Garden of the Week
This idyllic Scottish garden set in rolling countryside is strong on colour, structure and character, even in the coldest months
Abrand new house with a largely empty, featureless garden initially presented Sally and Jim McCulloch with a challenge when they moved in some 13 years ago. The setting, with views over rolling countryside just outside Glasgow, was idyllic, and the house was everything they wished for, but with three young daughters and little gardening knowledge, they weren’t sure where to begin outside.
Sally turned to garden designer Anne Macfie, and they’ve worked as a team to transform an empty field into a structured space, full of rich, glowing colours and interesting plants, which is capable of standing up to some harsh weather and strong winds.
“I always knew we couldn’t have little delicate flowers and pots in this garden as we’re exposed here, and winters can be cold,” says Sally. “We needed hardy shrubs and strong plants which would mature, develop and ideally flow into the surrounding countryside. I’m not keen on plant supports, I don’t like the look of metal in a country garden, so our choices were also influenced by that.”
Even at this time of year, the garden is ablaze with colour, from Sally’s favourite acers framing her front door, which will be decorated with lights in the festive season, to the glorious mopheads of her hydrangeas planted near the gates of her home, which change from
cobalt-blue to the richest raspberry-red in the autumn. A mass of golden rudbeckias have just gone over, but the multi-coloured leaves of a katsura tree are lingering. Carefully maintained evergreens provide shape and order in the borders.
Sally and Jim wanted to create defined areas in the garden, with a patio at the side of the house, a further seating spot near some circular paving, and screening along the plot boundaries. They chose paths to join the zones together, and asked designer Anne to help them create seasonal interest and colour all year. “While it’s a large space, there aren’t too many areas of hard landscaping. Instead, I used swathes of planting to define areas and offer screening and interest,” explains Anne.
She planted with small specimens, but a regime of judicious feeding and maintenance has paid off, and the garden looks as if it has been in place for far more than its 13 years. “It’s proof that if plants are well cared for they’ll establish well and grow healthily,” points out Anne.
Jim, a keen golfer, loves well maintained green lawns. Initially, the garden suffered from poor drainage, and this presented a problem. Field drains were installed, and with regular tining, sanding and feeding, the grass now looks healthy, although it’s an ongoing process and Sally admits that it still gets soggy in winter.
The soil was poor when the McCullochs began, and it has taken many loads of topsoil, plenty of fertiliser, particularly blood, fish and bone, and sulphate of iron to enrich what was there. Composted bark is regularly added to retain nutrients.
“We have help from our gardener, Gordon, with the constant feeding that’s needed in the growing season, and also to shape the hedges and evergreens and keep on top of the borders,” says Sally.
“I’m very enthusiastic, and my love for gardening grows every
year, but I do the tinkering rather than the hard graft!”
She and Jim have a passion for certain plants. “We love rhododendrons and they grow very well here in our acid soil. We have pale pink, lilac ones and deep crimson, and they really make a beautiful display in spring. I’ve a herb garden just outside the back door, as I love to cook, and I grow my favourite lemon thyme, lots of rosemary and lavender.”
Jim favours azaleas and the couple have lined their drive with yellow ones. Other ericaceous plants which thrive here are camellias and pieris. For the winter garden, Sally also loves hellebores in deep colours, low-maintenance skimmias and scarlet-berried holly.
While the winters might be harsh, Sally, Jim and their two labradors continue to enjoy their garden throughout the year, often sitting out on their balcony to watch the sun set over the fields. “You just can’t beat the colours here,” says Sally. “I knew nothing when we started here with Anne, and I’m still no expert. But it’s an ongoing project and the joy I get from my garden is just immense.”
Gardener Sally and Jim McCulloch Location 2 Cypress Grove, Bridge of Weir, Scotland Size of garden Around an acre Soil Acidic Been in garden 13 years
The garden is full of colour and life right now, along with plenty of character. Carefully shaped evergreens by the front door provide structure and a “touch of cheekiness in the borders”
Gravel and slab pathways connect the different zones of the garden but hard landscaping has been kept to a minimum, with hedges providing divisions instead
Gold rudbeckias and jewel-bright asters make the perfect pairing
Hydrangeas thrive here and their bright heads turn to raspberry-red in November
Even now the borders have a lot of interest. Here rhododendron, photinia, holly, cotinus and Japanese anemones jostle prettily together