RENAISSANCE OF A ROYAL GARDEN
The renovation of the gardens at Dumfries House since its purchase for the nation by HRH The Duke of Rothesay has seen a startling rejuvenation and a new role at the centre of the local community, finds
The rejuvenation of the glorious gardens of Dumfries House
J ust over five years ago Alex Macdonald, head guide and volunteer coordinator at Dumfries House, let it be known that help was needed to clear the overgrown fiveacre Walled Garden. Two hundred volunteers from local schools and youth groups, as well as the local Provost, turned up and worked the whole weekend to clear the site. They also cleared the lime walk that leads along the Lugar Water or Polcalk Burn to the Walled Garden. This was the first major step in the renovation of the garden at Dumfries House.
Dumfries House sits at the heart of a 2,000-acre mixed arable and woodland estate two miles west of Cumnock in Ayrshire. Built for the 5th Earl of Dumfries in 1754 by Robert Adam, it later became one of the homes of the Marquesses of Bute. The parkland surrounding the house is backed with ancient woodland composed of oak and beech. The house came on the market in 2005 and its future was assured two years later when HRH The Duke of Rothesay led a last-minute appeal to save the house and its contents.
Generous sponsors and donors rallied and restoration work soon began on the house while educational opportunities to develop traditional skills were created. In 2012, an equally ambitious plan was launched to restore the gardens as part of
‘Two hundred volunteers, including the local Provost, turned up and worked the weekend to help clear the site’
‘The Prince’s vision is also very focused on providing a visitor and amenity attraction for the local community’
His Royal Highness’ vision to deliver training opportunities.
Landscape designer Michael Innes was commissioned to draw up the initial plans and passionate head of gardens Brian Corr is currently in charge. Formerly a head gardener with the National Trust for Scotland, Brian affirms that ‘working here is my dream job’.
For him, this is much more than a garden set within an 18th century landscape. ‘To me everything is linked: education, garden, heritage, training through the Prince’s Trust and the potential for job creation,’ he says. ‘The Prince’s vision is also very focused on providing a visitor and amenity attraction for the local community. It is a unique and amazing achievement.’
On a spring day the visitors include mothers with push chairs, groups of children and adults to name but a few. ‘The garden is a real social hub,’ Brian says, ’an open space for the whole community.’
The focal point of the front garden is a fountain flanked by an elegant box parterre surrounded with roses. This is just the first of the intriguing features that punctuate this garden. ‘The mazes were inspired by the ones the Prince enjoyed so much as a child at Sandringham,’ Brian says, adding that the elegant obelisks that bring height to the scheme are original.
Reached via a covered wooden bridge, the Woodland Garden features the first in a series of the elegant wood pavilions or structures designed by Julian and Isabel Bannerman, the designers behind the British Memorial Garden to 9/11 in New York. Here, Brian recently supervised the planting of Magnolia, Acer, rhododendrons, philadelphus and hydrangeas combined with a mix of herbaceous woodland plants.
The soil, he explains, is heavy clay: wet in the winter and hard baked in the summer. Finding plants that can survive such conditions is a challenge but good quality organic compost is being ‘worked in’ to improve the soil structure.
The path continues towards the Rothesay Garden, a Japanese-style garden complete with a structure inspired by a tea house. Further along is the latest exciting introduction, the recently unveiled fifty-metre diameter maze, planted with two-metre yews surrounding a central wooden pagoda shelter and lily pond. Continue on past the maze and you come to the former laundry, now the Royal Drawing School, where artists
Left: Built in the 1750s for William Dalrymple, 5th Earl of Dumfries, the house sits at the heart of the 2,000-acre estate. Far right: The Queen Elizabeth walled garden includes modern and traditional features. Below right: Bright pink Phlox.