Places to Visit in Scotland
- Inverewe Gardens, Wester Ross
Inverewe is Established
Osgood Hanbury MacKenzie was a younger son of Sir Francis MacKenzie, laird of Gairloch in Wester Ross. When Sir Francis died, Osgood's older half brothers inherited the Gairloch estates and so, in 1862, he and his mother acquired the adjoining estates of Inverewe and Kernsary. At the age of 20, Osgood found himself the owner of 12,000 acres of treeless wasteland on the edge of one of the most windswept coastlines in the world. Over the next 90 years he and his daughter, Mairi, created a unique blend of the natural and the exotic, incorporating trees and plants from around the world into the majestic landscape of Wester Ross. In 1952, Mairi handed over the Inverewe estate, together with a generous endowment, to the National Trust for Scotland>.
Osgood's original gardening interests centred on the walled garden on the raised beach of Loch Ewe. He and his helpers worked diligently shifting by hand the rock from the shoreline to build the sandstone walls surrounding the garden. By 1870 the walls were complete and by the 1880s his garden contained a colourful and bountiful variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers. South facing, but protected from the saltladen gales off Loch Ewe by its walls, this garden continues to delight throughout the year.
It now contains a wide herbaceous border, designed to provide an extended flowering time, incorporating cut flowers, vegetables and herbs. Pergolas are covered with climbing roses and clematis. A row of Rosa "Silver Jubilee" and catmint divide the garden at the centre. The western end is to house the National Collection of Olearia and Braccyglottis. South African plantings have been incorporated into the new walled terraces at the top of the propagating area.
Having established his garden, Osgood then turned his attention more fully to the woodland gardens which had been removed prior to his acquiring Inverewe. He laments in "One Hundred Years in the Highlands" the thinness and poor quality of the soil. This is still a problem for the Inverewe gardeners. "Put a spade down six inches and you hit solid Scotland" observes Inverewe Administrator Keith Gordon. "Mulching is crucial. We use a combination of peat, seaweed, farm manure and clippings. Some of it is from Cromarty actually," he added. In fact, because of limited natural soil and problems of high rainfall leaching, (Inverewe receives 61 inches a year, principally from September to January) a total of 200 tons of mulch material is applied to the woodland gardens each year.
Once the tree plantings were in place throughout the woodlands Osgood then began to establish clearings within which he could plant Rhododendron species. Large-leaved species newly arrived from China and the Himalayas were planted among the established trees and some of these originals still remain, notably the magnificent Rhododendron Hodgsonii considered to be the best specimen in Britain and possibly Europe. With rose-magenta flowers throughout April and early May it stands over 10m tall and spreads across 15m. Inverewe also contains the National Collection of Rhododendron Barbatum, a scarlet Winter flowering variety with a brilliant blood red trunk.
"Japan" was one of Osgood 's first plantings, named for a large Japanese Cherry which needed to be removed some years ago. Osgood was not afraid to experiment with the use of plant material from around the world. The delicate Tasmanian climber, Billardiera longifolia, provides a colourful display of bright blue berries in autumn while the Mexican orange-blossom Choisya ternata scents the garden through May and June.
Further additions to the garden occurred during the 1950s. "America" was planted by Mairi Sawyer in honour of American servicemen stationed in the area during World War II. It contains many varieties of alpine rhododendrons and colourful Japanese maples.
Part of the evolution of Inverewe has been to ensure that there is something in flower throughout the whole year. While Spring and Summer undoubtedly offer the grandest tapestry of colour, Autumn and Winter have their own magic. During Autumn, hydrangeas are in bloom and the Bambooselem is aflame with scarlet maples. Winter offers a variety of Rhododendrons - scarlet barbatum, pink "Christmas Cheer" and red "Nobleanum". There are Christmas roses in the Bambooselem and snowbells, dwarf daffodils and crocus on the house lawns.
Inverewe Garden is located near the village of Poolewe> in Wester Ross and is open to the public every day of the year. There are guided tours with a gardener every week day at 1.30pm. The property is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and National Trust of Australia cards may be used to gain entry. There is a well equipped restaurant, car parking and an excellent gift shop.
This article and the photographs are abstracted from a past issue of "SCOTS" Heritage Magazine> by kind permission.
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