Gardener’s Cottage Edinburgh

Wouldn’t it be a dream to move to a garden that had been lovingly designed and tended by an owner who was a gardener? Rachel Donachie and her family did just that, moving to a third of an acre garden in Colinton, a conservation village on the south side of Edinburgh, close to the Pentland Hills. 

The garden which wraps around the house is south-facing and is a family home to Rachel, her husband, four children (aged 11-20), two Border Terriers, two rabbits and a couple of bee hives. We asked Rachel to take us on a on a tour of her absolutely stunning garden.

“The garden is on a gentle slope, laid-out on different levels and divided into sections or garden rooms by hedges and fencing. We have a heavy clay soil, which we have improved over the years by adding organic matter. We have rose borders, herbaceous borders and a kitchen garden with a greenhouse, while the children’s trampoline and football goals are tucked away discreetly on a lawn behind a tall beech hedge.

“Nearest to the patio are the rose borders which are raised up by a low wall and underplanted with spring bulbs. When we moved here the roses were very old and not flowering particularly well, so I dug them all up, removed and replaced the soil, as roses often don’t grow well in the same spot and replaced them with 36 scented David Austin English roses. Every year I have added more spring flowers and bulbs, such as snowdrops, hellebores, narcissi, muscari, wood anemones, chionodoxa, and primulas. 

“My favourite area in the garden are the two large herbaceous borders in the middle of the garden which are surrounded by an evergreen lonicera hedge. There is a path running between them that is flanked on either side by two huge buxus balls. 

“They were very overgrown when we first moved here and full of couch grass. In the first year I lifted every plant in the border, divided it and got rid of the couch grass, before completely replanting the border. It is densely planted and I regularly mulch the border, which helps to suppress the weeds. The borders are bare through the winter when the plants all die back but from March onwards they put on plenty of growth. I also planted about 300 tulip bulbs to provide some colour in spring.

“The borders look best in July and August, when they are full of very tall perennial plants. I fill any gaps with annuals, such as cosmos and verbena and use plant supports to stake all the very tall plants such as Campanula lactiflora ‘Loddon Anna’, Veronicastrum virginicum, Cirsium rivulare, and sidalcea. 

“I also grow a range of cottage garden plants, including lupins, geraniums and phlox, which I repeat plant throughout the border. Every three or four years I divide some of the perennials, as it rejuvenates them, while giving me new plants for free.

Kitchen Garden
“From the main garden a small gate leads to the greenhouse and kitchen garden where I have recently done lots of work. It used to have six raised wooden beds which rotted, so I replaced them and changed the layout to make four large beds instead. I planted about 250 buxus plants around each border and laid membrane and wood chips on the paths between them. 

“Previously I have grown a mixture of vegetables and flowers in this area but in recent years I have increasingly grown dahlias and more annual flowers. Last year I had a bed of mixed vegetables and flowers, one of mixed annual flowers, one of dahlias and the last one of sweet peas with snapdragons planted in between. 

“Seed planting is very much trial and error, as some things just do not grow well in our chilly climate, although plants such as cosmos, larkspur, ammi, salvias and calendula tend to do very well. This year I am growing kale, beetroot, chard and spinach, as I enjoy growing things that both look attractive and taste nice. 

“Four years ago, I put bee hives in this area after attending a weekly beekeeping course for several months. It is a fascinating hobby and the honey, which I sell locally, is delicious.

“I keep a photographic garden diary through my Instagram account, @gardenerscottageedinburgh, which is a great way to connect with the wider community of gardening enthusiasts. It is also a useful way to review the evolution of the garden and plan any changes for the next year.”

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