From an au courant contemporary garden let's travel back in time to 17th century Dunfermline, just across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh. Culross "Palace" is a merchant's home built between 1597 and 1611 by the Laird of Carnock, Sir George Bruce. Sir Bruce pioneered undersea mining, sinking a shaft into the Firth to extract coal. His home at Culross is one of the most interesting spots I've visited in Scotland, with a bit of glamour added by the gorgeous spirits of Sam Heaughan and Caitriona Balfe, who've filmed Outlander scenes there. In addition to Sir Bruce and big-screen bonafides, there's also a recreated 17th century garden that climbs the southern-facing slope behind the house.
Culross Palace is now a National Trust for Scotland property, and researchers analyzed literature and illustrations from the early 17th century to piece together how the garden may have looked then.
For much of time gardens have not just been used for beauty and relaxation. They were larders, general stores, and pharmacies providing food, materials, and medicines. The garden grew plants that were used for dying, making cosmetics and soap, brewing, and strewing herbs that were spread on floors to smell nice and keep pests at bay. What resonated with me about Culross is that it's a useful garden in addition to being attractive.
In addition to herbs, the garden includes many edible plants including mulberries, quince, medlars, and figs as well as old varieties of apples and pears.
I was struck by this inspired combination of hollyhock and berries. Whether it was intentional or not I am liking this idea of incorporating traditionally ornamental plants to make bolder aesthetic statements in the production garden.
The garden also includes other more unusual edible plants. John Gerrard's 1597 Herball, which informed the recreation of the garden, tells of vegetables that would be unfamiliar to many gardeners in 2017. Skirret, in the Apiaceae family and a relative of the parsnip, is a vegetable grown for its white roots, eaten boiled or fried. Scorzonera is a perennial plant in the Asteraceae, or sunflower family. It's also used as a root vegetable and is sometimes referred to as black salsify.
I loved these little shelters almost completely overgrown by the blowsy late summer garden. How lovely to sit inside and have ripe red currants so easily at hand!
And how can I forget the icing on the Culross cake: Scots Dumpy chickens!
As a chicken aficionado and former flockmaster I was thrilled to finally meet a breed I'd read so much about. The Scots Dumpy has a semi-lethal gene that shortens its leg length, creating a characteristic slow, waddling gait. Some claim that the shorter-legged birds don't wander as far from the homestead or croft as more lanky chickens, and that this limited movement makes their meat more tender and succulent.
They're not the most attractive breed to me--I like my animals well-proportioned--but it was really nice to spend some time with a small flock that reminded me of the one I used to have, broody hens and all.