The Howells have kept faith with the Lands of Loyal, a hotel whose grounds will soon be a riot of colour
THE gardens at Lands of Loyal are something of a family affair. The Perthshire hotel is now being run by the second generation of the Howell family, who first became involved in the business in 1990. Peter and Patricia Howell owned it from 1990 to 2008, and then for the next four years the hotel, by the town of Alyth, was under different stewardship before it returned to the Howells in 2012, when their son Simon and his wife Xhosa took over.
The garden was designed by Xhosa’s father, Stephen Johnstone, who got to know the Howells before their respective children married. He then worked with Peter to create it.
The basic structural features were all there – walls and trees – recalls Stephen, but there were no herbaceous plants or beds with shrubs. There were quite a few evergreens including hollies. Now, there are 700 varieties across the plant spectrum.
“There wasn’t an overall big plan,” Stephen says. “We started with a big herbaceous border. Then another one appeared.” There was an old Victorian pool which had become dilapidated. A local blacksmith made decorative railings for it and it is now a fish pond.
Impressive in summer, with such a huge array of plants and deep borders, the garden also carries itself admirably through winter. At a time when many gardens, especially big ones, have nothing much to justify a walk, Lands of Loyal rewards its visitors with views, decorative features, trees and shrubs that can stand alone to provide winter interest, especially when set off against a beautiful covering of snow.
Structure in winter comes from the hard landscaping such as a circular stone seating area surrounded by bamboo, and the imposing Ethiopian statue that Stephen relocated from his house in nearby Gauldswell. Telegraph poles laid flat have been topped with lanterns along the drive. White birches shine out against the snow, as do the bright red holly berries.
Stephen had two acres for 28 years at his former schoolhouse home in Gauldswell. In the layout at Lands of Loyal, he has employed his experience as a landscape gardener to make a stylish and welcoming garden that complements the country hotel.
Seating in a plethora of styles from iron, stone and wood, including a cartwheel, means visitors can stop and take advantage of the changing pace of the garden, whether that means admiring the open views or sheltering from the weather in a secluded corner.
The front of the house slopes down to a herbaceous border and wall which opens into a seemingly endless panorama of the hills. The borders have been largely filled with what is already in the garden, with cuttings and divisions grown in the polytunnels. When borders are renovated and gaps appear where plants need dug out, the mini-nursery can provide something to replace them. The polytunnels also house dahlias, irises and lilies to fill the house with cut flowers. Visitors can explore the polytunnels in summer and can take home seeds or cuttings, in exchange for a donation to charity.
The present garden benefits from the history of the country house, where a large kitchen garden would have meant plentiful and productive composting. The benefit to the soil lasts to this day, Stephen says, and he has never really experienced any gardening failures or had something that simply wouldn’t grow. The benign conditions also allow for the success of specimens such as a tree fern, which needs tender care.
There are now three herbaceous borders. Hedges in beech and holly create a structure that sets off the borders. As the hotel became busier they needed a car park, so railway sleepers were used to make an island bed to separate the entrance and exit, and planted with Japanese maples. The eastern flavour continues in the form of the amanogawa cherries around the garden, the pale flowers of which evoke the tree’s Japanese name, “celestial river”.
The garden is undergoing a revamp. Under Simon and Xhosa work continues on a circular walking path and they have reinstated flower beds and the herb garden, with the emphasis on plants that are useful for the hotel. Sorrel, four types of dill, sweet cicely and rosemary are among the herbs they have reintroduced, along with flowers for the table, that guests know have come from the garden.
“We’ve concentrated on the polytunnels and pathways, and reinstating flower beds that would be useful for the hotel,” says Xhosa. The garden is now being looked after by three of the hotel’s staff.
The hallway of the hotel was inspired by the Edwardian liner, the Mauretania, and the house originally belonged to the Cleghorn jute family. With this sense of internationality, Xhosa says it does not seem like a traditional Scottish garden. The Ethiopian statue and plants added for exotic value reinforce this sense of a house that has been a home to travellers.
When she and Simon returned to the hotel in 2012 the stone circular seating area was one space that Xhosa felt needed softening, and the bamboo was added to create a rustling sound, along with eucalyptus near the windows for guests to hear the movement of the leaves. The area around the statue to the front of the hotel will be planted up with more grasses and will have a different feel to the pond area around the side.
A painting from 1896 shows a copper beech tree at the front of the hotel that is still there, and the connection between the hotel and its garden is something Xhosa puts strong emphasis on. Borders of catnip and lavender at the windows ensure guests always have something beautiful to look at, while what’s on their plates can be recognised as coming from the garden, in the form of herbs, tomatoes and nasturtiums. Bringing Lands of Loyal back to its original glory with a twist of modern luxury is what they are all about.