WAKING up to a blue sky with a light covering of snow outside is just one of the joys Helen and Angus Archibald get from their half-acre garden. Abundant space for their two boys, Jude, 13, and Luke, 11, to kick a ball and play cricket is another, and there are many more... including science lessons.
Tucked away in a quiet Coupar Angus street, the garden wraps around the house before falling away in terraces on the sunny south side. Angus says: “The previous owners were keen plants people. When we moved here 13 years ago every conceivable spot had a plant. You couldn’t see the sandstone walls or the paths.” An enthusiastic gardener, he pruned trees and cut back shrubs, edited conifers and removed perennials, reducing the planting to reveal the structural design and lawn. After adding a raised, stone, south-facing terrace, a pergola and children’s playhouse, there is enough shape and form for the space to retain interest in the long winter months. “If I cut down a tree I always leave the stump for structure. I don’t want a bare garden.”
Winter planning starts in the autumn. “I’m keen to get autumn colours,” Angus says, “I leave the seeds and I leave most plants to cut back in the spring.” This, he adds, is beneficial for birds and insects besides acting as shelter for other plants. It also adds the naturalistic feel to the garden he craves.
Blasts of winter colour come from yellow-flowering winter jasmine, a cloud of gold at the front door, the success of which Angus attributes to “chopping back shortly after it finishes flowering because it flowers on last year’s growth”. Succeeded by Daphne odorata, with “a fragrance that wafts into the house,” it is then followed by orange-berried evergreen cotoneaster. At the front of the house a generous, creamy Viburnum tinus also adds to the winter-flowering scheme.
The light sandy soil, due to proximity to the River Isla, is, Angus says, key to his experiments with a variety of garden projects. One such passion is growing vegetables in 12 raised beds, which he made himself, at the side and rear of the house. In winter he grows leeks and parsnips, while other roots such as carrots, beetroot, a variety of beans, courgettes and salads are the summer crops.
“We are in a soft fruit-growing area so grow strawberries and raspberries,” says Angus. The bare skeletons of apple and pear trees complete the winter picture.
Testing for hardiness is important, given the extremes of the Scottish weather. Pointing out that the free-draining, sandy soil is a bonus, he has managed to grow Phormium tenax and the orange Chilean glory vine, Eccremocarpus scaber. While many plants have worked, tall, tender Echium piñata succumbed to the snow. Surprisingly, begonias proved hardy as did dahlias. “They say you need to lift them, but I just heap mounds of soil over them, more out of laziness than anything else,” says Angus.
Coming from a very small garden, there was much to learn but surprises were soon revealed, including scented, purple Buddleia alternifolia, which is a magnet for butterflies, wisteria rambling up the pergola in spring and the foxglove tree, Paulownia tomentosa. He hopes a tree peony will survive, saying: “It’s always interesting to see what comes up in the spring.”
Equally challenging is a new shaded bed on the east side of the house. There, under a Prunus serrula whose peeling, chestnut-coloured bark glows in winter, come a succession of pink and white erythronium, varieties of white and red Dicentra alba and spectablis followed by white Japanese anemone.
Spring is celebrated with drifts of daffodils, different coloured tulips in containers on the terrace followed by tall, white and blue camassia. The gap between spring and summer is filled with a mass of biannuals grown in the vegetable beds: blue and white violas and pansies, red and pink Sweet William. “They are really good ‘link’ plants,” Angus says, adding that successional planting in the vegetable bed allows space. “Garlic is the first one to come out and then I start sowing,” he says. This year he plans to try forget-me-nots as a mid-layer link.
While the boys’ interest is, for the most part, confined to playing in the garden, Angus – who home schools Jude – uses the plants to introduce Latin names in summer and to teach a little science too.
“I hope this gives some insight into the naming of plants,” he says, “and for biology it helps to be able to demonstrate the cross pollination of seeds. I can show the boys how this works in the garden.”
Although Angus does most of the planting and grass cutting, he emphasises that Helen is very much “the driving force behind my decisions”.
“She loves cut flowers so I choose bulbs that stay fresh for seven days.” Growing so many vegetables would be pointless without her help. “Helen is brilliant with the produce. I arrive with 13 courgettes that have appeared overnight and she will cope with that particular glut. She excels in the kitchen.”