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Scottish Garden of the Season: Black Isle Garden Design

January 31st 2017

Old Allangrange/Black Isle Garden Design

Since 1994 JJ Gladwin has been making a garden at Old Allangrange, near Munlochy.  Apart from some wonderful trees there was no garden at all.

The 18th Century house sits in a 120-acres of now organic farmland which produces malting barley, for brewing organic beer at Black Isle Brewery. Rare-breed Hebridean sheep fertilise the fields and are fed on the spent grain.   A couple of ponds, surrounded by pollen-rich willows and fruiting trees, have been reinstated to support wildfowl and other wetland species.  A vigourous programme to plant hedgerows of mixed native trees is on-going, many of the plants are raised here from seeds and cuttings to encourage local genetic diversity.  As the south-facing house and garden look out across a small valley, these features provide a backdrop to the saltire-shaped parterres of neatly-clipped Buxus sempervirens which frame beds of bee-friendly small trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials.  The house is small with a sense of it’s own importance, and needed a modestly formal garden to suit.  There are saltires on the interior doors, and they were dropped into the garden and then split again to form the parterres.

As a bee-keeper, JJ wanted to make sure that her hives would be sufficiently provided with pollen and nectar throughout the flying season.  A productive orchard of heritage apple varieties benefits from its proximity to the hives, and significantly increases the set. Throughout the garden, schemes of long-lasting, successive and repeat-flowering plants, easily accessed by bumblebees and other invertebrates, afford forage and habitat to species, which are becoming increasingly marginalized across the UK.  A happy consequence of this planting, to the visitor, is the ever-changing, year-round interest necessary to the conservation agenda.

February is always a quiet time of year in the garden. Old Allangrange has a policy of leaving alone what many gardeners would tidy-up after the growing season – the reward being the reticent beauty found in hoar frosts, iced cobwebs and dried seed-heads gilded in low winter sunlight.

Along with the box parterres, pleached limes, beech hedges, yews, hollies and weeping pear are formally grounding elements in this otherwise dynamic and multifarious garden.  Block plantings of pulmonaria and alkanet, with drifts of forget-me-not, make colourful statements throughout spring and summer whilst giving bees a plentiful food source.  Discoveries are to be made in every part of it; yet, its secrets are – cunningly – revealed only gradually.  A hermitage nestles under ancient yews, a chapel resides in a wild corner of the grounds and an ice house, capped with a glass pyramid amidst a bed of bronze fennel in warmer months, serves as a both a store for fruit wines and a shelter for amphibians.

Other remarkable sights for a garden so far north is the wisteria, which has successfully conquered most of the south face of the house, a sheltered fig tree and some prolific grape vines.

The place is continually developing.  Recent additions include a mound which, on climbing its spiral path, offers views over various separate areas of the garden; each bound by different hedges and performing particular roles.  From here, one’s sense of scale is playfully disoriented – shapes, imperceptible on the ground, become apparent.  Two poly tunnels have just been installed to provide fresh organic vegetables for the house, farm and Black Isle Brewery bar which is due to open in Inverness in May this year.  The pretty flock of multi-coloured chickens and the small herd of milking cows all play a part in keeping the soil fertile and the yields high.  As in nature, nothing is wasted.

This is not an overly tidy garden, and it is here we carry out our experiments.  Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.

JJ Gladwin is a garden designer, specializing in gardens to benefit invertebrates, provide food, and make beautiful spaces.

She and Alex Gladwin, her sister in law, and also a gardener, have recently been joined by Scotson Reeve who is a professional vegetable grower who has been growing vegetable bio-dynamically for the last 10 years at Samye Ling in Dumfries, and Graham Park, former gardener at Dunrobin Castle for 10 years, Balmoral for 20 and at Elsick for a further 10 years.

Where: Old Allangrange, Munlochy, Ross-shire IV8 8NZ