John O'Groats from Lands End. They had tales to tell and we were willing listeners. We were to meet three of the cyclists again when we bumped into them shortly after they arrived at John O'Groats. We were able to share in their emotional celebration as it dawned on them that it was over, finished, done. Now for the rest of their lives...


Clematis tangutica.

We visited the Castle of Mey in Caithness which was the holiday home of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Located on the Pentland Firth the winter gales can be so strong that last winter the coping stones were blown right off the great wall of Mey and flew through the air like frisbies. It is not unknown for plants including cabbage to be blown out of the ground. The great wall, internal hedges and traditional Caithness field markers, Caithness stone slabs set on edge, combine to create shelter for plants which grow in this beautiful garden. If you have travelled this far tour the Castle. It is a touching tribute to our Queen Mum.


Head Gardener, Andrew Glaister and ..........share their experience working in an amazing garden so far North.

On the way home we called in to see Inverness Botanic Garden in Bught Park. The tropical glasshouse and the Cacti and succulent house are magnificent. The air plants are the best I have seen. The gardens outside are beautiful and very well maintained. The Plants Sales area is excellent and the quality of the plants is very high. Horticultural excellence is on full display in all departments.


Travelling home down the A9 we could not resist calling in to Jack Drakes Alpine Nursery and Cake Shop at Inschriach near Aviemore. Not just to view the alpines, you understand, but to enjoy a delicious big slice of cake with our teas or coffees. I had the White Lady with my cup of tea. Magic!


My partners on this journey were Diane left. Alice, third from the left and Janette on the right.

Kate Roach, Proprietor of Sleeperzzz, is second from left.

The beach at Dornoch is fabulous. Janette and Diane enjoy the sands.


Our adventure was over and we returned to Glasgow to “old claes (clothes) and porridge”. Here's to the next adventure!


Sleeperzzz web address -


Helmsdale Hostel web address -


Places to eat.

Pittentrail Inn, Pittentrail close to Sleeperzzz


The Bannockburn Inn Helmsdale


La Mirage Helmsdale





Dunrobin Castle


Langwell Garden


Castle of Mey


Inverness Botanic Garden


Jack Drakes Alpine Nursery and Cake Shop Inschriach


Newtonairds near Dumfries.

The Campanula and the statue create a vista of which there are several in the garden.


Sylvia watched a Gardeners World programme on the BBC and spotted their visit to Newtonairds. She recommended it for our group and wham bam, alcazam it was in the programme and we were there!


An old watering trough previously used by milking cows makes a planter for shallow rooted plants and these Pitcher Plants certainly look happy here.

It is a wonderful garden. Everyone was delighted with its huge range of plants, many in full flower. Clematis, rose, Monarda, Campanula, Hosta, and many more. The plant sales area is also a delight and the members of the group returned to Glasgow with many of the plants they enjoyed in the garden.


Katherine has a great collection of photographs of gardens and flowers.

Indian runner ducks roam about the garden and are key to the battle with slugs and snails. We know from our own experience that if you want Hostas to look their best you have to do battle with slugs and snails! My personal system is to go into the garden before seven in the morning with an old spoon and container and scoop up the offenders. I have managed to collect seventy in one go.


The upper garden and some of the National Hosta Collection with fragrant flowers.

What to do with them now? I recommend that you go to a place well away from your garden and coup them out. I use the two hundred acre Linn Park for this part of the event. Research has shown that if you tip them onto your neighbours garden they can find their way back home. Ouch!


Complementary colours of Viola and ?

The garden at Newtonairds can be described as a game of two halves. The lower garden has long island beds with grass paths linking them together. The beds are comprised of herbaceous plants, climbing plants and shrubs. They are colourful with interesting colour blends and contrasts.


Vegetables grown in the outdoor dining area - a novel feature.

The upper garden is wilder, shaded by trees and Hostas hold sway with other plants supporting the collection. One thing the upper garden has the edge on is the view! We enjoyed this elevated view over the lower garden which showed it off to good effect. A lot of floating colour and very pleasing to the eye.


A fine display of clematis.

Carol caters for individuals and groups. We enjoyed the cream sponge tea and coffee. In fact I had a job extracting the group from the small marque . The judgement ... absolutely delicious. Wilma was delighted!


Bridget shows off her Clematis. A good way to remind you of the garden.

Carol and James Coutts were excellent hosts giving us a lot of their valuable time. They met and greeted us on arrival and waved us good bye when we departed. That's gold standard treatment! The garden is a full time job for them and they deserve as many visitors as can make it to this idyllic part of Dumfries and Galloway. Thank you Carol and James for our lovely and memorable visit. "We'll be back!"


Web site


Telephone 01387 820203

We had a lovely visit to Newtonairds.

Logan Botanic Garden, Galloway.

We drove down the Ayrshire coast to Stranraer and on to the North Rhins of Galloway to arrive at the most exotic garden in Scotland. We were in for a treat. Richard Baines the Curator of the Garden met us and lead us on a walk through the garden.


Richard shares his knowledge and enthusiasm.


All sixteen of us enjoyed this tour very much. Richard was informative some times funny and his enthusiasm was infectious. “He didn't loose us. He just gave us the right amount of information” was one comment on the tour. We all learned a lot and enjoyed the visit.


The new glasshouses add another "green" dimension to Logan Botanic Garden.

Following this tour de force in Logan we headed South to the Mull of Galloway. The tale of the last Pict and the heather ale did meet with sage approval. “They are still brewing Heather Ale in Scotland” was one chirpy comment. And anyway the Picts have not gone. They are still in our midst as DNA investigations have proved. Well there you are then. Buy your heather ale brewed by Fraoch and shake hands with your neighbour. Or better still give your neighbour a hug. He or she could be a Pict!


Listening to every word ... a highlight of our visit.


As we progress through the South Rhins the landscape becomes ever more wild. We are on roads with passing places however a reasonable amount of traffic is making it's way up from the Mull. As we reach the most southern tip fences disappear and the cows and calves are free range. They are so used to traffic that mums give us a cursory glance as we creep past them and their feeding calves.


Works of art are on display in the garden.

Before us at the top of the last rise is the Lighthouse which is ninety feet above sea level. You can go up the steps to the light an enjoy amazing views. On a clear day you can sea Cumbria, Ireland and the mountains of Mourne and the Isle of Man. At this point you are on a line of latitude South of Newcastle.


Echium nervosum in Logan garden is attracting foraging by many bees.


There is an interesting RSPB reserve at the Mull and the cottage with displays is worth a visit. Two monitors display nests and chicks being cared for by the parents.


Onwards and upwards ... you can climb to the top of the lighthouse at the Mull of Galloway.

All good things must come to an end so it is time to travel all the up the West Coast and back to Glasgow. Another day of gentle walks and sociable companionship must come to a close. Thank you Richard for a great tour much enjoyed by my girls! Thank you girls for a happy day out. See you soon.


Some of our party haven't been blown away!


Logan Botanic Garden is a satellite of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

24 07 15 

Stobo Japanese Water Garden the Scottish Borders
Visited on Thursday 14 May 2015.



“The garden is completely man made and is one hundred years old”. Hugh Seymour, owner, farmer, introduced us to the garden. Many of the tree are considerably older than one hundred years so the garden was created in a fairly mature landscape of fine trees. No matter what the history of the site the garden is spectacular and on occasion breathtaking.


The water starts from a dam at the top and the first waterfall is spectacular. The dam was originally created to provide hydro power for Stobo Castle and Stobo Home farm. It now is a peaceful haven for fishing.


The close bye fields are occupied by a beautiful herd of Aberdeen Angus X cattle which are in superb condition with fine calves. Cows chewing the cud and resting with young calves in the sunshine in the rolling borders landscape. I cannot imagine a more idyllic rural scene.


We visited in mid May 2015 which was a wonderful experience. The sunlight filtering through the young foliage of big trees created dappled shade and picked out the new fresh foliage of substantial small trees such as Japanese Acers. The colours were beautiful.


We were advised that Autumn is another good time to visit as the many species of trees in autumn colour put on a good show. Sounds very promising and we are looking forward to it.


The early spring foliage and sunlight creates a beautiful scene.
Dawyck Botanic Garden in the Scottish Borders.
Visited on Thursday 14 May 2015.


The Giant Redwood is one of many big trees including record holders.

The garden is more an Arboretum than garden. Has many fine trees and some are well over one hundred years old. In the Spring it has a massive display of snowdrops running along the Scrape burn which is a feature of the garden



Dawyck House is now separate from the gardens and can be viewed from afar.

The Visitors Centre and Tea Room is well appointed and cater for celiacs. There are exhibitions in the centre which add value to the garden.




Dawyck visitors centre with excellent access for people with walking difficulties.

This is the home of the Dawyck Beech Fagus sylvatica Dawyck and a number of specimens of varying ages can be see. This fastigiate beech is suitable for spaces which are more limited in dimension as it in narrow and upright.



Sorry about this - the programme does not appear to like this Dawyck Beech.

One very fine specimen of Corylus colurna (Turkish Hazel) is located at the entry to the visitors centre. I recall the late Edward Kemp (a past Curator of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh) recommending it as a street tree. In Paris I saw a number of streets very successfully dressed in Turkish Hazel so Mr Kemp was on the ball as always. I more recently saw specimens growing in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.


 The beautiful foliage of the Turkish Hazel

Leathad, Upper Carloway, Isle of Lewis.


When we visited the Western Isles we made a special point of visiting this garden. The landscape close by is green with old crofts appearing to be down to grass. However not far a way the land was barren and bare with a lot of exposed rock on view. One thing is certain. There would not be a garden in this exposed place without shelter.


We speak of a garden of rooms and this is a necessity here. Each room has its own shelter built in to protect the plants from the winds. The windbreaks are also affected by the winds which are often gale force in the winter months. However the beautiful gardens and plants growing in the rooms are a testimony to the dogged determination and dedicated work of the owners, Rowena and Stuart Oakley.



Honey keeps an eye on visitors whilst Rowena shares her knowledge.

This is a plantsmans garden with many different plants surviving and thriving despite the element. There was much to see in the rooms and pockets of gardens. The shelter was of willow, Sorbus and Pampas grass.



Fruit and vegetables are successful and a large poly tunnel is used to grow vegetable for early crops. Fruit and the exotic root ginger is also being grown under cover. It's a great find and we did enjoy our visit.


Thank you to Honey for seeing us around and to Rowena for sharing so much knowledge and information. It was a highlight of our week in the Western Isles!