21. Lanarkshire and Peeblesshire

Thursday 8 July 2021

Little Sparta, Dunsyre
The Trustees of the late Dr Ian Hamilton Finlay

From the road it is a gentle ten-minute walk uphill to the isolated five-acre garden at Little Sparta, the masterpiece of the late Dr Ian Hamilton Finlay, poet and garden-maker. The garden that Ian Hamilton Finlay created from 1966 to his death in 2006, on a south-facing slope of the Pentland Hills, continues the tradition of emblematic and intellectual gardening, which flourished in Italy in the mid-16th century and in Britain two hundred years later. It is all too easy to lose oneself in happy speculation as to what it all means. However, the essence of this garden is far more magical, and beguiling; it is a fragment of woodland, merging into the surrounding moorland, where the world of Ancient Greece is caught and fused with 17th and 19th century painting and politics.

Little Sparta Tour 21

Newhall, Nr Carlops
Mr and Mrs John Kennedy

The house at Newhall stands on the edge of the precipitous glen formed by the River North Esk, which was much beloved by the Romantic poet Allan Ramsay. The two-acre walled garden, which is the domain of Tricia Kennedy, is a wonderful combination of Victorian utility and contemporary practicality, but gardened by a skilled plantswoman and flower-arranger. Gravel and cobble paths meet at a central roundel, planted in blues and yellows in the early part of the year, followed by yellows, reds and orange into the autumn. One path runs from here towards an unlikely (in a walled garden), but spectacular, pair of Wellingtonias, under which Tricia has replaced vegetables with a rich palate of plants; Astilbes, Rodgersia, magnificent Hostas and the last of the blue-flowered Meconopsis, so desirable to all those, like me, who cannot grow it.

Portmore, Eddleston, Nr Peebles
Mr and Mrs David Reid

Portmore is magnificent; a huge Scottish baronial house designed by David Bryce in the 1850s with extensive views towards the Pentland Hills, and the walled garden that Chrissie Reid has created is as magnificent. Approached from the house, railings give a view into the garden over the restrained perimeter planting of white and yellow. Yew hedges and pleached limes divide the garden, with vistas towards stone benches and urns. The central borders, in the blue, pinks and purples of Salvias, Echinops, Thalictrum and lupins, lead to the extensive glass houses at the top of the garden. These are, simply, the most spectacularly planted and maintained that I have ever seen. Behind is the terraced working area of the garden and, outside the walled garden, is an informally-planted, and more recent, water garden, which merges into a woodland walk leading gently uphill to give views back towards the house.

Portmore Tour 21

Meet at Little Sparta. Lunch at Newhall