THE SCOTTISH GARDEN - WHAT IS IT?
'Garden', according to my dictionary, is 'a piece of ground on which
flowers, etc are cultivated, adjoining a house.' So, there you go.
What else do you need to know?
Scotland has many gardens, from the grand spectacular jobs attached
to castles and stately homes to smaller floral oases that are indeed
adjoining someone's house. Between these two extremes are many
variations, like walled gardens in parks (nae hoose - can we still
call them gardens?), botanic gardens with bubbly glasshouses, and
beer gardens. Actually, rarely will you find many flowers in a beer
garden, as many beer gardens are rather ungardeny lumps of tarmac in
which one may merely sup ale outside (two exceptions spring immediately to
mind: The Tower, at 81
East High Street in Crieff
The Village Inn in
- both true beer gardens and quite lovely).
I suppose the main thing that links all these things is man. For a
garden is invariably something that man has created. Flowers and
trees grow quite happily in the great outdoors. They do not need
man's attention to blossom. But when man starts arranging them,
planting trees and flowers, creating borders and paths, in a manner
that leads to a greater pleasure than the individual plants can
bring when left to their own devices, well... that's
GATEWAY TO THE WALLED GARDEN IN ROUKEN GLEN PARK, GLASGOW
MELROSE AND SCOTCH RED ROUGH
Scotland's gardens were created, and exist, for a variety of
reasons. We didn't just suddenly create gardens that looked nice. We
built up to this visual and aromatic splendour over many hundreds of
I suppose the first gardens were those where folk grew things, food
to eat, like fruit in the shape of apple trees or raspberry bushes
(check out the apple and pear orchard at
near Perth, or the Melrose apple trees and Scotch Rough Red
gooseberry bushes at
), or sundry herbs and vegetables that both flavoured our food and gave us
nutrition. Even if you were rich enough to have your own castle you
still needed to eat, and many castles would have had an area where
plants were grown for eating.
Some of these gardens would have been subdivided, with areas put
aside to provide food, and areas where special herbs were grown,
herbs that might have been used in medicinal potions. Herb gardens
were common. The
house in Glasgow -
- once the manse for a nearby hospital in the medieval period - had
its own herb or physic garden, used to provide material employed in
the treatment of patients.
When castles ceased to perform a defensive role, and the rich men
who owned them had time and money on their hands, many castle
gardens truly blossomed, although it didn't happen overnight.
SCOTLAND'S GARDENS TODAY
Scotland is awash with gardens. Walk along the street in a suburban
area and chances are you will see gardens attached to people's
houses, and it is incredible what man can do with a small plot of
land to transform it into a thing of beauty. You can see botanic
gardens in Glasgow
and other big
cities, and public parks all over the country often conceal a walled
garden. The walled garden in
is a good example of how delightful such places can be
when in full bloom. The National Trust for Scotland has a number of
gardens under its care, and it's always worth popping into one if
you come upon it.
example, is a good place to see strange apple trees bearing
varieties like 'Tower of Glamis' or 'Galloway Pippin'. They also
Broughton House and Garden
a lovely little garden with streams and trees and a jumble of
Then you have the big houses, the stately homes, the palaces and the
, for example, has a garden, a most peaceful
place to spend a while. Or Pollock House in
, whose garden is as
sumptuous and picturesque as the house itself. There are gardens in
castles in Stirling
and Edzell, and
such green retreats invariably offer a small wonderful moment or two
of respite before plunging up or down another tight spiral stair.
If you were to ask me what my favourite Scottish garden was, it
would be a difficult one. It would be hard to beat the walled garden
when the flowers are in full bloom. And yet,
my heart is drawn to
. For behind the big orange house that is the
Abbot House Heritage Centre
is a small yet perfectly formed
garden where thistles grow and kings doth feast.
Visit a Scottish garden. You know you want to.
FROM TURNIPS TO MAZES
My theory is that way back in the mists of time someone stood in a
castle garden and thought, 'Michty me, but that row of turnips looks
braw. Ah wonder if ah planted them in a pattern it might look even
brawer? Next year, ah'll plant a maze o' turnips!'
Or maybe someone thought the mint he had in his garden made the air
smell nice, and he thought to plant more mint not just to use in
food but to smell when he was out of doors in his castle garden
immersed in thought. The history of Scotland's gardens is of course
a tad more detailed that what I give you here. The folk who tell the
story of Scottish gardens invariably end up using big words like
'Renaissance' but, to be honest, I've never really known what
'Renaissance' means so I generally just miss it out altogether. I
feel the history of Scotland's gardens is easier to grasp if one
sticks just with turnips.
A great deal of effort was put into the design of such gardens, and
what emerged from much sweat and shifting of earth were some of the
most beautiful manmade places on Earth. You only have to visit the
gardens of Edzell Castle,
on the Isle of Arran,
, to see how magnificent such gardens became,
which are truly breathtaking.
Of course, as well as the pretty side of things gardens still needed
to be functional and provide food. Walled gardens in big country
estates were created to keep the castle or country house's food safe
from animals that might eat it, and perhaps to protect the plants
from the worst of any wind and weather that might otherwise be
thrown at them. As I mentioned above, some public parks have walled
gardens, and these were at one time part of an estate with a big
house, the whole estate now turned into a park and the big house
more often than not long gone.
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