Thursday, June 27, 2013

Woodhouselee: a private Scottish garden, and its remarkable owners...

Dr, Carole Bainbridge
Everyone loves to complain about aging, but I must say one of the pleasures of a rich long life is to touch bases again and again with people you love and respect. And few are as lovable and respectable as the mighty Bainbridges of Woodlhouselee, Penicuik, near Edinburgh Scotland. They epitomize the remarkable phenomenon "the British Gardener". They have not one but TWO homes and gardens currently (I've only been to the one near Edinburgh, alas) and both have alpine houses and woodland gardens, crevice gardens and rock gardens galore. They have been active members of many societies, although the Scottish Rock Garden Club is understandably their focus: Ian was president for several terms a decade or so ago, and Carole is currently President of S.R.G.C., and I suspect my invitation to speak at the 80th Birthday party of S.R.G.C. last week in Pitlochry was partly her instigation. She was amply punished for that by having me as a house guest for nearly a week--and a happier house guest has rarely been encountered: the Bainbridges host in style!
Julia Corden (left), Dr. Ian Bainbridge (center) and Dr. Carole Bainbridge (right)
Speaking of Pitlochry, here are the pair on the right, and Julia who directs the remarkable Explorer's garden (which I hope to blog about anon) on the left...another remarkable day! But this blog is really about how Carole and Ian have gardened together: there are other gardening pairs I've met over the years, but few seem to be as well balanced nor to have such a complementary approach to things as these two. It was an enormous pleasure to wander through their garden, and to gaze down at it from their living room as I logged on my enormous accumulation of digital images I was accumulating in Scotland. As usual, I was lucky, and Spring in Scotland was so delayed that I seemed to catch the last high water of spring flowers, as well as the early onslaught of summer wonders: the trip was simply magical! Here are just a few images from their garden--things that I was struck by and wanted to record for my own interest...

Arisaema ciliatum
I can't resist starting my role call of some of the plants I found at Woodhousely with this wonderful pot full of Jacks--of course, the Bainbridges complained bitterly of how weedy the thing was, and how they carefully harvested the seed lest it self sow mercilessly in their garden, popping up everywhere! (Such a problem!)...I love the striped spathes!

Arisaema cf. consanguineum
 I had this mislabeled earlier--and have forgotten what the Bainbridges told me this was--perhaps they will let us know! A handsome clump nonetheless...

Closeup of Arisaema propinquum
A leitmotif of my week's visit was the theme of Arisaema propinquum: this was coming into full glorious bloom quite a few places we visited. Notably at Cluny--a truly dazzling garden where of course my camera was non functional due to battery depletion (too many pix the day before) We finally decided the truly monstrous Jacks at Cluny were hybrids--but true propinquum is much to be cherished...

One of many wonderful combinations at Woodhouselee--I could have photographed a dozen vistas like this.
The tall spires in back are the most upright, and giant Aruncus dioicus I have ever seen! The orange in front is Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow' and the blue is a wild sourced Iris sibirica. "Nothing special" Carole said. I thought it had a very special coloration.

Crevice garden
 Like many other members of Scottish Rock Garden Society, the Bainbridges have been to the Czech Republic on several occasions, and they are all taken with the crevice garden methodology. After one of their recent trips there, they decided to build a crevice garden on their large berm towards the street--it is only a year or so old and very settled and full of treasures. The bright pinky white on the left the the largest creamy white clumps are silver saxifrages. The speckled mat between them is Arenaria purpurascens (the flowers are pink as you look closely--and just past peak bloom: this must have been stunning two weeks ago!) and the diffuse white mound above is Silene alpestris. But my favorite plant is the olive-green clump dead center: one of numerous dwarf Aciphylla from New Zealand (Spaniards they call them--Yucca-like umbellifers with wonderful foliage and bloom)...

Trough with a variety of cushions
 Of course, the Bainbridges have their share of troughs: full of cushions and treasures. They were almost complaining about the fact that Dactylorhiza purpurella, a native orchid found thereabouts, had decided these troughs were its perfect place to grow. There were seemingly dozens of the orchids scattered through the garden, although they seemed most numerous in the troughs themselves...

Closeup of Dactylorhiza purpurealla in a mat of Erigeron scopulinus
Another glimpse of troughs, and orchids

Bulbinella hookeri
 I have always admired pictures of Bulbinella hookeri from New Zealand, which so resembles the many Bulbines and Bulbinellas of South Africa. This was my first opportunity to see it in full bloom (my previous visits were never at quite the right time): this is one I am anxious to test in Colorado!

More Bulbinella hookeri

Cicerbita alpina is rarely seen in gardens, but what a blue!
 Carole was careful to distinguish this wonderful blue lettuce from the commoner Cicerbita macrophylla (which I believe has naturalized in Colorado): this is one I would love to see in our perennial borders!

A closeup of the flowers--intense blue!

A wonderful blue Corydalis: one of dozens being grown in Scotland

Dactylorhiza elata
Yet another orchid forming a handsome patch....
I believe this one is Dactylorhiza fuchsii
 Masses of silver saxifrages blooming around the orchid (and some Dactylorhiza purpurella among them) with pink powderpuffs of Thalictrum in the distance: the place was a fairyland!

Carole posing with Gunnera manicata
I've noticed that no self respecting European botanic garden (or great estate) would dream of NOT having Gunnera manicata: my colleagues at Denver Botanic Gardens are terribly remiss...

Halimium viscosum
 I dote on the Sun rose clan--this one was a new one for me--a wonderful example of that genus intermediate between Helianthemum and Cistus. What a glorious mound...

Helianthemum lunulatum
 Still a week or two away from full bloom: we grew this sun rose for decades at DBG. I must go see if there is any left--we should start it over again--one of the loveliest of the little ones...

Iris forresii
 LAST year this had a ton of bloom apparently--but I'd be proud to have these three flowers in my garden! The specific name honors the king of Scottish plant explorers--as far as rock gardeners are concerned anyway...

Part of their extensive collection of Oxalis
 Oxalis are one of the Bainbridges loves: there are wonderful specimens in the gardens and in pots in the alpine house...

Paris quadrifolium amid Trillium albidum
I would have loved to see the trillium in full bloom: but this was Paris time and that was fun too weaving through its American cousin!
An enormous Scots pine viewed from their patio. This is the centerpiece of the garden, draped with Hydrangea anomala v. petiolaris

Primula chungensis seeding about
 Notice the giant leaves of Lysichiton camtchatense in the background?

Ranunculus aconitifolius 'Flore Pleno'
 I don't think the Bainbridges are too big on variegated or double flowers, but they made an exception for this old classic of cottage gardens--the double white buttercup. I doubt there are many better specimens in gardens anywhere!
I love the brash combo of hot colored azalea and blue poppy!
Another shot of Rhody and blue poppy:
you don't find this in Rockies--although both could be induced to grow here!

Rhododendron campylogynum 'Salmon pink'
 You may have noticed this spectacular rhododendron in the very first picture in the blog---here it gets its solo treatment...what more can be said? Almost makes you want to move to a maritime climate...

Back to the alpine house for Saxifraga cebennensis
I end on a hybrid New Zealander: read on...
The picture is muddled, I'm sorry! This is a hybrid between Aciphylla diefenbachii and Anisotome latifolia combining some of the best traits of both parents: the soft foliage of Anisotome and its pink flowers, with the greater substance of Aciphylla. It occurred as a chance seedling they grew--and they now possess two plants--possibly the only two in the U.K.--and typical of the choice serendipity of Woodhouselee.

I had not visited this remarkable garden in over a decade--but I am sure to follow the exploits of these two plantspeople I am proud to count as friends as well. A full account of their garden (or their amazing resumes as professionals and their long affair with horticulture) would fill books, not just a blog. I hope they will sit down and produce just such a book one day--it would be a valuable contribution.


  1. All those blues! I am so envious of what they grow.

  2. Bless you PK, it's Woodhouselee, not Woodhousely - which smacks a bit too much of P.J. Wodehouse.

    Glad you are enjoying your visit to Scotland - sorry we are too full of the dreaded cough to see you- next time, for sure!

    The Youngs in Aberdeen

  3. Thank you, Maggie and Ian, for the correction. You know you were sorely missed, but we heard about the dreaded cough. Do try some Osha (American Lovage--available from good Health food stores): it will cure you right away! And let's hope our paths cross soon!

  4. Panayoti, Thank you and the Bainbridges for sharing pictures of Woodhouselee with your readers. They are inspirational.



Featured Post

A garden near lake Tekapo

The crevice garden of Michael Midgley Just a few years old, this crevice garden was designed and built by Michael Midgley, a delightful ...

Blog Archive