Culross Palace: A 17th century garden

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. 

Broadwoodside Part 2: South Garden and the House Field

Following the path around the ochre tower one enters the South Garden. What I like about this garden is how domestic it feels, and yet it looks so stylish with excellent use of color, witty art installations, and simple but repeated plantings that form a rhythm along the path. It doesn't hurt that it faces a bucolic pasture that housed, on that day, two stunning white horses that were kicking up their heels as if on command to frolic.

I'm not usually fond of purple smokebush (Cotinus coggygria). I suspect it's because for the five years I lived near Washington, D.C. I had to walk past a solitary, unhealthy, and pathetically maintained specimen going in and out of my flat each day. I itched to put it out of its misery, but lacking that agency I just let it sour me on the whole genus. I keep trying to come around, but its slow going. This garden is probably the first in which I found myself enjoying Cotinus, most likely because it is well-maintained and so effectively used as a dark accent along the walk. The perfectly chosen and contrasting blue on the posts also goes a long way toward my enjoyment of the Cotinus. Imagine the image below without the blue posts and Lutyens bench at the far wall. Not nearly as effective, right?

Further into the South Garden is a very inviting patio and a few pieces of art that I really enjoyed. I always like a big tree trunk repurposed as landscape art (a la David Nash), and this elm with its golden sphere hits the spot. Once again notice the color work here--that sphere picking up the tones in the ochre building. Beautiful. Cover either the sphere or the building with your finger and see what happens to the composition. 

I also loved these mirrored portholes making a feature out of what is potentially a mechanical eyesore. They looked especially nice covered in raindrops. 

From the South Garden one passes through this gate on the way to the House Field. The stone plinths beneath the urns read "Going to" on the left and "the Dogs" on the right--a joke that didn't reveal itself until I found the pet cemetery in the far corner of the field. 

Looking back toward the house I failed to see the point of the House Field. I suspect it may have been a timing issue, as I've seen photos of the bed by the wall filled with bright red blooming Crocosmia. Again it's not a favorite plant but it makes a strong statement when flowering. I really couldn't tell what was going on with that bed between the two mown areas. It had a few little blooms but mostly just looked like a weed patch.

Another view of the South Garden shows a hint of its borrowed landscape. This spot was one of my favorites at Broadwoodside, possibly because I feel most at home in places with long countryside views. What can I say other than I'm a typical Homo sapiens with an evolutionary bias toward the savanna--just like Capability Brown! 

I'll leave you to follow that link for some fascinating reading and when I return we'll head into the courtyards for Broadwoodside: Part 3.  

Broadwoodside Part 1: Entrance and Walled Garden

On June 4 Broadwoodside, a private garden in the small village of Gifford, opened for the National Garden Scheme Open Gardens. For one day a year the public is invited to see the the garden that Anna and Robert Dalrymple and their gardener have created over the past 17 years from a derelict farmstead. 

Broadwoodside has received lots of positive attention from horticultural publications far greater than mine, which you can read about here, so I'm loathe to repeat those stories here. Instead I'd rather write about what Broadwoodside actually looked like on this particular day, and how it felt to be within it. 

The garden is entered up a simple mown grass path through a meadow interplanted with trees and roses. After having worked so hard at my own farm to maintain mulch circles around trees that were essentially planted in a hayfield, I would like to embrace the relative ease of this cultivation technique. I like the casualness of this approach as it feels like the beginning of an adventure into a private space, which of course it is. If you couldn't tell it from the artwork displayed around the entrance meadow, it becomes clear when one passes through this garden gate that what lies ahead will be a creative and whimsical space. 

Through the gate one immediately enters a small vegetable garden. It's not really enough space to grow anything on a scale I'd like, and not as lush as the surrounding borders, but I appreciate the nod to the walled garden's practical origins.

The rest of the garden is an unusual mix of formal and casual as a rectangular pond edged with willow (Salix) provides the structural core around loose mixed borders backed by espaliered fruit trees growing on the walls. The willow pond was very much a "look at me" feature in this garden, and it felt like a space to pass through instead of a space to be lived in or even one that would invite much pause. I suppose the interest lies in the ever-changing Salix, which is cut each year and then allowed to grow up to nine feet tall over summer, effectively creating a room within a room and an area that felt a bit disconnected from the lush herbaceous borders around it. 

I enjoyed the view from a little bench tucked into the corner, below.

So often herbacious borders are viewed from one direction--outside looking in--and this perch provided the unique vantage point of being within the border. 

Next, we'll travel deeper into the garden and see some of my favorite bits. 

2016: A good year

2016 was, world events aside, a very good year. My biggest achievement was surviving my second year of the horticulture with plantsmanship course at the Botanics, and gaining my HND as well as my Diploma in Plantsmanship, with distinction. I memorized innumerable Latin plant names, drew dozens of floral diagrams, wrote a very long paper on the history of horticultural journalism, and completed myriad other assignments that flew fast and heavy.

I also traveled a lot in 2016, with international adventures to new countries as well as two trips back to the U.S. I happily got to see much more of Britain, including famous gardens the length of the country: Levens Hall, Chatsworth, Sissinghurst, Great Dixter, Newby Hall, Drummond Castle, Cambo, Shepherd House, Scampston Hall, Glasgow and St. Andrews Botanical Gardens, and more. And of course I fell deeper in love with Scotland, checking off the Isle of Skye from my life-long must-visit list.

It's been a great year, and I'm looking forward to many big adventures in 2017. Happy New Year!

Winter at the Botanics

After that second cup of tea I put on my wool long underwear and shearling hat and walked through the chilly streets of Edinburgh and down the Leith River to the Botanics. Because of its lower elevation and closer proximity to the sea, there wasn't as much frost in the garden as at home. Nevertheless, I walked around looking for photos, my only company the wood pigeons and a handful of visitors who had braved the cold.

It was nice to spend time in the garden in a visually creative way. I am there every week--sometimes multiple days per week--but for more than two years the focus of that time has been horticultural and taxonomic training, not art. Photographing in the frosty garden yesterday reminded me of one of the main reasons I want to work with plants--they are just so beautiful

Even on a day when weather conditions and the half-light of Scottish winter kept most people inside, fallen leaves and frozen foliage held my attention for several hours. I walked home in the four o'clock dark as snow squalls advanced from the east, grateful I'd seen the garden this day.

I keep thinking about an amazing BBC documentary I watched last week, called Forest, Field & Sky: Art Out of Nature, about artists who use nature as their medium. It featured David Nash, Charles Jencks, Julie Brook, my favorite Andy Goldsworthy, among others, and lots of artworks created in Scotland. It was one of the best and most inspiring films I've seen, so check it out if you can (it's also on YouTube though the quality doesn't do justice to the art). I revisited one of the Goldsworthy pieces at the Botanics yesterday, enjoying the surrounding warm-colored leafy gradient combined with the cool slate, and how the fallen leaves added an extra element--a stripe of orange--of which Goldsworthy would no doubt approve. 

Slate, Hole, Wall by Andy Goldsworthy (1990)

Hoar frost!

I've always wanted to see a hoar frost, seduced by the amazing photos I've seen of plants made otherworldly by what looks like a light dusting of powdered sugar. I got my chance this morning, when I opened the wooden shutters to find every detail of my front garden picked out in white. 

It's very cold out, but I bet the gardens at school look amazing. Might bundle up and take a donder down there...once I have that second cup of tea... 

The Rust Garden for Edinburgh Printmakers

A month ago today I was delighted to come upon a brand-new, fascinating Edinburgh garden in an area I frequent on my way to walk the Union Canal path. For as long as I've lived here this raised bed has been a wild urban space, choked with Buddleja and Sambucus, collecting trash that blew through the alley and decorated only with graffiti. Then one day I walked by and noticed that the ground had been cleared, the shrubs hacked to down to stumps. Shortly after I rounded the corner to this riot of color and form. 

In the last two years I have seen some of the world's most famous gardens: Hidcote, Sissinghurst, Chanticleer, Rousham, Longwood, Great Dixter, Chatsworth...the list goes on and on. But this mystery garden delighted me in ways that some of those heavy-hitters failed to do. 

The carnival colors and crazy mix of tropical-looking plant forms looked so refreshingly novel and un-British to me. I loved the more-is-more effect of packing so many strongly colored plants so closely together. Adding all these hot colors to the grey and brown building behind it could have ended poorly. Instead, the flower and foliage color harmonized with the paint and very effectively married the garden to its building, turning an eyesore into an asset. It took the work of a skilled colorist and planting designer to pull this off so well. The effect was a defiant fist shaking at the grey and cold Edinburgh weather. Just looking at it brought to mind my native hot-climate summer that I'm so missing, and warmed me up a lot. 

The plant selections weren't the only surprises. This turned out to be an interactive garden, with a little step built to help one up to sit on a small wooden bench. 

At first I thought the circular patio area in front of the bench was filled with pea gravel. But as I sat and looked around, I noticed words and phrases spelled in metal letters throughout the garden.

Turns out the "pea gravel" is actually 25,000 rusted steel letters! It was impossible to see or sit in this garden and not play with the letters, writing messages and signing names. 

Every time I've passed the garden in the last month there have been different phrases written with the letters. I love this interactive, poetic aspect to the garden. 

Pan out a bit and you'll get a sense of why coming across this garden was so surprising. You can barely see the bright lupines tucked in that tiny space in post-industrial urban wasteland.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Rust Garden is that the interpretation panels that explained it weren't on display when the garden was first installed, and when I came across it. The seemingly magical appearance of such a bright and beautiful garden sprung fully-formed in the midst of a neglected and "waste" space made the garden even more affecting. It was only later that I learned the garden was the work of Toronto-based artists Matt Donovan and Hallie Siegel (which may explain the more North American feel to the planting design). There's more info on their site, including some good pictures of the alley as I'd always seen it. 

The Rust Garden was commissioned by Edinburgh Printmakers, which is set to revitalize this neglected Castle Mill Works building, which was the headquarters of the North British Rubber Company, Edinburgh's largest industrial operation, from 1856 to the late 1960s. Their best known product was a green wellie boot, and eventually the company became Hunter Boot Ltd. So those iconically British wellie boots known and worn around the world had their start in this building a stone's throw from my house in Edinburgh. Discovering this history has made me even more sad that ever since Hunter moved their production to China and became more of a fashion instead of a utility brand, their boots have become such poor quality that I sent the last pair I ordered back in disgust and (regretfully) switched loyalties to a French company. 

Wellies aside, the Rust Garden is a huge success and one of my favorite gardens of 2016. It's on display as part of the Edinburgh Festival and runs through August 28, so see it while you can. I am not sure what its fate will be as the planting was very much done for immediate effect, with tender annuals that won't survive the winter. I am also pretty sure the weedy shrub stumps were not totally removed, which means those plants have probably already begun to grow back with a vengeance. I can only hope that after the Festival the Rust Garden will be developed into a more permanent garden that can continue to surprise and delight those of us ducking through this Fountainbridge alley.

A blustery Borders hike, and an art lesson

A couple of weekends ago we drove down to the Scottish Borders in search of a nice woodland hike. We ended up at Yair Hill Forest, tucked right up against the River Tweed. These have been important hunting and fishing lands since the end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago. In the middle ages Yair was a royal hunting ground, reserved for use by Scottish kings. Between 1296 and 1305 these woods provided shelter for William Wallace as he and his army engaged in battles throughout the Borders. 

The purple heath and heather (Calluna vulgaris, Erica cinerea, among others) were in full bloom. Blaeberries (Vaccinium myrtillus--related to the common blueberry) were covered in tiny, tasty black fruit. 

An area of low pressure was moving in off the North Atlantic, prompting all sorts of high wind and gale warnings. Though the valley floor was warm and sunny, by the time we made it to the top of the hill the wind was blowing the trees horizontal and even pushing me off the trail. 

Despite the weather the Southern Upland Way, Scotland's coast-to-coast path, tempted us higher on the moor, led on by the sight of cairns in the distance. 

Summiting the peak we found the Three Brethren Cairn, which marks the ancient boundary of three properties. Each year more than 500 horses and their riders support the Royal Burgh Standard Bearer in a ride to the cairns during the Selkirk Common Riding Festival. This is a tradition that dates back at least 500 years and has its roots when riding around land was the way of preserving ownership and preventing encroachment by neighboring lairds. 

This was my first time seeing an old Scottish cairn, and I immediately understood what one of my favorite artists, Andy Goldsworthy, is referencing with his stone cairns. Though I have always found his cairns beautiful and technically awe-inspiring, and delighted whenever I came across one in my travels, I didn't until this hike really understand how they reflect a sense of place and lifestyle that is so inherently Scottish.  

My favorite Goldsworthy's cairn piece is in De Moines, Iowa, at the De Moines Art Center. My brother and I stumbled upon it in 2008 while in town for our grandmother's memorial. Titled 'Three Cairns," these dry-stone structures were completed in 2002 of Iowa limestone. 

Leave it to Scotland to surprise me with unexpected art appreciation on a random weekend hike. 

After just a few minutes on the blustery hilltop we descended back through the forest, stopping to watch the swallows dive over a field of peacefully grazing sheep. I don't think I'd ever get tired of watching a scene like this. It's always changing as the weather rolls over and the animals mill about. Beautiful. 

A solstice trip to Drummond Castle Garden

The longest day of the year seemed as good as any to take a drive into the beautiful Perthshire countryside. The destination was Drummond Castle, and after a nice lunch and walk around the nearby town of Crieff my companion and I turned into the long and narrow beech-lined drive in search of what Historic Scotland calls "the best example of formal terraced gardens in Scotland." 

I think it's safe to say that neither of us find Italianate-style gardens particularly compelling, and formal parterres usually leave us cold. We do know, however, that this style of garden is designed to impress, and on that count the initial view of the garden at Drummond succeeds. 

A few steps beyond the castle courtyard the garden unfurls 60 feet below like the saltire it is meant to represent. Blue lavender, which wasn't yet in bloom, and silver Anaphalis form the flag of Scotland. This combination of Scottish patriotism with Italianate terracing and French elements makes for a garden that, although striking, left me feeling confused and questioning. 

All gardens are amalgamations of changing fashions, historical periods, and owners. And Drummond, which has been in development for a mind-boggling five centuries, is no exception.

The castle dates to 1490, and the first garden was laid in the 1630s. The formal gardens and terracing were added 200 years later with the long vista through the far woods. This garden has seen war under Oliver Cromwell, Jacobite uprisings, and been walked by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In the 1950s the gardens were refurbished, and since 1978 have been maintained in a trust. 

Even taking the cumulative effect of so much history into account, elements of the garden felt "stuck on" or assembled together without a sense of cohesion. I sat and looked at the garden for a good long while and found myself playing the editing game, wondering what could be subtracted to make the picture before me make sense. Would it be the bright white urns and sculptures? Or the occasional oddly shaped topiary? Or maybe additions were in order, perhaps in the form of more acid-yellow Acers, which effectively brought nice lightness to the composition. 

Walking down through the garden wasn't particularly interesting but for the view back up to the castle. I suppose I'm just not a huge fan of box broderie infilled with not-yet-blooming roses and patchy bedding plants. And topiary usually just strikes me as bizarrely contrived. Or maybe I just needed a corset, some petticoats and a bit of courtly intrigue for this garden to stir me.

Instead, what was most interesting was the trick of perspective played in this garden, and how the formality disguises a significant slope through the five-acre site. It's objectively interesting, but hardly raises the pulse. 

I did enjoy the kitchen garden, which is cleverly tucked into the south-facing slope behind the garden's far hedge. The brick walls made the perfect suntrap for growing climbing roses and espaliered fruit trees, and I'd love to have the potting sheds, cold frames, glasshouse, and fruit cage at my disposal.

I always find it funny to see plants that I am used to growing outside in Virginia, such as everything in these photos--figs, tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, and grapes--being so coddled in Britain's colder climate. This method of indoor food cultivation has its roots in the Victorian-era rise of glasshouse innovation. To me it feels like it will never evolve out of antiquity, which leaves me equally charmed and frustrated. 

I was pretty impressed, and jealous, of this amount of bench space devoted just to Streptocarpus hybrids. My own collection is quickly outgrowing the only window in my flat that gets even marginally enough light to keep the plants alive.  

Incidentally you may have seen Drummond Castle on television just this year and not even known it. The gardens stood in for Versailles in the second season of Outlander, a show worth watching because it is thought-provoking, beautiful (particularly the costuming), and features one of my favorite female protagonists in the character of Claire.

So have a look at Outlander to catch a glimpse of Drummond, or visit it yourself if you're headed Perthshire-way. Though it didn't move my soul, it's still a striking garden that I'm glad to have visited on the longest day of 2016. 

Shepherd House Garden

Yesterday I cleared one of the biggest hurdles of this school program, a graded unit exam covering every course and topic undertaken this year. No matter that we were tested as the year progressed, the Scottish Qualifications Authority thinks it fun to trot everything out again for one more rodeo. Back from storage came notes and flashcards on soil science, plant nutrition, integrated pest and disease management, taxonomy, classification and systematics, ecology and plant conservation, and designing and managing botanical collections. In the two weeks of intensive study for this exam, hardly a day went by that I didn't rip a flower to shreds, prodding its nether regions searching for clues to its family. I spoke half my words in Latin, and my mind was wound so tight I was telling people in my dreams, "I'm so tired." 

But with the exam behind me, and despite more academic challenges looming ahead, today is devoted to full-on mental recovery. The Edinburgh weather is cooperating with cold (45°F, 7°C) grey, and steady rain. Despite being put through the wringer lately with all things horticultural, I choose to decompress by writing about a garden. That's a pretty good sign I'm doing something I love. 

A few weeks ago, on the first truly spring-like day of the year, I took a trip to Shepherd House Garden in Musselburgh. I'd been last year, and this repeat visit confirmed that this is one of my favorite small gardens. At about one acre, it's a perfectly manageably sized jewel and a treasure trove of ideas I'd like to implement in my own next garden--including the resident white doves that strut and coo along the rooftops. 

The garden's creator, Ann Fraser, is a trained artist who studied botanical illustration where I am studying at RBGE. Her artist's eye is clearly evident in her color choices, plant combinations, and the finely crafted touches, such as the pebble mosaic below, that make the garden a very personal creative statement. 

What I like about this garden is it has formal structure with mature trees, hedging and a strong main axis leading from a fountain, down a rill, and into a koi pond. But around that axis the flow is organic and in parts a little wild, as in the stylized "meadow" planting below with an adjoining shady "woodland." Despite being intensely designed and no doubt highly cultivated, this design mimics a natural glade. 

I really appreciated the crisp edging along the grass pathways, something that prior to studying horticulture in Britain I always thought was a waste of time. But image the image above without that strong edge underpinning the beds and leading the eye further along the path. The edge is the necessary structure in this loose planting arrangement. 

I like that edibles are incorporated into the garden's design, with trained berry cordons lending vertical structure and low-growing vegetables serving as carpet bedding. But it's not all on display--there is also the ever-important production garden tucked behind a high hedge where more vegetables are grown, closer to the potting shed, glasshouse, compost piles, and chicken run. 

Two aspects of the garden stuck out at me, especially upon viewing these photos. First, I would have preferred that the blue tuteurs in the image above were straightened and leveled. Because they provide a great deal of the structure and formality to an otherwise free-flowing space, I think it's important that they stand up at attention. Second, throughout the garden neon green netting was used as a plant support. I have no doubt that the netting will soon be rendered invisible by vigorous plant growth, but for an early spring open day it detracted from the beauty around it. Perhaps jute would have been a better choice for the more high-profile areas of the garden. 

I liked this creative use of Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' with Echeveria sp., above, and black Tulipa 'Paul Scherer' was just one of the great tulips at Shepherd House that had me reconsidering my distaste for the genus. 

I especially like these espaliered apples (Malus sp.) trained as fencing. Originally I'd thought they were stepover apples, but further research reveals stepovers are really just horizontal cordons, trained to only one branch. Some day I hope to get a chance to experiment with ornamental pruning, and the apples at Shepherd House are inspiration. 

Having visited for the May open day two years in a row, I look forward to returning to Shepherd House in mid June to see how the garden transitions out of the tulips and on to something else that will no doubt be just as beautiful. 

Edinburgh Solstice

Today will be just six hours and 57 minutes long, and what little sunlight there is on this darkest day of the year will soon be obscured by the heavy rain moving in from the west. Sunlight has been in short supply lately, but yesterday my brother, who is visiting from the U.S., and I walked up Calton Hill and were surprised by a few breaks in the clouds. This city, which can look so bleak in the grey, lit up for a few seconds in the low rays.

Tonight's Solstice celebration will be lighting lots of candles to beat back the dark, cooking dinner with friends and family, and then treking out for a pint and a fireside pub quiz. I have really enjoyed the coziness and hibernation of the recent dark days this winter, but I am always happy to welcome the returning light. I hope that whatever your Solstice plans are they bring you hope and joy.

Samphire planet

Earlier this summer I wandered off Tyninghame Beach and found myself on another planet. A totally normal-looking beach gradually gave way to sticky mud flats dotted with stringy green algae. A few more steps in and strange green sticks grew straight from the mud. Soon I found myself surrounded by a completely unexpected and bizarrely delightful colony of marsh samphire, Salicornia europaea.

You may know samphire as a crunchy, salty vegetable often served with fish dishes. But samphire is also called glasswort, not because it glows like stained glass in the sun, which it does, but because when burned, ashes from the plant become soda ash, used for making glass.

I'd never seen samphire growing in the wild, and on this surreal mudflat in the setting sun it was spectacularly beautiful. As well as crunchy and salty and delicious.

Rethinking red: Single color herbaceous borders at Floors Castle

Until recently, I had little interest in color-themed borders or even gardens (though I admit I've yet to visit perhaps the most famous example of this style, the White Garden at Sissinghurst). As a lover of unique color combinations, the idea of working within such a narrow palette held little appeal. However, a recent trip to Floors Castle, in the Scottish Borders, made me reconsider single-color gardens and opened my eyes to the possibilities that lie within manipulating tint, tone and shade in a narrow slice of the spectrum.

Floors Castle has a lovely nursery and retail plant center, and just adjacent are a series of gardens that begin with single-color borders in blue, red and pink/purple. When viewing each color, the other colors are hidden, and the effect of so many plants in one hue is dramatic. That in itself would be interesting, but upon closer inspection all sorts of individually compelling blooms reveal themselves, which make the borders work both in long view and close-up.

As with most creative pursuits, a little constraint can force greater ingenuity. The definition of "red" is pushed through its range of blue-red to yellow-red and everything in between, including my favorite terracotta, as in these gorgeous dahlias.

It was a typically overcast Scottish day, and I wonder if my response to this garden was so strong because I'm craving spice and heat in this summer that's felt like a winter to me--as I write this it's 35 degrees Fahrenheit warmer at my farm in Virginia than here in Edinburgh.

I do know that the cloudy sky really made the colors pop. I suspect the effect would have been more washed out in full-sun and less dramatic.

Until visiting Floors Castle, I wouldn't have been too excited about a "red border." But this is a single-color border done right, with enough variety to keep it intriguing, and it's fabulous. I only wish the plants would have been labeled in some inconspicuous way, as there were many I didn't know but would love to have in my own garden.

Titan Arum blooms at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh bloomed Saturday after 12 years of careful cultivation and a few feverish weeks of tracking bud development. It's the first time a Titan Arum has bloomed in Scotland, and a huge victory for the dedicated staff at the Botanics who nurtured the corm from the size of an orange to 153.9kg, the heaviest on record.

I made it back from London just in time to see it last night, on the second day of its two-day peak bloom.

I queued with the public for an hour and 15 minutes in order to experience the spectacle from an outside visitor perspective instead of slipping through the back door waving my staff pass. One of the most unexpectedly interesting aspects of studying at the Botanics is beginning to understand how nonhorticulturists experience plants, and how to get more people involved with them who wouldn't otherwise be interested. The Titan Arum is a perfect example of how, amazingly, a plant can get so many people fired up about a botanical phenomenon. Thousands of people stood in line, some for more than two hours, to spend four minutes or less with this massive inflorescence. And they were excited.

The Titan Arum Army of Botanics staff, students and volunteers did a great job of making the queue organized, fast, and fun. They worked the line, handing out informational pamphlets and chatting with visitors about the plant and other work done at the Botanics in an excellent display of community outreach, education and PR. There was even a three-piece band playing sprightly tunes for entertainment.

It's no surprise that, like much today in the world of science and conservation, botanical gardens struggle to make enough profit to employ the skilled gardeners who tend them, let alone dedicate resources to research and plant and habitat conservation. Rock star plants, such as the blooming Titan arum, are one way to attract more people into the gardens. With a £5/person charge to enter the glasshouses (the general Botanics grounds are still, miraculously, free to enjoy), these experiences could significantly affect the garden's bottom line, while at the same time spreading horticultural knowledge and enthusiasm. Who knows, maybe the world's next great botanists were amongst the children who stood, open-mouthed and wondering, at the eight foot-tall flower that looked like something come to life from their picture books?