Scottish Field

GARDENER'S INSTINCT

Tessa Knott’s ambition to rescue Glenwhan Gardens was a labour of love and now stands as a true testament to her green-fingered expertise, finds Antoinette Galbraith

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Glenwhan Gardens in Stranraer is a green-fingered triumph

Early every morning Tessa Knott and her four black Labradors leave their house and take one of the mown paths up the south-facing hill where she has spent the past 45 years creating a garden out of wild, wet moorland. The winding path leads up and around the two lochans where she herself did much of the digging, over some of the connecting water courses she opened up and shaped. Perhaps most exciting of all to someone ‘who just can’t stop planting’, Tessa walks past the hundreds and thousands of different plants she raised herself, interspers­ed with original sculptures.

Autumn is a special time; the trees, chosen for their dramatic foliage transform to scarlet and gold and sorbus drip with pink, white and scarlet berries. Acer foliage is on fire, prunus foliage is claret-coloured and birch leaves are golden, their effect magnified by their reflection in the lochans; now the heart of the garden. This is the time when Tessa’s well-chosen companion planting, flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas and delicate red-tinged azaleas stand out.

But the biggest reward of all comes at the top of the hill: here, on a crisp clear autumn day the panoramic view extends over Luce Bay to the Isle of Man and the Mull of Galloway. It is a view that Tessa never tires of.

This is Glenwhan, near Stranraer in Wigtownshi­re, the hillside garden Tessa and her husband Bill bought in 1974, ‘unseen over the telephone’, and soon moved up full time from Herefordsh­ire with their two young children, Richard and Louise. Described as suitable for forestry the windswept, waterlogge­d 103-acre plot boasted ‘two ruins and a threebedro­om cottage’, says Tessa. Worse, a herd of cattle and a flock of pigeons were occupying the farmhouse, omitted from the particular­s. ‘We wondered if we owned it,’ she muses.

Inspired by visits to nearby Logan Botanic Garden, which like Glenwhan benefits from the warming effects of the Gulf Stream, 12-acres were fenced off and a mixed shelter belt of trees planted around the perimeter. Meanwhile, Tessa set to work, expanding the garden up the hill from the house. Describing herself as ‘an instinctiv­e gardener’, she started on the major task of clearing brambles, bracken and perennial

“A herd of cattle and a flock of pigeons were occupying the farmhouse

weeds. Gorse was also cleared with some bits left as shelter and boosted by fast-growing willow cuttings.

The main problem at Glenwhan, she soon found, was ‘the wind that comes from all quarters and the destructiv­e winter gales’. After a few years there was enough shelter to allow the planting of young trees that now form part of a microclima­te capable of supporting tender plants sourced worldwide. From this point she bought car loads of plants, propagated from cuttings and gratefully accepted plants from friends. ‘I just couldn’t stop planting,’ says Tessa. ‘In my head I used to plant all night, I couldn’t switch off.’

Tessa is especially proud of the rare creambarke­d Betula albosinens­is ‘Hergest’ and the rare Chinese native Metasequoi­a glyptostro­boides ‘Emerald Feathers’ from Hanio Province and endangered in the wild The Nikko maple Acer maximowicz­ianum is another favourite the sight of its red-tinged foliage is a highlight of the morning walk. She is also looking forward to seeing Sorbus insignis’ red berries, ‘before the birds get them’, and explains that it was covered in flowers this year. Stewartia pseudocame­llia also promises good colour. A recent acquisitio­n is Schefflera arboricola a Taiwan native sought after for its autumn flowers. In late summer all varieties of fragrant Eucryphia with their white flowers are a highlight.

Her passion for rhododendr­ons was sparked by an early purchase of 100 young rhododendr­ons and azaleas for 90 pence, then allowed to mature in a nursery bed. Tessa recently added to the collection with another lot of rare varieties following a visit to Alan Clarke’s specialist nursery near Carlisle. ‘We must have about 300 different varieties and are now concentrat­ing on the species now thriving in the shelter the garden offers.’ The collection has become so renowned that the Scottish

“I just couldn’t stop planting. In my head I used to plant all night, I couldn’t switch off

Rhododendr­on Society recently began a database of rhododendr­ons and azaleas at Glenwhan as part of a wider survey of the plants.

Often the morning walk extends to the 17-acre moorland north of the garden, where a wild flower walk and well-marked tree trail is home to red squirrels. Here, the bluebells that flourish in the spring are, Tessa explains, a sign that Glenwhan was once the site of an ancient woodland. ‘The bluebells all appeared when the gorse was clear and now grow in carpets around the rhododendr­ons and azaleas.’

Sadly Tessa’s husband Bill died last year but the garden thrives with the loyal help of James Smith, known as Spider, who this year celebrates 15 years at Glenwhan, and Marion Richardson. ‘They are both very hardworkin­g and we are very much a team,’ Tessa says. The next generation is also involved. While Louise is interested in all ongoing activities, Richard redesigned the ornamental potager, the only semiformal part of the garden. He recently encouraged planting an extra 20 acres of moorland with native species outside the garden to boost the shelter belt and help protect against gales.

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 ??  ?? The great green and beyond: View from the top of the garden.
The great green and beyond: View from the top of the garden.
 ??  ?? Clockwise from top left: Eucryphia; Tessa Knott by the loch; Tessa’s collection of sculptures punctuate the garden; blue hydrangeas; stipa gigantea; upper loch with banks of shrubs and acers; oriental lily.
Clockwise from top left: Eucryphia; Tessa Knott by the loch; Tessa’s collection of sculptures punctuate the garden; blue hydrangeas; stipa gigantea; upper loch with banks of shrubs and acers; oriental lily.
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 ??  ?? Top: Lochside hut. Centre left: Agapanthus. Centre right: Turk’s-cap lily. Bottom: Wild boar sculpture.
Top: Lochside hut. Centre left: Agapanthus. Centre right: Turk’s-cap lily. Bottom: Wild boar sculpture.
 ??  ?? Above: Trees and clouds are reflected in the loch. Right: Eagle sculpture overlookin­g the loch.
Above: Trees and clouds are reflected in the loch. Right: Eagle sculpture overlookin­g the loch.
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