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Scottish Gardens
Pollok, Renfrewshire


N the year of grace 1270 or thereabouts Sir Aymer Maxwell of Caerlaverock granted to his third son, Sir John Maxwell, the lands of Nether Pollok in the county of Renfrew, from whom the present owner, Sir John Stirling Maxwell, is twenty-third in direct descent, through his grandmother, who married Archibald Stirling of Keir. Six hundred and thirty-seven years have wrought much change in nearly every part of King Edward's realm, but nowhere has the landscape undergone more wholesale metamorphosis within a like period than in the valley of the White Cart.

When Sir John Maxwell took possession of his estate in the thirteenth century, Glasgow was a modest hamlet, clustering round the brand-new cathedral of Bishop Joceline; it has now overflowed upon 11,861 acres on both banks of the Clyde, which winds through the municipal area for a distance of five miles and a half.

It is not only the land surface which has altered in appearance, forest and crag making way for closely packed dwellings and factories; the Clyde and its lower tributaries were allowed to become so foully polluted that a lifeless, evil-smelling current flows where once the silvery salmon thronged up from the firth and innumerable water-fowl flocked for food. That is in process of being remedied by a painstaking municipality; but who shall purge the sky of the smoke rising from the hearths of 780,000 inhabitants and the reek belched from a thousand factory chimneys and gas-works?

Nor is that all that must be reckoned. In a wide circle round Glasgow have arisen police-burghs Kinning Park, Govan, Partick, Pollokshaws, Cathcart, etc.—each with a population exceeding that of many a mediaeval city, each with its smoke-producing industries, and only a little further afield is Paisley with 87,000 inhabitants, Johnstone with 12,000, Port-Glasgow with 18,000, Greenock with 68,000, all combining to darken the air; and, as though that were not enough to discourage horticulture, all the land unbuilt on is threaded with railways, honeycombed with coal-pits, studded with smelting furnaces, pouring forth volumes of smoke night and day. So it has come to pass that from whatever quarter the wind sets, it is charged with the products of combustion—in other words, with coal smoke.

This, as every forester, gardener and amateur can testify, is a relentless foe to almost every kind of vegetable life. Strange to say, mosses and lichens, humblest in the scale, succumb first, so that in all this region stones and tree stems are devoid of that kindly covering which always gathers upon them in a pure atmosphere. The next to suffer .are.. trees themselves; for although many fine elms, beeches, oaks, sycamores, ash, and even pines survive in this wide strath, these grew to maturity under conditions very different from those now prevailing, and the growth of young trees, especially conifers and oaks, is sorely checked and blighted by carbon deposit and sulphurous fumes.

Nevertheless, horticulture dies hard; the instinct of every man owning a garden is to obey the primaeval command "to dress it and to keep it"; and Miss Wilson has chosen a scene in the garden at Pollok as an example of what combined skill and resolution may accomplish in the most forbidding environment.

The subject of the picture is a terrace wall, constructed only five or six years ago of ashlar masonry, with slits purposely left between some of the joints for the insertion of suitable flowering plants.

The park of Pollok is but a green oasis round which Glasgow and the neighbouring burghs have flowed like a dark and rapidly rising tide. Yet here, on this terrace wall, within constant sound of steam hooters and whistles, steam hammers and pumps, you may see alpine flowers blooming as profusely and with colours as clear as they do on the loftiest solitudes on earth and in the purest atmosphere. The chief display when this picture was painted—in May—came from the varieties of Aubrietia with their hanging cushions of purple and mauve, and golden Alyssum. Common things, these, yet priceless in their effect and unfailing in the reward they make for attention to their simple wants. A month later, the purple and gold had been dimmed; a rose-coloured mist had spread along the wall, created by different kinds of dwarf Dianthus and Silene, with the common sea-thrift of our shores; while through the mist shone stars of Arenaria and many species of saxifrage and stonecrop. Dwarf bell flowers, also, spread blue curtains over the stones, among the most effective being the glaucous variety of Campanula garganica, known as hirsuta, C. pusilla and the hybrid "G. F. Wilson," C. muralis, which must now be sought for under the preposterous title of C. portenschlageana.

All these are anybody's flowers, anybody's, that is, who has the wit to raise them from seed, for they are not particular as to soil (though most of them show gratitude for an admixture and occasional top-dressing of old lime rubbish), or climate, as their luxuriance in this Glasgow atmosphere amply testifies. But among these commoner things are herbs, if not of greater beauty, of greater rarity. Specially to be commended are the little Himalayan Potentilla nitida, with silvery leaves and delicate flesh-coloured flowers, like miniature Tudor roses; Myosotis rupicola, an exquisite forget-me-not which likes to be wedged tightly into a rock crevice; our native purple saxifrage S. oppositifolia, the golden-flowered S. sancta from far Mount Athos, the fragrant S. apiculata, thickly set with panicles of sulphur-coloured blossoms, exactly the hue of a wild primrose, in early spring; and, earliest and finest of all, the snowy-petalled S. Burseriana. Then the encrusted section of rock-foils, bewildering in variety, delight in such a position, growing into such exquisite bosses and wreaths that one almost grudges the profusion of their bloom, which conceals the delicate carving of their foliage.

It is wonderful how readily these and other mountaineers adapt themselves to their unpromising environment. The truth is that, like the red deer, they have taken to the mountain tops because they have been crowded out of the low country, where they were overwhelmed in competition with other herbs; so they survive only in places where their constitution enables them to endure conditions unfavourable to rank vegetation. A notable and oft-quoted example of this is the common thrift, which is found all round our coasts at sea level and on the summits of some of our highest mountains, both these situations being unfavourable to the majority of lowland vegetation; but one may search in vain for a single specimen of thrift between these two extremes. That it would thrive anywhere is proved by the ease with which it may be cultivated in gardens at any level; cultivation, in this instance, amounting to no more than the suppression of competing vegetation. In planting a terrace wall like that at Pollok it is necessary to raise seedlings or cuttings which may be inserted while still small in the crevices of the masonry. After being settled in their places they drive their roots to almost incredible distance into the solid earth behind the wall, which protects them alike from summer drought and trying variations of temperature iii winter, while the vertical surface ensures rapid drainage and protection from frost.

The narrow border at the wall-foot provides a congenial home for choice bulbous and other plants, which, if carefully selected, may keep up a continuous display almost throughout the year. The list of suitable plants for this purpose might be made a long one. The following one contains suggestion for a small collection which may be added to at pleasure, suitable for a northerly climate.


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