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I’m visiting the garden of Dal An Eas, Kilmore on a bright, blustery morning.
Owner Mary Lindsay is smiling at the door – her face tanned and welcoming, crinkled eyes like twinkling forget-me-nots. I immediately feel at home. She splashes pots with a watering can as we walk through the gate. A romantic vista opens out with flowers, meadow, woodland and pond.
A more entertaining, hardworking duo you will never meet. Mary and her husband, Dougie ran a yacht charter business out of Oban for 30 years taking holiday-makers on coastal and island cruises. My mind conjures the scene. Living on a boat, week upon week, with your spouse and 10 others. Mary reads my strangulated expression and says: ‘Thank goodness we’ve both come from big families. That’s why we survived.’
In the 1970s, they lived on Kerrera in a log cabin they built. Their garden was grassland without the benefit of running water or trees – elements dearly missed. In the beginning, there was not a greengrocer in Oban so a veg garden was a must. Winters were spent there bringing up their children on Kerrera and summers on the sailing boat, Corryvreckan.
After children flew the nest, they moved to Dal An Eas – meaning place of meadow and waterfall. They finally retired from the sea in 2007 to develop their garden. Mary craved the feeling of soil under her feet and home-grown, fresh flowers and vegetables.
As we wander through trees, paths and herbaceous borders, the physical effort demanded by this garden is palpable.
We hear a rustle from the bushes. Wiping his forehead while stepping back from his topiary, shears in hand, Dougie exclaims: ‘That’s better, it looks a bit less pregnant now.’
Dal An Eas House was built by Donald Breckenridge of fruit and veg fame. The garden area to the west was originally unimproved acid/ neutral grassland, never cultivated in living memory. Ancient inhabitants lived here which makes sense with its access to the sea, shelter and fresh, flowing water. Mary found a flint from Northern Ireland or Aberdeen. There is a snake-shaped mound and burial chamber, dating back 4000 years, a chambered cairn and ring of stones.
We sit by the pond for a while. The atmosphere feels fresh and peaceful. Sunlight glances off the waterlilies, Alstromeria, Primula Lysamachia, Agapanthus and Japanese Anenome offering a nodding riot of colour and texture. Soft puffs of lime green fennel billow in the breeze, cut through by vivid red Crocosmia and guarded a parade of purple Allium.
‘I love bling…’ says Mary, tossing her head. ‘I like things that flower but try to create contrast with the spiky, spready and silvery.’
Mary’s artistic skill is evident. Clematis wrap around trees, tall grasses flank short bushes, broad leaves are interspersed with sword shapes. She continues: ‘I aim to have colour at all times of the year. I make notes at key times and then fill the gaps.’
Known for her wild flower knowledge, Mary is keen to encourage the biodiversity of plants on their land: ‘We cut the long grass every Sept/ Oct to encourage the flowers. We now have five different varieties of Orchid thriving in the meadow.’
In the spring there is a carpet of pignut – a delicate white perennial umbellifer with edible tubers. Then hawkbit, yellow rattle, eyebright and selfheal followed by devil’s bit scabious.
Mary said: ‘Discovering a Heleborine Cephalanthra Longifolia on our land was one of the biggest excitements of my life. I broke the news to my horticultural friend and mentor, Hugh. He replied, “Hmph. Well done. I’ve got them growing all over my drive. They are very partial to Pathclear!”.’ Mary descends into raucous laughter.
We wander to the lively burn through drifts of Astilbe and overhanging trees, with Mary offering nuggets of information: ‘Roe deer are my bête noire. You plant a tree and watch it grow. It gets to a 5 foot whip and they come, rub their antlers and kill it dead.’
I admire an impressive collection of primulas: ‘My Mum had a primula garden which I loved as a child so they were the first flowers I planted,’ she tells me. ‘ They like it here where the clay makes the soil much richer and damper. Lysemachia firecracker provides lovely purple foliage in spring.’
Dougie mutters wearily from the undergrowth. Mary reads the situation: ‘Time for lunch. Why don’t you wander up to the waterfall and I’ll get it ready?’ She clearly does most things without any fuss.
The mesmorising waterfall seems to give an instant energy recharge. The hill towering behind adds huge drama to this garden.
Back in the kitchen, conversation flows over a delicious spread. Everything is homemade as per The Good Life.
Dougie smiles: ‘Haven’t eaten shop-bought bread for months.’ I enquire if they have a breadmaker. ‘Yup. It’s called Mary…’
Mary started gardening later in life but gardening is in her blood.
‘I have an appalling memory,’ she sighs. And yet, she rattles off countless Latin plant names. ‘I don’t know why those stick. I think I inherited that from my grandfather.’
No wonder. He started Arduaine Gardens.
Why does Mary like opening her garden?: ‘I like creating things for people to enjoy through cooking and the garden. I like the feedback. Is that selfish?’
‘Nonsense’ insists Dougie. ‘What can be selfish about giving people pleasure?’
What’s next for the garden? That’s the trouble with a big space – they keep wondering. They continue to refine, plan and plant with as much gusto as ever. Mary says: ‘Definitely want more trees. And, you see where the meadow sweep goes in a curve? Camassias will look like a river of blue there.’
Any regrets? : ‘That we didn’t plant more 20 years ago. We’re getting there but if we’d spent more money, it would’ve been faster.’ Mary adds with her irresistible hearty laugh: ‘I’m just not good at spending money unless it’s a huge amount of money.’
This is curious but not unfamiliar logic. I get the feeling that determination and elbow-grease is what keeps these two going.
Visit Dougie and Mary’s garden at Dal An Eas, Kilmore, PA34 4XU. Charisma and colour is guaranteed – from them and their garden.
Open June 29 and 30, 1-6pm or call 01631 770246. Delicious homemade teas and unusual plants for sale. £4.00 in aid of Mary’s Meals and Kilmore & Kilbride Village Hall. Children free. Dogs on leads.