Scotsman Gardens: A serene space in East Lothian

Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)
Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)
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THE principles of Feng Shui have been incorporated into an East Lothian garden to create a calm, restful space full of beauty

ONE of the first things you notice on entering the Coach House garden is an intricate wooden structure raised up on a metal plinth. To the uninitiated, this Gothic-style structure with its sharply sloping roof and serpentine pillars looks a bit like an elaborate birdhouse. It stands in complete contrast with the elegant calm of the 1/4-acre garden that surrounds the post-modern house.

Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

Elly Findlay who moved here with her husband Jeremy, ten years ago, explains: “The house was built in the mid 1980s by a Thai architect for his family using elements of a Thai design, which includes the living space up stairs. Before breaking land in Thailand and building a house, it is traditional to build a spirit house.” This might include figures of animals and little ladders to connect the two levels: here, the elaborate structure is in fact a spirit house.

This detail is just one element of Oriental philosophy that would eventually be incorporated into the garden – it includes the birdhouse – which at the outset “featured a patch of grass with a bank, some daffodils and a couple of trees”. Bound to the south and west by a tall stone wall, the narrow strip of garden north of the house was bound by a leylandii hedge.

Elly, a keen Feng Shui advocate, was determined to incorporate some of those principals into the design. The aim was for a restful, peaceful, space with year-round interest, where the family could relax and entertain. Harmony and flow were important. Feng Shui principals do not allow water to be introduced to the garden: the problem with water is the difficulty of getting the sound right. The inclusion of fire in the east was another key factor. Work had to start on an auspicious date: in this case 6 March 2013.

To help realise this goal the couple approached Joy Grey of Goose Green Design in Gullane, East Lothian. It was Joy’s knowledge, skill and attention to detail, Elly insists, that was responsible for the success of the garden. “Joy is very thorough and pays great attention to detail,” she says.

Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

First came a detailed questionnaire which the couple worked on together. Joy explains: “Husband and wife do not always want the same thing; this is often revealed in the detail. It is always best to know at the outset.” Here, Jeremy’s fondness for brightly coloured plants soon emerged and this was incorporated at the entrance to the house, where it adds a striking note but does not detract from the overall effect.

Next Joy encouraged the couple to record the way the sun fell on the garden throughout the year. This was done by taking photographs and would be the deciding factor in placing seating areas. Understanding the sun and the light helped incorporate the Fire to the East: to achieve this Joy suggested the introduction of a west-facing barbecue house sited in a semi-raised position on the top, east part, of the garden.

Essentially the heart of the plot, this space reached up one of two flights of steps that lead from the lower garden to the undulating lawn, where the brick-edged beds are lined with a single line of stone setts. “Joy is full of practical tips,” Elly says. “The setts make it easier to mow as you can get close to the walls.” Another practical detail is the square of astroturf that fits neatly over a manhole cover on the front lawn, where grass is beginning to push through the matting. “The garden has to work, it has to be functional.”

In the penultimate corner of the East Garden, the doors of the octagonal barbecue house are flung wide open in a traditional Feng Shui welcome. Inside, a central, round, marble table is enclosed by comfortable, banquet seating covered in cushions. In the centre of the table is the fire, a barbecue recessed into the table, smoke is drawn out by means of an elegant, retractable chimney. “We have one rule when we eat or entertain out here,” Elly says. “Because our kitchen is upstairs and it would take a long time to fetch things, once we are outside we stay outside and if we’ve forgotten anything we manage without.” This informal set up, she continues, makes for relaxing evenings. “It is like being round a fire, but you don’t get cold.”

Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

From this vantage point the view takes in the whole of the East Garden, where the layout of box-punctuated beds flow towards a sitting area furnished with two reclining seats set against a background of blue and white. The planting scheme flows effortlessly from whites to blues before settling on pinks and purples.

“The trellis that binds this space and offers privacy from the lower garden is finished with round finials echoed by the circular patio, stone balls and globe-shaped plants such as alliums,” Joy explains.

The same attention to detail went into the layout of the lawn and beds. Here, as the result of lots of earth moving and the introduction of precisely measured quantities of top soil, much of which was ‘swung’ over the perimeter, wall plants flourish in the free-draining East Lothian soil. An added bonus is the narrow path that links the two back gardens: this is laid out to the precise width of the couple’s lawnmower.

The planting was equally carefully planned. The season is extended by 2,000 bulbs, which run from snowdrops to creamy daffodils and Pheasants Eye Narcissus. The lower beds, outside the windows, include evergreen plants such as Skimmia ‘Kew Green’ and purple Allium sphaerocephalon.

Trug and sedum. Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

Trug and sedum. Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

A final blast of colour comes from the hot border, which despite being colour filled all year round retains the best for late summer. Tucked away at the side of the main entrance gate so as not to interfere with the calmer palate of blue, pink, purple and white in the rest of the garden, is a jewel box of vibrant colours.

The season starts with bulbs such as orange and yellow fringed Fritillaria imperialis followed by lime-tinged Euphorbia, scarlet Geum and later Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ set against a backdrop of late Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’. Other background shrubs include maroon Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea and late flowering Honeysuckle, Lonicera x brownii ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ and tall stands of golden Rudbeckia. When crushed between two fingers, the lime-green foliage of lemon balm releases a fresh scent, the perfect note on which to end a tour of this harmonious garden.

• Joy Grey, Goose Green Design, East Lothian (07971 163 565, www.goosegreendesign.co.uk)

Apple trees. Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

Apple trees. Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

Echinops and sedum. Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

Echinops and sedum. Picture: Ray Cox (rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)