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Scottish Gardens
Ardgowan, Renfrewshire

LTHOUGH botanists cannot be got to recognise the snowdrop as a true native of Britain, no foreigner establishes itself more cordially wherever in our land it finds the combination of a moist, cool atmosphere with a free soil. Those persons who have never happened to visit the west coast of Scotland during January and February can have little idea of the profuse display made by this little bulb wherever it is given a chance, or of the rapidity with which it takes possession of the floor of a hollow wood. Probably the conditions are equally favourable and produce a similar result in Ireland and along the Welsh coast, but of this I cannot speak with assurance, never having visited those districts during the snowdrop season. Anyhow, you must not look for snowdrops in sun-baked latitudes. Some years ago, narcissus and other flowers arrived in the market from Scilly unusually early. Now the snow drop is perhaps the only spring-flowering bulb which cannot be coaxed or forced into blossom a day earlier than its natural date. If the ground happens to be iron-bound with frost in January, then the snowdrops potted and kept under glass will get a start of their brethren in the open air ; but not before the time when the latter would have flowered had it been physically possible for them to get through the hard surface-soil. Probably this is the only, it is certainly the chief, impediment to the snowdrop's punctuality, causing a considerable variation in the date of flowering. On the west coast of Scotland I have gathered the first snowdrop on 19th December in one winter; in other seasons not until 8th or 10th January.


In the year aforesaid, I asked Mr. Dorrien Smith, than whom nobody has a more thorough understanding of bulbs and their behaviour, whether he had noticed in Scilly any precocity in the snowdrop bloom corresponding to that of the narcissus.

"Snowdrops!" said he, "we can't grow them in Scilly. We are too hot for them."

Neither do they prosper on most parts of the east coast; they will grow, indeed, and flower, but they do not multiply or luxuriate. Not if you want to enjoy snowdrops at their finest, you must go, not where there is most snow, as in the midland and eastern regions, nor where there is least snow, in Scilly and southern England, but to the west where clouds in winter droop low and weep long, where the tooth of frost seldom strikes so deep as to arrest all growth.

Snowdrops possess one virtue which is appreciated by all who take note of flowering herbs ; the accursed rabbit, which is responsible for incalculable destruction and for the extirpation of much of our native flora, cannot digest them. What the repellent property is nobody seems to know. The Amaryllis family, whereof the snowdrop is a member, differs only from the Iris family in having six stamens instead of three; yet rabbits will devour every shred of crocus, sparaxis and sisyrinchium — iridaceous bulbs—while they leave snowdrops and daffodils, true amaryllids, severely alone. In daffodils the protective agent is known to consist, not of any chemical poison, but of numerous minute crystals of lime, called raphides, contained in the sap, which prove so powerful an irritant as to upset even the digestion of a rabbit. Whatever be the corresponding provision in the snowdrop's slender growth it is one for which all lovers of the country must feel grateful, for it has been the means of preserving the chief ornament of our woodlands when the days are at their darkest.

Nowhere may you realise this more fully than at Ardgowan, the Renfrewshire home of Sir Hugh and Lady Alice Shaw Stewart. Nowhere else shall you find snowdrops more abundant or more charmingly disposed — millions of them — among sloping woods on the shore of the Firth of Clyde.

The garden proper at Ardgowan is notable in many respects, and bids fair to become still more so under the guidance of its mistress, who has applied herself with ardour and intelligence to develop the resources of a kindly soil and genial climate. The walled garden is 200 yards from end to end, with great ranges of glass, where Mr. Lunt, who has been in active superintendence for more than half a century, produces fruit by the hundred-weight, unsurpassed in quality. Round the outside of this enclosure lies an outer garden, where many choice shrubs have been allowed to maintain for many years a fierce struggle for existence. These are now in process of being relieved and rearranged, during which many unsuspected treasures have been brought to light, such as a bush of Rhododendron glaucum (distinguished among others of the genus by its deliciously scented foliage) of the unusual height of eight feet.

The mansion house stands on a plateau sixty feet above the main garden, commanding enchanting views across the blue firth of the Argyllshire hills to the west, and many-crested Arran to the south. The lawn garden stretches before the south front of the house, where two enormous arbutus, of well-nigh forest stature, attest the mildness of the climate. There is also a fair specimen of the deciduous or swamp cypress, a tree seldom seen in Scotland.

It would take a long summer day to exhaust the beauty and interest of these grounds; but the same may be said of many another earthly paradise which have grown up round old country houses.

Miss Wilson might have hesitated long before deciding on a single subject where there is so much to choose from; she has chosen rightly, I think, to depict a scene and a season in which Ardgowan has no rival known to me; for nowhere else have I been able to walk a mile on end through acres of snowdrops in blossom.

Round three sides of the plateau referred to runs a steep slope, in places precipitous, of red conglomerate. At the apex of this green promontory, where the cliff is sheer, is poised the ancient keep of Inverkip. At the neck of the promontory stands the Georgian mansion of Ardgowan, built in 1798, a period when Scottish lairds were beginning to find the fortalices of their ancestors inconveniently cramped for modern households. Between the cliff and the sea is a wide belt of that raised beach which forms such a marked feature in coast scenery of the west, known to geologists as the 25 foot beach, formed when the general land level was that distance below the present one. Woods of pine and broad leaved trees clothe the flat land, the slopes and the cliff itself; wherever foothold can be found, and all these woods are carpeted with snow-drops, primroses, and blue hyacinths. Empty enough they seem in winter time. Cover-shooters, pursuing their pastime in the dark days of November, little think what wealth of flowers is stored in millions of modest little bulbs beneath their feet ; but he must indeed be insensible to natural beauty who, returning in February, is not moved to enthusiasm by the display.

Flowers have appealed to human admiration and affection in all ages ; the exhortation to "consider the lilies" was not addressed to unsympathetic understandings; but in other respects our aesthetic standard varies strangely from generation to generation. A curious illustration of this is given in an anecdote of Lancelot Brown, the architect and landscape gardener, commonly known as "Capability Brown." It is said that Sir John Shaw Stewart, when he was planning his new house, employed Brown to lay out the park and plantations. A conspicuous and charming feature in the view to the north from the front door of the house is a steep, wooded hill called Idzholm, at the foot of which flows the little river Kip, much frequented by sea-trout. The silvan curtain over Idzholm is broken near the centre by a great grey crag, contrasting delightfully with the soft park scenery and surrounding cultivation. But that is not how Capability Brown viewed it. Unable to plant over the bare rock, he proposed to paint it green, so that, when viewed from a distance, it might present the appearance of a woodland glade ! Inconceivable, you will say, but in justice to Mr. Brown let it not be forgotten how greatly "Capability Brown" died in 1783; the present mansion of Ardgowan was not begun till 1798, so the story perhaps had its origin in another designer. Brown, however, may have laid out the park before the new house was begun. The country has altered since his day. That was an age when an English traveller returning to London from a tour in Scotland, described his impressions thus succinctly:

"Bleak mountains and desolate rocks
Were the wretched result of our pains;
The swains greater brutes than their flocks,
The nymphs as polite as their swains."

At the close of the eighteenth century, the greater part of Renfrewshire was brown moorland. Grey rocks were too common to be thought picturesque ; the landscape gardener's business was to make his employer's park appear like a smooth oasis in the surrounding wilderness. In these our days, when every farmer's ambition is to make two blades of grass, or two turnips, grow where one grew before, we have changed our feeling in this matter. We pile up mimic crags and miniature alps in feeble imitation of the boulders and heather which our ancestors were at so much pains to get rid off, and pronounce that part of our pleasure grounds most delectable which most nearly resembles the primeval wild. Rockeries, water-gardens, wild-gardens, bog-gardens—all are symptoms of reaction from excessive trimness and formality.

Upon the new house was bestowed the name of Ardgowan, as the lands were called which Robert III. bestowed in 1403 upon his natural son Sir John Stewart, having previously given him the estates of Auchingoun and Blackhall in 1390 and 1395 respectively. All these lands have passed in male succession through six centuries to the present owner, but for five hundred years the knights of Ardgowan were content to live in the old tower of Inverkip, which is shown in Miss Wilson's drawing. It has been the scene of many a fierce conflict, being first mentioned in history in 1307 as the refuge of Sir Philip de Mowbray, one of Edward I.'s best captains, who, in May 1307, fell into an ambush, laid near Kilmarnock, by Good Sir James of Douglas. Barbour tells the story with much relish—how one of Douglas's men caught hold of Mowbray's scabbard, and must have captured him had not the belt broken, and so the English knight rode free.

Tharfor furth the wais tuk he then
To Kilmarnok and Kilwynnyn,
And till Ardrossan eftir syn [afterwards].
Syn [then] throu the Largis him alane
Till Ennirkyp the way has tame.'

The castle was "stuffft all with Inglismen"—that is, it held an English garrison, who received the fugitive "in gret dante."

But if one yields to the temptation to dive into the annals of an old Scottish house, he will be led far astray from the matter of this volume, which is, or ought to be, horticulture.

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