TRYING to identify all the plants in the garden they inherited has been just one of the pleasures of Broughton Place Farmhouse for Peter and Jemima Elliott
TAKING on a plantsman’s garden stuffed with 30 years’ worth of treasures could be a little daunting, but after a life enriched by journeys, Peter and Jemima Elliott have embarked on this one with enthusiasm. The Elliotts knew they would inherit a farm from Peter’s uncle, Andy, and were already familiar with the garden. But what they also inherited was a responsibility to look after a cherished collection of rare plants.
After Andy Elliott died early in 2011, the couple started spending weekends at their new Peeblesshire home, easing themselves in. They realised as spring came that the plantsman’s paradise needed some structure.
The vista from the front of Broughton Place Farmhouse is breathtaking, starting from the Tweedsmuir valley and moving westwards along the Southern Uplands. Around the front sweeps a lawn, adjacent to the main flower border, framing the hills.
The front of the border is largely alpine, with plants such as gentians. There has been a later show of candelabra primulas than usual this year, but the blue poppies didn’t do as well. Jemima reckons the wet summer has put most plants about six weeks behind: an onopordum thistle should be sending its spikes up by now. “There wasn’t really summer colour in the border before, it was geared to spring planting,” says Jemima. “What it needed was structure, rather than more plants.” Cutting the workload was another aim, and many bags of mulch have been spread to reduce the weeds.
The couple spent the first few months commuting from Edinburgh, where they work in Peter’s structural engineering consultancy. They have recently moved in permanently and now commute in the other direction, while continuing to run the sheep farm.
First they wanted to open out the border, which was extremely deep. This involved building a “superhighway” path, wide for a barrow while offering an attractive, winding walk. The next step was to bring in summer colour. Delphiniums, campanulas and lilies were moved from the kitchen garden to the front. The result is a border that has not only the depth, but the height not to be dwarfed by the commanding landscape.
Andy filled his garden with unusual plants from specialist nurseries all over the country. A quest for identification has had Jemima poring over Andy’s notebooks and encyclopaedia. It’s a challenge even for gardeners with decades of experience, like Jim MacKenzie – Andy’s gardener, who has helped the Elliotts take on this plantsman’s legacy.
“Andy was a great gardener,” says Jemima. “His mother and brothers were gardeners and built amazing gardens at nearby Broughton Place, and in Edinburgh and Sussex. It was in the genes. He bought a lot of rare and beautiful things.” But asked for some examples, Jemima can only laugh. Thanks to Andy’s dedication to bringing the unusual to the garden for three decades, many plants aren’t easily recognisable.
For example, one resembles a foxglove, but has a different quality you can’t quite put your finger on. Discoveries have included a Lobelia tupa, a large perennial with grey-green leaves up to a foot long, and racemes of red flowers, which belongs to the same genus as the blue cluster-flowered annuals.
From under a yew tree, the view of the front border vindicates the decision to open it out. The route then leads towards the walled garden. The outside of this is lined with an apple walk with 20 varieties of cookers. Inside, the walls, which are clad with clematis – including the late-flowering ‘Margaret Hunt’ – box hedging divides up more herbaceous plants from fruit, including berries of all sorts, gages, plums and eating apples. The apple varieties, fortunately, were listed among Andy’s papers and so the Elliotts have been able to harvest them at the right time. Hens have been introduced to an old fruit cage behind the walled garden, and the farm millpond now has ducks.
A new entrance to the garden from the farmyard has been built and beds on either side of this have been planted with annuals such as cosmos ‘Purity’ and the white antirrhinum ‘Bride’, in preparation for the wedding of the Elliotts’ daughter Naomi, which was taking place yesterday.
The entrance, next to a north-facing wall, will later be given a green and white theme – the only part of the garden to have a set colour – with plants such as garrya elliptica, whose long silvery catkins will pick up the light in winter.
The additions bring new vitality to a place which can be viewed through history. Maps from 1799 show the farm distinctly enclosed by hedges. The farmhouse dates from 1812 and the sweeping lawn can be seen on a map dated 1890. The Elliotts want to keep the farmyard’s original layout, but evolve its use. “We were very lucky that our uncle kept the buildings in good condition,” says Jemima, so much so that the wedding reception was to be held in a byre, which could become a venue for other events. The farm lies on the John Buchan way, and up the road is Broughton Place, modelled on a 17th-century tower house, which Andy’s mother Martha had built in 1938. It was the site of the house of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s confidant, John Murray of Broughton. When Martha Elliott died, Andy and his sisters moved to Broughton Place Farmhouse. Andy ran the sheep farm when he retired from a career in law.
The fresh look at things will also see some of Andy’s old tools taking a journey, too. They will be sold in aid of Tools for Reliance, and further donations for the charity to sell would be welcomed when the garden opens to the public next weekend. “Tools take on a history themselves and you don’t just want to throw them away,” says Jemima. It underlines the cycle of renewal that even a very old garden can deliver.
• Broughton Place Farmhouse, off the A701 at Broughton, Peeblesshire, is opening under Scotland’s Gardens Scheme on 5 August, 2pm to 5.30pm
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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