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10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Scotland

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10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Scotland

October 19, 2017

With bitterly cold winters, short summers, and a notoriously damp climate, Scotland’s gardeners have their own particular set of challenges. Yes despite all this (and the often exposed, wind-battered sites) the country has a rich collection of stunning, inspiring gardens. Here are 10 ideas to steal.

Emphasize the Views

Photograph by Andrew Lawson courtesy of Frances Lincoln. For more, see Little Sparta: The Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay.
Above: Photograph by Andrew Lawson courtesy of Frances Lincoln. For more, see Little Sparta: The Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay.
Exaggerate big open skies with long vistas. At the beautiful Dunbeath Estate the garden makes the most of the staggering views across the castle and out to sea, with neat paths cutting through the richly filled beds and borders.

Use Naturalistic Plantings

At the Cambo Estate&#8
Above: At the Cambo Estate’s walled garden, in late October the plantings benefit from a gentle slope, the moderating effect of the North Sea, and the added protection of enclosure. Photograph by Christin Geall.

The carefully designed combinations found in naturalistic schemes meld perfectly with the wild landscapes beyond many Scottish gardens, echoing the curving lines of distant hills and mountains. At the Cambo Estate this style of planting is at its best in the low light of autumn as grasses, glowing asters, eupatorium, and salvias all blend in a dazzling display.

Add Spiky Thistles

Photograph by Jenni Douglas via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Jenni Douglas via Flickr.

Prickly thistles are the national emblem of Scotland and various cultivars – native and non-natives – are found in Scottish gardens, but none will stop you in your tracks as much as the rich blue spikes of the globe thistle, Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’. Plant them en masse for the greatest effect.

Get Creative with Grasses

Head gardener Elliot Forsyth developed the naturalistic plantings at Cambo, including sweeps of grasses. Photograph by Sir Peter Erskine. For more, see Flower Design: A Week at the Cambo Estate in Scotland.
Above: Head gardener Elliot Forsyth developed the naturalistic plantings at Cambo, including sweeps of grasses. Photograph by Sir Peter Erskine. For more, see Flower Design: A Week at the Cambo Estate in Scotland.

Ornamental grasses aren’t just for naturalistic schemes. At Whitburgh House, a garden just outside Edinburgh, there are arresting combinations using formal hedges and topiary alongside billowing grasses and perennials. Owner Elizabeth Salvesen has used Miscanthus sinensis ‘Flamingo’ to form sweeping semi-circles in the middle of a pristine lawn or softened the sharp lines of yew pyramids with a circle of Sesleria autumnalis.

Rethink Heather

Heather in bloom on the Isle of Mull. Photograph by Saskia Heijltjes via Flickr.
Above: Heather in bloom on the Isle of Mull. Photograph by Saskia Heijltjes via Flickr.

You’ll see vast swaths of this tough but beautiful flowering evergreen all across the wilds of Scotland, but it looks equally good as ground cover in garden settings too. These fully hardy plants, which prefer an acid soil, come in some arresting colors too, including the bright pink Calluna vulgaris ‘Jana’.

Design a Pinetum

For more, see Gardening loading=
Above: For more, see Gardening 101: Pine Trees. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer for Gardenista.

If you have the space, a collection of pines and conifers (the word comes from the Latin “to bear cones”) will give year-round color and structure. The native Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) can reach a towering 36 meters (about 118 feet) if left to its own devices.

Create a Micro Climate

Towering yews; see more at Gardening loading=
Above: Towering yews; see more at Gardening 101: Yew Trees. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.

Create micro-climates with towering hedges and topiary. Despite being exposed on two sides to the sea, the stunning gardens at Wormistoune on the eastern tip of Fife are protected by towering yew hedges and old stone walls build with reclaimed stone from the demolished Victorian additions to the house.

Lay Stone Paths

Photograph by Derek Brown. See more at The Poet and His Garden: Ian Hamilton Finlay in Scotland.
Above: Photograph by Derek Brown. See more at The Poet and His Garden: Ian Hamilton Finlay in Scotland.

Also at Wormistoune, and almost any grand Scottish garden, local stone is used for imposing paths and walkways – either laid in blocks or arranged with curved stones in between for a more textured effect.

Plant a Shelter Belt

Grounds at The Burn House. Photograph by Stu Smith via Flickr.
Above: Grounds at The Burn House. Photograph by Stu Smith via Flickr.

Gardening in exposed sites calls for serious measures, such as a multi-layered shelter belt using a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees as well as a shrub layer planted in the path of prevailing winds to help create a more sheltered garden where plants can flourish.

Create Drama with Topiary

Crathes Castle Gardens. Photograph by Iain Cameron via Flickr.
Above: Crathes Castle Gardens. Photograph by Iain Cameron via Flickr.

Neatly clipped topiary will add year round structure. At Parkhead in Argyll & Bute, clipped forms take centre stage with boxwood, yew, beech, hornbeam, holly, laurel are laid out in a strictly symmetrical garden of cones, cubes, columns, domes and pristine parterres.

N.B.: For more of our favorite gardens in Scotland, see:

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