A Place Where Nature Wants To Be

Louise Bonnyman lives on the side of a west facing hill, on the edge of the market town of Forfar, surrounded by glorious fields on two sides. The garden enjoys views across Strathmore to the Angus Hills.

Louise shares her garden with her husband, four children and their border terrier, alongside a wide variety of wildlife including hedgehogs, birds, frogs and occasionally, deer and fox.

Having previously lived in accommodation with little or no gardens, this plot size of just under an acre provided an opportunity for the family to create a garden full of life. 

What was the garden like when you moved in?
We moved in 15 years ago to a then new build. Apart from the large sycamore, lilac, rowan and leylandii, all of which create shade, the site lay empty. The ground was compacted in some places and full of rosebay willowherbs and nettles in others.

In the early days, the garden housed children’s play equipment and toys but as the children grew up, the garden has evolved to provide a mix of formal structure with relaxed planting, the perfect place to sit back and enjoy the wonderful wildlife.

What challenges have you have come up against and what solutions have you found?
It’s mainly a sunny garden with acidic, sandy soil. Being on an exposed site though, the wind is the main problem. To help with this, we have planted hardy shrubs and many hedges throughout, including the hornbeam hedge in the front garden which still allows us lovely views across the valley and beyond.

Which season in the garden is your favourite?
I don’t have a particular favourite season, I like when a season ends and a new one begins. Having planted a garden for every season, there is always something to catch the eye and during the winter months, topiary adds welcome interest.

You have planted very much with wildlife in mind in the garden. Tell us what you have done to encourage wildlife into the garden.
I have mown paths into the lawn and given the rest of the lawn over to clover, selfheal, buttercup, daisies, plantains and common catsear flowers which is much appreciated by the bees.

There is a damp area in the garden which leads to the pond, where we have situated the bird table. There is always a great flurry of activity in this area as it is the favourite place of the tree sparrows and where some of the hedgehogs emerge at night.

I’ve provided year round structure and nesting areas for the birds by planting four domes of clipped Viburnum tinus and a yew cone.

The area directly underneath the sycamore tree is lawn but move outwards and the thin, acidic, poor soil has allowed perennial flowers to thrive and fight it out amongst themselves! Mallow, achillea, catmint, pyrethrum, anthemis and many more are appreciated by all things that fly. It’s a beautiful place to sit on a sunny Summer’s evening.

Take us on a walk around your garden…
The back garden, closest to the house, has a slate patio with space for a table and chairs, perfect for having a spot of breakfast if the weather allows!

It’s in this sunnier section of the garden you’ll find shrubs and flower beds: rhododendrons, spirea, eryngium, lilies and euphorbia all growing side by side.

In the shadier, damper part, laurel grows alongside other plants including a giant Himalayan lily.

The side of the garden with the now cut back leylandii has water underneath, so it was the ideal spot to grow plants that enjoy those damper conditions like prunus serrula, astilbes, hostas, astrantia, foxgloves and clematis. I love looking up this double bordered area. The children’s old play cottage can be found here alongside the short, pink, climbing Rose ‘Mortimer Sackler’ which omits the most beautiful scent. Deadhead it and it repeat flowers.

Take a walk up the mown path to the wooden gate, flanked on either side by a drystone dyke and this will lead you through to the cottage garden so named as there once lay a derelict cottage in this area. 

Take a right turn and this damp area is the perfect place for acers and bamboo to thrive, which then leads to the pond surrounded by the lilac tree, elderberry, rowan, the rambling Rose ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ and ground elder! I’ve decided to embrace the weed, admiring it’s beautiful flowers and then pulling it up before it sets seed.

A hedge comprising of willow, blackthorn, hawthorn, hornbeam and hazel gives shelter and structure and gives a borrowed view up to the pine trees. This added shelter has allowed raised beds to be planted with strawberries, salad and vegetables. Weed membrane and gravel paths cover what used to be the rosebay willowherbs and nettles. 

Further on is the apple area where you’ll find Scrumptious, James Grieve and Discovery growing amongst cordons of Katy, Greensleeves and Egremont Russet. I make sure the apple trees are kept to a height where I can easily reach the fruit from a standing position. Keeping them shorter also gives wind protection in this site.

Is there an area in the garden which is your favourite?
Not really but an area which comes alive in the summer months is the grass border where Stipa gigantea tower over Helenium ‘moerheim beauty’ with buxus, herbaceous potentilla, verbena, sedums and teasels all adding to the display. When the light catches this area it’s just beautiful especially when the stipa sways with the wind.

Which plants do you think grow particularly well in a Scottish garden?
Most of the plants in the garden have been purchased from my local, independent garden centre, where they source their plants carefully to make sure they thrive in our Scottish gardens. 

Plants that do well in this garden and one of my favourites, are the beautiful burgundy Knautia macedonica. It self seeds freely and also has lovely seed heads. 

Shrubs that are trouble free are the spireas, potentillas and Hydrangea paniculatas.

A sloping border planted with the black mondo grass, ophiopogon planiscopus nigrescens, has stopped the erosion of soil onto the path and it grows very well in the garden, spreading fairly quickly.

Do you have a favourite time of day in the garden?
My favourite time in the garden, is evening. It’s calmer and you know that it’s all changeover with the night time wildlife ready to emerge.

What are your plans for the future of the garden?
I’ve spent many, many hours creating the garden over the years, but I’m always doing something new. This year I have planted a new hydrangea, and whilst I wait for it to mature and grow into its space, I’ve taken the opportunity to plant salad around it, with the addition of an obelisk for height and interest. Right next to the door it’s plot to plate in seconds!

Next on the list, a gravel garden……

What gives you the most pleasure in the garden?
Seeing all the beautiful flowers, birds and wildlife and knowing that I’ve created a place where nature wants to be.

Top Tip for other Scottish Gardeners
Remember to fill up the birdbath in the Summer months and always place a stone in the deeper ones so bees can easily escape if they find themselves in trouble. 

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