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Garden of the Season – Dunninald Gardens

May 11th 2018

Bluebells and Blossoms

“In the best of all possible worlds, this garden would be a little smaller”, Mary Stansfeld says with a wry smile. Maintaining it, with fewer gardeners than perhaps it once had, is like painting the Forth Bridge; hard to get around in the year, and some parts more den than garden.

Visitors to Dunninald walk to the walled garden down the beech avenue. This feature was planted some time ago, and appears on General Roy’s Military Map of 1750. Roy was concerned with roads, food and people, and topographic detail was usually an after-thought. However, he clearly marked Dunninald with two parallel lines of trees in a park surrounded by farmland. Whether this was because of a love of gardens, or because he saw potential for camping, is unclear. Roy’s original avenue has, like Trigger’s Broom, been renewed many times over the years, usually after the devastation of winter gales; the last big one was in 1956.

May is a lovely time of year, with each day seeing the emergence of new life. Fresh beech leaves and swathes of bluebells deck the wild garden in shades of indigo and lime green. In the walled garden, most plants are still dormant, neat splodges of potential on well mulched soil. Over the course of the summer, like tubes of paint thrown on a canvas, they will extrude themselves wildly upwards and outwards. For the gardener, now is the best time of year. For a short time, there is a sense of control and purpose; that the modest rows of broccoli and cabbage in the beds, and peas and tomatoes in the incubator, will one day appear on the table.

May also brings storms and it is traditional that the Dunninald Bluebell Opening is preceded by a gale and accompanied by at least one shower of rain. Bluebells look their best when wet, and if it is not early morning and there is no dew, a light shower makes for perfect conditions.

Visitors enter the walled garden though the Union Gate, made in Montrose in 1907 with thistles, roses, shamrocks and daffodils representing the home nations. The garden comes with its own micro-climate, some two or three degrees warmer than outside. Though the borders and vegetable beds are apparently quiet, the fruit trees are in full scent and the air is alive with the sound of insects; bees of all kinds, butterflies and little waspie things. This year, a nesting pheasant persevered for a few days on a clutch of eggs in a box hedge. The tetchy pheasant deterred humans for a while by hissing loudly, but was sadly disturbed by a visiting dog, which helped itself to the eggs. The walled garden is also the home of a family of red squirrels, who are usually to be seen near the hazels and yew trees at the greenhouse, or running along the top of the wall.

Dunninald Gardens are open daily until the end of August 1-5pm.