Frances Palmer, a member of our advisory board and an avid gardener, takes a short trip to Scotland and shares with us some of her photos and garden discoveries.
Last weekend I was invited to visit my dear friends David Hopkins and David Wilson in Crail, Scotland. It is a small, coastal village on the southern side of the East Neuk of Fife and about 10 miles southeast of St. Andrews. We spent four days looking at castles, country estates, and organic farms. Although the flower and vegetable beds were essentially dormant, the bones of the old walled gardens were visible and stunning.
Crail was founded in the 800s and sits above on the Firth of Forth, which is the wide estuary of the River Forth that flows into the North Sea. Many houses have their own vegetable and flower gardens and owners participate in a secret garden tour for the annual Scotland's Garden Scheme, a charity fundraiser.
The town has a great example of a 17th-century doocot, or dovecote, that housed royal pigeons. The bird manure was then recycled for the gardens.
Stephen and Carol Grieve of Crail Pottery purchased their property in 1965 for 250 pounds. The greenhouses face the sun and move down toward the water. The vegetable beds are just below the frames and adjacent to the river.
Just outside of Crail is Cambo House, an estate that dates from the 1790s and is known worldwide for its collection of more than 350 varieties of snow drops. The flowers move in drifts across the acres of paths.
If you walk a half mile from Cambo House, you'll find a 2.5 acre Victorian walled garden, which is still part of the estate. The beds are primed for the early spring crops and the fruit trees have been pruned. The walls create an excellent micro-climate and a wide burn (or watercourse) flows under one wall, through the center of the garden and out the other side.
Vegetables have already been growing in cold frames near the large greenhouses.
There is a second vegetable garden just outside the Cambo walled garden. This belongs to the Estate's adjacent buildings and the tenants who live there.
Our next stop was Kellie Castle, just outside of Arncroach, which was originally constructed in 1150. The walled garden, begun in the 17th century and then redesigned in Victorian late 19th century, spans several acres. The garden has been grown using organic methods for the past 17 years and has collections of rare apple trees and heirloom roses. Though it was raining while we walked about, everything looked glorious.
Kellie Castle grows 25 varieties of heirloom rhubarb. There is even one named Kellie Castle rhubarb. The corms were just peeking out of the ground and some were covered by terra cotta cloches.
One day we had tea in the Falkland Palace produce stand. The Palace is operated by the National Trust and open for tours. The organic farm is part of the estate and is managed by the current Keeper of the Palace. In the shop, they served delicious cakes and kindly shared the recipes.
The produce from the garden is harvested and sold in this small corner building. The Castle is operated by the National Trust and visitors can purchase garden bounty after touring the building.
The farming land around Fife is low and fertile. This winter cover crop will be tilled under shortly for a new planting of oats. Oatmeal and cakes are specialities of the region and are truly divine. A plowing competition was held over the weekend, as the farmers take great pride in their technique.
Many organic farms have shops where customers can buy produce. Ardross Farm is in Anstruther and the cabbage, brussel sprouts, and leeks displayed here were in the fields just outside the door. We bought everything and feasted royally that evening. The local dairy farms also have restaurants and we ate a sinfully good lunch at the St. Andrews Cheese Co. quite near to Kellie Castle. The quote on the wall there is by Helen Hayes: "Age is not important unless you are a cheese."
Here is another view of Kellie Castle through the gooseberry supports. This section of the garden is devoted to berries of every type.
This was my first trip to Scotland and I was happy to meet such gracious people. I learned that the conversation there about organic farming is centuries old and not a recent trend. Gardens have history and are respectfully maintained.
I especially loved the stone balls found atop the ancient walls. I plan to do a series of terra cotta balls and set them in the garden to get damp and mossy. I brought back snow drops from Cambo House and they are now planted in the garden as a memento of the expedition. And inspired by the wonderful Scottish soil, today I am dutifully spreading compost over my flower beds. If I only had a burn flowing nearby, my cup would runneth over.