Home from a salty fortnight that managed to embrace three great gardens. Tresco (easy, it’s on the sea), Glamis, and Alnwick. Transport by the luxurious Island Sky, Noble Caledonia’s Expedition ship carrying a hundred passengers and equipped with Zodiacs for landing on islands.
Tresco is colour, Glamis history and Alnwick water – but much more than its famous fountains and grand cascade. Our previous visit, twenty years ago, saw it just constructed and newly planted. Today in maturity its hydraulic spectacles draw thousands – too many for quiet enjoyment – but its planting shows signs of genius.
The reward of climbing the grand staircase beside the repeated eruptions of water is the entrance to the walled garden. Water is also important here, but in the pastoral mode of quiet pools and rills. among broad beds brimming with plants to force a gardener’s attention. Fifteen-foot walls and pergolas twice the height of the common kind give scope for shrubs and climbers we usually see tamed to ‘manageable’ sizes to show their full potential. Plants conventionally doled out in threes and fives form king-size drifts. I have not seen such a clump of my favourite, Kirengeshoma palmata, with its sleepy yellow buds lolling among grey-green maple leaves, outside its native Japan. A mass of spires unknown to me, palest pink exclamation from a foam of grey-purple leaves turned out to be Cimicifuga ‘Brunette’. Hydrangea paniculata in platoons and lace-caps in legions brim over hornbeam hedges. Roses on the whole were late-season piano; it was early autumn in berries and leaves, but the scope, generosity and originality of the planting was almost overwhelming. And it was followed by a challenge: a maze entirely of bamboo, tall plants arching overhead to make a Stygian tunnel with enough twists and bifurcations to give the nervous worrying moments.
The garden at Glamis (a coach-trip from the port of Montrose) matches the towering castle in size. The park is regal and the trees in the pinetum beside the quiet Dean Water majestic. Its most memorable scene was an inspirational deployment of Verbena bonariensis, usually seen as a sneaky interloper here and there, but at Glamis, full beds a cricket-pitch long and broad, a purple mass to make you pause. Sadly someone had tricked up the edges with yellow and red dahlias, a chromatic howler it was hard to forgive.