Gardens are one of the most important elements in the cultural history of Scotland.
Like any art form, they provide an insight into social, political and economic
fashions, they intimately reflect the personalities and ideals of the individuals who
created them, and they capture the changing fortunes of successive generations of
monarchs and noblemen.
Yet they remain fragile features of the landscape, easily
changed, abandoned or destroyed, leaving little or no trace.
New book Scotland’s Lost Gardens, by author Marilyn Brown , rediscovers the stories of the nation’s vanished historic gardens.
Drawing on varied, rare and newly available archive material a remarkable picture emerges of centuries of lost landscapes.
SCOTLAND’S LOST GARDENS
This lost garden was first discovered by Marilyn herself, and is perhaps the most northerly garden in the British Isles - it is situated on Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Isles. Muness Castle was built in the late 16th century for Laurence Bruce, half-borther of Robert Stewart, Earl of Orkney. A large terraced graden was laid out leading down to a freshwater loch. Today, it is covered in turf and grazed by sheep, and was only discovered by Marilyn after an aerial survey flight. Even enclosed by higher walls than now survive, it is difficult to think of a more improbable site for a garden, and difficult to imagine anything growing successfully in its exposed position. It can never have been productive, and can only have been a pleasant place to relax for a small part of the year. Yet the laying out of a garden, like the building of a well ordered and decorative tower house, was a claim to status, taste and refined manners throughout Scotland.
The ‘Masques’ of Mary Queen of Scots on Arthur’s Seat
Mary returned to Scotland from France in August 1561 at the age of eighteen. The early years after her return to Scotland saw her established at Holyrood, with Edinburgh the centre of her administration. The pastimes and pleasures of court life were employed as part of the proper behaviour of a ruling monarch in Scotland for the first time since the death of James V. Among these pursuits were music, dancing, needlework, cards and dice indoors, with hawking, hunting, shooting at the butts and golf outdoors, in all of which Mary participated enthusiastically. The garden provided an outdoor extension to the palace or house, where certain activities could most properly take place. Masques, a kind of poetic drama with music and dancing, which were an important feature of court life in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, could be held indoors or outdoors. The commonest form was a dance by masked members of the court, sometimes including the ruler and close members of his family, in elaborate, matching costumes. In France they formed part of the celebrations of weddings and christenings, as well as major state occasions. One elaborate entertainment was held in May 1562 at Dunsapie Loch on Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. It celebrated the wedding of John, Lord Fleming, a relative and close supporter of the queen and brother of one of the four Maries. Among those present was the ambassador of the king of Sweden, one of the suitors for Mary’s hand in marriage. The subject of this masque was the siege of Leith by the English in 1560, with galleys on the loch and the erection of a timber castle, and much shooting off of ordnance, presumably a firework display. Animals were still kept at Holyrood , with the overall responsibility for the lion, lucerve (lynx), tiger and cocks of the game lying with Thomas Fenton, who was described as keeper of the garden at the end of the sixteenth century.
The plan of the Kirk o’ Field and the death of Lord Darnley - The oldest detailed depiction of a garden in Scotland of the garden of Kirk o’ Field , which lay on the present site of the Old College of the University of Edinburgh, just inside the town wall of Edinburgh which had been thrown up after the defeat at Flodden in 1513. The drawing of the garden and its surroundings was made because the site was the scene of the murder on 10 February 1567 of Mary Queen of Scots’ second husband , Henry, Lord Darnley, an event which was almost immediately followed by her marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, and which led in a short time to the loss of her crown. The political importance of the event led to the need for a sketch plan of the ‘murder scene’. It was made for Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth I’s Secretary of State, in a not altogether successful attempt to clarify the extremely confusing circumstances of Darnley’s death. It shows the garden adjacent to the house of the provost of the collegiate church, where Darnley was staying. Although the purpose was to understand the circumstances of a crime, it was incredibly detailed in showing the garden subdivided into five sections by a wall and line of trees, and detailed the layout of paths and beds of grass and flowers.
The King’s Knot - Stirling Castle
Directly below the crags of the castle rock in Stirling are the most remarkable remains of any garden in Scotland. Known as the ‘King’s Knot’, this intricate geometric pattern of earthworks is thought to date from the early sixteenth century, although its exact origins remain unclear. As a result, a considerable mythology has grown up around the site. Medieval tradition associated Stirling with the legends of King Arthur, and in the fourteenth century the Scottish poet John Barbour wrote of how the park of Stirling Castle was ‘close by the Round Table’. Recent archaeological surveys have done little to dispel the myth, uncovering the remains of an earlier circular feature directly beneath the King’s Knot. The idea that the royal park was once the site where Arthur and his knights held counsel is a potent one, and may explain both the persistence of the associations and the unusual design of the garden. Arthurian Legend was a regular feature of the entertainments of the Stewart kings at Stirling Castle, and James IV even named his son and heir – who died in infancy – Arthur. It is possible that the King’s Knot was constructed in the sixteenth century as an elaborate landscape tribute to the Arthurian myth.
Hawthornes planted in the shape of the ‘Great Michael’ - At Tullibardine Castle in Perthshire, Marilyn has discovered evidence of a very unusual garden design that saw the planting of thorn trees in the shape of James IV’s ship the Great Michael - constructed in 1507 and completed in 1512, for a time she was the largest warship in all of Europe. This was recorded by the chronicler Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie in his account of James IV’s reign, written in the latter part of the sixteenth century. He describes the Michael as 12 score feet long and 35 feet broad within her walls, which were each 10 feet thick, and lest anyone should doubt his accuracy he writes, ‘If ony man beleiffis that the descriptioun of the scheip be not of weritie as we haue writtin...let him pase to the yeit of Tillebairne (Tullibardine in
Perthshire) and their affoir the samin he will sie the length and breid of hir planttit witht hathorne againe be the wryghtis that helpit to mak hir’. The remains of this feature were still visible when the writer of the New Statistical Account for the parish of Blackford recorded the site in 1837, saying that only three thorn trees had survived the encroachments of the plough, and its site can be seen on aerial photographs about a hundred metres north of the site of the now demolished Tullibardine Castle. In the late 1850s the shape of the ship survived as ‘an ornamental pond in which aquatic plants and birds luxuriated’. After the defeat at Flodden the ship was quickly sold to Louis XII of France by the governor during James V’s minority. The construction of such a landscape feature presumably in the years shortly after its construction must have had a particular meaning for the owner of Tullibardine Castle, Sir William Murray, as well as to the shipwrights. It may represent a desire to memorialise in the landscape, particularly after the defeat at Flodden, a magnificent symbol of the reign of James IV which had become, very rapidly, a bygone age of national achievement.
Heriot’s Hospital Garden
George Heriot died in 1623, leaving provision in his will for the erection of a hospital for the upbringing and education of fatherless boys. The site selected lay just outside the Flodden Wall, and the Town Council surrounded the area with the Telfer Wall. The Hospital was built between 1628 and 1658. Work ceased at the time of the Bishops’ Wars in 1639, but resumed in 1642 and was almost finished in 1650 when the Hospital was taken over by Oliver Cromwell for his injured soldiers. It remained in their occupation until 1658. From the elaborate layout and sophisticated design of the gardens around Heriot’s, it seems clear that they were not designed primarily for the use of the orphans for whom the hospital was supposedly built. Rather they appear to have been intended as an ornament for the city and a resort for the citizens, and perhaps to provide a more direct benefit for the trustees and members of the town council, who had a supervisory role, and in the later seventeenth and eighteenth century the gardens certainly fulfilled that role. The preparation of remedies derived from plants formed a major part of medical practice at this time as in earlier periods. Many new plants had been introduced to Europe and their study was becoming regularised. At Heriot’s Hospital, ground was set aside in 1661 for the planting of ‘all sorts of physical, medicinal and other herbs such as the country can afford’ and it was set down that the garden should be open to anyone who wished to study the plants.
Castle Kennedy - Dumfries and Galloway
In 1716, John Dalrymple – the second Earl of Stair and the British ambassador to Paris – returned home to his family residence of Castle Kennedy to be confronted by a burnt-out ruin. Reputedly his domestic staff – in a rush to prepare for his arrival – had set alight his bedding by airing it too close to an open fire, and the blaze had spread to consume the seventeenth century mansion house. Whether this story of Castle Kennedy’s demise is true or not, what is certain is that the Earl was unbowed by the disaster on his estate. For the next 20 years Dalrymple and his chief gardener Thomas McCalla embarked on a lavish reconstruction of the surrounding landscape. The ruins of the Castle, set on a narrow isthmus between the White and Black Lochs, became a picturesque’ centrepiece for some 70 acres of gardens. The Earl’s troops were drafted in to help with earth moving to create massive terraced banks, and the renowned Scottish architect William Adam is believed to have had a hand in the elaborate overall design. The result was a masterpiece of classical eighteenth-century landscaping, a complex array of interconnecting areas filled with exotic plants and linked by woodland avenues and rides. As early as 1733, Castle Kennedy had become a recognised place to visit, and a year later the poet Samuel Boyse captured the essence of the gardens, describing them memorably as ‘Too form’d for Nature – yet too wild for Art’. In 1864, 150 years after the fire, the Stair family built a new residence half a mile north of the old castle. This Victorian gothic pile – known as Lochinch Castle – can be seen here (top left in DP052060) overlooking Dalrymple’s garden landscape.
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