WHEN Panny and Alastair Laing first moved to Logie, his family home perched on the side of a hill above the River Findhorn near Forres in 1991, the formal two-acre partially walled garden at the foot of the hill was dominated by “two shrubs, two Wellingtonia, some large yew and a traditional herbaceous border planted with annuals”.
A large, labour-intensive vegetable garden produced seasonal gluts of vegetables and the burn that meandered through the garden had been piped underground.
Panny explains: “Hundreds of yellow antirrhinums were grown and planted each year and combined with scarlet begonias. It did look very impressive in August, but had limited interest for the rest of the year.”
An enthusiastic gardener, Panny decided to simplify the scheme, while creating more year-round interest. With the help and advice of landscape designer Gavin Dallmeyer and the support of “my wonderful mother-in-law, who had tended the garden for over 40 years”, drastic changes were made.
The vegetable garden was halved and a short stretch of the burn was uncovered, perennials replaced annuals in the herbaceous border, where small trees bring height and autumn interest. The formal box parterre went through various incarnations: a white-and-silver scheme failed in the Scottish climate but an experiment with coloured perennials succeeded. An ambitious plan to revitalise the old yew hedges by cutting them back hard and allowing different sides to regenerate was undertaken.
Meanwhile, dairy farming stopped, presenting the couple with a range of redundant buildings.
Panny, whose knowledge of plants was developing, felt she had enough plants to start a small nursery, selling the ones not usually found in the north.
“I found I enjoyed dividing up plants and potting them on so it seemed to make sense to sell them.”
As the business expanded and attracted more customers, the steading was gradually converted into a series of small, specialist shops, including a farm shop which sells locally-grown produce and meat, much of which is raised at Logie.
Three years ago, Panny, inspired by her increasing knowledge of interesting perennials and the need to make the garden lower maintenance, decided to revisit the overall garden plan.
“Once again Gavin and I started with pencil and paper.” For practical help she drew on the skills of Ewen Manson, who works at Logie as handyman, fishing ghillie and groundsman.
Local contractor and landscaper Ronald Grant completed the team.
Work got off to a cracking start: the old yew hedges were removed, precious plants relocated to a nursery bed, topsoil excavated and piled on the lawn in front of the house, and Ronald prepared for structural, stonework. “And down came the snow, three lots, three foot deep, immediately halting progress.”
Patience was needed the following summer when Ewen and Ronald were busy elsewhere, and stopped again the following winter when more snow fell.
“Although it was frustrating, it was probably a good thing as we had more time to think about the different aspects of the garden,” said Panny.
The result is a symmetrical layout of curved stone-edged beds backed by easily tended drystane dykes. These take their cue from the dykes that edge the path leading down the hill from the house. A row of apple trees are a nod to the garden’s productive past.
Perhaps the star of the show is the newly excavated burn, which flowed through the garden for the first time last year, complemented by the extra boulders introduced by Ronald. Skilfully placed so they look as if they have been there forever, the stonework brings a naturalistic, relaxed feel to the garden.
Once the structure was in place, Panny, drawing on Gavin’s advice, planted more than 2,000 plants last year alone. Choosing the right combinations to add interest was key: in particular she is pleased with the autumn hues of rheum with the cherry pink Potentilla ‘Miss Willmott’; or the fiery, bog-loving orange Ligularia ‘Desdemona’ combined with the Buddleja ‘Sungold’ near the burn.
“Making all those decisions was exhausting. I was delighted to have the excuse occasionally to just go and weed and not have to use my brain.”
More relaxing was planting the 50 different hardy geraniums “most of which are now growing in conditions that suit them,” and the hostas by the burn. Although she has no plans to rework the garden, Panny admits there will always be plant combinations to work on.
“Now I have to make sure that the thugs don’t run amok and smother the gentler characters – I do sometimes think that gardening is a bit like overseeing the school playground – nurturing the characters who need encouragement and help to thrive, while controlling and curbing the more ebullient members of the team.”
• Logie, Forres, IV36 2QN, is open daily until the end of October and again from the end of March. Go online to find details of gardening and other courses such as bee keeping and basket making (www.logie.co.uk)
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east