Tyninghame Garden East Lothian

Much of the garden at Tyninghame in East Lothian lies below the house, itself- a fanciful castellated building of dark red sandstone. It is not a classically beautiful building, but it provides an almost fairytale background to the flowers. It could be the home of the Sleeping Beauty, or the palace of Prince Charming. The garden at Tyninghame is the creation of the present owners, Lord and Lady Haddington, and in its particularly special arrangement, would seem to be their very child, the immediate fruit of their imagination and fancy; almost an extension of their personality.

There was a garden at Tyninghame before the coming of the present Lord and Lady Haddington, but it was pompous, Victorian and possibly a trifle forbidding: there were stiff stone-edged flowerbeds, broad paths of gravel and acres of bleak lawns. There was little lightness, no fantasy, and we may be sure that the flower colours were those beloved by gardeners of a past generation -scarlet, yellow and an eye-searing blue. With the coming of the present Lady Haddington, a woman of enterprise, imagination and perfect taste, much was changed. Much, but not all. The garden was allowed to keep its Victorian plan, but pomposity was lightened and made attractive by deft planting. One part of the severe fiicade of the house was embellished with a light trellis-work screen clothed in roses, clematis and vines. The daunting expanses of gravel were enlivened with crisp white boxes, in the French style, and filled either with flowers or glossy bay trees. At the end of the long terrace, a raised Victorian seat of carved stone was given a setting of four cherry trees, the pyramidal Amanagawa which now stand behind it ‘erect as footmen’ and brighten the scene with their spring livery of pink blossom.

To the east of the house there lies the original Victorian parterre, replanted, when the writer last visited Tyninghame with roses, and the stark geometric pattern of its lay-out softened with plants of silver foliage. In the centre of this garden, which retains much of its original formality, is a tall sundial of a typically Scottish seventeenth-century design. It rewards close examination, with its elaborate set of dials and grotesque animals at its base.

Tyninghame Garden East Lothian

Above: A wide gravel terrace might seem daunting without ‘its crisp white boxes in the French style’. In the distance four slender Prunus serrulata Amanagawa.

Beyond this parterre lies a part of the garden which was only planted twenty-five years ago, and is very much in the modern taste. The planting was entirely the choice of Lady Haddington, and offers a good example of her gardening talent. It is on an informal plan, a series of beds set in turf, each one spilling over with flowers. In Lady Haddington’s own words, it is ‘stuffed with all the old roses. . . Tuscany, gallicas, Bourbons, damasks, and in addition, a few modern shrub roses like the old tashioned-looking Lavender Lassie, which has the same colouring and form as the old roses, to extend the flowering period’.

Among the old roses grow silver-leaved plants – artcmisias, Senecio greyii, santolina (cotton lavender), ordinary lavender (no relation to the previously mentioned cotton variety) and that fine salvia which one so seldom sees but which is such an excellent plant, Salvia turkestanica, with silver-haired leaves and bracts of pale mauve flowers. The visitor to Tyninghame leaves this charming little garden by an iron gate: on either side are brick piers bearing Italian statues of smiling children.

A walk, between tall trees and lavish plantings of rhododendrons and azaleas, leads to the old walled garden, nearly a quarter of a mile away. This is set out in the old Scottish fashion, with wide turf paths, neatly shorn hedges, and flowerbeds edged with box. As centre point there is a fountain, with water falling from horses’ heads.

From this enclosed garden, a gate with keystone dated 1666 leads to one of the sights of Tyninghame – an apple tunnel, a hundred yards long, and all of eighty years old. At one end there is a graceful statue of Flora, and at the other, one of Ganymede, cup-bearer to the gods in classical times.

On his return to the house, the visitor sees another part of the garden which has been completely transformed, though still keeping its original Victorian lay-out. This consists of a lawn, with raised flowerbeds contained in grey-stone walls and low buttresses. These heavy Victorian embellishments (they were placed in the garden in 1828) ‘have been enlivened by a typical example of Lady Haddington’s fancy, and are now crowned with pyramids of wood, over which are trained yellow roses and clematis, and underplanted with purple sage and dark red Rhus cotinus’, the point of this particular planting being to blend with and complement the reddish-pink walls of the house. Treated in such an imaginative way, the rather clumsy stone-edged beds make garden features which are both practical and decorative.

Before leaving, the visitor to Tyninghame must inspect the garden which is Lord Haddington’s special care – the Heath Garden. Heath gardens look specially well in Scotland (better than they do in the south) and the one at Tyninghame seems particularly suitable for its site, with the pepperpot turrets of the house showing over the pink, mauve, grey and sea-green colouring of the massed ericas. Heath gardens supply colour for many months of the year, and the weed-suppressing qualities of ericas is unsurpassed – two tactors of great importance in gardening today.

The garden at Tyninghame is half an hour’s walk, over springing turf, from the shores of the Firth of Forth. Across the Firth lies the misty shore of Fife. Nearer, in the land and sea-scape, looms the primeval shape of the Bass Rock, wreathed with a constant cloud of sea gulls.

It is the sea which makes the winters at Tyninghame as gentle as they are, encouraging the garden to flower and flourish in the way it does. It is a garden which offers the visitor many, and very special pleasures.

OPEN May 1st- September 30th: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, 1.30 p.m. – 4.30 p.m. (No dogs allowed.)

LOCATION Take AI from Haddington towards Dunbar. Turn left to East Linton, then take B1047 to Tyninghame village.

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