Croftcat Gardens, Perthshire

This walled garden is an all-year-round haven

Margaret and Iain Gimlet ’s garden lies in the Strathtay valley opposite Farragon Hill in Perthshire.

Windswept and quite high it is not an easy garden and in 2014 it won a Sky television award for the best of three gardens in Scotland, all located on difficult sites.

Margaret and Iain happily admit that the perfectly proportioned Walled Garden tucked behind Croftcat, their Perthshire house with views overlooking the Strathtay Vally was the main reason they moved here 8 years ago.

Measuring just 55ft X62ft it is entered via a metal gate and enjoys picturesque views of the valley just visible above and beyond the classically laid grey stone walls. Such an example of a walled garden is rare and the couple nearly missed it when they were planning their move from the Isle of Bute.

‘We didn’t see it when we first looked at the property online,’ Iain says, ‘but then reading the description I suddenly saw “walled garden” and thought we should have a look.’

There were other surprises in store too. The house is reached via a drive that runs between a burn and a line of oversized, beehive shaped laurels set against the backdrop of Farragon Hill. Clipped into shape they look wonderful in winter.

Retained by a drystone dyke and terraces divided by huge stones, the slope below the house has proved to be the ideal spot for Margaret to create rose terraces and an alpine bed using saxifrages, cyclamen, dwarf rhododendrons and many more unusual plants. Indeed it is Margaret’s knowledge of plants that is key to the garden’s scheme, which ensures a succession of colour and interest from spring through to autumn.

Margaret’s skills are equally evident in the generous, sloping beds that frame the steps leading to the house which are packed with hostas, antirrhinums and geraniums set against climbing roses.

Here a cobbled path leads you towards the walled garden where Margaret enlisted the help of water feature expert Callum Gordon of Splash Gordon to simplify the existing layout of a small pond winding gravel paths.

Explaining the practical reason behind the new design she says: ‘We wanted less plants and a modern mirror pond to reflect the existing trees and the sky, and broader paths. We also wanted a fountain we could see from the house and a pair of seats by the southwest facing wall looking out through a second pair of wrought iron gates.’

The mixed slightly acid, stony soil proved ideal for bulbs, trilliums and even Meconopsis as well as herbaceous plants all designed to flower from spring through to autumn and beyond. The new square pool is perfectly in proportion with its setting and large enough to reflect the glorious autumn foliage of a magnificent Acer Palmatum in the corner.

Connected to the bubble shaped fountain by means of a short canal, and lined with Caithness stones, the pool creates an elegant backdrop for the jewel like plants behind. Here, Margaret chose compact trees with interesting bark, spring blossom, fiery autumn foliage and berries ‘just because I love them’.

Outside the walled garden she cut beds in the existing lawn to make a small round garden with grassy paths leading to the alpine garden and rose terraces. Height comes from white barked birches, a Parrotia Persica and other small trees and shrubs such as cotoneasters, now dripping with orange berries.

The effect, particularly in autumn, is of a jewellery box packed with “stones” in the form of trusted herbaceous plantings used repeatedly; purplish-pink Sedums, bright blue Agapanthus, purple salvias and lavender blue Nepeta combine with lime green hostas and tall golden Rudbeckia while nectar rich plants attract butterflies, bees and beneficial insects well into autumn.

As the evenings draw in the stone walls come alive with the pink flowers of Schizophragma Hydrangeoides “Roseum” and its creamy cousin, S.H. var concolor “Moonlight”. ‘Both of these are brilliant colours for foliage and colour especially in the autumn,’ Margaret says.

Although the original intention was to create a compact garden, it ‘grew like Topsy’ with Iain acting as chief groundsman. Five years ago Splash was called in again, this time to create a small Scottish/Japanese stroll garden using the existing mature trees, huge boulders found in the garden and surrounding areas and enlarging an existing pond. Bamboos were moved from nearer the house and the planting of cherries, small Acers, golden grasses, primulas and iris, all overlooked by a small cedar wood pavilion make this a place of peace and quiet.

‘This is my favourite garden now,’ says Margaret. Two years ago this garden was extended to include a small wildlife pond with marginal plants, shrub roses and other shrubs framing the remains of an old mill

Sadly it is now time to move on. In October 2015 Margaret had a stroke. After making an astonishing recovery the indomitable pair have found another small garden near Bridge of Earn.

‘How lucky can you be’, says Margaret, ‘to find a gem of a garden that can still be made even more special with all the hard work done already by someone who loved gardening.’ To Iain’s relief it cannot be extended.

  • This feature was originally published in November 2016.