The hill­side full of East­ern prom­ise

Although Ard Daraich was for­merly a hol­i­day home of Con­stance Spry, Non Mor­ris learns that its ex­cep­tional wood­land gar­den of rare Asian plants was, in fact, cre­ated by the own­ers, who pur­chased the prop­erty from the grande dame of floristry

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Ard Daraich, Ard­gour, Fort Wil­liam, In­ver­ness-shire

Non Mor­ris finds an ex­cep­tional wood­land gar­den full of rare Asian plants at Ard Daraich in In­ver­ness-shire

There is a lot to think about by the time you get to sit on the rough-hewn, throne-like bench in the up­per part of the hill­side gar­den at Ard Daraich in In­ver­ness-shire. This is a serenely beau­ti­ful spot, shel­tered by el­e­gant and pro­tec­tive stands of Mon­terey cy­press. There is a soft, light-catch­ing car­pet of gold-green moss at your feet and a per­fectly framed view across Loch Linnhe to the stormily lit hills of Glen­coe. how­ever, the story of the mak­ing of this gar­den is an in­tri­cate one and worth tak­ing time to ab­sorb.

To reach the bench, you walk up through a se­ries of wind­ing paths that weave their way at first through lush herba­ceous plant­ing. There are cream-edged hostas, small hud­dles of Welsh pop­pies and swathes of deep-pink

Prim­ula pul­veru­lenta, the plant­ing punc­tu­ated by flame-like bursts of bright white

Smi­lacina race­mosa. As you climb higher, the veg­e­ta­tion be­comes big­ger-leaved, taller and more ex­otic, and the ground at your feet tougher.

You are shel­tered by a lovely canopy of ma­ture rhodo­den­drons, maples and sor­buses, in­ter­rupted by out­crops of sheer white gran­ite that il­lu­mi­nate the space. If you look up, you will catch sud­den bursts of dra­matic sky be­tween the huge felted leaves of the rhodo­den­drons or the al­most ar­ti­fi­cially geo­met­ric criss-cross pat­terns made by the branches of Abies squa­mata. If you look down, you will see the pretty salmon-pink house— a for­mer croft—nestling be­low an art­lessly lay­ered ta­pes­try of ferns, jewel-coloured rhodo­den­drons and el­e­gant ac­ers. This is the del­i­cate, ex­cit­ing, at­mo­spheric gar­den of Nor­rie and Anna Maclaren.

You may per­haps have wanted to visit Ard Daraich be­cause it was once the hol­i­day home of ‘flo­ral dec­o­ra­tor’ and cook­ery writer Con­stance Spry. her most fa­mous com­mis­sion was to mas­ter­mind both ban­quet and flow­ers for the Corona­tion of elizabeth II (be­queath­ing us the Bri­tish party sta­ple

‘A neigh­bour was amazed at a vase filled only with wild rasp­ber­ries

of corona­tion chicken). In fact, all that Nor­rie can tell me about her time here is that the house was painted a ‘straw­berry pink’ and that the gar­den was lim­ited to a tra­di­tional herba­ceous bor­der and for­mally trained ap­ple trees.

Her one last­ing ges­ture was to cre­ate a pair of skinny me­an­der­ing streams—their role be­ing to di­vert the worst rain­fall away from the house—which she called the Blue Nile and the White Nile. The names lead, of course, to many a the­atri­cal in­vi­ta­tion to show the vis­i­tor the ‘Source of the White Nile’, but Nor­rie loves hav­ing water in the gar­den—‘it makes it all work’—and he wouldn’t be with­out it.

Spry was fa­mous for us­ing un­ex­pected hedgerow flow­ers or even fruit in her ar­range­ments for the grand­est So­ci­ety events. The most telling story of her time at Ard Daraich came from a neigh­bour’s mother who re­mem­bered vis­it­ing the bright-pink house and be­ing amazed at a vase filled only with wild rasp­ber­ries.

Nor­rie’s par­ents bought the house in 1969 —the story goes that they heard the house was for sale at a drinks party at Ach­nacarry Cas­tle. They had been liv­ing near New­ton­more in the Grampians, but were pas­sion­ate gar­den­ers and des­per­ate for a more hos­pitable cli­mate in which to start a nurs­ery.

Through knowl­edge­able plants­men friends (Ilay Cam­bell of the dra­matic wood­land gar­dens at Crarae and Jack Drake, who es­tab­lished the alpine gar­den at In­shri­ach, Aviemore), they met the ex­tra­or­di­nary Carl Ferris Miller, an Amer­i­can-born South Korean banker best known as the founder of the Chol­lipo Ar­bore­tum in South Korea.

‘She re­mem­bers fall­ing in love with “the in­de­fin­able green of moss”

Many of the beau­ti­ful, ma­ture and of­ten rare trees and shrubs at Ard Daraich were grown by Nor­rie’s fa­ther, David Maclaren, from seed sent as a gift from Chol­lipo. Spec­i­mens in­clude a par­tic­u­larly fine Ste­wartia pseu­do­camel­lia and a mag­nif­i­cent snow­bell tree

(Styrax japon­ica), both planted in per­fect po­si­tions close to the house, as well as a col­lec­tion of nearly 700 rhodo­den­dron and swathes of Lil­ium nepalense that ‘come back re­li­giously ev­ery year’.

Film writer and pro­ducer Nor­rie came to live at Ard Daraich in 1999 just be­fore the death of his fa­ther. Rather won­der­fully, there is still an an­nual in­vi­ta­tion from Chol­lipo to select 20 pack­ets of seed. Some of the plants that emerge are still not named—‘even the Ed­in­burgh Botan­ics don’t know what they are,’ he says—but the col­lec­tion is slowly be­ing cat­a­logued with the help of the Royal Botanic Gar­den Ed­in­burgh and the Rhodo­den­dron Species Con­ser­va­tion Group.

Nor­rie and Anna have per­sonal favourites of course: Sir Charles Lemon, with its dis­tinc­tive cin­na­mon in­du­men­tum on the un­der­side of its leaves; Rhodo­den­dron keysii, with its ex­tra­or­di­nary tubu­lar flow­ers in fiery shades of red; and the ‘de­light­fully camp’ Pink Gin, which re­minds them of its pre­vi­ous owner.

The jour­ney, how­ever, be­tween in­hos­pitable rocky hill­side and the at­mo­spheric, trea­sure-filled gar­den of to­day could not have been more chal­leng­ing. At the front of the house is an area of al­lu­vial plain, ‘which means there was ac­tu­ally a depth of soil to grow things in’. Here, David re­placed Spry’s beech hedge with a glossy camel­lia one, a mix­ture of Camel­lia x william­sii Carolyn Wil­liams and the dou­ble-flow­ered Deb­bie that flower so vig­or­ously ‘you al­most get tired of pink’.

In front of this is a great row of con­tented hy­drangeas over the top of which Loch Linnhe and Glen­coe are again laid out be­fore you. Against the house is Rosa Con­stance Spry, which was the very first of the re­peat­flow­er­ing English Roses to be de­vel­oped by David Austin. Its strongly myrrh-scented flow­ers are, when fully open, just a shade lighter than the grey-pink of Ard Daraich house and, when in bud, a shade darker than the house.

Once you ven­ture up the hill be­hind the house, there is a lit­tle peat but, mostly, it’s solid gran­ite un­der­foot, cov­ered with moss. Over the years, an in­ge­nious tech­nique has been per­fected. ‘We clear the rocks of moss with a knife and a wire brush and we use the moss to cre­ate a soil. We roll it up, let it rot and then plant trees—tiny ones— straight into sphag­num moss.’

As well as the rhodo­den­drons, there are some ex­quis­ite trees. There are nearly 100 ac­ers, nu­mer­ous sor­buses, liq­uidambar, red oak and Nyssa syl­vat­ica to in­ten­sify the fiery au­tumn colour, and a stand of the el­e­gant, glossy-leaved Nothofa­gus antarc­tica that’s Nor­rie’s ‘favourite tree and the tough­est tree you’re ever likely to see’.

Fi­nally, Anna’s mother, Faith Raven, was able to de­clare that Ard Daraich ‘cer­tainly had turned into a house in the for­est’. Anna had grown up spend­ing her school hol­i­days on the ram­bling fam­ily es­tate of Ard­tor­nish only 30 miles away, so join­ing Nor­rie here in 2002 felt like com­ing home. Anna is a land­scape artist whose work is an ex­plo­ration of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the ex­te­rior en­vi­ron­ment and in­ter­nal feel­ing.

She’s a pas­sion­ate gar­dener from an­other em­i­nent gar­den­ing fam­ily—her fa­ther was the clas­si­cist and am­a­teur botanist John Raven and one of her sis­ters is gar­dener and writer Sarah Raven—but what she loves most about the gar­den at Ard Daraich is the moss. She re­mem­bers fall­ing in love with ‘the in­de­fin­able green of moss’ when she was a lit­tle girl and dream­ing of ‘be­ing small enough to find shelter in all that olive-green vel­vet’. She’s known to head up the hill­side ‘with a hand brush, sweep­ing old leaves and dead grass away from my ta­pes­try of green where the need for other plants of­ten feels su­per­flu­ous’.

Ard Daraich is a dreamy and ab­sorb­ing gar­den. Its rugged paths wind up through ex­quis­ite plant­ing: one minute, you’re ad­mir­ing the fine cutout shape of a sor­bus leaf against the sky and the next, you’re ex­am­in­ing the felty salmon-coloured new fo­liage of a species rhodo­den­dron. Anna and Nor­rie gar­den it to­gether in the gen­tlest of ways— rais­ing the canopy of a tree per­haps or con­sid­er­ing the bal­ance of colour—but never try­ing to dom­i­nate. Ard Daraich is a se­ri­ous plant col­lec­tion, but it’s also a won­der­ful and at­mo­spheric gar­den that’s com­pletely at ease in its wild lochside set­ting.

Pho­to­graphs by Val Cor­bett

Pre­ced­ing pages: A view from the gar­den to Ben Ne­vis. The pale-lilac rhodo­den­dron is R. wal­lichii and the crim­son one is Cyn­thia. Clock­wise from top: R. Unique, a campy­lo­carpum hy­brid; R. Fan­tas­tic Onyx (an Ard Daraich name); and R. Loderi Venus

A trea­sure-filled gar­den: deep-pur­ple R. St Bre­ward with Acer pal­ma­tum Atrop­ur­pureum above it and Smi­lacina race­mosa be­low it

Manda Sue, are grad­u­ally be­ing iden­ti­fied and cat­a­logued

The gar­den’s con­tents, in­clud­ing R. Gar­tendi­rek­tor Glocker (left) and R.

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