Peaks and troughs: an Ayrshire garden

FOR artist Charles Jamieson, the Ayrshire garden he shares with his wife Sally is a place of both meditation and inspiration

THE first thing artist Charles Jamieson tells you about the Ayrshire village garden he shares with his wife Sally is that it is a wonderful place to think.

“There are so many images flowing around in my head and I can disappear into the garden. For me it is a kind of meditation.” It is easy to understand why: the rectangular garden, which slopes away from the house, features a dramatic assembly of troughs and containers, each one a stand-alone work of art. Troughs overflow with blocks of purple and fuchsia aubretia, pink, yellow and black tulips, emerging lilies, sheets of purple pansies and grasses.

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Charles, whose colourful paintings are highly sought after, explains how the garden evolved. When the couple first moved back to Ayrshire from London they were thrilled to acquire a larger garden, especially one with views over rolling countryside towards the Isle of Arran. For Charles, the main gardener, the south-facing space presented the opportunity to experiment with some of the techniques he had acquired while studying sculpture and architecture in Glasgow, and also to have fun with colour. “You have to feed the eye with a variety of shape, colour, density and texture.”

Twenty years ago, the garden was mostly lawn with a few bushes. It was meant to be a temporary home and he started by marking out beds, putting in a small gravel path and “buying a pile of plants”. But the garden took a dramatic turn when he became friends with a retired farmer, the late Jim Goldie, who died last year. “Jim went to farm sales where he sought out unusual bits of stone and troughs. He always gave me first dibs.”

Before making a decision the pair worked in Jim’s steading, experimenting with different stones, working out the best way of creating the tables, bird table, benches and later raised vegetables beds that punctuate and furnish the space. “Shape is part of the fascination to me,” Charles says, “and the containers add winter interest. Minimum maintenance is also a bonus.”

Work began slowly but accelerated in the last ten years to incorporate more than 50 pots and troughs scattered around and raised in east-facing layers on the slope that runs down the centre of the garden from a neatly curved lawn.

The scene is set on the terrace in front of the house where containers are packed with herbs and a striking, bronze trough overflows with an acer, one of the plants the couple grew in their London garden. This terrace is just one of different sitting areas designed to catch the sun and named for different times of the day: hence “Morning Coffee”, “Emergency rest”, and “Pimms Patio”. The latter is sited at the foot of the garden, where it captures the evening sun and is perfectly placed for choosing vegetables from the compact trio of stone-edged vegetable beds. Here are beans, lettuce and potatoes. Cavalero Nero and parsley are grown in a tiny bed tucked into the rockery below the top terrace.

Wildlife, Charles soon discovered, loves the garden. Birds are particularly appreciative of the stone bird bath on the top terrace. “I don’t use chemicals other than slug pellets, but I’ve discovered a way of getting rid of them without so I’m experimenting,” he adds. The troughs are generally nourished by compost made in bins tucked away behind the small greenhouse.

This garden is not destined to stand still. “It changes every year, whether it is by adding something or changing a little bit of the layout or taking out a shrub and creating a new vegetable bed. The joy of it is its regeneration. The new life and colour it brings.”

As the seasons change, poppies will emerge. Blue clematis “The President” and pink “Hagley Hybrid” ramble over the arch which, in turn, presides over the deep pink “Apothecary’s Rose”, R Gallica var.officianalis in the lower garden.

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Some mornings Charles goes out early to capture a moment with an iPhone, drawing using a brushes app well suited to his modern colourist style – results are posted on his blog. “We are rarely without a flower or a berry,” he says. “Little moments are interesting. If you are out in the evening and the sun is low, the light is fabulous. A spider’s web on the clematis, a few drops of rain on a rose. You have to find a way of catching the moment.”