The Garden of the Year

There is a garden situated in Buckie, Moray on the North-East coast which once was a hillside covered in brambles. It was, in fact, a wasteland that looked truly awful with the brambles catching all manner of rubbish, from tins to plastic bags which waved like flags in the coastal breeze.

That barren space is now a prolifically flourishing garden thanks to the vision, hard work and dedication of Lizzie Schofield and her husband Malcolm, who share the space with their two daughters and their dog.

What did you originally want from your garden?
“We had originally planned to only buy the small, flat, piece of ground around our house. We wanted to create a garden where our two small children could play and enjoy being outside. The council however, would only sell us the ground if we took the steep bank as well – which has really turned out to be a blessing in disguise.”

What was the greatest challenge you faced?
“Having no garden experience, my husband and I started to try and make a plan of what the garden might look like. The first thing that we tackled were the brambles. They all needed to be cut back by hand as the ground was so steep in some parts that it was impossible and quite dangerous to use any sort of machinery so this cutting back and clearing took quite some time. The garden is approximately 400 square metres and the brambles covered at least half of that area.   

Starting to design and plant on the bank proved to be quite difficult. After making a series of errors and planting plants that didn’t survive, my husband decided that we really needed to put in some sort of terracing. Learning how to put in terracing and build steps was a huge learning curve and it took many hours of hard work to even get part of the hillside in a condition where we could realistically start planting things properly.” 

What grows well in your garden?
“We were very lucky to receive plants from neighbours and friends who enjoyed gardening and who appreciated what we were trying to accomplish. We bought lots of perennial plug plants from online retailers and crammed as many as we could into the terraces. The plug plants seemed to thrive and grow quickly enjoying the sunny spot, the free draining conditions and the fact that the soil had been improved with bags of compost and manure. 

“After only a year, the beds were full of colour being enjoyed, not only by our own family but by lots of wildlife and the local community too.  

“Some of the flowering plants that really thrive in our coastal garden are Crocosmia, Red Campion, Geraniums, Lavender, Geum, Osteospermum and Erigeron, needing little attention throughout the growing season which is very handy when they are planted in areas difficult to reach. They are growing on the steepest parts of our bank and seem to be able to hold the sandy soil in place.

“We have also found that planting closely together definitely cuts down on the weeding which is always a positive in tricky to reach places. 

“After a couple of years, we had a much greater understanding of our garden conditions, appreciating the types of plants that could cope with the harsh, coastal conditions of Scotland. We became more adventurous with the types of plants we wanted to grow and from the success we had on the bank, it inspired us to create other garden areas. 

“We added a pergola and a paved seating area with a gravel garden outside our house. Planting the gravel garden with Melianthus, Euphorbia, Fatsia japonica and a variety of grasses and ferns, gave us a lush, tropical feel that we can enjoy all year long. In the summer months Cannas grow in pots, adding even more colour with their bold, beautiful leaves and striking flowers.” 

The Garden of the Year
One of the biggest successes for the Schofields during 2020 was the great honour of winning ‘The Garden of the Year’ competition held by Gardeners’ World Magazine. 

“During the first lockdown I saw the competition advertised and thought I would give it a go. Not that I thought our garden was something special:  we were two people who had little garden knowledge. My husband thought it was a silly idea as our garden was not mature enough, having only been planted in the last three years and so he discouraged me from entering. 

“One day in June though, I got a call to say we had made it to the final eight gardens! We were absolutely gobsmacked and couldn’t believe it was happening to us! Over the next few months, we were interviewed and had the pleasure of meeting the garden photographer Ray Cox, who came and took beautiful photos of our garden for the magazine. 

“We had to wait until the winner was announced in mid-October. By this stage, Malcolm and I had convinced ourselves that there was no way we had won and just celebrated the fact that we had made the final eight, an amazing achievement in itself.  

“The call came though one Friday morning to tell us that we were, in fact, the Judges’ Choice – we had come first! We heard some of the fabulous things the judges had actually said about our garden and couldn’t quite believe that Alan Titchmarsh and Diarmuid Gavin had enjoyed looking at photos of our garden and were impressed with what we had achieved! 

“The ‘cherry on top of the cake’ was when we won the People’s Choice too! To win both awards had never been done before and really meant a lot. To think that people from all over the UK and taken the time to vote for our garden was really amazing. 

It gave us the confidence to consider opening our garden for others to enjoy and so this year, with the help of Scotland’s Garden Scheme, we will be open on the 24th and 25th of July 2021 and we are looking forward to sharing our garden with everyone.” 

You can follow Lizzie’s journey as she and her husband tackle and tame other parts of their garden on Instagram.  

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