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Scottish Gardens
Corrour, Inverness-Shire


HERE is no more desolate region in all Scotland than that extending northwards from Kinloch-Rannoch to Loch Laggan. Once it was a vast primaeval forest broken only by the bare mountain summits, and wherever the surface of the moor is broken, bones of the departed woodland are exposed to view—skeletons of trees lying in inextricable confusion as they fell in a long-forgotten past, embedded in the all-prevailing wet peat. Many theories have been propounded to explain the disappearance of the forest, and the still more obscure cause which prevents trees, when planted now, thriving where millions of them once occupied the ground. The most probable explanation is founded upon a change in meteorological conditions; a cycle of centuries with moderate rainfall, favourable to tree-growth, having been followed by a cycle of centuries with excessive rainfall, encouraging the growth of moss and sphagnum to a degree destructive to higher forms of vegetation, thus causing the total disappearance of forest at about 1000 feet above sea level.

Now as the whole of the district referred to lies above the 1000 feet level, and the only vestiges of the primaeval woodland that remain are a few patches of stunted birches and rowans, this might be considered the least likely situation for successful horticulture. So far is this from being the case that, in the very heart of this wilderness, at the unpromising elevation of 1250 feet, there has been created one of the most interesting and effective flower gardens with which. I am acquainted. Its prosperity seems to be evidence in support of the theory that it is the excess of rainfall and consequent growth of moss, not low temperature, that destroyed the ancient forest and prevails against all attempts to restore it. Rain falls faster and in greater quantity than evaporation and surface drainage can remove; the soil becomes waterlogged, and moss overwhelms all except such plants as heaths, which are structurally adapted to endure extremes of drought and moisture, heat and cold.

But, it may be argued, the rainfall on the moor of Rannoch and the surrounding mountains is not greater than in many other districts where trees grow vigorously—the English lake district, for instance. The answer is that altitude must be taken into account. At high levels, cloud prevails much oftener and for longer periods than at lower levels. A few hours of sunshine removes from the earth by evaporation an enormous weight of water, which, under a cloudy sky, can only find escape by gravitation. Consequently, the first requisite in creating a garden in a waterlogged region like Corrour is special provision of rapid drainage. Sir John Stirling Maxwell kept this wisely in view when he chose a site for his shooting lodge at the foot of Loch Ossian. The old lodge, now pulled down, stood 1723 feet above the sea, too high for the growth of the potato, although rhubarb, a true alpine, flourished vigorously in the patch of kitchen garden. The site of the new house is 500 feet lower, built on a terminal moraine, which, by damming back the streams in the strath, has created Loch Ossian, a beautiful sheet of water between three and four miles long. Even at this lower level, corn never ripens, though oats are sown to supply green fodder; whence it may be understood that the creation of a flower garden here was an experiment of no small uncertainty.

Advantage was taken of every natural facility in the ground. The moraine whereon the house stands consists of a vast jumble of granite boulders, ice-borne from the neighbouring mountains. Many of these boulders having crumbled into coarse sand after the peculiar habit of granite, the whole mass was porous, although thickly coated with a mantle of wet peat. That mantle having been got rid of, and a terrace formed along the south front of the house, it was easy to establish a thorough system of drainage, and to maintain it by timely removal of sphagnum. Below this terrace, on the knolls between it and the lake, has been created an alpine garden of the most delightful description.

In alpine gardens and rockeries the effort of make-believe is almost always distressingly obvious. Individual plants may be beautiful and interesting, but the whole effect is unsatisfactory and out of keeping with the environment. But it is otherwise at Corrour. No need to pile rocks in laborious imitation of a ravine; they lie here naturally in profusion as they were thrown down ages ago by the retreating glacier; and as for environment, let the broad flanks and towering crests of Carn Dearg, Beinn Bhreich and Beinn Eibhinn suffice for that, with the fair expanse of Loch Ossian at their feet. To turn this into an alpine garden little more has been necessary than to root out the heather and wild grasses from certain pockets and hollows, fill them with good soil and plant choice bell-flowers, globe flowers, primulas, saxifrages, speedwells, dianthus, and a rich variety of other flowering herbs. It is remarkable to see Incarvillea Delavayi, not usually considered patient of excessive wet and cold, flourishing here as luxuriantly as anywhere, spreading into large patches and bearing quantities of its large, gloxinia-like blossoms.

Along the lake margin of yellow sand, iris, spiraea, and other water-loving plants make a charming fringe; while shelter is provided by masses of Pines montana, planted on exposed ridges among the heather. This hardy mountaineer, of dwarf stature but luxuriant foliage, thrives vigorously under

conditions of exposure and soil which are fatal to other trees. It revels in as much wind as it can get, and is able to digest the humic acid in peat, which is so unfavourable to the health of most trees.

All this part of the ground may be termed wild garden, inasmuch as flowering exotics appear to be growing spontaneously among the native heaths and grasses. But similar effect could not be obtained so easily at a lower altitude than Corrour, where the native herbage has none of the rank exuberance of lowland growth. It is subalpine in character, and is composed of many plants exceedingly ornamental in themselves, such as the various heaths and moorland berries, the field orchises, the dainty little cornel (Cornus $uecica) and the lovely and fragrant wintergreen (Pyrola intermedia). With these are blended in the most natural manner lowly thickets of the Himalayan Andromeda (Cassiope) fastigiata, with terminal racemes of snow-white or flesh-tinted blossoms at the end of every branchlet of intense green. Beside the granite stairs which climb the steeper banks, the great Norwegian saxifrage (S. cotyledon) tosses its great cloud of white blossom with a luxuriance that I have never seen equalled elsewhere. The branching sprays and delicate blossoms seem so fragile that one dreads the effect upon them of the first rough breeze; but the stems are so tough and wiry that the display is not marred even by a long Highland gale. Globe-flowers, among which our native Trollies europceu holds the palm, crowd the hollow moist places in beautiful contrast with such bell-flowers as Campanula rhomboidalis.

The terrace itself, the terrace wall, and the stone borders flanking a. granite-margined fountain, are more formal in character. The alpines clothing the wall with a many-coloured mantle seem to display brighter hues than they ever do when cultivated at lower altitudes. Some of them undoubtedly spread more luxuriantly than they do elsewhere. For instance, most gardeners find the Himalayan Cyananthus lobatus somewhat difficult to establish—somewhat prone to disappear even when established. Here it may be seen in masses a yard and a half across, covered with shining blue flowers. The matchless turquoise of Myosotis rupicola gleams from chinks in the granite stairs in charming contrast with the pearl white of Oxalis enneaphylla, the vivid rose of Dianthus neglectus, the shining gold of Waldteinia trifoliata and the profound blue of gentianella. This little forget-me-not, not often seen in private gardens, is the choicest of the whole family for wall decoration, for it is compact in habit, growing in dainty tufts, asking only for a narrow, deep crevice, with grit and loam to keep its roots cool, and free space overhead to allow it to enjoy the sunshine.

Notable among scores of pretty herbs on this wall and terrace are wreaths of Campanula G. F. Wilson, a hybrid between C. pulla and C. carpatica, a plant of extraordinary merit owing to the abundance of its dark blue flowers ; Edriantbus (Wahlenbergia) pumilio, with a profusion of purple blossom produced from cushions of glaucous, needle-shaped leaves; Acantholimum glurnaceum spreading into large prickly pillows of green, starred with rosy sprays; the Pyrenean Globul aria nana; Oxalis enneayhylla, a dainty woodsorrel from the Falkland Islands with waxy-white flowers; the beautiful Pyrenean gromwell, Lithospermum Gaston, with sky-blue clusters, and the rare Gentiana Frcelichi from Carinthia, with vase-shaped flowers of the same colour.

Spring lags late in these high places; the first snowdrop may not hang its head till its brethren on the seaboard have grown lank and green; but when the frost relaxes its grip and the snow-wreaths sink out of sight, growth comes with a rush, and the profusion of blossom is such as has to be seen before it can be realised.

Gardeners and amateurs owe much to Sir John Stirling Maxwell for having shown by example both at Corrour and Pollok what excellent results may be obtained in decorative horticulture under the most discouraging and apparently prohibitive conditions.


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