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Journal American Rhododendron Society

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Volume 49, Number 3
Summer 1995

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Gardens of The National Trust for Scotland
Duncan Donald
Edinburgh, Scotland

        Writing this as we enter 1995 and consider, with excitement, all the opportunities of the New Year ahead, I am aware that here in Scotland we have the bonus of being able to look still further forward, with keen anticipation, to May 1996, when we shall have the opportunity of welcoming delegates to the Society's Annual Convention in Oban. I know that the Scottish Chapter's Convention Committee have been working hard to put together a fascinating programme of lectures and visits, and that advance bookings promise to make this one of the outstanding gardening events of the century.
        My purpose in writing this article is to give those of you who have already registered a foretaste of a few of the gardens that you will be able to see, namely those owned by or connected with The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) - and, I hope, too, to whet the appetite of the rest of you to want to visit them sometime! All registered delegates will be given a pass for the few weeks around the convention itself, allowing free admission to all the properties of the NTS: your registration pack will contain details of these, to help you plan your itinerary in advance to take in those that you want to visit.
        A "must" for all rhododendron enthusiasts and already firmly on the convention visits' programme, the Trust garden nearest to the Oban convention centre - some 20 miles to its south - is Arduaine. This was written up in an excellent article by George Smith published in the Winter 1992 Journal. Suffice it to add here that this is a very special place in the hearts of the Scottish Chapter, as the home and former garden of Ed Wright, its founding secretary/ treasurer from 1983 to 1987, who steered the chapter successfully into being in these crucial formative years. The garden itself dates back to the turn of the century and still boasts some magnificent specimens planted, before his death in 1931, by James Arthur Campbell, many undoubtedly the products of the successful plant collecting expeditions of that era by E. H. Wilson, George Forrest, Reginald Farrer and Frank Kingdon Ward. Particularly notable are splendid specimens of Rhododendron sinogrande and R. fastigiatum, several fine R. arboreum subsp. zeylanicum, a wide range of variants and hybrids of R. maddenii, and - historically interesting but sadly badly damaged in a gale in February 1994 - the first plant of R. protistum to flower in the Western Hemisphere (in 1936). Ed and Harry Wright bought the garden in 1971,when its future was in the balance, and restored it to prime condition, extending the species rhododendron collection in particular (including some notable rarities such as R. longistylum). In March 1992 they gave it to the NTS, with the result that its future is secure and it is now open throughout the year for visitors to come and enjoy its rich plantings in their idyllic setting. A survey last year identified a rhododendron collection of at least 450 different species and hybrids - though, like all the other gardens I shall be describing here, it has much else to commend it as well by view of associated plantings, fine design and outward views.
        The gardens at Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran are also on the tour programme. They provide a sheltered environment in which many plants generally considered tender (or preferring moist mildness) can flourish outdoors: indeed, in rhododendron terms this has been recognised by Brodick's designation - under the scheme organized by Britain's National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens - as holder of the British National Collections of subsections Falconera, Grandia and Maddenia. Though the castle itself dates from the 13th century, it was radically remodeled in the second half of the 19th century. So far as we can tell, it was then too that the first serious landscaping and introduction of exotic ornamental plants began, but this was simply to provide the foundation on which the major 20th century development of the policy woodlands was to be built. It was from the 1920s onwards that the Duchess of Montrose began to develop the woodland garden, some of her first rhododendron plantings being of R. magnificum, then newly introduced by Kingdon Ward and donated by Muncaster Castle. Although, sadly, we have inherited no written records, it seems likely that the Duchess benefitted from other Kingdon Ward collections. In particular, the garden still grows the "type" plant of R. montroseanum, described from KW 6261A but for long grown as an unusual form of R. sinogrande and, when the NTS took over the property following the Duchess's death in 1957, a nursery area was discovered containing most of the rhododendrons found on the 1953 "Triangle" expedition: though not labeled as such, the circumstantial evidence is strong that these plants came from that collection. Since then, in the discerning care of John Basford, Head Gardener from 1958 to 1991, the plant collection has been further considerably augmented, to the point that it now contains nearly 500 different rhododendron species and hybrids (including some of John's own raising, e.g., 'Joanna'*), together with good representations of other Chinese, Himalayan, New Zealand, S. Australian and Chilean plants. Many of the Maddenia rhododendrons, such as R. burmanicum, R. johnstoneanum, R. maddenii subsp. crassum and R. 'Harry Tagg' grow to an exceptional size; trees of R. macabeanum, R. magnificum, R. protistum and R. sinogrande are commonplace; there is a veritable grove of R. genestierianum; fine specimens of R. falconeri, R fortunei subsp. discolor, R. praestans, R. 'Avalanche' and R. 'Kiev' - to name but a very few.

R. dalhousiae var. rhabdotum at Brodick
R. dalhousiae var. rhabdotum at Brodick.
Photo courtesy of the Brodick Gardens Department slide collection

        There is a tangible link between Brodick and one of the other gardens that will form part of the tour-programme: that at Achamore House on the island of Gigha, which lies just off the mainland's Kintyre peninsula. So far as we can tell the Achamore garden was pretty rudimentary - just sheltering woodland enclosing the house, its front lawn with spring daffodils, and its walled kitchen garden - until it was bought in 1944 by Sir James Horlick, then nearly 60. He was a keen plantsman with a special love of rhododendrons, and had already achieved some success in his previous home at Titness Park near Henly-on-Thames in southern England at raising new hybrids, particularly using R. griersonianum but also other species or cultivars hardy enough to survive the Berkshire climate: 'Lady Horlick', 'Mrs. James Horlick', Scarlet O'Hara Group and 'Titness Park' are generally reckoned to be some of his finest. Most of these he moved to Gigha, but its mild west-coast climate also enabled him to extend his plant collection greatly - with tender shrubs such as Cistus, Eucryphia and Tetopea as much as with rhododendrons - and, perhaps more importantly, the space to plant in bold groups, for example a bank of R. johnstoneanum and a camellia grove.

R. 'John Bull' photographed on Gigha
R. 'John Bull' photographed on Gigha.
Photo courtesy of Linda Latimer

        Even commonplace plants grow to enormous size in such an enviable microclimate: for example Gigha's R. Blue Tit Group must be the largest in the country. In the 1960s, fearful for the future of his garden and collection after his death, Sir James contacted the NTS, and together they came up with a unique arrangement by which the Trust inherited his plants (and an endowment fund specifically earmarked to conserve them) but not the ground in which they grew! The estate has subsequently changed hands several times, and what is perhaps not remarkable is how successful the arrangement has been, with successive owners encouraged - indeed willingly - to comply with the spirit of Sir James's intentions that the gardens be maintained to a high standard even with their own freedom of action limited. As part of the Trust's duty of care most of the rhododendrons have been propagated and reserve stocks established elsewhere, but principally at Brodick, and this has served a useful purpose in encouraging the regular production of new stock and its exchange to replace losses at either garden. The new owners, Holt Leisure Parks, who took over in 1993, have some exciting ideas for continuing to develop the garden, and I am sure this idyllic island will provide a memorable venue for the convention itinerary.

Rhododendrons and Meconopsis in the 
Peace Plot at Inverewe Garden.
Rhododendrons and Meconopsis in the Peace Plot at Inverewe Garden.
Photo courtesy of the main National Trust for Scotland slide library

        In addition to these three gardens in the convention area, the Trust owns or manages a further 28 major gardens or designed landscapes throughout Scotland. Rhododendron enthusiasts might well want to make the pilgrimage - for that is what it is - to visit the renowned Inverewe garden in Rossshire, founded by Osgood Mackenzie from 1862 onwards on what had been a bare rocky promontory: a pioneer in the development of coastal shelter-belt and enormously influential in the creation of many other west-coast (rhododendron) gardens. The magic is still potent today, as one approaches the garden over mile after mile of open moorland and some of the most dramatic and beautiful scenery in the country, coming at last to this exotic paradise sheltering a remarkable collection of remarkable plants, Inverewe has the National Collection of Rhododendron subsection Barbatum, but also superb specimens of R. arboreum, R. arboreum subsp. zeylanicum, R. campylocarpum, R. decorum, R. hodgsonii, R. niveum, R. protistum and R. 'Cynthia', to name but a few - most planted by Mackenzie before 1922 and still thriving.
        By contrast, Branklyn garden near Perth is one of the smallest in the Trust's ownership, described in the 1950s by Harold Fletcher, then Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, as "the finest two acres of private garden in the country." Developed between 1922 and 1965 by Dorothy and John Renton, it is a plantsman's garden containing a wide range of alpines, Meconopsis and rhododendrons, especially Sino-Himalayan plants from the collecting expeditions by Rock, Forrest, Kingdon Ward, and Ludlow & Sheriff. It holds a reserve collection of many of the smaller growing rhododendron species from Gigha; notable plants such as R. aganniphum var. flavorufum, raised from Forrest 25697 and planted by the Rentons before 1928; and the National Collection of Cassiope.
        However, even rhododendron enthusiasts may want a break from their favourite genus (what, never?!), and there are many other great gardens to explore - from Culzean Castle, the Robert Adam masterpiece, perched on its cliff top site on the Ayrshire coast, with its picturesque designed landscape enclosing colourful display gardens; to Pitmedden in north-east Scotland, with its 1950s model recreation of the 1680s formal parterres originally on the same site; to nearby Crathes, also in Aberdeenshire, where in the first half of this century Sir James and Lady Sybil Burnett were among the first to develop in practice the colour theories expounded by Gertrude Jekyll, creating in the ancient walled garden under the shadow of the 16th century castle a remarkable series of garden "rooms," each with its own different colours and moods but adding up to one of the most imaginative and best-stocked plant collections in Scotland.

Parterres in the Great Garden at 
Pitmedden Garden
Parterres in the Great Garden at Pitmedden Garden
Photo courtesy of the main National Trust for Scotland slide library

        As I said in my introduction, we are much looking forward to welcoming you - be it in 1996 or at some other time - and naturally should be happy to help you in advance: if you would like more information about particular gardens or advice on planning your garden itineraries, please do feel free to contact us at The National Trust for Scotland, 5 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh EH2 4DU, Scotland, and we shall do our best to assist.

Duncan Donald is Head of Gardens, The National Trust for Scotland. The National Trust for Scotland is Scotland's leading conservation organisation, promoting the care of its landscape and buildings whilst also providing access for the public to enjoy them. It has more than 100 properties and over 100,000 acres in its care, including at least 30 major gardens and designed landscapes. Not a government department, it is a charity supported by its membership, almost a quarter of a million strong. Support for the Trust and Scotland's heritage may be given by becoming a member, making a donation or arranging a legacy.

* Name not registered.


Volume 49, Number 3
Summer 1995

DLA Ejournal Home | JARS Home | Table of Contents for this issue | Search JARS and other ejournals