A few weeks ago I enjoyed some time away with the family where we headed west, spending time exploring the area around Argyle and Bute. This was a part of our country I had yet to explore so naturally I was excited at the prospect of visiting some new gardens.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I see myself as a self-confessed gardening geek but even I must admit I’m now taking things to a new level.
I have a regular supply of garden magazines I read every month and enjoy most of the gardening programmes that are on TV. The stories of plant hunters who, over the last 400 years, have been around the world in search of new plants fascinate me and I love learning about the history of the great gardens we have in our country.
The latest is I’m now making it my goal to visit all the gardens we have. And to ensure I don’t miss any, I intend to keep a list crossing them off after I’ve visited them. My family tell me I’ve now become the garden equivalent of a train spotter!
To find out what gardens were in that area I took my copy of Kenneth Cox’s book Scotland for Gardeners from my bookshelf. This is such a handy guide as it has the most comprehensive list of gardens, nurseries and garden centres that we have, broken down into regions with fantastic images of each taken by his professional photographer brother Ray Cox, who specialises in gardens and plants.
It’s one of those books that, after I open it, I just start flicking through and dream, thinking about all the gardens I want to see plus all the nurseries I want to buy plants from. Once I started ticking off those I had already visited, I was quite surprised by how many I’ve actually been to. From Floors Castle down in the Borders up to Ardfearn Nursery outside Inverness.
It’s going to take a while
I’ve only just scratched the surface (much to family’s delight!) and considering my daughter only allows me to visit three gardens per holiday – unless it has a play park – then it’s going to take me a while.
I appreciate to some (OK, maybe most) that this sounds daft, but I can tell you it’s a great way to see our country with some of our gardens set in the most beautiful parts of the country. Take Attadale Gardens in Wester Ross – the woodland garden with waterfalls, Monet bridges, Meconopsis, bamboo and primula combined with views of Skye.
I appear to be using my verbal ramblings this week as some sort of confession … as this isn’t my only weird habit. I also like to collect heritage trees!
Heritage trees of Scotland by Roger, Stokes and Ogilvie is a book of some of our most fascinating trees from the oldest through to the largest, plus those with historical and cultural significance.
Finding some of these trees takes us to towns and villages, others up forest tracks but on that week I was able to score a few off whilst visiting gardens. And my wife insists she only married me for my good looks!
I’ve always wanted to visit the gardens of Inverary Castle sitting on the shore of Loch Fyne, the family home of the Dukes of Argyle. That wee corner for me is like stepping back in time to a romantic Scotland- stone arched bridges over the River Aray, wooded hillsides and the town with its well-preserved Georgian architecture. Never mind the tourists, I love it.
The gardens around the castle include cherries, rhododendrons and euchryphia with lovely roses and climbing hydrangea on the lower walls. A key feature are the flag borders laid out in the shape of a St Andrews cross.
The grounds also contain what is thought to be the oldest lime tree avenue in Scotland, which dates back to the late 1600s. Enough of the original plantings still survive today for you to capture the impressive feel that makes this whole landscape.
‘How lucky we are’
Now when I visit other large estates with similar drives such as Blair Castle in Perthshire I can now look at them with a more informed perspective.
Every time I head somewhere new and go to a garden for the first time I get reminded all over again just how much garden variety we have in Scotland and how lucky we are.
Due to our maritime climate, we are able to grow such different plants in all four corners of the country. As gardeners, we’ve adapted over time to grow in them and shape them from sea level to mountain tops, giving us the rich horticultural history that’s evident in our landscapes today.
I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to visit all these gardens, but I do know I’m going to love every minute of it and learn so much.
Now, at what point do I tell Mrs C that once I’ve gone through those books it’s then on to the gardens in the guidebook from Scotland’s Garden Scheme…?
Brian Cunningham is head gardener at Scone Palace and a presenter on the BBC’s Beechgrove Garden.