Sally and Jim McCulloch took a stark space around their new-build home and turned it into something special
When Sally and Jim McCulloch bought a newly built red-brick former show house on the site of the old hospital in Bridge of Weir, the √ acre garden, divided in two by a fence, was mostly bare. Because the site office, the size of a triple garage, was close to the house, there were parking spaces for visitors, a couple of utility paths and a long, block driveway out of proportion to the size of the house. There were no boundary walls.
Daunted by this stark space with its unattractive hard landscaping, Sally, a keen gardener who acquired a love of plants from her father and grandmother, but who happily admits to a lack of plant knowledge, contacted Anne Macphie, who had helped with their previous garden in Newlands, Glasgow. Sally says: “I had a lot of confidence in Anne, I knew she would make the right suggestions. I wanted to look out of every window and see colour.”
For Anne, the site on the edge of the development presented the perfect blank canvas. She says: “The initial brief was to design a patio area outside the back door and create some paths which were to link the house to the garden and around the newly designed planting areas and shorten the driveway.”
The plants in the existing scheme were to be retained or moved if possible: in the event, most of them were too tender to survive the conditions. An added bonus was the presence of a row of beech trees to the rear of the plot, which acted as a shelter belt.
Anne’s vision to complement and soften the newly built house – “which Sally, a dream client, immediately understood” – was for a year-round scheme of texture and colour, which would blur the edges of the house and blend into the semi-rural landscape. Sally and Anne both favour a colour palette of rich, deep reds, pink, blue and shades of purple spiked with the occasional flash of deep yellow – such as Rudbeckia – in autumn and spring.
Once the general layout of the patio, borders, drive and paths was agreed, Anne devised a plan, which could be implemented in stages. Views and vistas were important: the view from the kitchen window in particular and creating a patch of colour by the semi-circular front porch. This was done by planting Acer palmatium ‘Bloodgood’ and these beds were later packed with Skimmia japonica, box cones and spirals and other plants and shrubs for maximum impact. The planting continues, as Anne says: “We are still collaborating ten years later, adding small areas of hard landscaping and refining the planting.”
Stressing the importance of soil and site preparation on this somewhat rocky site, Anne says the plot appeared from the outset to enjoy good drainage, although a few drains were added to cope with the rainfall. “There don’t appear to be any areas which get waterlogged despite recent torrential rainfall,” she adds.
Other considerations were the biting winds and the acid soil. The wind was addressed by adding crescent-shaped hedges and layering tall wind-breaking plants at the back and at the side. Layering, she adds, creates the effect of a waterfall: “I like the idea of plants cascading down.”
Besides the acers – underplanted with iris ford spring colour – Cercydiphylum Japonicum, with its foliage that smells of burnt orange at this time of year, has been a favourite small tree. White barked silver birch did less well, perhaps due to the combination of wind and rain.
Shrubs such as Skimmia japonica, golden Spirea, deep red Cotinus coggygria and different rhododendrons for spring interest and winter green thrive. A shapely, variegated holly – planted in memory of a much-loved labrador called Holly – adds a memorable personal touch.
Maintenance takes place weekly with the help of a freelance gardener. “I like to keep the garden really tidy,” Sally says, “and I have learned the importance of feeding.” Her routine for keeping her plants so healthy includes plenty of blood, fish and bone and regular applications of sulphur. The sulphur is particularly helpful in keeping plants such as skimmia and pieris looking fresh and green rather than pale and anaemic, as can often happen.
Future projects include landscaping around the former showhouse office, which the couple plan to convert into a gym. Anne says: “The whole garden is a great project. Sally and Jim have been open to my suggestions and keen to keep the garden looking good at all times of the year. Every year we take a new look at what’s happening and I am gradually introducing more perennials as the garden was initially predominantly planted with trees and shrubs. It’s testament to Sally and Jim’s care that the garden is looking so mature after ten years and continues to improve over time.” n