Not a member?
Register and login now.

Issue 92 - Strolling in Eden

Scotland Magazine Issue 92
April 2017


This article is 20 months old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

Copyright Scotland Magazine © 1999-2018. All rights reserved. To use or reproduce part or all of this article please contact us for details of how you can do so legally.

Strolling in Eden

Roddy Martine meets the national organiser of the Scotland's Gardens scheme

It was 86 years ago, following the success of the National Gardens scheme four years earlier in England and Wales. In 1931, Scotland's Gardens scheme was launched to support the training and pensions of the Queen's Institute of District Nurses. When the National Health Service was introduced, in 1948, the training of nurses became the responsibility of the British Government but there were 300 district nurses in Scotland who had not worked the requisite number of years to qualify for a pension. The funds raised by Scotland's Gardens came to their rescue.
First, King George V opened his gardens at Balmoral to the public, enough of an example to reverberate around Scotland's landowners. Violet, Countess of Mar and Kellie, and Chair of the Scottish Queen's Institute of District Nursing, persuaded the Countess of Minto to form the first committee and set up a network of country organisers. In that first year, 248 of Scotland's private estates opened their doors at the usual charge of one shilling.

Today, the number of gardens that open to the public each year is an impressive 500. Of course, things have changed a lot since 1931. Many of the recent additions are not that well known, which hopefully makes them more alluring to those with a passion for gardens and botany. Through an annual guidebook, Scotland's Gardens encourages garden lovers from across the world to explore the country’s hidden Edens.
And that international context is important. The Countess of Minto, at Minto House, near Hawick, and her sister — the Countess of Haddington, at Tyninghame in East Lothian, who succeeded her as Chair — were from Montreal in Canada and the National Organiser of Scotland's Gardens, Terrill Dobson, is from Chicago.

Terrill, who opens her own garden at Logie, Kirriemuir, over the last weekend in July, came to Scotland when she married her husband Gavin in 1992. She was born outside New Jersey in New York City, but her parents took her to live in Chicago when she was 11 years old. As a result, she retains that attractively soft east-coast American accent. “Every time I'd been to Scotland before I married, the sun came out,” she recalls nostalgically, managing to diplomatically dodge a question about the winter months.

The mother of three children, she was determined not to be a stay-at-home Mum while they were at school, and completed a course at Stirling University. She then lectured on IT Software Development at Abertay University. “Then I had a mid-life crisis,” she admits. “I'd always been interested in health and natural medicine and, while Gavin was away on business, I looked after our farm and studied herbal medicine.”
She initially considered growing medical herbs but was put off when she realised the extent of the regulation. Then one day she came across the Poyntzfield Herb Nursery catalogue, from the Black Isle, and ordered some plants to grow in her greenhouse. “I think it must have been the teacher in me that inspired me to create my own garden,” she recalls.

The result is the spectacular Herbalist's Garden at Logie, which featured on BBC television's Beechgrove Garden in 2014 and comprises more than 150 herbs. The physic garden, within Logie's organic farm, is divided into eight rectangles including medicinal herbs for different body systems. All of them are labelled with a brief description of actions to help novices learn more about this ancient art. It was an instant success.
Terrill joined the Angus Branch of Scotland's Gardens scheme in 2007, then became the district organiser, a job she still does as a volunteer. “When the job of National Organiser came up, I thought: ‘I'd like to do that!’” She applied, got the job, and now spends three days per week in Edinburgh — working out of the charity's Castle Street office.

Over the past five years, more than £1million has been given to charity. “Our mission is to make as much money as possible for the good causes we support. Everybody involved brings something to the table,” adds Terrill. This includes several hundred charities across Scotland, chosen by garden openers, as well as Scotland’s Gardens scheme beneficiaries such as Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres, the Queen's Nursing Institute Scotland, and the horticulturists’ charity Perennial.

All kinds of gardens now feature in the familiar yellow handbook that, in addition to country houses and historic castles, includes allotments, village openings, and garden trails. More or less everything that the scheme has achieved to date has been based on personal relationships and word of mouth. What is also special is that most of the gardens that open are privately owned, offering a special glimpse into the fabric of Scotland and the opportunity to meet others who are mad about gardening. The Duchess of Cornwall has been president of the charity since 2005 and last summer she attended the charity's 85th birthday party.

However, Terrill adds a note of caution: “The next 85 years are really important,” she stresses. “The old way was the big house with the lady and staff serving teas. All that moved on some time ago. We recently ran a strategy session and asked everyone involved to say what they thought we should aspire to be in the future. It was important to re-appraise our objectives. Watch this space.”

Further Information

For further information and the find a garden to visit, see the website or contact:
Scotland's Gardens
23 Castle Street, Edinburgh EH2 3DN
+44 (0) 131 226 3714

Facebook: ScotlandsGardens
Twitter: @ScotGardens

Claim your free Scotland Magazine trial issue