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Scottish Gardens
Culzean, Ayrshire


HREE hundred years ago, probably the last place in the realm that any student of horticulture would choose for his tranquil vocation would be that lofty bluff on the Firth of Clyde whereon stands Culzean Castle, [It is pronounced Culline.] for this was of old the stronghold of a branch of the Kennedys—the most powerful and turbulent clan in south-western Scotland after the fall of the Black Douglas.

"From Wigtown to the toun of Ayr,
Portpatrick to the Cruives o' Cree,
Nae man need think for to bide there
Unless he ride wi' Kennedy."

Culzean remains to this day the principal residence of the Marquess of Ailsa, head of the clan ; and, forasmuch as the zest of tranquillity and order is greatly enhanced by contrast with the insecurity of an elder time, it may be permitted to admit the reader to a glimpse of the state of society when the Kennedys were a formidable power in the land, by quoting from an anonymous chronicle of the family composed towards the end of the sixteenth century. [The storie of the Kennedyis: supposed to have been compiled by John Mure of Auchendrane while awaiting his decapitation, to which, with his son, he was condemned for the murder of Sir Thomas Kennedy of C;ulzean in 1597, and for several other horrible crimes.] It relates how Gilbert Kennedy, fourth Earl of Cassilis, acquired the lands of the Abbey of Crosraguel.

"This last Gilbertt was ane particuler manne and ane werry greidy manne, and cairitt nocht how he gatt land, sa that he culd cum be [come by] the samin. . . . He conquessit the abbacy be this forme. Thair was aiie fader-broder [uncle] of his callit Abbot Quinteyne, ane gud manne and ane that feiritt God, efter the maner of religione. At the alteratioune of the religioun [The Reformation.] my lord deltt with the abbott and gut the few [obtained the freehold] of the said abbacy sett to him ; bot the samin wes querrellit [repudiated] he the nixt intrant abbot. . . And then a.ne abott, Allane Stewart, gatt the abbacy; and this abott had mareyitt ane sister of the Lady Barganyis, and followitt his opinione in all his adois [doings]. My Lord of Caissi his, perseiffing the samin, desyrit the Laird of Bargany [Kennedy of Bargany was a near kinsman of Earl Gilbert's.] to mowe [move] the abbott to conferme his rycht, sett be the Abott Quinteyne of befoir. Bot the Laird culd nocht gett the abott mowitt [moved] to cum to him, that he mycht deill with him. . . Quhairupone the laird persuadit the abott and sent him to Mayboll to my lord. Att qubais [whose] cuming, my lord delt with him to ratifie his rycht; bot could nocht gett him mowitt thairto. Quhairupon he tuik purpoise to conwoy him to Dounour [Dunure], and thair to mowe him to do the samin be violens. And cluhane [when] he fand [found] him obstinatt, at last tuik him and band him to ane furme [form], and sett his bair legis to ane gritt fyr, and extreymly brunt him, that he was ewer thairefter onabill of his leggis."

Such is the chronicler's succinct account of the roasting of the Abbot of Crosraguel ; to realise the full extent of the Earl's heartlessness one should peruse this unhappy cleric's petition to the Privy Council for redress. At the first roasting, on 1st September, 1570, the Abbot consented to renounce his lands, but on the 7th, being asked to sign a document giving effect to the renunciation, he vowed he would rather die; whereupon his tormentor ordered the fire to be re-lighted, and his wretched victim to be trussed for a second ordeal.

"Then," declared the abbot, "being in so grit paine as I truste never man was in. . . I cried, 'Fye vpon you! will ye ding whingaris [thrust swords] in me and put me out of this world? or elis put a barell of poulder vnder me, rather nor to be demaned [treated] in this vnmercifull maner ? ' The said erle, hearing me cry, bade his servant Alexander Ritchart put ane serviat [napkin] in my throat, which he obeyed. . . why, then, Being that I was in danger of my life, my flesch consumed and brunt to the bones, and that I wald not condescend to thair purpose, I was releivit of that paine; whairthrow I uill never be able nor weill in my lifetime."

The brave abbot was rescued from duresse by another Kennedy, laird of Bargany, and carried off to Ayr, "brunt as he was." Cassilis got off pretty cheap. Being too powerful a chief to offend with safety, he was bound over to keep the peace towards the abbot under 12000 Scots, equal to £177 13s. 4d. sterling.

This gentle episode was but one in a long series of ghastly outrages—arson, murder, mutilation, and the like—perpetrated by rival septs of the Kennedys upon each other and upon their neighbours. In the year preceding the union of the Crowns John, fifth Earl of Cassius, Lord Treasurer of Scotland, set his hand to the following document, which is preserved in the charter chest at Barnbarroch, and is remarkable even according to the practice of those violent times as being uttered by a Minister of the Crown.

"WE, Johnue erle of Cassillis, lord Kennedy, &c., bindis and oblissis ws that, howsovnne [so soon as] our broder Hew Kennedy of Brounstone, with his complices, taikis the laird of Auehindraneis lyf that we sail maik guid and thankfull payment to him and thame of the sowme of tuelff hundreth merkis [Equal to £800 Scots or £66 13s. 4d. sterling.] yeirly, togidder with come to sex horsis, ay and quhill [so long as] we ressave thane in houshald with our self, beginning the first payment immediatlie efter thair committing of the said deid.

Arrour, howsovnne we ressave thame in houshald, we sail pay to the twa serving gentillmen the feis yeirlie as our awin [own] houshald gentillmen, and heirto we obliss ws vpone our honour.

Subscryvit with our hand AT Maybole the ferd [third] day of September 1602. JOHNE ERLE OF CASSILLIS."

With such echoes of an age not very remote ringing in one's ears, it is difficult to realise that

this garden by the sea is the very scene of many episodes of a blood feud which raged for more than a hundred years, and cost many Scotsmen, gentle and simple, their lives.

The lofty bluff whereon the castle stands has doubtless been a fortified position from prehistoric times. It is inaccessible on the west, where the cliff falls sheer to the sea, and the ground slopes sharply away inland to the east, where a natural gully, originally deepened for defensive purposes, has been cast into a couple of walled terraces forming a delectable abode for many shrubs which cannot face an inland winter. The peculiar conformation of the ground affords that shelter from blustering winds and salt-laden gales which so often neutralise the genial influence of the sea side. At the foot of the terraces is a broad, well-shaven lawn, with a fountain and architectural basin in the centre, and plenty of room for a couple of tennis courts besides.

These tennis courts have become permanently marked out in a curious manner which I have not noted elsewhere. The lines drawn in whitewash during several successive seasons have killed the grass, which has been replaced by a strong growth of daisies. The mowing machine of course prevents these from flowering, but their flat shining leaves, darker than the surrounding grass, distinctly show the limits of the courts, so as to render unnecessary any fresh measurement when the nets are set out in summer. If it were possible to grow the aucuba-leaved daisy with sufficient certainty in the turf, players need desire no painted lines. That pretty daisy is rather fickle in behaviour; but perhaps it would respond to the stimulus of lime applied in a wash, which has had such a remarkable effect on the common green-leaved kind. One of the first plants to attract attention on the terrace walls is the violet abutilon (Abutilon vitifolium), which grows twelve feet high, presenting a lovely spectacle when covered with its large flowers in June and July. The rare and tender Olearia Fosteri is quite happy here, sheltered by broad curtains of common myrtle and several species of Escallonia. Drymis winteri, also, grows robustly, producing fine trusses of fragrant white flowers early in the year, and perfecting its glossy foliage in the sunshine which floods every corner of the terraces and lawns.

On the whole, however, these terraces, so ample in their proportions, so admirably suited in their south-easterly aspect for the culture of rare exotics, have not yet been turned to full account, as doubtless they soon will be, for their owner, the Marquess of Ailsa, constantly resides in the home of his ancestors, and is an enthusiastic and skilful amateur. Moreover, he is fortunate in his head gardener, Mr. Murray, who, both by knowledge and inclination, is well qualified for the charge of an extensive collection of exotics. Much of the wall space is occupied by plants which will thrive in any garden.; but these are being gradually removed to make way for choicer things, whereof a very rich collection is being raised in the kitchen garden. That garden, a spacious enclosure within brick walls, lies about a quarter of a mile south of the castle, well sheltered by lofty beech woods and approached through an avenue of splendid silver firs. This tree, the loftiest European species, seldom receives the treatment of close canopy required to bring it to perfection. It is usually seen isolated or at wide intervals in mixed plantation, where its head, towering above all others, becomes ragged and bent by the prevailing winds. Moreover, unlike others of the genus Abies, it is a shade-bearer; hence, unless it be grown in dense mass, it throws out a multitude of strong side branches, which ruins the timber, naturally of fine quality. In this avenue the firs stand in close rank, their silvery boles rising straight and clean, a truly beautiful sight when the sunbeams slant through the dark canopy overhead. The largest of these trees has reached a height of 120 feet, with a circumference of 15 feet at 4 feet from the ground.

In the garden itself, attention is first claimed for things of mature growth. A single plant of Rhododendron ponticum measures 243 feet in circumference and 21 feet high, and, when in full flower, shows what a truly splendid thing is this common shrub, so often vulgarised by use in the wrong place. It may surprise many people to see Buddleia coluillei already four feet high, flowering freely in the open border without any protection in winter. On the far side of a grove of Cordyline aystralis, some of them 15 feet high with the blossoming branches faded, is a bank set with Romneya coulteri, a noble company. It is a question whether this fine poppywort should not be cut to the ground after flowering and allowed to spring again. This is not done at Cuizean, and the flowers, though very numerous, are not individually so large as those produced on young growths. At one end of this bank is a mass of the Kerguelen Island cabbage (Myosotidium nobile) which, though it flowers and seeds abundantly, shows no symptom of that failure which has overtaken it in so many gardens. Rodgersia podophylla makes a luxuriant undergrowth in the shrubberies, with enormous leaves turning in August to bronze and copper tints.

Among the young stock note may be made of healthy plants of Leucodendron argenteum, Senecio rotundifolius, Eleagnus marginata, Enkyanthus japonicas with waxy flowers in early summer, and deep red leaves in autumn, Hydrangea involucrata, of which the half-expanded trusses resemble huge blue moss-roses, Berberis congestilana, with remarkably fine foliage, ilitraria coccinea, and many other rare plants, which Mr. Murray finds no difficulty in rearing in the open till they are of a size to plant out in the grounds.

Passing now into the woodland beyond the garden, where Miss Wilson has chosen her subject, Lord Ailsa's full design becomes manifest, namely, to devote these glades and glens and the margin of a fine sheet of water so as to develop the natural character of hardy exotics set free in a Scottish environment. It would take much space to describe the many objects of interest in this wide demesne. Mention may be made of the luxuriant growth of tree-ferns (Dicksonia antarctica), many of which are six and eight feet high with far-spreading fronds. It is to be hoped that some enterprising nurseryman will set himself to propagate these noble cryptogams, which are far hardier than many people suppose, though very impatient of exposure to burning sun and high winds. The supply is severely limited at present, owing to the timely and commendable action of the New Zealand Government in prohibiting the exportation of these ferns, which were in danger of being exterminated by collectors.

Many of the bamboos in this wild garden flowered themselves to death in the summers of 1905 and 1906, notably Arundinaria simoni, but many hundreds of seedlings have been raised to take their place, albeit it requires some trouble to protect from small birds the sweet grain produced by these giant grasses.

One specially beautiful shrub claims notice before leaving a glade set with Cordyline and tree ferns, to wit, Myrtwi (Eugenia) apiculata. Fully seven feet high, set with panicles of bell-shaped fragrant blossoms, like rose-tinted ivory, the question which naturally suggests itself is, why is such a charming shrub, flowering in August and September, not more commonly planted?

Of the interior of the great castle of the Kennedys, its spacious saloons and well-furnished armoury, this is not the place to treat ; but it may be observed in passing from it that nothing could be less applicable to it at the present day than the description given by the Parliamentarian commander, Sir William Brereton, who, having occasion to lodge at Culzean during the civil war, has the following note about his quarters:

"A pretty, pleasantly-seated house or castle, which looks full upon the main sea. Hereunto we went, and there found no hall, only a dining-room or hall, a fair room, and almost as large as the whole pile, but very sluttishly kept; unswept; dishes, trenchers and wooden cups thrown up and down, and the room very nasty and unsavoury."

Reckoning one thing against another, perhaps we have less reason than some people would have us believe to regret the passing of the good old times.


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