Category Archives: Scottish gardens to visit

Mother’s Day Inspiration: Inverewe Garden



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.


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’!


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.


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!


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!)


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


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!)


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




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.



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 …


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.


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


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


The prettiest thing in the walled garden that day …


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.


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 …


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.


Moving away from the house into the woodland


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


And the highest lookout point over the water to Poolewe …


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 …


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


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


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.


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.




Scottish Inspiration 2: Kellie Castle Garden


It’s been a long, difficult winter – and a very long time since I blogged. Hopefully the winter’s treated you well?

Today I’m looking back at what now seems like a kind of golden era last summer, and remembering how much I love Scottish gardens.

Those who read my blog regularly (when I post!) may remember that last year I took a look at a garden in Fife called  Cambo that had developed a prairie-style planting within an old walled garden. Today I’m featuring a very different garden visited on the same day, just a little bit further around the coastline from Cambo.

Who could say, looking at Kellie, that borders of nepeta, roses and delphiniums are hackneyed? They are rightly popular because they are so easy on the eye, especially in this soft summer light.


The garden at Kellie Castle is much more traditional than Cambo, the kind I remember visiting with so much enthusiasm when my gardening ambitions were only in bud. A garden that almost typifies the Scottish style.


Cool climate, lots of rain, an incredible jungle of lush growth during those wonderful June and July days when the countryside pulls out the stops and shows you what it can do.

Nowhere (that I’ve ever visited) can do herbaceous borders – perennial delphiniums and phlox, biennials like sweet william, annuals like sweet peas – better than Scotland can. Fortunately I don’t despair, although I garden in what is (by comparison) incredible heat.


Kellie Castle has been a National Trust for Scotland garden since 1970. You can read all about it here.  The earliest records of a castle on the site date back to 1150 and the Siward family, who owned the lands in the thirteenth century, have been linked to Malcolm Canmore, the Scottish king who overthrew Macbeth.


James VI of Scotland and I of England stayed here in 1617 during his only visit to Scotland after the Union of the Crowns on 24 March 1603. It was he who appointed Sir Thomas Erskine (the then owner) Earl of Kellie, in gratitude for the fact that Erskine had saved his life during an earlier conspiracy against the king.

Of quirky interest is that the fifth Earl of Kellie is reputed to have hidden in a burnt-out tree stump in the castle grounds for the entire summer following the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

The most highly cultivated part of the garden is  seventeenth century with late Victorian additions. There are several features that I particularly love.

The geometric lines of a walled garden always seem to beg for long walks that lead to definining focal points. The paths are narrow at Kellie, but their drama is not diminished by the proportion.


And – as in the best gardens – plenty of areas to sit and enjoy.


Some of the walks are in shade at the base of the main walls. Ferns and Aruncus sylvestris are really something to brag about. All that lovely soft rain.


The climate is not kind to box, in our blight-afflicted era. But Scottish gardeners seem to battle on undeterred. Is there a lesson there for us all? The long, double (and very narrow) herbaceous borders are a case in point. I don’t really notice the box damage with the exuberance behind to draw the eye. But what will the damage be like in a few years’ time?


The seedheads of the angelica really sing out against the billowing shapes behind it – and where would the form and sense of the planting be without the sharp lines of the box? Will they replace the box in years to come with something that will better tolerate close proximity to very tall border companions?

There are many plants in this border grouping that I think of as a bit thuggish on my own plot. Kellie Castle makes me think again. Goldenrod, Lysimachia punctata … Oh, and something to which I’m very partial: the pale yellow, fluffy flowers of Thalictrum speciossisum, rarely seen in such quantity.



A double form of Geranium himalayense (at a guess) is a bit more special.


The soil below is, as in all the best herbaceous borders, invisible. And here’s the secret of that incredibly tall – yet upright – growth in such a narrow space. A network of nylon webbing through which the plants grow in spring.


I was going to try the same in my own delphium borders, which are backed by michaelmas daisies. And then I realised it would be impossible, since I want to get in to cut the delphiniums.

Sometimes the dividing line between herbaceous border and lawn has been created by roses grown as swags on metal supports. A pretty solution for boundaries in a formal garden.



The organic vegetable plot doesn’t lack a decorative appeal either – and again, the path dressed with a rose-tumbled arch helps to pull the whole together.



There’s the odd little accent I’d kill for in my own garden – we don’t often see these forcers in this part of France. But the Kellie collection of rhubarb varieties is pretty spectacular and deserves the ornament.


And some quirky little trained fruit trees in an open area at the bottom of the garden.


Tropaeolum speciosum is not something I’m ever going to be trying at home. It loves acid soil and a cooler climate – it is hardy to -10 or -15 degrees centigrade. I’ve seen the best specimens climbing through yew hedges in Scottish gardens – not for nothing is the common name Scottish flame flower – although it actually comes from Chile. Kellie Castle’s sample is one of the nicest.



Finally, leave the walled garden for a breath of air on the beautiful Fife coastline.


I’ll be back with news from my own garden soon. Until then, have a good weekend!

Tree Following March 005





Scottish inspiration 1: Cambo Gardens


The Walled Garden at Cambo House

You’d think that living in France would be inspiration enough for someone creating a garden, wouldn’t you? Not so. Little did I know, when I started making this garden, that I’d have to do without the following: horticultural grit, decent propagating containers, vermiculite, perlite, interesting herbaceous perennials – oh, and interesting shrubs.

Of course, I can (like anyone else) shop online for the plants that are missing in my life, but it’s not quite the same thing as picking up a special something on a day out, is it?

But the most serious gap in my gardening life is garden inspiration.

Consequently, when at home in Scotland once or twice a year (as I am at the moment), I often try to cram it all in. The rigid seed trays go into my hand luggage for the return journey (horticultural grit is a step too far), and sometimes I clock up the miles ogling fantastic gardens.

On Saturday 23 July we visited a garden in Fife, just south of St Andrews, that I’ve long wanted to see. Cambo Gardens at Kingsbarns.

Some of the information that follows comes from a wonderful piece that Stephen Lacey wrote about Cambo in The Telegraph way back in 2012. Do follow my link and read the original if you are interested in learning more about Cambo.

The estate has been owned by the Erskine family for three centuries, although the original house burnt down in 1878. The existing house is austere in the best Scottish sandstone tradition.


Cambo House from the rear, on the paths that lead to the Walled Garden


The front of the house, near the visitors’ car park


To the rear again …


What I would give to have an echium of this stature in front of my house …

The Cambo estate has become Scotland’s answer to ‘galanthomania’, because you can walk the woodland paths in February and drink in a wave of snowdrops to equal those further south in England. I can only drool these days …

Catherine Erskine began the snowdrop festival in 2003 and since then a number of other Scottish gardens have joined in to make Scotland’s own snowdrop trail. Have a look at for more information.

Apparently when Catherine  arrived at the house in 1976 with her husband, Sir Peter Erskine, she didn’t exactly see eye to eye with the head gardener in post at the time. She suggested adding herbaceous plantings in the top corner of the old walled garden and was denied the liberty – this was the only place the wretched man could grow onions.

Fortunately Catherine found a more sympathetic head gardener in the shape of Elliot Forsyth who came to Cambo in 2001. When I read today that Forsyth’s wife is a landscape painter and he himself is an admirer of Piet Oudolf, I understood Cambo’s transformation from the days when herbaceous perennials were denied access …

I’m concentrating on the Walled Garden in this post because it set me on fire. Only a short walk through the gardened woods behind the house and into another world.



A kind of greeting on the other side of the Walled Garden door … here we have modern chaos of the nicest kind, rather than Victorian order.

Yes,  there are many of the features you would expect to find in a Victorian or Edwardian walled garden.

The long pathways lacing the various elements of this two and a half acre site together.


A peaceful horticultural oasis of lawn at the garden’s heart …


There are the old greenhouses – one straddles a stream that runs through the centre of the garden.


It is not schadenfreude to admit relief at the sight of box blight damage … if we suffer, we feel relief that others are soldiering on in spite of it.

The stream ornamented with a small gazebo and bridge in a vaguely Chinese style …


Box-edged herbaceous borders in a more classical style …



Some terrific plant surprises … stupendous Veratrum seed heads rising against the classic box hedges …


… and treasures like this foxglove (which I believe to be Digitalis parviflora).


And the usual vegetables you’d expect to find in an old Scottish walled garden … although they are teamed with some rather odd bedfellows. The potager (below) was ‘resting’ in 2016 because it is currently being revamped. It gives you some clues as to how the rest of your visit will go. This is not your standard walled garden.


The remaining planting uses a very modern prairie style in a limited plant palette – its creators have let rip in the most exciting way. I cannot begin to name all of the grasses, although Stipa gigantea, Stipa tenuissima, Miscanthus and Calamagrostis are prominent.


Associating with this backbone to striking effect are Achillea, bronze fennel, Agastache, Salvia, Veronicastrum, Veronica, Monarda, Eupatorium and Eryngium … in huge variety.  And lots and lots of Sanguisorba – in reds, whites, pinks. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.





Best of all – this is minimal maintenance. Forsyth (quoted by Stephen Lacey) says: ‘In February we cut them [the grasses and perennials] to near ground level with a strimmer, then drive over them with a mower on a high setting. The pulverised stems then get topped with bark. Any weeds get a wipe with glyphosate. We don’t do any staking or feeding, as we want plants to grow with low nitrogen levels as they would in a real meadow.’

Personally, I haven’t seen anything this beautiful since Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden. And I developed a serious love affair with Trifolium rubens


And cemented my already fond regard for Heleniums …


As well as Veronicastrum


And Sanguisorba … and Eupatorium … I never knew there were so many beautiful species and cultivars.


The only plant I saw at Cambo which would be doomed at Châtillon were the Eryngiums. So sad …


I looked and looked and took too many photographs. My overall feelings were the following:

1. Wow – I’m in a time warp! These roses and perennials were flowering 6 weeks ago at home!
2. This is what I’m trying to do at home … and maybe it will work …

That’s a good garden, when you want to rush home and get digging/weeding.

The only criticism I’d level is lack of labelling on the many roses. These are planted underneath the old fruit trees in the Walled Garden (possibly in too much shade) and against the surrounding walls.


In fact everywhere that the garden has been divided into smaller rooms, roses feature in the divisions.

The gardens are open from 9pm until 5pm every day and entry is £5.50 for adults. There’s a good cafe, handily positioned right next to the small plant centre, which offers the specialties of the garden, propagated on site.


If I meet you there next year, don’t show me your purchases. You’ll only make me jealous because I can’t fit them in my hand luggage.

This is only the first part of my Scottish inspirations … there are at least three more in the pipeline.



Crarae Garden: in love with azaleas

428While the rain pounds down on France and the paintings are evacuated from the Louvre, I’m feeling an intense need to get away to a sunny June memory of a Scottish garden.

Yesterday  I started looking back on pictures of Crarae Gardens, just south of Inveraray, on the north shore of Loch Fyne in Scotland. At the beginning of June 2014 my mum and I were on our way to spend an enchanted few days on her favourite island, the isle of Arran.

Oh, I wish I was back there today!


Even the car park at Crarae looks good …


And who wouldn’t want to end up here?

Crarae is known for its 50 acres of woodland garden and fabulous views out of the garden to the surrounding, unsurpassed, beauty. That’s the perfect garden, in my eyes … beautiful plantings in an amazing situation.

It was planted as an experimental garden back in the 1930s. The Gulf Stream (whose effects, I imagine, they were experimenting with) has quite a profound effect on the west coast of Scotland – particularly further south on the Rhins and Machars of Galloway that protrude into the Atlantic.

The estate had been owned by the Campbell family since 1825 and the Lodge (below) was rebuilt by the widow of Sir George Campbell, 4th Baronet, in 1898.

288362It was the wife of the 5th Baronet who began to make the garden – and she just happened to be the aunt of our famous alpine plant explorer, Reginald Farrer. Her son, Sir George (the 6th Baronet), was given the estate in 1925 and lived there until 1967. It was he who created the extensive woodland plantings.

The aim was (as in many gardens of the period) to mimic a Himalayan glade, using the rushing stream and waterfalls of the Crarae Burn as it plunges down to Loch Fyne, as the focal point. The garden includes many original introductions from that period, including some beautiful large-leaved species and hybrid rhododendrons.


With apologies for the poor quality of the picture … and lack of species ID. But I hope you feel the atmosphere.


The National Trust for Scotland acquired the house in the twentieth century and the gardens themselves in 2001. The Trust remade many of the paths and bridges within the garden.


276Crarae holds a National Collection of the genus Nothofagus, but there are exciting specimens of tree fern (Dicksonia antartica) – apparently the garden has one of the largest fern populations in the UK – and the kind of Chilean flame trees (Embothrium coccineum) that I associate with Irish gardens.

Wandering on your own in a garden like this on the very best of Scottish summer days is the ultimate joy. I defy anyone to say they don’t like azaleas and rhododendrons after seeing them flowering here, in what is the next best thing to their natural habitat.


332337321306305And yes, you will also find candelabra primulas (and the now illegal skunk cabbage) …

293298And gunnera aplenty …

345Not to mention that only Scotland (and their natural habitat) can produce a display of mecanopsis like this …270

Although there is some wheelchair access, you should be prepared to ascend and descend again by steep woodland paths. There’s nothing quite like a Scottish garden on the perfect June day. Enough words …

This is where we ended up, on the Isle of Arran. More later …