Former RHS Executive Vice President Jim Gardiner reflects on visits to RHS Partner Gardens in Scotland
Having inspirational Partner Gardens throughout the UK and overseas is a great benefit for RHS members, enabling them to see a wide range of independently owned gardens.
I have visited RHS Partner Gardens from the north of Scotland to Fife, seeing some outstanding gardens, meeting many dedicated and talented people but also seeing amazing scenery en route.
Cawdor Castle Gardens, Highland
Angelika, Countess of Cawdor, has been running 15th-century Cawdor Castle and gardens for the last 30 years, where they get around 75,000 visitors from May to October. Angelika and her team are passionate about high horticultural standards, garden style and sculpture.
Elements of the formal garden have been laid out by garden designer Arabella Lennox-Boyd while Derek Hosie (now retired) designed areas including one with sculptor James Parker's The Sun at its centre.
Derek took great pride in showing me around the Tibetan Garden at nearby Auchindoune, so-called because Jack, 5th Earl of Cawdor, accompanied Frank Kingdon-Ward to the Tsangpo Gorges in 1924/25, where some of the original rhododendrons can be found. Adjacent to the castle is Cawdor Big Wood, a Site of Special Scientific Interest which is centuries old and holds an extremely rich lichen flora.
Branklyn Garden, Perth & Kinross
An impressive 4,500 plant accessions in two acres! What a responsibility for the knowledgeable team looking after this National Trust for Scotland garden in Perth. Branklyn was the garden of Dorothy and John Renton who in the early 1920s started this plantsman’s paradise, and who had close links to plant collectors including Ludlow and Sherriff who had recently returned with seed from southeast Tibet and Bhutan.
One of Branklyn's jewels is the collection of Meconopsis, and many cultivars are found together in the centre of the garden. The journey around was slow with plants of interest at every step, Cassiope here, Lilium there, but one that really caught my eye was Clintonia andrewsiana, a red-flowered member of the Liliaceae family with beautiful silvery-blue fruits.
Cambo Gardens, Fife
Visiting Cambo on the day Lady Catherine Erskine's daughter was getting married was hardly good planning yet it gave me the opportunity of meeting Head Gardener Elliott Forsyth, who I last saw about 20 years ago when he was a trainee at Wisley. Located on the coast, south of St Andrews, the garden has been open since 1985 and is visited by 19,000 people each year.
One of the principle areas of interest is the Victorian walled garden with its mix of exuberant herbaceous plantings, annual 'meadow' planting, streamside and fruit, both top and bush. To one side of the walled garden next to the Stables is the Prairie Meadow. Elliott keeps a close eye on the plant balance here, which is reflected in its well-kept appearance.
Scone Palace, Perthshire
Scone Palace is such a magical place with a history like none other in Scotland, yet its horticultural pedigree too is of great significance. Driving into a magnificent tree-lined 100 acre landscape hewn out by J C Loudon during the early part of the 19th century, this part of Scotland grows huge majestic trees, which Viscountess Sophia Stormont and Head Gardener Brian Cunningham were keen to show me.
The Pinetum was first planted in 1847 including the famous Douglas fir, the seeds of which were first brought back to this country funded by the (Royal) Horticultural Society in 1826. The Scone Maze, a five-pointed star shape designed by Adrian Fisher, used 1,000 plants each of green and copper beech.
I hope these notes whet your appetite, as there are many hidden gems to be found among our Scottish Partner Gardens.
Find out more about RHS Partner Gardens in Scotland