COLD COMFORT FARM
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.