ART OF THE GARDEN
The owners of Shepherd House in Inveresk have used their artistic sensibilities to design and shape their outdoor spaces
There’s real artistic talent on show in the triangular walled garden of Shepherd House in Inveresk
It’s the middle of the winter but the garden at Shepherd House, the triangular walled garden in Inveresk belonging to Sir Charles Fraser and his artist wife Lady Ann, is bursting with excitement. Drifts of pink, white, purple and some almost black hellebores glow in the borders while Iris reticulata and fragrant Iris unguicularis fill the narrow beds beside the orange painted wall of the cottage.
There are drifts of unusual snowdrops with names like Little Ben, David Shackleton, Percy Picton and Nerissa scattered throughout the wilder areas of the garden where they mingle with purple and blue crocus, scillas, anemones, fritillaries, aconites and many more early spring bulbs.
‘Every morning I go out into the garden to check which of the bulbs are flowering and which I might include in the current painting or pick for the kitchen table,’ Ann explains. ‘I. unguicularis, the purple Algerian iris, is a particular favourite as it has a wonderful scent.
‘ Hard landscaping and planting schemes evolved slowly’
‘ We have strongly scented winter box Sarcococca confusa and catch its scent every time we pass’
We also have the very strongly scented winter box Sarcococca confusa beside the path from the garage and catch its scent every time we pass.’
Such perfection took time to achieve but this year the couple will celebrate 60 years of living and gardening at Shepherd House with a new lavender garden. In September, they will mark their diamond wedding anniversary with the installation of a diamond-shaped sculpture. It is made from polished stainless steel by Sussex-based artist Cameron Foye, whose work the couple first admired in their son’s garden near Kelso. These are just the latest in a series of features that fill this garden and make it as interesting in winter as in summer.
For the first 25 years the garden was a children’s playground. Charles did t he garden and Ann bought ‘the odd plant’, but once the children left home she became interested in reshaping the garden. ‘ There was no overall plan,’ she says. ‘Hard landscaping and planting schemes evolved slowly, as the ideas came. We were inspired by visits to other gardens and from reading books and magazines.’ The dry, free-draining slightly alkaline soil was easy to work with the addition of plenty of compost.
Meanwhile Ann enrolled at the Edinburgh College of Art in drawing and painting, later completing a course in botanical painting at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. Here she developed a passion for tulips: her paintings of tulips, along with her other plants, feature frequently in sell-out exhibitions.
The main garden is situated to the rear of the 17th century house but the front garden with its intricate box parterre punctuated with
‘A flight of stone steps set in the raised alpine wall leads onto the upper garden’
standard iceberg roses, sets the tone. Visitors will normally enter the main garden, which is divided into two parts, through the side gate set in walls espaliered with orange-berried pyracantha.
The focal point in the lower garden is the courtyard garden, where herringbone brick paths divide four colour-themed beds, each planted with a standard holly for height. Here Ann grows the tulips, tall bearded irises and oriental poppies which she loves to paint in a palate of colours from deep pink and purple, to blues, whites and greys and yellows.
A flight of stone steps set in the raised alpine wall leads between cordons of Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ onto the tulip mosaic by Maggie Howarth and the upper garden. Here the focal point is the rectangular, stone-edged pond fed from the central rill flowing from a classical raised pond set with four fountains in the back wall. Edged in spring with Tulipa ‘White Triumphator’, the pond is a spectacular sight.
In contrast to the formal stone work, approximately a quarter of the garden is devoted to informal plantings of trees – among the favourites are Cornus ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’ and deep brown-barked Prunus serrula, under-
planted with spring bulbs followed in summer by wildflowers.
As the ideas kept coming, a stone potting shed with a live roof ‘that must be hand-weeded on hands and knees’, was built to match an ornamental sheep fank, complete with its own sheep clipped from box. These were followed by the intriguing Shell House designed by Lachlan Stewart of ANTA Architecture, whose work Charles and Ann admired at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Equally striking is
Girl Washing Her Hair at the pond, by the late sculptor Gerald Laing. Pottering about, unconcerned, are Charles’s fluffy white silkies, which ‘scratch the beds but are forgiven’.
For this inspirational couple the work in the garden is ongoing and changes are always being planned. ‘The process is the purpose,’ says Charlie. ‘We find the most exciting thing about the garden is planning the next project.’
Clockwise from top left: Dazzling purple crocuses; Ashwood Garden Hybrid Hellebore ‘Yellow Hammer’; box hedging; snowdrops – a symbol of spring; a metal cockerel in amongst the flower beds.
Above: Sir Charles and Lady Ann Fraser and dog Blossom. Top: An ornamental sheep fank complete with ‘box’ sheep. Right: The Shell House by Lachlan Stuart of ANTA Architects.
Top: Scarlet, espaliered Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ between the courtyard and main garden. Right: Variegated red and white hellebore. Below: A fluffy white silkie chicken on the loose in the beds.