Sur­prises around ev­ery cor­ner

For sheer ro­mance and, given its coastal location, a sur­pris­ing amount of shel­ter, it would be hard to beat this lux­u­ri­antly planted and colour­ful Scot­tish gar­den, finds Non Mor­ris

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Val Cor­bett

Non Mor­ris vis­its the supremely ro­man­tic gar­den at Wormis­toune House in Fife

IN sum­mer, driv­ing sea­wards along the nar­row road that leads to the 17th­cen­tury Scots tower house, you might well be dis­tracted by the or­dered, yel­low­ing fields stretched out on ei­ther side and by an arc of clear blue sea with slightly paler blue sky above, lur­ing you on through a thin screen of trees. Wormis­toune, a de­li­ciously nar­row, tur­reted house sit­u­ated just north of Crail, at the eastern tip of Fife and sur­rounded on two sides by sea, has been adapted and im­proved upon over the cen­turies and has been home to Baron and Lady Wormis­toune and their chil­dren since 1993.

Both house and gar­den have been painstak­ingly re­stored over the past 20 or so years and the warm-ochre lime wash of the lime-harled main house and dif­fer­ent out­build­ings add a layer of wel­come to the ar­riv­ing vis­i­tor.

Head Gar­dener Kather­ine Tay­lor is stand­ing in the mid­dle of a saltire-shaped box parterre next to the pretty sta­ble block when I meet her. The parterre beds are planted loosely with blues, pur­ples and whites: gra­ciously col­laps­ing cat­mint, sil­very car­doons and softly tow­er­ing grasses. The colours and tex­tures are con­fi­dent yet gen­tle against the chalky apri­cot of the wall be­hind. ‘For spring, there are brun­neras, helle­bores, scil­las and snowflakes,’ she ex­plains.

Trained at the Royal Botanic Gar­den, Ed­in­burgh and in­spired by her ex­pe­ri­ence of nat­u­ral­is­tic plant­ing at nearby Cambo, Kather­ine is a thought­ful and gen­tly ex­per­i­men­tal gar­dener who is rel­ish­ing ev­ery new op­por­tu­nity of­fered by the gar­den at Wormis­toune and en­joy­ing a happy and col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship with its en­thu­si­as­tic own­ers.

We walk to­wards the sea­ward wall, against which a stretch of im­mac­u­lately lat­tice-trained crab ap­ples mark the good-look­ing be­gin­nings of an el­e­gant Bel­gian fence. At the cen­tre of the wall, set in chunky stone (the gar­den walls were re­built us­ing stone re­cy­cled from de­mol­ished Vic­to­rian ad­di­tions to the main house), is a moon gate that frames the dou­ble herba­ceous bor­ders in the Walled Gar­den.

The sight of those bor­ders is daz­zling and ridicu­lously uplift­ing, due to the in­ten­sity of clash­ing elec­tric greens and pinks, from

Al­chemilla mol­lis and Gera­nium psiloste­mon, their colours fur­ther en­riched by the deep blue of G. x mag­nifi­cum and vivid yel­low high­lights of Lysi­machia punc­tata.

Once you’re inside the Walled Gar­den, the ex­tended sweep of colour ahead is dizzy­ingly de­light­ful to walk through. It’s al­most a relief to dis­cover from Kather­ine that the plants are grown through net­ting, which ex­plains the al­most im­pos­si­ble up­right per­fec­tion of even the airy, 6ft-high, deep-pink sidal­cea and the equally tall (of­ten ir­ri­tat­ingly way­ward) Thal­ic­trum flavum subsp. glau­cum.

In win­ter, the beds are cut right down to the ground and thickly mulched with com­posted bark. The bor­ders are unashamedly

‘The sight of those bor­ders is daz­zling and ridicu­lously uplift­ing’

You’re stopped in your tracks by a sat­is­fy­ing sense of order and bal­ance

at their best in mid­sum­mer, but must look won­der­ful in late spring, too, planted with masses of yel­low tulips, when the el­e­gant, ca­nary-yel­low Mrs John T. Scheep­ers and the richer-yel­low Golden Apel­doorn rise up from the fresh-green fo­liage of the peren­ni­als.

The sec­ond sur­prise of the day is that, as soon as you step through the Moon Gate and emerge from the abun­dant bower of Rosa ban­skiae Lutea that’s draped above it, you are stopped in your tracks by a sat­is­fy­ing sense of order and bal­ance. Tucked into the wall on each side is a hand­some, ogee-roofed pav­il­ion, de­signed for the gar­den by the Ed­in­burgh-based con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tect Simp­son & Brown. The com­pany col­lab­o­rated closely with the fam­ily dur­ing the restora­tion of both house and gar­den, the aim be­ing a com­fort­able mix of tra­di­tional for­mal­ity and a more con­tem­po­rary soft­ness.

The pavil­ions are mod­elled on sim­i­lar ones at Melville House near Cu­par, which date from 1697. Here at Wormis­toune, a slim rill run­ning be­tween broad flag­stones links a pair of rec­tan­gu­lar ponds at the foot of each pav­il­ion. The sound of run­ning wa­ter is invit­ing and the ponds are planted sim­ply and ef­fec­tively with ar­chi­tec­tural plants: wa­terlilies, flag irises and spiky-leaved wa­ter soldiers (Stra­tiotes aloides).

There are sub­tle dif­fer­ences be­tween the pavil­ions to mark each out as male or fe­male: a gilded hen weather vane for one and a cock­erel shaped one for the other; curvy or sharp-edged lead­work on the re­spec­tive roofs and dif­fer­ences in the dec­o­ra­tive ter­rac­ing at the base of each pav­il­ion. The ‘fe­male’ one has a paved area of con­cen­tric semi-cir­cles of cob­bles, where self-seed­ing thymes help to cre­ate a time­less, set­tled feel. The ‘male’ pav­il­ion has ‘sun rays’ made of tightly packed, lo­cally sourced pan­tiles, a nod per­haps to the nests of ter­ra­cotta pots Lu­tyens sunk into the ter­races at Hester­combe to cre­ate cir­cu­lar dec­o­ra­tions.

A very shel­tered feel­ing within the Walled Gar­den is en­hanced by the fine yew hedges that flank the cen­tral herba­ceous bor­ders and give struc­ture and pro­tec­tion through­out the gar­den. ‘It can be a howling gale out there, but quite calm inside,’ ex­plains Kather­ine as she leads me from the cen­tral bor­der through to Bella’s Gar­den, a com­fort­able gar­den room with gen­er­ous bor­ders around a cir­cu­lar lawn. It’s named after Bella Gardiner-hill, a pre­vi­ous owner of the house, who be­gan the ren­o­va­tion of the gar­den.

The plant pal­ette is del­i­cate and ro­man­tic with Rosa The Gen­er­ous Gar­dener and the cowslip-scented Clema­tis re­hde­ri­ana trained against the stone walls and some par­tic­u­larly lovely com­bi­na­tions: the pale, scented pe­ony Sarah Bern­hardt nes­tles among el­e­gant stems of Salvia praten­sis Pink De­light and up­right struc­ture is pro­vided by the neat, steel-coloured heads of Eryn­gium x zabelii Jos Ei­jk­ing and Nec­taroscor­dum sicu­lum with its pretty bell-shaped flow­ers.

At the thresh­old of Bella’s Gar­den, I step over a tight slate mo­saic of a ser­pent’s tail in the lawn, its mouth be­ing found in the form of a wa­ter spout in the Griselinia Shade Gar­den on the op­po­site side of the cen­tral path. It’s a whim­si­cal play on the idea that the ‘worm’ of Wormis­toune might per­haps have been an an­cient ser­pent-dragon.

The Griselinia Gar­den is the per­fect paus­ing place on a hot day. It’s not known why a quar­tet of the fast-grow­ing sea­side shrub Griselinia lit­toralis was planted here dur­ing the 1940s, but the shrubs have be­come sub­stan­tial, spread­ing trees. With careful three-yearly prun­ing, they now fill an en­tire gar­den room and of­fer a sur­pris­ing and rather mag­i­cal area of dap­pled shade.

From the Griselinia Gar­den, you step into the Kitchen Gar­den, Lady Wormis­toune’s favourite part of all. Here, the sides of the yew hedges have been softly sculpted into rounded niches and a self-seeded Echium pin­i­nana tow­ers louchely, lend­ing a dash of Mediter­ranean en­ergy and a play­ful con­trast to the cone-shaped bay trees. The neat, box-edged beds are full of pota­toes, herbs and flow­ers for cut­ting. There are invit­ing chairs and ta­bles to sit at and the ground is car­peted with crushed seashells, which crunch lightly un­der­foot, con­firm­ing the con­nec­tion with the sea and giv­ing the place a gen­tle, ethe­real qual­ity.

On the op­po­site side of the cen­tral bor­der is the Fairy Gar­den, a gen­tle wild­flower meadow, knee-high with ox-eye daisies and Dachty­lorhiza or­chids around old ap­ple, dam­son and med­lar trees, into which Kather­ine is train­ing roses such as Paul’s Hi­malayan Musk. There are two liv­ing willow ‘thrones’ set in the long grass and, be­hind them, is the ex­per­i­men­tal The­atre Bor­der. Here, richly coloured dahlias and An­tir­rhinum Lib­erty Clas­sic Crim­son are grown with the long-last­ing, lime-green Euphor­bia ob­lon­gata, against the dark leaves of Co­ry­lus max­ima Pur­purea and the even darker-leaved el­der Sam­bu­cus ni­gra Black Lace.

In spring, this gar­den is car­peted with snake’s-head frit­il­lar­ies, cowslips and prim­roses. Against the gar­den wall, a fur­ther Fire Bor­der is filled with asters, cro­cos­mias, achil­lea and the won­der­ful rust­coloured fox­glove Dig­i­talis fer­rug­inea to ex­tend the sea­son into late sum­mer.

Be­yond the walled gar­den, there has been con­sid­er­able work re­cently to ren­o­vate the lochan—a small lake—and to de­velop and im­prove the wood­land and wild­flower mead­ows that sur­round it. Baron Wormis­toune’s favourite place to sit is on a bench at the far side of the lochan. On a still day, the charm­ing, ochre-coloured house is re­flected in the wa­ter. He’s a lucky man.

Wormis­toune House, Crail, Fife. The gar­den is open by prior ar­range­ment, all pro­ceeds from gar­den vis­its go­ing to char­ity via Scot­land’s Gar­dens. Tele­phone Kather­ine Tay­lor on 07905 938449 or email her at ktay­lor.home@google­mail.com

Above left: The Kitchen Gar­den with its softly sculpted yew hedges and boxedged beds. Left: One of a pair of ogeeroofed pavil­ions de­signed by Simp­son & Brown. Fac­ing page: Across the wild­flower meadow to­wards the ‘fe­male’ pav­il­ion

Pre­ced­ing pages: The cen­tral herba­ceous bor­ders look­ing to­wards the moon gate

From the house to the sea: Bella’s Gar­den (bot­tom left) leads into the Fairy Gar­den, with the ‘fe­male’ pav­il­ion in the far cor­ner

An im­pro­vised bench with vi­o­las, Cal­i­bra­choa, gera­ni­ums, Al­chemilla mol­lis and nepeta

Pota­toes grow­ing in the Kitchen Gar­den

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