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A Plantswoman’s Guide to Gardening

May 8th 2019

Tessa Knott, News from Galloway, South West Scotland

When you mention Galloway, many people look puzzled and say ‘Oh is that in Ireland’! Well no actually, we are a relatively little known corner of Scotland, namely Wigtownshire. A hidden place, but a very beautiful and picturesque area of Scotland. In fact, Drummore down at the end of The Mull of Galloway is the most Southerly town in Scotland. Hence our gardens are directly affected by the warming influences of The Gulf Stream allowing us to grow a wide variety of plants and trees, some very tender and exciting, that flourish in these parts, but would struggle in other areas of the British Isles.

This is particularly so at Logan Botanic Gardens, an outpost of Edinburgh Botanic Garden, where the peninsular is very narrow, with sea on both sides, allowing the double effects of the Gulf Stream, plus magnificent walls to give shelter. Not far away at the head of the Mull,  lies Castle Kennedy Gardens, belonging to the Earls of Stair. Historically the oldest garden in the area, with beautiful lochs, and plants and trees brought back by the intrepid plant collectors, as was also the case at Logan. Castle Kennedy was made by regiments of soldiers, who  were put to work, between past wars.

And last, but by no means least is Glenwhan Garden, the newest garden, (a next door neighbour to Castle Kennedy), which just 45 years ago was acid bog and moorland, with quantities of rushes, together with the whinns, (gorse) and not much else! And alack no regiment of soldiers to transform it! However, it has been transformed, and is now an established garden full of treasures.

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I am told ‘Glenwhan’ in the Gaelic means green and rushy place! I would not disagree with that description when starting out, though now we have a very different picture. A great many unusual trees and shrubs thrive, nestling together on the rocky outcrops, rising sharply behind.

Glenwhan is 300ft above sea level, with a southern aspect, and all the winds that blow, and initially it was very difficult to establish much.  But after planting a mixed shelter belt, we now have a very good micro-climate. Hardy hybrid rhododendrons and many varieties of willow was the name of the game at the beginning, but with the shelter and dappled shade, we have the large leaved species of Rhododendrons, the natives of the Himalayas, thriving, and growing into large trees, as they do in their native habitat.  At Logan House Gardens next to Logan Botanic (the garden was once all one) these plants are enormous trees, and probably growing larger in their cultivated site than they do in the wild.

The wellbeing of these plants this year, thriving here in our acid soil ph.4.5, must have been due to the wonderful Summer we had last year, which helped the plants to set seed. Though we all revelled in the glorious sunshine, it was worrying on the hottest days  to see  the plants begin to suffer with the drought, and look very unhappy. However our rainfall, generally around 45” has refreshed and rejuvenated, and I think no lasting damage has occurred. Certainly not the way they have rewarded us this year, and many of my plants have flowered for the very first time. With the species rhododendrons you need to be very patient and wait some years to see them flower. Not so the hybrids, they flower young. Companion plants such as the Camellias flowered very much earlier than usual and now the Magnolias are coming into their own. Here again these beautiful trees are subject to late frosts. At this time of the year I love the Amelanchiers with their beautiful purple foliage giving bright splashes of colour.

Glenwhan is lucky enough to have different habitats, the scree slopes for the likes of Olearias, the New Zealand daisy bushes, and Rock roses, Cistus from the Mediterranean. Boggy ground round two lochs that were created from the Georgian reservoir above, and a merry water garden, make a home to Iris and Primulas, and water loving genera. The a woodland area is ideal for Trilliums and Erythroniums, and the magnificent giant Himalayan lily, Cardiocrinum, taller than a man or woman! Though mind the slugs.

The Garden has the added bonus of the most spectacular sea views over Luce Bay and the Mull of Galloway. Over 150 species of trees have been collated with a designated tree trail for the Visitor to follow, or if wild flowers are your thing, 20 acres of moorland paths weave round the rest of the ground out-with the garden, which is  a carpet  in bluebell time, a sign that the area would have once been covered in indigenous woodland, as much of Scotland once was. It is interesting to compare the untouched ground on the moorland walk with The Garden.

From the top of Glenwhan at the very highest point, so named Tess’s Lookout, you may see the Isle of Man (this usually means it is going to rain!), and if you know where to look, you might just spot Logan Botanic Garden to the South, and Castle Kennedy Gardens to the West. Indicating all three gardens lie in relative close proximity. All are all very different, but unique in  their own right.
I hope I have mentioned enough to whet your appetites and persuade my readers to venture to Galloway, the beautiful South West, to come and visit us all. Especially during the time of the Rhododendron Festival.