Every year we think we’ve had the best summer trip ever, and every year we seem to rise to new heights, which only goes to prove that we live in a country of exceptional gardens – and have exceptional trip organisers. Thank you Maggie Duguid of HPS for taking the lead this year, and Irene Bosomworth for her input. The preparation involves time and effort, strong admin skills, and occasional attacks of the jitters until the event is well under way.
Day One this year was one of contrasts: the delightfully domestic Bridge End Garden and Nursery at Gretna was followed by the grand, minimalist modern landscape and landforms of Charles Jencks’ Garden of Cosmic Speculation at Portrack House. Shambellie Walled Garden was the result of a 10-year project by a few enthusiasts to recover a long-neglected site, and pleased both design and plant enthusiasts.
Kirkcudbright, for such a tiny town, has great horticultural riches. Elizabeth MacGregor’s half-acre walled garden at Ellenbank is a picturesque treat packed, as is the nursery (oh – the nursery!), with cottage garden plants. The Scottish National Trust volunteers do a great job at Broughton House(home and studio to artist Edward Hornel from 1901 – 1933) and its garden. Hornel was himself passionate about the garden which is “a rare example in Scotland of an 18th-century garden layout with artistic embellishments”. If that description makes it sound rather formal, well – in practice it isn’t; a myriad of familiar and unusual plants tumble over the paths, the lawn and each other to produce a rich, colourful and welcoming experience with hidden corners and a view over the Dee.
Two private gardens completed Day Two. The Limes is owned by the generous (ie trowels and forks ever ready) McHales. Their less-than-an-acre garden is full of covetable plants in the shale garden, the rockeries, the quiet area behind the outbuildings, the vegetable garden and shrub and herbaceous borders. They were hospitable too – we managed to tear ourselves away from the garden long enough to fill up on tea, home-made jam & cream scones and cakes.
We then had access to Millhall at Borgue. The owner was away, but Rob Asbridge of Buckland Plants has been appointed gardener to this 5-acre site, and was the perfect person to answer our questions. The garden slopes down to and runs along the edge of the Dee Estuary, so the transition from exotic garden to rocky shoreline is an interesting one, reminiscent of Inverewe on a reduced scale. I say exotic because the owner’s aim is to acquire unusual shrubs, trees and herbaceous, and much of what we saw from the southern hemisphere we simply didn’t recognise.
We all looked forward to being let loose on Cally Garden and Nursery on our last day. There we were, on site for 36 hours already (staying at Cally Palace Hotel) and hadn’t had time to set foot. We had two blissful hours in there, considerably reducing Michael Wickenden’s stock, wandering the 2.7 acre 18th century walled garden, and soaking up the very hot sun. Michael has been here for almost 30 years now and has achieved a horticultural tour de force. Drumpark Garden was outstanding for its specimen trees and shrubs; the Mitchells have continued the work of Mary Mitchell who lived and gardened there from 1948 till 2008. There is a quite beautiful water garden – three ponds linked by burns – with exactly the plants we want to see in such a setting: Meconopsis, Primula, Astilbe, Hosta and Lilies.
And finally there was Newtonairds Hostas and Garden with its NPC of Hosta plantaginea cultivars and hybrids, the fragrant ones (137 of them). The one-acre garden is beautifully designed on two levels – giving excellent views – with a steep wooded slope linking them. James and Carol Coutts were still glowing from their (deserved) appearance on Gardener’s World in March this year. We all glowed with happiness at the large portions of exquisite jam- and cream-filled sponge cake with our tea – shameful really.
The Cally Palace was a splendid choice – huge bedrooms, some with balconies, some with two bathrooms (yes!), and all with views over the landscaped grounds. I think it was only our esteemed (taller than most) Chairman who was crammed into a small attic room, though he did get the fitness suite opened early for his benefit.
In terms of weather – well – it rained quite heavily quite often, but rain does add atmosphere and charm to a garden (you have to convince yourself): glossing the leaves, the melancholy drip-drip, the smell of damp grass and wood-chippings. But it was so much nicer when the sun came out.