I always thought thenorth of Scotland was a remote, barren place where the only thing gardeners seemed able to grow was rhubarb (you will find huge specimens outside long-abandoned crofts in Sutherland).
So it came as a shock to find a garden, not on the balmy West Coast but on the rugged East, 70 miles north of Aberdeen, not far from the north facing coast of theMoray Firth. Here, the owners grow agapanthus without the need to take them indoors in winter and, in September, the borders are still bright and colourful withnepeta,abutilonand numerous floweringclematis.
It is a walled garden but the owners say that it gets unbearably hot in here during the summer and is remarkably frost-free in winter. Their story is that theGulf Streamsends out a tributary which passes close by their door, somehow missing the entire north coast around Cape Wrath.
What is true is that this whole area around Elgin and Dornoch has remarkable weather – the military air stations of Kinloss and Lossiemouth are there to prove it. What northern Scotland doesn’t provide, however, is a good choice of nurseries.. These garden owners have to make regular and frustrating sallies to southern England to find anything unusual or special – and this is how we met
They rang to buy a copy of my book,Gardeners’ Favourite Nurseries, at exactly the same time I was buying their’s: Estate Tweeds by Johnston’s of Elgin. For James Sugden, a Yorkshireman, is the chief executive of the cashmere and tweed firm. For anyone who doesn’t know – and I realise this is a diversion from gardening – Scots landowners in the past would design their own tweeds and order a bolt or so (60 yards) of the stuff to make tweed jackets, deerstalkers and leggings for their ghillies and stalkers
In 1995, Country Life followed the trend and created its own magazine tweed, a rather fetching green with purple windowpane checks, which could be bought from Hackett. There was, of course, a reason why landowners wanted their own patterns, not just a need to have outdoor as well as indoor employees in livery.
The tweeds were designed to reflect the different colours of the landowners’ demesnes.
Some weaves needed the soft purple of heather and the bright brown of autumn bracken; others had to be sombre like wet rocks and pine trees. Some, like Glen Urquhart, are fashion triumphs worn to this day.
If I could justify an order of 60 yards – curtains, sofas, large overcoats all round – I’d be tempted.
Or at least, I was until I worked out that any tweed which blended in with my garden would be quite hideous.
Should I, I wonder, try to design my garden around atweed?