John Fleming is remembered as an experimental Victorian gardener who built heated greenhouses to grow oranges, nectarines, grapes, peaches and plums in a walled garden in Argyll woodland.
Now his exotic 19th century creations in the sprawling Kilmahew estate have become the inspiration for the latest in the long line of Scottish gins.
The spirit has also been created in recognition of the distilling skills of local monks and the area’s religious links, which date back to the 6th century,
It is flavoured with fresh citrus from oranges and lemons, as well as from the bramble leaves and rosehips, which can be found today at the Kilmahew estate.
St Peter’s Seminary was created on the estate in 1966 to provide a new training centre for young priests.
Despite boasting a radical modernist design created by the Glasgow architects Isi Metzstein and Andy McMillan, the seminary was closed in 1980 and the building fell into gradual neglect. However, last year the Heritage Lottery Fund and Creative Scotland pledged £4.2 million towards a planned £10m overhaul of what is now regarded as one of Europe’s finest modernist buildings.
NVA, the arts organisation behind the planned rebirth of St Peter’s Seminary, near Cardross, is joining forces with Glasgow’s first gin distillery to create the new Kilmahew Gin. Fleming, who had carved out his reputation for gardening at the Cliveden estate in Buckinghamshire, was employed to work in the kitchen garden for Kilmahew House, the baronial mansion commissioned by the estate owner, shipping magnate James Burns, in the 1860s.
The partially collapsed wooden and iron frames of the glasshouses created by Fleming can still be found in the remains of a walled garden, which dates back to 1866.
NVA is pledging to plough all profits from the gin, which has been produced by the Glasgow Distillery Company – which is also creating the first new single malt to come out of the city for a century – into a planned restoration of the walled garden and the estate.
A spokeswoman for NVA said: “We’re excited to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Glasgow Distillery Company to produce a gin inspired by the landscape and history of Kilmahew.
“The area is named after St Mahew, a 6th century monk whose chapel is said to have existed close to St Peter’s since the earliest Christian times.
“Given the historic links between monks and distilling, Kilmahew Gin is a nod to the people who have lived and worked in this remarkable place over the centuries, from St Mahew to the Victorian gardener John Fleming – as well as an optimistic symbol of its future, as through collective action we begin to bring it back into productive use.”
Mike Hayward, the distillery’s co-founder, said: “We felt extremely proud to be invited to be part of this exciting initiative and create a bespoke gin for the restoration project. The opportunity to contribute in some small way was one we were thrilled to be involved with.
“We wanted to produce a premium spirit that balances a number of contrasting yet complementary botanicals in the same way St Peter’s seminary harmonises with the surrounding estate.”