Inverewe and Inveresk, a tale of two Scottish Gardens

In 1862 Osgood Mackenzie started a garden from scratch on barren land. Nothing too remarkable about that. Except, the 850 hectare estate is in the Scottish Highlands, an area not exactly renown for fair weather. Osgood’s mum bought him the Inverewe estate. Very nice of her, but what about a garden? Shouldn’t all big estates have one. The climate became his biggest challenge: wind and lack of good soil.

He created walled gardens and shelter belts using Douglas firs, Corsican Pines and rhododendrons. Eucalypts from Tasmania, Oleria from New Zealand, and other plants from Chile and South Africa. Within 40 years, Inverewe had established a fine collection of temperate plants for its woodland walks.

Rhododendrons feature heavily in my posts, and for a good reason. They are the invaluable to many gardens, big and small. I have one in mine, a little thing under a tree. They like the woods, which makes them ideal for this country. But, they didn’t originate on the British Isles. They are an invader, an immigrant.

Rhododendrons mainly come from Asia, and there are 1024 species of the heath plant, ericaceae, and as well as Asia, they are found in the Appalachian Mountains. Rhododendrons are propagated by air layering (propagation from stems still attached to the shrub using moss wraps) or stem cuttings, or self-propagation by seeding shoots from their own roots. Many are evergreen, which helps fill the spaces left by the deciduous plants, and are valuable in landscaping because of their shape and size, especially in woodlands. Rhododendrons are the national flower of Nepal, where it is eaten, and tastes a bit sour. They also make juice drink from it, or pickle the flower, or add it to fish curries to soften the bones.

When it comes to gardens, they are generally hardy enough to stand our British climate, including the Scottish Highlands.

In Lothian is another garden on a hillside. Inveresk Lodge, just outside Edinburgh, was built in 1683 and was the home of the Wedderburn family until 1911. James Wedderburn made his money from sugar plantations in Jamaica, and he kept plenty of slaves. He had one son, Robert, by a slave girl. Born a free man, he travelled to London, then Scotland to find his father who had retired there. But James sent him away with a small beer and a broken six pence. Needless to say, Robert went on to become a passionate anti-slaver and author. The family rejected him.

The lodge was bought by John Brunton, a Quaker – the irony of abolitionist owning a property of a slaver. Let’s hope he was kinder to his employees. His Brunton Wireworks provided the cable for the Forth Road Bridge. The garden was designed around four garden rooms, which I suppose is a way of setting out distinct areas for different features. Unlike Inverewe with its harsher terrain and weather, Inveresk is blessed with a milder location. The rose borders at Inveresk were designed by Graham Stuart Thomas who decided to become a gardener at the age of 8 after he’d been given a gift of fuchsia. He met Gertrude Jekyll, then aged 88, and she passed on her theories about Art and Craft garden design to her pupil. He worked at Sissinghurst, Hidcote Manor and Montisfont Abbey. Eventually, he was the steward of over a hundred National Trust Gardens, of which Inveresk is now one in Scotland.

Roses are another mainstay of gardens. According to fossil records, they have existed for 35 million years and there are over 150 species. They have been used to symbolise war in the War of the Roses (red and white to represent the Houses of York and Lancaster) and by the seventeenth century roses or rose water was considered legal tender and used to barter. Before 1583 there were no yellow roses in Britain, only red or white. The stink rose, Rosa Fetida was introduced to Britain from Persia and used to cross-breed to create other yellow roses. The China rose, Rosa chinensis was introduced in the 18th Century and unlike wild roses that can only bloom once, this rose could make flowers throughout a long summer. Most modern roses are descendants of the China rose.

‘La France’ was created in 1867 and probably represents what we think of as a typical modern rose. It is one quarter giant rose,  three-eighths China rose and the rest is a mix of Dog rose and French rose.  Nothing stinky about that one since it’s not yellow.

Inverewe and Inveresk aren’t grand landscape gardens, nor quaint cottage ones. But they both involve people who wanted to create gardens to enjoy.

I apologise for the premature introduction of R into my I post… it just fitted in nicely. R will be back!


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  1. Another interesting post. We have wild rhododendron bushes all over the Himalayan foot hills. They’re fabulous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most be amazing when they’re in flower. My favourite time of year. Thanks for stopping by.


  2. Great post concerning history, gardens and plants – my favourite things! Never heard of these places, wonderful feat with exceptional results I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The highland one looks so unusual with its terraces. Would love to visit.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Another lovely post! I knew, I think, none of this before, and was especially interested in the creation of the modern rose.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t know the yellow rose was an invention!


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