Mother’s Day Inspiration: Inverewe Garden

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Lilies against a threatening Wester Ross sky

I had planned to write about my own garden in France the next time I blogged. But today in the UK is Mother’s Day, and I can’t stop thinking about my own mum.

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Thank goodness it’s turned out fine again!

Together we took short breaks around Scotland and visited quite a few gardens in recent years. My memory of those trips would be different from hers, although there’s a parallel thread. We were the typical mother/daughter double act. My memory is that she stayed (at the age of 82 to 86) in the car too much and was ‘difficult’. Her memory would be that I walked (very fast) a lot – and was ‘difficult’!

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This is a brief photographic record of the last trip we took together, in July 2016. You can find out more about Inverewe garden here.

But you must visit – there’s nothing quite like it.

The garden was started in the 1860s by Osgood Mackenzie on a windswept Wester Ross peninsula, close to the village of Gairloch. In latitude it is nearer to the Artic Circle than St Petersburg or most of Labrador.  When Osgood wrote of the estate in 1862 he described only one dwarf willow growing on the whole of the Inverewe peninsula and a thin skin of acid peat where the rock was not exposed.

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There may be a Mother’s Day message there?

Probably the star attraction at Inverewe is the walled vegetable and flower garden. To Osgood, this area was the garden at Inverewe – the rest was just ‘woodland’. If you garden on a slope (like me) this will encourage you!

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Huge volumes of topsoil and seaweed were added to enrich the area for vegetables, flowers and fruit. There are flat paths at the base of three sloping terraces. (And all of that must have cost a fortune!)

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A central path bisects the garden, running right down the slope to the sea shore opposite the village of Poolewe.

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At the bottom is a gate that I seem to remember was created by local craftsmen and depicts the tree of life. (I should get my notebook out more often … so what if it’s raining!)

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Not just fruit and vegetables in this walled garden – superb herbaceous plantings too, jostling alongside fruit trees.

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You may notice that the weather changed while we were there. Inverewe gets rain two and half days out of three! We were lucky to get the half day break …

A closer look at those enviable vegetable slopes.

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You’ll notice cut flowers mingling with the colours of purple kale and cabbage in the pictures above. Cut flowers (like the lilies at the start of this post) would be almost as important as vegetables in the house’s walled garden.

Sweet pea ‘Matucana’ and seering orange gladioli …

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Not for cut flower, but I fell in love with this luscious poppy, ‘Lauren’s Grape’. I bought seed as soon as I arrived back in France.

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And can anyone tell me what this wonderful umbellifer is? I looked everywhere but couldn’t find a label. Is it a selinum species?

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Look at these compost bins – I’m trying this at home …

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The prettiest thing in the walled garden that day …

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Right next to the walled garden there is a newer area (on another slope!) near the glasshouses. Richly planted with South African (and Mediterranean) natives.

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In need of a cup of tea? Follow the drive to the old house (not open to the public) and the tea rooms tucked back in the old stable yard. You can use your little electric buggy if you are not so nifty on your feet …

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The house was built after Osgood’s original building was ruined in 1914. Here we have the main lawn, with a herbaceous border below the drive. The slope leads to the rock garden created by Osgood’s daughter Mairi.

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Moving away from the house into the woodland

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Mairi’s rockery slopes to the shoreline. Here, looking back up to the house past an old eucalyptus

On the lawn of the house stands  a magnificent variegated Turkey oak. The lichens are testimony to the clean air up here.

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From the house lawn paths lead out in every direction through the woodland gardens and to the highest lookout point.

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Bear in mind that every single tree on the Inverewe estate was planted either in Osgood’s time, or later. All he knew was a single old weather-dwarfed willow. Scot’s pine is the ultimate in shelterbelt planting.

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One of my chief pleasures that day was the bark and silhouettes of various eucalypts and rhododendron species. Leaving aside the walled garden and the coastline, it is these that the word ‘Inverewe’ will always bring to my mind.

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And, of course, this wouldn’t be a Scottish garden benefiting from the warm Gulf Stream without the lush sub-tropical effect of foliage plants … astelia, tree ferns, palms, ferns, bamboos.

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And the highest lookout point over the water to Poolewe …

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The village of Gairloch is a treat in summer (as long as it dosen’t rain too much!). Even without a visit to the garden at Inverewe (only about 10 minutes away) the peninsula and  occasionally  treacherous coastal road that leads there are a balm for the crowd-sickened soul. Follow the road for Kyle of Lochalsh, turn right just before Kyle … and keep going. For ever …

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We stayed at the Old Inn, right next to the harbour. Still a picturesque little fishing port, perfect for a summer evening stroll.

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And I never thought I could enjoy plastic so much … look at those colours!

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So, as I said, Mum and I argued as we toured Scotland. We stayed in small hotels – and argued about the rooms. We drove – and argued about the roads. We ate in nice little cafes and tea rooms – and then we argued some more. Our joint autobiography would be: We Argued all the Way. But we also talked a lot about our shared past. And, most importantly – and probably why she was so insistent on these trips – we laughed an awful lot together and made very happy (and funny) memories.

Inverewe is the last and (arguably!) the best of these. Incidentally, for any other elderly or less than completely physically able individual considering visiting Inverewe, don’t be put off by the slopes. Mum was provided with a little electric buggy to tootle about in – and given a quick lesson in handling. But even an electric buggy has its limits on an estate like Inverewe. There were things she never saw.

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So, on this Mother’s Day 2017 … my thoughts? The next time your mother suggests you take a road trip together, seize the chance before it’s too late. You’ll be living on the warmth of your memories for the rest of your life – and even your regretful recollection of the silly rows will become a reminder of your precious, shared laughter.

Molly Buchanan, 25 January 1930 to 8 January 2017.

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19 thoughts on “Mother’s Day Inspiration: Inverewe Garden

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks so much Beatrix – bought some plants today. Spending money on the garden always makes you feel better, doesn’t it. Hope the zoo/garden at Basel are thriving in the sunshine!

      Reply
  1. Eliza Waters

    I’m sorry to read of the loss of your mother, Cathy. Always a blow one can never be prepared for. I’m glad you had that last trip together and the memories shared. Inverewe looks spectacular – tropicals in Scotland, who would have thunk it? 😉

    Reply
    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks Eliza – I didn’t think it would be so awful. Still, it comes with the rest of the (lovely) package, doesn’t it? There are gardens down in Galloway that are even more lushly self-tropical. Hopefully climate change won’t mean we lose that warming Gulf Stream.

      Reply
  2. rusty duck

    I’ve been there. Not in summer, sadly. In the middle of winter! How different it looks.
    So sorry to hear about the recent loss of your Mum. Take care x

    Reply
    1. Cathy Post author

      It would have been written – but with no mention of Mum. I just had the itch on Sunday morning. Still – hooray for Mother’s Day!

      Reply
  3. Sam

    So sorry to read of your mum’s recent death, Cathy. How lovely to have such wonderful memories of time spent with her in this amazing garden. Thank you for sharing these beautiful photos. Take care. Sam x

    Reply
  4. Cathy

    I am so sorry to hear about the death of your Mum, Cathy – but what a lovely tribute to her this post was. I guess losing her was the reason behind your difficult winter and no doubt you will still be feeling very raw – take care, my thoughts are with you.Thank you for managing to share your thoughts with us as well as all those lovely photos – I had to check back on our calendar to see when it was we were there last year, but it was about a month after your visit.

    Reply
    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks for your thoughts Cathy. Ordered some plants today! Spring is here. xxx I would love to see Inverewe both earlier and later!

      Reply
  5. Anna

    Inverewe looks so tranquil and magical Cathy and it sounds that you could not have had a better companion to share your visit with despite the all the arguments 🙂 I’m so sorry to hear of your Mum’s death. It was my first Mother’s Day too without my Mum who died in December and I can only echo your advice. Take care xxx

    Reply
    1. Cathy Post author

      Ah, Anna. We all get only one mother, don’t we? Thanks so much for your kind comment and hoping that you find a lot of peace and joy too in spite of seeing the world without your mum.

      Reply

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