South Flisk is an old stone cottage built in 1815, originally as a carter and blacksmith’s humble residence, on the site of a quarry. It sits at the top of the village of Blebo Craigs in Fife, surrounded by fields and trees with spectacular views to the hills of Perthshire and Angus, and as far as Schiehallion and Glenshee on a clear day.
Garden owner Julia Young says, “It is a garden of two halves – one on the level of the cottage, a traditional south facing walled cottage garden, and then a lower garden with a large quarry full of water, fish, frogs, and water lilies.
“When we moved here thirty odd years ago we began to create a garden. Rather than impose a garden on the land we made a garden in and around the existing hard landscaping. The mounds, hills, and undulations in the garden are all formed by the spoil from the quarry – piles of rock with decades of rotted leaves and decomposed material on top. Try driving a garden fork into the ground and you hit rock after about five inches!
The Front Garden
“The front walled garden is south facing and has borders on all sides with mature trees at one end to shelter us from the east wind. The planting is a mixture of shrubs like cistus, cotinus and chaenomeles, interplanted with herbaceous geraniums, agapanthus, Celmisia semicordata, Smilacina racemosa, Baptisia australis, and a myriad of tulips. There are also roses clambering up the sunny walls of the front of the cottage.
“Seas of primulas of various types bring colour to the borders in the lower garden. One area is devoted to bluebells, wild garlic, and dark red Primula pulverulenta. Having such an expansive garden, of around three acres, there is space for such an area. There is also room near the bottom of the garden for a majestic stand of cardiocrinums. The tallest one last year was 11ft high.
“We inherited a lot of big, old trees – towering copper beech trees, huge old birches, and a statuesque Scots pine which dominates one end of the pond. In addition, we have planted about forty trees since we came here. We had three Nothofagus antartcia in the garden when we moved here but sadly two crashed down in winter storms but we managed to save the third one by cutting back all the tall branches and it has regenerated as a rather bushy nothofagus!
“The advantage of so many broadleaf trees is the leaves. While others in the village are sweeping up their leaves and burning them, I am turning them into leaf mould. Well-rotted leaf mould is the only nutrient which I add to the beds in the lower garden. It seems the natural thing to do and the plants all seem to thrive. If I plant a plant which does not thrive, I sometimes move it to a different place and if it still does not flourish, I give it to someone else!
“I have one border which is in the shade and damp most of the time and I love the plants here. Some of the most interesting plants you can grow are shade plants like veratrum, Kirengeshoma palmata, Astilboides tabularis, and cimicifuga to name but a few, with a carpet of erythroniums around them.
Sharing the Garden
“We do share our garden with rabbits but I have a Jack Russell and two cats to help with them. I have a very foreboding looking electric fence to keep the deer out which it isn’t working at the moment but the deer don’t know that! My lovely fish, about four dozen of them, have to take their chances with the visiting heron and the occasional otter.
“What’s my favourite part of the garden? I love it all, especially on a calm spring evening with the heady smell of lily of the valley or choisya wafting around. There is a bench overlooking the pond and I love sitting there under the cherry tree but as soon as I sit down I see something that needs sorting! A visitor, after finding how much time I spend gardening, asked, ‘When do you find time to enjoy the garden?’ I had to explain that what I enjoy is working in the garden.
Julia opens the garden at South Flisk a few times a year under Scotland’s Garden Scheme, and is open by arrangement too.