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Scotlands Gardens 2014

This is an illustrated account of our visits to Scotlands Gardens in 2014.



Galloway's Secret Garden – Shambellie.

If you go down to the woods today in New Abbey, Dumfries and Galloway, you are sure to get a surprise. Nestling in the mature woods is a beautiful garden. An oasis in the midst of dark mature trees. A gem which is cherished and loved.

It is a special place rescued from the surrounding woodlands. Known as Shambellie Walled Garden it is such a beautiful and peaceful place. It is also a place of horticultural excellence.


Trapaeolum speciosum, sometimes known as "Flame of the Forest" growing on Camelia.


Ten years ago Sheila Cameron leased the then overgrown walled garden and took on the responsibility of restoring and then maintaining the garden. This was no easy feat. The garden was completely hidden and absorbed by a mass of trees which had occupied it for many years. In fact Sheila had to visit and revisit the woodland just to find the Scottish acre of overgrown garden.


Shelia Cameron, Shambellie.


Most people would hold their hands up an say “no way”. Not Sheila. Today we can all enjoy the garden which is such a wonderful tribute to the tenacity and skill of Sheila Cameron. This is a garden to visit again and again. It is a secret no more. Go, visit and enjoy.


Shambellie Walled Garden.


 Branklyn Perth.


This is a compact garden with changing levels and several outstanding features. There is a rock garden and scree, peat walls, many Orchids, fine small trees and an excellent plant sales area. The garden is also outstanding for the mixed shrub and herbaceous plants which means that there is something of interest all of the year round.


I will let my photographs let you explore this lovely peaceful place.



Meconopsis (Himalayan Poppies) and candelabra Primulas.



Ladies slipper Orchids thrive in this garden.



Cornus as ground cover looks handsome and works well.



The garden walks group (which is part of the Walking Programme Glasgow) enjoy!



Rock roses excell in bright sunlight and don't like shade.



Water Hawthorn (the white shrimplike flowers) are strong scented and an essential in any pool.



Hardy Orchids make a lovely splash of colour in amongst herbceous plants. June 2014.


Kelly Castle Kingdom of Fife.

It was a remarkable day on our garden visit from Glasgow. We saw three roe deer in Cumbernauld, nine near Falkirk and one in Kirkcaldy. We do usually see deer on our garden walks but in three locations on the one day. That's special. Perhaps the countryside is becoming over populated as we are being told at present.

It was a bitter cold day in the East Neuk of Fife. From Kelly Castle, National Trust for Scotland, you could barely see the Bass Rock out in the Firth of Forth. Despite the weather and the time of year there was plenty to see in the garden. The resident Robin met us at Robin's corner and accompanied us round the garden until Judith gave it a few crumbs. This was the signal for to disappear into the Yew hedge for a feast.



We studied the plants that put on a show to banish the winter blues. Snowdrops and winter aconites naturalised under a fine Sycamore greeted us as we approached the Castle. The yellow winter flowering Jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum, greeted us at the garden gate. Inside the garden it was not much warmer despite the wall on all four sides. The vegetables were remarkable in that they were putting on a show too. Purple sprouts, chard in orange and red. Thumping big green Brussels sprouts, the biggest I have ever seen and grand delicious looking leeks were particularly notable. The foliage of the globe artichokes all shiny and silvery brightened the garden in various places.



The snowdrop gate creating an interesting way in to one of the rooms in the garden.


As an organic garden chemicals cannot be used to control pests. The resident hens play an important role in sweeping the garden daily and devouring bugs and caterpillars. The Robin plays his part too in keeping the pests at bay. Sometimes hand picking of caterpillars has to be undertaken to rid plants of mass attacks by for example the Cabbage White butterfly and Gooseberry Sawfly.

Winter stem display can lift a garden in the dreary times. Kerria japonica gives a dark green display, Cornus both red and yellow have to be pruned to twelve inches above soil level in April to throw up good summer growth for a fine stem display in autumn and winter. Some plants look good dead. The seed heads of Honesty, the money or penny plant, take on a silvery hue and can look spectacular. The dramatic heads of Teasel, the plant once used for teasing out wool, look great in winter.




It may be deep midwinter however go and visit your favourite summer garden and observe. There is a lot to see. You should not be disappointed.


The South facing wall displays Chinese Gooseberries also known as Kiwi fruit. If you look carefully you will see that the birds are feeding on one. Perhaps, now that they have started, they will feed on them all between now and spring. On the same wall is a fig which does fruit. Make the most of south facing walls. You will be able to grow some exotic plants and ... yes you could be eating figs from your own garden.


 Culzean Castle Gardens (NTS)

Mount Stuart was ruled out for two reasons. Calmac ferries reported 44 mph gales and disruption and possible cancellation of ferries at short notice due to the weather. Also our party of thirteen dwindled to seven the closer it came to departure time in the morning. We will see if we can reschedule this adventure into the summer programme to cheer up those who are still keen to go.


So plan B was enacted and we all agreed that it had been a really good day. We explored the gardens immediately around the castle and there was plenty to see on the terraces. Unfortunately the Orangery was locked up however we peered through the cloudy glass to see citrus fruit on the many plants growing there. We must go back and have a proper look at this fine building another time.


Then for a gentle walk to the Swan Pond taking in the Grebes, Swans and Herons. We studied the buds and bark of trees. We tried to identify different species and the girls were very talented at naming the trees. Often garden owners are surprised when someone in the group says “This is a tulip tree”. Sometimes the name Liriodendron pops out as well. It makes me so proud of my girls!


The walled garden was interesting as it gave us the opportunity to see the fruit trees in all their structural glory unencumbered by leaves and fruit. Espalier, Cordon and free standing trees. Many covered in wads of lichen indicating low pollution levels.


The herbaceous borders are being restored. Some are completely cleared of plants and no doubt will be replanted in the spring. The bare borders will be cleared of any troublesome perennial weeds giving the new plants a good start. The borders are ablaze with colourful herbaceous plants for most of the summer they are a highlight on the gardens.

The weather held well for us until last thing when the rain came on. Yes, it was a good day. As Jane, our boss says, “Always have a Plan B!”



Danevale Park near Castle Douglas. Drifts of snowdrops everywhere.

Danevale Park near Castle Douglas is a private garden which is open under the umbrella of Scotland’s Garden Scheme. It is an old garden with two fine Yew trees over 300 years old forming an imposing arch over the drive close to the house.



Be prepared to be amazed by the stunning drifts of snowdrops rolling down to the River Dee. This is a wonderful sight. There are smaller drifts of winter aconites, the golden yellow cup shaped flowers presented on fresh green leaves in the gardens. A lovely show of hellebores run along the stable block wall.


The walks through the woods along the banks of the river are gentle and scenic. All things considered this is a lovely garden to visit at this time of year. There is a bonus. For a modest price you can buy snowdrops in the green to take home and plant in your garden. This will help you to remember the snowdrop spectacle at Danevale Park. Excellent.


The swans at Carlingwark Loch, Castle Douglas watch as we picniced on the banks.

The Glasgowlife Walking Programme Garden Walks group enjoy a gentle walk by the River Dee at Danevale Park.


 Greenbank Garden Glasgow. National Trust for Scotland.

Annie and I live close to Greenbank Garden, Clarkston and visit often. It is an oasis on the edge of the vast conurbation of Greater Glasgow. We nip up for a change of scenery and to drink in the scents of so many plants concentrated in such a small space. This is the ultimate garden of rooms. Each one well defined and mostly unique. I have taken photographs almost every time I visit. Here are some of my favourite photographs.





 The fifty pence coin shows the tiny scale of this Narcissus.



Bergenia grown well put on a lovely display of foilage over the winter. This has been a very mild winter sp far and this does affect the growth of the "elephants lugs". March 2014.



Rhododendron praecox is popular as it flowers in February.


The Linns Sherriffmuir.

The Garden Walking Group Glasgow, which is part of the Walking Programme, Glasgowlife, walked in two special gardens in early March 2014. Here is our record of the visit.



It has been an early year for spring flowers however despite this there were many lovely snowdrops to be seen at Dr Evelyn Stevens garden at the Linns on Sherrifmuir. There has been a house and various structures on this site since before the Battle of Sherriffmuir in 1715. There is a record of several Redcoats being killed by the Jacobites on the midden at the Linns. We wondered what it must have like to live in a farm or cottage that got caught up in the battle. However the occupant of the Linns, an old lady, survived.



Evelyn has over one hundred varieties of snowdrops growing at the Linns. A few are variations that she considers different from the others sufficient to be named in their own right. One is Galanthus The Linns which several of us took home to our gardens.




Some years ago I gave Evelyn snowdrops which originated from Balbirnie House, Markinch in the Kingdom of Fife home to the Balfour family. When I worked there in 1962 this particular snowdrop was everywhere in the walled garden. Jack Chalmers, Head Gardener, transplanted some to his home in Inchture. He kindly gave me a decent clump of bulbs some twenty five years ago which have grown very well in my garden in Linn Park Glasgow. Evelyn has decided that it is different from all the others in her garden and that we should call Galanthus Balbirnie. I agree. And it is a fitting tribute to Jack who was an excellent horticulturist and a great communicator. I learned a great deal from him during my spell as a garden boy and later when I called to visit him at the garden when I was still pursuing my career. Some outstanding plants at the Linns were Viburnum fragrans and Daphne lanceolata. Both had striking scents despite the cold and were very much appreciated on our walk.

Gargunnock House gardens.


The gardens and estate are awash with great promise. As we arrived at the sawmill we were greeted by a splash of Rhododendron praecox in full bloom. Definitely a hint of what is to come. We will visit again in May and June to view the wonderful Rhododendrons and Azaleas.


Even this early there was much to see and having Willie Campbell the enthusiastic and knowledgeable Head Gardener take us through the estate looking at trees and the earliest of the Rhododendrons is a great treat. Many snowdrops were still in good shape whilst others were going over.


An ancient Castanea sativa (Sweet Chestnut) graces the parlkland in front of Gargunnock House. There several of this age in the estate.


Jean takes home a trophy.

The propagation and growing on polythene tunnels in the walled garden were a joy to behold. They are packed full of young plants destined for renewing the outstanding plantings in the estate. We had a look at some grafts which were on Rhododendron Cunningham. It's good to see that continuity and renewal are a high priority here. The garden and estate is a living entity and the future is assured by young and new plantings which are an inspiration to us all.



We brought various trophies home with us for our gardens which will serve to remind us of a successful day. It was a super day which means it didn’t rain. We enjoyed cool and bracing weather which is great if you keep moving. A day to remember. Thank you Evelyn and Willie. We hope to call again to visit your wonderful gardens.




 The Doocot at Gargunnock House estate. Photograph by Irene Donaldson. Copyright 2014.


Threave Gardens near Castle Douglas.


We enjoyed a sunny day exploring Threave Gardens (National Trust for Scotland NTS). It is one of the premier gardens in Scotland and is a centre for training young people in plantsmanship and gardening. I had the privilege of training in Threave some fifty years ago. I was in at the beginning, the third intake, in the garden as we know it today. Twelve young people a year were chosen to train there. In return for four days training in the garden we received one days education in subjects as diverse as entomology and botany. At the end of the two years we were ready to be let out into the world. I went to Aberdeen’s Links and Parks Department. Others went to other local authority Parks department and NTS Gardens.


Our exploration of the garden included the rose garden with its mature weeping ash which was transplanted as a mature tree some 50 years ago. It has grown incredibly well despite the upheaval. We went right up to the top of the garden with its view over to the Screel hill. A combination of Eucalyptus and Erica carnea is a lovely feature near the top of the garden.

The south shelter belt took a fair battering during recent gales and there are quite a few trees down. I helped plant this belt of conifers and it is amazing how they have grown over the years. You do not think, when you are planting them, that they be towering some forty feet above you and that you will looking at them in awe. Maybe when you are you you do not look into the future and imagine what trees will be like in fifty years!


A walk through the conifer collection was interesting. Many of the plants sold as “Dwarf Conifers” in garden centres were taller than us. Let the buyer beware. The sculpture garden was interesting and the formality of it is so different from the rest of the gardens. One of the pleasing features is the informality of the whole place.


Many island beds are used in the design of the garden. The ones in front of Threave House are planted with herbaceous plants and will look their best from June and on into September. We were agreed that this is a garden that you can visit at any time of the year and it will something new to see every time.


The rock garden was created out a field as are many of the gardens. Where cows grazed peacefully plants now adorn the landscape. There were rock outcrops under the grass creating an undulating landscape. Remove the top layer of turf and soil and the rock was ready to be incorporated into the rock garden. A combination of natural rock outcrops and imported rocks were used to create a very successful place to grow Alpine plants.


Everywhere you go in Threave at this time of year there are Narcissi in abundance. In fact the garden boasts around two hundred varieties. Major Gordon the gifted Threave to the Trust was a collector of Narcissi and the massive Daffodil bank running down from the house to the rock garden is wonderful to behold. It was not quite out when we visited so the coming fourteen days would be critical if you want to see this marvel.


The peat walls in gardens are formed to provide the ideal growing and display conditions for Ericaeous plants – plants that growth well in acid soils. These include Rhododendrons (dwarf or small varieties) . Others which enjoy the moist fairly shaded peat walls are - gentians, Cassiope and trilliums for example.

The peat walls in the garden have been stripped down and rebuilt. The have lasted some fifty years and no doubt the would have been overgrown and in need of replanting. Persistant weeds can also become established over time and sometimes it is necessary to take serious action to eliminate them. Stripping whats left of the walls down, weed removal and starting again may be the best option. This presents a great opportunity for the students to get hands on experience of building and planting this feature.


Laura admires an Amaryllis in the well stocked glasshouses in the walled garden.


There was much to see and our walking group thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The staff were brilliant, the tea coffee and scones were a meal in themselves. We shall return!

 Walking Programme members in the formal garden at Threave.



 A tender Rhodendron species growing in the display glasshouses at Threave and sharing it's delicate scent on a wonderful sunny day.


 Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders.


Our journey to the Borders was one of two Scotlands. Following the AA Classic Route on the website we travelled from Glasgow along the M8 corridor to the Edinburgh Bypass. These are monotonous roads which get better as you near the Pentland Hills.

Once on the A68 and approach the Soutra the landscape becomes more interesting by the minute. Soon you are in Border country with sheep everywhere with lambs no doubt trying to keep warm. It must be a shock to the system being born into this cold wet spring.

Further south the landscape becomes more arable with a great deal of ploughing under way. Beautiful rich red soil turned up by the ploughs making great blankets of ochre in the spring green landscape.

In villages and small communities swathes of golden daffodils exclaim Spring everywhere. Hazel and willow catkins in abundance mark the time of year too. Pathead and Lauder are attractive wee villages which are sufficiently different enough to mark them out from central belt.



When we arrived at Abbotsford House we immediately noted the changes since our last visit some years ago. A new entrance to parking beside the spacious visitors Centre is strategically placed to be hidden from Abbotsford House. It remains in a landscape which has not changed much in several hundred years.

A recent proposal to develop housing which could be seen from Abbotsford was turned down. Its the old story. Development versus retaining what is special about what we already have. So often development wins and we lose something special in the process.

The new Visitors centre looks like a large box from the car park. Inside there are spacious open plan rooms where you can see and hear a great deal about Sir Walter Scot, author of the Waverley Novels, Magistrate, supporter of all things Scottish in his time. Sir Walter had a hand in the design of his gardens and they are well looked after today.



As we approach spring the simple division of many herbaceous plants is taking place. The old woody centre will be discarded and the young vigorous outer plants will be divided and replanted. Come June, July and September they will be at their very best with a magnificent display of flowers. I am including a photograph of the show in summer from a previous visit. There is so much to see and gardeners can see the potential of what is to come as the season rolls on.



We enjoyed a walk down to the Tweed. It is a big river at this point and there are signs of it overflowing the banks. Substantial tide marks of debris mark the high water points. Careful scrutiny of stacks of twigs against trees reveal young plants of Wild Garlic which when carefully teased out were taken as trophies for planting in gardens at home.

Our day was rounded off by a brief wander through Melrose and then the journey home. It was so overcast near Soutra that we did not see the wonderful view to the Forth estuary and the Kingdom of Fife beyond. All in all a memorable day. Which reminds me of one of my sayings.

It was a memorable day... I can't remember much about it.” Happy gardening!


The garden at Abbotsford in August 2009.

 Dunskey Garden, Near Port Patrick, Dumfries and Galloway.

This is always a popular garden. It boast a fine and difficult Maze … help! The hedges are of Grissellina littoralis the salt resistant shelter plants of many coastal gardens.


Be amazed!

The gardens are interesting and different. The plants growing here look great in the walled garden setting. In particular the fine tree specimens of Cercidiphyllum japonicum (common name the Katsura tree) look excellent in Spring and in Autumn.


Katsura trees on the right of the lawn looking good in spring.

The plants in the glasshouses are interesting and colourful. The National Collection of Clianthus puniceus sometimes know as “lobster claw” or “parrot bill” is growing here. The specimens under glass were really special as they were in full flower. The last time I can recollect seeing Clianthus was in the Walled Garden at Achamore Garden on Gigha. As the shrub is tender it is difficult to sustain out of doors in all but the most sheltered of gardens on the west coast.


Clianthus underglass. Above.



This wonderful splash of colour brightens any day.



It was a memorable day in Galloway. The wee bit rain we had did not damped our spirits. The Head Gardener guided us round the walled garden and glasshouses which was very much appreciated by everyone. As always there was a lot to see and enjoy.

A good time to visit is whilst the snowdrops are in flower. One to keep in mind for the future.

April 2014.