Kew-trained hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist Michael Innes has cre­ated a low main­te­nance gar­den with a high and long last­ing im­pact for his farm­house in Fife


A Fife farm­house with a gar­den that’s glo­ri­ous year-round

Gar­dens tend to re­flect the skills of the per­son who de­signs and cul­ti­vates them. St Mary’s Farm, Michael Innes’s gar­den sit­u­ated on the edge of the Howe of Fife, is a per­fect ex­am­ple. The com­pact walled gar­den lead­ing out from the con­verted stone farm steading is sur­rounded by a larger in­for­mal area of grass and wood­land.

Michael, a Kew-trained hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist and former ad­viser to the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land, learned his skills in his fa­ther’s mar­ket gar­den in Banff­shire and is no stranger to gar­den de­sign. He mod­estly ad­mits to ‘work­ing on a few Scot­tish gar­dens’, one of which in­cludes the walled gar­den at Dum­fries House.

Michael and Carolyn Scott, moved here thirty years ago, first restor­ing and liv­ing in the main farm­house. Fif­teen years later they started con­vert­ing the ad­ja­cent B-listed Z-plan farm steading, which came com­plete with its old horse mill, and cre­at­ing a gar­den ded­i­cated to the new home.

The re­sult­ing space, which opens di­rectly from the house, mea­sures just 25m x 25m and is sur­rounded by the build­ing to the north, stone walls on two sides and a ma­ture yew hedge, planted by them in 1988, to the west. Walk­ing though the French win­dows, which open up onto a stone ter­race, the im­pact is im­me­di­ate. Strong struc­ture, Michael points out, is es­sen­tial for a gar­den sited so close to the house. Year-round in­ter­est is ‘a must’, so there is colour from late win­ter to au­tumn and shape comes from the top­i­ary yew, box edg­ing, metal arches and es­paliered fruit trees.

The ter­race, di­rectly in front of the house, over­looks t he com­pact, cob­ble-edged lawn, which is backed with a herba­ceous bed punc­tu­ated with round box balls. In spring, grace­ful stems of Solomon’s Seal, Polyg­o­na­tum x hy­brid, arch through a wooden bench while a pro­lific, creamy white rose ‘ The Gar­land’ and pur­ple Clema­tis ‘Etoile Vi­o­lette’ ram­ble up the walls by the end of June.

The for­mal lay­out be­yond makes a charm­ing con­trast. Laid out in the cru­ci­form style the space is di­vided into four ar­eas, sep­a­rated by paths, which meet at the heart of the gar­den, de­fined by four top­i­ary yews, which were im­promptu ad­di­tions to the orig­i­nal plan.

The two front rec­tan­gles are re­served for shrubs and herba­ceous plants – one bed is themed with white plants, while the two spa­ces to the rear are planted with veg­eta­bles. Here in these two com­pact plots are let­tuce, French beans, car­rots, cour­gettes, sweet­corn and a

se­lec­tion of dif­fer­ent pota­toes and leeks. There are also sweet peas for pick­ing.

The soil is al­ka­line and the beds are typ­i­cally planted with a com­bi­na­tion of plants that like the high pH. The raised west-fac­ing bed is packed with Helle­bores, self-seed­ing white or pale pur­ple Vi­o­las, Tril­lium and red-tinged

Epimedium gran­di­fol­rium. Vi­o­las in­clude deep pur­ple In­verurie Beauty, while the pale ones are a form of Vi­ola cor­nuta, and they are al­lowed to scram­ble through the bor­ders where blue Ca­mas­sias and pur­ple Al­lium add height.

Stress­ing the im­por­tance of low main­te­nance Michael says the gar­den has to fit in with his sched­ule. ‘I can only gar­den when I have time so I al­most al­ways have to do things at the wrong mo­ment. For ex­am­ple I of­ten cut back box at Christ­mas, It gets a bit frosted but it al­ways comes back. My plants just have to live with this.’

Key plants in­clude the fast grow­ing, pale blue flow­er­ing Abu­tilon vi­ti­folium and white flow­er­ing Hy­drangea ar­borescens ‘Annabelle’. He has be­gun suc­cess­fully ex­per­i­ment­ing with the more re­cently avail­able pink va­ri­ety of H Annabelle ‘In­vin­ci­belle Spirit’. Other key plants in­clude the pale blue flow­er­ing Gera­nium Rozanne, var­i­ous types of climb­ing clema­tis and long flow­er­ing, pale pink Rosa

‘I can only gar­den when I have time so I al­most al­ways have to do things at the wrong mo­ment’

Colour­ful del­phini­ums thrive in this shel­tered spot and the Sil­ver This­tle Ono­por­dum a can­thium is used as an ac­cent plant, self-seed­ing freely, as does the Turk’s Cap lily, Lil­ium marta

gon. ‘I like plants that give good value,’ he says. ‘I am not in­ter­ested in any­thing that flow­ers for just two weeks. Plants must es­tab­lish eas­ily and con­tinue to thrive in their cho­sen spot.’

In the outer gar­den, which boasts a softer, much less for­mal feel, grass paths me­an­der through two acres of wood­land planted by the cou­ple shortly af­ter they bought the farm. It also in­cludes a wildlife pond fringed with yel­low Flag Iris and spec­tac­u­lar Gun­nera mani

cata. Here, as else­where in the gar­den, the at­ti­tude is up­beat.

‘I am to­tally re­laxed about the gar­den,’ says Michael. ‘Any­thing that is happy is happy and any­thing that is not gets the chop. If I see plants I like, I in­cor­po­rate them.’

Clock­wise from top: Strong struc­ture close to the house is es­sen­tial in a gar­den like this; Top­i­ary yews meet in the cen­tre to form the heart of the gar­den; A gera­nium Rozanne at­tracts a hov­er­fly.

Clock­wide from top: Com­pact plots to the rear of the gar­den are chocka-block with veg­eta­bles; Pur­ple clema­tis are in flower from June; Wood en­graved with verse from Rubaiyat by Per­sian poet Omar Khayyám.

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