Obituary: Marguerite Ogilvie, horticulturalist

Marguerite Ogilvie: Leading horticulturalist whose own gardens at Pitmuies became world-renowned
Marguerite Ogilvie: Leading horticulturalist whose own gardens at Pitmuies became world-renowned
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Born: 21 December, 1929, in Castlewellan, County Down. Died: 11 May, 2014, in Forfar, aged 84

Born and brought up in a Victorian castle and surrounded by glorious gardens on the edge of the beautiful Mountains of Mourne, it’s perhaps not surprising that a love of plants, flowers and landscape was in Marguerite Ogilvie’s DNA.

She spent her childhood at Castlewellan, now the site of Northern Ireland’s National Arboretum, and had an innate flair for art, colour and creativity, often taking off into the gardens to savour the stunning landscape and tranquillity of the grounds.

But it wasn’t until she arrived in Scotland and became mistress of an 18th-century country house that she really came into her own as a horticulturalist. There she developed and enhanced the grounds to create one of the country’s finest private gardens, travelling the globe to study plants in their native habitats and often returning with exotic specimens to enrich her planting.

Visitors came from all over the world to admire her work, at her home, House of Pitmuies near Forfar, which earned her the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Medal in Horticulture for her outstanding contribution to Scottish horticulture.

Born Margaret Elizabeth Annesley, at Castlewellan in County Down, she was the daughter of Gerald Annesley and Lady Elizabeth Jocelyn, elder daughter of the 8th Earl of Roden. Taught at home by a governess and with no formal schooling, save a very brief period in England during the Second World War, her artistic promise was encouraged by her paternal grandmother, Mabel Annesley, who taught her the art of creating woodcuts in her teens.

Entirely on merit, and without qualifications, she managed to get into the National College of Art in Dublin. It was then suggested by a friend of her grandmother, the renowned Dublin painter Louis le Brocquy, that she should go to the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. He arranged the interview and at the school, which is now part of the prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, she was taught illustration and became friends with Mervyn Peake, the artist, writer, poet and illustrator, best known for Gormenghast.

After leaving, the first job she applied for, under the name “Mr Annesley”, was a book keeper’s position with the Medici Society. John Gurney, who had rescued the fine arts publisher from bankruptcy, was enchanted by her but rapidly realised that figures were not her forte and gave her a job as an illustrator instead.

By the mid-1950s, she was working as an advertising manager and book designer/typographer and, after moving to Scotland to work for an Edinburgh publisher, she met and married Farquhar Ogilvie, then the factor at Dupplin Estate near Perth. On marriage she became the second Margaret Ogilvie in the family and so, to avoid confusion, she adopted her grandmother Mabel’s middle name of Marguerite.

Following the death of her father-in-law, Major D D Ogilvie, the couple moved to the family home and farm at Pitmuies in Angus, in 1966. It was there that she was able to display her creativity in the horticultural sense as the colourful gardens became her canvas.

The mansion house, parts of which date back to the late 1500s, features two semi-formal walled gardens which shelter herbaceous borders of perennials, delphiniums, old breeds of roses, violas and dianthus. The grounds also encompass large lawns, a kitchen garden and potager, a cherry tree walk and alpine meadow plus an abundance of trees that include a hornbeam walk, copper beeches, a tulip tree and Spanish chestnuts.

After the death in 1983 of her husband, a farmer and the land use consultant for the Scottish Landowners’ Federation, Mrs Ogilvie continued to renovate, enhance and develop the gardens, which have been opened to the public for more than 40 years.

Some of her interest was undoubtedly hereditary – her great- grandfather Hugh Annesley, the 5th Earl Annesley, wrote the book Beautiful and Rare Trees & Plants in 1903, based on his collection of plants at Castlewellan – but she travelled widely adding to her own collection.

She went up the Amazon with the late Duchess of Beaufort and visited Madagascar, Chile, Antarctica, Guatemala, Ecuador, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand. She often travelled with the International Dendrology Society and organised its Scottish tour. She also brought back some cuttings of the “burning bush”, reputed to have been witnessed by Moses, that still flourishes at Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. Prince Charles is said to have one of the cuttings at his home at Highgrove.

Among her favourites at Pitmuies were the delphiniums which date back to the 1920s. She also loved her roses and various species of trees. Many of the maples planted by the loch at Pitmuies were gathered as seed on trips to Oregon, Japan and South Korea.

For her, the gardens were a labour of love not just for herself but for others who were able to enjoy them annually – early in the year as part of the Scottish Snowdrop Festival, then daily from April to September and through Scotland’s Gardens Scheme. Up until latterly, when ill health curtailed her activities, she worked with National Trust for Scotland, serving on its council, executive council and gardens committee.

She was also instrumental in bringing the Angus Folk Museum at Glamis, Barry Mill near Carnoustie and House of Dun outside Montrose, into Trust ownership and, more locally, was a past chairman of Friockheim Community Council.

She also served as the Scottish representative on the executive council for the Historic Houses Association and sat on its gardens committee. In addition she was on the judging panel for the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, served on the committee of the Scottish Museums of the Year award, was a member of the Scottish Council for National Parks and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

She loved music, art, skiing, riding and walking but her enduring passion was always for gardens. A past president of the Garden Society for Scotland, she remained as devoted as ever to Pitmuies, even, as illness took its toll, continuing to usher visitors on guided tours of her beloved Pitmuies from her wheelchair or mobility buggy.

A memorial service in the grounds of House of Pitmuies will be held next month for Mrs Ogilvie, who is survived her children Ruaraidh, Grania and Carey and four grandchildren.