North­ern ex­po­sure

In the warmth of the Gulf Stream a plants­man’s gar­den on a Scot­tish loch takes in­spi­ra­tion from South Africa

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Contents - WORDS JOHN HOY­LAND PHO­TO­GRAPHS CLAIRE TAKACS

By the banks of a Scot­tish loch, warmed by the Gulf Stream, two tal­ented gar­den­ers have cre­ated a fab­u­lous gar­den that takes its in­spi­ra­tion from south­ern flora

The aus­tere land­scape of the north­west Scot­tish High­lands, and the gen­tle but in­sis­tent rain, give no hint of the shin­ing jewel of a gar­den that I am about to dis­cover in the ham­let of Dur­na­muck, in Wester Ross. But as I de­scend an iso­lated track that winds around oc­ca­sional crofts to­wards Lit­tle Loch Broom, I glimpse, sparkling in the dis­tance, the daz­zling gar­den that Will Soos and Sue Pomeroy have cre­ated on the loch shore.

The cou­ple met while they both work­ing nearby at the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land’s In­verewe Gar­den, where Will was re­spon­si­ble for the spec­tac­u­lar walled gar­den and Sue fo­cused on plant prop­a­ga­tion. Like Dur­na­muck, In­verewe is ca­ressed by the Gulf Stream, al­low­ing plants un­seen in colder parts of Bri­tain to flour­ish. In­verewe’s plant col­lec­tions, to­gether with ex­ten­sive trav­els in Chile and South Africa, nur­tured the cou­ple’s in­ter­est in plants from the south­ern hemi­sphere.

When Will and Sue bought the croft to make a home they were con­fi­dent that the mild cli­mate would be per­fect for the plants that they wanted to grow. They built the house them­selves in 2009, of­ten work­ing on site in the early morn­ing and late evening, time sand­wiched be­tween long, hard days in their gar­den­ing jobs. The gar­den be­gan with a deer fence – a must in the High­lands – fol­lowed by the con­struc­tion of a se­ries of nar­row, stone-edged ditches to drain ex­cess wa­ter down to the sea.

As well as deal­ing with the high rain­fall of the area, Will and Sue knew that they would need to pro­tect their col­lec­tion of plants from strong winds. On the wind­ward side of the gar­den they planted a line of wil­low and be­side that a hedge of mixed na­tive species. For the lee­ward side they chose a row of ev­er­green Olearia species. A favourite of Sue’s, these are a group of shrubs from New Zealand that enjoy the mild and wet cli­mate, grow­ing quickly to pro­vide shel­ter and giv­ing the gar­den a sense of ma­tu­rity. They have now been pruned to echo the line of the dis­tant moun­tains.

At the front of the house I am wel­comed by nar­row, raised, stone beds crammed with plants from New Zealand


and South Africa. Fat glossy leaves of the Chatham Is­land for­get-me-not, Myoso­tid­ium hort­en­sia, neigh­bour the del­i­cate sil­ver spears of Celmisia semi­cor­data. Tum­bling among the stones is the sil­ver fo­liage of Rho­dan­the­mum hos­mariense, the last of its daisy-like flow­ers a tes­ta­ment to the won­der­ful sight it would have made ear­lier in the year. My progress through the gar­den is slow, be­cause ev­ery plant cap­tures my in­ter­est, and ev­ery plant looks healthy and happy. Al­though the place is crammed with un­usual plants, it doesn’t have the dry and se­ri­ous at­mos­phere of­ten found in plant en­thu­si­asts’ gar­dens.

I turn the cor­ner at the side of the house and what a view. Daz­zlingly bright flow­ers – cul­ti­vars of Aga­pan­thus, Cro­cos­mia, Wat­so­nia, Rud­beckia and San­guisorba – tum­ble down to­wards a sober na­tive meadow and the loch, echo­ing the con­tours of the moun­tains that sweep steeply down to the sea.

There was no de­sign on pa­per. The gar­den grew from talk­ing about what was needed, how to deal with the rain and the wind, and how to find space for all the plants Will and Sue had col­lected. When lay­ing out the gar­den the sur­round­ing land­scape was al­ways the fo­cus, and the plants al­ways lead the eye to­wards the view.

To the front of the house are two curved beds, filled with plants, that en­close a lawn. The planted ar­eas are raised above soil level by low walls cre­ated with rocks dug from their land


and filled with soil mixed with gravel and grit. This helps with drainage and also keeps the soil fer­til­ity low. Rich soil would en­cour­age soft, sappy growth and the plants would not be able to stand up to the wind. In many parts of the gar­den the soil is mulched with sharp sand, which helps keep down weeds, im­proves drainage and also serves to unify the gar­den vis­ually.

Grasses are used through­out the bor­ders. Mis­cant­hus, Pan­icum and Stipa have been cho­sen for their abil­ity to move in the wind with­out be­ing beaten down by it. Among the grasses are large clumps of grass-like restios, na­tive to South Africa’s Cape Prov­ince and KwaZulu-Natal, look­ing re­laxed and at home here in the Scot­tish High­lands, surely the most northerly place they are grown. An­other spec­tac­u­lar South African na­tive, Dierama, sparkle around the restios. Known as an­gel’s fish­ing rods, their tall, nar­row stems arch over un­der the weight of the flow­ers. At Dur­na­muck they are taller than I have ever seen, the re­sult both of the cli­mate and the se­lec­tions Will has made of plants grown from wild-col­lected seed. The Drak­ens­berg re­gion where they grow is snow cov­ered in win­ter and has a high rain­fall in sum­mer, con­di­tions sim­i­lar to Dur­na­muck.

My favourite part of the gar­den is a high mound cov­ered with flam­ing red and orange Cro­cos­mia. I love it even more when Sue points out stone steps, hid­den among the plants, that lead to the top of the mound and a low stone bench around a steel fire pit. It is also a belvedere from which you can see the lay­out of the gar­den and ad­mire views across the cul­ti­vated area to the meadow be­yond and then down to the sea. It is a sight you could never tire of.


USE­FUL IN­FOR­MA­TION Ad­dress 2 Dur­na­muck, Lit­tle Loch Broom, Wester Ross, Scot­land IV23 2QZ. Tel 01854 633761. Web­site scot­lands­gar­ Open The gar­den is oc­ca­sion­ally open un­der Scot­land’s open gar­den scheme. See web­site above for de­tails.

Right On the loch side of the gar­den ev­er­green Olearia shrubs have been planted at the perime­ter of the gar­den to screen the deer fence. So that the shrubs do not ob­scure the view they are clipped low, their rounded hum­mocks echo­ing the dis­tant hills. Be­cause of the high rain­fall and mild weather, growth is lush and plants that are of­ten slow to spread, such as Hy­lotele­phium spectabile and the aga­pan­thus on the left, soon form large colonies.

Clock­wise from top left The muted shades of grasses and restios echo the tones of the nearby hills. Grasses are prized for their abil­ity to dance in the wind with­out be­ing bat­tered down. In the back­ground are the fronds of Chionochloa con­spicua while in the cen­tre its cousin, Chionochloa rubra, is sur­rounded by a bright-yellow cro­cos­mia. Lay­ers of plant­ing on slop­ing ground hide the garage and tool shed from the gar­den. The white blades of Phalaris arun­d­i­nacea var. picta ‘Feesey’ mus­cle their way in front of Salix lanata. Tall eu­pa­to­ri­ums, sangisor­bas and rud­beck­ias form the back­ground and Ch­elone obli­qua creeps along the front. In some gar­dens Eu­pa­to­rium mac­u­la­tum ‘Pur­ple Bush’ is thought to be too big and too thug­gish but here it is al­lowed to spread so that its deep-pur­ple flow­ers can help to cre­ate a screen and its fo­liage a back­ground to shorter plants. The golden flow­ers of Cro­cos­mia Wal­ber­ton Yellow (= ‘Wal­croy’) shine out at the front of this bor­der. The house was built by Will and Sue on the high­est point of their land so that the views from the large win­dows are out over the gar­den as well as out to­wards the stun­ning land­scape. The plant­ing around the house is in raised beds that closely skirt the build­ing.

Right The fresh white bells of the sum­mer hy­acinth bulb, Gal­to­nia can­di­cans have been planted among the glow­ing red flow­ers of Cro­cos­mia ‘Hell­fire’ and the ad­ja­cent Cro­cos­mia x cro­cos­mi­iflora ‘ Co­le­ton Fishacre’, a cul­ti­var that has formed large clumps in the gar­den. As a con­trast to the soft mounds of colour­ful flow­ers, this bed is punc­tu­ated by the up­right, som­bre stems of restios. This is one of the most northerly gar­dens where restios are grown.

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