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Meet Beki Marriott – Head Gardener from Mount Stuart

August 1st 2019

A Journey through Mount Stuart Gardens

Mount Stuart is home to over 300 acres of designed landscape and is located on the eastern shore of the Isle of Bute, on the West coast of Scotland.

Mount Stuart’s gardens plays host to many spectacular features, including the opulent splendor of the Victorian gothic house built by John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute (1847-1900.) The beautiful gardens that surround the house are home to an incredible living collection. The gardens pre-date the existing house and were first imagined and laid out by John Stewart, 2ndEarl of Bute (d.1723), in 1717.

Earls and Marquesses have continued to make their mark on the gardens through the generations that followed, most notably during the Georgian era. The son of the aforementioned 2ndEarl; John Stuart, 3rdEarl of Bute (1713-1792) was an incredible influence on the landscape we see today.  An Industrial Magnate, antiquarian, scholar and philanthropist, the 3rdEarl was also a very keen Horticulturalist with a passion for botany. John was a botanical advisor to the Dowager princess of Wales, who was the cofounder of Kew Gardens.

I am going to take you on a journey through the gardens and highlight some of my favourite features. We start at the Kitchen Garden, which was re-designed around a central glass pavilion acquired by the 6thMarquess of Bute(1933-1993) from the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival. In 1990 the 6thMarquess commissioned Rosemary Verey to re-model the garden surrounding the structure. Vibrant herbaceous borders run either side of the pavilion, which explode into colour during spring, and last through to the late autumn. Many of the kitchen garden beds remain in the same layout of Rosemary’s design, but they have been recently re-imagined by our Kitchen Garden Team, DotCullinane and Lisa McFarlane. This garden has been designed solely for edible plants, soft fruits, and herbs, which also provide the freshest ingredients for Mount Stuart’s Courtyard Kitchen seasonal menu.

Passing through the Kitchen Garden, you find yourself making the journey through the Arboretum and policies (pleasure grounds.) The Arboretum is packed full of venerable trees, many of which were planted in the estate’s infancy some 300 years ago, and are currently undertaking a four year restoration programme. There are also two Pinetums: a mature Victorian pinetum containing statuesque conifers such as the Douglas fir, which would have been a curiosity 150 years ago when plant hunters first brought them to the UK, as well as majestic Champion Trees such; including the largest Corsican pine in the UK– Pinus nigra ssp laricio, and the largest Nootka Cyprus –Xanthocyparis nootkatensis.

The second pinetum is home to the international conifer conservation programme, run by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Mount Stuart Trust gifted 100 acres of land, which is now home to around 800 endangered conifer species such as Xanthocyparis vietnamensis, Abies pinsapo var marocana and Juniperus cedrus.

This project is very close to the heart of Mount Stuart’s Living Collections Manager, Graham Alcorn, who was bestowed the task of planting the conifers back in the early 1990’s. He is custodian of the project and works closely with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the National Tree Collections of Scotland (NTCS), and the Arboricultural Association for Scotland. Recently Graham, alongside our head of Horticulture, Donald Murray, myself, and Bartlett Tree Experts hosted an important conference to discuss and develop methods to protect these very special trees.

A further stroll through the policies provides spectacular displays of snowdrops, bluebells and daffodils throughout spring. Continuing along, broadleaf trees burst into life creating a lush green umbrella of growth.  The rhododendrons create a floral feast for the eyes. Many of these rhododendrons are Victorian species introductions and hybrids. Several  species have significant value with some reaching over 30ft, making them Champions. One such Champion is Rhododendron falconeri with its fuzzy backed leaves and pale yellow bell shaped flowers.

Many paths lead you to the landscapes beyond where you will eventually come across the dramatic two acre Rock Garden, sloping steeply down through a series of ponds and streams ending in a large pond. Immediately to the west of the house, the Rock Garden was designed by renowned Victorian landscape, architect Thomas Mawson. The garden is now a perfect home for plants from Asiatic regions of the world- much of which were wild collected on plant expeditions by Jennifer Bute, the second wife of the 6thMarquess in the 1980’s and 90’s. Some notable specimens are the Magnolia doltsopa , which we were advised would not survive this far north. It is now 20ft tall and in spring it is smothered in fragrant blooms. Also notable in the garden are a number of Stuartia species – these trees are named after the 3rdEarl of Bute.

Moving now south of the house we come to the Wee Garden. The Wee Garden actually extends across five acres, and is home to plants from the southern hemisphere. Originally back in the 1820’s Maria North, first wife of the 2ndMarquess of Bute, had plans drawn to turn this space into a flower garden. The garden retains some of its original features and plantings, such as cork oak – Quercus suber – corky bark makes this tree stands out. Today, the garden boasts quite an exotic collection of plants. You can expect to find an enormous Chilean lantern tree – Crinodendron hookerianum, an endangered species of Magnolia from Mexico, M. dealbata, and the eye catching Banksia marginata with its yellow bottle brush type flower spikes being produced continually through the Autumn and Winter.

A few members of our 15-strong garden team are second or even third generation at Mount Stuart. There have been restorative works in the Arboretum, the Kitchen Garden, Rock Garden, and the Wee Garden. We are all committed to be the best custodians we can to these magnificent gardens, and we work together to safeguard the land for future generations to enjoy. I encourage any garden enthusiast, lover of the outdoors, and professionals alike to experience this awesome garden.

Beki Marriott – Head Gardener.