THE breathtaking plantings at Floors Castle are sure to inspire you
Stroll in to the walled garden at Floors Castle and I guarantee you will stop dead in your tracks. To the left, a ribbon of bright blue agapanthus runs the entire length of the wall, shimmering in the morning light. Opposite, the cool border unfolds in a richly layered symphony of blues and silvers, spiked with deep pinks. Structure and height comes from a classical, perfectly proportioned, 8ft-tall box spiral, one of several that link the different spaces in this garden situated on a raised terrace north of the River Tweed at Kelso.
Head gardener, Andrew Simmons, formerly head gardener at Balmoral, and now in his sixth year at Floors, sets a brisk pace along the border, implying that there is more to come. Pausing only to identify key plants such as pink Salvia sclarea turkestanica, purple and cream Thalictrum “Elin”, tall, creamy plumes of Artemisia lactiflora and a wigwam covered in starry Clematis x jouiniana, he finally stops at the north east corner, by the former head gardener’s house.
“This is my favourite view of the garden,” he says. “You can look down both borders.” The vista is indeed dazzling. Packed with a vibrant array of plants rising 8ft high in a glorious crescendo of oranges, reds and yellows, the hot border is stocked with blood-red lilies mixed with orange Knifophia “Timothy”, scarlet Crocosmia “Lucifer” and drifts of maroon Helenium “Moreheim Beauty”. The lush, tactile foliage of tender, fiery-red Canna and banana trees and low-growing beetroot leaves add an exotic note.
Revitalised over the past ten years under the aegis of the current Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe, the walled garden at Floors boasts a formal layout of themed borders framing gravel paths. The drama and height of these borders owe their inspiration to the duchess who is an interior decorator. Working with former head gardener Billy Crozier and now Andrew, the duchess drew on her eye for scale and proportion and their knowledge of plants to create a layout widely regarded as the most impressive in Scotland.
The thing you notice instantly, even after a heavy shower of rain, is the manner in which the plants stand tall the full length of the 60m borders. This can be partially explained by Andrew and his team of three skilled under gardeners who regularly divide, prune and deadhead.
But, as Andrew says, there is more to it: “The secret is netting early in the season,” he says. “Keep the netting low, about 60cm high with posts about every two metres. It does look a bit unsightly at the start of the season. If I could find a black net I would be over the moon.”
Andrew, who spends weekends visiting other gardens, rejoices in the large variety of plants grown in Scotland and northern England. He studies plant combinations, constantly searching for new ways to use colour. Currently he is working on how to extend the season in the spring border.
Here, initial experiments with tall, dramatic sprays of golden Stipa gigantica have proved successful. Lifting the eye along the border, over and above the spent foliage of early herbaceous plantings, the grasses are a reminder of the countryside outwith the garden walls.
Built in 1861 the five-acre walled garden is bisected horizontally by the summer border. Backed with rose-covered metal poles linked with chains, blooms include vibrant pink American Pillar, grown here since 1850 and favourites such as Persicaria “Firetail” and Eupatorium cannabinum “Flore Pleno”.
Skilled colour combinations, such as the purple foliage of Cimicifuga Actaea atropurpurea contrasted with Crocosmia “Lucifer” or the pink, bottle brush flowers of Sanguisorbia obtusa against bright-red spikes of Persicaria “Firetail”, are key to the look of the borders.
The lower part of the garden was recently landscaped and transformed into a natural and spacious children’s playground that offers a degree of freedom. Asked if he is ever tempted to plant this part, Andrew explains the importance of staying focused on a manageable area. “You don’t want to expand a garden beyond your capabilities,” he stresses. “It is best to manage one area well.”
This is done by the continuous introduction of new plants in different combinations to keep things fresh and interesting. It is important to be ruthless. “If a plant doesn’t work it is removed or moved: a case in point is Tradescantia, which proved unable to tolerate the damp conditions this year and has been taken out.
An intricate pair of 19th-century wrought iron gates painted the rich blue-green used on all wood and metalwork throughout the estate lead to the 2.5-acre millennium parterre which is laid out on the flat grass terrace formerly the site of the pleasure gardens, the Edwardian plantings that formed a transition between the woodlands and the walled garden.
Inspired by letters embroidered on a piece of vintage French linen found in the castle, the parterre features the duke and duchess’s initials set in an elegant layout of crisply edged gravel paths. The clear, open aspect of this space, which forms a striking contrast to the walled garden, is best viewed from the raised terrace above. Here, height comes from a trio of wrought iron goblet structures, supporting espaliered apples: Bloody Ploughman. A row of Scotch Dumpling lines the lower walls.
Back in the walled garden it’s time to inspect the Floors plant centre. Tucked away in the square frame by the splendid borders the centre is run by plant enthusiast Neil Cumming and about 25 per cent of his current stock features plants grown in the garden. Neil, who feels it is important for visitors to be able to buy plants they see growing in the garden and who might want to take something of Floors home with them, aims to increase that percentage.
He also stocks a tempting selection of quality tools in a converted glasshouse. Watch out too, for the unmissable plant workshops run three times a year by Andrew, where he promises to reveal further secrets based on a deep and always developing knowledge.
Floors Castle, Kelso, TD5 7SF, open daily, tel: 01573 223333, www.floors castle.com; www.floorscastleplantcentre.co.uk; admission to the grounds and gardens costs £4 for adults, £3.50 for concessions and £1.50 for children aged 5-16.
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