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Scottish Gardens
Balcaskie, Fife


HE glory of the garden at Balcaskie, like that at the neighbouring Balcarres, consists in its huge terraces, which command the same enchanting prospect of wood and water, field and firth, and the once bitterly hostile principality of Laudonia or Lothian. But the terrace work at Balcaskie has the double advantage over that at Balcarres of having been planned by a great master of architecture in the Jacobean style of his own day, and of having been softened by the lapse of more than two centuries. What Sir Robert Sibbald described in 1710 as "a very pretty new house, with all modish conveniences of terraces, park, and plainting [sic]," has now become a very pretty old house, and the terraces, once so painfully spick and span, have mellowed into tender greys and browns, with stains of lichen and velvet cushions of moss, mouldering here and there into hospitable chinks and crannies, where thoughtful hands have established thriving colonies of saxifrage, Erinus and other wall-loving herbs.

Similarly, the house, which in the fifteenth century must have been but a pele tower of the ordinary type, owned by the family of Strang (whence was descended Sir Robert Strange, who engraved bank-notes for Prince Charlie), passing by marriage to a grandson of Moncrieff of that ilk, was sold in the seventeenth century to Sir William Bruce, architect of Charles I I.'s Palace of Holyroodhouse, who transformed the fortalice of Balcaskie into a fair Jacobean manor house. His handiwork is easily recognised in the characteristic flanking towers and pavilions, the details of the mouldings, and especially in the wonderfully rich plaster-work of the ceilings, which rival the masterpieces of that kind of decoration in Holyrood. It was an age when the classical renaissance, having spent its force on the Continent, still flowed strongly in the northern realm ; in token whereof are ranged the busts of Roman emperors along the principal terrace, each on the top of a mighty buttress of the vertical wall. Nymphs, agreeably discoloured, fauns picturesquely chipped, haunt the surrounding groves, posed on pedestals beside the woodland paths ; nor shall you look in vain for le petit dieu, donit les yeux sort caclus, mais les fesses a decouvert.

Evidence of a genial climate abounds in the vegetation of these grounds. An enormous Wistaria trails its serpentine length along the south front of the house, where is also to be seen on this May morning a pretty picture, formed by a white fantail

dove nesting in a myrtle trained to a height of twenty feet on the wall. On the lower terrace is an immense Cornus (Benthamia) capitata occupying the whole space between two buttresses. It flowers abundantly, as a rule, which, as Mr. George Cavendish would say, "is a rare thing and seldom to be seen "—in the north country, at least; but it appears to have reached the limit of old age, signs of which are apparent in its weakly growth and sparse foliage. Cordyline (Draccen a) australis appears perfectly hardy here, promising, when a little older, to present a feature peculiarly in harmony with the stately surroundings. Phygelius capensis, usually grown as a not very effective herbaceous perennial, has reached a height of twenty feet on a wall—an example well worth following in other gardens. The western staircase of the upper terrace is garlanded with the far-reaching sprays of that most generous of all clematis, C. montana, which pours cataracts of ivory flowers over the old stonework and makes the air redolent of incense like May-blossom.

Among the humbler herbs, nothing is so remarkable as the abundance and luxuriance of the great Christmas rose (Hellebores niger var. maximus or altifolius). This is mainly due to the special treatment accorded to it by Mr. Maule, the head gardener, who obtained a root of this, the finest of all the hellebores, many years ago from the late Miss Hope of Wardie Lodge. I likewise received a root at about the same time from the same source; but it may serve to demonstrate the merit of sagacious treatment if I confess that, whereas my whole stock at the present time could be comfortably lodged in a single wheel-barrow, Mr. Maule can show you tons of healthy plants growing vigorously as a crop in the kitchen garden, besides having disposed of great quantities of roots during a long succession of years. He makes no secret of his treatment, which, put briefly, consists in deep preparation of rather stiff soil and abundance of well-decayed leaf mould (peat he does not recommend). When it is desired to propagate the stock, he takes up the roots towards the end of March, cuts off all long ends, which, if left untrimmed, cause the crowns to rot, and dibbles the slices in lines. Many persons who have been driven to despair in attempting to increase this and other varieties of Christmas rose, may find a way to success through following these simple instructions.

Balcaskie presents a rare and charming example of the union of architecture and horticulture, so seldom effectively carried out by modern designers.


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