Brian Cunningham, head gardener at Scone Palace

THERE is always something beautiful to see at the 100-acre Scone Palace gardens from snowdrops and daffodils in spring to primulas and bluebells in the woodlands in April and May.

In early summer the Laburnum Walkway comes alive with bright yellow flowers and a colourful annual border with eye-catching dahlias is currently in bloom.

Brian Cunningham, 42, arrived at Scone in 2012 and is a regular guest presenter on the The Beechgrove Garden.

How did you fall in love with gardening?

I stumbled into it. My mum used to be a cleaner at a bowling club and I would help the greenkeeper. Pottering in the garden became a stress release during exams. I remember sowing marigolds that came free with a magazine when I was about 15.

After school I got an apprenticeship at Craigtoun Country Park in St Andrews and worked there for seven years. I then spent five years at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh.

Craigtoun was about making everything pretty with dahlias and chrysanthemums, glasshouses and bowling greens, while the Royal Botanic Gardens was about conservation and major botanical work.

What does your job entail?

Our kitchen garden was one of the first projects I was involved in. We grow veg which is used in the coffee shop and feeds visitors.

The main thing we grow is lettuce and we take around a kilo down to the kitchens every day. There is also cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, beetroot, parsnips and potatoes.

The Pinetum has 230 trees and 90 species: it is one of the finest collections in the country. We have 200-year-old cedars round the Moot Hill where the kings of Scotland used to be crowned. There is a 400-year-old sycamore that is reputed to have been planted by James VI.

What is it like to work on the Murray Star Maze?

The maze contains 1000 purple beech trees and 1000 green beech trees. If you stand on the viewing platform and look over the top it has this beautiful tartan effect. It takes us about a week to cut it.

The one downside is getting the hedge clippings out afterwards because there are no shortcuts. You have to negotiate your way through the entire maze with your wheelie bin.

Do you have a favourite part?

I’m enjoying working on the walled garden. I have planted a wee orchard and I’m developing a collection of irises. We plan to launch the walled garden next year.

I live in the middle of the palace gardens. Sometimes I’ll work late and get a row from my wife and kids, although they often come out and join me.

What top tips would you give to aspiring gardeners?

Have a bit of patience and get to know the garden over a whole year. Don’t make any drastic changes or spend a lot of money until you’ve done that. For example, somewhere may look nice and sunny in March, but once a tree is in full leaf it can cast shade over that area.


The Herald:

Tessa Knott, owner of Glenwhan Gardens and Arboretum

OVER four decades, Tessa Knott has transformed Glenwhan from a gorse-strewn bog into 12 acres of glorious gardens at Luce Bay near Stranraer.

Knott, 77, and her husband Bill, from Herefordshire, bought the land over the phone in 1971 without viewing the site.

Glenwhan, which sits between two lochs and has stunning views of the Mull of Galloway and the Isle of Man, was previously described as “fit for afforestation”. Today it is a tranquil and idyllic space home to rhododendrons, magnolias, eucalyptus, orchids and lilies.

How did you fall in love with gardening?

I was a Cordon Bleu cook and a complete amateur as a gardener. When I got married I made a garden at our farm in Herefordshire and caught the bug.

How did you go about taming the space?

We started working on the gardens at Glenwhan in 1979 and the first thing we did was shelter it. We had to create a shelterbelt of trees right round. Then we made two lakes. After that we started to think about planting.

I realised south-west Scotland has the Gulf Stream and I could grow a lot of tender plants. Our ground is very acid – 4.5 acidity – but because of the Gulf Stream we are able to grow plants from the southern hemisphere. That is why we have a lot of unusual tender shrubs including species from New Zealand and Chile.

We planted eucalyptus because my husband wanted to see some results from the planting before he died, but he is actually 95 and has managed to watch the garden mature.

The trees have really matured. I never imagined I would see such big trees because the garden was so shallow and rocky. They are looking magnificent and we have added the word “arboretum” to the garden name.

What were the biggest challenges?

I had to learn about soil. It is very shallow, rocky ground. And very acidic. That dictated what would grow. Starting out I tried different plants and would lose them, but gradually I got to understand what worked and what didn’t.

Any gardening disasters over the years?

I was told when we made our lakes not to plant too close to the water in case it blocked the view, which I then managed to do. I also managed to block some of the vast view which I regret now that the trees are quite big, but I needed those to shelter the garden.

When we put the shelterbelt in and fenced it, I forgot about the deer and they jumped in and ate all the shrubs, so I had to build a bigger fence. I love herbaceous plants but because our soil is so acid I lost them because they are just not suitable for the ground here.

What top tips would you give to aspiring gardeners?

Get your soil analysed. If you have chalky soil you need to find things that will grow well in that, whereas ours is very acid and therefore the garden has ended up with a lot of rhododendrons, magnolias and azaleas.

Look at your landscape and see how you can enhance it but try not to block the view. If you are high up like we are – 300ft above sea level – you need shelter. Oh, and try to get rid of your perennial weeds if you can.


The Herald:

Peter Baxter, curator at Benmore Botanic Garden

SET against a dramatic mountainside backdrop, Benmore Botanic Garden’s collection has origins stretching across the continents, including more than 300 species of rhododendrons.

The 120-acre site is seven miles north of Dunoon on Cowal. Visitors enter through the majestic Sierra Redwood Avenue, planted in 1863. There is also a Victorian fernery and a hillside lined with trees from Tasmania, Bhutan, Japan and Chile.

Peter Baxter, 59, has been curator since 1995. He trained between the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and Longwood Gardens in the US state of Pennsylvania.

How did you first fall in love with gardening?

I have always been an outdoor person. My father was a keen gardener and he realised I had an affinity for it and gave me guidance. When I left school I went straight into horticulture.

What makes Benmore Botanic Garden so special?

It is large at 120 acres and sits on a shoulder of a hill. The lower part is roughly 50ft above sea level and rises to 450ft. That makes it a dynamic place to grow plants. Benmore is affiliated to the world-renowned Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh.

Do you have a favourite part of the garden?

I couldn’t name just one, but there are certain parts of the garden where you can walk 100 yards and find yourself in a totally different scene. You can be in an informal pond setting with large trees, shrubs and perennial plants, then transport yourself to the other end of the garden and be standing in the upper reaches of the Chilean area among a young monkey puzzle forest. The Redwood Avenue is one of the finest in the UK and a lovely space.

What are the biggest challenges?

Whether you think climate change is a recent phenomenon or not, things are changing. We are getting extreme events, such as higher winds, more frequently. Those can cause quite a lot of damage given that some of our trees are more than 170ft tall.

The other thing that seems to be happening is that we are getting higher amounts of rainfall in any one 24-hour period.

Our weather data goes back to 1931 and there have been continuous recordings since then. That would imply that five of our wettest events have been stacked up within the last 10 to 12 years.

Most enjoyable aspect?

It is a privilege to work in a place like this and the exact opposite of instant gardening. Many of the species won’t start flowering until 15 to 20 years after planting.

We have a great responsibility to look after what has been grown in the past and to nurture that, but also to build for the future. Those two dynamics are the most stimulating and challenging parts.

Any gardening disasters?

On January 3, 2012, there was a major storm and 40 large trees – including one that was more than 190ft tall – were destroyed. Although most of the clearing up has been done, there are two trees that are still a work in progress.

What top tips would you give to aspiring gardeners?

Be observant about what other people in the locality are growing. Look into what plants are attractive to you and try to find out a bit more about that group.


READ MORE: Five beautiful Scottish gardens to visit this summer