The Garden Gang
The Garden Gang - Ethos
The Garden Gang was established in October 2019, originally under the somewhat longer name of The Garden Appreciation Group. However, on asking the members for a snappier title several were submitted, and in a vote ‘The Garden Gang’ proved to be the favourite.
The idea for the group came about through some of the outings undertaken by the Paisley U3A as a whole, where conducted visits around gardens – such as those at Cambo and Dumfries House – were much enjoyed by those taking part.
This group is not going to be about learning to garden – about the best way to prune your roses or when to plant your spring bulbs. Rather, this group is about visiting gardens for the pure pleasure of it and, where possible learning about the background to how the gardens came about and the personalities behind them. In other words it is about the social history of gardens in Scotland and their effects on the people who visit them. We might incidentally learn some gardening techniques along the way, but that will be a bonus.
As gardens are very much a seasonal pastime we hope to tailor our visits to see various gardens at their best and in deepest, darkest winter we will also have some indoor meetings. We also hope to visit gardens of various types – those associated with stately homes, botanical collections, private gardens opened under the Scotland’s Garden Scheme, allotments and community gardens and gardens created with ‘wellness’ in mind.
If any of this has whetted your appetite for visiting a garden or two, then get in touch and give us a go.
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Our January indoor meeting was spent in the company of Douglas whose illustrated talk took us through the history of gardens in Scotland from the earliest evidence, through to about 1800. He began by making the point that gardens are fashionable constructions and that they change. But just as some people continue to wear the clothes that they had been comfortable in the young days, so some gardens were so liked by their owners that they didn’t update them.
Douglas proposed that gardens, as we know them, first appeared in Britain with the arrival of western monasticism around 1100. The monks brought knowledge, and trained up their workforces in both agriculture and horticulture. He showed images of Paisley Abbey on maps which clearly showed the gardens and deer park. Stirling’s Knot Garden, below the castle, was laid out in its present format for Charles I, but is overlaid onto gardens which went back to the 12th century. Scotland’s universities had their botanic gardens, established in part to provide medicinal plants for the training of the medical students and Glasgow’s first botanical garden dates back to about the 1440s. Douglas told us that Scotland’s oldest garden still existing in its original format is the Edzell Castle garden in Angus, with its geometric beds bounded by box hedging. He then showed us images of the proliferation of enormous gardens along the Clyde where the garden fashions of Europe were closely followed. We also heard the curious history of pineapple-growing in Scotland.
The introduction of Capability Brown’s rural idyll style occurred in the mid-18th century, leading to vast re-landscaping schemes – local examples being at the Inch in Renfrew and Castle Semple in Lochwinnoch. Castle Semple also boasted a fine walled garden where gardeners manipulated the climate by growing fruit trees along differently facing walls according to their individual needs – south-facing for apricots or north-facing for cherries for example.
We were told of the influence of Scottish plant hunters David Douglas and John Scoular and the interesting plants they brought back to Britain – five of the tallest species of tree now grown in this country were discovered by Douglas who has at least thirty plants named after him. To round off the story we heard about the Paisley Florists – one of Britain’s oldest horticultural societies, members of which competed to grow eight difficult plant types including auriculas, tulips and the famous laced pinks. Everyone agreed that we had learned a great deal and thanked Douglas for coming along to talk to us.
The Garden Gang – Meeting: 15th January 2020
Our first get-together of the New Year will be another indoor meeting in the upstairs room of Fairfull’s café in Paisley High Street, at 11am on the 15th, when Douglas Breingan will give an illustrated talk on the subject of the history of Scottish gardens
On Wednesday, 11th December the Garden Gang gathered in the upstairs room at Fairfull’s Café for our second ‘proper’ meeting.
Our speaker for the morning had come prepared with digital projector to give a seasonable presentation entitled ‘Deck the Halls – the Plants of Christmas’. The obvious suspects of Pine Trees, Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe were explored in some depth, before looking at some more recent additions to the Christmas décor such as Poinsettia. Then it was revealed that there are some less obvious plant connections interwoven into the Nativity story such as the resins Frankincense and Myrrh, both derived from Middle Eastern shrubs. And finally we remembered how many plants, from various parts of the world, have a part to play in our traditional Christmas Feast.
An outline of the programme for the first half of 2020 was revealed, including trips to see snowdrops at Finlaystone and daffodils at Greenbank, plus a visit to Horatio’s Garden at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, scheduled for June.
The first outing of the Garden Appreciation Group took place on Wednesday 13th November when a group of 16 got together, meeting at the main gate of the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. Fortuitously it was a dry, if cloudy, day. Less fortuitously, the gardens were in a bit of upheaval as contractors endeavoured to remove all the lighting equipment used for the Glasglow festival which had finished the previous Sunday. A couple of paths were closed off for the work and once or twice we had to step carefully over inches thick cables that were being dragged along ready for packing away.
However, this did not spoil our enjoyment. We had begun the visit by hearing a little of the background history of the Botanics, helping us to understand what we were seeing. We visited an area that had beds featuring plants by their uses such as dyestuffs, medicines, and culinary herbs as well as passing the vegetable beds on our way to the interesting section where different beds show the centuries when various popular plants were introduced into Britain. We also all agreed that the autumn colours were magnificent.
But perhaps the highlight of the visit was the glasshouses – and not just because they were warm and cosy! In the first we viewed common houseplants as they should look – not the bedraggled specimens we so often tend in our own homes! And the orchid house was just magnificent. There were many interesting cacti and succulents to view, but we only saw part of the palm house as work was going on behind barriers preventing full access. The Kibble Palace, originally a private glasshouse sited near Coulport on Loch Long, was moved to the Botanics in 1873 and was completely restored and refurbished between 2003 and 2006. It now houses the national collection of tree ferns and displays of unusual plants grouped by their continent of origin. There were also boards displaying historical information about the Gardens which threw up the interesting fact that the lover that Madeleine Smith was accused of murdering lived in the curator’s house and worked as a nurseryman here. Sadly, a personal let-down was the side room intriguingly labelled ‘Killer Plants’ with an accompanying Skull and Crossbones symbol. These turned out to be nothing more menacing than plants that kill and eat insects!
After all this plant hunting, a good number of our group repaired to ‘Tea in the Botanics’ where we enjoyed an excellent and warming lunch. All in all we voted our first outing a success and look forward to many more in the coming months.
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