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Scottish Gardens
Barskimming, Ayrshire


T is a fancy of certain writers to give freak headings to their chapters, cryptic enough, sometimes, but connected more or less vaguely with the nature of the contents. Were that example to be followed in the present unimaginative work, this chapter might be entitled "Cheese and Chaffinches," to commemorate a pretty little scene enacted in that fairyland which mortals call Barskimming.

The river Ayr winds through the park, having cut for itself a profound channel through the red Permian rock which overlies the carboniferous beds in all this part of Ayrshire. The sides of the gorge are richly clothed with oak and ash, which, as appears from Timothy Pont's survey, executed in 1595-1600, are survivors of the primitive Caledonian forest; but here and there the sides are sheer precipice, affording no foothold for trees, the crags standing out bare, silvered with lichen or glowing with venetian red and rose where the rock has crumbled away. In front of the mansion

house, which was rebuilt after a fire some five-and-twenty years ago, a lofty and beautiful bridge, designed by Robert Adam, has been flung across the chasm.

Of the four sisters who have made Barskimming their home for a number of years, each has her peculiar province and chosen outlet for energy. Miss Marianne Anderson has established and made famous a stud of Welsh mountain ponies, a breed whereof she was among the first to recognise the extraordinary beauty and quality, and which has secured for her many honours at Dublin and other horse shows. Miss Fanny Anderson's specialty is ornamental ironwork, the garden gate, through which we shall pass presently, being an example of the combined strength and delicacy of her handiwork. She has also a remarkable power of attraction for wild birds. Whether this be psychical, or whether it be purely physical, residing in a small tin box stuck in her waist-belt, deponent sayeth not; he can but testify to what he saw. Pausing on the bridge aforesaid on our way to the garden, the bird-compeller sounded shrill summons to her familiars, and forthwith there came from the dense foliage of an aged oak, whose topmost branches were several feet below the bridge, a hen chaffinch, to perch on the parapet within a yard or two of where we leant. A second hen followed, and after her a cock bird, not quite so confident. Then the magic box was opened, disclosing some tiny bits of cheese. One of the birds was so tame as to take a piece of this delicacy from the very lips of the lady ; but the favourite exhibition is obtained by flicking a morsel of cheese over the parapet, when the chaffinches dart in pursuit, one or other of them never failing to catch it before it reaches the water eighty feet below.

But our main business at Barskimming lies to-day in the garden, where Miss Bertha Anderson reigns supreme, and thither she now guides us, through the pretty gate mentioned above. Miss Bertha's collection of flowering plants has gained wide repute, but before examining it in detail, a few words must be devoted to describing the pleasaunce wherein they flourish, for it is quite distinct in character from any other depicted in this book. Through the heart of it the PowkailI [Celtic names cling closely to the topography of the Lowlands. Powkail—the narrow stream—from the Gaelic pot caol, containing the sane word as has been used for centuries to denote the Kyles—that is the Narrows—of Bute.] has cleft a deep canon in its haste to join the river which bounds the garden on the south. With dubious taste, Lord Glenlee, the Scottish Lord of Session who laid out these grounds 140 years ago, caused this stream to run for some distance through a tunnel, filling up the dark gorge and levelling the surface as a bowling green. The lower part of its course, which remains open, shows how much natural beauty was sacrificed in this costly operation. However, there it is; a fair space of level turf, partly shaded from the south by splendid oaks of the true sessile-flowered kind, and bounded on the other sides by sloping banks, terraced walks, and flower borders. The north and west sides of the garden are protected by old and high walls, once occupied by fruit-trees and a grape-house, but these Miss Bertha has swept into limbo, draping the walls instead with sheets of climbers, especially roses, among which may be noted the snowy Mme. Alfred Carribre (well shown in Miss Wilson's drawing), the long streamers of the original Loudon rose, putative parent of the numerous progeny known as Ayrshire roses, and the Letton briar, a very uncommon variety, with large, single flowers of clear, full pink.

Having got so far, the visitor will have begun to realise some of the features which give its distinguished character to this little valley of flowers. Chief, perhaps, among these is the combination of a very dry surface with the perennial presence of swiftly running water. No Eden is perfect without its stream, and here gushing Powkail sounds ever in one's ears as it hurries to the river through a deep and narrow dell, planted with choice ferns and shade-loving plants. The Canadian Adiantum pedatum luxuriates here ; Primula rosea attains a stature impossible under ordinary conditions; the pretty foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) runs riot among the moist rocks, the yellow and orange forms of the Welsh poppy mingle in charming contrast with the clear blue of Campanula rhomboidalis. Rodgem as spread their noble foliage, meet companions for the native wood bell-flower (C. latifolia) and the giant saxifrage (S. peltcata). It is a place to make patent the futility and self-consciousness of so many rock gardens; it is indeed inimitable by most gardeners, for the foot of man can never have passed through this gorge until Miss Bertha caused paths to be hewn out of the vertical rocks and flung a bridge here and there across the chasm.

The license of flower and foliage which riots in this dell throws into high relief the perfect order and neatness maintained in the rest of the grounds. Neatness without formality. There is not a gravel or paved path in the whole garden; nothing but shaven sward on which you walk as upon velvet pile—sward in green lagoons, as it were, across which splendid oaks fling broad shadows—sward in smooth alleys between banks of summer flowers which have succeeded the spring bulbs, now fast asleep in the mould—sward in bays and corridors among choice rhododendrons and a few, not too many, conifers. Here and there, in sunny nooks, stand pillars of a peculiar kind, supporting large pots of geraniums. These pillars come from neighbouring Mauchline, famous for its curling stones, and are the sandstone rollers upon which the harder curling stones have been ground. The sandstone wears away in grooves and rolls, causing the core to assume an architectural character, in which Miss Bertha's quick eye detected decorative properties. Two of these rollers, set one upon another, make a pillar about five feet high, and, being waste products, can be had for little more than the cost of carriage.

Now as to the flower borders, with their varied contents and their fine combination of freedom with discipline, one has to remember that every plant has to withstand the climate of a cold Ayrshire upland about 400 feet above the sea. This, therefore, is not one of those gardens whereof the owner is lured to disappointment by attempting the open-air culture of plants just outside the limits of perfect hardiness. Miss Bertha contents herself with things which will flourish anywhere in the British Isles, provided that they are wisely handled. The greater the surprise, therefore, to find a bed of Ixias in luxuriant blossom. The bulbs were planted at the beginning of January, 1907, and, in virtue of a perfectly drained and light soil, withstood the rigours of twenty-five degrees of frost and a peculiarly trying spring. We do not, however, recommend an attempt to grow these gay flowers in the north, except for a single season's display. Like the Persian ranunculus, they require baking in hotter sunshine than our Scottish firmament permits, to prepare them for a second year's display of their brilliant colours.

The general effect of the borders at the time of our visit was given by larkspurs, roses, iris and campanula of many kinds, the most distinct of the bell-flowers being the rich blue species now classed as C. rhomboidalis, though why in the world it should be deprived of its former and most appropriate epithet azurea is one of those mysteries wrought in the star chamber of Kew. Among these were several choice flowers not often met with, such as Oxalis Deppii, a woodsorrel with flowers, large for this genus, of vieux rose, greatly superior to the commoner O. floribunda. Lathyrus Drummondi (rotundifolius), with blossoms of fine cinnabar red, rambled over aged espalier apple-trees in the back row; Salvia tenon was conspicuous afar with its deep blue spikes, and Veronica pimeloides poured a little cataract of greyish-blue from the front row.

The nucleus, so to speak, of this paradise of flowers, is a rectangular kitchen garden in the old style, with narrow borders along the paths, backed by espalier fruit trees screening off the cabbages and onions. But so deftly has this part of the ground been handled, so generously have the flowering plants responded to liberal and discriminate treatment, that one does not suspect the presence of utile among such a wealth of dulce. There it is, however, though it requires close scrutiny to detect it, and I do not remember to have seen elsewhere this combination of flower and kitchen garden so skilfully carried out. Weeds, it may be assumed, are as aggressive at Barskimming as elsewhere, but the hand of the Mistress of the Flowers is as ready as her eye is quick: not a nettle nor bit of groundsel is to be found in all the borders over which she holds sway, so vigilantly does she carry out the first principles of horticulture—selection and rejection.

I cannot leave Barskimming without mentioning one picturesque, if homely, feature in its garden. Every amateur and professional gardener must have realised the difficulty of disposing of rubbish. In the outskirts of nearly every pleasure-ground there exists a dire accumulation, more or less successfully concealed, of rotting cabbage stalks, flower stems, decayed fruit, old pease-sticks, etc., mounting higher year by year, abode of rats, and source of evil odours. Scottish gardeners speak of this as "the coup"; I know not what the southron synonym may be. Well, at Barskimming "the coup" is on a heroic scale. All the waste products, which will not serve for leaf-mould, are shot over a sheer precipice on the south side of the garden, and fall clear nearly 100 feet into the river Ayr, to be swept away by the first spate.

And spates are neither niggardly nor infrequent in Western Scotland.


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