Hollytree House sits on the edge of farmland in a tiny village in Fife with a beautiful view of the Lomond Hills. The garden envelopes the house which was built on the site of an old cottage and the garden retains the original stone wall.
When Karen Stewart-Russell moved there with her husband and two children, the house had been empty for quite a while so the mature garden had gone a bit wild and was looking rather neglected. Karen set to work making the garden their own.
“I widened and changed the shape of some of the borders, removing some shrubs to give more planting space to more colourful plants. In the courtyard garden which is quite shady until late afternoon, I added some pots, and planted alpines in the gravel to give it a bit more life and interest. This is a lovely private spot to sit in the evening.
“We did inherit some stunning shrubs such as a huge fatsia and some pretty roses. Some of the oldest roses needed to be removed though due to disease but I manage to save quite a few with some care. I had never really grown roses but it ignited a passion for them and have added around twenty more.
“Another passion of mine is cooking and baking so I created a herb garden in an unused south-facing border to include some harder to find herbs like valerian and winter savoury and really enjoy adding these into my recipes, breads, and homemade kombucha.
“Gardening in a relatively small space does mean making the most of every spot, I grow thyme and chamomile between my stepping stone path which has the added benefit of releasing a beautiful scent as you brush pass and it’s easy to grab a few leaves for a herbal tea. I also harvest and dry herbs for use in teas over the colder months, my favourite is chocolate mint.
“I have a small raised bed to grow salad leaves but next year I’m using it for cut flowers so I have more to share with people and I’ll grow salad dotted round the garden which I started doing last year and that has worked really well. I chose some very pretty salad leaves that don’t look out of place in my cottage garden.
“Next to my herb garden on the garage and potting shed wall I have a lean-to greeenhouse which is great for a smaller garden space, it’s amazing how much you can fit in. At the moment I’m growing chillies, basil, and samphire in it.
Solutions which Work
“There are four separate areas to the garden which are all very different and although the garden gets a decent amount of sun, it is in a very exposed position and often extremely windy, with quite a sandy soil. I make my own compost and leafmould and am working to improve the soil.
“I plant very close together so the plants self support and I plant taller things in spots protected from the wind by the walls and hedges. We live by a lot of trees so when I have to use supports I use fallen branches and twigs as I think it’s a bit more attractive and natural looking than garden canes.
“I share the garden with quite a few hedgehogs, the odd pheasant, and my tortoise Dorian. I do my best to keep the garden wildlife friendly by avoiding chemicals, choosing plants that pollinators love, and not being overly tidy.
“Hardy geraniums grow very well here and are so useful as ground cover to crowd out the weeds, freeing up more time for the fun things like cutting flowers and making up arrangements for the house.
“It’s not a particularly trendy choice but carnations flower very well here. The flowers stand up to the Scottish wind and rain and the scent is amazing!
“Arthur Bell is the rose that does best in my garden, it is always first to flower and doesn’t seem too concerned about the cold or rain. Another rose that is a a great choice for a Scottish garden is ‘The Pilgrim’ which gets more beautiful with rain spots as it gives the delicate lemon petals gorgeous splashes of pink. I love the look of it in the garden after a rainy day.
“The front garden borders a path through the village and I love chatting about plants over the wall.
“I put a tiny library up on our hedge to share books and sometimes seeds and plants with the community. It’s shaded by a beautiful old tree and is a lovely spot to stop and browse. I recently started making the area under the tree a woodland style garden but it’s taking a while to establish between root competition from the tree and the shade.
“My favourite part of the garden is the corner of the rose garden at the front of the house, sheltered by the old stone wall, where I like to go first thing to sit in my rocking chair with a coffee and daydream, while listening to the birds, and watching the bees at work.
“Summer is my favourite season as the garden is so alive and busy but I do have a soft spot for the slower pace of autumn, the colour of the leaves on neighbouring trees, and the excitement and hope that come with planning the gardening year ahead.
“My tip for gardening is to not sweat the small stuff or you’ll never be able to sit and enjoy all of your efforts. I’ve learnt to be ok with a scruffy lawn, a fair few weeds, and leaves still lurking from autumn. A garden will not be perfect all of the time and that’s ok – wildlife will thank you, and you may be surprised at the visitors you get when you embrace a wilder garden.”
Follow the rest of Karen’s gardening journey on Instagram @rakeexpectations.