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Scottish Gardens
The Hirsel, Berwickshire


E'S awa to Birgham to buy bickers" is an ancient Border equivoque—how ancient, no man may say. It seems to date from the memorable treaty concluded at Birgham-on-Tweed on 18th July, 1290, defining the relations that should subsist between the realms of England and Scotland after the marriage of the Maid of Norway—Margaret Queen of Scots—to Edward of Carnarvon, Prince of Wales. Death snatched the Maid on her way to the wedding, and there followed three hundred years of "bickers" and butchery between two nations of the same race, speech and creed, the most purposeless and wasteful war that ever drained the resources of a civilised people.

Little enough does Birgham now bear the aspect of a source of strife. Perhaps the old saying was coined in irony because of the inadequacy of this hamlet to sustain a name so great in history, for "bicker" means a wooden bowl as well as a battle. Half a score of grey roofs scattered along a green

ridge are all that mark the birthplace of the War of Independence. Although no part of British soil has been so often soaked with good blood than this vale between Birgham and Coldstream, for the Tweed becomes from Birgham downwards the frontier dividing the two realms, yet nowhere have the traces of conflict been more completely effaced by a veil of verdure and flowers than in Lord Home's pleasant demesne of the Hirsel.

"Poor heart! above thy field of sorrow sighing
For broken faith and love untimely slain,
Leave thou the soil wherein thy dead are lying
To the soft sunlight and the cleansing rain.
Love works in silence, hiding all the traces
Of bitter conflict on the trampled sod,
And time shall show thee all earth's battle-places
Veiled by the hand of God."

The very name—The Hirsel—signifying a sheep-fold, breathes pastoral tranquillity, the very antithesis of Lord Home's other residences, to wit

"The aventurous castell of Douglass,
That to kep sa peralous was" -

a place of such wrathful memories that Sir Walter Scott chose it for the scene of his gloomy romance, Castle Dangerous; and Bothwell Castle on the Clyde, where the Earls of Hereford and Angus and a few of King Edward's most famous knights sought refuge from the fatal field of Bannockburn, for it was almost the only Scottish fortress where the English flag still flew.

Outwardly there is nothing in the aspect of the Hirsel to revive memories of the old riding days any more than its present owner, twelfth Earl and seventeenth Lord of Home, could be supposed capable of restoring "Jethart justice," the practice instituted by his ancestor in 1606, when a number of freebooters were first hanged, and then put upon their trial. The mansion is just a country gentleman's roomy residence, built on the banks of the troutful little Leet, and comfortably screened with ample woodland. To view it at its fairest you should go there when May is melting into June, when the trees have just donned their summer finery, and golden broom and fragrant hawthorn turn every country lane into a chemin de Paradis.

There is great wealth of rhododendrons in the Hirsel woods, not only the common—far too commonponticwm, but the finer hybrid varieties, which are not crowded together in clumps, as one too often sees them arranged, but planted in large measure and with liberal space in the glades of old Scots pine and birch. It is in chequered sunshine and shade that these princely shrubs attain their highest development. Planted in the open, the blossoms get seared by summer heat; but in thin woodland they display and retain the purest hues.

Eighty years ago Loudon took note of a fine tulip tree growing in the Hirsel garden, reputed at that time to be one hundred years old, and measuring twenty feet in girth at three feet above ground level. The tree is still there, but it is far gone in decay, though it still puts forth plenty of healthy foliage and flowers regularly.

The tulip tree is seldom seen in Scotland; more's the pity, for it is perfectly hardy, its growth is stately and its foliage exquisite. Moreover, the timber is of fine quality, of a clear, light yellow colour, much in request in the United States. Probably the infrequency of its appearance in British woodlands is owing to the difficulty of nursery treatment, owing to the soft and brittle nature of the roots. Also, it requires careful pruning when young to keep it shapely, for it will not stand the removal of large branches in later years. Lastly, the tulip tree must be grown in sheltered spots, for the boughs are very easily broken by high winds.


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