This is the first of what will probably end up as three or even four informal reports of the Society visit and meeting in Scotland in 2018. As usual, a full set of articles by members of the group will be published in the next journal, Clematis International 2019. To those of you who came along, I hope it will bring back happy memories. To others, perhaps it will encourage you to join us on a future year. Scotland 2018 took rather longer to arrange than we would have liked but in July this year this Society meeting took place. Fiona and I visited Scotland in June 2017, to research and create the itinerary, and briefly again in May 2018 when the Wemyss montanas would be at their best. With 36 attendees from 7 countries, the group was a "comfortable" size, large enough to be a significant presence in the gardens we visited (splitting into two groups if necessary) yet small enough that everyone could find time to chat with everyone else during the week. The majority of our group arrived on Friday where we greeted them in Reception at Pollock Halls, University of Edinburgh. Situated about 15 - 20 minutes walk from the centre of the city, it's a very open campus. The accommodation blocks were very comfortable, modern and surrounded by well-kept cultivated areas. Standing behind the campus is King Arthur's Seat, a very imposing craggy hill which makes a wonderful backdrop. And just as imposing, though on a somewhat smaller scale, is St Leonards Hall, a baronial style building built in 1869-70 and now housing University administration and providing conference room facilities. The University students had broken up for the summer but Pollock Halls was still very busy with foreign student groups, student sports groups, other groups (such as us) and private individuals, for whom it provides good accommodation at a reasonable price in a relatively central location.
Pollock Halls Accommodation Block B
King Arthur's Seat, towering behind Pollock Halls
St. Leonards Hall
Edinburgh City Walking TourThe first day of our visit started with a guided walking tour of the centre of Edinburgh. We met our guide, Luca, at the west end of Princes Street Gardens for a two hour wander through Edinburgh, finishing at Holyrood Palace. We started with the climb up around the castle to The Royal Mile. From there we walked along, stopping at various points for Luca to tell us about either the building, the people who lived and works there, and their history. In a small courtyard, Luca showed us the Writer's Museum and told us about a local locksmith, Deacon Brodie. He was very good at his job and worked for many rich people, but he had a Jekyll and Hyde personality as he was also a burglar. The local pub, The Deacon Brodie's Tavern, has a sign with a very respectably dressed Deacon Brodie on one side and dressed as a thief and burglar on the opposite side. Just along from the tavern is the statue of David Hume, the philosopher. He is dressed in Greek robes with the big toe of his right foot sticking out. There is a tradition that philosophy students touch it for good luck, it is certainly very shiny! Next on our tour was the Mercat Cross in Parliament Square. There has been a cross in this general location for over 650 years, though the present one is Victorian, and over this period it was used variously for proclamations and many punishments. It is still used for official proclamations. Time was pressing so we strode on towards Holyrood Palace. Opposite it stands the Scottish Parliament complex, built between 1999 and 2004 to house the Scottish Parliament after the Scottish devolution bill. Fortunately much of the Royal Mile is pedestrianized but even so, it was busy and crowded in parts. Luca was obviously used to this and had particular places to gather us together, to recount another story or historical facts. I think most of us came away with a better sense of the importance of Edinburgh through the centuries and the beauty of it as a city.
Our guide, Luca, introduces himself
Deacon Brodie's Tavern
Sign for Old Fishmarket Close
Sign for The Writer's Museum
Statue of David Hume
Unicorn on top of the Mercat Cross
Queens Gallery, Holyrood Palace,
standing opposite the Scottish Parliament
Shepherd House GardenOur Brightwater coach collected us at Holyrood Palace to take us to the first garden of our trip, Shepherd House Garden, a 17th century house owned since 1957 by Charles and Ann Fraser. They said that the garden has developed over time, and continues to do so. Ann is an artist and this shows in the use of colour in their garden and artistic sculptures that hide around corners, on pedestals and up in the trees. There are also a number of "fun" items, notably "Dolly - the grass sheep in her pen" and the weather vane! Also of note was the Shell House, situated at the far end of the garden and relatively recently completed, so I understand. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Charles and Ann were more than happy to let us wander, staying on hand to answer any questions which we had. The garden is approximately one acre, large though not huge, but has been so constructed that it's very easy to imagine you're the only person in it, such has it been divided into discrete areas which are hidden from the rest. It was a beautiful garden to visit at the start our Scottish garden adventure.
Garden art at Shepherd House
Shepherd House - roses in abundance
C. 'Alionushka' (or is it C. 'Pamiat Serdtsa'?)
Water rill with rose arch arbour
A colourful eye-catching feature
Dolly - the grass sheep in her pen
Flying duck weather vane
Hedgework near the house
Exquisite Shell House
101 Greenbank CrescentWe enjoyed a packed lunch on our coach as we travelled to our afternoon gardens, Hunter's Tryst and 101 Greenbank Crescent. Both are small, private gardens within a few minutes drive of each other and quite a contrast to Shepherds House Garden but with features which we hoped members would find interesting. Because of the size of each garden, we split into two groups and swapped over at "half time". 101 Greenbank Crescent is a neat detached bungalow with a paved front garden. Go down the side of the house and it's a totally different story. The rear garden sloped downwards, quite steeply, on one side of a valley. The opposite side of the valley is an open park, mainly green grass with a few trees in the distance. Christine and Jerry have transformed this slope into a series of terraces with sloping and stepped paths to take you down each level. The sheer amount of work creating the hard landscaping must have been immense, but that was just the beginning. They have then been planted with a wonderful variety of flowers, shrubs and trees. Christine and Jerry gave us a brief introduction and then let us wander, staying around to answer our question. Because of the steepness of the garden (in the picture "Right hand side showing variety of shrubs and trees", you can see from the side of the raised bed just how steep the slope is!), it is only when you get to each of the levels and look around that you start to appreciate the detail of the planting.
Looking down from the top terrace - left hand side
Just one of the many side beds - note the plant-list board
A young C. 'Broughton Bride'
Lowest level terrace
Looking down from the top terrace - right hand side
Beautiful sculpture in front of mirror at the lowest level
Right hand side showing shrubs, trees and steepness of slope
Looking up from the lowest level
Hunter's TrystA bungalow on a corner plot, here too the front garden gives no clue as to what is to be found behind the side gate. In quite a small space, Jean has created a beautiful garden with water features, lawn, flower beds, a vegetable patch and trees. The garden also has a view towards the Pentland Hills. Jean has made the lawn much more interesting than many with an overlapping twin circle design in bricks, which breaks up the space. The curves are reflected in paths around the garden, there are very few straight lines. The two water features, a cascading sheet of water across a mirrored vertical surface and the bubbling millstone, give movement and gentle sound. The metal bird and ducks brought a smile to my face - they are a nice touch without being overpowering. there were a few clematis, including C. 'Dazzle', a new introduction that was featured at the Chelsea Flower Show this year, and C. 'Jackmanii' flowering well on the back of the house. Down the bottom of her garden and slightly hidden from view is the "allotment" area, packed with fruits and vegetables. Jean and her friend, Gillian, served tea, coffee and home-made cakes. Although I was in the second group to visit here, there was still plenty left. With the garden visits over for today, and having collected the other half of our group from 101 Greenbank Crescent, we headed back to our accommodation at Pollock Halls for something to eat and to talk over what we had seen.
The back garden with Pentland Hills in the background
Rose arch over a bench
Water feature, flower bed and clematis at back of house
Left hand side of garden
Looking down the right hand side of the garden
C. 'Dazzle' on an attractive support
C. 'Jackmanii' on the back wall of the house
Vegetables and fruit at bottom of garden
Little SpartaDay Two started with the Society's Constitutional General Meeting followed by a couple of talks, which occupied the morning. Then in the afternoon we set off in our coach to visit Little Sparta, our only garden for today. Ian Hamilton Finlay created Little Sparta garden in 7 acres of moorland surrounding the farmhouse where he lived, in the Pentland Hills. He died in 2006, but The Little Sparta Trust had already been started to look after the garden and maintain it in the manner he would have wished. Many people consider it to be his greatest work of art. To reach it you have to walk about 700 metres (half a mile) up a farm track, with sheep and cows grazing in the fields on either side and occasionally on the track itself, though we did have permission to bring a few members, for whom the walk would have been quite difficult, up the track by car. It actually consists of a number of very different areas, each containing various works of art, which might be sculptures, brick and stone creations, inscriptions, carvings, models, landscapes, moving water, a lake, bee hives, a cluster of trees. My first impression was of peace and calm, nothing is rushed, there is no hurry, one can wander around and relax in the knowledge that just round the next corner, or down the next side path, there could be something completely different. Fortunately the weather was good (unlike when Fiona and I visited last year) and one could stroll leisurely from one area to another. I was quite intrigued by some of the inscriptions. The short brick path leading away from the tree (or was it to the tree) with "VIRGIL" on every brick. I have no idea why, but it was quite fascinating. The large lake is accessible via two or three oaths through wooded areas so you don't know it's there until you arrive. From the opposite side of the lake you can walk to the top of the hill, passing set of large flat stones, a miniature shepherds shelter (I believe), a copse of trees to finally reach the six stone walls, set in pairs. It's only when you go past them and look at the reverse that you see the inscriptions on each. It would be so easy to miss these things that they are fun just being there. Taking a different route back to the starting point, I came across the two silhouette figures, one appearing to be chasing the other. As you leave the garden to return down the track to the small car park and our coach, I noticed yet another inscription in German and English - "das geflügte Land" - "the fluted land". According to my dictionary, a better translation would be "the ploughed land". I wonder whether that was deliberate, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was.
Next month I hope to cover Jupiter Artland, Kevock Garden, the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh and our special tour of the RGBE Herbarium.
Farm track leading to Little Sparta
Brick path - each is inscribed "VIRGIL"
View to top of hill
Stepping stone path
"LITTLE FIELDS LONG"
A more formal garden
Entrance gate to garden
Ornamental Bee Hives
Dragonfly by lake
View across lake with Pentland Hills in the distance
What's happening in the woods?
"FOR LITTLE FIELDS"
"das gepflügte Land . the fluted land"
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