The Gardens of the National Trust for Scotland

Posted on January 20th, 2010 by Charles Boot

Francesca Greenoak, The Gardens of the National Trust for Scotland (London: Aurum, 2005), 223 pp., 317 illus. in colour and black-andwhite, £25.00 (hdk), ISBN 1845130375

This year, The National Trust for Scotland celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary. However, 2005 saw another important landmark in the Trust’s history, as the sixtieth anniversary of the acquisition of the first of its properties with major gardens: Culzean Castle and Country Park in Ayrshire, and Leith Hall in Aberdeenshire, both acquired in 1945. Since that date, over thirty gardens and designed landscapes have been added to the Trust’s portfolio, the latest addition being Crarae Gardens in Argyll in 2002. Some have been acquired along with major buildings, others as gardens in their own right. Some gardens have been restored or created in the grounds of properties already in the Trust’s ownership, and at others the Trust has continued the wellestablished management principle implemented by previous owners. Today, almost every rich phase of garden history across Scotland is represented in the Trust’s collection. From the medieval to the twenty-first century, from small cottage gardens to expansive highland estates, from Kirkcudbright in the south to Unst on Shetland, each has its own distinctive character.

With the full support of the Trust, the author sets out to explore this collection of gardens at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It is an ambitious task to undertake in one volume, given the number and diversity of the gardens involved. The Introduction outlines briefly the place of gardens in Scottish culture, emphasizing the historical influences that led to the differences in Scottish gardening when compared with England; the often surprisingly diverse plant content of the gardens in what can be considered quite a difficult climate; some of the notable gardeners associated with the Trust’s collection; and the Trust’s approach to continuing its stewardship of the gardens into the twenty-first century.

The Trust’s main gardens are treated alphabetically, with a chapter devoted to each. Brief details of the geographical location are given in the Index. Other gardens with which the Trust is associated are combined into the final chapter. Each chapter describes the garden’s location and setting, including climatic conditions; outlines a brief history of the development of the garden, including the Trust’s polices for restoration and conservation; and goes on to describe what the visitor can expect to find today. Sources for the book include records held by and historic landscape surveys commissioned by the Trust, and many secondary sources of information on Scottish gardening. Perhaps where this book comes into its own, and where the author is most comfortable, is in the well-written detailed descriptions of plant materials and collections of the individual gardens. Brian Chapple’s lavish colour photography, collated over a number of years and through all seasons, help to bring the gardens to life on the page.

With the obvious limitations of space in a book of this nature, only brief overviews of individual gardens can be given. Through skilful writing and the incorporation of personal impressions, the author successfully manages to convey the distinctive character of each garden to the reader and avoids the danger of the book becoming purely a garden tour guide. However, the book is likely to appeal more to the garden visitor and plantsman rather than to those with a deeper interest in garden history in Scotland or the detailed development of individual gardens. The book is beautifully presented and well written and is a valuable record of the Trust’s garden holdings at the beginning of this century, as well as providing an excellent introduction for any new comer to Scotland’s gardening heritage or garden holdings of the Trust. The author achieves a successful balance throughout, which should provide any reader with the inspiration to visit or revisit the various gardens described.

Alison Allighan
GHSS, The Glasite Meeting House

33:2 (Winter 2005)

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