A late glimpse Posted on November 18, 2011

The ground was squelching after weeks of rain when we arrived in Scotland – and the sun was shining. The rain we had been praying for in the South made a four-day visit, leaving the North clear of cloud and lit by a low sun so bright that driving westwards in the afternoon became a challenge.

It is a strange light for gardens, gilding half the scene and casting the rest into deep shadow; not the time to take decisions (or photos). On our way home we called at Howick, the extraordinary arboretum on the coast near Alnwick that puts most other tree collections to shame in the originality and profusion of its planting. Lord Howick seems to have almost commuted to the Far East. His collections of seed-raised trees and shrubs cover acre after acre.

You may have to navigate through long wet grass to read the label on a tree in heavy berry mode or colouring brilliantly, but the bold way a plantsman can take on a whole landscape is inspiring. The valley winding a mile down to the sea was clearly once a beech wood. Immense old trees stand with a faint air of doom among the wind-torn remnants of their contemporaries; a landscape from nature that suggests natural continuity rather than the imposed order of a botanical garden. And yet there are trees here we would consider touchy in the south, and trees we never see, in a bewildering range of families prolifically interwoven. The light was fading, the sun brilliant on the western horizon, the urge to return intense.

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