Scotland the Brave
In the search for exotica, we continue the Scottish
adventure. A botanical motoring holiday north of the border. Part
Jason Payne, c/o The Palm Centre, 563 Upper Richmond Road West,
London SW14 7ED
Chamaerops No. 9, published online 23-09-2002
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
The Scottish National Trust Garden, Crarae, was
different from the other gardens we had seen, by virtue of its setting
and slightly different emphasis on trees, but although we could
only afford it the briefest of visits, the SNT character was soon
apparent once again. Amongst the Rhododendrons there were many mature
Acers and a heavy conifer planting around the sides of a valley.
The steep rocky-sided glen had a fast river flowing through it and
provided a powerful setting for a garden.
One of the first plants that we encountered at the
start of our walk was a 4 metre Trachycarpus fortunei, on the bank
of the river. After crossing most of the bridges that traverse it
at its most scenic waterfalls, the fact that Crarae is an archetype
of this school of gardening wears thin. The most exotic aspect of
the garden was its very large collection of Eucalyptus. These were
mostly planted in one area, very close together. Most of the trees
were over 7 metres tall holding their foliage well beyond true appreciation.
Very few were named and seemed to have been planted in an almost
careless way, with many different species packed together.
Walking through such a dense planting of these elegant
and fragrant trees definitely made me feel more at home; I could
make-believe that I was not surrounded by Rhododendronscape. The
multitude of different bark colourings and textures, leaf shapes
and colours made a unique plant environment. The seriously weathered
labelling system did not allow me to learn more from the planting
and to write about which particular species were there.
After leaving Crarae we felt that we needed to drive
to Ben More, which is an outpost of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh.
Although we had heard that this garden had an eminent collection
of coniferous trees, we did not expect to find any extravagant displays
of exotica. Only one place we had heard of fitted the bill, but
that was miles away and Ben More was on our way back.
After much exasperation and nail biting we agreed
to make the 150 mile dash to Logan Botanic Garden. This is another
outpost of Edinburgh Botanic Garden and is situated on the most
southerly tip of Scotland, near Stranraer. To say that we were glad
that we took the plunge and decided to rush there would be rather
an understatement. As one approaches the garden it is obvious that
something is different. Cordyline australis is growing, and bearing
fruit. Like a weed too: 3.5 metres tall, beside a road around the
perimeter wall! Once inside, the immediate successive views are
enough to make the jaw hang rather low, and inspire ecstatic groans
of wonderment that this can really be a garden in the British Isles.
The first spectacle to greet your ever-widening eyes is an avenue
of 25 Trachycarpus fortunei, most of which are about 6 metres tall.
There are more, younger, specimens planted nearby,
including several of the 'Wagnerianus variety. This avenue with
a small walled stream running beneath was worth the drive alone.
The plants possessed very few leaves that were not browned or broken;
a great shame because for many people this relegates the plants
to 'interesting' as opposed to beautiful. However, when planted
in such a mass, their appearance is so unique that the state of
the leaves does not destroy their appeal.
The site of the garden was lived on by one of the
oldest Scots families, the McDoualls of Logan, from the 12th Century
until 1945. The estate was passed on to a cousin and then to a Mr
Olaf Hambro, who restored the garden from the neglect it suffered
during the war years. It was the Hambro trustees who gave parts
of the garden to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for
Scotland as an annexe for the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Part
of the McDouall castle remains as a section of one of the walls
in the garden.
The anvil-shaped peninsula on which the garden is
situated is Scotland's closest land point to Ireland, and Stranraer,
the peninsula's main town, is a busy port. Port Logan and the nearby
gardens are thus surrounded by the Irish Sea; the sheltered Luce
Bay to the east and the currents of the Gulf Stream to the west.
It is the walled garden that you enter after leaving the first Trachycarpus
avenue. If the rows of palms impressed you as you enter, then this
part of the garden will stop you in your tracks. At the back of
the garden, above the terraced beds, the ruins of the Old Castle
of Balzieland look over an avenue of Cordyline australis that must
be more than 50 metres long and 25 metres wide. Some of the cordylines
are 6 or 7 metres tall with trunks at least 60cm thick. Between
the rows of cordylines is a formal pond and beside it, a bed of
Blechnum chilense, a bold evergreen fern 75cm tall, with large leaflets
that give it an affinity with pinnate palm leaves.
Beyond that, still between the cordylines is a perfectly
manicured lawn with about 20 Dicksonia antarctica, both straight
and leaning over the grass at 2 metres plus. Thins was the most
exotic landscape I had seen outside the tropics. The age of the
plants and the semi-formal way that they were laid out on a site
inhabited since Britain's Dark Ages, made it easy to imagine some
pagan rite being celebrated under the treeferns.
The terraces were southeast facing and contained
many sun lovers such as mesembryanthemums, halimium, nerine, Echium
pinnata, Lomatia tinctora and Yucca whiplei. This was one of the
only yuccas that I was to see. Both Echium and Cordyline australis
seem to seed readily in the garden; they have both become almost
weeds. In the semi shade from the tree and shrubs of the terraces
was the second rare fern that I saw on the trip; Woodwardia radicans,
with long fronds that make it look like a young treefern.
Continuing the exotic display was Marsdenia orephila
from China, with red tubular flowers shaped like those of Stephanotis
or Bomarea, growing around the gate in the west woodland.
Now it was the turn of the family Eucalyptus to
predominate. The feel of this part of the garden, with lawn growing
under trees and island beds densely planted with shrubs including
Pittisporum, Oleria, Eucryphis and Fucshias reminded me of the SNT
The impressive collection of Eucalyptus distinguished
this part of the garden as exceptional, amongst them were E. nitens,
with 10 cm long scimitar shaped leaves, E. unigera, E. dalrympleana,
E. macarthurii, whose powerfully aromatic leaves are used in making
perfume, E. johnstonii, E. subcrenulata and E. pauciflora.
There were many young plants as well as mature specimens,
which will make my next visit to this garden even more interesting.
When Eucalyptus are only three or four years old their rate of growth
is even more conspicuous than later in their lives, some of these
plants, such as E. glaucescens and E. nitens, can grow as much as
2 metres a year in the right conditions.
Eucalypts are a group of trees that have many untried
possibilities as subjects for use in exotic landscapes. Their characteristics
of large evergreen leaves, usually grey/green/dull purple, with
patchwork dark grey, orange, yellow, green and sometimes red trunks,
together with their branching patterns and the way the foliage is
held, generally make them architectural and elegant subjects. The
head of foliage is rarely dense, allowing sunlight to pass through
the trees and for admirers to look up into the branches, which usually
have some of the colouring and appearance of the trunk's bark. The
next part of the garden was laid out within the walled area, around
a huge lawn and a monumental beech hedge. This 'New Garden' was
dominated by a planting of two 6-metre tall Eucryphia nymansinensis
'Nymansay', presenting themselves as mounds of white flowers. In
front of them was Phormium tenax in flower and the most elegant
specimen of Azara that I have ever seen Azara microphylla 'variegata'.
At 3.5 metres tall and almost as wide, its tiered layers of tiny
leaves appeared as a haze of light gold. With a 5 metre Cordyline
australis behind it and the two Eucryphia framing it, this was another
triumph of landscaping that was in its peak of maturity, provided
by Logan and seen only once of twice elsewhere on this tour.
As we left the New Garden we walked past the beech
hedge and saw the treefern mound. A collection of seven Dicksonia
antarctica were planted beneath yet more 6-metre Cordyline australis.
Some of these plants demonstrated the reclining habit that treeferns
sometimes adopt. As a group, the oldest of which was planted in
1912, they made a powerful architectural feature, on their raised
mound of manicured lawn. The last part of the garden we had time
to see was the South Woodland, where there were two newly planted
Jubaea chilensis. The plants were only 80cm tall, but I look forward
to seeing them reach 1 .5 metres in my lifetime, I cannot imagine
a place where their survival would be more assured. Amongst more
Eucalyptus including E. coccifera and a beautiful E. nitens was
a young Dicksonia fibrosa, with slightly longer and narrower fronds
than D. antarctica.
Now on our way home we agreed to make a flying visit
to one more exotic spectacle that the Head Gardener at Ardunie had
told us about: Culzean Castle. The main attraction of this well
attended tourist spot is indeed a beautiful castle, but it was to
the garden that we turned our attention.
After seeing three of four windblown Trachycarpus
fortunei planted in front of the castle, we headed to the walled
section of the garden. More T. fortunei presented themselves at
the gate, but once inside more and more palms became visible along
the perimeter path. As you get to the back of the garden past a
beautiful, ancient cedar a mass of Trachycarpus reveals itself.
Except for one or two young plants they were all over 6 metres tall
and planted as such a wide spreading group that the sorry state
of their crowns did not matter.
Culzean Castle was our last port of call; after
this we headed for the long journey south. Wow! What a trip: 7 different
gardens, and we covered nearly 2000 miles. If you want to know where
to find exotica in these islands, it's alive and flourishing north
o' the border.
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