TURN­ING JA­PANESE

An­toinette Gal­braith falls for the glo­ri­ous mix of cas­cad­ing, fast-flow­ing and still wa­ters in the Ja­panese Gar­dens at Stobo in the Scot­tish Bor­ders

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Re­flect­ing on the glo­ri­ous Ja­panese water gar­dens at Stobo

This au­tumn prom­ises to be an ex­cit­ing one in the Ja­panese Water Gar­den at Stobo. The long, cold win­ter, fol­lowed by a hot sum­mer, have re­sulted in the per­fect con­di­tions for an out­stand­ing dis­play of colour. ‘It will be an early au­tumn,’ says Hugh Sey­mour, ‘a glo­ri­ous au­tumn with a suc­ces­sion of colour. Af­ter a hot, dry sum­mer the red and gold Acers and the yel­low Cer­cidiphllyum in par­tic­u­lar will be spec­tac­u­lar.’ Cou­pled with this feast of colour comes fra­grance. ‘Stobo is a sur­pris­ingly sen­sory gar­den,’ con­tin­ues Hugh’s wife Ge­orgina. ‘Vis­i­tors speak mostly of the scent, the light, the tran­quil­ity, the re­flec­tion of the plants in the water and the birds.’ Nes­tled in the Pee­b­lesshire hills this his­toric but rel­a­tively un­known gar­den was es­tab­lished by fa­mous crick­eter and keen gar­dener Hyl­ton Philip­son (1866-1935) who fa­mously vied for the wick­et­keeper po­si­tion in the Eng­land team with no­to­ri­ous Scot­tish soldier, ad­ven­turer and con­fi­dence trick­ster Gen­eral Ge­orge McGre­gor, the man best-known for an au­da­cious fraud where he per­suaded thou­sands of Scots to in­vest in the fic­tional Cen­tral Amer­i­can ter­ri­tory of Poy­ais (250 also em­i­grated there, over half of whom died). A Northum­brian, Philip­son mar­ried the Hon­ourable Nina Mur­ray, whose fam­ily had once owned Stobo but lost their es­tates af­ter they were ex­iled fol­low­ing the Ja­co­bite re­bel­lion in 1745. On his way back from the Eng­land cricket tour of Aus­tralia from 1895, Philip­son vis­ited Ja­pan and was so in­spired by the gar­dens that he saw there that he re­solved to cre­ate his own and be­tween 1909 and 1913 built the gar­dens at Stobo.

“Vis­i­tors speak of the scent, the light, the tran­quil­ity, the re­flec­tion of the plants on the water

The work was fin­ished just be­fore the First World War hav­ing cost just un­der £8,000, but the es­tate was sold in the late 1930s shortly af­ter Philip­son’s death. In 1971 it was bought by Leo Sey­mour and the gar­dens were sep­a­rated from Stobo Cas­tle, which is now a suc­cess­ful ho­tel and spa. Ge­orgina and Hugh, Leo’s son, live in a farm­house perched on the side of the hill above the gar­den and cur­rently tend it with the help of two part-time gar­den­ers. An un­der­stand­ing of Philip­son’s vi­sion is key to un­der­stand­ing the gar­den. ‘Ini­tially he planned just to build a dam across a val­ley to form a loch in the hills above Stobo with the in­ten­tion of pro­vid­ing an en­ergy source for the cas­tle and sawmill,’ ex­plains Hugh. Shortly there­after he dammed the burn a sec­ond time to cre­ate the lower loch. The hid­den loch di­rectly above the gar­den feeds the nine-me­tre drop and is now the cas­cade at the heart of the gar­den. ‘This was the start of the water gar­den,’ says Hugh. ‘The ex­ist­ing back­drop of noble firs, oak and beech were in­cor­po­rated into the de­sign.’ The Ja­panese style is en­forced by the white painted Trompe l’oeil bridge at the top of the loch where it over­looks water cas­cad­ing through the dra­matic, nar­row gorge be­fore rush­ing through rills, around moss cov­ered rocks and un­der Ja­panese style bridges. ‘The gar­den is all about light, water and colour,’ says Ge­orgina. ‘Our main chal­lenge is to be brave, keep vis­tas open and canopies raised so the light can fil­ter be­tween the trees and shrubs and re­flect in the water.’ The gar­den is en­tered through a small, wooden gate at the foot of the slope, which leads though the belt of conifers. The path leads up the slope, past one of sev­eral Ja­panese lanterns, a trio of step­ping stones link­ing two wa­ter­falls and over the first of two arched bridges. Here the Ja­panese horse ch­est­nut aes­cu­lus turbinata scat­ters its golden crown of leaves, while to the east plant­ings of bam­boo rus­tle gen­tly in the breeze. It is im­pos­si­ble to pass the Ja­panese Um­brella Pine Sci­ado­pi­tys ver­ti­cil­lata with­out reach­ing out to stroke its long, soft nee­dles.

“Look­ing down on the glow­ing ta­pes­try of colour and tex­ture is a mag­nif­i­cent sight

Stand­ing on the dam, look­ing down on the glow­ing ta­pes­try of colour and tex­ture ac­cen­tu­ated by tall green columns of conifers, is a mag­nif­i­cent sight. ‘A storm took out a lot of the rhodo­den­drons and in 2000 an­other vi­o­lent storm up­rooted some of the larger conifers, but the gar­den be­came a lot lighter,’ says Hugh. Once the de­bris was cleared an on­go­ing plant­ing pro­gramme in­cor­po­rat­ing many of Philip­son’s orig­i­nal species be­gan in earnest. Dra­matic in au­tumn Stobo is also mag­nif­i­cent in spring when the trees are heavy with blos­som and fresh, lime green fo­liage. Colour comes from rhodo­den­drons and aza­leas and the all-en­gulf­ing scent from R lu­teum. But for Hugh and Ge­orgina au­tumn, when the burn cas­cades though a kalei­do­scope of colour con­trast­ing with the pur­ple hills, is the most ex­cit­ing time. ‘We love it in the gar­den and are in­cred­i­bly lucky to have it so close to the house,’ he says. ‘It is just like step­ping out of the real world into a hid­den val­ley of peace and tran­quil­ity.’

Cas­cade: The dra­matic Stobo wa­ter­fall.

Top: Stobo farm­house in the au­tumn sun­shine. Above: A cas­cade of water from Tromp l’oeil bridge.

Above: Hugh and Ge­orgina Sey­mour en­joy the gar­den. Left: A Ja­panese arte­fact amongst the fo­liage.

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