TEN years ago Patience and Adair Anderson could only stand helplessly by as a severe flood came running down the Corby Linn and burst the banks of the Long Philp burn that runs through their garden a mile from Selkirk.
Within minutes the main garden was filled with three feet of water – in some of the lower ground it was five feet deep.
Tree stumps were carried a mile down the hill and pushed through the garden while small rocks, stones and branches were scattered like confetti. “A pile of 20ft logs, stacked, ready to be collected off the side of the burn was picked up by the water and hurled through the garden like matchsticks,” Patience says, adding that she stood looking out of the window as a tidal wave crashed out of the burn and on to the grass at the side of the house.
After the water levels subsided, the three-acre garden was filled with debris. “It was a terrible mess, there was mud everywhere,” she says. “There were stones, most of the wooden fence to the rear of the garden was scattered around, and both our footbridges over the burn had disappeared somewhere into the field below.” Although the area was inclined to flooding, this was the worst for many years.
Built around 1880, the Victorian house is surrounded by a garden originally planted by famous plant hunters Mr and Mrs Steedman. Three Wellingtonia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, two Coast Redwoods, Sequoiadendron sempervirens, a dense Serbian spruce, Picea omorika, a blue cedar, Cedrus atlantica Glauca and several fern-leaf beech are just a few of the mature trees that give this garden such presence. Fortunately the trees, which also include rare Acer monspessulanum and A cappadocicum, were undamaged by the floods, however the low ground to the east of the house did not escape. Here, the water tore down a small bank and into a grassy area overlooked by a summer house. Although this was unharmed, the lawn was left deep in mud. Once the clearing process was underway, the couple decided to realise Patience’s long-held dream and build a walled garden to ensure it would be protected from any future flooding.
Planned on the back of an envelope and built of breeze block placed on its side “because it is stronger and the pinkish blocks look like brick”, the garden measures approximately 20m x 20m. Five concrete finials copied from an original attached to the house give the garden an elegant, established air.
Reached down a flight of steps and through a wooden gate, the walled garden sits on low ground at the side of the house. The layout of two long walls joined by six shorter sections is planned to take advantage of the sun: the south-facing wall incorporates the old summer house and a glasshouse. Roses, such as fragrant Crème de la Crème, enjoy the outside of the east-facing wall while a magnificent wisteria flourishes on the south wall of the house. “We played with what we had,” Patience says. “We looked at the ground and the existing trees we wanted to keep. A friend who is a serious gardener suggested symmetry, but this would have meant cutting down a magnificent yew tree just outside the wall.” The couple were keen to retain an old apple tree, which Patience hard pruned. “I get up a ladder and I don’t look down. The more you prune an apple tree the larger the apples.”
On the informal advice of a landscape designer, who advocated a space to sit in the evening sun, the focal point is the west-facing bench immediately overlooking a box layout in the shape of the St Andrew’s flag. A clematis and rose-covered arch later transformed the simple bench into an arbour. The box garden “which took a bit of time to work out” is punctuated with cones and pyramids with much of the box grown from cuttings.
Laid out by eye and no more than 10ft deep, for ease of maintenance, the perimeter borders are planted according to exposure: shrubs to the north and herbaceous to the south. A variety of plants create an informal cottage garden style. Delphiniums for height, glorious, pale pink Oriental poppies, wine red Alstroemeria for drama, pink and blue lupins and froths of white Hesperis matronalis.
Outside, the framework of mature trees has been used as a departure point for a collection of shrubs planted on both sides of mown grass paths. In spring, the long grass is filled with bulbs – bluebells are particularly successful – and wild flowers. On a recent visit the grass was a sea of purple that came from the wild geranium, which has been allowed to self-seed. Tucked away at the side of the garden is a grass tennis court lovingly cared for by Adair, who also maintains the grounds.
Adair points out that Ravensheugh is a haven for wildlife such as the kestrel who often nests high in the Noble fir, the tawny owl who balances on the branches of the willow, a red squirrel and many songbirds.
The flood may have destroyed the bee colonies, but recently bees have been encouraged back by honey bee hives. “We have since seen a resurgence of bumbles of which four varieties have been identified.”
It is hard to understand the full extent of the flood damage to this garden: just a substantial ivy-covered tree stump and a scattering of large stones under an old yew serve as testimony to this family’s enthusiasm in recreating the space. Patience says: “I didn’t realise I had such a passion for gardening. My mother did and so did my grandmother. I just keep going.”
• Ravensheugh House is open under Scotland’s Gardens Scheme, 14 July, 2-5pm, on the A708, approximately 100m outside the 30mph limit.