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Scottish Gardens
Colinton House, Midlothian


N almost every instance in Scotland (where such instances are far too frequent), of the abandonment of an ancient fortified dwelling for a mansion in the modern style, one has to deplore the inferiority of the new position to the old. It may have been defensive, rather than aesthetic, features in the ground that guided early architects in their selection of house-sites, but it puzzles one to understand the motive which so often prompted their successors in the nineteenth century to disregard both considerations. In no place that I have visited is the result more to be lamented than at Colinton, once the principal residence of the Foulis family. Perched high upon the steep and wooded east bank of the Water of Leith, the old castle of Colinton, now a roofless ruin, commanded views of exquisite beauty in every direction. The silvan glories of the river valley lay beneath it on the west; on the east the eye might range to the Castle Rock of Edinburgh; while on the south front a terraced garden lies close up to the castle wall, providing a fascinating foreground to the majestic grouping of the Pentland range. A bridle path climbs the shaggy brae from a ford on the river to the castle gate, and an avenue of limes in the bottom rear their lofty tops, yet not so high as to intercept the view from the terrace.

All this rare amenity was sacrificed when, about the end of the eighteenth century, the Colinton estates were broken up and this portion was bought by Sir William Forbes, an Edinburgh banker, who deliberately caused the old castle to be dismantled, and built himself a commodious, but unromantic, mansion a couple of hundred yards away, shutting himself out of sight of the wooded valley, the delectable terrace and garden, and even of the towering Pentland Hills. On the death of Sir William Forbes, Colinton House was purchased by James, third son of General Sir Ralph Abercromby. He was elected Speaker in 1835, and was created Lord Dunfermline in 1839. Dying in 1868, he left Colinton to his only child, the wife of Colonel J. M. Trotter.

The garden remains as of yore, smiling up to the sightless windows of the keep, and lovingly tended by its present owners, Colonel and Mrs. Trotter of Colinton. It has long been noted for the magnificent holly hedges which enclose it, whereof Joseph Sabine, F.R.S., contributed a detailed description to the Horticultural Society of London in 1827

(Transactions, vol. vii. 194). He stated that these hedges had been planted between 1670 and 1680"certainly not later than the latter year"; so that at the present time of writing they can be nothing less than 228 years old. At the time of Sabine's visit their height varied from 25 to 28 feet, tapering from a basal diameter of 15 feet to 2 feet at the top. Their present height is from 35 to 40 feet, the basal diameter being in some places as much as 21 feet, the lower branches layering themselves freely and forming an impenetrable rampart. The garden hedges extend in all to a length of 1120 feet, and must have been planted originally with about 4500 hollies. They are clipped at the end of March, which the gardener, Mr. John Bruce, considers the best season, holding that, if the clipping be delayed till July, as most authorities recommend, there is not time for the young growth to ripen before the winter frosts.
Mr. Bruce knows what he is talking about, having had charge of these hedges for thirty-five years; but his employer, Colonel Trotter, takes a different view, believing that June is the best month for pruning evergreens.

The effect of these lofty walls of dark foliage would be somewhat sombre, were the borders not well furnished with bright flowers. In parts of the garden Colonel Trotter relies much for colour on poppies and other annuals, which, at the time Miss Wilson made her study, made but a poor show, owing to the dismal weather of the summer of 1907.

Beside the shrubbery walks outside the garden there are some nice plants of Berberis Wallichi, Spircea  flagelliformis and other flowering plants, among which is to be noted an unusually large and symmetrical bush of Spircea (Neillea) opulifolia.


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