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Scottish Gardens
Carnock, Stirlingshire


T would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a more characteristic example of Scottish domestic architecture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than that presented in the old house of Carnock. Originally built in 1548 by Sir Robert Drummond, whose arms and initials, with those of his wife, Margaret Elphinstone of Dunmore, still remain over the principal entrance, it was added to in 1634 when the property was acquired by Sir Thomas Nicolson, and remains unchanged in its main features, though outbuildings and offices have been erected to adapt the dwelling to the requirements of a modern household.

"What Messrs. M`Gibbon and Ross, a distance," observed "has been travelled over in the three centuries which have elapsed from the time when Scottish nobles were content to live in towers containing three apartments only —a ground floor for cattle, a first floor for a hall in which the retainers lived and slept, and a top storey for the lord and his family! The introduction of a kitchen was at first hailed as an important innovation and improvement, all provisions having been previously cooked in the hall or in the open air. But in the seventeenth century people have become so refined that the kitchen, with what was formerly considered its sweet perfumery, must be banished out of doors. The domestics are now quite separated from the hall, while the proprietor and his family, no longer huddled up in one room, enjoy the delights of the modern dining-room and drawing-room, private sitting-rooms and bedrooms, all provided with separate doors." [astellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, ii. 496.]

Those who sigh for the good old times and repine because their lot was not cast "in days of old when knights were bold," may incline to think that the domestic discomfort of a sixteenth century Scottish mansion is exaggerated in the passage above-quoted. They may agree that the knight and his family dined at the same table with the servants; what could be more picturesque and in keeping with feudal custom? But surely the lady had her bower, where she worked embroidery with her maidens, while a pretty page or sadly attired clerk read aloud some romaunt of chivalry—say the stirring adventures of Ferambras and Oliver or the story of Sir Eglamour of Artois. She would also have her parterres, spending much of her time in tending her favourite flowers. Alas! if you would learn the naked truth from an eye-witness, hear how Fynes Moryson described his entertainment in a Scottish country house of the seventeenth century.

"My self was at a Knight's house, who had many servants to attend him, that brought in his meate with their heads covered with blew caps, the Table being more then halfe furnished with great platters of porredge, each having a little peece of sodden meate; And when the Table was served, the servants did sit downe with us, but the upper messe in steede of porredge, had a Pullet with some prunes in the broth. And I observed no Art of Cookery, or furniture of Houshold stuffe, but rather rude neglect of both, though my selfe and my companion, sent from the Governour of Barwicke about bordering affaires, were entertained after their best manner. . . . Their bedsteads were like Cubbards in the wall, with doores to be opened and shut at pleasure, so as we climbed up to our beds. They use but one sheete, open at the sides and top, but close at the feete, and so doubled." [Itinerary, iv. 183 [ed. 1908]. Moryson's visit to Scotland took place between 1606 and 1617.]

It may well be imagined that, luxury being so scant within doors, little care was bestowed in furnishing the garden with anything except kitchen stuff; but when I was last at Carnock ample amends had been made in that respect by the lady of the castle, who is an enthusiastic gardener. The property passed to the Shaw Stewarts by marriage in the eighteenth century; the present Sir Hugh and Lady Alice lived at Carnock till he succeeded his father in 1903, when they moved to Ardgowan and let the old house. I know not what may be the appearance of that garden now, but half-a-dozen years ago it was a joy to behold. Every border overflowed with blossom; alpine Erinus, saxifrages and other clinging herbs clustered in crevices of the old walls and in the chinks of the broad stone steps on the terrace front. There was abundance and luxuriance of Christmas roses such as one may seldom enjoy; for the purpose of this garden was not to produce a culminating blaze at the end of the London season, such as was deemed the acme of mid-Victorian horticulture, but to link season with season and month with month by a succession of blossom. No flower is more important to this scheme than the varieties of Helleborus niger. The torch lilies have not quenched their flames nor the late asters their stars before the variety called maximus or altifolius unfurls its great blooms, tinted like apple-blossom, to be followed about Christmastide by major, Madame Fourcade, angstifolius and others, which choose the darkest, dreariest time of the whole year for their display, and keep things going till snowdrops, aconites and crocus strike the first chord in the overture of another year.

Simple as the requirements of Christmas roses, it is a fact that failures are more frequent than success in its cultivation. Many an amateur, delighted with the rare sight of a mass of ivory blooms, rose-tinted on the backs, resolves to have the like in his own garden, so that Christmas roses ought to be as commonly seen in good condition as double daisies or daffodils. But they are not: a luxuriant bank of Hellebore niger is one of the rarest sights in horticulture. I have been gardening for forty years and more, yet have never yet succeeded to my liking with these charming flowers. Coming, coming, coming—but never yet come. Yet we are assured that all they want is deep loam, partial shade and to be let alone. One precaution must not be neglected in gardens where pheasants come—namely, to surround the bed with wire-netting before they come into flower, else will these greedy birds nip off every bud. [I leave this as it was written after my last visit to Carnock, because I feel sure that my experience has its parallel in that of many other amateurs. But in the paper on Balcaekie (p. 149) I have described how Mr. Maule, the gardener there, instructed me in the right management and propagation of hellebore.]


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