It’s week five of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in the United Kingdom. Coincidentally, it’s been approximately five weeks since Mother Nature bought spring back to our woodlands, our countryside and our gardens. And, since that time the garden gates of our public gardens have remained locked; shutting out the public, including an estimated 23 million gardeners, from witnessing the joyous and uplifting spectacle of spring.
In this series of articles to date, the garden gates of Stockton Bury, Borde Hill and Knoll Gardens have been quietly ‘unlocked’. A stunning collection of exclusive photographs, taken by the owners, curators or head gardeners themselves, has taken us into their glorious gardens and allowed us all to witness, from afar, the stunning splendour of spring in these special places.
This week we travel the long and winding road to Edinburgh and unlock the garden gates of Dr Neil’s Garden.
DR NEIL’S GARDEN
Dr Neil’s Garden was created in the late 1960s by husband and wife team, Andrew and Nancy Neil. The couple were both General Practitioners, hence the eponymously named, Dr Neil’s Garden.
Having found the site, a south facing hillside idyll overlooking the picturesque Duddingston Loch, the doctors set about building their garden on the previously uncultivated hillside. After ten years hard work the doctors had completed their garden and set about maintaining it alongside a handful of volunteers from their patient lists.
In 1998, Dr Neil’s Garden Trust was founded to protect the garden’s future.
In 2000, the elderly doctors enlisted the help of Claudia Pottier, who discovered a beautiful garden that despite it’s perfect outlook, was beginning to disappear under mature trees, azaleas and heathers. ‘The bones of the garden were still there…, and it was still magical’, Claudia explained. But there was work to be done. Sadly, both doctors passed away within a year of each other in 2005 and 2006.
The garden is usually open to the public from March to October and is now a well loved ‘secret’ in Edinburgh.
Location: Dr Neil’s Garden, Old Church Lane, Duddingston Village, Edinburgh, EH15 3PX
Size of garden: 2.5 acres
Who looks after the garden?
Claudia Pottier and a ‘wonderful band of seventeen dedicated volunteers’.
What is the garden known for?
Claudia says ‘The garden is a sum of its parts. We have beautiful views from all angles with only one house and the tower of the 12th century Duddingston Kirk in view. There are many hidden benches that catch the sun in sheltered spots with views over the loch towards the Pentland Hills.’
‘What is most special about the garden is its tranquility’, Claudia tells me. ‘You wouldn’t know you were in the centre of Edinburgh.’
Dr Neil’s garden is alive with butterflies, mayflies, birds, bats and woodpeckers, due largely to Claudia’s admirable insistence of not allowing the use of herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilisers in the garden. They do, however, have one rather unwanted visitor, the Great Diving Beetle, a large voracious predator of ponds and slow-moving waterways.
How would you sum up your garden in spring?
The garden has interest throughout the year, with only ‘a wee lull in about July’, after which the late summer herbaceous border blazes right through the autumn into the ‘bony severity of winter’.
Claudia thinks that the garden is at its most floriferous in spring with cherry blossoms, many different narcissi, grape hyacinths, erythroniums, bergenias, species tulips and different varieties of heather. Claudia also allows self-sown forget-me-nots, honesty and welsh poppies in controlled drifts. ‘And why not?’ she asks.
Favourite spring plants in the garden?
I’ve asked each gardener to tell me their favourite spring plant. ‘How can anyone have just one favourite?’ Claudia exclaims before citing Cornus nuttalii (mountain dogwood), the breathtaking, blue-flowered Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’ and Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) with its sweetly scented, bell shaped flowers. The list of Claudia’s favourites continues with the gorgeous, shell pink, bell-shaped flowers of Rhododendron orbiculare, erythroniums, the long-lasting flowers of grevillea and epimediums, including the dainty E. ‘Lilafee’.
Dr Neil’s garden is home to some super specimen trees including the beautiful handkerchief tree, Davidia involucrata, the tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera with its distinctive, tulip shaped yellow and green flowers, the deciduous conifer, Metasequioa glyptostroboides, Halesia monticola and Sequoia sempervirens.
What’s new in the garden for spring?
Last year a beautiful Prunus ‘Okame’ was planted in the garden in memory of a much loved volunteer, Ruth, who sadly lost her battle with cancer. Ruth had volunteered at Dr Neil’s Garden for five years.
With special thanks to Claudia Pottier for her time and her own beautiful photographs of Dr Neil’s Garden.
I will be unlocking the garden gates of another garden shortly.