The glo­ri­ous gar­dens at Sir Wal­ter Scott's Ab­bots­ford House

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS - An­toinette Gal­braith re­ports

Ab­bots­ford, the Scot­tish Ba­ro­nial man­sion built by Sir Wal­ter Scott be­tween 1811 and 1824, sits in a raised po­si­tion over­look­ing the River Tweed be­tween Selkirk and Mel­rose. Ma­ture oak, beech, birch and hazel run up on the hill be­hind the house form­ing the start of Scott’s es­tate which stretched as far east as the Eil­don Hills.

This ro­man­tic set­ting is made all the more in­ter­est­ing when you learn that Scott had a great pas­sion for land­scap­ing – equal to or pos­si­bly greater than his pas­sion for writ­ing – and was in­volved in the choos­ing and plant­ing of nearly ev­ery tree on the 1,500-acre es­tate.

In a ground-break­ing move away from the English Land­scape Move­ment he trans­formed ‘an unlovely spot’ on a rough hill farm into a pic­turesque idyll with a trio of court­yard gar­dens in­ti­mately con­nected with the house.

It was Scott’s in­volve­ment with the gar­den that in­stantly cap­ti­vated Pippa Coles, gar­den her­itage de­vel­op­ment man­ager for the Ab­bots­ford Trust. ‘The house gar­dens and wood­lands were an in­te­gral part of Scott’s vi­sion for the house,’ she ex­plains.

‘He was in­volved with ev­ery­thing from plant­ing to lay­out, sculp­ture and heat­ing sys­tems in the walls. There are many ref­er­ences to the gar­den in his let­ters and jour­nals and we have a won­der­ful archive at Ab­bots­ford of draw­ings and ac­counts.’

“There are many ref­er­ences to the gar­den in Scott’s let­ters and jour­nals

Ab­bots­ford re­mained in the pos­ses­sion of the Scott fam­ily un­til the death of Dame Jean Maxwell Scott in 2004. After fam­ily con­sul­ta­tion, it was agreed that the Ab­bots­ford Trust should be estab­lished to safe­guard its fu­ture.

Lead­ing the way to the south court, where the fo­cal point is the stone foun­tain res­cued from Ed­in­burgh’s Mer­cat Cross, the mar­ket square op­po­site St Giles Cathe­dral, Pippa ex­plains: ‘The spirit of Ab­bots­ford was at the heart of the Ro­man­tic move­ment and the de­sign was in­ti­mate and in­tri­cate.’ Scott sought to pique vis­i­tors’ cu­rios­ity and en­cour­age them to ex­plore the de­tails.

The sur­round­ing yew top­i­ary re­flects the gar­den’s evo­lu­tion un­der Scott’s de­scen­dants in the 1850s but his hand is ev­i­dent in the court walls, in which are set an in­trigu­ing dis­play of medieval, Ro­man and early In­dian sculp­tured pan­els from around the world.

The arched ar­cade wall is em­bel­lished with a stone-carved botan­i­cal frieze that di­vides the South Court from the East Court and the Mor­ris Gar­den, and is in­spired by the clois­ters from Mel­rose Abbey. Re­search sug­gests the sunken, rec­tan­gu­lar lawn of the sec­ond court was once a flower gar­den viewed from above through in­tri­cate iron­work – no longer sur­viv­ing – in the ar­cade.

A flight of stone steps leads through an Ital­ianate rus­tic arch to the third court, the kitchen gar­den, which Pippa wants to ‘fill with colour and de­tail to

shine like a jewel’. Here your eye is drawn through a richly planted dou­ble bor­der to­wards the el­e­gant gothic con­ser­va­tory with tall win­dows.

Medieval ro­mance is never far away at Ab­bots­ford: Pippa re­cently dis­cov­ered that the con­ser­va­tory was based on a de­sign for a medieval knight’s tent used on cam­paigns or for joust­ing.

Stand­ing at the side of the or­angery, Pippa ex­plains Scott’s plant­ing ideas for the area with its al­lu­vial soil. ‘He de­scribed a gar­den that com­bined plants and veg­eta­bles with the or­na­men­tal plants screen­ing the veg­eta­bles,’ she says. ‘Ex­cit­ing new plants were be­ing im­ported at that time and, through his con­tacts and fam­ily con­nec­tions, Scott had ac­cess to many of th­ese.’

In sum­mer the cen­tral bor­ders glow with deep pink and mauve phlox, del­phinium, al­stroe­me­ria, cam­pan­ula, heuchera, richly coloured heme­ro­cal­lis, aga­pan­thus and pen­ste­mon, while shrub rosa ‘Brother Cad­fael’ was cho­sen for its fra­grant, rich pink flow­ers and for the red­dish tones of its stems. Plants are in­creased by prop­a­gat­ing and di­vid­ing.

The sym­met­ri­cal lay­out of four rec­tan­gles and gen­er­ous perime­ter

bor­ders was a Ge­or­gian de­sign, which al­lowed for cul­ti­va­tion for the ta­ble. Two spa­ces are now de­voted to ro­tat­ing veg­eta­bles, with a third re­served for soft fruit and as­para­gus, while long grass sur­rounds the cherry trees in the fourth rec­tan­gle, un­der­planted with frit­il­lar­ies.

Splashes of colour come from com­pan­ion plant­ings of bee-lov­ing royal blue scabi­ous, or­ange cal­en­dula, gi­ant hys­sop agas­tache ‘black adder’ and fra­grant matu­cana sweet peas. The gar­den is or­ganic.

‘The gar­den has great over­all struc­ture,’ she says, adding that the rus­tic yew trel­lis is re­put­edly sim­i­lar to the orig­i­nal. Fur­ther struc­ture and height also come from the es­paliered ap­ples that back the hor­i­zon­tal path where Pippa has re­cently in­tro­duced some new her­itage va­ri­eties: ‘Bloody plough­man for the beauty of its red ap­ples, which we use to punc­tu­ate the cor­ners, and lo­cally-bred white Mel­rose.’

Scott orig­i­nally planted trees, many sourced from the great Scot­tish ducal es­tates such as Atholl and Buc­cleuch, on the land be­tween the house and the River Tweed. The view was later opened up and the land ter­raced by his grand­daugh­ter Char­lotte and her hus­band John Hope Scott.

Re­cently, a fund re­leased from the EU has en­abled the restora­tion of walks in the wood­lands based on Scott’s de­tailed records. Of­fi­cially opened in March 2018, the walks, which vary in length, ra­di­ate from the vis­i­tor cen­tre and in­clude re­opened vis­tas over the River Tweed, re­vi­tal­is­ing the nat­u­ral­is­tic land­scape and il­lu­mi­nat­ing fea­tures such as the wa­ter­fall and wood­land glades.

Pippa’s cur­rent ar­eas of re­search in­clude the in­put of Scott’s head gar­dener, French-born Wil­liam Bo­gie, for­mer as­sis­tant to James Mac­Don­ald of Dalkeith Palace in Mid­loth­ian. ‘Lady Scott was French,’ she con­firms, ‘so I won­der if there was a link there.

‘Scott’s in­ter­est in the gar­den is what makes it unique. He was an artist and Ab­bots­ford was part of his pro­ject. He imag­ined the place, wrote about it in his nov­els, and then he ac­tu­ally built it, and used it for in­spi­ra­tion for the rest of his life.’

“Scott imag­ined the place, wrote about it in his nov­els, and then he ac­tu­ally built it

Above: An abun­dance of peren­ni­als in the top bor­der. Left: Plant­ings of dahlias ex­tend the sea­son.

Above: Ev­er­green struc­ture comes from yew top­i­ary in the first court­yard di­rectly in front of the house.

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