Obituary: Kirsty Maxwell Stuart, gardening expert

Plantswoman, organiser with Scotland's Gardens Scheme and community worker. Picture: Justin Maxwell Stuart

Plantswoman, organiser with Scotland's Gardens Scheme and community worker. Picture: Justin Maxwell Stuart

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Born: 31 December 1935 in Edinburgh. Died: 10 January 2016 near Biggar, aged 80.

For over forty years Kirsty Maxwell Stuart tended and cared for her garden at Baitlaws in Lanarkshire becoming a recognised authority on gardening in the area.

She spent years selecting plants that were suitable for the soil and that flourished under often erratic weather conditions. She had the knack of selecting bedding plants and flowers whose colours complemented each other and bloomed throughout the summer. Maxwell Stuart’s expertise in knowing just what makes a garden come alive throughout the year resulted in her being appointed district organiser for Lanarkshire with Scotland’s Gardens Scheme (SGS). She was closely associated with the society for 30 years acting as Trustee and District Organiser for Lanarkshire and their very active chairman for five years.

She was a member of one of Scotland’s best-known families. Kirsty Marian Forbes Salvesen was the eldest daughter of Captain HK Salvesen, who for many years was a senior director of Christian Salvesen, the renowned shipping company centred on Bernard Street, Leith. Maxwell Stuart was brought up in the family’s substantial villa, Inveralmond, adjacent to Cramond kirk with wonderful views over the Firth of Forth.

She firstly attended Rothesay House in Edinburgh (now closed) and then Prior’s Field in Surrey. She did a secretarial course at Dugdale’s College in Edinburgh and then worked for the Foreign Office in Hong Kong and London.

In 1970, she married Michael Maxwell Stuart and they moved to Baitlaws near Biggar. Her husband farmed but she did not concentrate on the garden until her children went to school. There was a huge amount of preparation to do as the gardens (and the house) were in a sorry state. Protective walls had been built, hedges broke up the land and fruit trees proliferated. Over the next decade, the Maxwell Stuarts extended both property and grounds and the result is a remarkable house and garden commanding a fine view across the countryside. The impressive frontage of the house – with its roughly circular lawn that sweeps upwards – has borders of many colours on either side. It was, Maxwell Stuart admitted, a huge learning curve. The garden was 900ft above sea level and she had to learn what would grow and what did well in the soil: “Early-flowering shrubs,” she soon learnt, “don’t do well because of the frost.”

As she gained experience as a plantswoman, Maxwell Stuart was drawn towards rich colours and anything with interesting leaves, such as variegated philadelphus and lots of cornus. She grew such hardy shrubs as deutzia and varieties of holly bushes. She constructed a path from the lawn that leads to an alpine terrace. The house had a tradition of growing vegetables and Maxwell Stuart enhanced this by growing all her vegetables from seed and seasonal – when the purple sprouting broccoli was over, in went the courgettes. But as a result Maxwell Stuart often lost the runner and broad beans to early frosts.

She was a great enthusiast for all forms of horticulture and encouraged other gardeners in Lanarkshire. She supported local villages which opened a collection of the gardens for a day – notably Lamington and Symington – and even smaller plots that demonstrated what can be accomplished in more cramped urban areas. She encouraged people to get out and garden, “In all weathers when there are jobs to be done”. Neighbours recall warmly that “her enthusiasm was infectious”.

Joan Cran, who was a childhood friend, told The Scotsman yesterday: “Kirsty was a redoubtable lady and a special friend. She worked so hard on behalf of SGS and devoted much time and energy to help their work. If Kirsty said she’d do something it was done, and superbly well. We both served as trustees at SBS and I witnessed the commitment she gave the society and her love of plants at first hand. In fact, as young girls we sold ice creams when the gardens at Inveralmond were open: so Kirsty has been associated with SBS almost all her life.”

In 1998, Maxwell Stuart published Gardens of Scotland. It was a comprehensive guide and describes more than 350 gardens opening throughout Scotland for charity.

Maxwell Stuart was a major donor to many charities throughout Scotland and in the Third World. She was proud of her Scottish heritage and helped many organisations – always anonymously. She was an avid reader and a great supporter of the countryside and outdoor pursuits.

Maxwell Stuart was a modest but very strong presence in the community around Biggar: she was an enthusiastic chair of the Biggar Museum in the late 1990s and was involved in numerous local events. In the 1970s she taught English to refugee Vietnamese families.

Kirsty Maxwell Stuart is survived by her husband and their son and daughter.

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