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Painting with Plants

June 15th 2023

Painting With Plants

The artists colony that emerged in the Galloway town of Kirkcudbright in the early 20th century attracted some of the finest painters of the day but its leading light was local painter, E A Hornel, one of the ‘Glasgow Boys’, a group of artists whose depictions of the natural world, often painted in the open air, took art in a fresh direction.

Hornel lived in a large pink-washed building in the heart of the town and here he built a studio and a gallery as well as a library which he filled with an extensive collection of the works of Robert Burns.

Today Hornel’s home is a museum, filled with his canvases and with his many antiquarian treasures, while behind the house lies the garden which he created, along with his sister Tizzy, and which many also consider a work of art in its own right.

The garden is a traditional Scottish rigg that stretches down to the edge of the River Dee. At some point Hornel purchased the garden next door, doubling the amount of space and allowing him to pursue his passion for plants on a wider scale.

What shaped the garden was Hornel’s love of the Orient and during two long journeys in Japan, one of them sponsored by Sir William Burrell, the artist returned not only with new subjects for his paintings but also with new ideas of how to design his outdoor space.

Close to the house he created a sunken area, which he filled with moss and ferns and he set stepping stones into a lily pond, making it the main route to a decorative summer house.

This proved to be a treacherous obstacle for at least one housemaid, who fell into the water with a laden tea tray.

Cherry trees were an essential feature of the garden and so too were the many stone artefacts which Hornel gathered  from the countryside around the town. These included a pilgrim waymarker from the Galloway hills, a stone cist and seven separate sundials, which he had placed around the garden.

Snowdrops were also an obsession with Hornel and as well as growing them, he also included them in many of his paintings.

Throughout his life, Hornel continued to add to his collections of plants and artworks and the garden was maintained by Tizzy after the artist’s death in 1933.

Decorative and Productive

Hornel was an artist of the arts and crafts tradition and his flower borders, edged with low box hedging, spilled over with voluminous planting in vivid colours. These borders are still packed with flowers today and Hornel’s vegetable plot at the far end of the garden remains as productive as it was when the artist was alive. From it there are picturesque views of sailing boats at anchor in Kirkcudbright harbour.

Fruitful and Flavoursome

The apple tree that stands near the centre of the garden is Malus domestica ‘Annie Elizabeth’. It was planted by Hornel and still produces fruit today. It is a cooking apple that is sweet enough to be eaten as a dessert apple, but which retains its shape when stewed. In the autumn visitors to the garden can take away ripe apples to make into pies and crumbles.


Broughton House  is open daily, 10am-4pm

Tickets: £8/£7/£1 Young Scot)

Kirkcudbright is two hours south of Glasgow on the M74/75

BRU Broughton House

Broughton 3

The pool in the Japanese Garden at Broughton House, Kirkcudbright, Dumfries & Galloway.