Wormistoune Garden Study Visit
Wormistoune Garden Study Visit by Student Ambassador Rebecca Cross
A few weeks ago myself and other Year 1 Horticulture with Plantsmanship students had the opportunity to visit Wormistoune Gardens in Crail, Fife. This was the first of four study visits we will attend throughout the year, scheduled into our timetable at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. The aim of these visits is to understand the importance of “plantsmanship” to each place and to compare and contrast the staffing skills, knowledge and experience required to work within them.
Katherine Taylor has been the head gardener at Wormistoune for 7 and a half years (previously trained at RBGE). She has 1 other full-time assistant gardener and occasional part-time help, a small team considering the estate is roughly 11 acres.
The current owners of Wormistoune bought the property and estate in a derelict state hence most of what is seen today, including the gardens, is the result of a labour of love spanning 2 decades. Unfortunately there is little historical information about the gardens but in 1869 it was described as “a fine old house, surrounded by hardwood trees of considerable age and size”. The tower house dates from the 17th century (approximately), rendered in traditional Scottish lime harling. Even on a cloudy, grey day, the warming tones of the apricot-coloured harling gave an uplifting appearance.
Katherina gave us a guided tour of the garden, with Archie in tow – the gorgeous resident dog who stole our hearts! The 1 and a half acre walled garden was home to 4 distinct quadrants, each with a different design – my favourite was the corner known as the the magical shade garden, featuring my favourite plant at Wormistoune – Griselinia littoralis.
It’s estimated the 4 specimens were planted in the 1940s but there is no record of why or where they came from. Although the planting conditions underneath these evergreens is challenging, the combination of dry, shade-loving plants worked well. The feeling of seclusion then emergence into the light herbaceous borders was contrasting and charming and, viewed from a distance, the griselinias gave height and maturity to the walled garden as a whole.
I also enjoyed how the shade garden linked to Bella’s garden; at the entrance of the latter there is a mosaic of a serpent’s tail in the lawn, and the mouth of the serpent is represented in the Green Man water fountain on the wall in the shade garden. Apparently there is historical reference that Wormistoune was the haunt of a dragon or serpent, hence the serpent theme. When there are several “rooms” within a garden it is important they link together in some way for cohesiveness and I feel the whole of the walled garden was a prime example of making several areas merge and unite as one.
The herbaceous borders displayed stunning autumn flowering perennials, especially in the area known as Bella’s garden (named after a previous owner of the house): Persicaria, Hesperantha, Aster, Aconitum, Sedum, David Austin roses, Clematis rehderiana, Morina longifolia, Stachys byzantina, Verbena, Rudbeckia, Salvia microphylla, Lobelia x speciosa… to name but a few!
A few particularly eye-catching plants in the walled garden included Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’ – several specimens had stunning foliage and red fruits, providing autumn interest which gave a significant pop of colour to each area and complemented neighbouring perennials and shrubs. One plant in particular was home to an impressive amount of lichen.
Asarina procumbens was a beautiful addition, tumbling out of the cracks and crevices near one of the Pavilions. The flowers were similar to Antirrhinum blooms, with leaves a felted green. Leucanthemella serotina gave a fresh presence in the herbaceous borders, giving an air of midsummer in the middle of autumn. The white, daisy-like flowers contrasted well against the more colourful perennials.
Overall the climate at Wormistoune is very variable; the site is exposed and windy, with winds whipping across the fields from the sea. The garden can be covered in a sea haar yet a few miles away in St Andrews it will be clear skies with sunshine! The walled garden has its own microclimate, it is warmer and more protected from the strong winds.
A small greenhouse caught my eye, unlike any I had seen before; this style was a Keder greenhouse (domestic size), which has a unique cladding system that is stronger, safer, lower maintenance and more weather resistant than polytunnel or glass alternatives while also having better thermal properties. The cladding is Bubble Keder Polydress, a 9 layer laminate plastic system and is ideal for protection against the extreme-climate conditions as experienced in some parts of Scotland (especially on the coast). At Wormistoune it is used for tomato growing and propagation.
Another area of the garden I liked was the areas of wildflower meadow. They have become more established in recent years, the addition of Rhinanthus minor (yellow rattle) has helped greatly; this is an annual, hemi-parasitic grassland plant, which thrives by obtaining nutrients from the roots of neighbouring plants, particularly grasses.
Spending the day in a truly beautiful garden, surrounded by fellow plants-people, was a perfect way to end the week.