Last month, whilst in Scotland, I visited Greenbank Garden in Glasgow- well, right on the very edge of Glasgow really, nestled amongst the slivers of farmland that separate Newton Mearns from Clarkston. This is a National Trust Scotland property, a small but perfectly formed mid 18th century mansion house (not open) and the grounds that surround it, including a walled garden, other garden areas and woodland spaces that beguile you into thinking you are in the countryside. Intended to offer inspiration to home gardeners, the NTS have retained a relaxed, non-modish style of planting- reminiscent of Scottish country houses in the 1950s almost.
I have very fond memories of this garden. Nearly 30 years ago, we lived nearby, renting a tiny, damp cottage in Waterfoot Row, and visiting Greenbank became a bit like popping next door. I remember pushing the pram up the country road with my eldest daughter as a baby- and so it was fun to revisit it with her last month, especially as she is developing a real love of gardening, growing and plants.
So, here are some of the plants, trees and shrubs that caught my eye on a cool but sunny day in Glasgow in May. I loved the soft red of this Chaenomeles x superba ‘Knapp Hill Scarlet’, and it enjoys the cool, damper conditions of Scotland. A Victorian introduction, it is perfectly chosen for an historic garden.
This Cornus mas Variegata was just breaking open the cool, white new foliage, which will deepen in tone a little and develop green and cream tints in the summer. I didn’t know this small tree, but it sounds like my kind of tough customer, with the added bonus of yellow spring blossom which forms small, hard fruit in the autumn. It makes great fruit jelly apparently. Not for full sun, but otherwise tough. It goes on the list for the future.
This magnificent magnolia is perfect for Scotland. Flowering as late as mid-summer, Magnolia wilsonii probably avoids any sneaky last minute frosts, and the flowers are spectacular, being the purest white like crumpled linen, with dark red centres. I have only seen this tree twice, here at Greenbank and also at Dawyck Botanical Gardens- and it is one to stand under and savour. It was brought back from China in 1904 by the famous plant hunter, Ernest Henry (Chinese) Wilson– hence the name.
Me and conifers don’t mix well. I love tall, slim conifers for their Italian look, and Scots Pine for their drama and beauty in the landscape, but otherwise, I am not a great fan. But, at Greenbank, there were a couple of surprises that made me eat my hat. I have had to research the beautiful cones and growth below, as I had no idea what this plant was. I am pretty sure that this is Abies balsamea nana from some hard internet trawling. I was drawn to it for the drama of the dark, upright cones, almost purple in colour, and the pale-green contrasting needles of the new growth. Perfect for Scotland, it is a a low-growing dwarf of the big version, liking semi-shade and acidic soil.
Sir Isaac Newton liked his crabapples. This tree was propagated from a baby Malus that came from the very Malus that grew in Newton’s garden. So, whilst it may not be the most unusual plant ever, it carries some real history.
I obviously can’t grow Rodgersia in Tostat. I did try though. One tiny sprig hangs on and pops up every year, only to give up a few weeks later. The sun and shade on the burnished leaves of this Rodgersia podophylla caught my eye- gorgeous.
I am successful with some hardy geraniums. I haven’t tried Geranium ‘renardii’ or any of its offshoots, but the clean purple striation was lovely, as well as the star-shaped separation of the petals- a pretty stylish customer, I thought. It needs more moisture, I think, than I can guarantee it with my no-watering policy.
This little Salix lanata really charmed me. The soft, fluffiness of the catkins, with their bold, upright stance, and the felted leaves was a lovely combination.
And the next day we tackled urban gardening using fabric pots, and recycled wood and stones. It was a lovely thing to be a helper.