Tag Archives: art in gardens

Broadwoodside: A Garden Review

November 22nd, 2015 | 16 Comments »

Broadwoodside is the garden of Robert and Anna Dalrymple. Located some 20 miles east of Edinburgh in Gifford, East Lothian, Broadwoodside is a garden of subtle humour and artful plantings.

When the Dalrymples bought the property in the late 1990s, it was nothing but a collection of derelict farm buildings. Since then, under their direction, gardener Guy Donaldson has planted a series of gardens nestled within walled courtyards and in areas outside the walls.


Photo courtesy of Broadwoodside.
Would I have had the courage to renovate this property? I seriously doubt it. Photo courtesy of Broadwoodside’s website.


Guy is responsible also for maintaining this elegant and inventive garden, and his work is impressive.


The 'before' of this farm building is visible in the photo above.
The ‘before’ of this building is visible in the photo above. Architect Nicholas Groves-Raines renovated the old buildings and added an ogee-roofed corner tower and an arched gatehouse to enclose the courtyards.


He and owner Anna Dalrymple were on site to answer questions when the group I was hosting toured the garden in September. We visited on a grey day that kept breaking its promise to brighten. No matter. Before entering the first of the courtyards, I knew we were going to see a special place. Perched on top of one of several stone walls was a ball, striped in black and white. It wasn’t extraordinary in itself, but it did cause me to peek over the wall and into the apple orchard beyond. Here I saw the first of many features that gave the garden its special flair.


Bd orchard
Three apples show the progression from the whole fruit to one that has been well enjoyed. The inside of each apple is painted gold — a subtle classical allusion perhaps?


Inside the first courtyard, a checkerboard alternated cobbled and planted squares. Dominating the centre was a stylish bird cage that housed the Dalrymple’s parrot.



The view on entering the Upper Courtyard gives a hint of the inventiveness that appears throughout the garden.
The view on entering the Upper Courtyard gives a hint of the inventiveness that appears throughout the garden.


Centred  in eight of the squares were maple trees (Acer platanoides) trimmed to lollipops. Each tree was underplanted with something different, with square-trimmed boxwood or boxwood balls, ornamental grasses, pachysandra or rosemary. As I mentioned last week in my post about doing the unexpected, a label hung from each of the maple trees, misidentifying the trees as walnuts, limes, willows and other impossibilities.


Other trees are mislabelled as limes, willows, and oaks.
Other trees are mislabelled as limes, willows, and oaks.


This playful touch continues throughout the garden, both in its plantings and its art. Under the entry gateway, skinny bell-like annuals reach upwards towards the mirrored shape of bells hanging down.


Verbena bonariensis rises and bells fall: a nice mirror effect.
Verbena bonariensis rises and bells fall: a nice mirror effect.


On a beautifully maintained lawn, ship’s windows lie flat on the ground, mirroring the sky and suggesting an entry point to a watery underworld.


Imagine a blue sky reflected on the green grass. Or imagine opening a porthole and descending to the underworld. Either imagining works for me.
Imagine a circle of blue sky reflected on the green grass. Or imagine opening one of the portholes and looking down into the underworld. Both mental pictures work for me.


The straight-line arrangement of buildings at Broadwoodside dictates the shape of the enclosed garden areas, and the long rectangular pattern has been embraced as a defining design feature. A path through the Upper and Lower Courtyards leads to a kitchen and cutting garden where a rectangular pool continues the line.


The willow pond reflects the farm buildings and the ever-present grey sky.
The willow pond reflects the old farm buildings and the ever-present grey sky.


An avenue of hornbeams on one side of the house, skillfully planted to make the distance appear longer than it is, is mirrored by the straight lines of white fireweed on the other.


The fireweed was at the end of its bloom time. A few poppies are interspersed with the fireweed, shown here at the end of it season.  as if the fireweed is a fire about to burst into flame.
What North Americans call fireweed is called rosebay willow herb in England. Complicating the nomenclature, the plant’s botanical name has changed from Epilobium angustifolium to Chamerion angustifolium. Whatever you call it, although still enjoyable to see, the flower was past its peak when we visited.


A stretch of grass seen through a vase-topped gateway leads the eye down yet another garden path.


Talk about Wow! moments -- this combination of colours did it for me.
Talk about Wow! moments — this combination of colours did it for me.


Although Broadwoodside’s design is strongly linear, nothing about the garden itself is straight. Or at least, not straightforward. That’s where the humour comes in. On the wall where Anna Dalrymple served us coffee and banana bread (so delicious that the garden was referred to afterwards by members of our group as the Banana Bread Garden), the writing was on the wall. Literally.


Robert Dalrymple designs books. His
I want to copy this idea. Or should I say, to adapt it. I have a place in mind…


Across the courtyard, more writing appeared on the wall, but this time it was all Greek to me.


It's all Greek to me.
I know what each letter stands for but have no idea if they mean anything when put together. Anna Dalrymple said they were nonsensical, and maybe they are. I do wonder, though, whether they are there in order to prompt the clichéd phrase used above. Can anyone enlighten me?


Plantings were equally inventive. In the Lower Courtyard, espaliered apples and pears hugged one wall


Apples were against one wall, pears against another.
Apples were against one wall, pears against another.


while agapanthus in pots hugged another.


Notice the immaculately tended lawn. Straight edges like that take a lot of work.
Notice the immaculately tended lawn. Straight edges like that take a lot of work.


In the centre of the courtyard, a mass of Madonna lilies scented the whole.


Madonna lilles mingle with white cosmos in a stunning centrepiece arrangement.
Madonna lilies mingle with white cosmos in a stunning centrepiece arrangement.


And the colours! I loved this planting of smoke bush (possibly  Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’and Euphorbia (I don’t know the variety nameparticularly combined with the blue posts and the red window frames.


The blue posts hold a wire grid that keeps all the foliage upright. The smokebush is probably pruned annually to keep it at that height.


Formal geometric lines can make a garden predictable, but that’s not the case at Broadwoodside. In this garden nothing can be taken at face value. A stone plinth, just the right height to sit on, held a mock-Latin inscription that made me scratch my head. (Only as I was writing this piece did I figure it out.)


Remove the spaces between the words to find a rare place to rest at.
Remove the spaces between the words to decipher the Dalrymple’s attitude towards their resting place. The date 2006 is when renovations were completed.


Classical references abound, but they aren’t treated too seriously.


Is someone mocking the classics? Surely not.
Is this horned god Pan or some other deity? Is he a generic Greek style nude? A crazy Michelangelo-inspired David with yoyo instead of rock? Or is someone simply having a bit of fun? The yoyo and string appear to be later additions.


Kenneth Cox, writing last year in Scotland for Gardeners called Broadwoodside “one of Scotland’s finest contemporary private gardens…” This year, Garden Design Journal described it as a garden that “employs all the classical devices of symmetry, perspective and precise alignment  … in such a witty fashion that the familiar becomes fresh and exciting.”

I agree. This is a garden to admire and to inspire. A garden worth returning to.

The International Garden Festival at Métis, Québec

July 14th, 2014 | 5 Comments »
Edward Lutyens once said that a garden "should have a backbone -- a central idea beautifully phrased." The central and beautifully phrased idea of the International Garden Festival at the Reford Gardens in Métis, Québec is to offer garden installations that challenge conventional ideas of what a garden is -- or can be.For the past 15 years the festival has been a showcase for innovation and delight. Featuring designers from Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, France, the United States and Canada, this year's Festival presents 22 contemporary gardens that "invite visitors


Art in a Garden: ephemeral vs permanent art

March 17th, 2014 | 4 Comments »
Ars longa, vita brevis...When Hippocrates wrote these lines, he was not referring to fine art but to the 'art' of medicine. In effect, he was saying that it takes a long time to acquire knowledge and to perfect skills -- and we have only a short time to do that. (I'd add that the statement is true about gardening, and many other things, too.)Over the years the phrase has acquired a different meaning: that art is what endures. But must it? Is 'permanent' art the best type of art for


Art in a Garden: Yes or No?

March 10th, 2014 | 12 Comments »
Is it something in the air?  Recently I've been reading discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of using sculpture in a garden. Does it add or detract? Some have argued in favour; others are vehemently opposed. The strongest statement of opposition I've read came from a New Zealand gardener, newspaper columnist and blogger named Abbie Jury. "... a garden setting can enhance sculpture but I have never actually seen sculpture enhance a garden. As soon as you drop sculpture into a garden setting, it takes centre stage shouting “Look at me! Look


Ann Norton Sculpture Garden: a garden review

February 17th, 2014 | 8 Comments »
Combining sculpture and a collection of rare palms, the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden offers a quiet retreat from the up-scale social whirl of Palm Beach, Florida. Palm Beach, after all, was (and in some cases still is) home or vacation playground for many of the world's rich and famous, from the Kennedy and Pulitzer families, to Donald Trump, Bernie Madoff and Conrad Black. Ann Norton was a sculptor who married one of these wealthy men, Ralph Norton, an industrialist and an art collector whose collection became the foundation of Palm


In Transit / En Route: Part Three, the final installment

March 19th, 2013 | No Comments »
Several weeks ago I started a three-part series about an art installation at Glen Villa called In Transit / en Route. I posted the first two parts and intended to post the third in week three. But California and all I saw there captured my attention and my blogging time. So the third part of In Transit / en Route went to the bottom of the pile. Finally, though, it is back at the top. So here it is, the third and final installment. If you want to read (or re-read) the


In Transit / En Route: part 2

February 20th, 2013 | No Comments »
The In Transit / En Route trail starts at the edge of a field. with a sign that asks a rather odd question. Where are you? Où êtes-vous? As I wrote in my previous post (In Transit / En Route: the beginning), the words aren't easy to read. The letters are small and the words run together with no breaks. Once someone figures out the question, though, it usually makes them laugh. They make a joke, another person responds, and they laugh as they come up with different answers to this question that


In Transit / En Route: the beginning

February 13th, 2013 | No Comments »
In my post last week I mentioned In Transit / En Route and showed a photo of a clearing in the woods. Here's the photo again.                          In Transit/En Route: the sundial clearing in the woods   Do you see the red sign in the clearing? It is part of In Transit, or En Route in French, an installation I created in 2011. In Transit / En Route is not an installation you can see at a single glance. You have to take time to walk a trail that stretches about a kilometre through the woods. And you have to


Art in the Woods

February 6th, 2013 | 1 Comment »
People respond differently to the woods that are a big part of the landscape at Glen Villa It's hard to miss the difference. Some hike through the forest intent on getting someplace, noticing very little.  Others spy things I’ve never seen. The art installations I'm creating throughout the property generate widely different reactions. For some people, the installations are intrusive. Some find them intriguing, some are left indifferent. Only occasionally does someone responds strongly and immediately, finding the signs, words and thoughts as meaningful as I do. In Transit/En Route: the