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Enchantment on the Isle of Mull
        Page II of my latest adventure, with a final destination being
          Fionnphort and the Findhorn Community on the Isle of Erraid.
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                                                                                         Findhorn Page II
                Wigtownshire and Oban in Argyll
Scotland’s most exotic garden is located in Wigtownshire just fourteen miles south of Stranraer in the Rhinns of Galloway. This exotic paradise with its majestic scenery is tucked away on the southwestern tip of Scotland and is known as the Logan Botanic Garden. When I arrived, Logan‘s walled garden was ablaze with color. The fishpond is the main water feature here and is dressed with many different varieties of water lilies. Because of Logan’s location, it’s warmed by the Gulf Stream and provides an ideal climate for growing an amazing collection of southern hemisphere plants. I was particularly impressed with the Date Palm trees, reaching up high into the clear blue sky and framing the glorious mountainsides. These Palms can reach a hundred feet and are so unexpected that you can’t help but stop and examine their sculptural forms.
 
I traveled from Wigtownshire into Oban, Argyll the next day. When I was in Oban, Passion decided to veer down a side lane to an ongoing tag sale. I came upon a small, whitewashed cottage overlooking a loch and a stony field and was given a personal tour of the grounds by the owner. Her collection of Hollyhocks and Roses was most impressive. The open blooms on the Roses were the size of dessert plates, and the leaves were a healthy deep green. I’ve never witnessed ten foot Hollyhocks, but here they were. Some were leaning against the cottage walls and some propped up with old broom handles or whatever other implements were handy. A beefy cow tethered to a large stake in the back yard followed me with her eyes during the entire visit. It was enchanting! I came away with the mailing address, an e-mail address and a freshly baked slice of Irish bread wrapped for travel. I couldn’t resist a hand woven red shawl of many colors that was made by the owner’s grandmother, and I bought it for just a pound. It was such a bargain for a little bit of local lore that I could take back to America.  Little did I realize then that my purchase would come in very handy just a few days later.


I toured Oban while I was waiting for the ferry to transport me to the Isle of Mull and managed to get myself lost in the byways and tiny lanes of this ocean front village. However, since I’m always on a mission of discovery during these trips, I figure that lost is not really lost. Overlooking the harbor in Oban is a grand pink Victorian that was built for a sea captain. I landed here, asked for directions and was invited for tea. Of course, tea anywhere in England is an event. The board is laid with white linen, the teakettle is shining, the aroma from the rich and deep tea is welcoming, and the desserts with clotted cream and lemon curd are to die for. I was enjoying the conversation so much that I forgot about the ferry. But not to worry! Their cousin’s wife’s cousin’s nephew owned a local guesthouse where I could stay, The Old Manse. It turned out that my new acquaintance’s husband worked at the dock for the ferry company and so I say, thank you, universe!
 
The Old Manse is a Victorian villa with fetching views of the sea over to Mull. The gardens are equally fetching. Oban is the unofficial capital of the West Highlands, the gateway to the isles. The panoramic views of the mountains, lochs and islands are as striking now as they were when Dunollie Castle, a ruined keep that has stood sentinel over the narrow entrance to the sheltered bay for around six hundred years, was the northern outpost of the Dalriadic Scots. I explored this keep, which is set on the coast. The seaside walls were covered in moss, and from some areas you could hear the dancing waves bounding against the walls. Careful footfalls were a prerequisite to effective exploring. Dunollie is the Anglicized version of the Gaelic name, Dun Ollaigh, Dun being Gaelic for a small fort. The sunset was spectacular viewed from the turrets, and the reflection of the sun on the waters was truly phosphorescent. The frothy waves caught the sunlight like so many diamonds. In addition, the sky was streaked with pinks, adding to nature’s colorful composition. All in all, it was a perfect ending to a beautiful day.

Bright and early the next morning, I stopped at the pink Victorian, bid good-bye to these good people, and began my journey to the Isle of Erraid and the Findhorn Community. The ferry ride to Craignure was uneventful except for the marvelous sights of ancient villages and stone castles. My destination of the day was Fionnphort, where my hosts from the Findhorn Community would be waiting. 
               Torosay Castle and Gardens
On the way to Fionnphort I stopped to explore Torosay Castle and Gardens. Torosay is a spectacular hundred and fifty year old Scottish baronial style castle, surrounded by magnificent and unique gardens. The Torosay Gardens are the result of many generations of foresight followed up with hard work and a lot of planting. The formal gardens are especially successful because of extensive tree planting that’s still very much in evidence. In fact, one of the biggest trees, a silver fir, is thought to predate the castle itself. The plantings reminded me of the work of the English landscape architect, Capability Brown, whom I’ve discussed in this column. If you recall, Capability Brown’s design style of smooth, undulating Grass running straight to the house, as well as clumps, belts and the scattering of trees, was considered a new style in English landscaping, a gardenless form of landscape gardening, which swept away almost all the remnants of previous formally patterned styles in the late 1740s. 

The walled garden was originally designed to supply the estate with vegetables, but in the early 1900s it was given over to decorative planting, parterres and herbaceous borders. The large pond forming the central focus of the water garden also dates from around this time, and the excavated soil is used in the formation of the formal terraces. The rockery was another bi-product of the terracing. It uses an outcrop of bedrock that was exposed by the terracing work. The C. Donation Camellias were a striking introduction to the walled garden. Their large semi-double pink orchid blooms are profuse and really stand out against the luxuriant rich green foliage. Many of these Camellias flank the entry and visually lead you down the broad stone step way into the walled garden.
 
There are a large number of Daffodils around the gardens at Torosay. Some of them are very old varieties, and fortunately, a number of them were flowering when I visited. One of the people on the staff, a Welsh woman, remarked to me that she was able to have a few blooms in the house for St David’s day on March 1st. Saint David, or Dewi Sant, as he’s called in the Welsh language, is the patron saint of Wales. He was a Celtic monk, abbot and bishop who lived during the sixth century. He was the archbishop of Wales, and he was one of many early saints who helped spread Christianity among the Celtic tribes of western Britain.

Torosay is proud of its farming activities. Pedigree highland cattle graze the fields near the castle, and the sight of a shepherd and his collie dogs herding the castle’s flocks of cheviot and blackface sheep is simply charming. The milk, wool, cheese and beef from these animals can be purchased in the gift shop and sampled in the castle’s café, located on the lower floor next to a beautiful outdoor terrace that overlooks the grounds. It’s here that I had some freshly baked scones with farm butter and visited with some of the employees and locals.
  USA
Gardens
Drifts of Daffodils welcome the visitor in early spring at Torosay.  One of the oldest narcissus is Narcissus poeticus which has long been hybridized with the wild British daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus, producing many named hybrids. These older heritage hybrids tend to be more elegant and graceful than modern hybrid daffodils.  Their scent is profound in a closed room but wonderful drifting on the wind outside. Unfortunately most of the modern hybrids have lost the quality of their scent in the hybridizing. www.oldhousegardens.com has a wonderful collection of heirloom narcissus for planting in the United States.
Once I left Torosay, my trusty smart car, Passion, and I continued on our way to Fionnphort. I had discovered from the locals at Torosay Castle and Gardens that for half my trip through Mull I would be traversing single vehicle roadways meandering through moors and mountainsides. Encounters with the Highland cattle, sheep and deer were to be expected since the pastures are open and the animals roam freely. I also learned about the residents of the inner Hebrides, my eventual destination. These folks were considered nutters, as apparently, you had to be nuts to live there!
 
The standing stones at Moy at Lochbuie were certainly off the beaten path, but the highways I’d been traveling on, such as the A849, were boring. I decided I would much rather go through the tiny byways and villages and see some of the local color, so I turned off onto a secondary road, stopped for directions and a spot of tea at a small inn, and was whisked into the life of the MacLaine Clan. The inn here wasn’t open for victuals until noon, but the bar opened at six in the morning. This inn, like so many other stone structures in village after village, was whitewashed and bordered with neat and trim gardens displaying many colorful flowers. A collar of bright orange Crocosmia Lucifer, also called Falling Stars, encircled this particular structure. The striking blooms of the Crocosmia Lucifer can be expected to last three to four weeks, and set against the ancient white stone walls, they were simply striking. The innkeeper gave me a brief history of the inn, which had been a keep in the fourteen hundreds and then a farmhouse.
                                                                             
A keep is considered the innermost and strongest structure of a medieval castle, and indeed, these walls were a good two feet thick. Eventually, the castle was demolished, leaving only the structure that was now the inn. The original buttery was still attached and still used to make butter and cheese, only now the owners harnessed goats to the paddle churn instead of ponies.
 
The innkeeper graciously laid out a fine linen cloth and bade me wait a few moments while he brewed some tea. Meanwhile, I invited myself for a tour of the building. The interior of this early dwelling was fantastic because of its small rooms, slanted plastered walls, and rich wooden floors and ceilings. Most of the light fixtures had originally been gas and were later converted to electricity. In addition, lead glass arched windows were set into the walls here and there, allowing the visitor to see into other rooms and also allowing light to flow from one room to another. After my tour I returned to the sunlit table, and while he poured my tea, the innkeeper introduced himself as Ian MacLaine of the MacLaine Clan of Lochbuie. The hot tea was a welcome respite on a particularly windy day! 
 
Lochbuie  and the loch were my next destination. The cordial innkeeper gave me directions and suggested that I camp on the shore of the loch or a bed and breakfast at one of croft cottages, if I decided I wanted to stay in the area. He said there was a small church, St. Kilda’s, standing at the shore at the head of Loch Buie that maintains a campground. The church asks only for a small donation in its collection box. I quietly assured myself that next time I would pack a sleeping bag. Ian suggested that he could call ahead and arrange for me to visit Moy Castle, originally a dwelling of the MacLaines of Lochbuie. I thanked him for the tea, promised to stay in touch, and headed out to Passion with a freshly baked mead pie for lunch.  
                                                                     
Continued on the next page