Scotsman Gardens: An evolving Clackmannanshire haven

Hollytree Lodge. Picture: Ray Cox (www.rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)
Hollytree Lodge. Picture: Ray Cox (www.rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)
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An ever-changing garden in Clackmannanshire provides year-round interest and a haven for wildlife

THE chance to put down a footprint on a continually evolving process is how one couple view their Clackmannanshire garden. At their home in Muckhart, Liz and Peter Wyatt enjoy a garden which includes individual areas that encourage wildlife and never stands still. The views change throughout the year, and that is what is most valuable in working with nature.

Hollytree Lodge. Picture: Ray Cox (www.rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

Hollytree Lodge. Picture: Ray Cox (www.rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

Hollytree Lodge has been their home six years. It’s an 1830s house with one acre. What sums up the garden is constant evolution of plants. “If they have outgrown space, I move them or take them out altogether,” says Liz. Distinct parts of the garden are divided by beech hedging, which has been sculpted into waves, creating a feeling of movement. Different areas of the garden have been given informal names, such as Seamab, one of the Ochils, which looks down on village, and there are views to the hill. This part of the garden enjoys spring bulbs naturalised in the grass and has some special trees including Parrotia persica (Persian ironwood) which gives good colour in autumn, the evergreen Antarctic beech and the deciduous Chilean beech.

The “owl garden” is good in spring, says Liz, with eucalyptus and bulbs. The grass there, and in the Seamab garden, is only cut twice a year, to make a meadow. Also in this area there are rhododendrons, including a beautifully scented Grandiflora, azaleas and a lovely Montezuma pine.

They have introduced cordoned apples and pears, growing heritage varieties. Wildflowers and bulbs flourish in the small orchard. They have also added wild cherry, hawthorn and blackthorn to gaps in hedging. It’s sheltered and south-facing, but does rain a lot. They used to live in Aberdeenshire, where the gardening climate was much colder, but dryer. The soil is good, leaning towards an acidly that provides conditions for lots of rhododendrons and deciduous azaleas. A small Japanese garden is home to acers, dwarf azaleas, bamboo and a cloud pruned cypress.

Ornaments are a strong architectural presence, in a variety of materials. A terracotta urn, which came from Liz’s father, has almost knitted itself into the surrounding hedging and ferns. Metalwork includes a cheerful “cartoon” daisy, on loan from the blacksmith-sculptor Kevin Paxton, who made other pieces in the garden. A circle of angular standing stones appear to be in conversation with each other, their Caithness slate grey set off by brilliant orange crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.

Hollytree Lodge. Picture: Ray Cox (www.rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

Hollytree Lodge. Picture: Ray Cox (www.rcoxgardenphotos.co.uk)

Peter says: “The feature I think is the most interesting is how the garden evolves, how it naturally develops into something else as time goes on. You put your footprint in on it. That’s one of the delights of a garden like this. On one hand you can be sad when things die off, but on the other there’s the opportunity to put something else in.” The enjoyment of new things is not that it’s destroying the idea of what the garden was before; instead it’s the natural evolution – they make their mark, as was done by previous gardeners.

The garden also has wildlife pond, and boxes for birds and bats. “Our style is to work with nature, to garden organically and without any chemicals, as far as possible,” says Liz, who has also taken up beekeeping and has two hives. Bee-friendly plants are therefore important in summer. The way of the natural garden is what Liz and Peter have brought to this one. Encouraging insects and using no artificial fertilisers has made a huge difference in the variety of wildlife coming to the garden. From inside the conservatory, they can watch birds close up at their feeding stations in the nearby hedgerow. A red squirrel also visits.

In early September yellow spires of ligularia extend the flowering season, along with the white-flowered tree hoheria, which is pollinated by flies. As well as using plants to encourage insects in summer, it’s a garden for the whole year. In January and February there are flowering viburnum and witchhazel, then come the snowdrops, spring bulbs and alliums through acers and copper beech in autumn. “You see more of the garden in winter as it dies back, the stones, the shape of the trees and evergreens show up as well,” says Liz. The surrounding landscape becomes more visible too – the south-eastern view to the Cleish hills reveals Dumglow in winter. Box hedging and containers give a slightly more formal feel, but because they are next to the house don’t look out of place in a wilder setting and give a pleasing focal point.

The changes are not big and dramatic in the garden, they are gradual and will continue to be. Peter adds: “One doesn’t look at the coming of winter with sadness as there is so much to be seen in a different light, with the frosts and being able to make the most of it. The garden changes so much through the seasons this same one could be viewed very differently every couple of months.”

• Hollytree Lodge in Muckhart, by Dollar, is open to small groups until 30 October, by arrangement. See www.scotlandsgardens.org for details.